Raison d’etre: The Reason and Reality of Mind and Matter

The world is known by the mind through logic, senses and experiences. For each individual, the world is a picture painted distinctively different than that of every other individual in existence. To say that reality however, is an illusion is a premature thought. Instead, it is the way reality is perceived that differs from every known conscious mind. In saying so, reality for every individual should therefore be unique and a stand alone perception of the physical world.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

~ Albert Einstein

Even if we step into another dream every time we awake from sleep, an independent reality persist as a constant and unchanging truth. Through imagination, we are able to conceive things or events that defy the laws of nature and physics. But even in doing so, all products of our imagination are but a combination of matter and ideas taken from a persistent and independent reality. Take for example, the ancient imaginary creatures of mythology. The minotaur is but the combination of a bull and a man while a mermaid, the combination of a fish and a woman.

Like a pendulum swinging back and forth and never stopping in the middle, so does our mind swing from one extreme to the other. We commonly think that certain things like ethics and morals are absolute principles when history have often proven that the accepted norm of moral and ethics change in each age. Consequently some people think that absolute relativism of morality is a possibility even though it is an absolute principle.  Obviously, this is  an impossibility because one cannot state that all absolute principles are ‘absolutely’ wrong. Indeed, this would be a great folly committed by an irrational mind.

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

~ Rousseau

For anything to exist in its entirety, it must be for the observing mind both a cause and effect or an action and reaction. The egg for example, is the cause of the full grown chicken as certain as every egg is the effect of a full grown chicken. All things ranging from the mind and matter must therefore be understood not as a stand alone truth but as a sum of its relation with all other things known to the mind. Thus, it is impossible to understand something that is absolutely independent of everything that exist in reality.

The relationship between the society and the individual also falls into the boundaries of cause and effect. Every individual is the product of the society and is chained to a reality set by its immediate environment. From the other end, society would not exist without the individuals that give meaning to its existence. When relations are concerned, a book is only a book when it is treated and perceived like a book. Should a book fail to be read by a human being who understands the language used in its construction, the book degrades into a mere object or matter and thus not a book anymore. It is the human being, the creator of languages and its written forms that the book must exist for because without humans, the book loses its meaning of existence.

“All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”

~ Buddha

Reality is the product of the interactions and relations between the living and non-living, the conscious mind and the environment, the individual’s identity with society. A person’s identity and the justification of its existence is not independent from society. No man is an island or a hermit that is totally free from his environment.  Having said so, the conscious mind is only an incomplete factor that constitutes an individual’s identity. Throwing aside the consciousness of thought, memory and emotions, a person’s identity is also defined by the unconscious mind to which the individual has little or no control of.

What we think of ourselves is only a small fraction of the true reality of our identity. The understanding of ones ego is limited by the very same limitations that set the boundaries between absolute knowledge and that capable of human understanding. One must understand that although the philosopher Descartes advocated that one must look from inwards to outwards to understand himself and the world, it is also equally important to understand the relations of the external to the internal. In simple terms, we must know both the role we play in society and the role society plays in shaping our identity.

“I think, therefore I am.”

~ Descartes

I think, therefore I am is only ones perspective concerning himself and his external environment. According to this perspective, what I think concerning the role I play in the greater picture of society takes precedence over external factors. But since every other individual would also have a different perspective on the role I am playing in the world, both my perspective of myself and the perception of others about me would seldom agree with one another.  The combination of these two parts of one would show that an individual’s identity consists of the summation of all causes and effects of his existence to both the living and the non-living. Thus, I think, therefore I am must be coupled together with you think, therefore I am.

The other element that is essential that constitutes ones identity is time. For the better part of this essay, time is left out and identity is judge as a static object both rigid and without motion. In truth, this is impossible because time is an unstoppable flow from the past to future limiting all men by its current. A man is not only defined by what he has done but also by what he will do. Before World War II, Hitler was regarded even by some British as the savior of Germany and the hero that would defend Europe from Communism. After World War II, Hitler would always be remembered as the cruelest mass murderer the world has ever seen!

“Without knowing life, how can one know death?”

~ Confucius

The very sound of our heartbeat shows that we are the bounded by the flow of time. Like a clockwork toy edging closer to its end, the steady rhythm of our heart proves that we are both alive and moving closer to our death. As this process inevitably happens, our identity transcends from one form to another influencing more and more events in the physical world. An individual’s identity in contrast to the conventional wisdom, is not  just a static object but a dynamic growth to which the sum of all parts until our death and beyond is its true form.

As a person’s identity changes, so does his reason for being. This is probably the reason why ones perceived purpose in life is often changing as one ages. In fact, it would be exceedingly peculiar if an individual’s views and goals remain exactly the same after an interval of prolong development either in mind or in body. As certain as a person’s physical stature changes as he age, his state of mind is also compelled to change in relation to  his environment and condition.  Therefore, it is motion with its velocity and magnitude rather that a stationary unchanging element that is the fundamental constant of our identity.

“We know the mind, only as we know matter.”

~ David Hume

“How can we explain mind as matter, when we know matter only through the mind?”

~ Schopenhauer

It is extremely hard to determine which is the cause and which is the effect when it comes to the mind and matter. In an ever changing reality of time and space, it is the mind that understands matter although the mind resides within matter itself. While it is common to say mind over matter, one must remember that there is an independent reality separate from the mind’s ability to perceive it. The laws of gravity for example, holds true even before its formal discovery by Isaac Newton. In line with this, the truth that the Earth is not the center of the universe also holds true before its revelation by Copernicus.

The presence of an independent reality that we will not understand with absolute certainty is perhaps the clearest prove that our identity and mind is real. Consequently, this means that an absolute truth that is independent of the senses and experience is also possible should the boundaries to which this ‘truth’ revolves in is set with proper care and consideration. The limitations of these absolute truths, for example time, numbers and change, is limited only by the boundaries of a relative reality. This enables the possibility of an absolute truth to reside within a relative world.

While absolute knowledge is impossible for human beings, each and everyone of us can still learn enough to understand his purpose and reason for being. One must however, acknowledge that the answer to this can only be true relative to a certain environment within a limited time frame. It is an imperative that one must embark on a neverending journey to discover the very answer to the meaning of ones own existence.

One Response to “Raison d’etre: The Reason and Reality of Mind and Matter”
  1. Doraz says:

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