Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jed McKenna's Theory Of Everything III

Scott Bradley


I was very much looking forward to doing this series, but I now find myself experiencing a bit of 'spiritual' nausea; I find it so alien that it's hard to get traction without descending into a solely negative critique, and I really am not interested in trying to "prove" McKenna's absolutism, or anyone else's, 'wrong'. Why bother? Still, there must be a way to profitably engage with it.

I have said that McKenna begins his book with a thoroughly rationalistic demonstration of his "theory of everything", that is, the final word of what is Truth. To his credit, he also tells us that whereas it must be only theory to us unenlightened ones, for him it is absolute, un-doubtable Truth — he is "truth realized". I wonder, however, if what is realized across the river is not best left across the river. In other words, what is realized beyond words is best left there; attempting to bring it back across the river so as to articulate it is to betray it.

I have also raised the question of how we might judge the truth of his claims since he is apparently trying to prove them to us. So far, he has offered three bases for doing so: his rational argument, his "credentials" as demonstrated in his previous books, and our own experience. In this post, I will begin to consider the first of these; the second is, to my thinking, ridiculous, since at best he has only demonstrated that he is a good 'spiritual entertainer'; and the third, well, we'll see.

McKenna begins with a quote from the arch-rationalist Descartes, to the effect that if we will hear him out, we will find his arguments irrefutable. Arguments for what? The existence of God. For all practical purposes they are on the same page in this regard.

Next, we have a slice of a Socratic dialogue. This introduces McKenna's dialogue with a friend, ostensibly consistent in form with that of Socrates, wherein he proves that "Consciousness is all". This is decidedly not Socratic, however, but thoroughly Platonic (Plato being the student of Socrates who wrote the dialogues which in the end became a vehicle for his own idealistic philosophy) and Aristotelian (Aristotle being the student of Plato and the father of western logic). Socrates was ever-ironic — he never came to a realization of truth, but rather saw its pursuit as an end in itself — an ever-self-negating inquiry was his method, much like Zhuangzi.

The dialogue ends with an Aristotelian syllogism: Truth is all; Consciousness exists; therefore, Consciousness is all. The classical example of a syllogism in which two premises demonstrate a third is: "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal." I prefer Woody Allen's conclusion: "All men are Socrates"; for, however specious, it puts a finger on the deeper fallacy that reason can actually explain reality, however useful a tool it might otherwise be. For this syllogism to work, the two premises must be demonstrated as 'true', and I will address his, to my thinking ridiculously simplistic, attempts to do so in the post to follow.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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