Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Obvious Mystery of Experience (part 1)

The most obvious truths are also those that seem most inconsequential. Our reason operates by abstraction. The more directly we attempt to express the truth of experience, the more constrained our reason feels. So we tend to dismiss these “simple” truths as not worth our consideration.

The more obvious something is, the more we take it for granted. That which we take for granted most of all, we completely ignore.

What we completely ignore becomes a mystery to us, and thus it seems as if it were never obvious at all.

This is where we begin our explorations. I am resigned to the probability that, to those not familiar with philosophy, they will seem too dry, and to those who are, they will seem too simple. At first, when the foundations are being made, the reasoning needs to be followed slowly. Only later will the details manifest themselves at a speed and with a facility that seems more natural to the mind.

All experience is single.

Everything experienced in your life is experienced in one mind, by one self, in the context of a single subjectivity.

You never experience anyone else’s life but your own. Without a doubt, other people relate their experiences to you, through words or other means, and this in fact is the basis of all knowledge in the usual sense. But the actual experience of your life is only experienced directly by you. Furthermore, you never wake up in the morning to find that you have become a different self, or are living your life in a different mind, a different subjectivity. In itself, your subjectivity is identical to yesterday’s. The changes that have occurred since your birth have all occurred within the context of a single self—and this continuity is proven by a single body, a particular history, and even a proper name. You will live as this self, this mind, this subjectivity, until death.

Now, by the most elementary reasoning, we can elevate this truth of your experience to a universal truth about all experience.

All life is experienced in one mind, by one self, in the context of a single subjectivity. No being has ever experienced any other life but its own, and no being ever will. There is never an experience in which two or more subjectivities are at work (and there never has been, or ever will be). Even this idea of “two or more subjectivities” is unthinkable without adding the element of people relating their experiences to each other, through words or other means. In terms of actual experience itself—the very fabric, if you will, of our life as we live it—anything other than singleness is impossible. This truth, then, reveals itself as a law—all experience is single.

There are two reasons, intimately related, for the appropriateness of this truth as a beginning for philosophy, its great consequence for human life, and at the same time, its general neglect.

The first is the essentially ineffable nature of subjectivity.

The second is our knowledge of the objective world, or as it is often so fittingly called, “the outside world.”

For purposes of reason—in the abstract, that is—I will characterize these two reasons, which are in fact two aspects of the same reality, as experience and existence.

In this abstract sense, I do not speak of any particular experience, but the fact of experience itself, regardless of what is being experienced, or even how. In reality, content can never be separated from context, but we must be able to do so in our thought in order to gain understanding.

No form is conceivable without experience--no quality, no multiplicity, nor even duality can ever be manifest without subjectivity. Yet this subjectivity cannot be grasped, at least not in the way we grasp the phenomena we experience—beings, things, objects, and so forth. Subjectivity contains all these things without seeming to be any of them. If you are in a room right now, there is a sense in which the room is within your consciousness. Your subjectivity provides the context in which the room, or in fact anything at all, is experienced. But the fact of experience itself—or in terms of self, the experiencer—cannot by nature be experienced, precisely because it is that by which we experience. This is just one way of indicating the ineffability of experience. It can only be indicated indirectly, by metaphor, and this is true in a sense even when we attempt to describe it in as abstract a way as possible.

But although the objective world can only be known through experience, we understand it also through agreement. On the most basic level, we know that things exist because more than one person experiences these things, and in essentially the same way. You and I both see the moon in the sky, and we relate these experiences to each other. If one or both of us dies, the moon is still there. The world is therefore not created by our experience, but precedes it. This reasoning is completely valid, and the truth it reveals is absolute.

Keeping this in mind, we return to the mysterious nature of the obvious, and how this relates to our knowledge of the objective world. For the time being, I will only indicate the problem through example—in a foretaste of explorations to come. Picture a crowd of people gathered in a town square—hundreds of people coming together for some event. Now apply the truth that all experience is single. In terms of the only experience there can be, therefore—in terms of the only way that life is actually known and lived—there really is no crowd, but only one person in the crowd, experiencing the crowd.

Now apply this to all life, all events, all history.

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