Archive for February 2011

Quora answer: Where does the thought of Carl Jung fit in the Continental Philosophical tradition?

Basically what I am trying to do in this post is to put Jung in the context of Continental Philosophy where he belongs. Freud did not really know the Western Philosophical Tradition as Jung did. Jung was valuable to Freud for two reasons. He was not Jewish and he really knew the tradition well and so he was in a good position to be able to defend Psychoanalysis when it first started in ways that Freud could not.

Losing Jung as the leader of the Psychoanalytic movement was a big blow to Freud. The biggest difference between the two was that Jung was not dogmatic like Freud was. Jung always put his ideas in the larger context of the Western philosophical tradition. This is one of the reasons that Jung’s psychology is somewhat more coherent than that of Freud. But unfortunately Continental Philosophers only talk about Freud or his followers, and never talk about Jung. Because of that there is only so far that they can go in trying to look at the impact of the unconscious on their philosophical views. That is why the transformation of Freud into Lacanian Psychoanalysis was so crucial. It produced a form of Psychoanalysis that could stand up to Philosophical scrutiny.

Lacan had a huge influence on the next generation of philosophers after Sartre and Merleau-Ponty especially Deleuze. And this has become central to such an extent that both Badiou and Zizek are in fact Lacanian Analysts. Zizek spends much of his work explaining how Lacan really does make sense after all. Lacan is so cryptic that is is hard to challenge his interpretation. Basically Zizek says that Lacan, who took Hyppolite’s Hegel course that everyone else took among the French intelligentsia, is really repackaging Hegel and all Lacanian ideas go back to Hegel not Freud. Thus, while Lacan feigns a reinterpretation of Freud, what he is really doing according to Zizek is reading through Freud back to Hegel. He is doing what Hillman calls “seeing through” which is a deconstructionist trick.

So what we get in Continental Philosophy is a skipping of Jung, because the first generation only talked about Freud, and then the Second generation were heavily influenced by Lacan. But what gets missed in this is the fact that Lacan and Jung have a lot in common. Lacan studied under Jung briefly during his residency. It is interesting that many of his conclusions are very similar to those of Jung, although Lacan never mentions Jung. But Lacan is much more interesting than Jung in some ways because all of his reinterpretation of Freud is though the lens of Structuralism of Levi-Strauss and Semiotics of de Saussure. However, Lacan knew Heidegger, and he had taken the Hegel course that was the standard one in France at the time. We can see Lacan as going  back to Hegel through Heidegger’s Being and Time, because Heidegger was basically going back to Hegel himself. The references to Freud and the reinterpretation was basically a smoke screen according to Zizek.

Jung’s major influence was Nietzsche. He developed a psychology that was contrary to that of Nietzsche. That is why Jung’s philosophy has a kinship to Plato, who was the enemy of Nietzsche. Nietzsche based his philosophy on the pre-Socratics. But Nietzsche was also reversing Hegels idea that only the Slaves could have self-consciousness and thus ethics. So if we see this double reversal that puts Jung back with Hegel too. However, Jung was more of a Kantian. However, after Hegel, Kant can only be seen through the eyes of Hegel. There is no pure Kantians after Hegel. Another example of that is Charles Peirce, who is also a Kantian, but working on mostly Hegelian problems.

Now if we see this alignment we can see that although Lacan and Jung were never compared, because the Continental Philosophers never talk about Jung, there is a strange coincidence in their two psychoanalytical theories in many ways both subtle and gross. So it seems to me that Depth Psychology should explore this congruence or alignment.

Giegerich makes the case that Depth Psychology is really just Hegelian Dialectics. His is the only positive theory, because Hillman merely does Derrida like deconstruction (which actually comes form Heidegger) as his practice based on Jungs works. Hillman is basically doing to Jung what Lacan had done with Freud, using him as a foil. But as Zizek points out Derrida and Lacan are duals that are opposite each other in most respects. Hillman never mentions Derrida. Derrida of course is influenced heavily by Hegel in his critique of Heidegger. In fact all Continental Philosophy could be seen as just Hegelianism warmed over. So what we get to is that Hegel is the key figure in all this, and where Kantianism comes in it is mostly a retrenchment and reaction against Hegelianism like in Peirce and Jung.

These are the lineages of the history of Ideas with respect to the philosophical underpinnings of Jungian thought which goes back through Nietzsche to Hegel. Jung is reacting to both and that is why he is the opposite of Nietzsche and a Kantian. This places him very close to Peirce in many ways, who is also a Kantian reacting against Hegel, but concerned with Hegelian problems, as Jung is.

So in my understanding when we say Depth Psychology, it also means going  back to the roots, and all roads are leading back to Hegel. So I think Giegerich is on to something. Hillman is obscuring the connection between himself and Derrida, otherwise we could trace back though Hillman to Hegel as well.

Now what this means is that Depth X (Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, etc) is really another way to approach what Hegel calls Spirit. That is what Hegel thought of as Depth. But Spirit is in the realm of transcendentals if you give the standard interpretation of Hegel. So here is where Jung’s brillance is crucial. Jung was also heavily influenced by Plato, but he tries to come up with what is the dual of Plato’s Ideas, and that is the Archetypes. So when we go back to Spirit, it is not with a transcendental idea as in Hegel (under the standard interpretation of Hegel) but with archetypes. So we have an Archetypal Spirit embodying the meaning of Depth X. I think this is the essential thing that Giegerich does not see, that we get a better picture of from Hillman’s deconstructionist approach. The way that Jung differs from Hegel by way of Nietzsche’s reversal is that he posits an anti-transcendental realm called the Collective Unconscious. The Spirit of Hegel is the Collective Consciousness. That has Absolute Ideas in it. So opposite these Absolute ideas are the non-Absolute Archetypes. This is basically Hillmans attack of Monotheism and instead supporting a return to Polytheism. It is his argument against Spirit and instead emphasizing the Soul.

Let me know what you think of this brief incursion into this quasi-History of Ideas approach to Jungs place in the scheme of Continental Philosophy. Once we place him in this complex net of influences seen through the eyes of Harold Bloom (Anxiety of Influence, and A Map of Misreading) then suddenly Jung’s theory takes on a new level of significance normally not appreciated especially by Jungians who only know Jung’s thought as if it appeared in a vacuum out of nothing — whole and unrelated to anything else. If anything Jung’s explanation in the Red Book as to how it was different from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, the only other work really mentioned in with that kind of detailed analysis, should give us pause and make us think that Jung’s work actually has a context in the history of thought up to his time and beyond that to the present day.

Posted February 27, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is a very interesting characteristic because it is the one thing that is actually persistent in experience. However, it is also ephemeral because when you are not thinking of what you know, where does the knowledge reside, seemingly nowhere, at least phenomenologically. Knowledge is often compared with light, and light has many strange properties as well, for instance the fact that it is the upper limit of speed. The fact that light itself does not move, and from its point of view it is traveling instantaneously from point to point in the universe from its own perspective. While from our perspective it takes time . . . so everything in the universe is warped away from the speed of light. So there are things in the universe that are just as strange as Knowledge, and that is perhaps why light and knowledge are often connected, for instance in the “Enlightenment” period in our history.

Further, it is interesting that the persistence of Knowledge is what is claimed for Being, but that claim does not stand and essentially Being is illusion of continuity that in fact does not exist. Being is unique to the Indo-european worldview, and Buddhism is a heresy in that worldview that tries to escape from Being back to existence. And also back to a kind of knowledge of the emptiness of existence called prajna.

So this is the kind of thing we want to focus on which is not normally considered in epistemology, which takes Knowledge for granted, and also takes the fact that Being has perdurance. So in effect metaphysics itself is distorted with both ontology and epistemology in it. Epistemology has the characteristics that are imputed to Ontology. Ontology is about “What is?” and Epistemology is about “How we know what is?” So epistemology serves ontology within philosophy. But it should actually be the other way around. Knowledge is where the persistence is, and Ontology is merely about the mechanism of producing illusory continuities, i.e. Ideas based on the supposed substance of Being.

So if we want to know what Knowledge is then we need to focus on its strange property of persistence in our experience. Try to forget something you know. It is almost impossible. The other interesting thing is the link between knowledge and sexuality in our tradition. To have sex is to come to “know” the other person. So in some sense knowledge originally had to do with our embodiment. Note that we go into trance states with respect to everything related to our finitude, and so there is a trance state related to sexuality, and thus there must be a trance state related to knowledge. And we see that when we ask someone about something they have to remember and they look out into space off to the right or left. So if we have trances related to knowledge then we know that we are embodying our knowledge and it relates to our finitude.

All this is to say that what is knowledge is really a open question. In other words I do not have an answer to it, and I don’t think our tradition does because epistemology has always served ontology in our tradition, and it has allowed Being to claim the kind of persistence that only knowledge has. And we have not really considered knowledge of existence which is prajna as a possibility previously.

But something that is interesting I think is that Knowledge is acquired through learning. And recently I noticed that although as Bateson says learning is striated, i.e. has meta-levels, teaching seems to be unstriated. Just like existence is unstrated even though Being is striated. However, negation is striated. And so we can talk about meta-levels of non-existence. So to it seems to me that knowledge is unstriated. What does it mean to have knowledge of knowledge, that is really just more knowledge instead of being an emergent level of knowledge. So if both existence and knowledge are unstriated then there is some kind of homeomorphism in prajna between knowledge and existence.

To ask what something is, is to ask about its essence. The essence is the constrains on its attributes. In phenomenology Husserl taught us to vary the characteristics to find the limits of the essence. So we should ask what are the characteristics of knowledge and how are they bound together with an internal coherence.

So one characteristic I have been focusing on is its uncanny persistence in relation to everything else in experience. But there are other characteristics. For instance knowledge is normally communicated through teaching, or through books that contain distilled and verified experience of others. To grasp knowledge we have to stretch our capacity for understanding. In that process we need to be actively engaged in exploring and thinking as well as doing things that exemplify the knowledge. Knowledge is mean to be stable and a basis for action. But if it does not have a solid foundation that everyone agrees on then there are multiple theories and disputes over their experimental grounding. The study of knowledge acquisition is philosophy of science. I prefer the views of Feyerabend here, but Lakatos is also interesting. However, Popper has become the standard here. There is still quite a bit of dispute over exactly how science works. But there is no doubt that knowledge is the goal of the pursuit of science. And we have been very successful at gleeing knowledge of nature so far. But we have not been so successful in gaining self knowledge or knowledge about the structure of our Indo-European Western worldview which is ravaging the planet.

For me the most interesting part of the question about what is knowledge is its relation to speculation. All of my philosophical work is speculative. It is very interesting that you can sometimes get places through speculation that you cannot get to by normal reasoning based on experience. Speculation uses Pure Reason in a positive way, as Peirce’s abduction. In speculation you produce hypotheses, and then you reason from that to other hypotheses, going further and further out on a limb. Lots of times the limb just breaks off, but occasionally you end up somewhere that is really interesting and that can be tied back to experience in unexpected ways. I guess this is saying that somehow in some instances knowledge can be derived from itself though a combination of reasoning and imagination. This is precisely the point that Heidegger makes when he tries to make Kant into his precursor. In the first edition of Critique of Pure reason Imagination was is own separate faculty, but in the second edition he subsumes Imagination under another faculty. So Heidegger uses this change as a way to insert his own perspective into Kant’s archetechtonic.

The other point of interest for me is how emergence effects knowledge. Emergence has different scopes: given, fact, theory, paradigm, episteme, ontos, existence, absolute. But as G.H. Mead says that once an emergent event happens at a particular scope it changes history, future possibilities, present affordances, and I add that it changes the mythos. How knowledge that is incredibly stable can be changed so fundamentally as in the move from Newton to Einstein is the big mystery that has to be taken into account in our explanation of the nature of knowledge. It is not just dynamic, it can experience discontinuous changes of different scopes. This is one of the main areas where I have focused my own research. But there are many horizons that need to be explored if we are eventually going to understand what knowledge is.

Posted February 24, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Is it possible to be a Buddhist and not believe in rebirth?

There is no getting around it Buddhism takes Karma from Hinduism as a fundamental concept because if it did not Nirvana, the escape from Karma would not be definable. Yet because Buddhism settles on emptiness as the escape mechanism then there is a fundamental conflict between these concepts that took centuries to resolve. Best example of a resolution is found in the Awakening of Faith. However, if you undertand that Karma is really an image of the Emergent Meta-system, how things arise, interact, are viewed, and then are annihilated in nature and in consciousness, then it becomes clearer why Karma is so necessary because it is the natural cycle of existence from seeds, to leaves, to flowers, to fruits. Also it is a relaxation process that moves from high to low energy, and thus seeks the middle way of optimization automatically as a natural process, like water flowing to the lowest point, or bubbles giving the smallest possible surface area automatically. So in a sense Karma is just this law of optimization in nature. Recently that as been named constructal law by Adrian Bejan See….

Basically you are being asked to confront the fact that your self appears to persist even though the “truth” from the Buddhist point of view is that it is empty. Karma is the cycle that supports that apparent persistence. The persisence when thought of as perdurance is based on Being in the Indo-European tradition. Buddhism is basically asking us to return to awareness of existence from our immersion as a culture in Being.

What is fascinating is that whereas Being is the construction of an illusory continuity, Knowledge naturally has this persistence as part of its nature. So one aspect of Buddhism is to develop prajna, the wisdom of seeing existence in terms of knowledge rather than Being.

DzogChen because it is a heresy of Buddhism actually erases the distinction between emptiness and karma, and the distinction between emptiness in consciousness and void in nature. And thus this form of Buddhism does not necessitate the belief in Karma as an ultimate pre-requisite, but in order to understand that you have to go through Buddhism, so really is a necessity for DzogChen as well.

Posted February 21, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Who was Tathagata?

Tathagata means “thus come/gone” and is a way that the Buddha was referred to. It is a way of indicating his nonduality because he is come and gone at the same time without them interfering with each other. It is like the talk in Buddhism of non-arising, non-vanishing. It is more or less the dual of that characterization of enlightenment. That is a way of talking about the Heraclitian flux of change in existence, in which change changes, i.e. variety happens always and is constantly renewed. The Buddha is gone in the sense that his self has been annihilated or canceled into emptiness. But he is come in the sense that he can articulate the Dharma, as all prior and coming Buddhas have. And since all Buddhas point to the same truth of existence, Shakyamuni is just one more instance of what as gone before and what will come after in terms of those pointing to the middle way which is intrinsically nondual.

By the way, who ever achieves enlightenment is called a Tathatagata, it is not an exclusive club with only Shakaymuni and Maitreya (who has not come yet) are part of. Enlightenment is part of our heritage as humans, it is open for anyone to achieve in a way that is unique to themselves. It is the realization of the quintessence of our humanity that was there primoridally, and which the Buddhas only remind us of when they arrive already departed.

Posted February 20, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Why should I believe in a zen master instead of the experiences I have had all my life?

This is a very good question. And as I have said in another answer I have a strange view of Buddhist enlightenment. But leaving this aside what you are really asking is how do I make a non-nihilistic distinction between enlightenment and your own experience of mundane, presumably unenlightened consciousness, and further how do you tell that someone else is enlightened.
What I contend is that this is not possible unless we know something about the structure of the Western worldview itself. Buddhism did not grow up in a vacuum, but was a heresy of the Indo-european (Hindu) worldview, which was essentially Indo-european, just like the Western worldview. So Buddhism is a natural nondual extension of our modern Western worldview as it was of the Hindu worldview of its own time of inception and development in India. It essentially called for a return to existence from the immersion in the illusions of Being. if we understand that the basic product of the Western worldview is nihilistic opposites then anything that takes us back to existence wil have to make a non-nihilistic distinction in order to see existence as non-dual, i.e. either empty or void.

So basically your question comes back to you yourself. In other words how well do you know yourself and your place in our worldview, and its influence on you, and how badly do you want to escape the karmic cycle of the intensification of nihilism within our tradition. So what you need to consider is how nihilistic those experiences are that you mention, and whether or not you want to escape from that nihilism which has the form: “round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran”?

Now nihilism according to Stanley Rosen in Nihilism consists of extreme duals that seem to be in conflict but really are the same thing. When we realize that they are the same then we lose meaning and the result is alienation and anomie. A good characterization of this situation with respect to the difference between Western and Chinese medicine is found in Stone Monkey by Bruce Holbrook, (Morrow 1981, ISBN 0688007325).

Buddhist enlightenment is designed precisely to counter the basic nihilistic structure of the Indo-european worldview. And it does that by using nihilism against it in order to display the awareness of nondual existence as a possibility beyond the nihilism produced by the illusion of the substantive quality of Being. So if under scrutiny you find your self to be immersed in dualism and engulfed by nihilism like most of us in this worldview, then you might want to consider trying to get out of it by the path that Buddhism or some other nondual tradition offers.
But then the question becomes, how do you know that the person who is the exemplar of a given nondual tradition is actually enlightened, or at least more enlightened than you. My advice in that respect is to watch their actions and the results of their actions very carefully and to see if they can be characterized as nondual in their nature. In other words you should see them making non-nihilistic distinctions on a regular basis. But this begs the question as to what is a non-nihilistic distinction. In most nondual traditions this kind of distinction is characterized as the middle way between the extremes. The point is that nihilism is so prevalent we almost never see anyone make such a distinction, and one might not recognize it when one sees it. So there is a dilemma just in recognizing an enlightened person. You almost have to be enlightened yourself to do that, which is a Catch 22 type situation. And so that is why there are schools in the tradition. Those who are recognized as being enlightened by other teachers. Thus if you can find someone who you have no doubt in, and they recognize the person as being enlightened, then you have a basis for grounded belief in the person in question. But even that is hard, because when we talk about enlightenment there are so many ideas about what it is, even in Buddhism. But that is why it is so valuable to have a living tradition like the Tibetan tradition as a basis for the establishment our indigenous branch of their  form of the Buddhist tradition.
The other approach is to study non-enlightenment. Even though there are few enlightened people around there are myriad non-enlightened people around including in most  instances oneself. If you study non-enlightenment deeply enough you start to get a sense of what the alternative might be. Then it could be that you will run into someone who embodies that alternative in ways you did not expect. Once you have met someone like this then you can use them as a criteria for judging others, and eventually recognize those who are genuinely enlightened hopefully. It is not easy.
Part of that is to read sutras. There are lots of sutras translated, and they are very informative as to the various notions of enlightenment within Buddhism. The Buddha just kept finding more interesting things to say over time. The concept of enlightenment was refined and presented in more and more subtle ways. Those sutras give you the paramaters for what you are looking for when you try to judge if someone is enlightened. For instance, you should see compassion embodied by that person regularly and as an intrinsic part of their character. We know this, because the Buddha was called compassionate as his main characteristic. Thus you would expect his true followers to exhibit this characteristic. And compassion is something we all know what it is. Thus if you were with a teacher, and you saw them acting in a way that was not compassionate even once, you might form doubts about their enlightenment. But then again what is compassion from the point of view of enlightenment might be different from our mundane point of view. However, there should be a common denominator and that should be recognizable. Buddhism holds up compassion as one of the main characteristics that is acquired by a Buddha or Bodhisattva. There are other such signs. so one way to approach the problem is to look for those signs being embodied in the person who you suspect of being enlightened.

Posted February 20, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Why did Buddha and his followers beg for food rather than spend time earning money?

It is very interesting that the Zen monk and Taoist Stonehouse in his poetry criticizes monks for begging, and as a hermit prides himself on the fact that he lives from the work of his own hands as a hermit. It is interesting that this criticism comes from someone who actively was exploring the interface between Zen Buddhism and Taoism in his practice.

I have found his poetry fascinating. I think it is the most amazing poetry I have read. What I think is most amazing about it is that on page 151 or so of the translation by Red Pine there is a line of emptiness then a line of void then a line of emptiness and a line of void. I have never seen anyone do such a thing before. Normally Taoism (void) and Zen Buddhism (emptiness) are not embodied in the same work.

I have looked carefully in vain for some indication that Stonehouse understood the deeper nonduality beyond and before and after the distinction between emptiness and void. He seems to hold them together but separate, and thus has a suprarational view of them, i.e. they do not mix as they did in early Chinese understanding of Buddhism which interpreted as being the same as Taoism. In some ways this is the preparation for DzogChen which identifies the source prior to the distinction between the two truths and thus does not distinguish Buddhism from Bon (Taoism). But in other ways since it is a suprarational view of both together yet non-mixed it can be seen as a higher state which is suprarational holding together yet apart two different nonduals and showing how they can be interleaved without mixing them.

This is a stunning intellectual feat which an only bring awe to the beholder.


Posted February 20, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Flag Koan (which is moving flag or wind, no it is the mind that is moving) pointing to the nonduality of emptiness

This Koan is a perfect example of pointing to suprarationality. It is pointing to an inexpressible nondual state beyond moving and stillness or breeze and flag. The fact that the sixth patriarch says the mind is moving does not mean it is the “answer”. Notice that the flag is always seen on a flag pole. The flag pole is stationary and it is the flag/wind that is seen moving. But all that is a projection of the mind, and this is an example of the idealist conception within Buddhism to say that the mind itself is moving rather than the flag or wind. But really this points to a deeper duality which is stillness and motion. The stillness of the flag pole and the motion of the flag/wind, and the stillness of the mind. Once we reach this underlying duality, then it is a matter of indicating and approximating the indicated nondual state between the two duals.

Flag and wind moving indicates opposition in nature, and that opposition in nature is absorbed into the mind in idealism. But this points to the underlying dichotomy between mind and nature, stillness and movement. What is the nondual between these fundamental states?

The statement of the patriarch is really another question, rather than an answer that points at this nondual state which is not both nor neither or not A nor non-A). The tetralemma exhausts all the logical possibilities, and points to emptiness which is beyond all those logical possibilities. Suprarationality means that the moving and non-moving, subject-object, flag-wind all are simultaneously effective without interfering with each other. It is something that is other than and opposite paradox which would be the mixture of the various contradictory states.

The theory behind Zen comes from Hua Yen Buddhism of Fa Tsang, which recognizes that emptiness is interpenetration. Thus flag and wind, subject and object, nature and consciousness, stillness and movement all interpenetrate but yet each hold their form though their differences.

In general what this koan is really referring to is the difference between karmic function and suchness. The karmic function is the wind, and the concrete manifestation of the aggregate suchness of the flag is its opposite. But they are actually both the same thing and made possible by the alayvijyana or storehouse consciousness that receives the karmic seeds (bija) and stores them until they fructify. How karma could operate in the face of emptiness was always a fundamental problem in Buddhism. But Buddhism was idealistic, not believing in physical nature for the most part. So everything was interpreted phenomenologically from an idealistic stance for the most part. The Patriarch is pointing to this substrate of mind, the storehouse consciousness which is the basis for the interaction of the karmic function (wind) and the suchness (flag). But in the alayvijyana the seeds are still, quiescent. So from a theoretical point of view the question is how the seeds can exist in this quiescent state being embedded in the emptiness. And the answer to that is that the emptiness although nondual still has its own structure that allows it to act as the receptivity and carrier for the seeds of karmic action. There is a part of the mind called the alayavijyana that has this stability even though it is still empty.

A good reference for this is the Awakening of Faith, and also Fa Tsang’s recently translated commentary on it. The interesting thing about this commentary is that it is the only example I can find where there is a self-conscious explanation of the Emergent Meta-system which is the underlying model of karmic quasi-causality.

Posted February 19, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized