There is no One!

In an earlier letter on my worldview, I labelled myself as a monist. Recently, I found that this needs further elaboration and maybe a correction. Maybe I had a wrong idea of what is “monism”, a term with a long history in western philosophical discourse. The two fields of inquiry we are interested in, here, are ontology (the question of what is real) and epistemology (what is knowledge, what are we able to know about reality).

westernmetaphysics

Basic terminology in Western metaphysics.

Western philosophy is predominantly characterised by the dichotomy of mind and matter. This ontological dualism is built on a strong substance metaphysics: The materialist believes that the one underlying substance of everything is matter and that mental phenomena arise from material processes (for example, thoughts and imagination are the effect of neuronal activity in the brain). The idealist believes the opposite – that the one substance is mind and that the entire perception of the phenomenon “matter” is a mental creation. Both are, in their own way, monists – there is only one substance. Attempts to moderate between the two are dual-aspect monism or neutral monism, for example in Spinoza’s work. Furthermore, there is a strong religious association with the term monism: those who believe that there is only one almighty divine entity as the substance-creator (a god) are religious monists.

Strictly speaking, monistic idealists and materialists are still dualists since they obviously separate mind and matter. What I had in mind when calling my metaphysical viewpoint monistic was a non-separation of the two, a strict non-dualism. Perhaps, I may call it “dialectic monism” to make it clearer: For me as a convinced epistemological constructivist (all we know is constructed by our mind on the foundations of our experiences and formations) and holist (everything is interconnected in a net of conditionality), both mind and matter are embedded into an ultimate reality that “works” by only one set of mechanisms (are call it “laws”). As described earlier, the emergent character of an ever-changing world – the dependent arising in Buddhist philosophy – brought about the feature of conscious perception and cognitive processes. This is the origin of our mind. With our current knowledge about “nature” we may say that it arises from matter. However, at the same time – that is: dialectically – the whole concept of “matter” is the product of our mental reflections on our surrounding. And here my “monism” – thought of as “non-separation” or “emptiness” – comes into play: We easily fall victim of the illusion that our mental processing of the world is somehow separated from the “real” world outside of our mind. We separate into me and you, me and the world, inside and outside, and so forth. This conscious ontology is the phenomenal or conventional reality, but not the ultimate reality or actuality. The call for oneness is, therefore, a prescriptive one: If our goal is to progress towards enlightenment, we need to understand that there is no metaphysical substance, permanence and separable identity of things, but emptiness, impermanence and interconnectedness. In this respect, my “monism” may not be understood as “there is only one”, but as “there is only everything”.

A next question would be if there is an analogous insight for epistemological monism: The “mind-monist” – the rationalist – would claim that all knowledge is a result of mental reasoning (rationality). The “matter-monist” – the (traditional) empiricist – would understand all knowledge as the result of incoming experiential triggers that are caused by matter (for example, light, sound waves, molecular exchange, etc.). Again, dialectic monism replies that both are working interconnectedly. Ratio needs experience from interaction with the surrounding, while the processing of the experience itself is enabled through a sense-making by our conscious rationality (as depicted in my tree of knowledge). Again, there is no one (ratio or experience), but only everything (the experiential margin of our perception, the pattern formations of the past, our choice of strategies for sense-making and meaning-construction, etc.).

Now comes the tricky question: Why bother? Why would it matter for our daily life? Admittedly, not all philosophy has this pragmatic component of applicability or viability. Traditional metaphysics and epistemology as “armchair philosophy” were a purely intellectual academic endeavour. However, I am firmly convinced that these insights – when successfully put into practice – have a deep impact on our daily life. Take, for example, the love relationship of a couple: When the two are regarded as separated entities, it might always remain at the level of “you and me”. When we understand how we are all connected in karmic relations, there is the chance to reach the level at which there is only “us”. The way of communication, the willingness to listen and understand, patience, benevolence, all will be different. Another example is the attitude towards one’s situation in the job or – in case you are a student – at school or university: Do the challenges make you feel stressed, powerless or overwhelmed and do the people you have to deal with bother and annoy you? Or do you understand how those situations are the product of manifold interconnected factors (including you and your attitude) and learn how to control and work with these factors to create beneficial circumstances for yourself and everyone involved? Or politics: Is it really “us and them”? Or is it actually possible to induce transformations of system flaws by planting small seeds in family members, neighbours, friends, colleagues, etc.? Aren’t the leaders we get the ones we inevitably deserve as a society, due to the opinions and viewpoints that we allow or even support to form? Can we really blame certain people or parties for insufficiencies or are there maybe hidden causal pathways that we are not aware of or that we don’t understand but that let certain decisions and democratic practices appear in a different – sometimes more reasonable – light?

If we were Buddha, we would be able to see through all karmic relations in the conditionality network. Or – to exploit a more recent cinematic picture – if we were Neo we would not see the illusion of the world (the conventional truth), but the Matrix (the ultimate truth). Most of us will never get even close to it. Some might notice the scratches in the surface of our illusion. The metaphysics of dependent origination and emptiness, as far as I can see it, is one of the most helpful insights to make intellectual progress towards a viable (that means: reliable, efficient, applicable, reasonable, verifiable) worldview, which should be followed by practical progress. It could be a mantra – The Mantra of Non-Separation – for every day: There is no one. There is only everything.

Thematrixincode99

Knowledge, knowledge, and knowledge

I feel the urge to write about “knowledge”. Actually, all my letters are, somehow, about “knowledge”, because statements and viewpoints that are not in any way informed by knowledge are mere non-sense, opinion (very likely wrong), or pointless blabla. However, I’d like to clarify a few points that make past and future letters better understandable.

First of all, as a native German speaker, I have difficulties with the English word “knowledge”. There are three German words that all translate into “knowledge” according to the dictionary, but that are fundamentally different (from my understanding):

  • Wissen – what someone knows, which is what someone is consciously aware of and what someone can recall, recite, understand, and make use of. In Ancient Greece it is episteme. There is also a difference between the two German verbs wissen and kennen that is not easily expressed in English. I can know (kennen, maybe as in “be acquainted with“) someone without knowing (wissen) anything about him (except the name, for example).
  • Erkenntnis – the process of becoming aware of new knowledge, the step from empirical or cognitive experience to meaningful information, the sense-making process. An alternative English translation would be “insight”. The verb erkennen, however, means rather “to recognise” or “realise”, “to find out”, to identify”, indicating that this idea of “knowledge” is not static like “Wissen”, but rather a procedural phenomenon or even an act.
  • Einsicht – in German almost a synonym to Erkenntnis, but with a stronger association to understanding something. Therefore, it is close to “access” (into a matter), “comprehension” and “judiciousness”.

I believe that this differentiation is very important! We are often not aware of the fact that all our knowledge (Wissen) is the result of a construction process that elaborates knowledge (Erkenntnis) from experiences. The most impacting implication from this is that there can’t be a direct link between knowledge and truth! What we can know – this is the question that epistemology asks – is strictly confined by our cognitive capacity on the one side, and the margin that is spun up by our previous experiences and within which we are able to make sense of an information (to have Einsicht) on the other side. As written earlier, we can never know whether our knowledge is true or not; or with better words: to what degree our knowledge reflects actuality (since there is not only right and wrong, but a gradual scale between these two extremes). A better criterium to determine the value of knowledge is its viability, the success of it in situations in which we apply it. In any case, empirically reasoned and logically consistent knowledge is usually more viable than believed, dogmatic, emotionally felt or unconsciously driven knowledge (I am thinking of religious indoctrination, sex drive, fear of death, or the mind poisons in Buddhist philosophy). I found this definition of knowlede:

Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It consists of truth, beliefs, perspectives, concepts, judgments, expectation, methodologies, know-how; and exists in different forms such as tacit, explicit, symbolic, embodied, en-brained and en-cultured knowledge. (Richard Li-Hua, “Definitions of Technology”, Chapter 2, p.20, in “A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology” (editors: Olsen, Pedersen, Hendricks), Blackwell, 2009)

This is insightful but lacks one important point: The differentiation of knowledge into a static form (things to know) and a procedural and performative form (knowledge acquisition, understood as sense-making in a constructivist fashion, and its manifestation in our lifeworld), that I illustrated by different German translations of knowledge.

Knowledge should always be the foundation of our decisions and choices. Yes, this is a prescriptive claim that needs a prescriptive premise if I want to avoid a naturalistic fallacy. Does knowledge have an ethical dimension? I believe so, and I feel confirmed by history. Knowledge has ever since been “power”. Those who know have power over those who don’t know. In countless cases – just take organised religion and the German Nazi regime as two famous examples – the claimed superior knowledge, however, turns out to be flawed and easily contestable. Constructs like “God”, “hell” or “the Aryan” can – from today’s perspective – easily be unmasked as  humbug, so that the so called knowledge must actually be characterised as a very dangerous form of ignorance: believing to know while in fact one is so far from reason that one actually knows nothing. Knowledge is never an isolated individual phenomenon, but one that arises from separating and distinguishing things. As Niklas Luhmann pointed out, to know A means to make a distinction between A and everything else. Experience and its processing into constructed knowledge happens always in the inter-sphere – between things, between people, between societies and cultures. Here it gets delicate: When I am not aware that my insight is the result of my own construction, I might fall victim to the believe that my knowledge is closer to the absolute truth than that of others, which means almost inevitably that I feel superior to those others. Therefore, – deontologically spoken – it is my duty to contest and challenge my knowledge claims over and over again, let it be criticised and refined, and constantly seek for additional input (experiences from which to construct more meaning) and information. Or – from the perspective of virtue ethics – a truly virtuous person doesn’t blindly follow his knowledge (“Einsichten”), but seeks wisdom (a word that etymologically derives from German Weisheit and, therefore, means literally knowledgehood or knowledgeability).

A powerful way to challenge and contest knowledge, especially in the realm of orientational knowledge for normative issues (for example in political debates, or in the arena of technology assessment), is the “ideal discourse” approach by Jürgen Habermas (and others, but he is most prominent and influential). A discourse (debate, conversation, dialogue, polylogue, etc.) can come to viable conclusions under “fair” communicative conditions and under exclusion of power hierarchies or pre-defined truths, thus applying communicative rationality. In this process, viable knowledge is generated by comparing, combining and challenging different constructions (both in the static (construct) and the procedural (constructing) sense) in order to elaborate a more accurate picture that has a better chance to describe the reality appropriately (see also my letter World construction). The discourse must be “ideal” in the sense that not the most popular argument or that brought up by the most influential, famous, powerful participant wins, but that which is most plausible, logically consistent, withstanding criticism and challenge, and empirically traceable and supportable. That means, we need knowledge to come to new knowledge. A convincingly knowledgeable discourse participant has a higher chance to “win” with his or her arguments than one who can’t convince the others of the validity of his claims. In this sense, of course, knowledge is “power”. In the mentioned discourse arenas (politics, technology assessment) this is manifested in participants being required to have a certain expertise (a knowledge base in a specific field). Nobody would elect fools and idiots into parliaments and governments (in the USA that seems to be possible though), and numerous measures and procedures have been established to ensure the quality of social systems like academia, industry, economy, and other expert realms. Therefore, I see no problem in knowledge having power – it is even good like that, because the alternative of knowledge would be dogmatism, ignorance, and idiocracy. The problems about knowledge are rather:

  • Knowledge understood as ultimate truth that discriminates all that knowledge that goes against that claim.
  • Knowledge that is misused for selfish and self-interested purposes like influence, power, fame, money, wealth, or any form of privilege.
  • Knowledge that violates empirical reasoning, rationality, logic and contradicts other more reliable knowledge (for example: political decisions based on religious beliefs and economic interests that ignore scientific insights, as the debate on climate change in the USA).

All these forms of knowledge, however, turn out to be ignorance at a closer look. False knowledge! May we find more efficient and reliable ways to increase the impact of viable knowledge and its procedures of constructing it in the respective societal decision-making instances! Philosophical insights such as pragmatism (one of the few useful and good things coming from USA), constructivism and other epistemological approaches may help achieving that goal!

constructionzone

Mysticism, Religion, and Atheism

With the Tree of Knowledge I have an illustrative tool at hand to describe my ideas and thoughts concerning the huge topic “religion”. The following reflections must be regarded as a more than crude sketch since a “complete” overview of the matter would fill a shelf in a library. I will try to stick to the crucial aspects to make my viewpoint clear. I will not go into detail in the various historical manifestations of particular religions. A great overview can be found here (pinterest) or here (facebook), comprised in this illustration by Simon E. Davies:

treeofreligions2-0

We have to go back to the very roots of mankind. What must it have been like for our ancestors at the transition from moment-bound situational utility-driven cognition (of an ape) to an aware self-reflective past- and future-oriented mind (of a homo)? The conscious perception of the world in terms of its potential – not only the situational exploitation of the given but the creation of opportunity by active and purpose-directed intervention – co-arose with the drive to understand that world that homo found himself in. The quest for knowledge began. The understanding of time is a necessary precondition for that, I guess. Past experiences are stored and processed in order to use them for present actions which are future-directed in the sense that specific outcomes are anticipated and extrapolated from trustworthy past experiences. Physical deficiencies – homo was not the fastest, strongest, perceptually best skilled – were outweighed by knowledge and its successful application. Here, the enterprise of constructing meaning from experience began. But what did it look like when the knowledge base was still very small? I imagine it like this:

I move. I am alive and I can die. The bird and the mammoth move. They are alive and they can die (and I eat them). The stone is cold and doesn’t move. It is inanimate (and I can’t eat it). The sun moves. It is alive but obviously can’t die (and I can’t catch and eat it)!

This is the birth of mysticism, the personification of unexplainable and sometimes frightening phenomena, the separation of “things under the sun”, “the myriad of creatures” on the one hand from “the heavenly realm” with all its powers brought upon us on the other. A quick search across known ancient cultures from all around the globe reveals that almost all of them worship entities that are in one way or another related to astronomical or meteorological occurrences: sun gods, rain gods, thunder gods, star fairies, wind ghosts, etc. An important impact was certainly the development of spoken language to communicate abstract ideas, thoughts and feelings. The members of a clan or society could discover that they share certain fears, concerns, worries and also explanations and meanings. We can imagine how the new possibility of exchanging viewpoints and debating pushed the advancement of culture as the glue that keeps a clan together and creates identification. “You are one of us because you think like we do!“. This might be the turning point from more or less individual mysticism towards organised religion.

Despite the common view that the discovery of spoken language was the most impacting achievement of mankind, I claim that the invention of alphabets – written language – had an even bigger impact. Spoken language was still situational and “out of the moment”. Capturing thoughts in written words, in contrast, requires a deeper reflection on what the thought actually was. The speaker lets out what is on his mind in the moment of talking. The writer is able to move back in time and reproduce streams of thought, modify and refine them, and reflect on consequences and implications. In terms of the Tree of Knowledge: Whereas before the predominant channel of meaning-construction was the default setting (driven by self-made experiences and their emotional context, mostly well-being and fear), the invention of writing facilitated the opening of new channels such as education and dogmatism. Social and moral codes and possible world explanations could be written down by those who are intellectually capable of it. Knowledge became power and the formation of social hierarchies as we still experience it today began. Those who suffered more – from existential threats, diseases, losses, tragedies – were able to find ease (to a certain extent) in those who gave them understandable and plausible explanations and meanings of the experiences they face. With the help of knowledgeable “masters” the ordinary people were able to “survive” existential threats and tragedies – sometimes by following down-to-earth rules, for example on hygiene, sometimes by simply having hope and trust in the future course of the world.

Let’s take, for example, the Bible: The old testament is full of rules that, when violated, imply horrible punishments such as chopping off hands or death by stoning. Does that mean that the God that is described in the Bible is a cruel dominant ruler? I think, it is much more pragmatic. The Bible is written by many contributors from various regions and epochs. The old testament is a collection of advises and rules for daily life, intended as guideline for people who have no education and no other source of rules for a successful life (=survival). For example, it is written that a man is not allowed to sit on a chair that was occupied before by a woman in her menstruation period. If he does, he will receive 20 hits with a birch. This sounds ridiculous from our perspective, but it made sense for a society in which the common people had no knowledge about infectious diseases or hygiene standards. Guess what is more efficient: explaining to them the pathways of infections and the hygienic importance of keeping furniture clean, or the paternalistic and clear rule “if you do that you’ll be punished!”? Compare that to how I protect you, little baby, from harm: Instead of explaining the physics of electricity and the effects of an electric current on your body system, I simply tell you “Don’t touch the power socket!” or I just block it from your access. In this way, as a father, I have power over you because I know better (currently). And in the same way, knowledgeable leaders know better than the common people and, therefore, have power over them.

Here, religion is interwoven with politics. And where is politics there are also people who misuse it to satisfy their greedy and unscrupulous needs for power and influence. The goal to support common people with helpful rules in a paternalistic way turns into a motivation to “keep people small and stupid” by inflicting doctrines and dogmas upon them. Instead of soothing people’s fears with hope and warm narratives, the church (as the political manifestation of religion) exploits these fears for their own selfish purposes. The Bible, then, is not a sourcebook for codes of life conduct and morals stabilising the social community anymore, but an instrument of threat and indoctrination. Today, we learn at school that texts have to be interpreted in the context of the author’s era, social realm and political situation. This is, of course, also the case for the Bible. The church, however, is built on the dogma of “The Word” that is divine, eternal, never-changing and true. There is no room for interpretation, because – as soon as believers start thinking about the meaning of the narratives presented in the Bible – the church would lose its justification as an important social institution. With other words: The church claims the one right way of meaning-construction for itself and requires believers to follow that one way.

I’d like to give two examples from the very beginning of the Bible. The first story that is told is the creation of the world by God within six days and a rest on the 7th day. The church claims that this is the exact truth, taken literally. A mind- and careless follower will, therefore, believe that it happened like that. Today we know that it didn’t happen like that, so we think that those who still believe it must be entirely stupid, brainwashed, or simply foolish idiots (mostly found in the USA). Does that mean the Bible is “wrong”? Let’s see it from a hermeneutical perspective: This story made it into the old testament around 3500 years ago, but is probably even older. At that time, people had no idea of evolutionary processes or of cosmic constellations. Yet, they ask themselves where all this (the world they see) came from. The “best explanation” was this story. Today we have better explanations, but we may admit that an important principle – a certain timely order of sophistication – is also found in the creation narrative: first God made the sun (night and day) and the earth, then plants, then water animals and land animals, and finally mankind. This rough order of development is more or less confirmed by insights into evolutionary processes, just that the Bible puts that into words that are easy to understand and reflect the possible degree of knowledge of that time. The “mistake” is to take this as an eternal truth, as if we would never increase and sophisticate our degree of knowledge.

The second story of the Bible is the “original sin”: Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise after eating from the “tree of knowledge”. Now, this is interesting, because I depict my idea of meaning-construction as a tree of knowledge, too. Christians (I mean those who really believe in God and practice Christian religion, not those German Christians who are actually non-religious) interpret this episode as “Don’t challenge God but trust in his benevolence! If Adam and Eve hadn’t challenged him, we would still live in paradise!” (therefore: original sin). Anti-Christians (for example atheists) interpret the story as “See! God wanted man to be stupid, without any knowledge, just following his orders!”. These are two ways of meaning-construction: one through the channel of (religious) dogmatism (take the Bible literally and worship God), one through the channel of scepticism (arising from scientism, liberalism, or others). However, also the latter takes this story literally in a way that it doesn’t ask for its narrative and hermeneutic dimension. We have to ask: Why did this story make it into the Bible at this prominent place, presuming that the authors (or “compilers”) saw an important significance in it? Man’s experience was that he was different from other living beings. Animals didn’t talk, didn’t invent tools and didn’t develop “culture” that is in any way comparable to human culture (also this insight changed meanwhile due to new deeper knowledge about other animal species). Why are human so different? And why, even though we are so special, are we not free from suffering but share it with the animals? Explanation 1: God made human with a special intention. Explanation 2: We must have disappointed God so much that he gave up on us. Explanation 3: Maybe once we actually were like the animals, but then we discovered our ability of (self-)consciousness, (self-)awareness and (self-)knowledge and stepped out of our biological niche. Thinking explanation 3 further, we might arrive at conclusions that are meaningful from a modern anthropological perspective: How important is “ecological balance” and “natural harmony” for the biosphere of this planet? Is it really a blessing for humankind to be knowledgeable, or might it turn out as a curse (see, for example, the global environmental destruction as a result of human inventive activity)? Would it be better to remain forever in the default setting, as in “blessed are the ignorant“? No matter what the outcome of such reflections actually is, we see an important difference from the other two alternatives: The construction of meaning from the story is channelled to rational, up-to-date, current state-of-the-art knowledge based reasoning. It leaves room for interpretative change, can be challenged and contested by critique and good argumentation, and appreciates the constructive character of all knowledge.

That’s why religion appears so outdated in enlightened and educated societies. Religious institutions that are built on power hierarchies don’t want to allow space for interpretation. They want people with a limited set of channels to generate meaning. This became especially obvious when the scientific method gained the power and influence that it has today. “Truth” is believed to be found in science, not in dogmatic religions. Therefore, the claim for absolute truth by the church appears nothing but ridiculous or despicable. That’s why many people want to disempower the church as an institution of “truth”. That is understandable, overdue and – given the many lapses and aberrations of institutionalised religions – probably a good idea! However, I think it is important to distinguish carefully between organised religion that is manifested as church or other respective religious institutions and religious spirituality in the sense of a source for orientational knowledge. Then, it is worthwhile to get aware of the epistemological difference between factual knowledge that explains the physical world and its entities, and orientational knowledge that guides normative choices and decisions made by humans as actants in a social community. Who is justified to claim a knowledge domain for oneself? We handed the creation of factual knowledge to the social institution “science” and its methodologies and strategies. The century-long conflict between religion and science arises from the mistaken view that the knowledge domains of science and religion overlap but that only one of them can come to valid conclusions. However, I believe that religion doesn’t compete with science because it is mostly focused on orientational knowledge on normative issues of human behaviour. Therefore, it competes with philosophy or other forms of spirituality as an alternative channel of meaning construction, but not with (natural) sciences. Certainly, orientational knowledge must be fed by factual insights. That’s why, with increasing factual knowledge, our interpretations of orientational narratives (such as the Bible) might change over time. However, discarding sources of orientational knowledge (religions, arts, philosophy) as irrelevant is as dangerous for humanity and humankind as rejecting scientific insights and evidence-based knowledge as foundation for normative conclusions. Realising the constructive character of both of these knowledge realms might serve as a good starting point for a dialogue between them. This “informed” way of meaning-construction might play an important role in the future of mankind – in case there is any…

A Tree of Knowledge

Today, I am a bit euphoric. I think I achieved a major breakthrough in sorting and elaborating my reflections. And all because of an atheist meme on facebook that labeled the Bible, the Quran and the Talmud “fake news” (a political fashion term at the moment). Critical with all “extreme” positions, I had to come up with a proper reply, but the issue turned out to be more complicated. I think I found a good way to explain my point. I present: My tree of knowledge!

Wait a minute… Tree of knowledge? Like the one in the Bible? No. That is a different story. But also yes, somehow. I will come to it later (maybe). Like the one described by René Descartes (“Philosophical works”, Vol.2, transl. John Cottingham et al., Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p.186)? His tree had three parts: metaphysics as the roots, scientific knowledge of nature (physics) as trunk, and the three main branches medicine, morals and mechanics. Philosophy’s task then was to harvest the fruits of this tree as insight of the world. Its key questions are “What is knowledge?” and “What do we use it for?“. My tree is similar, but – in view of recent insights from biology, psychology, culture studies and constructivism – more sophisticated in the description of roots and trunk, and more up-to-date in the number and constitution of branches. Another famous tree of knowledge was proposed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (“The Tree of Knowledge. Biological roots of human understanding.”, 1987). This, indeed, is a book that everybody (!) should read! It is a key work in the field of constructivism, insightful not only for academics but for everybody who wants to go through daily life mindfully. However, the metaphor of a tree is not particularly illustrated in the book but simply refers to human understanding as a living and evolving network: “We will propose a way of seeing cognition not as a representation of the world ‘out there,’ but rather as an ongoing bringing forth of a world through the process of living itself” (p. 11). Maturana and – even more so – Varela, not only with this work but also with other impacting publications, belong to my most influential thinkers and scientists. Even though I try to avoid their flaw of widely ignoring the philosophical insights of the past 2500 years in their Tree of Knowledge, their insights contributed significantly to the elaboration of my tree of knowledge:

meaningtree

The roots constitute the sources of all our experiences. Everything we know about the world is constructed by our cognitive equipment: senses, central nervous system, brain. Parts of this system are memory, consciousness, emotions and other psychologically observable and explainable features. In simple terms: we observe, process, think, feel, recall and react. Then, we securely know that we are the centre of the universe. All experiences necessarily are made by us from the self-perspective. Nobody can make experiences for someone else. Same as a thought doesn’t exist beyond its being-thought, experience doesn’t exist beyond its being-experienced. The perception of a self (or an ego) inevitably goes along with the definition of everything else as the other. This illusion of separation creates the idea of world as something external. Within this world-space we experience desires and needs that feed our constant fear of non-existence and ceasing-from-existence. We experience many forms of suffering (in the literal form as pain, in the figurative form as unsatisfactoriness) and yearn for safety and security. This list of basic features is certainly incomplete, but I believe it is sufficiently precise to adumbrate the key point: all humans (as long as not physically or mentally disabled) share these features, and all humans build their decisions, viewpoints and their life on this foundation. Agree?

The trunk is the channel through which we process all these experiences in order to manifest them in our being-in-the-world (using Heidegger’s term). Experiencing is a process (for some scholars even an act) that only works in view of an experience background that is present in the experiencer, an active sense-making. This might be the biggest difference to Descartes’ tree of knowledge: It is illusionary to believe that the act of sense-making for all humans is always only scientific, exploiting knowledge of “the real world” (nature). Since Kant and latest since the convincing insights provided by constructivism, there are many more options. First, we all run on a kind of default setting. If not otherwise reflected or mindfully brought into our conscious awareness, the choices and decisions we make are controlled and determined by the cognitive and behavioural patterns acquired since we are born, under strong influence of our emotions, our education and other previous experiences that I like to summarise as the matrix. In this default setting we tend to be selfish, self-centred, vulnerable, manipulable and susceptible for external powers. Then, there is dogmatism and indoctrination: Someone tells us in one or the other form what certain experiences mean and what we have to conclude from them. In the light form, this includes the parental and institutional education at home and at schools. In the more drastic form we can find that in most religious instances (church), in some political systems, and in parts even in science; in short: in all systems that have anything to do with power of some over others (in the widest possible meaning). There are also more conscious and sceptical ways of sense-making: we can deal with observations and experiences empirically by setting them into perspective with other observations and experiences, we can contest them and refine our understanding of them. The most basic tool for this is logic. An important aspect of these strategies to “construct meaning from experience” is that they are more sustainable and stable the more a person is mindful and free in the choice of options.

In order to understand my choice of branches (here: religion, culture, politics, economy, science, technology) it is important to realise that this model applies for both individual humans and social agglomerations at large. Let me start with the societal level. In current societies, these spheres are the most present ones. Almost all societies developed or adopted institutions of organised religion or at least some kind of spirituality, organise themselves in some form of politics, established systems of production, trade and consumption (economy), started investigating nature and society (science) and invented more or less sophisticated tools that make human life easier (technology). Culture might be an outstanding point here, and some might disagree upon its presence in this set of social spheres. What I mean with it here are all the features and characteristics that serve as the identity-giving connecting fabric of a society: language, art, morals, codes of behaviour, Zeitgeist. Different societies express these branches in different fashions and to various extents, both regionally (an Asian society is different from a European one) and temporally (the Greek society of 500BC differs from the contemporary Greek society). From the historical perspective, some ancient branches disappeared while new ones flourished, others dried out or grew stronger. Let’s take, for example, the German tree: It is a completely secular society, so the religion branch is very small. Germans are – especially in view of their horrible history – convinced of their political system and very “political” in the sense that many topics on the political agenda are discussed – the Politics branch is rather strong. The same can be said for the economy branch, even though it is certainly smaller than the US-American economy branch since German are generally quite sceptical with consumption. Science might be one of the biggest branches: We can only know for sure what we have contested and analysed, including nature, art, religion, etc. Everything must be able to stand a critical investigation, otherwise it is either meaningless or wrong. Technology has shaped the German society quite significantly, but – in analogy to economy – people are sceptical with innovation and rather conservative.

There is an ambivalent correlation between the society as a system and its individual members. Each individual contributes to the characteristics of a society, but it is also society that shapes individuals and sets the margin for their self-expression. A religious society will most likely produce religious members. The process of social change and progress, therefore, is usually very slow. However, what is valid for the society at large is also valid for the individual: Everybody develops all branches in one or the other way and to a certain extent. Remember: these reflections are about “constructing meaning from experience”.

Example 1: Some experiences affect our understanding of features of our surrounding (our world construct): We long to understand nature and the world. Depending on the epistemic channel that a person prefers and applies, answers are found in the branch of religion or in science (This is a descriptive statement! It does not evaluate the legitimacy of choosing religion or science to answer questions about the world fabric adequately! This is done elsewhere.).

Example 2: Experiences concerning the fulfilment of needs can either be manifested in economy (for example as materialism), in religiously or spiritually motivated modesty, or in scientific explanations of human biology and psyche.

All parts – roots, trunk, branches – are dynamic and subject of change. Some roots grow deeper and stronger when a person puts a focus on certain types of experiences or when outer conditions (for example, the type of job, or the family situation) draw the person’s attention to particular aspects of life. The channels in the trunk are cultivated and expressed to different extents, too. Children mostly follow their default setting, but during youth and adolescence they discover new strategies for constructing meaning. Some become open-minded empiricists, others indoctrinated religious fanatics (just to be sure: there are also open-minded religious people and dogmatic fanatic empiricists). Once a channel is formed and solidified, it is very difficult to change the setting, yet not impossible. Moreover, it is perfectly possible that many branches co-exist peacefully. A scientist can be outspokenly religious by separating the types of knowledge strictly – empiric physical knowledge into the science field, normative spiritual knowledge into the religion field. It would take an enormous amount of active ignorance to claim that “there can only be scientific knowledge” (as done by atheists) or “there can only be religious belief” (as done by religious fanatics).

We can think of countless examples in what way this metaphor depicts the development and constitution of social spheres like politics and economy as the result of meaning-construction. This would blow up this letter by far too much. Instead, I’d like to draw the attention towards the fourth element in this illustration: the fruits. When a branch flourishes, there are fruits growing that a person or a society has to harvest. A strong economy branch will support wealth and material well-being, but also greed and competition. A strong religion branch will increase the capacity of hope and identification with the community, but also fascism (separating the own beliefs from the others’ beliefs) and dogmatism (for example promoting creationism and denying biological evolution). Some fruits are sweet, others are poisonous or stink. It is these fruits that make people conclude that some branches are more valuable and viable than others, that some branches are better kept small or even cut off while other branches deserve more care and nourishment. Atheists often deny the legitimacy of the religion branch. Anti-capitalists see a social threat in the economy branch. Political reformists and anarchists would like to reshape the politics branch according to their political ideals. Reportedly, there are even “science-deniers”. Very often, the suggested “cures” focus on the materialisations and embodiments of meaning-construction within the realms of the respective branches: Atheists (as in the initial remark) want to defame or ban the historical religious books, anti-capitalists want to abolish money or the monetary system, anarchists aim at freedom from any political leadership. History has proven that forceful and violent attempts to reach these goals will almost always end up in conflict and misery. Try to take away the Bible from a religious Christian, and he will stick to it even more, like a child to exactly that toy that you try to take. It will also not be possible to change that person’s roots. The only sustainable chance is to encourage people to open and use different channels of meaning-construction. If you want to change a religious person, present to him alternative interpretations of worldly phenomena, philosophical ways to reason virtues rather than divine laws, or how meaning of religion changes when church is unmasked as a political rather than a spiritual institution. Don’t expect the religious person to change easily. He will try to change you instead: explaining different conceptualisations of “God”, “loving-kindness” as the core element of religious insight, benevolence and grace of charity as spiritually motivated virtues. Ask yourself first, if your own personal choice of how to construct meaning from experience is always exclusively right! The same can be said in the case of “money”: Is it really money that we should condemn as the root of all evil and the cause of greed and injustice? Or is it because we give it too much meaning?

Many people feel powerless in regard of huge overarching “systems” like church, political leadership, capitalism, technological progress, cultural matrix. They might criticise that my focus on strategies of meaning construction is too individual and idealistically ignoring that institutionalised systems and their power outweigh the impact of individual person belief and knowledge systems. Maybe, maybe not. I agree that a heavy precondition for my reflections is a certain degree of freedom of choice. People living in tyrannies might not have a chance to change the fashion of the politics branch. Capitalism is so deeply entrenched in people’s life that it doesn’t really give them a chance to choose their lifestyle. People in the poorest country on earth face such urgent existential problems that questions of meaning-construction turn out unaffordable luxury for them. However, most of us do have a choice. Systems only have power over us when we give it to them, which is mostly by not taking full advantage of our capacity to choose how we construct meaning from experience. Mindless people are easier to control than people with a clear and well-reasoned, well-informed worldview. Naturally, there will always be those people with deeper insights and a wider variety of choices (those with a thicker trunk) and those with rather limited possibilities (with thinner trunks, easily bendable in the wind of opposition). Here, we need communication and discourse on all levels (family-internal, among friends, in social groups and public in general) in order to plant seeds in each other to refine and sophisticate our meaning-construction strategies. We need to make sure, of course, that it is the better argument (in terms of logic consistency and viability) that wins, not the most powerful position or the most popular. Then, sooner or later, some branches decay while others flourish or new ones sprout. Again, we see that the picture fits perfectly!

There are several possible streams of thought from here on. Some of them will certainly be the subject of future letters I will write here:

  • Education – How can home and school education support a child or teenager to identify and use various channels of meaning-construction mindfully? How can we develop more options for ourselves to deal properly with our “root problems” (suffering, desire, self, etc.)?
  • Culture – What does this scheme imply for intercultural communication? What does it mean for cultural change in general?
  • Buddhism – This picture fits so perfectly into Buddhist philosophy that an article on that relation is almost inevitable!
  • Constructivism – I believe it is worthwhile pulling the constructivist elements of this model into awareness. We can learn many meaningful lessons for daily life from it!
  • Science and Technology – As part of my profession, I believe that this metaphor helps enlightening some of the mechanisms that support scientism and technocracy in our society. If we want to deal with emergent problems like climate change and progressive emotional dullness (a la Konrad Lorenz) successfully, it might be necessary to pay attention to the patterns implied in here.

For now, I’d just like to refer the reader to one of the most important and meaningful speeches ever given (in my humble opinion): David Foster Wallace’s “This is water“.

World Construction

The core question of philosophical reflection is “What is this world?”, or “What is being?”. Different epochs, eras and at different geographical places, people and their cultural realms found different answers on these questions. In case the historical answers are known, in retrospective, we can analyse them and – in view of later, more modern insights – find a certain course of development or sophistication in world explanations. We might also recognise that the “evolution” of insights is in good analogy to the process of knowledge acquisition for an individual from childhood to adult age.

By using our cognitive tools we perceive the world we are living in. The most naïve view is that of a real world that presents itself to us. Our task, then, is to “discover” as many facets of it as possible in order to increase the chances of a “successful” and fulfilled life in this world.

world1

This was the idea of the Ancient Greek philosophers, starting from Heraklit and Parmenides up to Sokrates, Platon and Aristoteles. It was all about “the world”. Its features and properties (its “truth”) can be recognised by us so that we – by careful watching and philosophical reflection – get the most realistic image of it. Only then we can fulfil our most “human” task of overcoming our natural boundaries and get closer to the divine, closer to perfection. This is the basic idea: The specifically “human” element in us is the ability to go beyond ourselves, to exit the inevitable and be free. With an accurate picture of the real world that surrounds us in mind, this movement towards the divine is facilitated significantly!

There are two dangers in this idea, and both are deeply entrenched in the further course of European-Western philosophy. The first is the dualistic division into “outside” and “inside”, into “outer world” and “inner me”, finding its climax in the reflections of René Descartes (17th century). The consequences are tremendous! It took ages and the influence of East-Asian philosophy to correct this flawed idea. The second is the realist scientific worldview with its idea of “discovering” knowledge about real features of the world. Even though this realism has been replaced by constructivism in recent decades, many scientists, engineers, researchers, but also most scientific laymen are still convinced that the knowledge we can acquire by scientific investigation describes a somehow manifested actuality.

Immanuel Kant is the most prominent philosopher who modified this image of world perception. His basic idea was that we can only get aware of those features of the world that we have a pre-formed image of, that means that somehow match with our previously made experiences. He distinguished “things-as-such” (the features of the real world) from the things as they appear in our mind.

world2

As a consequence, we can never know for sure what the actual world is. It remains obscured. The world that is represented in our mind is fed by an image of the world, and at the same time it feeds this image (for example by making new experiences that requires a modification of the image). In this view, “world” is all about the subject (or: the observer). Some even went so far to say that “world” only exists in the mind.

With this understanding of human possibilities to know anything about the world, dualism and realism are not overcome, yet. The apparent monism that “world is only idea (in the mind)” (we call that idealism) is a hidden dualism because it only emerges in view of its counterpart “materialism” that states that “world is only matter”. Moreover, it is still the somehow given (real) world with its “things-as-such” that impacts the human perception. This direction was reversed by phenomenology, most prominently pushed forward by Edmund Husserl and later Martin Heidegger. The subject can’t be taken as a passive observer and constructor of the world. The cognitive process of observation itself gets into the focus.

world3

An act of perception, in this view, is not a mere “streaming-in” of stimuli, but an active “looking-out” (figuratively! it covers all senses, not just the visual!) into the world. By nature, this is a highly selective process. Insights from biology, physics, psychology, anatomy, and other scientific disciplines that tell us about the human condition deliver a better understanding of how we construct “world” by making experiences. The crucial point is the human cognition, the “lens” that we are unable to take off. It confines the cut of the world that we are able to pay attention to, and it also colours and shapes the incoming signals. One of the most impressive experiments that was conducted to show our selective perception was this: People were asked to watch the video of a volleyball match and count how often the ball was passed between players all dressed in white. A man in a black gorilla costume appeared in the center of the scene during the match, beating his chest and making silly movements. The big majority of watchers didn’t see him, even though he was clearly visible among the white dressed players. Now, we can say that it was “unfair”, because the people were asked to concentrate on the ball, they can’t be blamed. But isn’t “life” exactly like that? We are always so busy focusing on certain clear cut aspects of life, occupying our full attention, that occurrences beyond this don’t find a way through to our awareness. Nobody can be “blamed” for that, however, since this is simply a neutral observation.

Phenomenology stresses the importance of “experience”. Every experience (drawn from every act of cognition) involves the entire set of experiences made in the past. An experience is the manifestation of all experiences. A simple example: When seeing only the front of a house, we “know” that this is a three-dimensional building because we know the concept “house” from former experiences. In every perception of a part of the world, we are aware of the entire world, because only in this relation the experience makes sense. This sense-making is the basis of all experience. Not only do we align all experiences with our worldview (constructed from previous experiences), we also can only experience what fits into our margin of “sensefulness”. That’s why we don’t see the gorilla during the volleyball match, because a gorilla has no place in the world “volleyball”. The house front is automatically “completed” in our mind to an entire house. When walking around it we might find that it deviates from our imagination, for example the exact size, shape, etc., but these are just details. In the same way, we almost always succeed in identifying an item as a “table”, even when it is a very unusual modern art design, because its entire embedment into our world (including its functionality) is constantly present. Sometimes our imagination is fooled, misled, surprised or puzzled. When we walk around the house front and find that it is only the decoration of a movie set, for example. Then we either have to re-align the constructed reality (here: from the world “house as living space” to the world “movie making”), or we have to construct new meaning from the new experience.

How can we be sure that the way we construct meaning from experience is in any way supported by real features of the surrounding world, and by that somehow “justified”? How do I know that what I “see” is the same thing as that what you “see”? There could be a simple answer: by talking about it!

world4

Both our world constructions don’t represent the actual world sufficiently, but if we integrate our two – almost necessarily deviating – images into one, we might get closer to what may count as “real”. This “discourse approach” to world conceptualisation was promoted in the later 20th century by Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel, Niklas Luhmann and others. Mankind is a species that constitutes its environment through communication and collaboration. World construction is, therefore, always a process from the “inter”-space: inter-personal, inter-relational, inter-cultural. My world becomes my world by setting it into relation to yours. My experience is only valid (or not) in view of your experiences (and all others). In case there are insurmountable differences, we need to engage in a conversation (or a discourse) in order to create new clarity.

However, communication is not a trivial thing. Its most important tool is language. This includes our spoken language using words, but also numerical systems (mathematics) and symbolism, non-verbal interaction, body language, etc. Language itself is conditioned and constituted by experience, which means that we only have linguistic expressions for what is already part of our experience (made by any of our ancestors). Translatability of “thoughts” and other cognitive impressions is a difficult endeavour, not only between the different languages of different countries or cultures, but even on the very basic level of interpersonal conversation. Therefore, philosophy spends a great big deal on clarifying and defining words and terms. When all that is done it is still not guaranteed that one really understands the other, because experience is not fully transferable. With sufficient exchange of information I might be able to anticipate your experience, but since my framework of experiences and their connection is different from yours, I will never be able to see the same thing in the same light. Actually, “world” can be defined as exactly this “framework of connected experiences”. Then, it makes sense to talk about “worlds” rather than “the world”, because what is “world” for you is more or less different from what is “world” for me. Identifying and getting aware of the overlapping parts of our world is as interesting and inspiring as the deviations.

These reflections, obviously, are inspired by European-Western philosophy. Much of this can be found in East-Asian philosophy as well. Especially Buddha’s teachings and their early philosophical analysis, for example by Nagarjuna, give insights into their idea of “world”. To my understanding, they have never been as naïve as the Ancient Greek. They didn’t split the world into outside and inside, they didn’t conclude this childish realism, and they were well aware of the human condition (i.e. human cognitive mechanisms) that underlie the world construction processes in our minds. This knowledge, ever since, could be exploited for actual down-to-earth mental liberation and enlightenment attempts. “Freeing the mind” from the “default setting” became the main endeavour of Buddhist practice. In contrast to the Greek idea, THIS is the main human challenge. In my illustrations that would be like removing or “clearing” the lens through which we see and interpret everything.

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That would mean that we try to be less dependent on the patterns that we formed through our experiences but see things “as they are”. I’d like to add that it would also mean that for the large part of our surrounding (I avoid the term “world”, here) that is beyond our conscious capacity, we simply accept that we “know nothing”. This awareness makes a crucial difference! We will not be tempted to rely on our illusion of “knowing” but see through the flaws of our deluded minds and question everything. We could express it as “having no world in mind” or “having a no-world in mind”. Inter-personal or even inter-cultural communication about “worlds” is brought onto a completely new level by this understanding. Not only are we more open-minded towards others’ ideas and experiences, we are also less likely to fight for our own views and against the others’ views, because we understand that after all everything is “empty” of actual “substance” or “independent reality”. Then it also becomes entirely irrelevant to talk about “truth”. Much more important than truth is the viability of an experience and its subsequent subjection into meaning construction. The things “as they are” (which is not the same as Kant’s “things-as-such”), experienced directly and purely, span up the framework in which we live our lives and make our choices and decisions. Making this margin as wide and flexible as possible and ourselves as less conditioned and controlled as possible is the core practice of Buddhism. If we succeed in that, we see through the cycle of the 12 links of interdependent co-arising, we become aware of the three mind poisons, of our attachments and desires, of the dominance of our self concept, and of the Matrix that we live in. Then we can exit it.

Worldview

In daily life we often face situations in which we have to make a decision of what is “right” or “good” to do. Those can be ethical dilemmas, difficult choices of lifelong importance (job, partner, moving to another place, etc.), or just simple judgments of incidents, statements, observations and actions with political, social, cultural or other dimension. Since we are embedded into a network of social and cultural interconnections, we are able to come to conclusions without much sophisticated knowledge but just on the basis of our education, experiences, cultural confinements and other factors that constitute a kind of “common sense”. However, in many cases our judgments, conclusions and decisions conflict with those of other people. Then, our viewpoints and the foundations of our reasoning standards are challenged – we have to make clear to ourselves how and why we come to these viewpoints in order to convince “the others” of the correctness and reasonability (or in some cases: superiority) of our arguments. This kind of dispute is the core of all kind of conflicts – political, religious, scientific, in personal relations, etc. – since mankind developed the skills of communication and conscious reflection. History provides uncountable examples of what can go wrong: dogmatism, ideology, superstition, manipulation, physical threats, and many more. For many millennia it wasn’t “the most reasonable argument” that always won, but in many cases that argument that was brought up and pushed through by the most powerful (the strongest, the wealthiest, the armed, the educated, the rhetorically most skilled, etc.) instance. Especially organised religions, for example Christianity and Islam, with their highly dogmatic belief systems, but also scientific approaches to understanding the world (examples: Phlogiston theory, geocentric worldview), run the risk of erroneous interpretations of the “world”. The consequences of unreasonable world conceptions can be dramatic and catastrophic, leading to injustice, mistreatment and misery (examples: the racism and fascism of the Nazi regime in Germany, the persecution of “witches” in medieval Europe, ideology-based exploitation and suppression of “minorites” around the globe, massive environmental destruction and extinction of species due to human activity).

We might compare the development of mankind and its insights into the world fabric to the process of growing up from a child to an adult. A baby doesn’t understand anything, not even itself (or “its self”). A young child that just discovers basic mechanisms of the world (cause-effect-relations, gravity, time, etc.) and human skills (for example language, intentional action) is not capable of scientific and metaphysical understanding of the world. It will believe fairytales and stories when they match with the simple observations it can make. The moon glows at night, so it is reasonable to believe that there is someone on or in it who switches on and off a lamp. On Easter morning there are colourful eggs hidden everywhere in the garden, so of course there is an “Easter Bunny” that came at night and put them there! Also, adults give the child simple orders like “Don’t touch the electrical socket!” rather than explain the technical background of high voltage and its effect on the human body. The older the child grows and the more it learns the more we will expect it to “know” and “understand” these things. It will not be satisfied anymore with simple orders, childish explanations or flowery stories. A reasonable teenager will start questioning things, identifying flaws, fallacies or “lies”. The process of learning is mostly one of “acquiring knowledge”, both technical-factual and normative-orientational. With the ongoing process of maturation more and more “beliefs” and “dogmas” can either be substituted by “knowledge” and “insight” or be put on more sophisticated foundations of knowledge and reason. The latter often requires a refinement or modification of worldview and understanding. We can imagine that insights with strong impact can change a person’s attitude towards or opinion about something. The same goes for societies: Ancient civilisations cultivated cruel customs such as cannibalism, slavery, human sacrifice or barbaric methods of capital punishment. They believed in ghosts, gods, super- and para-natural forces (some people still do), or based their explanations and worldviews on “facts” and “knowledge” that – from today’s perspective – was simply wrong. Most of these false beliefs and immature practices disappeared or have been abandoned, mostly after periods of philosophical and intellectual insights like the European Enlightenment era leading to Humanism or the establishment of Confucian social structures after the Chinese “Warring States” period.

Is the current state of civilisation ready to be called “mature”? Regardless of the fact that there is not just “one civilisation” on Earth but many different ones with varying degree of maturation, we can state that around the globe the access to sophisticated knowledge and insight is given to a larger extend than ever before. Natural and social sciences as well as Philosophy and Psychology have elaborated profound understanding of worldly and human affairs. The question is: What do we do with that knowledge? I’d like to make a point that is by far not self-understanding for many people and/or societies: The basis for any form of reasoning – be it technical, logical, metaphysical, normative, etc. – should be knowledge. At the same time (and this is my second plea), we (like the rebellious teenager) should always question and doubt everything. Knowledge should inform worldview, but worldview in return should evaluate and analyse knowledge constantly. When the rebellious teenager matures into a young adolescent, he or she will usually become more peaceful by solidifying his or her worldview which is based on the questioned, modified, refined and challenged knowledge. With a little optimism I’d like to state that I see a chance that the mankind of today is capable of throwing old dogmatism, false beliefs, misled and corrupt knowledge aboard and substitute it by knowledge-based insight on the world fabric, mankind’s place in it, and the human condition. In the following I’d like to draw a sketch of what that might look like.

knowrealhuman

Worldviews and ethical theories are most challenged by finding their “deepest” reason, the most fundamental basis that all argumentation is built upon and that – ideally – can be understood and agreed upon by everyone. Constructs that take a belief or a story, legend or claim that can never be proven as the starting point or “ultimate truth” are called “dogmatic”, for example religious systems that are built around the faithful belief in a God. It is the standard of philosophical reflection to go deeper than that. Attempts to go back to the very beginning of reasoning and reflecting on the nature of reality are sometimes called “first philosophy”, for example skepticism (e.g. Descartes), induction (e.g. Hume), transcendental philosophy (e.g. Kant), and others.[1] There is an intrinsic circular problem that all these first philosophies have to deal with: We want to base a worldview on what we know, but that provokes the question of what we – as human beings – are able to know. This question can only be answered satisfyingly on the basis of a worldview – the one we want to elaborate from what we know. With other words: What the observer (we) wants to observe is the observer itself, more precisely: his ability to observe. Or, as Heinz von Foerster puts it: “What does it need to understand a brain? – A brain!”.[2] We need knowledge to draw conclusions on the epistemological question “What are we able to know?”,  which is ideally fed from ontological insights into the reality of the world.  A “one-and-half-cycle” approach is suggested: Based on the very general and fundamental assumptions that are formulated in the ancient Chinese philosophical texts and that we can assume to be more or less secure “knowledge” of the principles and mechanisms of the world, a worldview is drawn that allows conclusion on the “human condition” – the position of mankind in the “world fabric” and, by that, the abilities and limitations of cognition. With an idea of “what human are able to know” the validity of the initial knowledge base is checked and – if necessary – refined. With these more secure insights an extended ontology, the metaphysical foundations of a worldview, can be elaborated. This can serve as a starting point for “applications” such as ethical principles, scientific methodology, human psychology, etc.

metaphysics2

The most fundamental phenomenon that we can observe in the world is “change“. This can be agreed to even without any scientific knowledge or philosophical preconditions. Nothing remains the same forever. Time and space are spanned up by “change”.[3]

In the next step, we have to conclude that there must be a governing principle. Otherwise we would end up either at chaos with all being as a product of randomness and chance, or at the postulation of an organized order under the guidance of a powerful entity creating a deterministic causality. Both are not reasonable to assume: the former because it does not match with our daily life experiences, the latter because it is laden with additional preconditions that are either impossible to prove or a matter of belief (but never of knowledge). Here, we can adopt the concept of Harmony from the Yi-Jing and its further elaborations in Confucianism and Daoism. Harmony must not be mixed up with “sameness”. Also, “equilibrium” does not imply “the one perfect state”. We can imagine these ideas in the picture of a pendulum: “Equilibrium” means the alteration around the perpendicular. As long as there are causes and effects in the universe, the pendulum will never come to a perpendicular stop. In this sense, harmony describes the tendency to balance out the energies that arise from the interaction of different elements in creative tension. Therefore, it is different from the “immediate harmony” in the Hegelian understanding, and different from the “natural state” symbolised by Adam and Eve in the Bible. This form of harmony is reflective, mediated, and highly relational.[4] In order to make this work, we have to assume a network of conditionality, both in the diachronic and synchronic dimension. The former means, a current state is caused by former states; the latter means, a current state is causally connected to other contemporary states. Additionally, still on save grounds, we can formulate that the ongoing process of oscillating around a point of harmony – disturbance of the equilibrium due to change of the conditions, re-aligning to the new surrounding state, establishment of a new equilibrium that is in harmony with the new state – necessarily leads to emergence, the development of more and more sophisticated and causally interwoven states.

harmony

These insights draw this picture of the world (we are now at Box 2: Basic Ontology): In the course of time and space that is made up by the properties and characteristics of Qi (call it “energy”), mankind’s appearance following evolutionary processes is embedded into this set of properties. Interaction with the specific environment on Planet Earth equipped the organism “human” with the senses and abilities that are useful and advantageous in this particular surrounding. Therefore, the actual cognitive and mental capability of humans is extremely limited given the complexity and variety of phenomena of the world. The development of brain processes known as “consciousness”, allowing volitional action, might be insignificant for the “world fabric”, but increases the complexity of human capabilites and human understanding massively. Especially the ability of communication (including self-communication, thinking) and its tool – language – widened the range of human action immensely. However, the idea of the world that is consciously perceived is condemned to remain a confined cut of the actual world. Moreover, it is a construction in the human mind. This leads us closer to the question of what we are able to know. But before we elaborate further on that, let’s have a closer look at the characteristics of this worldview that was just described.

We analysed the human condition solely in terms of its natural embedment in its environment, with the universal law of “cause and effect” as its foundation. Obviously, by doing so we follow a naturalistic approach which is the common term for the argumentative elaboration of “values” (like “harmony” or “balance”) with the focus on conditionality and cause-effect-relations. Among Philosophers, Naturalism became very popular in recent years. So many contemporary Philosophers claim themselves and other (ancient) Philosophers “naturalists” that it is hard to find a clear definition of what the term means and what it actually implies.[5] It seems safe to claim that Naturalism opposes the supernatural, and in certain understandings also the artificial. But it is the matter of heated debate whether Naturalism has to or needs to stand against “the normative”, too. From the Asian perspective, this question would surely be answered in favour of “naturalised normativity”: The norms and codes of conduct that are derived from ethical reasoning must be rooted in the nature of the world that mankind is embedded in. Everything else would be an “uprooted”, artificial, “thin” man-made concept. It is important to point out (as mentioned above) that it is necessary to be aware of a “separation of tasks” of different stages of reasoning: At this point we are investigating the human condition. Here, naturalistic perspectives like the Asian one are reasonable and appear helpful to address the respective questions. The introduction of “value” in order to elaborate normative statements will be done later when the whole metaphysical worldview is complete and when the perspective is focused specifically on “human affairs” rather than generally on “universal affairs”.

At this point, we can already exclude certain paradigms and principles – metaphysical perspectives that are certainly not element of “my philosophy”:

  • Dogmatism: Ideologies or teachings that are based on “belief” and mystical hypothesis are neither considered for nor concluded from this worldview conception. All it needed so far is a bit of experience and reflection, but no speculation about God(s) or other “creator entities” and no unprovable initial dogma.
  • Transcendentalism: According to E.O.Wilson, there is a significant difference between transcendentalists – those who believe that there are moral guidelines outside the human mind – and empiricists – those who think of them as contrivances of the mind.[6] Some philosophers understood the Yi-Jing as proclaiming “intrinsic value in the universe” and, accordingly, interpreted this as “transcendental”. The naturalistic “value” of harmony towards which everything is aligning and striving, however, should not be seen as transcendental since from a perspective of morality, it is “neutral” in the sense that it can’t tell what is good and right. “Equilibrium” shows “the direction to go”, but still the society and its members is obliged to figure out the methods and tools to go that way (the particular morals). Asian morality, especially as suggested by the Yi-Jing, is characterised as contextual prescriptivism, a highly situational ethics that depends on time, space and condition, but is firm in its principles and virtues. There is neither any form of “moral absolutism” nor a commitment to unshakable “cosmic norms” that are valid beyond the framework of human reasoning.
  • Human Nature: In the same sense, it is difficult to talk of “human nature” as something intrinsically given. Human traits are, according to Confucianism and Buddhism, manifestations of states with causal origins that change over time. In a more biological sense: The behavioural attitude of human beings (over the evolutionary development course of mankind) adapts flexibly to the environment according to its requirements and beneficial rewards. The attributes of “good” or “evil” are added by human from human perspectives.

The question “What can we know?” (Box 3: Epistemology) is a crucial one in the endeavour of building a worldview upon knowledge. In the West, the two major “classical” positions on this question are empiricism (knowledge as the result of experiences and cognitive perception) and rationalism (knowledge as the result of rational reasoning and mental reflection). From the previous insights we know that both our experiences and our ratio are “flawed” and/or incomplete and, therefore, our knowledge is also construed. This “constructivism” underlies both insight through reason and insight through experience and cognition. Buddhism (but also other Asian schools of thought) propagate an almost radical constructivism in questions of world perception and recognition.[7] In the European tradition, the idea that the mental representation of the world is not a depiction of the (real) outside world but rather a construction of an image inside the observing mind was elaborated comparably late, but is now widely accepted among philosophers and other related scholars.[8] Meanwhile, constructivism pervaded many academic and scientific disciplines, ranging from natural sciences[9] and psychology to sociology[10] and anthropology, especially prominent as “social constructivism”[11]. There is a clear tendency towards naturalism and constructivism going along with each other since both share, in parts, the same basic assumptions.[12] An idea that can be given up at this point is “truth” or, respectively, the possibility of getting anywhere near the “ultimate truth”. Therefore, also the attempt to achieve it is given up.

With these insights, is it necessary to revise, change or even discard the initial input of “basic knowledge” (Box 4)? Would we have to admit that the basic ideas of the world are in any way “wrong” or so flawed that they can’t serve as a starting point for metaphysical reflection any longer? The understanding that both the “human reality” and the “human options of acquiring knowledge” are best described by constructivism might leave the impression that “all we are able to know is that we know nothing”. However, this is a misconception. First, “knowing that our knowledge is highly filtered” and “knowing that what we believe we know can be wrong or corrupt” is not equivalent to “knowing nothing” (the nihilistic or fatalistic viewpoint). Awareness of the constructive character of our worldview and our reflections on metaphysics is important to avoid dogmatism, to increase the chances of both empiricism and rationalism to be “precise” or “correct”, and to align the worldview steadily to newly acquired knowledge. Moreover, the most important claim of all metaphysical and, in the following of it, ethical reasoning should be to be done “to the best of the available knowledge, insight, and conscience”. There is simply no other chance to base the reflections on “what we know” and “what we are able to know to the best of our abilities”. This corresponds to the Daoist idea that all we are able to do (and, therefore, obliged to do) is “getting as close as possible to the “Dao” (the point of total harmony) with our actions and behaviour, admitting that it will never be possible to reach it.[13] Here, too, it is impossible to reach the point of “ultimate truth”, but it should be taken as our goal to get as close as possible to it when reflecting on metaphysics.

Initially, it was claimed that the basic principles of the world fabric are:

  • Harmony – Cause-effect-mechanisms due to constant heading towards equilibrium states, spanning “time and space”
  • Conditionality – No existence without anything else existing, but no “ontological determinism”
  • Emergence – Increasing complexity through sophistication processes and development towards more elaborated states, resulting (among others) in consciousness.

Ancient Asian thinkers and intellectuals recognised – and I fully support it – that no phenomenon of the world manifests itself independent from other elements of the world. This can be observed for both material aspects of the world (the interaction of matter from the atomic to the cosmic scale) and abstract entities that occur in the mind of a conscious being. Moreover, even this classification of “material” and “mental” aspects of the world does not imply that they are separated, but regards them as connected as well, e.g. by understanding cognitive and mental processes as of material origin, for example the interplay of biomolecules, or by realising that also the “material world” is just another construction in the mind of the perceiver. Here, my idea of the world stands in sharp contrast to Cartesian dualism.

The initial assumptions are confirmed and supported by modern methods of scientific investigation and observation. Natural sciences created in-depth knowledge and understanding of the matter that the world is made from and how it is kept together. Mankind has access to knowledge about the atomic constitution of the world as well as the cosmic mechanisms of solar systems, galaxies and the universe. This knowledge confirms the important insight that whatever happens in the universe is happening because of a constant heading towards equilibrium states. Two atoms in a molecule oscillate and vibrate around a point of (energetically) “most favourable” distance to each other. In a chemical reaction, a “trigger” (for example an input of energy in form of heat or light) disrupts this balance, forcing the components to find a new “best” state of energy, eventually forming new bonds with other atoms or molecules. Macroscopic processes follow the same mechanism with increasing degree of complexity: Water runs down a mountain in the “energetically most favourable” way according to gravitational forces, friction forces, momentums, etc. Evolutionary processes creating “life” and bringing about consciousness and the ability of self-recognition, reflection and abstract reasoning evolve in a fine-tuned balance with the environment. Even psychological, social and cultural phenomena follow this rule of cause and effect – a trigger causing a disruption of the current equilibrium state, forcing the formation of a new equilibrium according to the new conditions. Reaching states of equilibrium is the fundamental driving force of everything that happens in the world. This can be taken as true independent from human observation and understanding. The examples used here, including “atoms”, “molecules”, “gravitation”, “energy”, “evolution”, “psychology” or “society”, are the current state of human knowledge, have been different 1000 years ago and will be different – maybe refined or discarded and substituted by new, more precise knowledge – in a thousand years from now. The overall principle of cause and effect, however, will most likely never be proven invalid, no matter how incomplete, insufficient, flawed and ignorant our human knowledge of the world turns out to be.

We can elaborate those first insights further. A simple conditionality would have to be understood as deterministic causality, but with the high degree of complexity that is found in the world, we better speak of “complex conditionality networks” pervading the “organic whole” that the world constitutes.[14] First, that allows the influence on “Karma” by volitional actions which is necessary to make sense of the Buddhist goal of enlightenment; and second, with this tenet we circumvent the threat of “nihilism” and “fatalism” that come up with stricter determinism. Emergence within this network of conditionality is “upgraded” to evolution by adding an element of “improvement” or “sophistication” through the growing complexity of “re-harmonising” processes. This evolution – a constant increase in cause-effect-relations within the network – necessarily leads to a high degree of interconnectedness of literally everything with everything. In this dynamic oneness, subject to constant change, nothing is permanent or eternal but everything contains of an intrinsic impermanence.

Another important concept in Western philosophy that must be regarded critically in the context of this (mine? “Asian”?) worldview is teleology – the question whether beings have an intrinsic purpose of existence or not.[15] Aristotle gave the example of an acorn that has the “telos” – the intrinsic purpose – to grow into an oak tree. The response from the perspective presented here would be: The acorn grows into an oak tree because that is its place in the conditionality network, both as “effect” (an oak tree produced an acorn as its way of sustaining the existence of the kind “oak tree”) and “cause” (the acorn is supposed to grow into an oak tree because that is its position in the causal chain that was established as an equilibrium to ensure the ongoing existence of the kind “oak tree”). Several scholars interpret this still as a form of teleology,[16] but the difference is an important one: “purpose” is a human concept, whereas thinking of states as result of karmic interconnectedness works out well without adding “humanisation” of processes (or “pathetic fallacy”).

Let me come to Box 5 and extend our ontological conception. The sophisticated cause-effect-law suggests that the world can only be understood “in its whole” since everything is connected. This can be best described by a combination of holism and monism (in “Western” terms). Realising that evolutionary processes proceed under the principle of “harmony” (heading towards equilibrium states) puts the human realm (as result of an evolutionary process) into a larger perspective of cosmic relations: We are neither “divine” nor “outstanding”, but just another “entity” that is part of the overall balance.

In Western philosophy, “monism” as counterpart of “dualism” often referred to a solely “idealistic” or a solely “materialistic” ontology, claiming that only one of them (respectively) is representing the reality. However, the dualistic separation of mind and matter sphere is still present in this attributive distinction. “Neutral monism” tries to overcome this separation.[17] The monism inherent in Chinese Philosophy can be best described by “dual-aspect monism”.[18] The first Buddhist philosopher that systematically pointed out the monistic character of a Buddhist’s understanding of the world was Nagarjuna.[19] His concept of “sunyata”, usually translated as “emptiness” could be considered as a form of cosmic monism when taken together with holism.

Holism as the counterpart of reductionism has a rather short history in the Western philosophical tradition. The term is coined by J.C. Smuts[20] and has ever since been subject of philosophical debate and dispute.[21] Several understandings of “holism” have been expressed, such as “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” (naïve holism), “An understanding of a complex system is best sought at the level of principles governing the behaviour of the whole system, and not at the level of the structure and behaviour of its component parts.” (methodological holism), “Some objects are not wholly composed of basic physical parts.” (ontological holism), “Some objects have properties that are not determined by physical properties of their basic physical parts.” (property holism). Modern understandings are strongly linked to the growing awareness for the high degree of complexity of the world.[22] Especially in the biological sciences, a reductionist ontology and methodology is more and more replaced by holistic conceptions of complex systems. With the acceptance of a complex conditionality it is, furthermore, possible to circumvent a strict determinism (see above). In Chinese Philosophy, Holistic world conceptions were much more widespread since ancient times. In most of the classical texts (Yijing, Daodejing, etc.), the complexity of the world as an organic whole is paid tribute to by analysing and understanding it in view of its constant processes of change and movement.[23]

The reflections above have revealed insights on the basic characteristics of my philosophical view on the world. The four key elements, so to say the cornerstones of that worldview, are identified to be holism, monism, naturalism, and constructivism. Their combinations result in further important concepts of the world fabric and its mechanisms:

cornerstones

The monistic and holistic world conception almost necessarily leads to a cosmocentric position in questions of ethical accountability and evaluation.[24] With a naturalistic approach to a holistic interpretation of the world fabric, credit is given to a complex conditionality as driving mechanism of all being and happening. The interconnected oneness of all being within the framework of Nature should be read with atheistic or agnostic accounts: It does not support the existence of a divine entity like the God of the Abrahamic tradition. The religious idea of monism becomes obsolete in a naturalistic fashion. The acceptance of a constructive character of human perception of the world adds further specific implications. In the ongoing debate between realists and antirealists, the ontology developed here can be grouped around the middle, comparable to pragmatism (in the Deweyan and Rortyan understanding)[25] or the “Natural Ontological Attitude” introduced by Arthur Fine.[26] To illustrate Buddhism’s nearness to Fine’s ontology, compare the Buddhist ideal approach of “seeing things as they are” to Fine’s statement “The attitude that marks [my naturalism] is just this: try to take science on its own terms, and try not to read things into science”.[27] Understanding both as approaches to “know reality” (Buddhism in a wider sense, Fine with means of science), they share the pragmatic and constructivist notion of being constantly aware of the pitfalls of human perception and cognition. Moreover, modern forms of “Engaged Buddhism” – the layman practice of actively supporting peace and the cessation of suffering – are based on a pragmatism that is characteristic for Buddhist practice in all its schools.[28] Constructive Realism, a model of knowledge- and language-based reality-understanding that I support (I will explain later), makes even more sense when embedded into a monistic interpretation of the world. The alternatives – ontological idealism or materialism, or epistemological rationalism or empiricism – are all dualistic and don’t fit into this scheme that emphasises monism. The “no-substance ontology”[29] that is prevalent in Asian Philosophy, especially in Buddhism, finds its foundation in the constructivist paradigm within a holistic worldview. That is so because a holistic world conception – of everything being holons that are parts of larger holons – within a constructivist paradigm (we can always only grasp parts of holons, e.g. certain properties and features) identifies “substance” almost inevitably as an illusion, whereas reductionism would conclude “substance”.

As pointed out earlier, I believe that my worldview shows significant parallels and similarities to what we can call “Asian worldview” which is fed mostly from the two directions of “Dao” (as in the Yi-Jing, in Confucianism, and in Daoism) and Buddhism. However, my focus is on Buddhism since its metaphysical foundations are further and deeper elaborated. This is perfectly reflected in the analogy between Buddha’s teachings and the cornerstone overview. Each link can be understood in terms of one or more of his key concepts:

buddhistmetaphysics

Emptiness can be readily understood as the consequence of a monistic and holistic worldview.[30] Same as a cosmocentric framework for ethical reasoning, it propagates that there is no “intrinsic values” in parts of the world (for example, “human” or “mankind”), but only in “the world itself”. Complex conditionality leads to the concept of Karma, additionally reflecting the idea of “harmony” (for example, in the understanding of “dao”). A key factor is the complexity that allows the emergence of “consciousness” so that volitional action, and by that the influence on retributive karmic relations, becomes possible. In an interconnected world of natural entities, the practice of morality is expressed through “the middle way” and, for human beings, in compassion (rather than in following divine laws), while the source for it must be sought in proper (or “right”) understanding of the world. Moreover, the karmic interconnectedness leads to compassion (or better: the understanding that it is “right” to show compassion for all being), while the “Middle Way” is the active practice of supporting the establishment of balance and harmony. The case of constructivism is important for the Buddhist “Theory of mind”: The idea of accepting the constructive character of our world perception, resulting in the plea for practicing mindfulness and awareness in order to “align the construction as close as possible to the actual reality”, is another way to describe the goal of Enlightenment. The formulation of “microworlds” and “lifeworld” in constructive realism corresponds to the “Theory of Two Truths” in Indian Buddhism.[31] Ultimately, the central element of Buddhist metaphysics, the links of interdependent co-arising, are best mirrored in view of a combination of holism (everything is karmically connected and impermanent) and constructivism (ignorance, delusion, attachment, cognition as “contact” between sense and sense-object, etc.).

The following overview summarises the collected reflections of this letter by setting all important characteristics of this worldview into perspective using “western” terminology.

worldview

  1. For an overview: Ritchie J, “Understanding Naturalism“, Acumen Pub., Stocksfield, UK, 2008, chapter 1
  2. von Foerster H, Pörksen B, “Wahrheit ist die Erfindung eines Lügners. Gespräche für Skeptiker. (Truth is the invention of a liar. Conversations for skeptics.)”, Carl-Auer-Systeme, Heidelberg, Germany, 1998
  3. On the philosophical implications of “change”: Mortensen C, “Change and Inconsistency“, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Fall Edition 2015
  4. Li CY, “The Philosophy of Harmony in Classical Confucianism“, Philosophy Compass 2008, 3/3, pp.423
  5. For an overview: a) Bashour B, Muller HD (eds.), “Contemporary Philosophical Naturalism and its Implications“, Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 2014; b) Braddon-Mitchell D, Nola R (eds.), “Conceptual Analysis and Philosophical Naturalism“, MIT Press, Cambridge, USA, 2009; c) De Caro M, Macarthur D (eds.), “Naturalism and Normativity“, Columbia Univ. Press, Chichester, UK, 2010; d) Fischer E, Collins J (eds.), “Experimental Philosophy, Rationalism, and Naturalism. Rethinking Philosophical Method“, Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 2015; e) Flanagan O, “Varieties of Naturalism“, in “The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science” (ed. P Clayton), Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2008; f) Galparsoro JI, Cordero A (eds.), “Reflections on Naturalism“, Sense Pub. Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2013; g) Gasser G (ed.), “How Successful is Naturalism?“, Ontos Verlag, Heusenstamm, Germany, 2007; h) Milkowski M, Talmont-Kaminski K (eds.), “Beyond Description: Naturalism and Normativity“, College Pub., London, UK, 2010; i) Nuccetelli S, Seay G (eds.), “Ethical Naturalism. Current Debates.”, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2012; j) Olafson FA, “Naturalism and the Human Condition. Against Scientism.”, Routledge, London, UK, 2001; k) Price H, “Naturalism without Mirrors“, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, USA, 2011; l) Ritchie J, “Understanding Naturalism“, Acumen Pub., Stocksfield, UK, 2008; m) Walsh DM (ed.), “Naturalism, Evolution and Mind“, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 2001
  6. Wilson EO, “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge“, Chapter 11: Ethics and Religion, pp. 260, Vintage Books (Random House Pub.), New York, USA, 1999
  7. Vogd W, “Constructivism in Buddhism“, in “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions” (eds. Runehov ALC, Oviedo L), Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013
  8. a) Lenman J, Shemmer Y (eds.), “Constructivism in Practical Philosophy“, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 2012; b) Pörksen B (ed.), “Schlüsselwerke des Konstruktivismus (Key works of Constructivism)”, 2nd ed., Springer VS, Wiesbaden, Germany, 2015 (in German); c) Bagnoli C, “Constructivism in Metaethics”, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Fall Edition 2016
  9. Golinski J, “Making Natural Knowledge. Constructivism and the History of Science“, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1998
  10. Onuf NG, “Making Sense, Making Worlds. Constructivism in social theory and international relations“, Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 2013
  11. a) Berger PL, Luckmann T, “The Social Construction of Reality“, Anchor Books, New York, USA, 1966, b) Kukla A, “Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science“, Routledge, London, UK, 2000; c) Wilson DS, “Evolutionary Social Constructivism“, in “The Literary Animal. Evolution and the Nature of Narrative” (eds. J Gottschall, DS Wilson), pp.20, Northwestern Univ. Press, Evanston, USA, 2005
  12. Mallon R, “Naturalistic Approaches to Social Construction”, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Winter Edition 2014, available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/social-construction-naturalistic/ (accessed July 24th 2016)
  13. Moeller HG, “The Philosophy of the Daodejing“, Columbia Univ. Press, New York, USA, 2006
  14. a) Gershenson C, Aerts D, Edmonds B (eds.), “Worldviews, Science and Us: Philosophy and Complexity“, World Scientific Pub., Singapore, 2007; b) Gregersen NH, “Complexity“, in “Encyclopedia of Science and Religion” (ed. JWV van Huyssteen), Macmillan, New York, USA, 2003
  15. Bronkhorst J, “Karma and Teleology. A Problem and its solutions in Indian Philosophy“, Studia Philologica Monograph series, Tokyo, Japan, 2000
  16. for example: Full G, “Education in Buddhism“, in “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions” (eds. Runehov ALC, Oviedo L), Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013
  17. Overview: Weir TH (ed.), “ Science, Philosophy, Religion, and the History of a Worldview“, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA, 2012
  18. Vimal RLP, “Buddhism and Dual-Aspect Monism“, available from https://www.academia.edu/4183378/Buddhism_and_Dual-Aspect_Monism, 2013
  19. a) Fatone V, “The Philosophy of Nagarjuna“, Motilal Banarsidass Pub., Delhi, India, 1991; b) Burton D, “Emptiness Appraised. A Critical Study of Nagarjuna’s Philosophy“, Motilal Banarsidass Pub., Delhi, India, 1999; c) Tuck AP, “Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship. On the Western Interpretation of Nagarjuna“, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, USA, 1990; d) Westerhoff J, “Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka. A Philosophical Introduction“, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, USA, 2009
  20. Smuts JC, “Holism and Evolution“, Macmillan, London, UK, 1926
  21. Procacci S, “Holism: Some Historical Aspect“, in “Determinism, Holism, and Complexity” (eds. V Benci, P Cerrai, P Freguglia, G Israel, C Pellegrini), Kluwer Academic, New York, USA, 2003
  22. a) Edmonds B, “Pragmatic Holism (or Pragmatic Reductionism)“, Foundations of Science 1999, 4, pp.57; b) Esfeld M, “Holism in Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Physics“, Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2001; c) Esfeld M, “Physicalism and Ontological Holism“, Metaphilosophy 1999, 30(4), pp.319; d) Pigliucci M, “Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence“, Biol. J. of Linnean Soc. 2013, 112(2), pp.242; e) White M, “A Philosophy of Culture: The Scope of Holistic Pragmatism“, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, USA, 2002
  23. Tonietti TM, “Towards a History of Complexity. A Comparison between Europe and China“, in “Determinism, Holism, and Complexity” (eds. V Benci, P Cerrai, P Freguglia, G Israel, C Pellegrini), Kluwer Academic, New York, USA, 2003
  24. McShane K, “Individualist Biocentrism vs. Holism Revisited“, The Ethics Forum 2014, 9(2), pp.130
  25. a) Hookway C, “Pragmatism”, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Summer Edition 2016, available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatism/ (accessed July 24th 2016); b) Dewey J, “The quest for certainty“, in “John Dewey: The later works (Vol. 4)” (ed. JA Boydston), Illinois Univ. Press, Carbondale/Edwardsville, USA, 1984/1929; c) Pihlström S, “Neopragmatism“, in “Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions” (eds. Runehov ALC, Oviedo L), Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013
  26. a) Fine A, “The Natural Ontological Attitude“, in “Scientific Realism” (ed. J Leplin), University of California Press, Berkeley, USA, 1984; b) Fine A, “And Not Antirealism Either“, Nous 18, p.51-65, 1984
  27. Fine A, “The Shaky Game: Einstein Realism and the Quantum Theory“, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA, 1996
  28. Adorjan MC, Kelly BW, “Pragmatism and ‘Engaged’ Buddhism. Working toward peace and a Philosophy of action“, J. Sociol. Self-Knowl. 2008, 6(3), pp.37
  29. Bhatt SR, Mehrotra A, “Buddhist Epistemology“, Greenwood Press, London, UK, 2000
  30. Gyeltsen GT, “Mirror of Wisdom. Teachings on Emptiness“, Thubten Dhargye Ling Pub., Long Beach, USA, 2000
  31. Thakchoe S, “The Theory of Two Truths in India“, in “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (ed. EN Zalta), Summer Edition 2011, available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/twotruths-india/, accessed 11.4.2016