Who am I? Why am I here? Where have I come from? Where am I going? These questions are personal, and at the same time reach beyond the personal, in a spiritual quest. A spiritual quest begins from a questioner’s recognizing the imperfection of self-awareness or self-possession, recognizing itself as its own blind-spot, recognizing the blind-spotness of itself to itself. It is a questioner’s sense of unknowing and curiosity about its own impulse (or imperative) to question and discover, about its own curiosity and its resulting construction of ever accumulating orientation, so, about its intelligence. Out of that sense of unknowing, a spiritual quest is a search for a fuller acquaintance with, or understanding of, this personal situation of intelligence in its aspect as the human situation.
Intelligence or spirit is (and intelligences are) the most interesting dimension of the situation of human life, but not the only one. There is a contrast between acquaintance with material surroundings on one hand and acquaintance with manifestations of intelligence such as the impulse to question and discover on the other, standing as a fundamental dualism in the quest for improved acquaintance with intelligence. Acquaintance with intelligence would not need a quest unless our ordinary acquaintance is mainly with something else, something not-spirit, normally identified as material nature or inertial nature, forces of unfreedom. Intelligence confronts nature. Deliberate teleological striving confronts lifeless falling. The freedom of curiosity confronts the unfreedom of inertia. Non-actuality (interior to an intelligence) confronts actuality (exteriority or the space of nature). Subjectivity confronts objectivity.
This dualism of human embodiment is not incidental to our situation but is essential and fundamental. Human life is played out by individuals in the encounter between non-actualities of our subjectivity (futurity, memory) and the brute actuality of objective nature. Many people find this dualism to be unsettling, even unthinkable, but to deny it is to evade the dynamic forces at the core of human lives. Philosophical consciousness is an orientation based on recognition of self as intelligence, but an embodied intelligence in a horizontal dualism with the non-intelligent (unfree) actuality of nature. In other words, it is an orientation based on recognition of self, paradoxically, as a spiritual presence with no appearance, with no-thing-ness, an embodied interiority of non-actuality, constructing and projecting freedom by constructing time within nature.
Metaphysics: Time is the Mirror of Intelligence
On the question of intelligence encountering and discovering itself (in its own blind spot), time is the crucial consideration, the self-revelation of experience. If you are searching for subjective intelligence in the perception of the world, you identify it in the essential temporal dimension of the world as perceived, in the subjectivity of our human position in time. Contemplation of time is the portal to the self-discovery of an intelligence. Time is, not incidentally, the main inspiration for metaphysics, an example of time being the mirror of intelligence. All metaphysics points to intelligence, but unfortunately often misconstrued as an alienated or disembodied cosmic intelligence.
At the edge of every conceptual system of reality there is some unavoidable vision of metaphysics to deal with the contradiction between actuality and the non-actual certainty of change, the contradiction between actuality and futurity, between actuality and memory. This is true also of materialism, which makes heroic efforts to avoid recognizing the creative contributions of intelligence in constructing reality. Material objects are models of perfect self-subsistence except as they exist under the aspect of time. There is always more than meets the eye, since time is non-apparent. Saying that there is an interiority to subjectivity is a way of acknowledging that it is non-apparent, and the non-appearance of time is exactly the non-appearance of subjective intelligence.
What often stamps a form or structure onto the dualism of the spiritual quest is a very old idea, already formed in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, that the intelligence of each ordinary individual person is a limited and inferior replica of, particle of, or a window on, a single grand intelligence, the cosmic intelligence. The spiritual quest then becomes a search for that obscure source intelligence, the greatest or highest intelligence, and the conception of the source intelligence typically expands into a conception of the creative source of everything, because only intelligence strives toward a specific not-yet or non-actuality, which is the essence of creation. (This teleology of creation is another identifier of intelligence, to add to curiosity, questioning, accumulating orientation, and expressive voice.) So the idea of the source intelligence becomes an idea of intelligence as “higher” than the material surroundings in which it finds itself, higher conceptually by being the creator, and experientially as being represented in the ethereal vista of the starry night sky.
Lessons from the Failure of Alchemy
There has been a long history of searching nature for signs and signatures of the great source spirit or intelligence, since the personally interior intelligence, in its aspect of blind-spot, resists attempts to pin it down as anything in particular. Perhaps the most thorough and sophisticated search program in that history was practiced by alchemists, who thought that the material world must be some sort of map or image of intelligence or spirituality, designed by a gracious Creator as a guide for humans to find a way out of our spiritually fallen condition (trapped by ignorance within matter and time). Their idea of the philosophers’ stone, for example, was part of a projection onto nature of the spiritual quest. Alchemists thought that if they could find the process that transformed base metal into gold it would be a guide to moving the individual’s spirit out of its confinement in time and matter, along an upward path, to be reunited with divinity and eternity, a fulfillment of the spirit’s ultimate divine destiny. The philosophers’ stone was supposed to be the missing link between both base metal and gold, and between the mortal life of spirit and its divine life in eternity or timelessness. Alchemists were searching for eternity (immortality) as an escape from time itself.
So science, the study of nature as strict actuality, was a spiritual quest in the beginning, rigorously developed by alchemists. Alchemists made the mistake of supposing there must be a mirroring, a sameness of structure, dynamics, forces and processes, of intent, between the spiritual (which they conceived to be primarily inner in some way, as well as higher) and material nature (outer, lower). The researches and experiments of alchemists failed to discover the upward path they predicted, but their failure established quite convincingly that material nature is not a guide to the destiny or nature of intelligence, and does not present messages, signs, or signatures of a grand source intelligence. That was and is progress. Indeed, the failure of alchemy also goes a long way to proving the futility of the whole idea of the source intelligence, the grand master intelligence. There is nowhere in the world for such a thing. Their search was self-defeating all along because it is exactly time as the form of freedom which requires and so reveals intelligence in ordinary individuals. However, the alchemists’ error is still with us, as for example in the academic philosophers’ obsession with language as an objective map of thought or human interiority, instead of as a culturally constructed mechanism of imposing a collective orientation.
Something that stands out in alchemy as a spiritual quest is its acceptance or assumption of metaphysical hierarchy. The spiritual quest was preconceived as an upward path which rose from the low world of time and material objects, soaring to the glorious and noble heights of pure spirituality and eternity, to a reunion with divinity, hinted at by the ethereal vista of the clear night sky. This is an illustration of a profound problem with traditional conceptions of dualism, namely its vertical orientation, with spirit enjoying dominion or mastery over nature.
Re-Orientation to Horizontal Dualism
The fundamental situation of any person, the relationship between actuality (nature) and non-actuality (intelligence), is not hierarchical, but is instead horizontal. This is contrary to the historically normal assertion that spirit stands higher in the spirit-material encounter. The encounter of intelligence with nature can still be said to be horizontal and non-hierarchical even though the intelligence side (freedom) is also said to transcend the brute determinism of nature. The creative life of intelligences does have freedom-in-time whereas inertial nature does not, and that is a profound transcendence. However, the survival and freedom of intelligences is entirely dependent on engaging with nature. There is no immaterial heaven or occult dimension from which intelligences were somehow exiled and where we might return to manifest our full transcendent freedom. We depend on our embodiment, embedded in nature, in our very construction of teleological time and so of our freedom. The embeddedness of intelligences in nature prevents any assertion of metaphysical hierarchy giving spirit mastery over nature. The two sides of the dualism are so profoundly other with respect to one another, and yet so entangled, that there is no scale applicable to both to rank one above the other. Nature seems to subsist quite independently of intelligences. Having life-in-time does establish intelligences as profoundly different or ‘other’ with respect to nature, one side of an insurmountable and spectacularly creative, dynamic, and yes, freedom-producing dualism. Intelligences aren’t things of nature in spite of our embodiment (because freedom is not something of nature), but the bodies of intelligences are things which project or present the creativity of intelligences into nature. That is the situation and matrix of freedom. To embrace any universal totalizing absolute, you would have to abandon individual’s freedom-in-time, life itself.
The historical norm has been a misconception of transcendence as a soaring beyond experience, out from placement within time and so out into eternity. However, time itself is transcendence (freedom/ non-actuality) and the only transcendence. (Perhaps there is some sort of timelessness in acquaintance with time as an interior construct of personal intelligence.)
Pity the Culture-Bound
In the absence of an inherently clear individual self-intuition as autonomous intelligence (non-actuality/ time/ freedom), macro-parasitic cultures (sponsored and enforced by human macro-parasite factions, developed around ideology which legitimates and sanctifies such parasitism) declare that individuals carry an inherent vice, an original sin, from which we must be saved or redeemed by a higher exterior power. Such cultures exploit our blind-spot-ness to ourselves, our lack of a clear self-intuition, just as they exploit the whole complex of experiences inclining us to settle into a top-down model of reality, as described in posting 85, July 15, 2015, Philosophy as Critique of Orientation Within Systems of Reality. The parasite faction asserts itself as representative of the higher power, claiming to maintain the social order that God or nature decrees from above, and in that effort assigns individuals personal identities and values that fit a macro-parasitic agenda. When hegemonic cultures define and value individuals in terms of their economic niche, for example, the overall message is that the individual is a product of, a creation of, the social and cultural system they operate within, without which they are nothing. This has even acquired an academically rigorous ideology and the status of an indisputable given.
Human cultures misrepresent that which is peculiarly human to their host humans and so make an institution of our alienation from authentic self-acquaintance. For example, intelligences are not naturally prepared to fit easily into particular economic niches. Economic niches are always artificial. Yet every individual must find some niche in the social structure of an economic system, and focus considerable devotion to it. In capitalism, individuals are encouraged to construct a sense of personal identity and value from the economic niche they inhabit, and on the reward patterns of commercial consumption constructed into that niche. Under peer pressure we do our best to represent ourselves as some version of “economic man” expressing competitive self-interest in the hierarchical arrangements. Correcting this is a matter of identifying that which is peculiarly human in the human situation, or personal in the personal situation, which is intelligence (freedom, time, non-actuality) in a horizontal dualism with the brute actuality and unfreedom of nature, also encountering, within nature, multitudes of other embodied intelligences, all normally expressing the normative and controlling influence of an ambient culture. Culturally constructed self-alienation is what misdirects us to expect to locate transcendence in some ethereal milky-way of the supernatural, outside time. But no. The freedom of time is the only transcendence, and it is interior to individual lives, embodied and engaged with nature and with culture tainted with the macro-parasite orientation.
The taint at the source of human brutality and injustice is culture and not human nature (intelligence) which is non-actuality/ time/ freedom at the individual level. The failing is in the historical legacies of a particular human culture, derived from the essential thing about the lives of cowboys (armed men on horses, prehistoric, ancient, and modern): their violent macro-parasitism on migratory herd animals such as cattle and horses. It is a macro-parasitism anciently transferred onto human collectives. Cultural forms and traditions which structure the interconnection of individual intelligences, all tainted by human macro-parasitism and ideological efforts (metaphysical, ideological) to justify and legitimate that parasitism, are the source of the brutality and injustice in the systems of interconnection among individuals, and of our stubbornly persistent self-alienation. These are systems of reality in which the main value promoted by cultural incentives and rewards (proofs of manliness) is to be a parasite. However, that is not the way to freedom. There is an innate individual freedom which does not depend on brutality and injustice, or on the force of a higher power.
Copyright © 2015 Sandy MacDonald.