Usefulness of Reality as Society - Point 3
The exciting thing about exploring the question of how knowledge is a web of actual and specific relationships rather than a mystical or obvious magical window to true conditions outside ourselves is that such a nuance of philosophy could have major repercussions throughout our lives. Knowledge is so ubiquitous in our lives that it is hard to underestimate the possible effects from changes in the way that we use it or understand ourselves in relation to it. This point addresses three large scale probably effects from using knowledge naturalistically as co-members of a web of relationships rather than as ideals-endowed would-be omniscients.
This Page, this Point:
The first point is that cultures have outlived a point where conformity to clear and simple ideas is helpful. There might have been a time, probably somewhere before Plato wrote The Republic, where relatively stable city states could do well with universality over the flux around it. But now in our culture clashing, hyper-saturated world not even parent and child share simple commonality. A better response is to turn to the inherent complexity of meaning first and foster commonalities within that are specific and unencumbered with any old, lame, legitimizing schemes.
This approach doesn't leave us vulnerable as holding on desperately to our various conceptual hopes which are all of a kind in being many scales of magnitude simpler than the complexity of meaning around us. And the claim is not against any simple claim itself or even that simple ideals are not needed; it is only that each of our simple belief systems must share a place with a recognition of the vast trans-human meaning complexity in the environment. And living amidst acknowledged complexity with our respective simplicities provides the only thorough method to continue to meld and grow cultures.
Many of you will be aware of the illogical problem of dualism in our philosophical heritage where mind and matter supposedly form one universe from two disconnected substances. If so you can imagine that not only theoretical benefits would follow from finding ways to bridge this fundamental gap in our understanding. Maybe it is premature to suggest that society philosophy does this, but the recognition that knowledge grows a bond between subject and object, two societies, into the formation of a new society would certainly speak of a unity. That all knowledge is specific and connected to local relevant parties also makes a strong suggestion that subject and object are "doing something" with each other that is not through some mysterious cosmic wormhole. If knowledge as growing alliances proves acceptable, then it would seem to be a step to healing the dualistic gap.
Lastly the claim is that society philosophy could have important effects in a number of fields. Points 11 through 17 in this outline address various cultural fields and how society philosophy could and probably would improve. Although this point addresses the healthy effects of adapting a different vision of knowledge, the arguments presented in this outline run in both directions--the effects in communication, for example, highlight the suppositions about knowledge.
"The view we advocate here is reflected by a growing body of research in cognitive science. In areas as diverse as the theory of situated cognition (Suchman 1987), studies of real-world-robotics (Beer 1989), dynamical approaches to child development (Thelen and Smith 1994), and research on the cognitive properties of collectives of agents (Hutchins 1995), cognition is often taken to be continuous with processes in the environment." Clark, Andy & Chalmers, David. "The Extended Mind." Analysis 58.1 January 1998. p. 10.
"In the Gestalt theory of perception this is known as the figure/ground relationship. This theory asserts, in brief, that no figure is ever perceived except in relation to a background....
"Man aspires to govern nature, but the more one studies ecology, the more absurd it seems to speak of any one feature of an organism, or of an organism/environment field, as governing or ruling others. Once upon a time the mouth, the hands, and the feet said to each other, 'We do all this work gathering food and chewing it up, but that lazy fellow, the stomach, does nothing. It's high time he did some work too, so let's go on strike!' Whereupon they went many days without working, but soon found themselves feeling weaker and weaker until at last each of them realized that the stomach was their stomach, and that they would have to go back to work to remain alive. But even in physiological textbooks, we speak of the brain, or the nervous system, as 'governing' the heart or the digestive tract, smuggling bad politics into science, as if the heart belonged to the brain rather than the brain to the heart or the stomach. Yet it is as true, or false, to say that the brain 'feeds itself' through the stomach as that the stomach 'evolves' a brain at its upper entrance to get more food.
"As soon as one sees that separate things are fictions, it becomes obvious that nonexistent things cannot 'perform' actions....
"Our whole knowledge of the world is, in one sense, self-knowledge. For knowing is a translation of external events into bodily processes, and especially into states of the nervous system and the brain: we know the world in terms of the body, and in accordance with its structure." Watts, Alan. The Book. Collier. 1966. pp. 82, 86-7, 92.
The usefulness of reality as a society of societies results from: 1) its reversing the simplicity priority of Western-derived philosophical traditions to acknowledge the initial condition of multiplicity as well as to acknowledge the accomplishment of culture to extract simplicity; 2) its bridging mind-matter dualism by positing subjects and objects as subject-object societies; and 3) its reconfiguring of many human institutions such as communication, economics and psychology by valuating indeterminate wholes rather than by endlessly chasing, arguing over and getting lost in factors of determinacy.
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Page updated 3/5/03