Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

The Paradox of Thinking and the Unthinkable: An Axial Age Update for Modern Civilization Studies through A Synthesis of Chinese Aspect/Perspective Philosophy with Hans Vaihinger's Philosophy of "As If" and His View of Knowledge as "Fictions."1

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

The Paradox of Thinking and the Unthinkable: An Axial Age Update for Modern Civilization Studies through A Synthesis of Chinese Aspect/Perspective Philosophy with Hans Vaihinger's Philosophy of "As If" and His View of Knowledge as "Fictions."1

Article excerpt

I would introduce my discussion of the metaphysical and epistemological paradoxes associated with thinking the unthinkable in philosophy, science, and religion as it has been effectively identified by three 20th Century philosophers. The first philosopher is a historian of Chinese Philosophy, Professor Fung Yu-lan:

Since the universe is the totality of all that is, therefore when one thinks about it, one is thinking reflectively because the thinking and the thinker must also be included in the totality. But when one thinks about that totality, the totality that lies in one's thought does not include the thought itself. For it is the object of the thought and so stands in contrast to it. Hence the totality that one is thinking about is not actually the totality of all that is. Yet one must first think about totality in order to realize that it is unthinkable. One needs thought in order to be conscious of the unthinkable just as sometimes one needs a sound in order to be conscious of silence. One must think about the unthinkable yet as soon as one tries to do so it immediately slips away. This is the most fascinating and also most troublesome aspect of philosophy.2

The second philosopher is a physicist, John Archibald Wheeler:

...in the quantum principle we're instructed that the actual act of making an observation changes what it is that one looks at. To me, this is a perfectly marvelous feature of nature.... So the old word observer simply has to be crossed off the books, and we must put in the new word participator. In this way we've come to realize that the universe is a participatory universe."3

The third philosopher is Nobel physicist Erwin Schroedinger who emphasized that there are no longer any identities which proclaim their reality apart from human consciousness:

...we are faced with the following remarkable...situation. While the stuff from which our world picture is built is yielded exclusively from the sense organs as organs of the mind so that every man's world picture is and always remains a construct of his mind and cannot be proved to have any other existence, yet the conscious mind itself remains a stranger within that construct. It has no living space in it; you can spot it nowhere in space.4

The paradoxes to which these philosophers refer arise in perceiving and conceiving and in synthesizing attending (attention) and intending (intention) in experiencing.

The first example from Professor Fung Yu-lan occurs in a process tradition in which a discussion of "thinking" as processing is not reducible to an abstract thought/thing/name. This is the point of the opening lines of the Tao te Ching. This is a tradition without a linguistic 'existential identity principle' which might seem to isolate a particular term or thought apart from the process of thinking and naming, e.g. exists/ existence.5 This impossibility can be illustrated in two propositions by Hui Shih in the 4th Century BCE: "A chicken has three legs." "The wheel never touches the ground."6

The second example occurs in an object tradition which is "substantively based" and one in which identity was historically equated with an abstraction of the verb "to be" as "exist" or "existence" which corresponded to the real or res as thing. As Parmenides insisted in the 5th Century BCE, there is but "...one word by which to express the [true] road: Is. ...Surely by now we agree that it is necessary to reject the unthinkable, unsayable path as untrue and to affirm the alternative as the path of reality and truth." Other examples of absolutes connected to concepts of identity and existence are provided by Aristotle's "three laws of thought" and the synthesis of Aristotle's categorical syllogistic with classical physics and biology as well as monotheistic theology.

Physicists and biologists in the 20th Century have begun proposing that terms like "exist" and "existence" are meaningless or without reference. The physicist Sir Arthur Eddington suggests: "It is a primitive form of thought that things either exist or do not exist; and the concept of a category of things possessing existence results from forcing our knowledge into a corresponding frame of thought. …

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