The Third Philosophy: Of Mind and Matter

The Wax Argument

Let us take this wax. It has just been extracted from the honeycomb. It has not yet completely lost its taste of honey and it still retains some of the scent of the flowers from which it was collected. Its color, shape and size are obvious. It is hard, cold, easy to touch and, if tapped with a finger, it emits a sound. Thus it has everything that seems to be required for a body to be known as distinctively as possible. But notice that, as I speak, it is moved close to the fire. It loses what remains of its taste, its smell is lost, the color changes, it loses its shape, increases in size, becomes a liquid, becomes hot and can barely be touched. Nor does it still emit a sound if tapped. But does not the same wax remain?

I cannot perceive the wax correctly without a human mind.

~ Descartes

There are many objects and occasions that seem to happen without reason or justice in the world around us. As we wake up every single day, we are constantly thrown into an array of unusual phenomena and happenstance that pass either unnoticed or unexplained. In truth, our mind is the chief culprit in hiding the reality of the world from our hearts. For fear of sorrow and despair, the mind sometimes unconsciously blocks what we would not like to know in an effort to remain in an illusion of total freedom and control over our own fate and destiny. Such is the nature of the common mind.

“Men are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain.”

~ Aristotle

The uncommon mind, both rare and unique, seeks the truth for the sake of knowledge itself and marches with courage into the shadow of obscurity that hides the true nature of reality. Even with its initial hopes and vitality, the uncommon mind may also succumb to the pessimistic forces that persist indefinitely in the external world. Yet as surely as there are only a few winners in a race for many, there are a small number of people that accept reality as it is instead of bending the truth to create a Utopia of bliss in ignorance. The masses fail this test simply because the truth of reality is like a mirror that reflects back the crude ugliness and imperfection of the soul that looks into it. The common mind prefers to cower and hide from its own reflection.

“If an ass looks into a mirror, you cannot expect an angel to look out.”

~ Schopenhauer

Knowledge or ignorance is the ultimate choice given to the uncommon mind. For the common mind, it is sufficient to just invent illusions and superstitions to mask the peculiarities that occur in our daily lives. But the uncommon mind holds a choice. In ignorance, one gains the bliss of accepting the happenstances in life as random with neither reason nor meaning. For some people, it is wiser to choose ignorance over the illusion of absolute knowledge and absolute faith. It is ironic that the acknowledgement of one’s own ignorance is the needed prelude to the acquisition of knowledge.

To choose knowledge over ignorance may sound the better choice for most individuals. Why choose to not know the reason behind unusual objects and occasions? Would it not be better to know in sorrow rather than to be ignorant in bliss? For those who increases in knowledge more often than not increases in sorrow. When one sees the world as it is, without its facade of lies and its mask of beauty, one would feel the sorrow behind even happiness itself. Did not the book of Ecclesiastes state that all is vanity and a grasping of the wind?

“He who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

~ Ecclesiastes

In the midst of ignorance, one finds knowledge as surely as one knows what is good only through evil. Even an atheist must first know God before saying that there is no God. And thus it is in the middle of two opposing positions that the uncommon mind must emerge victorious. In acknowledging that one must know darkness before one can know the light means that the knowledge of both must be present because they are inseparable as the two faces of the Greek God Janus. The common mind cannot accept this. The common mind cannot and will not acknowledge that all knowledge must be in relation to something else and thus, not a standalone truth by itself.

However, it is undeniable that one finds that he is bonded to many things in the world. As a human being we are both subject to life and death. We cannot change the fact that we are the creation of our parents no matter what we feel about it. Similarly, our parents must also be the product of their parents and their grandparents. In coming into this world, we are already chained by the principle of causality in that we are both an element of cause and effect to the external world. Even the natural world must abide by this law. Plants are eaten by the cows and the cows are in turn are eaten by the lions.

Nothing in the world that is observable to the senses is free from the chains that reality has set for it. While some objects and occasions are seemingly unconnected and appear as standalone realities by themselves, they are but linked by invisible chains that the mind has either not yet perceived or is incapable of understanding. The limitation of the mind to garner knowledge is no excuse for assuming that things are disconnected and of no relation to every other thing in the world. The mind is the one that is at fault when it fails to understand reality. Blame not reality for the failure of the mind.

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

~ David Hume

It is natural that the mind would lean towards materialism rather than idealism. Matter persists even when the minds that helped shaped it has already perished. The pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China are but a few testaments to the persistence and permanence that matter has over the individual mind. Was not David Hume correct when he said that we know the mind only as we know matter? Did not John Locke state that all our knowledge comes from experience and through our senses?

“No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.”

~ John Locke

But materialism itself is not the end all answer without the presence of idealism. Absolute and necessary truths do exist in an independent reality. The continuous flow of time itself is a testament to this. The data obtained through the senses and experiences amount to just raw data that is incoherent if the mind fails to coordinate and organize it into knowledge. Only the mind can understand the laws of causality and find the links between seemingly unrelated objects and occasions. Without the mind, all knowledge would be impossible. Without the mind, there would be no ideas, no thoughts and no identity.

“But although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience.”

~ Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant was right when he stated that it is the mind that coordinates experiences, sensations, perceptions and conceptions into knowledge. Only the mind can find unity in diversity and obtain the knowledge of what is constant and necessary. Therefore it is the mind that is the active agent in synthesizing the thesis and the anti-thesis of reality. Although the mind will inevitably perish as the body dies, all knowledge of matter would come only through the mind. Without the effort of the mind to construct our knowledge of the laws and processes governing our world, our understanding of an independent reality would be impossible. Philosophical knowledge must not be bounded only by experiences and sensations but must also be both synthetic and a priori.

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

~ Schopenhauer

Perhaps the most famous concept of the mind is the Cartesian tradition that represents the human body as a purely physical thing and the human mind as a purely non-physical thing. The ghost (mind) in the machine (body) can be translated into the mind inhabiting the body and controlling it. This form of dualism speculates that the mind and matter are two distinctive things. This stand is opposed to the more current view of scientific materialism that argues that what happens in the mind clearly depends on what happens in the brain. Recent studies and experimentation have indeed proven that brain damage may cause mental disabilities. This indirectly establishes the link between the brain (matter) and the mind.

While scientific materialism can demonstrate how certain sensations like pain can be induced through external stimulation, other more complex intellectual abilities like perceptions, memories and ideas are not so easily explained. Ideas exist only as intangible contents of the individual mind. One cannot be aware of the ideas of another individual as clearly as one is aware of his own ideas. Our perceptions and ideas are fluid and continuous with the constant flow of time. It is not likely that we would ever be able to understand the mind solely through the understanding of matter.

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