Varieties of Perception based on Visual Analogies



In this blog I’d like to consider how our varieties of perception about the nature of reality and the world in which we live are based on visual analogies, and especially how these visual analogies typically operate below our threshold of conscious awareness as unexamined  presuppositions. Differences in metaphysical and epistemological, and even aesthetic and ethical judgments are based upon these ways of seeing or perceiving ourselves in relation to the world.

How do you see the world? I am not asking WHAT you see but HOW you see. What is unconscious, automatic and normative in the way that you see? I’m not asking the question on a physiological level but the psychological and social levels, indeed, on the unspoken metaphysical and epistemological levels as well. Tell me HOW you see the world and I will tell you your operating worldview, that is, what you think is “really going on” and “what’s worth noticing.”

Consider the following questions:

Where do…

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Varieties of Perception based on Visual Analogies


In this blog I’d like to consider how our varieties of perception about the nature of reality and the world in which we live are based on visual analogies, and especially how these visual analogies typically operate below our threshold of conscious awareness as unexamined  presuppositions. Differences in metaphysical and epistemological, and even aesthetic and ethical judgments are based upon these ways of seeing or perceiving ourselves in relation to the world.

How do you see the world? I am not asking WHAT you see but HOW you see. What is unconscious, automatic and normative in the way that you see? I’m not asking the question on a physiological level but the psychological and social levels, indeed, on the unspoken metaphysical and epistemological levels as well. Tell me HOW you see the world and I will tell you your operating worldview, that is, what you think is “really going on” and “what’s worth noticing.”

Consider the following questions:

Where do your eyes naturally look in search of what is really real? Do they primarily look up (like the Rational-Mystic Plato) or down (like the Rational-Empiricist Aristotle) in Raphael’s famous painting of the School of Athens?

Do they primarily look behind” or in front of, to the historical past or to the uncharted future)? Or do they alternate between these two?

Do they look “either here for the good or there for the bad,” like dualists, or do they look “first here, then there, and then in between,” like dialectical synthetic thinkers?

Do they primarily look “here, there, and everywhere,” (like the eclectic post-modernists), or do they look at all quadrants and all levels (AQAL)  within a methodological integrative pluralism,” (like Ken Wilber and the trans-modernists)? [See my recent blog on the hidden connection between linguistic prepositions and theoretical propositions.]

Here are some more questions to consider: How do we look upon what we see? Do we look primarily with telephoto lens, or which a panoramic lens? Do we tend to go for the intimate close-up or do we prefer to step back to see the big picture? Do we look for the fine details or seek the grand overview?

Do we like to mix things up with the use of the “pan,  zoom, sweep,” combining multiple techniques in our optical perception?

Do we prefer to notice the foreground or background, the explicit or tacit dimensions of visual perception? Do we rely upon monocular or binocular vision? Can we see things in three dimensional images, or does everything look flat and two-dimension? What about possible fourth or fifth dimensions of “seeing?” What do we do with the fact that prime reality seems to extend vastly beyond the limits of both our rational minds and five senses, and yet that our reason and senses do seem remarkably “fitted” to the exploration of the natural world?

Do we tend to look at the obvious surface or look for subtle depths? Indeed, do we tend to look for what the visible eye can see through the senses, or do we seek to employ our “third eye” to perceive a deeper reality that is invisible to the senses, and even to our scientific instruments?

And when our eyes look out upon the world, what is behind those eyes as a normative state of mind? What is the condition of our subjectivity and introspection, and how does it influence what and how we see the world that we perceive to be outside? Do we look out upon others and the world with “eyes” of craven fear, bitter jealousy, forlorn sadness, furious rage, agonizing perplexity, astonished wonder, exuberant joy, intellectual curiosity, impish delight or extravagant love?

What “doors of perceptions” have we dared to open? Which have we ignored? Which have we slammed shut in fear of the unknown?

Do our habitual ways of “seeing” the world correlate primarily with “genius type” who persistently seeks an ever larger, more comprehensive and  encompassing view of reality; the “normal person” who is accepts the status quo without question; or the “histrionic type” who is constantly overwhelmed by “too much information” and no way to integrate it into any meaningful and coherent vision of reality?

These too are ways of seeing the world. We do not just see with the eyes. We see through the eyes, and what we see through them will depend upon the lenses and filters we wear. The problem is, we often are not aware of these lenses and filters, and of the profound influence they have upon how we interpret and apply our knowledge and experience.

If you answer these questions, I will tell you the hidden “metaphysic” that informs what you see not with but through your eyes.

Life’s Persistent Human Question: “What Are You Seeking?”

The Search

I am a seeker. I am one of those who has been blessed (or cursed) with the need to persistently ask the fundamental questions of life. No question is more fundamental than this one: “What do you seek?”

For me there can be no single or simple answer but rather a variety of limited perspectives and partial answers. These have to do with what I seek to be, know, love, appreciate, understand, explore, discover and create in the world.

Lately I’ve been exploring six historical paradigms as ways people see the world, and so I’ve been asking the question of “what we are seeking” in terms of these six historical paradigms: the Primordial, Traditional, Romantic, Modern, Post-Modern and Trans-Modern Perspectives.

Here’s how I think each of these six “narrative paradigms” would answer the fundamental question, “What do I seek?” Please note that these are NOT all my own points of view, but rather how I think those who fully embrace each of these paradigms would answer the question of what they seek:

1: The Primordial Paradigm: I seek to be “energetically alive” and “consciously awake” to the (paradoxical) Eternally Present and Temporally Emergent Mystery of Being and Becoming, of “Eternity that is in love with the products of Time.” I believe that all of the Primal or First Peoples of the world have understood this radical and transforming imperative to live in harmony with Mother Nature and the Great Spirit.

2: The Traditional Paradigm: I seek to know, appreciate, understand and be guided by the Fiduciary Wisdom of Authority and Tradition, especially the best that has been thought and said across the ages by history’s most profound and creative minds in all the vital domains of human knowledge and life experience. I value and respect “the wisdom of the ages” as it has been variously handed down to us in both sacred and secular “exemplary founders” and “authoritative texts” that encompass the disciplines of philosophy and religion, history and literature, the arts and sciences. I seek to be more fully educated in the Western Intellectual and Cultural tradition, and also to attain a greater appreciation for and understanding of the Eastern Intellectual and Cultural Tradition as well. I admire the great Renaissance polymaths who attempted to master multiple disciplines. I believe with George Santayana that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” One of the worst plights that can fall upon any people is that they would suffer from “historical amnesia,” that they would lose all recollection and comprehension of their past, of how it has influenced what they have become today, and of where they might be heading in the future.

3: The Romantic Paradigm: I seek to appreciate beauty, romance, imagination and enchantment. I celebrate poetry, music, drama and the arts. I view creativity as man’s greatest gift and I admire the “creative geniuses” in literature, music and arts above all other kinds of genius. I believe that “imagination is greater than knowledge.” What the world needs is more “creative visionaries” and “strong poets” who can “see eternity in a grain of sand.” I believe with the philosophical idealists that man’s “true nature” as a “spiritual being having a human experience” calls him contemplate the eternal forms of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and to give creative and artistic expression to these ideals in physical world in which we live.

4: The Modern Paradigm: I seek to use my critical reason and empirical knowledge to know what the physical and natural world consists of, and to discover through experimentation and scientific method how things work in according with underlying mechanisms, principles, laws and processes. I seek to apply this knowledge in the development of useful machines and technologies that improve the quality of life and extend the reach of human intelligence.

The scientific modernist says, I don’t understand people who are not fascinated by explanatory power of science and the efficient power of technology. I am appalled that there are still many people in our scientific age who do not believe that the earth revolves around the sun, or who know nothing about the great founders of modern science and their revolutionary discoveries. Religious fundamentalists are idiots who still live in the middle ages!

For all practical purposes science has replaced religion in the modern world. In the “trans-human” future our smart machines with artificial intelligence (AI) will achieve the “singularity” as they match and surpass human beings in their capacity not only to “calculate” and “carry out complex mechanical maneuvers” but also to “think” and perhaps even to attain the miracle of “consciousness.”

“Modernism will give way to Trans-humanism as we realize that humans are really just complex machines and that we can build machines that surpass us in many ways and at the same time can enhance our lives. This will be “the brave new world.” The time is coming when our AI robots will be able to do just about anything better than us, and they will take over most of our jobs. We’ll have to think of something else to do with our time and our lives besides work because we will have been replaced by our superiors. We had better get ready for it because it’s coming.

But I can hear the voice of a different kind of modern humanist. It goes like this: Hey, I’m a modern humanist and the trans-humanists have gone off the deep end.  What I seek is not salvation through technology but social, economic and political progress within an open democratic society. I seek environmentally sustainable ways to live that do not poison our soil, water and air. I seek the values of social justice, economic opportunity, and civil discourse. I see human consciousness, sentience, subjectivity, inter-subjectivity, narrativity and aesthetics as aspects of our “critical intelligence” that will not be replicated by artificial Intelligence. Clearly we who call ourselves modern humanists have a difference of opinion about what is most important and what values we primarily seek to realize in our lives and in the world. I seek “self-creation and social solidarity.” There is no need to fixate upon intemperate utopian or apocalyptic visions of the technological singularity. Our real challenge have to do with freedom and dignity, justice and peace, rights and responsibilities, enterprise and ecology. 

5: The Post-Modern Paradigm: I seek to appreciate and respect the multiplicity of incommensurable worldview perspectives, value systems, language games and cultural traditions by which people construct meaning and values for living. We need to give up the modernist dream of objective reason and scientific empiricism solving our greatest problems and making sense of the world. There are many different ways in which people appeal to their own reason and evidences in support of different tacit assumptions and interpretive conclusions. Facts and Values are not as separate from each other as modernists believed. “We believe that we might know” as much as “we know that we might believe.” The modernist assumption that one can have “the view from nowhere” is an illusion. All human knowledge and perception is partial and conditioned, and the observer influences that which is observed. Subjectivity and consciousness is not epiphenomenal but a primal and persistent aspect of what is.  In the quantum world “mind influences matter as much as matter influences mind.” We live in many worlds and have to respect our irreducible differences.

6. The Trans-Modern Paradigm: I seek to pluralistically integrate the multiple perspectives into a Theory of Everything rather than settle for a  polyphrenic world of radical pluralism and eclectic irony. Such a Theory of Everything can make room for the contributions of the Primordialists, Traditionalists, Romantics, Moderns and Post-Moderns without absolutizing any of their perspectives. An integral pluralist Theory of Everything encompasses the internal and external, individual and collective quadrants of reality. These four quadrants we can designate as intentional, behavioral, cultural and societal. Most theorists dwell almost exclusively within only one or two of these quadrants. We need to learn how to develop “non-reductive” theories that recognize the irreducible ontological reality of all four quadrants.

An integral pluralist Theory of Everything also encompasses a revised and updated version of the Great Chain of Being as multiple explanatory levels. The original version is “matter, body, mind, soul and spirit.” A more nuanced re-visioning includes the physical, biological, neurological, physiological, psychological, interpersonal, sociological, cognitive, imaginative, volitional, ethical, intuitive, teleological and ontological levels. These levels of being are connected holistically and relationally rather than reductively. A reductive materialist paradigm reduces all levels ultimately to the physical level alone, that is, to physics. A holistic idealist model of reality relates all levels of existence as “nested” within the Fullness of Being and Universal Mind rather than reduced to Lifeless and Mindless Dust in the  “nihil” of physical oblivion.

OK, so these represent two different worldviews. Materialists and Idealists both have their own versions of a Theory of Everything. One starts with Being and Mind. The other starts with “Matter in the Void.” Dualists and Panpsychists also have their own Theories of Everything as well. For Dualists reality consists of two separate and non-overlapping realms, Spirit and Matter, Mind and Body. For Panpsychists Mind and Matter are not “dual” but rather “non-dual” in their relationship as the implicit and explicit, internal and external, mental and physical, subjective and objective aspects of a single co-arising reality.

Where do we go from here as “seekers?” How do we best account for our real differences in the ways we react and respond to the fundamental questions of life?

One way to account for these persistent differences is in the study of brain-hemisphere dominance. Leonard Shain explored this territory in his book “The Alphabet and the Goddess.” Iain McGilchrist has more recently explored it in “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Mind and the Making of the Western World.” Some people primarily see the world through the faculties of the right-brain. Their view is holistic, introspective, intuitive, affective, and perceptive. Other people primarily see the world through the faculties of the left-brain. Their view is reductive, empirical, sensory, cognitive and judicial. The right-brain is looking for and naturally sees “both-and.” the left brain is looking for and naturally sees “either-or.” Each side sees what it is looking for, and minimizes the influence of the other side of the brain. In “whole-brain learning” one attempts to integrate the two hemispheres in such a way as to make room for “both-and paradox” and “either-or logic,” for whole and parts, imagination and reason, art and science.

Another approach is to recognize that some people have a higher need for certitude than others, while others are more comfortable with ambiguity. Eric Hoffer’s book “The True Believer” and Robert Jay Lifton’s book, “The Protean Self” both explore this relationship between certitude and ambiguity, as well as the relationship between those who seek a single exclusive explanatory answer and those who prefer to live in a world with multiple and inclusive explanatory answers to the big questions they ask in life.

Religious and Secular “True Believers” have more in common with each other than either does with those who prefer to employ language and words in a metaphorical, figurative, analogical and relational way rather than in a literal, factual, absolute and exclusionary way. Literalists tend to assume a “correspondence theory” between the words they speak and a reality outside the self that they seek to properly name.

Non-literalists, some of whom but not all are post-modern ironists, see the relationship between human words and prime reality as more indirect and complex, loaded with multiple resonances and variant meanings. Non-literalists don’t deny the “external reality” of a physical world outside the self as solipsists do. They are not radical subjectivists but neither are they radical objectivists. Their linguistic and conceptual approach includes the subjective, intersubjective and objective dimensions. Michael Polanyi’s epistemology of “personal knowledge” that combines both the tacit and explicit dimensions exemplifies this approach that results in a “third culture” that stands between Romantic subjectivism and Modernist objectivism.

Non-literalists may enjoy exploring the world of ideas and be drawn to some ideas more than others, but they tend to be weary of all ideas that become “reified” or concretized into exclusive ideologies. This applies to the four  major worldview ideologies of dualism, materialism, idealism and psychism. It also applies to the four major political ideologies of conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism and communitarianism. Non-literalists are “principled pragmatists” take words seriously but not literally. They know that our abstract words always have a “surplus of meaning” and are “contexually situated.”

Those with an inordinate need for “certitude” will be drawn toward the archetypal and explanatory power of a single ideology to such a degree that they become zealous “True Believers.” Those who appreciate the rational, existential, aesthetic and ethical appeal of particular ideas may become “provisionally committed” to them and appreciate their practical utility in the present situation but they resist becoming zealously partisan “True Believers.” With Socrates the “philosophical seeker” knows the limits of his own knowledge. He knows that he do not know. With Nicolas of Cusa he practices “learned ignorance.” With Montaigne he confesses, “What do I know?” With Keats he practices “Negative Capability.” With Rilke he seeks to “live the questions.” Reverent agnosticism may make room for gnosis or “inner knowing” and for transcendent vision and instinctive faith, but it does not confuse faith with knowledge, or fiduciary trust with dogmatic certitude.

This past weekend I read Michael Krasny’s “Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest.” It’s a quick and easy read, mostly autobiographical of the author’s journey as a Bay Area radio talk-show host in dialogue with all kinds of people, especially “Believers and Skeptics.” Krasny makes it clear that he respects (and almost envies) people of different faiths while he himself remains by temperament a incurable agnostic. He distances himself from celebrities whom he has encountered as “belligerent and arrogant atheists” who speak contemptuously of all persons of faith, often distorting their beliefs and pathologizing all religion.

Krasny, too, has carved out a “third culture” for those “reverent agnostics” like himself who appreciate the spiritual quest, and the struggles of those who have undertaken such heroic quests, even if the quest has not yielded any definitive or conclusive answers for him, at least none that sweep away the persistent experience of uncertainties and doubts. Krasny exemplifies the person who experiences a bit of “spiritual envy” toward those who have found peace of mind and serenity through following some spiritual path, but who knows himself well enough to recognize that he will never be at home as either a “True Believer” or a “Belligerent Skeptic.”

Attempting to live in the “DMZ” between hard-core believers and hard-core unbelievers is a good way to be mistaken as the enemy and shot at from both sides. I myself are familiar with this experience. In a world dominated by “dualistic thinking” in both religion and politics those who choose to live in “dialectical tension” must be prepared for criticism from both sides of the dialectic. It was his commitment to dialectic that landed Socrates in trouble with the authorities of ancient Athens and it still lands dialectical thinkers in trouble with the thought police today.

Even the dualistic language of “believers and “unbelievers” is problematic because “believers” don’t believe just anything, and “unbelievers” do believe some things. It would be clearer to say that there are two (and actually many) kinds of believers. In popular discourse what is implied if not made explicit is that “believers” think there is (or may be) more to reality than the material world, and that there may be more ways of knowing the depths of reality than the scientific method of naturalistic empiricism alone. By contrast, “unbelievers” deny and reject that claim in whatever dualistic, idealist or panpsychist form it takes, and insist that the material or physical world is all there is, Further, they insist that there is only one true and reliable way of knowing that world. It is scientific empiricism under the interpretative framework of naturalistic materialism or physicalism. Any “meta-physical” world beyond “physics” is categorically denied. “What you see is what you get.” So the real distinction is between those who believe in physics PERIOD and those who believe in physics and metaphysics.

What do you seek? This is a question that will remain with us as long as human beings remain capable of philosophical reflection. It is not enough simply to “eat, drink and be merry,” to live lives of mindless distraction and conspicuous consumption. We are creatures who are “natural-born seekers.” It is our birth-right and innate calling as human beings. When human beings cease to be thoughtful and passionate seekers, one must suspect that something has gone terribly wrong. To be a “seeker” is to be vitally alive and consciously awake to the mystery of reality and the wonder of our existence. Albert Einstein wrote, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein too was a seeker. What do you seek?

Prepositional Language & Worldview Orientations



Behind       Inside  –  Between  –  Outside       Ahead


Everywhere   –   Somewhere  –  Nowhere  –  Ambiguous  

Who Knows?  –  What Ever?

“Tell me your prefered prepositional language for locating “Prime Reality” and I’ll tell you your basic worldview orientation.”

The Transcendent Idealist “locates” the Prime Reality as being figuratively and metaphorically above us as the Universal (Platonic) Forms of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. It may also point to the Prime Reality as consisting of Eternal Being, Mind, Spirit or Essence that  dwells within, among, through and between us.

The Scientific Materialist “locates” the Prime Reality as being figuratively and metaphorically below us in the material and natural world as discovered by physics and biology, not in the “epiphenomenal” world of consciousness and mind.

The Metaphysical Dualist “locates” the Prime Reality as figuratively and metaphorically both Above and Below in two separate orders of reality — the Spiritual and Physical, Invisible and Visible, Heavenly and Earthly, Mental and Physical, Eternal and Temporal, Infinite and Finite, Necessary and Contingent, Essential and Existential. The Metaphysical Dualist is “a citizen of two worlds,” and has two different ways of knowing — one numinous, intuitive and affective, the other sensory, rational and empirical.

The Process Panpsychist (and Pan-en-theist) “locates” the Prime Reality as figuratively and metaphorically in the dynamic co-arising synthesis of Mind (above) and Matter (below), and as dynamically ahead of us in the emergent historical and eschatological future where “Matter is becoming Spiritualized” through the evolutionary lure of creative novelty .

The Post-Modern Eclectic Ironist “locates” the Prime Reality as “sort of here, there, everywhere, and nowhere” since we live in an irreducibly fragmented, ambiguous and “polyphrenic” world of multiple “local narratives” that defy pluralistic integration through any Grand Theory of Everything, whether naturalistic or metaphysical.

The Trans-Modern Integral Pluralist “locates” the Prime Reality as being present in all epistemological quadrants, including the internal intentional and cultural, and the external behavioral and social quadrants; and in all the metaphysical levels, including the material, organic, mental, soulful and spiritual levels of being and existence. Ken Wilber calls this approach AQAL: All Quadrants, All Levels.

Of course one problem with our employment of language is that it is easy to “conflate” figurative and factual language and to “reify” metaphorical language into metaphysical language, thus claiming to know more than we really do, and claiming it with ideological authority and dogmatic certitude. We forget that “the map is not the territory,” and that our “useful paradigms” are not necessarily “reality itself” in all its plenitude and diversity, but rather our best attempts to make connections and correlations beween the concepts of our finite, conditioned and situated mind on the one hand and the expansive, unbounded and encompassing reality of “what is” on the other.

The Metaphysical “Agnostic” and “Ignostic” do not try to use figurative and metaphorical language to locate the Prime Reality “anywhere”. The Agnostic may decide that the question of the nature of Prime Reality is simply unknowable and undecidable. He may decide that it is even more than a “Hard Problem” that science or philosophy will eventually “Solve”. He may decide that it is an Ineffable Mystery in which we dwell but that we cannot ever fully comprehend or capture with our finite, conditioned and situated minds.

Of course there are different kinds of agnostics. Some insist that because they do not not claim to know the nature of Prime Reality that therefore no one else can know much about it, and that therefore their mission in life is to shoot down anyone who makes metaphysical claims. Some agnostics may lean toward one worldview or another, whether toward dualism, idealism, materialism or panpsychism, but are not ready to commit and go public, only to “weigh and consider.” Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos) and David Chalmers (The Conscious Mind) are two examples of philosophical and scientific thinkers who reject physicalist reductionism and to remain “agnostic” but with strong panpsychist sympathies. But neither are they “true believers.”

The “Ignostic” will say, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The question of the nature of Prime Reality and our relationship to that Reality is simply not a question that interests me. Metaphysical questions are a waste of time. Epistemological questions are a waste of time. The main thing is to live each day as fully and freely as you can, to emerse and lose yourself in the stream of experience, to enjoy the ride and have a good time.

So there you have it. We use prepositional language to express our worldview orientations. We use spatial and temporal language to locate what we consider to be Prime Reality? We may even decide that Prime Reality exists at least partly if not entirely outside of the constrants of space and time, in which case all our prepositional language which is spatially and temporally oriented is fundamentally problematic.

It is possible to ask questions about that nature of Prime Reality as if it were exclusively “Out There” in the so-called objective empirical  world of “Matter and Energy” and not “In Here” in the so-called subjective world of “Mind and Consciousness.” Quantum mechanics tells us that “the subject influences that which is observed.” The possible implications for this shocking claim are still being thrashed out by scientists and philosophers who are interpreting the meaning of Quantum Mechanics in different ways.

One implication may be that rather than think of the Prime Reality as something exclusively autonomous and separate from mind and subjectivity we may have to consider the possibility that mind and matter, subjectivity and objectivity may be “entangled” as two sides of the implicit and explicit order. A “Relativity and Quantum Universe” in which both Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr are both “partly right” is a wild and weird universe indeed. We appear to be on the threshold of a new era in both science and philosophy in which the “propositions” we use to figuratively and metaphorically “locate” Prime Reality must undergo yet another radical and profound “paradigm shift.”

What if Prime Reality includes not only the properties of matter and energy in space and time, but also mind and consciousness outside of space and time? And what if matter and energy, mind and consciousness are “quantum entangled” with each other in a non-local relationship? Then we would have to ask not only the question, “What is the nature of Prime Reality” but “Who is asking the question and from what viewpoint?” What if the external, objectivist, third person account of reality that “excludes the participation of the subject” is itself an illusion? What if the “subject” knowingly or unknowingly participates in and influences that which is observed? What if there is no “view from nowhere?” What if all viewpoints are irreducibly partial and perspectival? What if more than one perspective and viewpoint could be partly right? Wouldn’t that be a game-changer? Would that not give us a richer and fuller account of the nature of reality than one that only looks at things dualistically from either inside or outside, above or below, behind or before? Could it be that “we have met the enemy and he is partly right?”

Maxim: Don’t try to reason with a “happy drunk!”

Happy Drunk

Here are a few cautionary maxims for today’s Socratic Gadflies who have no plans to drink hemlock.

Don’t try to reason with a happy drunk. He’ll hate and despise you for it.

Don’t try to wake up one who insists on sleeping. He’s likely to slap you.

Don’t try to convince someone who believes without any doubts that he has found “The Truth” and therefore that there cannot be other great truths, or that his understanding of “truth” may be limited and partial rather than total and comprehensive.

Don’t try to reason with a man who is committed in principle and practice to irrationality and absurdity, especially if he cloaks his irrationality behind a veil of rationalism and rationalization. Nothing is more crazy-making than using critical reason to deny reason and rationality, or denying the primal experience of subjectivity and consciousness, along with our experiences of narrative, aesthetics and intersubjectivity to deny the fundamental reality of subjectivity and consciousness. If “matter and the void” is all there is, that who is it that is speaking? How does an irreducibly conscious and relational being know that these subjective and inter-subjective experiences are not “really real” but merely the ghost in the machine, the epiphenomen of originally dead and mindless matter? Has one not used “rationality” to argue for the fundamentally irrationality of our minds?

Don’t try to convince anyone whose “final vocabulary” is a dogmatic,  ideological and exclusive commitment to any single intellectual discourse and language-game, whether it happens to be that of science or religion, philosophy or literature, history or mythology, psychology or sociology, economics or politics. Any of these intellectual domains can become a fixation and fetish that undermine the rich and diverse ecology of mind. Our educational system today is increasingly based on narrow academic and technical specialization. Many educators and scholars live in bunkered silos that isolate them from the culture-at-large.

Don’t try to reason and dialogue with those who prefer to live exclusively in only one intellectual discipline and have an ideological axe to grind. They will not see the point in cultivating other intellectual disciplines and critical perspectives since they’ve already made up their minds and are committed to “brand loyalty.”

Don’t try to get a “One Note Charlie” to play all the notes, chords and harmonies and dissonances of the musical scale, and to play many genres of music in a wide variety of keys and registers.

Don’t try to reason with those who are absolutely  committed to the dogma of exclusive bottom-up causality, of matter influencing mind but mind having no causative agency since it is a mere epiphenomenon of matter.

Don’t try to reason with those who are absolutely committed to the dogma of exclusive top-down causality, of mind influencing matter, but matter being merely an illusion of universal mind.

Don’t try to reason with those who are absolutely committed to the dogma that the mental and physical dimensions of experience are two entirely separate and non-overlapping realities.

Don’t try to broaden the perspective of anyone who has fallen insanely in love with one and only one explanatory principle that he applies mechanistically to all domains of knowledge and realms of life experience. Sometimes “multiple explanatory dimensions and levels” may be more helpful than forcing a single descriptive explanation upon all phenomena of experience.

Don’t try to convince those who are content spending all their free time watching TV and listening to the radio that reading good books and articles that invite them think more deeply about life may be a better and more rewarding use of their time. Those who prefer to be zoned out and have made this the habit of their lives will resent those who try to get them to think about anything at all.

Don’t try to explain to those who are content to live “unexamined lives” that “it is better to be Socrates discontent than a pig content.” They will tell you that “the examined life” is  over-rated. Instead, they will explain that what matters is to live instinctively and sensuously in our appetites and egos as noble savages. They will tell us “to stop thinking and have a good time.” Their hedonistic counsel is “to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

When does it occur to either the “rationalist” or the “sensualist” that it is possible to integrate the entire ecology of our being, including the natural, sensuous, emotive, imaginative, cognitive, volitional, ethical, intuitive and spiritual dimensions of our lives?

Don’t try to broaden and expand the sensibilities and tastes of the exclusively  partisan purveyors of “high-brow” classical culture who are contemptuous and condescending toward “middle-brow” bourgeois pop culture and “low-brow” bohemian folk culture, or of those who exclusively identify themselves with either of these two other cultural levels of experience and expression. Each has his own “elective affinity” with different sensibilities and tastes.

When does it occur the partisan purveyors of high-brow culture, middle-brow culture and low-brow culture that each speaks in its own distinct idioms and dialects, and that each “cultural brow” has something unique to contribute to the greater ecology of being?

Today’s “Socratic gadfly” who values “the examined life” encounters as many intellectual, cultural, civic and social “mind-fields” as Socrates did in his day. What we have today that was not available to Socrates is a better understanding of the role that biological genes and culture memes play in the formation of different metaphysical assumptions. It would seem that these are rooted in pre-verbal feeling and in what Michael Polanyi calls the “tacit dimension” of “personal knowledge”, and are only secondarily cognitive and empirical. We have a genetic and psychological predisposition as well as cultural and societal preference for holding a particular set of metaphysical and epistemological beliefs, as well as aesthetic tastes, ethical norms, economic interests and political values.

Today’s “Socratic gadfly” who would avoid the hemlock experience had better be prepared to encounter these irreducible differences between individual persons and fiduciary communities. He had better recognize the common tendency of human nature to see and interpret everything through the lens of one’s own predispositions, assumptions, beliefs, values, loyalties and commitments. There is no neutral and independent “view from nowhere.” All human knowledge and experience is physiologically conditioned, psychologically influenced, historically situated and linguistically expressed. It is precisely this humbling knowledge of our ignorance and limitations that makes the Socratic gadfly so irritating and perplexing, especially to those who are content to live “unexamined lives” of metaphysical and epistemological slumber. Once we begin to ask the fundamental questions of life we realize that we stand in the presence of Great Mysteries in which there are no easy answers. Here are the Socratic Questions: What is the nature of prime reality and the phenomenal world in which we live? What can we know and how can we know it? How are subjective introspective experience, intersubjective relationships, and knowledge through rational theory and empirical observation related? What are the further reaches of human nature? How ought we to live? What is our vision of the good society? What is our potential for transformation and renewal? For what can we strive and hope?

Here are a few positive maxims:

Cultivate the examined life, even if those around you prefer to remain unconscious, medicated and asleep.

Stay open to the primacy of “immediate experience” in all its paradoxical radiance and pre-linguistic plenitude where the gifts of silence, contemplation, music and art “speak” in the ineffable language of the soul that like the Tao must remain unspoken.

Seek to make meaningful and creative connections between all the vital domains of human knowledge and life experience that constitute the rich and diverse ecology of being.

Learn to speak with at least minimal fluency in all the liberal disciplines rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.

Master at least two intellectual disciplines, preferably one that is right-brain dominant such as music and arts, and another that is left-brain dominant, such as the physical and natural sciences.

Try to give “equal time” to the intellectual and creative disciplines of philosophy and literature, to ideas and narratives, concepts and conversations, theories and stories, paradigms and metaphors, principles and personalities.

Become  conversant in the cultural paradigms of the primal, traditional, romantic, modern, post-modern, and trans-modern perspectives. Include the intuitive and perceptive, authoritative and fiduciary, idealistic and aesthetic, rational and scientific, eclectic and ironic, pluralistic and integrative.

Develop a healthy respect for intuition and sensation, feeling and thinking, introspection and observation, perception and judgment.

Appreciate the perennial human dialectic of pluralistic and integrative impulses, that is, the movement “outward” from the One to the Many, and the counter-movement “inward” from the Many to the One.

Finally, become a Socratic Gadfly if you must, but remember that drinking hemlock is bad for one’s health.

Towards Global Dialogue & Pluralistic Integration

Global Dialogue

What if we could celebrate “THE WAY OF THE UNIVERSAL POLYMATH” who honors and explores all the vital intellectual disciplines and cultural domains of the liberal arts — including philosophy, religion, history, myth, linguistics, literature, arts, sciences, psychology and sociology, among others?

What if we could encounter THE BEST THAT HAS BEEN EXPRESSED AND WRITTEN by many of history’s most influential and creative minds across the ages in various cultures?

What if we temporarily and provisionally STEP OUTSIDE our own historically situated, culturally conditioned, psychologically influenced, socially shaped and linguistically constructed “HERMENEUTICAL CIRCLES” and “COMMUNITIES OF DISCOURSE” to engage those who are different in self-critical and humane global dialogue?

What if we could TRAVEL ACROSS OUR WORLDVIEWS to encounter others for a true meeting of minds?



What if we had an approach to human knowledge and life experience that could INTEGRATE MULTIPLE EPISTEMOLOGICAL METHODS, ONTOLOGICAL LEVELS and EVOLUTIONARY PROCESSES? (See “A Theory of Everything,” by Ken Wilber)

What if we could integrate the FOUR EPISTEMOLOGICAL METHODS of Subjective introspection, empirical observation, cultural creativity and social systems thinking?

What if we granted epistemological value not only to mathematical calculation and empirical sciences but also to the “PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE” and “TACIT DIMENSION” associated with transcendental ideals, reflexive self-awareness, inter-subjective relationships, narrativity, aesthetics, ethics, theoretical reflection and noetic experience?

What if we acknowledged that the SCIENTIFIC ENTERPRISE is not an entirely impersonal endeavor that splits facts from values and science from humanity? What if we recognized that it is influenced by the PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT OF THE KNOWER in all acts of understanding, and is guided by WORLDVIEW ASSUMPTIONS and EXISTENTIAL COMMITMENTS in the search for increasing contact with reality.

What if human beings are MORE THAN “MACHINES” AND “COMPUTERS” WITH BIG BRAINS? What if we are highly complex, adaptive, self-organizing, non-linear, organic “LIVING SYSTEMS” with an astonishing capacity for SELF-REALIZATION and SELF-TRANSCENDENCE?

What if the scientific “REIFYING” and “LITERALIZING” of metaphors and analogies like “machine” and “computer” cause communication problems similar to religious fundamentalists who reify and literalize metaphors and analogies about the nature of the ineffable nature of “supreme reality” — a mystery that some people call “God”?

What if some people have a hard time differentiating between LITERAL AND METAPHORICAL LANGUAGE, or think that if a statement is not literally true then it not meaningful or true at all? What if some people “lie” through writing literary fiction in order to “speak the truth but tell it slant?”

What if our self-actualizing and self-transcending capacity allows us to INTEGRATE THE MULTIPLE ONTOLOGICAL LEVELS that include matter, body, mind, soul and spirit?

What if we could comprehend the “SPIRAL DYNAMICS” of “CONSCIOUS CULTURAL EVOLUTION” as including the multiple “memes” of Survival Sense, Kins Spirits, Power Gods, Truth Force, Strategic Enterprise, Human Bond, Systemic Process and Global View? (See “Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change,” by Don Beck and Christopher Cowen)

What if THE EXPANDING COSMOS according to quantum mechanics and the new physics is not “stranger than we think” but STRANGER THAN WE CAN THINK?

What if THE FURTHER REACHES OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS has levels, dimensions, heights and depths that we are only beginning to explore and understand?

What if the relationship between the MIND and the BRAIN is more complex than either absolute idealism or reductive materialism will allow?

What if the HUMAN MIND functions not in an “absolute vacuum” but in a “QUANTUM VACUUM” that is entangled with and connected to other minds, and to a UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS that pervades the cosmos?

What if the “bottom-up” DETERMINISTIC INFLUENCES of the BODY-BRAIN and the “top-down” AUTONOMOUS INFLUENCES of the TRANSCENDENT MIND mutually influence each other?

What if our PROSPECTS FOR A SANE, JUST, FREE AND SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL FUTURE require the cultivation and development of “Human Being 2.0?” What would such a human being look like? What should be the optimal interface between HUMAN BEINGS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY? What is the relationship between HUMAN BEINGS and ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?


These are some of the kinds of provocative questions we need to be asking as we create a global future with immense and previously unimagined possibilities.

Psychological Temperaments & Social Affiliations Influence Worldview Commitments


What are the hidden influences of psychological temperament and social pressures upon worldview and lifestyle commitments? I will argue in this blog that they are pervasive and profound!

I was reminded again today of this truth in a second reading of a fascinating book by John Haught entitled “Is Nature Enough: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science.”  There is no way that I can do justice to the book in this brief blog, and it is not my purpose here to review it. Rather, I’m using it as a launching pad for a discussion of the influences of psychological temperaments and social pressures, including the fiduciary communities of authority and tradition to which we belong, in seeking to make coherent and encompassing sense of our world.

Haught quotes a familiar maxim: “Never deny in your philosophy what you affirm in your heart.” He expands upon this maxim by saying, “Never deny in your philosophical claims what you implicitly affirm in your every act of knowing.” He goes on to claim that any worldview that dogmatically asserts that we live in an essentially mindless, purposeless, self-originating and self-enclosed universe is not large enough  to house our “critical intelligence,” which for Haught includes not only philosophical reason and empirical science but also affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience.

Haught claims that responsible science can exercise “methodological naturalism” without “metaphysical naturalism” that is “reductive” toward the affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience, regarding “mind” as a mere “epiphenomenon” of “matter”. He argues that the search for the truth of “what is” tacitly assumes in everyday practice that the human mind is “fitted” to the task of knowing the nature of reality. He claims that if we live in an essentially mindless, purposeless, self-orginizing, self-enclosed universe then there is no reason why we should trust our minds since they are merely the accidental by-products of that mindless and purposeless universe. The following quote by Charles Darwin underscores what Haught is saying: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” I will not attempt to set forth the fine points of Haught’s critique of scientific naturalism since that is not my purpose in this blog.

What struck me in reading Haught’s definition of “critical intelligence” was his reference to “affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience.” Those of you who have spent any time with Carl Jung’s model of temperament types, or Meyers-Briggs and David Keirsey’s adaptations of Jung’s model, will recognize that it is especially the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Perceptive (INFP) type who cares most passionately about the affective, intersubjective and narrative regions, and it is the Introverted, Sensing, Feeling and Perceptive  (ISFP) who care most passionately about the aesthetic dimension. At the same time, much of Haught’s book reads like a text of rational philosophy in which he argues that “scientific materialism” makes dogmatic claims that contradict what we all implicitly and tacitly affirm in our every act of knowing, and that it is therefore an inadequate worldview. Haught has considerable knowledge and great respect for the scientific enterprise, but he thinks “materialism” (“physicalism”, “naturalism”) is misguided in reducing the later and more complex  presence of “life” and “mind” to a lifeless and mindless, meaningless and absurd universe. He rejects materialistic scientism because it is reductive toward those experiences that all humans, including scientists, find most meaningful and fulfilling.

What kind of psychological temperament might we expect to find among the majority of scientific materialists? While there will certainly be persons of different temperaments types represented, it is likely that the Extraverted Thinking Sensing Judgment (ETSJ) type will be in abundant supply, along with others who are naturally predisposed by temperament to view the external material world as perceived by the physical senses as mediated by skeptical reason and empirical sciences to be the only true and objective reality. Haught’s “critical intelligence” that includes “the affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience” will be “explained” in terms of physics, chemistry, neuroscience and biology, as well as in terms of Darwinian “natural selection and random mutations” with “survival advantage” across vast amounts of time. Some scientific materialists go further and claim that even mind (or consciousness) itself is an illusion, a ghost in the machine.

Which “doors of perception” ought we to trust? Does it make sense to “reduce” the later and more highly complex affective, intersubjective, narrative, aesthetic, cognitive and theoretical regions of experience to the earlier and simpler mechanisms of physics, chemistry, neuroscience and biology? Does it make sense to explain the seemingly miraculous presence of life and mind, interiority and intersubjectivity, narrative and aesthetics in terms of an originating lifeless and mindless universe without interiority and intersubjectivity? Does it make sense to explain the complex “information” contained in DNA to terms of an originally lifeless and mindless universe that produced DNA code through billions of years of evolution? Again, to some people this strictly physical and exterior explanation of reality makes sense. To others who have access to the same scientific knowledge it does not add up. For them something is terribly wrong with this picture. It seems to ask us to give philosophical lip-service to claims that are contradicted by our every act of knowing and by all that we affirm in our hearts. Are the affective, interpersonal, narrative, aesthetic, ethical and theoretical regions of experience that “Nature” has endowed us with to be “explained”, without remainder, by physics and chemistry, and dismissed as “folk psychology?”

A simplified way to saying what I’m getting at is this: “Mystics” will tend to be intuitive inward-looking INFPs. “Materialists” will tend to be sensory outward-looking ESTJs. They fundamentally trust different “doors of perception.” No amount of further “philosophical reasoning” or presentation of “scientific evidences” will change their minds. No appeals to tacit, subsidiary knowledge or explicit focal knowledge will change their minds either. While those with different worldviews may agree concerning the value of the search for the truth of “what is,” they may not agree as to the primacy of Mind (Idealism) or Matter (Materialism), or whether they are either Two Separate Realities (Dualism) or One Integral Di-Modal Reality (Neutral Monism), or something else. Nor will they necessarily agree about “how we know” and which “doors of perceptions” we ought to trust the most and the least.

And again this is where temperament comes into play. People don’t just change their temperaments. Temperaments seem to be “hard-wired.” That is not to say that persons do not change and grow, and that the range of their temperamental predisposition cannot be expanded to be more inclusive. But our temperament is a lens through which we see the world. All our assumptions, beliefs, values and commitments are influenced by that lens. We may even assume that those who see the world through a different temperamental and epistemological lens are narrow, truncated, short-sided or blind to the truth.

In addition to our temperamental predispositions there is also the influence of social pressures, especially of the fiduciary communities of authority and tradition, theory and practice into which we were born or to which we have chosen to affiliate ourselves. Those who identify with a particular worldview such as dualism, idealism, materialism or panpsychism, or with a particular social philosophy such as conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism or communitarian will tend to hang out and affiliate with each other. “Birds of a feather flock together.” We read each other’s books and go to each other’s conferences. We site each other as vetted authorities on the subject, and we turn to our fiduciary community for resources to help us critique those whose ideas are alien, divergent and “outside the camp.” We reinforce each other and build up our fiduciary tradition by forming societies and fellowships, forums and colloquy, seminars and salons, centers and institutes.

At the same time we may also feel social pressures from outside our primary fiduciary community. In a pluralist society there are many voices and many fiduciary communities. In the post-modern society we may ever experience the “polyphrenic self” that has become skeptical toward all grand-narratives and worldview perspectives, even though such “perspectival relativism” is itself ironically a worldview among worldviews.

It has been said that “there is no view from nowhere.” The human subject and the surrounding environment influence one’s perspective on what is. Psychological temperament and social pressures, including the fiduciary framework and community of practice to which we have given our passionate loyalty and commitment, will play irreducible roles in shaping how we see the world and what we consider as most important. When philosophical reasons and scientific evidences seem to leave us at a stalemate, we fall back upon our temperamental predispositions combined with the fiduciary communities of authority and tradition, theory and practice to which we have given our loyalty and allegiance. In the event that we prefer to stand outside of all fiduciary frameworks of received authority and tradition, our assumptions, beliefs, values and commitments will still be shaped by social pressures and cross-pressures that we may not be entirely aware of, and by our psychological predispositions that tilts us in one direction or the other.

While the modernist idol of “detached objectivity” has been overthrown, that is no reason to surrender to post-modern relativism and nihilism, to the cult of “anything goes.” Somewhere between objectivity and subjectivity, in the interstices between thinking and feeling, intuiting and sensing, introspecting and observing, perceiving and judging, and especially in the exercise of critical intelligence and creative dialogue, we may catch glimpses of “the truth that sets us free.”