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Philosophical Investigations

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Has Devil too a Devil? Somebody who is a Devil, devilish, absolutely evil from Devil's point of view? What is evil for the absolutely evil? Is God Devil's Devil? Or somebody else? If the world is not black-and-white, then perhaps Devil is not wholly devilish. Is then God wholly godly? What, then, is Devil's Devil?
This is abstract theology, metaphysical theology. But these questions have something to do with ourselves, with our life and destiny. I think there are very few people who are wholly evil, perfect evil-doers. Perhaps there are some such persons, in any case they have very little influence on what happens in the world. The world is kept moving by normal people who can be good and evil, most often to a moderate degree. But if somebody for a while is really evil, full of hatred, ready to kill, is then evil for him good and good evil? Is his world morally upside down? Or does he live in a moral void, a moral black hole where there is neither good nor evil?


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Is Buddhism a religion? Is it just a religion or something else, perhaps something more? Sometimes I think Buddhism is something connected with religion or religions, but transcending them. The relationship of Buddhism to the pre-Buddhist Indian religions is like the relationship of the derivative to the function. And I feel that what is essential in Buddhism is not its religiosity but the transcendence, its transcending of religiosity. It's like a mathematical operation one can do with various objects. Every religion can have its 'Buddhism', can transcend itself.
Once after having read the Heart Sutra (Hridaya sutra) where we find an explicit denial of what is called the Four Noble Truths, where it is said that there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, etc. I wondered in what other religious traditions can we find such paradoxes, texts that deny previous texts. In the Greater Western Tradition such denials are rare, and usually condemned as heresy, in India and China they are much more common. The most extreme of such contradictory texts or statements is probably the famous phrase of the Chinese chan (zen) patriarch Linji (Rinzai) 'Kill the Buddha!' I think that this relative freedom that can even amount to quasi-blasphemy and iconoclasm (the chan-Buddhists have sometimes burnt sutras) is connected with the nominalistic tendencies that were very strong in Eastern Eurasia, making the deification of written texts much more difficult than in Western Eurasia. Here, the Jews, Muslims and Christians couldn't say anything contradicting the Holy Scripture. But they had their own ways of expressing their non-conformist views, to achieve their own transcendence. It was not through explicit denial of what had been written, but through its radical reinterpretation. This was the way of the Kabbalists, the Muslim mystics and to some degree also of the Orthodox Christians. In Western Christianity and Judaism some radicals tried to deny former teachings and rules referring to the advent of a new age, of the Messiah that should abolish the previous order of things. This was, in fact, an important part of the Pauline message in Christianity. A similar idea led the Ismailiyyas in Alamut to proclaim the beginning of the era of total freedom from the rules of the shariyya in 1164. Later, similar ideas were advanced by various millenarian movements in Europe both in the high Middle Ages (as Joachim of Floris) and in the period of Reformation. Here, a new age demanded reinterpretation of the holy texts, gave them a new meaning. We should remember that it was originally what Jesus and his first followers intended to do: reinterpret the Torah in the spirit of the Messianic Age. They did not want to write a new Scripture, the New Testament came into existence at a later date, when the Christians probably felt the need to have a Holy Book of their own distinguishing them from the Jews. Even so, it was largely a collection of comments on the Torah by the Teacher himself and his disciples.
In fact, the Kabbalistic reinterpretation of the Torah was in many ways more radical than the Christian reinterpretation of it with one notable difference: the Kabbalists left the mitzvoth, the system of taboos and commandments intact, avoiding all antinomistic temptations. As we know, the Christians abolished many of them including circumcision and prohibitions connected with food. At the same time, the Kabbalist cosmology and mythology sometimes have very little in common with the literal and conservative understanding of the Scriptures embraced by the Christians up to the Age of Enlightenment.
I am sure that neither the Torah (or Tanakh), the New Testament or the Qur'an were originally written keeping in mind the possibility of a multitude of sometimes conflicting interpretations and reinterpretations. These emerged just because they corresponded to the spiritual needs of people living at an age that was very different from the one the sacred texts belonged to. This history of interpretations follows the history of thought and culture in general. In same cases it follows the individual history of some persons who may shift from one interpretation, usually a more literal one, to another, usually a more free one during his or her life. What we have here are texts as markers of something we can call spiritual journey. This journey in itself is often not marked, sometimes it is ignored. The idea of correspondence between the level of spiritual development and the texts or their interpretations is implicitly present in the Kabbalah, and seems to be explicitly present in Sufism. But here too, it's limited and connected with texts one has to understand. The understanding itself is not something autonomous, independant of texts. It is clearly a process, but a limited one, going from text to text, point to point.
In Buddhism we can see something different: the understanding itself becoming the essential thing, not the objects of it, not the texts. The texts, the points are just there to draw the line, to help to give some direction to the movement. But the points are not important, the movement is. Dynamics, not statics. Maybe because of that Buddhism is a paradoxical teaching. Its paradoxes are similar to the famous paradoxes of movement elaborated by Zenon. Dynamics cannot be explained by statics, movement by immovable. But a text, a system of philosophy is necessarily static, immovable. It can't explain, describe the dynamics of understanding that is a process, a movement. Understanding is something that cannot be described, transferred as texts, explanations, descriptions. Seen from the side of understanding, any description or explanation of reality is just a point on a line, a rung of a ladder or perhaps a stop halfway. As the way, the understanding is without a beginning or an end, every explanation, every theory is faulty, is a distortion of truth, a static description of something non-static, an explanation of something that cannot be explained.
Some parallels or hints: The ladder of Wittgenstein that can help us to climb somewhere but that must then be cast aside. The words of Zhuangzi about the words that are used for catching meanings but are forgotten after the meaning is caught. The idea of Tao, the Way, something necessarily dynamic, something impossible to describe or explain. The attempt by Nagarjuna to prove that every imaginable description of the most essential aspects of reality are self-contradictory and therefore not valid. The Chan methods of teaching understanding - wu or satori avoiding explanation and stimulating spontaneousness. The quotation from a Buddhist text where it is said that Buddha has no views.
Buddhism is understanding and therefore it is not a theory, not a philosophy, not a religion. For Buddhism, religions are just points, rungs, something you can step on but must leave behind. Buddhism is not Buddhism, therefore it is Buddhism, to paraphrase some Mahayanic texts.


Understanding is something irreducible. It cannot be understood by anything except itself. Something we understand can be understood with the help of something else - translations, analogies, metaphors, symbols. But the fact itself, the action, the process of understanding has no translation, no analogy, no valid metaphor. Understanding is outside our verbal universe, but at the same time the verbal universe can exist only through it. As God of the theologians is transcendental, outside our world, but the world is created and maintained by it (him, her). In a way, understanding is God, is the Kingdom of Heaven inside us.


Did the word 'gnosis' mean 'understanding' for the gnostics? It would explain something, perhaps even the mystical nature of the gnosis and gnosticism. In gnosticism, gnosis is self-understanding, understanding who we are, where we come from and where we should go. Here, understanding seems to be compared, perhaps even equated to remembering, reminding. The idea is possibly simple: we can understand only what we have already understood, but for some reason forgotten. Then, especially when we are reminded of it, we can recall it. Non-understanding is then a kind of oblivion.


Some more remarks on 'religious transcendence'. I am a descendant of a Frankist family, followers and relatives of Jacob Frank, a Jewish heresiarch who converted to Catholicism in the mid-eighteenth century. This conversion has its roots in some Kabbalistic ideas developed by the earlier sect of Sabbateans in Turkey. It can be interpreted in several ways. According to one of them Frank converted because he felt denominational Judaism as any other defined religion was too rigid, and essentially false as such. To get closer to the real core, the essence of religion, to the relationship with the Unnamable we have to deny the denominational part of the religion, to renounce any religion that defines itself as Judaism, Christianity, Catholicism, Islam... A good way to do that was to switch from one religion to another, to change the outer shells, the garments, to get closer to what is inside. Perhaps the fault of Frank was that in his quest for the inner, ineffable core of any religion, he took a militant, aggressive stand against all established religions. I think a more soft approach is possible. In Judaism it could be the one taken by the Hassidim who didn't break the outer shell of their religion, the commandments and rules, but developed a new vision inside it. But in a curious way, without knowing anything about what my ancestors did and strove for, as a religious thinker, I have done very much the same thing, trying to be in touch with the living mystical core of any true religion, and finding it in any or nearly any religion I know. I've followed my vision that has sometimes been clear and powerful, but I've not found good ways of speaking about this vision. In fact, everything or nearly everything I've written is written about this vision, about this understanding. In my own way, I'm a Frankist, a post-Frankist.


Philosophy is a set of questions and answers. In the beginning, philosophy included most essential questions people were eager to find answers to. Questions like 'What is life?', 'What is death?', 'What is love?', 'What is illness?', 'Where do we come from?', 'Where do we go to?', 'Who has made us?' ... were some of these questions. Nowadays these questions, often reformulated, have been answered by science. The domain of philosophy proper has become narrower and narrower. But I don't think it can disappear or become totally superfluous. The questions we want to ask don't jump out from nothingness, they have a history and a pre-history, besides a clear-cut meaning they have a pre-meaning, express something that cannot easily be defined, formulated, put into words. I think only philosophy can analyze these questions, their semantics and pragmatics, their relationship with the pre-questions, their life history, their motives. There are many possible questions about questions. We can ask why we ask questions we ask and not different ones, why we prefer certain questions and avoid others, why we formulate our questions in the way we do it, etc. We have to analyze the meaning of our questions, to get a clearer understanding of them. Sometimes we can or even should reformulate them. But here we must be careful and not replace questions with 'vague' meaning with those with 'clear' meaning. No serious question is meaningless. The fact that we cannot analyze, describe their meaning doesn't mean there is no meaning. Vagueness, fuzzyness is a feature language semantics shares with the external reality, and we shouldn't ignore it. The aim of philosophy is certainly understanding, but this doesn't mean we must replace what is vague and fuzzy with what is clear-cut. As Norbert Wiener points out the clouds - the clouds and nebulosas are not less real than the stars and stones - cannot be mathematically described in the same way as stars and stones. The fact that clouds cannot be counted (how many clouds in the sky? is not a good question) or measured (how long is that cloud?) doesn't mean they aren't real, have to be ignored or that their description has to be replaced by the description of more clear-cut, more easily definable things. Me may despise vagueness: it is also a question for philosophy why we despise it!, but Nature doesn't despise it. Thus we must describe things natural together with their vagueness, concede that sometimes vagueness is an unalienable attribute of things, and must also be described and even measured, although with specific methods. The language, our everyday language (or languages) has ways of speaking about vague, fuzzy things. Using fuzzy language, fuzzy logic in speaking about fuzzy things is one such way. There are other ways: we can try to find indirect, unconventional methods of measuring the fuzzy things, as e.g. measuring the cloudedness of the sky with the help of photometrical and spectroscopical methods. After all, clouds can teach us some good lesson on using our language in a proper way.


I listen to the discussion in the BBC about terrorism, and come back to my conclusion that there is a strong belief in definitions underlying the Western discourse, the Western way of thinking. Here, the world is believed to consist of well delimitated, pre-defined entities. The world consists as well of things and entities as of their definitions. In the world, A is always distinct, separate from non-A, the limits, clear-cut borders are in the nature of things, there are no or nearly no smooth transitions. The fact that we speak of terrorism is presumed to imply that there is such a well-predefined phenomenon as 'terrorism', now it is our task to find out what are the essential features of 'terrorism' that define it, differentiating it from everything else. We are very reluctant to admit that there is perhaps no such clear-cut entity as 'terrorism', but a vague set, a fuzzy set of phenomena that has many features in common with 'war', 'law-enforcement', 'fight for freedom', etc. Of course, now, after September 11, a big effort is being made to work out (it's not exactly the same thing as 'to find') a good definition of the concept 'terrorism'. Perhaps such a definition will be found and later approved by the UN and/or other international bodies. But this well-defined and approved concept is not necessarily the same thing as the intuitive one, the one we use. Nowadays we use two different languages, the language based on definitions (LD) and the language based on prototypes (LP). It would be an important task for philosophy to find a good method of translating from LD to LP. Simply replacing the words and expressions of LD with those of LP is not adequate translation, LD is not simply a better, modern and more exact language, it's a different language with different semantics and even more different pragmatics.


I believe there are two types of cultures I would call communicative and meditative, or what perhaps sounds a bit better - discursive and non-discursive cultures. In communicative cultures, a person is always on standby, ready to communicate, and therefore always verbalizing his/her experience. These experiences may even be somehow biased to adapt them better to the needs of communication. The communicative culture is logocentric, words are here as important as things.
In a meditative, non-discursive culture, people are not always ready to communicate, not on standby. They do not always verbalize their experience, and have sometimes difficulties trying to verbalize it. They search for adequate words, use several of them at the same time, approximate.
Typical communicative cultures are the mediterranean ones, the Italians, the French are always ready to communicate, to talk. They exist because they speak. Thinking is for them a kind of silent talk.
The Estonians are not a communicative people, they tend to be more meditative. It's even more true of the Finns who are famous for their silence, their awkwardness in communicating. In my opinion, the Far Eastern cultures - the Chinese, the Japanese and possibly the Koreans are meditative, non-discursive too. It's probably partly because of that that in these cultures we can find many well-developed ways of non-verbal and non-descriptive communication. The most famous among them are the zen-dialogues.
In the Far East, the communication can be sometimes quite complicated, it presupposes more knowledge, more common background. Then it can be very efficient and succinct. For people who have such a common background and a common feeling, a few words, a hint, a gesture can be enough, there is no need for long descriptions, no need for much talking.
We can say that in meditative (non-discursive) cultures descriptions, verbal communication are just means for mutual understanding. In communicative (discursive) cultures, descriptions, verbal communication are more ends than means. Here, verbalization is irreducible, mere understanding is not enough.
Perhaps the differences between occidental and far-eastern philosophy have something to do with this difference between discursive and non-discursive cultures. In the West, the philosopher is always trying to define the words he/she uses, to find the right words. The european philosophy tends to be more realist than nominalist, here the words explain things, there can be no right understanding of things without words, understanding itself is verbal. In the Far East, there is from the very beginning of philosophical discourse, a mistrust for words. Here the understanding is non-verbal, the truth most often cannot be expressed in words as is the case with Tao. The words are unable to describe the truth, only to point to it, and understanding is non-verbal, it cannot be verbalized. Tao is nameless, who knows-understands, doesn't speak, who speaks, doesn't know-understand.
There can well exist a link between the use and the character of language and the character of culture. In non-discursive cultures we can find a lot of means for approximation and 'direct links' to the external reality - onomatopoetics (ideophony), word pairs used where no word seems to be completely to the point. Such word pairs are frequent in Ugro-Finnic languages, but also in the Far East, often they are ideophonic. We may say that the Europeans and the Finns use the language in a somewhat different way; for the former, it is an adequate map of reality, for the latter, it isn't, there are many ways of compensating this inadequacy. For Europeans, things are what they are, a rose is a rose. For us in Finland, Estonia and probably in the Far East too, the things are just similar to other things. A rose is a kind of a rose. For an European the thing he/she sees is an A, for us it is an A-like thing, is similar to an A, seems to be an A. The world is for us more like a cloudy sky than a puzzle with clear-cut component parts.


I believe that there is no symmetrical relationship between philosophical realism and nominalism. We can build up a system, in fact a great, perhaps even an infinite number of realist philosophies, but there can probably be no good and consistent nominalist philosophy, no nominalist theory of being, of words and things. Realism is a means of building theories, nominalism is a means of demolishing, deconstructing them. If consistent, nominalism demolishes itself too, leads us to something that the Mahayanist philosopher Nagarjuna was most probably the first to discover. His own summary of his philosophical investigations is a brief and devastating statement where i.a. he says that there are absolutely no things. Thus, his philosophy is a philosophy of no things, but not a philosophy of nothing, a metaphysical negative substance of all and everything. It is rather the unavoidable result of every honest philosophical analysis of our concepts, our attempts to build a model of the world consisting of things, their relations and change.


Growing old, I become more and more convinced that what we call thinking is a very complex and fuzzy phenomenon. In fact, thinking is not thinkingat all, neither is thinking a kind of a silent speech. As I have grown up in a non-discursive culture, I don't need words to think, and as I more and more often forget the words I want to use, I can do without them, even when I would like to use them. I can think of people and things, I can recall them without remembering their names. The fact I have forgotten the words is no hindrance to thinking. It's only a hindrance to communicating my thoughts to other people. But even here the situation is not hopeless. In the modern (western) world we often seem to presume that thoughts are information we must communicate, send to other people as texts, as big bulks of words or bytes. But quite often different individuals think in the same way, have very similar thoughts. Here, we can find more economical ways of checking whether our thoughts are similar. We can have a different language to be used just to check our thinking, to find out whether we think in the same way or not. In some trivial cases it's quite simple. When we have a practical problem to solve, we can see whether we approach, solve it in similar ways, e.g. whether we play solitaire or piece together a puzzle in the same way. If this is so we may presume we have thought in the same way, although we shouldn't probably say we have had the same thoughts.
I believe thought uses many 'languages', not just the common language of our verbal communication. We use pictures, images, and these images are not just an illustration of our thoughts, but an integral element of it. Images often ARE thoughts, there is no real difference between them. Sometimes our thinking uses a kind of hieroglyphs, hybrid forms between images and words or phrases. In this way it resembles Chinese of Japanese way of writing where several types of 'hieroglyphs' are used, some of them clearly still preserving their pictographic nature, some of them having both a phonetical and ideographic parts, some of them being purely phonetical as the Japanese hiragana and katakana scripts.
But sometimes I feel thinking must still have another code, an archaic specific code that is somehow intimately connected with our understanding and consciousness, a primitive, aboriginal language of the mind. Anything we learn, any information we get must be translated to this language of the mind (LM). Then we can say that understanding itself is such a translation, and probably subsequent processing of information we have got. I have always been puzzled by the problem of what does understanding mathematics mean. In mathematics, we have a language or languages that are well elaborated, we have processes of proof or construction of mathematical objects. But this all is fruitless, unless we don't understand this language, these processes. How do we understand them? Don't we have here also a translation, a translation from the language of mathematics into the LM? Some mathematicians have explicitly stated that they don't think in formulas, that the process of mathematical creation and invention goes in a very different way from what we see in textbooks. Written mathematics is not 'real' mathematics, the mathematical process in our mind. It's the result of this process, a conventional way of communicating its results.
If I'm right, then we should perhaps need a more nominalistic approach to mathematics, what is exactly the opposite of what has happened to it in the XXth century when mathematics became forcefully realistic, was often considered identical with its written form, its symbolism. The problem of understanding disappeared or became a simply a problem of psychology, of epistemology, or even a pseudo-problem, not a problem of mathematics itself. I don't think such an approach is correct. There's more in mathematics than simply signs, there's more in mathematics than simply mathematics.


There are several layers of differentiation of our experience that seem to correspond to the ways of our description or expression of it. The first layer is holistic experience where there is no differentiation at all, no subject-object, foreground-background dichotomy nor the division of the whole field of experience into separate entities and cathegories of entities. The best language to express such holistic experience is music. Music is both subjective and objective, emotional and rational, but really none of these. Music is music when it can express such a holistic experience. As in the holistic expression there is no difference between the experience itself and its expression, music is both experience and its expression, both creation or recreation and expression of holistic experience. As there is no differentiation in experience itself, no divisions in the integral field of experience, the space of experience, divisions and accordingly movement are introduced into it by time, by what is often called the movement of time, although, in fact, what we call time is nothing but this movement, this change.


TRUTH IS THE OTHER

Truth - the other, unavoidable partner in our unavoidable dialogue with our 'environment'.
Truth is what we cannot change according to our will, our fantasy. Truth always asserts itself.
We can spend some time outside Truth as flying fish outside water. But when this truthless period becomes too long we are lost. We perish both physically and spiritually. The clash with the Truth we had forgotten or neglected is too violent for us to survive. If we do not stay on the mother rock of Truth, we can easily crashland on it.

MIMETIC EXPRESSIONS AND SEMIOSPHERE

There is a big difference between urbanized people or even people spending most of their time in human or man-made environment and people who spend a lot of time in natural environment, in Nature. The environment of the former is primarily semiotic, consists of signs, while the latter are surrounded by Nature that is not semiotic, is not a part of the human semiosphere. It can be semioticized, interpreted as semiosphere, but this semiosis can never be complete, the non-semiotic is always present, we cannot get rid of it.
There are many things around us that are not easy to name, to describe... There are certainly many more such things in the forest than in a village, more of them in a city than in a village. In urban life, everything has its name, is ordered, organized, in Nature it's hard for us to see the order, to name things, events, movements we encounter. As it is impossible for us to name everything we must pay attention to and talk about, we must find another way of doing it. One such way is making use of a different type of language, a language that is more a mimetic, depicting than describing, naming. We must use our language, our voice to imitate, to mimic what we observe: sounds, movements, shapes ... Mimetic expressions like hurly-burly, flip-flop, hoity-toity are a kind of a mini-theatre introduced into our speech that is most often based on conventional, arbitrary names and meanings. Instead of explaining what happened we mimic it, instead of describing how the slippers look like we depict them, show how they are used with the help of our speech organs following some rules of game, we call them flip-flops. Such depicting
In most European languages such mimetic expressions are not frequent, here description strongly prevails over depiction. An exception are the Fenno-Ugric languages and the Basque language where mimetic expressions, especially word pairs abound. They are very rare in the Mediterranean languages and much more common in English, possibly under the influence of the Celtic languages which may have borrowed the patterns of forming mimetic expressions from some pre-Celtic languages possibly related either to the Basque or Fenno-Ugric languages.
In Europe, these languages are somewhat marginal, are spoken in areas where agriculture and what we call urban civilization was introduced much later to the North of Europe than to the Mediterranean area. Is there then a connection between the abundance of mimetic expressions in a language and the (archeo)ecology of its speakers? Are more "social" people less mimetic and more nature-bound people more mimetic? The mimetic expressions are abundant in languages of peoples who seem to belong to the very first agriculturalists as the dravidic peoples in South India. Perhaps we should try another approach: to suppose that in some languages the mimetic and the naming components are kept apart, in some languages they are mixed up, there is an admixture of mimetics in many expressions, but because of that there are less explicitly mimetic expressions.

Last modified: Tue Jan 7 22:43:32 EET 2003