I have carried these ideas and images for many years inside me. Now I feel I am ready to write them down. I feel that now I know how I must write them down.
It would not be a treatise, a book people commonly write in the "West", not a systematic book, but what the Japanese call a pillow-book - a series of notes and short essays. In my case they will all be related to one main theme. This theme can be named in many ways. I could call it "Metamind", "Metathinking" or "Thinking about thinking". What does it mean? If I could give an answer to this question, I would not need to write any book. If the title could explain the content of the book, we wouldn't need any books. One characteristic feature of this "Metamind" (later simply MM) is precisely its belief in definitions, principles, titles, rules and names, belief that one word or a few words can explain the essence of a long text. MM thinks that a sentence and a long text can be synonymous.
The MM believes that every text, every philosophy, every book or thought has its essence, its main content that can be expressed in a few words or sentences. This essence is like the skeleton, the skull of a living being. An artist, a philosopher or anybody else, striving to "express his or her ideas" must at first know clearly their essence, must have the skeleton. Then he or she can really express them, give them flesh and blood. The skeleton is, of course, more important than flesh or blood. WHAT we have to say is more improtant than HOW we say it. A poem, a treatise or a story can, in fact, express the same ideas, convey the same "message". The content is primary, the form is secondary.
There is, however, an opposite way of looking at things. The living being, the text, the speech can be taken as primary, and what is commonly considered to be their essence, core or main content can be taken as secondary. The content of a text is not its essence but the result of its INTERPRETATION.
We are accustomed to think that one set of ideas can be expressed in many ways. There is ONE content expressed in many ways. In our alternative way of seeing things just the opposite is the case: one text can have many contents, convey many messages, according to interpretation chosen. There is no fixed content, no fixed skeleton.
How, then, is a text, a work of art, a treatise created, written? Does it not necessarily grow out from one core, from one idea, one plan? This seems to me to be just one possibility, but in no case the only one. The creative process, the process of thinking is much more interesting than the commonplace image we have of it.
Is complexity an essential thing in a philosophical text, a work of art or in living beings? If it is, then it is not correct to think that their essence is necessarily something simple, something condensed, shortened and schematized. Of course, in order to understand things, to have an oversight of them we must have ways to shorten, to condense them. We cannot cope with the awful complexity of life, art, philosophy or science. In order to cope with them, we must turn them into signs, into symbols. The "essence" can well be just a special type of such signs, signs for things. But the sign is clearly secondary. The sign grows out from our interpretation of the text.
There are many possible signs standing for a text, a person, a work of art. One such sign, the simplest sign is name. Name is closely connected with definition and definition is closely connected with description. Description is, in fact, identical with interpretation. Definition is the most condensed form of description or interpretation. Everything can have many definitions. E.g. a radio set can be a device for listening radio broadcasts or a box full of interesting multicoloured chips or a piece of furniture or a symbol of its owner's status and taste. For a cockroach or a mouse it is something very different from what it is for us. In a given culture, only one or a couple of such definitions are accepted and approved. In the cultural context, a thing is identified with its main definition. A spoon is something we use eating liquid food or stirring tea in the cup.
A culture is a mechanism which strives to make the reality, our environment to conform to our semantic reality, to our universe of signs. A radio must be a radio, a spoon must be a spoon, a novel must be a novel and a philosopher must be a philosopher.
In culture, in us there is a tension, an unstable balance between signs and things, between definitions and life. If the signs become to powerful, the culture becomes rigid, lacking life and creativity. If the semantic universe becomes fuzzy, if things change faster than signs, we cannot any more cope with them, with life. Life becomes chaotic, unpredictable and there is a general feeling of unease.
From this feeling of unease, the activity called philosophy is probably born. There are two main branches of philosophy: moral philosophy that tells us what things should be, trying to make things correspond words, and metaphysics which tries to make words to correspond things.
In the modern world, the balance between the two worlds, between signs and things is no more there. There is an im-balance and, paradoxically, this imbalance is twofold.
In the modern world, everything changes rapidly, new things appear, old things disappear, many cultures and codes coexist and struggle for life between themselves. People are confused, writers and theologians speak of a crisis of values and some of them advocate returning - even forcing others to return - to a more stable semantics, to "the roots of Christian civilization", to "traditional values".
In the same time, rigid semantic systems become more widespread in other fields as science, business and entertainment. In these fields we must more and more behave and think according to fixed standards. Our behaviour, our texts and creations must more and more conform to simplified signs and definitions. People are planning most of their activities and often their personality according to what is expected of them.
It is, however, dubious that we are able to plan most of what we do, that we are able to change ourselves according to some fixed standards. We can easily change our expressions, our words, our gestures, everything that we use as SIGNS, but we are often unable to feel, to imagine, to think in a different way. The world of signs is a world of freedom, a world of free choice. But it is equally a world of seemingness, a world where lying is possible and frequent. More we are free, more we are free to tell lies both to other people and to ourselves.
One thing is what we are, another thing is what we think (including what we think we are), yet another thing is what we say. We cannot lie, we cannot be wrong in what we are, we can be wrong in what we think and speak.
What we are means both our physique and our psyche. We are somebody and something, we are tired, we have a cold, we have a cough. We have strange ideas, thoughts, ideas. This is certainly not thinking, this is not doing but being, a world of spontaneous, unintentional mental phenomena. Thoughts, images, and whatever we call them come.
People have always understood that there is a difference between what we may call "methinks" and "I think". But most often, in everyday language as well as in philosophy and psychology, the difference is ignored. "Methinks" is an archaic expression. In all textbooks on psychology, thinking is treated as kind of action, as something we DO, something that is not just happening to us or in us.
An action is something we can plan and describe. An action is a miniplay with at least one actor, one "person", one "action" or "deed" proper, often also other "persons" and "things", "objects".
Can thinking be such an action? Is there a "person" thinking, can thinking be planned?
We can say "Peter opens the window". We can also say to Peter "Open the window". Peter can say that he will go and open the window exactly 4 o'clock P.M. every day.
We can say to Peter "Think about/on x" where, for example, x can be "opening the window" on "Kate" or "death". Such exhortations are often odd, as, for example "Think that square root of 7.45 is 2.729". "Thinking" here is synonymous with "keeping in mind, remembering" or an expression of wonder, astonishment, shock. "Think that the square root of 2 is an irrational number" would be appropriate in some occasions. But here, "thinking" does not mean what it means in ordinary expressions as "I think about the trip to London" or "I think that we should make a short trip to London".
Can Peter plan thinking about something or somebody? It may seem that he can. But can he, can we, really?
When we plan building a house, we plan an action consisting of many sub-actions as, for example, digging a hole in the ground, buying the necessary materials and hiring some workmen. But we cannot plan our process of thinking something in this way, thinking cannot be segmented, dissected in such way. Neither can we repeat our thoughts. We cannot step twice in the same place in our stream of consciousness. We can think about the same thing or the same person every evening and every morning, we can think of some matters in the same way from childhood to old age. But we cannot think the same THOUGHTS. Our thoughts are much more unique than "opening a window", "building a house" or "seducing a person".
What we repeat or plan is only the frame, the sign, the name we can give to the thought, not its content. What we cannot plan nor repeat we cannot communicate to other people either. In order to be able to communicate we must have some basic contents, some non-communicable, but common experiences we name and point to. If there are no such common experiences, there is no communication, no understanding. We cannot speak about colours to a colour-blind person or about smells to somebody who has no sense of smell.
It is easy to describe opening a window, building a house or seducing a man or woman. Many books have been written about the two latter and at least some poems about the former activities. But it is difficult to describe a thought, our thinking about something, the PROCESS OF THINKING itself, not its communicable content, the things we are thinking about, the how, not the what of thinking.
Opening a window is something absolutely different from thinking about opening a window. Our possible descriptions od both are probably very similar. It can only mean that either we describe our thoughts about an action as this action itself, or vice versa: we describe an action as our "thought" about it.
This thought, this thinking means describing something,giving it a name, finding a definition to it. Describing description, the process of describing is not something we do very often, and we conspicuously lack proper means to do it. We have always been more interested in things and actions than in our interest for these things and actions.
Our universe of description, our semantic universe is not self-reflective, it does not include itself. Thinking, giving names is a semiotic activity, but it is not an activity we can easily describe with our conventional signs, if we can describe it at all.
Then, "thinking" has clearly three meanings. At first, thinking is giving names, describing, translating experience in communicable signs. "Thinking" is also the process going on in our mind, the experience not yet translated into signs, our stream of consciousness. And finally, "thinking" is something in this process we can name and describe and which, in this way can be planned and repeated to a certain degree. This latter "thinking" has already been translated into signs, is something we could call "semiotic activity". This, however carries the hardly-to-be-founded belief that it is possible to do something only on this level of signs, to operate just with signs, to create "new ideas" or works of art just manipulating with signs.
There is thinking which does not give names, stream-of-consciousness thinking, and thinking which gives names, translates experience into signs and descriptions. And there is the sign, DEFINITION OF THINKING. We define thinking as e.g. operating with signs. We often forget that OPERATING WITH SIGNS IS NOT SIGN. Calling a name is not a name, uttering a sentence is not a sentence.
MM believes that thinking has an essence, it is operating with essences, i.e. names, signs or definitions. What can be seen as condensation of thinking is seen as its essence, thinking itself is seen as an expansion, a dilution of this essence. We believe that there is thinking in thinking, that a part of the thinking is more real, more truthful than the rest of it. Thinking has a skeleton, a skeletal stucture, a machine inside it. This structure, this machine does the most essential work, the most real part of what our thinking does. Man is a thinking animal (or a thinking reed), thinking is the essence of man. Then, of course, man is essentially a semiotic machine.
As the "essence" is believed to be more real than appearance, Modern man, Western man has defined himself as a machine. Machine has been the ideal of the Western man, and he has really tried to become a machine, to act as a machine, to replace himself with a machine wherever it possible. In some important aspects, the history of the Western civilization has been the history of a gradual evolution of man into machine, gradual formalization, algorithmization of human intellectual activity, even technical, scientific and artistic creation. A great part of modern art is already made, generated by theories and algorithms. Artist has evolved into art theorist and art theorist into algorithm-maker, program-maker. Their effort is directed toward creating an art-creating machine.
This evolution has been largely an illusory one. Man cannot transform himself into a machine, even it it is his primary aim. We cannot replace ourselves with anything else, our stream-of-consciousness thinking, primary thinking cannot be replaced by what it believes to be thinking proper, more real thinking. Thinking that thinks it is not thinking is nevertheless thinking. Our thinking is our universe, and we cannot leave it with the aid of thinking as we cannot wash blood with blood. The secondary thinking, thinking with signs, names and notions is not outside primary thinking, it is a part of it, a part of the game our thinking plays with itself.
For the MM, there is nothing immediate, everything is real as far as named, defined, mediated by signs.
As the MM considers itself to be something else, it has been conscious of itself in a curious way, via signs and definitions. It has not accepted itself as mind, as primary thinking, but has constructed a model of itself, a model which is, first of all, a machine.
The MM has rarely seen itself as itself, usually it has seen itself as another, as something else. It has defined itself, described itself in various ways and turned little attention to its immediate reality.
In Middle Ages, physicians were not allowed to dissect human corpses, they could study human anatomy only indirectly, by dissecting pigs or sheep. In what concerns psychology the Western man has studied himself by analogy with machine, by analogy with what he thought he was and what he thought he ought to be.
At the times of Jesus Christ, the most important thing in a man was his spirit - in Latin SPIRITUS and in Greek PNEUMA. In Semitic languages it was called RUH or RUACH. This word corresponds well to the Chinese QI (CH'I) meaning life force or energy. If a man has a lot of pneuma or qi, he is very much alive and can do wonderful things - write poems, cure sick, beat his enemies or even resuscitate dead. He can, of course, also think more clearly, he has more phantasy and creativity. But certainly pneuma is not intellect, ability to put together jigsaw puzzles, play chess or solve mathematical problems.
Later, in the Western world (I believe with the Islamic world included), intellect step by step replaced soul. The Latin word SPIRITUS is etymologically homologuous to PNEUMA or RUH, meaning breath. In French it gives ESPRIT, in English SPIRIT - both more related to intellect than to VIS VITALIS. ESPRIT can mean wit. We speak of the French spirit. We say "the spirit of the law" - i.e. its meaning. Spiritual often means the same as intellectual.
As I tried to show, what is called intellect the thinking self, is an abstraction, a construction that has strong similarities with a machine. We have transformed our spirit, our breath into a machine.
In the same time as human spirit has been intellectualized and mechanized, the other word we use for our psychical activities - SOUL (Latin ANIMA, French AME) has become an archaic word, used in Church and in some expressions like "Save our souls".The soul, anima was too close to immediate psychic reality, it had to include our desires, phantasies, imagination and emotions. Because of this, it was too "animal". The intellect, the expurgated and distilled spirit was far less dangerous, it was as a good-natured chess-player inside us, totally tame and predictable. It was also easier to consider our intellect to be closer to immortality than the animal and emotional soul.
Spirit has become intellect, the best, the most aristocratic part of our mind which perform logical and mathematical operations. These and their results preserve their value in time, their truth value or correctness is independent of time. We can express this fact in a pathetical way declaring that formulas and equations EXIST independently of time, that they express "Eternal truths". Naturally, the part of our mind which is busy formulating and contemplating such eternal truths, might well be eternal itself. We can even "prove" that it must be eternal.
Eternity is contagious. Knowledge of truth presupposes some reflection, reproduction or copying of it. If the truth is eternal, then, if the copy is really adequate, it must be eternal too. Otherwise its knowledge of the truth is inadequate.
To say it in a more modern language: knowledge of the truth is like copying a computer program, an eternity-processing program. If the copy is well done, the copied program is activated and begins to process eternity too.
For the MM the eternal truth is something that can be explained and expressed, then it must have a kind of a syntax and semantics. The eternal truth (or truths) can be told or written. Some philosophers and theologians thought it can be told even in a human language, e.g. in Hebrew, Greek or Chukchee. Some thought that only a special arcane language is able to convey it. In the beginning, what later became mathematics, seems to have been such an arcane language, used and elaborated by a curious sect called Pythagoreans. This sect has had followers up to the present day: people who symphatize with it believe that God is a super-mathematician who created a calculus called the Universe. Some Jewish and Muslim mustics believed that the eternal Truth is hidden in their sacred scripture which must be carefully studied and reinterpreted to find this hidden Truth. The real, reinterpreted Scripture contains the whole Truth, and the Universe is but a copy of it, a copy in a very imperfect material.
Even the Scripture (the Torah or Qur'an) may be an imperfect copy of this primeval Scripture written in a more precious and more complete alphabet, for example with white fire on black fire. This was the belief of some Kabbalists according to Gerschom Scholem.
If the eternal truth is something that can be expressed, it is either a text or a device, a machine capable of producing such a text. This text we may call truth-text is something more basic, more real than the universe of our common human knowledge and experience. Both our knowledge and the universe are emanations, reflections or otherwise Anderssein of this basic truth-text, basic semantic reality. This means that our knowledge has a more direct way to the ultimate and eternal truth than the empiric way of observation and experimentation. Everything that is, is written, everything that is written in Nature, is written in us or can be written by us too. This is what we might call the strongest version of one of the basic hypotheses of the MM, the hypothesis of the universe as a truth-text.
We can imagine a very different conception of the universe where it is not a text, cannot be described by any text, is not isomorphic to any text. Such a world view exists in the West, but it has been more popular in the "East", especially in Buddhist and Taoist thinking. There, the ultimate truth cannot be named, it cannot even be called "ultimate truth". Called by any name, described by any description, it is no longer itself, loses its identity, although its is believed to possess no identity in the Western sense of the word. The ultimate truth is very shy, it behaves as an elementary particle whose parametres it is impossible to measure - measuring changes or obscures them. Operationally, it makes no sense of speaking about these parametres or the particle having precise parametres at all. Metaphysically, the MM has had some difficulties of accepting the vague existence of objects. A truth-text consists of signs, and signs either are there or are not. Semiotic objects behave in an unambiguous manner. Thus, it is more comfortable to believe in them, to believe in a universe consisting not of precarious and unpredictable objects but of signs.
This is or has been probably one of the most essential differences between the so-called East and the so-called West. Nearly every idea that exists in the West, exists also in the East, but their distribution and development have been very different. The idea of the universe as a truth-text has been very popular in the West. It was accepted in a stronger form (e.g. the Platonic school) or weaker form (e.g. the Aristotelians) by the great majority of philosophers with the notable exception of some dissident nominalists and mystics who could not develop their thinking consistently and openly in a society believing in the absolute authority of a "revealed text" and the absolute reality of the universe as a truth-text.
If the universe and everything in it, including human thought and action, is a truth-text, then it must follow the basic rules of a special grammar, be generated by a special machine. It must be a semantic construction following a special plan, having a skeleton, an essence. The first steps to find out these rules, to construct such a machine were made by logicians and mathematicians. In a way, these are the rules of compression and expansion. If the universe follows rules, the its description can be shorter, more concise tha the universe itself. Some mathematical formulas desribing TV-antennae describe millions of existing antennae and perhaps even more antennae not yet built. A sentence "Most British children clean their teeth every morning" says something that otherwise would need a whole library of books on the morning behaviour of Jim, Tom, Kate and a number of other children. The Aristotelian logic was equally an attempt of constructing all possible assertions from a limited number of basic ones, to build up a logical duplicate of the universe using a limited number of building blocks. These blocks were, in fact, phrases in a language. For the Pythagoreans whose aim was similar to that of the Aristotelians, this language had to be the mathematical language of relations.
An important question is how far can the universe as a truth-text be condensed, into how small a lump can it be squeezed. We must describe the universe as consisting of a certain kind of atoms - parts that are conventionally not divided into smaller parts. These can be called "elementary facts" following Wittgenstein. This not necessarily presupposes the existence of such elementary facts. Our need of them is pragmatical, not metaphysical. Using a language, communicating with the help of a language we are like water-insects gliding on the surface of this world of elementary facts. Sometimes we have to dive, go deeper, but this is not easy and it can disrupt our communication with other people. As the experience of philosophy and science proves: philosophers and scientists have difficulties in explaining their deep thoughts. The depth of our discourse is fixed by some unwritten rules. If we break these rules, our discourse may change radically. This is proved by a very simple experiment. Let us take a text, e.g. an action story where Bill takes a gun from his pocket and shoots Ben. It is a perfectly normal and clear text. But if we try to describe what Bill's hand and fingers were doing, in what manner exactly they clutched the gun, what did his knees, his eyes, what happened to his breathing and what images flew through his mind, we speak more about something happening than something done. Human action and even human personalities - actors - dissolve into series of automatisms. It becomes problematic to speak about human beings if we look at them through a microscope or a telescope. In both cases most of what happens to them or what they say they are "doing" seems little else than stochastic events, loosely organized and moving to a certain direction, but in a rather erratic way. We are like deep sea fish who can live only at a certain depth, elsewhere we just perish as ourselves, as personalities.
Let us suppose we have specified the depth of our discourse - as it is in everyday language - and want to speak about the atoms, the elementary facts of our world. Now we have to find a language. Our choice is limited by two extremes. We can either have a special sign, a name for every elementary fact or one single sign for everything. This latter one-sign language is meaningless. The one-fact-one-sign language is impossible to use. It would need an intellect and a memory largely beyond our own ones. All real languages lie between these theoretical extremes. Our language, all the texts we produce are the result of such compromises, are shaped by three major influences - the reality itself and the needs of two parties in the communication process - the sender and the receiver. Any text, any message is directly or indirectly a result of a complex game between three players. The most intriguing of them is the third one - the reality, the world.
The world is, in a way, the total content of all our messages, it is what our messages are about and what is common in them. We can speak about weather, houses or ourselves, our feelings - these too are a part of the world for our partner. There is a part of the world that is common for us, and for most people, even animals, and there are the private worlds of us. These worlds are different, but not so different that communication between people and even people and some other animals were impossible if it is kept in certain frames, if we don't want to communicate what is impossible to communicate, for example making the blind understand what is colour.
The communicators want to compress the message, to make it as concise and simple as possible. of course, both have their special aims, but this is not important here.
How does the reality, the world act as the third player?
The world resists to being described in a simple and concise way. World's message is very complicated and need deciphering, deciphering in a chronic shortage of time. This means that we must take for granted incomplete and superficial descriptions which become false when we believe that they say more than they say, when we presume that the Bible is a textbook on natural history or a penal code has foreseen every possible crime.
The world behaves as if does not want us to know very much about it. It builds its messages in the way that we can receive only a part of them with the help of the code we have. To get more information about it, we need another code. There seems to exist no single code we could use to read the Message of the world or about the world. God's message, if we like to call it that way.
To tell it in a different way - there seems to exist no single language we could use to describe the world, the Truth. Then, of course, the Truth cannot be seen as a single text. Truth exists as a non-text that can partly be seen or described as a text. Or a coded text that cannot be completely decoded with the help of a single code.
The world is complex in a special way. It is partly unpredictable, and its complexity is unpredictable too. We can often invent a way of understanding and describing something, but we cannot be sure that this way is always adequate. The world is like a complex curve we can describe with the help of a formula, but only to a certain extent - another part of it needs other formulas. And the history of our efforts to describe the curve is such a complex curve too.
As we go deeper and deeper in our attempts to describe the world we must use a more and more complex language to cope with it. Mankind has had to change language several times, before it arrived at what is now called a scientific understanding of the world. We had to abandon our everyday language, and to adopt a more strict one. At first it was the language of elementary mathematics, then the language of mathematical analysis. Nowadays the natural sciences use an extremely sophisticated mathematical language. It seems paradoxical that while trying to describe what is called elementary particles we must use a language which is very far from anything we usually call elementary and simple. If we call this language elementary, then we have changed the ordinary meaning of the word. But if we don't call the language elementary, can we say it about the particles? Something we arrive with the help of a very complex and cumbersome equipment and theory should perhaps be considered complex too? In fact, nothing is per se simple or complex. There is no absolute difference in complexity between the universe in its entirety and an atom. They are interdependent and each of them is either simple or complex depending only on our point of departure. And if we want to describe an atom we must depart from the universe and vice versa. In one case, the universe is simple and the atom complex, in another case the opposite is true. What we say about atoms we can say about the language too. Departing from our ordinary language the language of mathematical physics is complex, departing from the language of mathematics the ordinary language is complex too. In itself, an sich, nothing is simple or complex.