Contemplating The Inconceivable (Part One)

I found Boston Area Philosophy Discussions Meetup and its event called “The Outer Limits of Thought: Contemplating the Inconceivable”. The question was “Can we talk about what we don’t know and can’t prove, and what could be our answers?”
That is what the event’s description said:
“In closing his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Wittgenstein remarks that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Yet, as has often been remarked one suspects that, very unlike the Logical Positivists who were spawned by the publication of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein may have harbored some mystical inclinations.
After all, being unable to speak about something does not necessarily imply a lack of substance; it may simply mean that we are unable to speak meaningfully about it.Physicists will tell you that the fractional moments just after the Big Bang occurred can be conceptualized and quantified, but before the bang…well on that subject science must consign itself to silence. Our universe may have been spawned by other universes or by other dimensions but whatever argument is taken it seems to descend into an infinite regress that begs the question of “How did it all begin?”
The “before the big bang” conjectures are only one example of what I am playfully calling metaphysical “barks.” We love to bark, as much as wolves love to howl at the moon. And, sorry dear positivists, a philosopher who is true to his questioning and angst driven core will always question the basis of those questions that defy answers. Evolution and the questions concerning the origins of life are more fodder for probing the outer limits of thought.

One of the philosophic accomplishments of Immanuel Kant was the formulation of his antinomies of pure reason. The questions about 1) space and time, 2) atomism, 3) freedom and 4) God are, Kant argued, impossible to resolve because in each case opposite conclusions can be deductively proved, but since the thesis and the antithesis cannot both be correct certain knowledge regarding these basic questions is impossible (I make no claims here of precisely stating Kant’s argument).

So, is the philosophical contemplation of these questions meaningless and/or fruitless? I think not. In fact, the second antinomy shows why contemplating the inconceivable is well worth the effort. Modern physics may not have solved the problem of whether or not all matter is ultimately composed of simple atomistic parts as, for example, quantum physics allows quanta to be both a particle and a wave, but the fact of the matter is that knowledge of the basic building blocks or non-blocks of matter are vastly more understood today than in Kant’s day. The unrelenting research and query into these fundamental questions expands both knowledge and wisdom. In the matter of atomism, I think that the answers to this particular question may ultimately be attainable.

The Big Bang in its own terms may be interpreted as a temptation to engage immateriality.

In this discussion, might we not broach a whole new method? Can we not ask each participant for his or her spontaneous, free thinking, creative response and thinking-outside-the-box to a question relating to the origin of life, the origin of the universe, to one of Kant’s antinomies, or to immaterial existence. “

Philosophy Works (Class Three)

Waking Up to New Knowledge

“All people, while they are awake are in one common world; but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own”. Plutarch.

Class Notes:

“Level of Awareness:

Among previously mentioned Higher Consciousness, Fully Awake, Waking sleep, Dream, Deep Sleep – also Waking Consciousness/waking up.

Waking sleep is when we are engaged in the various activities of life without really being present. Body present, mind absent. It is a kind of auto-pilot. In waking sleep are we of much use to ourselves? To others? How much of the day do we spend in waking sleep?

Waking consciousness: Each time we practice something on purpose, such as “What would the wise man or woman do?” or the Exercise, there is an opportunity for conscious action, a choice, which brings freedom from the knee-jerk, mechanical reactions that govern our lives.

Waking up to your inner resources: in Need or Opportunity to use Awareness, Presence to create New Knowledge.

The primary method used in this course is Observation. When we practice approaching life with an open mind, we begin to see more clearly what is true and what is not true.”

Can we be consciously aware of every single moment in our life (when we are not asleep)? It seems that we, the 21st century doers, have so much to do that it would simply be impossible not to turn auto-pilot on from time to time. If we didn’t, we would be exhausted! Don’t you think? Who has the time to sit around and just observe? Philosophers, not us – working people… (That is what immediately came to my busy mind…)

But awareness is being linked to our senses, not to our mind (interpretations). If we process only 50% of all we see ( information that we receive from the outside world), then awareness is consciously directing our attention/focus where and when we want to, but not where and when it used to be.

When someone is in the meeting/situation and either doesn’t follow the conversation and daydreams or immediately judges (reinterprets) what is happening, that person is in waking sleep. And there are consequences to it:

people notice that person is not “being present”,

and that person misses and misinterprets things,

he/she underperforms,

and most importantly – becomes detached and steals his/her own happiness from present moment.

Conclusion: try to see things that we usually don’t see, see them deeper and process information in a different – gentle way (with grace). Awareness is noticing what actually happens, not imposing our own meaning, but making knowledge from it. And it all can be done by using our senses within reality, not within our own “Kingdom called Mind” by applying subjective meaning.

Once a student asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”

“No”, answered Buddha.

“Then are you a healer?” “No”, Buddha replied.

“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted. “No, I’m not a teacher.”

“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.

“I am awake”, Buddha replied. (Steven Mitchell, The Enlightened Mind)

Philosophy Works (Class Two)

It was another beautiful Saturday morning. The location of this class is in the scenic Back Bay neighborhood on Marlborough street, the room is on the second floor overlooking small alley and is full of morning light scattered around the bookshelves covering the walls.

Class Notes:

  • Philosophy is designed to raise awareness, to wake up, to enable us to be present and see things as they are and bring us closer to our true selves. Philosophy is the supreme means of self-discovery
  • One of the hallmarks of the wise is that their lives are governed by principle
  • Consider how our life would change if we lived according to the principle: Your word is your bond.
  • Levels of awareness:

Higher consciousness

Fully aware

Waking sleep

Dream

Deep sleep

  • How much of the day do we spend in waking sleep? How often do we wake up?
  • Higher consciousness is available to anyone and everyone. It is not the province of great philosophers of poets. It is the birthright of every human being.

Principles and Practices:

See what happens when you live according to the principle Your word is your bond.

When in doubt, ask the question “What would a wise man or woman do now”?

Practice the awareness exercise (from last class) daily

Don’t accept what you hear and don’t reject what you hear. Try it out. Test the truth of it. If it works and is true then trust what you have found, practice it and let it enrich your life.

Passages for study

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to enquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

 

Philosophy Works (Class One)

Today I learned about Philosophy Works organization. Here is what their website says:

“Throughout history schools have arisen to make the eternal wisdom available to those seeking the ultimate truth about themselves, the creation, and the Creator. Whatever the outer form, the core philosophical tenets are the same: discover the ultimate divinity of the human soul; appreciate the ‘unity in diversity’ and recognize that self-knowledge is the ultimate purpose of a human life.

Schools in this tradition include that of Hermes Trismegistus in ancient Egypt, Plato’s Academy in Athens, Marsilio Ficino’s Renaissance Academy in Florence and the American transcendental movement inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the United States.

The School of Practical Philosophy stands in this tradition. The aim is to offer students the inspiration and systematic guidance needed to enjoy fuller, richer and more productive lives; to evolve the spiritual aspect of their beings; and to serve society to the best of their abilities.”

I enrolled into Philosophy Works 10 class introduction course, and today was our first session called The wisdom within.12 people attended. They also have another session on Wednesday evenings, which is more popular.

To be wise we need to learn stillness and observance. We need to step out of the race , become still within and achieve moments of clarity, to take a larger view of the world. Stillness leads to self-discovery. True wisdom is simple. It could be done by going beyond appearances to the essence.

Plato declared 4 virtues –wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. Wisdom is already within us, wisdom is innate to the being. As it is not about thinking but being. Being in present moment is enriching. Giving attention to the world around is a form of love.

“Wisdom is the knowledge to enable life to be lived truly and happily.”

“Happy is the man or woman, who finds wisdom… for wisdom is worth more than silver, greater than gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you desire cannot compare to her.” Proverb.

“To be a philosopher is not to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live accordingly to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically but practically. “ Henry David Thoreau, Walden.” 1854

We learned about several exercises:

  1. To have cards with 10 virtues and at the end of the day to go through them and ask yourself: which ones did I practice today?
  2. In difficult situations or moments of anger, hesitation ask yourself: What would a wise man/woman do?
  3. And the last one I especially liked. When mind is connected to the senses, it is alive. When we did this exercise, I felt connectedness to the world.

Instructions(from a handout):

Let the body find a balanced, upright and comfortable posture from which it need not move…

Become aware of where you are now…

Be aware of any expectations or concerns that maybe present in the mind or the heart…

Now, let them go…

Fall still and come to rest within…

Be aware of the touch of your feet on the ground…

The weight of the body on the chair…

Be aware of the gentle pressure of the clothes on the skin…

And the play of air on the face and hands…

If the eyes are open, let them receive color and form without any comment…

Taste…

Smell…

Be aware of the breath as it enters and leaves the body…

Be fully present, here now,

Now be aware of hearing…

Allow sounds be received and let them rise and fall without comment or judgment of any kind.

Let the hearing run right out of the furthest and gentlest sounds, embracing all.

Now simply rest in this great awareness for a few moments.

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