Saturday, December 04, 2004

Philosophy and Understanding: Reality and Society

A bit on how my understanding of philosophy and life has developed, especially since emerging from philosophical studies. This is an adaptation of what I posted a couple months ago at

It has amazed me a bit that now that I'm done with my Philosophy degree, things seem to be making more sense on a global, wholistic (rather than particular) level. I also have a feeling that I will need to come back to Philosophy (after my 10 month hiatus for an MA in Buddhist Studies and maybe on to a Ph.D. to follow that) if this new sense is to be made into anything concrete in the world of Philosophy.

It reminds me of the scene in the movie Pi where Max visits his older friend, telling him that he's on the brink of something. Max's friend sees his manic gestures and tells him to relax - He told Max the story of Archimedes, the great Greek mathematician. In the story Archimedes is asked by King Hiero II to determine whether a crown he has is real gold. Archimedes trys everything he can think of, for hours, days he examines the crown and assorted metals - he simply cannot find a definitive difference.

Finally, his wife sees him and orders him to relax and draws him a bath. As Archimedes sank into the water he noticed that his body caused displacement, sending the water over the edges. This was the insight Archimedes needed to see that the crown should not only weigh its worth in gold but also displace the same volume as equal weight of gold would. He was so exited he ran through the streets naked the King's palace naked screaming "Eureka" which means "I've found it." He needed perspective!

So, too, we philosophers need perspective. After being face to face with this theory and that, this great philosopher and that one - stepping back we see the [global] connections. Too often we choose one theory, one philosopher and say, "ahh.. this is correct, the others are all wrong." Then we can stare, cheek to cheek with other admirers, and revel in the greatness of some thought. But to those with perspective we are nit-wits, as idiotic as the next group of narrow-visioned zealots. I am certain that if I lose touch with non-Buddhist philosophy I too will lose perspective.

Of course it doesn't help to simply say, "I have perspective" as a way to avoid looking closely, either! A murky understanding of it all is no better than a great understanding of but a little.

Like the Gestalt image of two faces/a vase (or goblet). We must see each image (within/close up), and see the Truth of the whole image. Regarding metaphysics, those who say that the image is of a goblet would be the materialists, those who insist it is two faces would be idealists. In a certain way each is right, until they fail to see the limit of their interpretation.

In philosophy, East and West, there is a law called "The Law of Excluded Middle" which states that if the image is of a goblet, it cannot at the same time not be an image of a goblet ("those 'two faces' people are just wrong!"). Those who see a goblet, utilizing this law, deny any other interpretation of the image. To those who see both the faces and the goblet this is obviously a mistake, but how do you convince this logician of his error? Logic alone will not work, he has a simple, air-tight argument. You must in fact raise him up so that he, by his own experience, sees the Truth of the whole image. How do you do this? Well first you must see the whole image for yourself!


D said...

I my opinion perspective is one of the most defining aspects of our existence. Perspective is everything. That being said, whenever my life seems out of whack I try to step back and either put things in perspective or try a different perspective. As my former roommates can attest to, whenever our minds were stuck or we were frustrated Maggie would make us stand on the furniture to get a different perspective. Right now I'm struggling because I don't know how to think about my life and am either entirely lacking perspective or unable to identify it.

D said...

With that old/young lady thing I can see both but not at the same time but I dunno about the law of the excluded middle cause with the faces/goblet I can definitely see both at the same time.