Knowing and unknowing reality: A beginner's and expert's developmental guide to post-metaphysical thinking

Here is the issue. From the Preface:

Depending on one's tolerance, or even love, for uncertainty and the unknown, "post-metaphysical thinking" can be either a fascination or a real downer. And by "interest in uncertainty and the unknown" I don't mean that effervescent attraction to the mystical, magical, esoteric, and unbelievable – I mean the blunt confrontation with how, when it comes down to it, the certainty that one holds for much of one's beliefs and knowledge is bewilderingly undeserved. To get the most out of this text it is best to consider how it applies to one's own knowledge, in addition to reading it as an exploration of the indeterminacies of knowledge in general. But for those truly interested in where the post-metaphysical arrow points, you know that it is about attitudes of deep curiosity, listening, and humility – skills of letting go, letting be, and letting come – that we long to see more of in our world. Here already the reader can sense how being "post-metaphysical" relates to spirituality.

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My further reply to Tom:

To further highlight the differences between Lakoff et al. and Commons et al. on real/false reasoning–or efficient versus deficient reasoning in Gebser’s terminology-- the following is from this Commons source. The very premises of the MHC are literally metaphysical and directly challenged by embodied cognition.

“Here, the ideal truth is the mathematical forms of Platonic ideal. An essential element of science is direct observation and interaction with the world. But Plato set forth a very different doctrine, to the effect that ‘knowledge cannot be derived from the senses’ ; real knowledge only has to do with concepts. The senses can only deceive us; hence we should, in acquiring knowledge, 'ignore sense impressions and develop reason '. In codifying such logical reasoning, Aristotle (384–322 BC) set down rules of inference and recognized the importance of axioms for logic, postulates for the subject at hand, definitions of terms, and the importance of giving logical arguments that start with the postulates.

"The MHC is a mathematical theory of the ideal. It is a perfect form as Plato would have described it. It is like a circle. A circle is an ideal form that exists. Once one draws a circle, something additional and different has been created. The new creation is a representation of a circle, but it is not, itself, a perfect ideal circle. The lines have width whereas a circle does not, and thus cannot perfectly represent the perfect form itself. The representation is not perfect nor can a drawn circle be perfectly round. This distinction between the ideal form and representations of the ideal is important for understanding the MHC and its relationship to stage of performance” (113-15).

Tom: Love this juxtaposition of quotes Edward! Commons is good to make the point about the difference between the real and ideal (idea) [which many theorists don’t], but seems to tip his hat as a radical idealist here. I’m not sure this characterizes him generally, but anyone who thinks they can boil most of human behavior down to a mathematical equation must be missing something. So I think we have to try to notice what is missed there, while at the same time appreciating the power of the theory. Fisher’s treatment of the very similar developmental terrain has a much more palatable realism to it. Reality is so complex and resistant to being captured by categories that any model that captures, say 10% , of a situation will seem like the “true” theory, explaining things so much better than the rest of the theories that capture 4%.

Me: Yes, I’ve read, appreciate and commented on Fischer’s more dynamic systems approach to modeling development. I posted all the above to show how Commons’ premises of ideal forms and/or categories as foundation for modeling fly in the face of the graded categories and prototype theory of embodied cognition. As I said above, development yes of course, but it needs better modeling taking into account cognitive science.

As to Tom’s paper on uncertainty and emptiness, I appreciate what David Loy said of relevance in this article:

"Today the thinker most often compared to Nagarjuna is the French philosopher Jacques Derrida… Derrida is not interested in defending any philosophical position of his own but instead is concerned with showing the limits of language and the difficulties we fall into when we overstep them. Derrida’s work builds on structuralism, which argues that words do not have meaning in and of themselves. The meaning of any linguistic expression always depends upon some other expression, and that ‘other expression’ is also dependent on something else. Meaning is therefore relative and always in flux, part of a chain of reference that never comes to an end. Whatever we think we understand right here and now always presupposes something else that is not present.

“Derrida’s term to describe the relativity and ‘indeterminability’ of meaning is différance, and the way différance functions in his philosophy can be compared to how Nagarjuna uses shunyata, or emptiness. Derrida emphasizes that différance does not refer to some specific thing. It is merely a conceptual tool useful for describing how conceptual meaning is never quite settled, but always ‘deferred.’”

Also see this and the following comment, relevant to the above. 

And see this recent post in the real/false reason thread.

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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