Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Worldview in Aphorisms

I've wanted to publish a systematic exposition of my worldview for a long time, but the fear of being vain has made me hesitate. However, a friend really wants me to publish this kind of overarching philosophical perspective, and so I agreed.

What will follow is a line by line take on how I see the world at the present moment. This perspective will likely change in the future, so don't take anything I say here as definitive or authoritative. Think of it as a snapshot of my intellectual development. 

You can think of this worldview largely as a synthesis of three thinkers: Gottfried Leibniz in his Monadology, Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and the Mormon theologian Adam S. Miller (as seen in his work Rube Goldberg Machines). Moreover, this work will be written aphoristically, or rather in the style of both Wittgenstein and Leibniz (and, at times, Miller).

Also, this post could be considered very dense. Be warned.
  1. I will call the most basic constituent of reality an "intelligence".
  2. Intelligences are without number.
  3. All intelligences are simple and impenetrable.
  4. All intelligences are conscious.
  5. All intelligences exist independent of space and time (meaning that they are eternal).
  6. All intelligences exist in a field of infinite possibility.
  7. An intelligence's possibility consists in the possibilities of its relationships with other intelligences.
  8. By an intelligence, I mean the same thing as Leibniz's monad, Wittgenstein's object/entity, or even Descartes' "I am".
  9. In order for an intelligence to perceive other intelligences, it must group them.
  10. I will call these perceptual groupings of intelligences "facts".
  11. Most specifically, a fact is a way of perceiving intelligences in connection with other intelligences.
  12. My "fact" is Wittgenstein's "picture". I differ from his conception in my belief that all "grouping" occurs through perception, and not in reality.
  13. When perceived as part of a fact, intelligences lose certain possibilities.
  14. In other words, to perceive an intelligence will negate certain possibilities or connections that it has in itself.
  15. Facts can include each other.
  16. You are an intelligence
  17. The world you see around you is a fact, or the evidence of your relationship with other intelligences.
  18. The world you see through your eyes is a fact that includes all intelligences that are visible (i.e. those that become perceptual through vision)
  19. This works for the worlds of hearing, taste, touch, and smell, respectively.
  20. The spiritual world is a fact including all intelligences that are visible to your spiritual eyes.
  21. The spiritual world, as the spiritual world, cannot be perceived by the five senses. This means that intelligences cannot become perceptual through them, insofar as they become manifest spiritually.
  22. The spiritual world is perceived though emotion. Your emotions are your spiritual eyes.
  23. Your body is a fact. It includes the intelligences and facts that make up your organs, cells, molecules, etc..
  24. Your spirit is a fact. It includes the intelligences and facts that make up your emotions, desires, etc..
  25. A spirit appears to your emotions as a body.
  26. Your soul is the fact that includes both your body and your spirit.
  27. Jung's archetypes are spiritual facts that exist both within, alongside, and above your spiritual body.
  28. Swedenborg saw this spiritual world, as have countless others.
  29. The fact that our emotions, desires, etc. are visible through physical observation (say, through brain imaging) is due to the fact that certain intelligences are visible by both spiritual and physical eyes.
  30. Intelligences can arrange themselves differently for different senses (hence the dissimilarity between a brain and a spirit body).
  31. Space (or rather, extension) is a perceptual form of certain intelligences. That is to say, space is a way by which certain intelligences become manifest to other intelligences.
  32. This is also true for time.
  33. Though we see reality through facts, every fact excludes an almost infinite number of possibilities from our perception.
  34. What we see is only a small fragment of what is.
  35. In this respect Plato and Schopenhauer are correct.
  36. However, this hidden world does not lie in progressively generic abstraction. It lies in what we exclude from our picture of reality.
  37. This hidden world is greater than ours because it includes possibilities this world leaves out.
  38. The atonement is, above all else, a connecting principle.
  39. The atonement assembles facts.
  40. Thus, the atonement brings to perceptual light those possibilities that are hidden or buried.
  41. This is what is meant by repentance. Repentance is the unearthing of our excluded possibilities - our renewed ability to connect with other parts of being.
  42. These observations can explain the Book of Mormon's peculiar historicity. The Book of Mormon is a fact that depicts previously unmanifest portions of history. It is history post-repentance.
  43. To sin is to cling to a fact, and refuse to let the atonement displace it with something more comprehensive.
  44. This is the essence of the Buddha's teachings on desire,
  45. All sin is idolatry.
  46. To sin is to negate possibility.
  47. To sin is to refuse connection.
  48. The result of sin is death. Death is negated possibility or connection.
  49. Spiritual death is the negation of our soul's connection with God.
  50. Physical death (the result of Adam's sin) is the negation of our body's connection with our spirit. Or rather, it is the negation of the fact that is the soul.
  51. Resurrection is how the atonement reconnects the body and the spirit as a fact.
  52. When we are resurrected, the facts of our spirit and our body are reunited in a new, greater, fact.
  53. Resurrection makes the spiritual and the physical indistinguishable.
  54. Every human relationship is a fact.
  55. A relationship is a resurrection for both members. It participates both members in a new way of being.
  56. It reveals new possibilities and connections for both people.
  57. This resurrection, like all others,  is powerful to the extent that that there are differences to connect.
  58. A homogeneous connection is weak to the extent that it is homogeneous.
  59. Gay marriage is objectionable in this way: namely, that it tries to connect what is already identical.
  60. For it is not primarily the man and the woman that connect in a marriage, but the fact that he is a man  and the fact that she is a woman.
  61. Marriage should not thought of as a way to achieve satisfaction, but as a way by which a new fact can be manufactured.
  62. A marriage is a way by which unique possibilities can be actualized.
  63. Marriage as a fact can only occur through tension (i.e. incommensurable difference) between the sexes.
  64. Eternal marriage respects all that is different without subjecting it to homogeneity.
  65. This subjection is the problem that feminism objects to, and unfortunately, often perpetuates.
  66. The only way to respect both sexes is to regard them as different. All else is chauvinism.
  67. The homogenization of society is nothing more than a way by which people can see others as objects, or as tools for their own preferences.
  68. Eternal marriage respects the most fundamental difference between people, and thus helps us refuse to subject each other to our own preferences and needs.
  69. Eternal marriage is the only way we can respect the other sex as individuals, and not as objects to be desired or shunned.
  70. In an eternal marriage, the partners do not lose their identity, but like the sealing room mirrors, reciprocally contain each other to infinity.
  71. This reflection can only occur with enough distance to see clearly.
  72. The family is a fact.
  73. Humanity is a fact, but only insofar as it is composed of the facts made up by individual families.
  74. The family is the perceptual form of humanity as a whole, much like a tree is the perceptual form of the tree's parts.
  75. I will define God as that intelligence that organized the world's intelligences in a way that they appear consistently to each other.
  76. Without God, the facts made by intelligences would be unpredictable (i.e. unorganized).
  77. This is the essence of George Berkeley's theology.
  78. This principle of organizing intelligences is, in principle, no different from creating a work of art. We differ only in power.
  79. God is human insofar as he appears human to our senses. He is to a human body what a fruit is to a seed.
  80. God is omnipotent in the respect that he dwells in a space of infinite possibility.
  81. God is in one place at one time in the respect that he can appear to us in person. His infinite possibility precludes the limits of absolute space and time.
  82. The priesthood is the potency of God's possibility.
  83. When we overcome sin by means of the atonement, we perceive more and more of reality's possibilities and connections.
  84. This happens to the extent that we live in the present, for the present moment is the point where finite facts dissolve into infinity.
  85. The present is where the light of God's possibility shines through into facts.
  86. Sin wishes to remain in the past or the future. No unclean thing can dwell in the present.
  87. The Celestial Kingdom is a fact that includes all intelligences.
  88. The lesser kingdoms include a smaller number of intelligences. 
  89. A person can be so depraved to be a kingdom (or a fact) only unto himself.
  90. In this respect, being in the Celestial Kingdom is a way of perceiving infinite possibility and infinite connection.
  91. This is what is meant by the ability to create worlds: namely, the ability to perceive any number of facts within the sea of infinite possibility.
  92. We exist eternally and unconditionally in connection with all things. God's work and glory is to have us see this.
  93. Our existence is a journey from "being" to "seeing".
  94. The celestial earth mentioned in D&C 130 is the universe as it appears to a celestial being - one where all things contain each other.
  95. Our destiny is to see ourselves in all people, places, events, ideas, and works of art. 
  96. Similarly, our destiny is to see all of those things in us.
  97. This is eternal life: to be eternally connected to all things. We should settle for nothing less.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why Wittgenstein Admired Mormons

On the evening of August 5, 1949, an ill Ludwig Wittgenstein took a walk with his friend and fellow philosopher Oets Bouwsma. 

Wittgenstein had agreed to Bouwsma's invitation to lecture at Cornell University, and he had arrived in the United States only a month previously. As a part of their exchange, Wittgenstein brought up an interesting topic, one that Bouwsma felt important enough to remember years later.

Bouwsma remembers their conversation in the following excerpt:

"As we approached the car, he asked me whether I had ever had any acquaintance with the Mormons. They fascinated him. They are a fine illustration of what faith will do. Something in the heart takes hold. And yet to understand them! To understand a certain obtuseness is required. One must be obtuse to understand. He likened it to needing big shoes to cross a bridge with cracks in it. One mustn't ask questions."

As both a Wittgenstein fan and a faithful Latter-day Saint, this isolated remark strikes to the core of my intellect and emotion. But this doesn't happen in a negative way. I have grown to trust Wittgenstein's judgments more than those of any other philosopher, and the fact that he respects my faith gives me comfort where other things might not. 

However, you might think Wittgenstein's statement near the end of the excerpt odd. If Wittgenstein does respect Mormons, why does he say that a thinker needs to be "obtuse" to understand them? This seems to present a problem, but I am familiar enough with his writings to see that his underlying themes present themselves here. For Wittgenstein has never thought it a shameful thing to stop asking questions. 

For instance, consider this:

"For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered. [...]

We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.

The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. (Is not this the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)" (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.5, 6.52, 6.521)

Or this:

"The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question." (The Big Typescript)

Or even this:

"The questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn." (On Certainty 341)

Again and again, Wittgenstein depicts the truly wise person as one who has control over their question-asking. If (according to the early Wittgenstein) you try to think or say what cannot be said, or if (according to the later Wittgenstein, who is really saying the same thing) you use your language games beyond their intended scope, you will restlessly seek for meaning where there is none to be found. Words in our language such as "be" or "true", or phrases such as "the extent of space" or "the passage of time" will bewitch our human sensibilities until we see the universe as hopelessly incompatible with human meaning and values.

Wittgenstein says that you can solve this problem by making making your questions disappear, for only if you stop trying to solve the "riddle of the universe" will you actually understand the answer to it. This takes faith. You must be confident that meaning will arise even if you don't seek it, that the inexpressible will indeed show itself. For the faithful person doesn't ascend to Heaven by their own efforts; he waits for Heaven to descend upon him. And this is why Wittgenstein admired Mormons.

When Wittgenstein talked about the requisite obtuseness to understand Mormonism, all he meant was this ability to cease our questioning by faith. The Mormons who endured persecution at the hands of mobs, the Mormons who crossed the plains in handcarts, or the Mormons who endured centuries of ridicule by popular culture; they don't waste time asking unanswerable questions. This noble people has faith that the universe is ultimately meaningful, and this faith bears observable fruits.They don't doubt; they live

We don't believe in a big abstraction at the heart of reality, whether you call it "the laws of nature", or soften it by giving it the name of an impersonal God. We instead agree with Wittgenstein when he said that "the world and life are one", (Tractatus 5.621) for we assert that the universe is not cold and absurd, but intimate and personal. Furthermore, the doctrine that God is a man allows us to declare together with Wittgenstein that the limits of the world are human, for they were, in a sense, made by a human God. Indeed, we also agree with Wittgenstein when he says that:

"As long as you imagine the soul as a thing, a body in the head, this hypothesis is not at all dangerous. It is not the crudity and incompleteness of our models that brings danger, but their vagueness." (The Big Typescript)

After all, what comes more naturally to Mormons than the idea of an anthropomorphic soul? And what is more hostile to the ethereal vagueness of certain popular models of the self?

The greatest philosopher of the twentieth century not only admired Mormons, but preached a philosophy that resonates with the essentials of the Mormon faith. He taught that we should not reach beyond the confines of our humanity, declaring that such intellectual hubris would only cause us pain. In similitude to Mormon beliefs, he also taught that the only world we could ever know was one of humanity, for the only way he thought we could encounter the world is through the human phenomenon of language. In short, both Wittgenstein and the Mormon faith declare the world to be compatible with human longings and ideals. If it is the case that we feel existential anxiety when looking at the world, they say it is likely because we misperceive its inherent humanity

For if we cease our striving for answers on earth, they will come to us from heaven. If, whether by exhaustion or by choice, the question disappears, the answer will immediately appear. This is faith, that virtue which Wittgenstein found so overflowing in the Mormon people. And what better expresses that virtue than the most famous Wittgenstein saying of all?:

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 7)