Dan

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

I have two special passions: trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and magic*. Not in that order. I've tried to let people think for me, but apparently they didn't know how.

  • In the general sense. Not magick specifically.

This seems like as good a place as any for my speech about the necessary bias of speech. In case it seems unclear, I do not conclude that we should all keep our mouths shut or stop trying to avoid bias. To decrease the problem, I suggest using something like neutral point of view in daily life, only with more reference to oneself.

If I start to define words, then start to define the words in the definitions and so on, I will eventually find myself using two words to define each other. For example, I might say that 'color' means a property of shapes and 'shape' means something that has color. This seems like a bad example, but you see the problem. If I keep trying to express myself, I'll feel that I know what I mean, and may even have a picture of what I mean, but can't say it. I conclude from this that speech comes from personal reactions to words, reactions we can't entirely show to others. And yet it seems we can speak objectively; even people who speak different languages can agree on scientific facts.

How can we do this? And how might we use the method in daily life? Well, we could start by trying to figure out what makes us say something. In the process we may find assumptions we can test against experience. Or we may find words that produce a strong reaction without suggesting any empirical tests. By empirical tests I mean here both 'objective' and 'subjective' experience. Then we can make our language resemble experience more closely. Some of Korzybski's students define the scientific method in a similar way, summarizing it with the three questions: What do you mean? How do you know? What then? Even if one rejects this definition, one might still accomplish a great deal by asking these questions. For example, we could try to figure out what would make us say that two events happen simultaneously, and use this knowledge to change our picture of time. I disagree with Korzybski in one important respect: he says our knowledge resembles 'the scientific object' that creates experience rather than experience alone. I try to keep to experience, and unless I decide I can't succeed I will try not to accept science's non-empirical claims (or anyone else's) at face value. Still, much of what K. and his followers say makes sense to me. I reason as follows. When we say something, we do so because we think, feel, sense or in general experience something. We make decisions about identity or existence using our experience. So it seems reasonable to talk about what we experience, rather than what "is". In practice, this could help us resolve arguments, as when two people disagree about the color of a rug or two witnesses to an alleged crime disagree about what they saw. Now, the influence of many factors can help us to explain experience. Hunger, for example, can explain a feeling of anger or righteous indignation. Therefore, we can sometimes find bias or hidden assumptions, and increase the predictive value of an observation, by taking into account the time and location of the experience and any other relevant features of the body-mind-in-its-environment.

You may have noticed a dilemma here. I don't just mean that the number of possibly relevant factors create doubt about finding them all. This does imply that we can never feel complete certainty about any given prediction from experience. (Or rather we can, but not if we think about it.) But we could have figured that out with much less effort, and it doesn't stop us from making almost-certain predictions. The following troubles me much more. In trying to avoid hidden assumptions about the objects of our knowledge, I seem to have made a number of assumptions about the knower. Plenty of people have claimed to experience a total lack of time, space and self. Furthermore, such experiences seem to compel people to value them, and sometimes try to explain everything else in terms of the mystic experience. We could dismiss this by calling the mystics crazy, but a clever mystic might respond: What do you mean? How do you know? What then? Unless we assume they all lied, it looks like humans can experience an alternative to the seeming certainty of "I think, therefore I am", and all the other assumptions about time, space and self I made before. In practical matters we can ignore this, but to make decisions about practical matters we have to use all the assumptions I just questioned, at least the ones about time and something happening in the past. I wouldn't feel right about dismissing the mystic alternative without trying to duplicate the experience.

Fortunately for sanity, in order to seek a mystical experience such as I've described one would seemingly have to deal with the practical matters of how people seem to have done it in the past and how one could adapt these methods to one's own life in the future. It seems to me that the method I started to recommend before the mystic digression would help in this goal. And it could help one deal with the-- I'll call them distractions, rather than hallucinations or visitations-- that reportedly plague those who seek mystic experiences.