John Wild's book, Introduction to Realistic Philosophy (Harper and Row 1948) (RP) has made a contribution to my thinking and thus to my forthcoming book, for which I am very grateful. However, as I hope these reflections will show, it makes a better case for my book than it does for his. [See "My Forthcoming Book" and "On Circular Reasoning" posted to this website 4/25/20] We agree on the need for "realistic" philosophy, but we disagree on the fundamental question of what's real. What's real for him is matter; what's real for me is Mind.
My understanding of what’s going on with us and our world is that the Child we are, our spiritual ancestor, was stripped of the knowledge base he depended on for free choice when he lost consciousness. He lost much else, besides, but here, in this world, his focus has been on rebuilding his knowledge base. Without it he is operating in the dark, and getting out of the dark, returning to the light of consciousness by exercising free choice, is what he must accomplish.
This provides the context for my understanding of RP, its contribution to this broader purpose. Its specific contribution is to the pursuit of knowledge through experimental and theoretical science, which has, until recently, relied exclusively upon sensory perception, because RP does provide an argument to support it, if inadvertently. Its argument, not coincidentally, joins with body-centered Church dogma which, through Thomas Aquinas, gave cover to science when other faiths did not.
“Inadvertently” because science seems to play hardly any part in RP. Einstein isn’t registered in its name index even though general relativity upended Newtonian concepts of absolute space and absolute time. This dealt a momentous blow to certainties about material reality that one theoretical physicist, Rovelli, has likened to “the stuff that dreams are made of.”
RP makes no mention of Einstein’s theory in its discussion of time, a significant omission which suggests that undermining dark-age enemies of science played little or no part in its motivation. RP’s declaration that “Time is to be sharply distinguished from spatial extension;” that it’s “a mental measure with a foundation in extra-mental reality,” [p. 347], that we experience a “now” that’s more definable than Einstein’s “present” that’s neither future nor past, [pp. 375-376] are at odds with the science of its day.
The injustice that RP seems intent upon righting is “idealistic philosophy,” the synthesis of “empiricism” and “rationalism” propagated by Immanuel Kant. Its exact offense was positing reality in the eye of the beholder, a subjectivist take on reality that made a bystander of the body and its senses. But where idealistic philosophy rates a rebuttal, “spiritualism which reduces the physical to the mental” [p. 400], is dismissed with nothing more than it’s “far removed from the common insight of mankind.” [p. 395]
Had RP hypothesized the existence of a spiritual reality its reasoning would, I think, have yielded an opposite result. This is because its own take on reality treats as extrinsic any material object outside the body that senses it. Thus, it can claim “objectivity;” it becomes a common-sense “objectivist” philosophy; and “facts” are its exclusive domain. Since this assumption is intertwined with our everyday perceptions and feelings, it rings true.
But were a spiritual entity given a voice, the logic behind it would quickly be revealed for the fallacy that it is. Bodies integral to a system of material appearances are logically unqualified to pass judgment on their own system’s reality, i.e. on themselves. To grant them this status – to include the knower in the known -- is to grant rationality to circular, self-referential reasoning, which is irrational. Of even greater concern to RP, it would substitute subjectivity for objectivity, the ultimate violation of its logic.
In the event, RP is at pains to keep this from happening. Not only is spiritual reality not allowed to challenge “the realistic analysis of hylomorphic substance,” [p. 400], RP doesn’t allow Plato, its co-founder, to interpret the meaning of his Allegory of the Cave in his own words. These are the words RP uses: “perfection,” “sound social order,” “social justice,” “jointly ordered, cooperative community,” “just community,” “unjust community,” “bad society.” “good society.” [pp. 173-174]
How can the primary issue with captives of deception imprisoned in a cave be about justice and not about appearances and reality? About truth? Here are Plato’s own words:
“[O]nce seen, [the form of the good] is inferred to be responsible for whatever is right and valuable in anything, producing in the visible region light and the source of life, and being in the intelligible region itself controlling source of truth and intelligence. . . . When the mind’s eye is fixed on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and knows them.” [Quoted in Wapnick pp. 298-299, my emphasis added]
“[O]ur true lover of knowledge naturally strives for reality” is a statement attributed to Plato in an earlier passage about Plato’s philosopher-kings, “the truly wise,” in Wapnick’s words, “who. . . no longer value the appearance of the Good but the Good itself; the reality illuminated by the truth and not the shadows.” [Wapnick p. 300. Wapnick’s and my emphasis added] Socrates, killed by Athenians, was the model for the freed prisoner “because he tried to awaken in them the truth of the difference between appearance and reality.” [Wapnick p. 298, my emphasis added]
If they relied on its interpretation alone, RP’s readers would not only miss the gist of Plato’s allegory, they would be mis-led. They would be victims of an intellectual cover-up that presents itself as beholden to the highest ideals of reason, common sense, and objectivity. Manipulation of facts is a predatory manipulation of people who depend on facts to make informed choices, a betrayal of their trust, and a sign of disrespect that would make fools of them.
The basis of RP’s logic is that if a thing appears real to body’s senses then it must be real. There’s no possibility that anything internal or external to our minds can be real that isn’t detectable by the body’s senses, an assumption about the place of the body in all of Creation that is breathtakingly ego-centric.
If I were to interview one of the shackled prisoners who occupied Plato’s Cave about what he was observing, I would expect a near-perfect articulation of Realistic Philosophy, a viewpoint that’s firmly committed to the logic of the Cave and oblivious to anything outside it. I would expect something on the order of, “What I observe in these flickering shadows is real because it appears real.”
The point of Plato’s allegory is to suggest that appearances may deceive, and, indeed, when an occupant frees himself to discover the reality outside, he confirms it. Plato’s philosopher king, modeled on the prisoner liberated from the deception of appearances, is possessed of an awareness supported by reasoning derived not from ignorance and misapprehension but from knowledge and truth. Elevating his subjects’ minds out of ignorance and misapprehension into the light of knowledge and truth – liberating them from appearances through reason and virtue, – was the inspiration for the philosopher king’s rule and for Plato’s Academy.
On the strength of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave alone I disagree with RP's claim that Plato "co-founded” its school of thought. [p. 379]
In another instance of selective truth-telling, RP begs off anything to do with “theology.” But it can’t resist noting that it accords with body-centered Church dogma and in so doing takes sides in theological controversy:
"Genuine Christianity. . . has much more in common with authentic materialistic thought. . . than with that extremely widespread spiritualism, , , which tries to deny matter and other basic facts of life. How surprised most of our contemporaries would be if they could discover the fact that Christianity, , , is actually a hardheaded campaign for the conquest of ourselves and the world we inhabit, , , , [F]or nothing is of more decisive importance for a people and its civilization than its religion, and how this is understood." [pp. 234-235]
Though gratuitous, RP’s acceptance of added cultural legitimacy from Western civilization’s most influential religious institution would be acceptable were it not for the fact that it’s also disingenuous. “Hardheaded” Church dogma contains an obvious contradiction which RP fails to mention: miracles. Miracles whose purpose was to demonstrate that our world, our material universe, our “laws” of science, our bodies and their senses, are illusory.
The author of miracles inspired Gnostic Christianity that was unpersuaded by Church dogma and was forcibly suppressed as a result. He has restated his message in A Course in Miracles, a unique system of thought and practical guidance based not on unquestioned faith but on tightly-reasoned philosophy and psychology. Its affirmation of Jesus’ miracles and their purpose was not available at the time RP was published, but the elephant was certainly in the room. How could this aspect of Church dogma not have drawn RP’s attention?
The answer must be that RP would have been obliged to confront a central article of Church followers’ faith and thus potentially offend many in its audience. The Church would be obliged to weigh in, and “the common insight of mankind” would be common no more. It would have been better had RP given spiritualism a hypothetical voice – the voice, say, of authority, reason, and compassion from Conscious Mind, like A Course in Miracles -- not only to correct philosophical subjectivity in its argument for sensory perception but also to practice the Platonic virtue of honesty.
Acknowledging that there were competing versions of Christianity; that “genuine Christianity” – Church dogma – achieved dominance only by force; and miracles that were part of dogma and opposing theologies flatly contradict RP, would be honest.
RP: I’m sorry, dear reader, but Realistic Philosophy says your revered miracles could not have happened. You’ll have to try another religion.
Believer: Yeah, well how about trying another philosophy?
Reliance on sensory perception is being questioned among theorists, I suspect, in many fields, and so it’s highly unlikely that RP could be put out there today with a straight face. Its author will have read books by Becker and Rovelli on quantum physics, a field whose discoveries are so bizarre that physicists protective of their careers steer clear of it. The search for quantum gravity -- the synthesis of general relativity / cosmology with quantum mechanics -- shreds “the common insight of mankind.” Neuroscience going back to the 19th century has questioned RP’s notion that consciousness resides in the brain. A material world that has become strange, incomprehensible, disorderly, and threatening can no longer anchor our sense of place and familiarity.
But why rely on RP’s argument to refute it when sensory perception can do better? Let it run its own course with cosmic reality and it will self-destruct.
The “potency” that RP depends upon for many of its conclusions is Energy. The Energy that powers our universe originated with Logic that powers Creation. The Big Bang was a release of energy from Reality-Consciousness – from the irrational thought of splitting up the oneness of Being -- that initially empowered our material, illogical universe. It is an imagined break with the real Logic-Energy of Creation, a disconnection, not a connection. Which implies that it is not a real-living current that can maintain its force but an illusory-dying current. It’s the flip side of real Energy -- flip side like everything else in our universe, the opposite of what’s real. Which explains why our illogical, illusory universe is in a state of entropy, destined to decay, tending toward disorder, and becoming inert.
This means that all the forms of energy – nuclear strong and weak, electromagnetic, and gravity – will gradually weaken until matter will no longer be produced by energy and its components will no longer hold together, from the quanta level on up. When the energy that’s locked up in matter dissipates, bodies will be long gone and nothing will be left that’s detectable by their senses. The Achilles Heel of RP is its reliance on "potency," i.e. energy, that eventually will abandon it. So, all that's really needed to put it to rest is time-lapse photography and a lot of time on our hands.
While it supports the physical sciences RP can also be appropriated by a less enlightened pursuit. This would be “objectivism,” the personal credo of Ayn Rand and her libertarian followers who noisily denied the legitimacy of any interest beyond individual self-interest. They suffered the handicap of narcissists unable to see beyond themselves, to accept the presence of a larger, communal self-interest, that makes governance in the public interest, for fairness, justice, peace, and civilization possible.
Objectivism makes a close match with the thinking behind “conservatism” that masks its will toward unopposed power, the license for its followers to do whatever they want behind the flag of “freedom:” their freedom to take away your freedom. It’s a prescription for fascist dictatorship which frees the dictator to take himself and his captive audience to the bottom of a sea of contradictions and “appearances.”
The reasoning that supports RP is that of a human mind corrupted by irrationality – the ego and its purpose to deceive. RP’s reasoning is flawed because its knowledge base is both unintentionally and intentionally mischaracterized and omits critical material that has since come to light. RP’s reasoning is flawed because it has been invaded by the ubiquitous manipulations of power relations – by self-interest in our state of competition and conflict. And RP’s reasoning is flawed because it intentionally compromises with the truth, not the minor infraction of everyday discourse but a betrayal of Philosophy’s Hippocratic Oath.
The reasoning that supports Jesus’ A Course in Miracles is reasoning from Conscious Mind, the spiritual perspective that could have corrected RP’s flawed reasoning had it been given the hypothetical hearing that the logic of philosophy, science, and fairness demanded. ACIM’s knowledge base lies beyond human access, but it invites the reader to dismantle the logic of its guidance with reason. After over thirty years of reflection, this reader so far cannot. The ubiquitous manipulations of self-interest are beneath it, but this is not to say that it lacks self-interest when all Creation is composed of self-interest. The difference lies in the logic, the definition, of “Self” that is Reality, that is Truth. Guidance from ACIM that cannot compromise with the Truth, by definition, that cannot betray itself, leads to the Truth about ourselves, our Worth and our Purpose, that cannot be compromised.
The search for scientific “knowledge” was supposed to end successfully before it reached the end of useful experimentation. But quantum physics-gravity requires that inquiry extend beyond physical experiments into philosophy, which takes us back to Plato’s unfinished business, the philosophic system that he never fully developed. It takes us back to the unified theory of everything that Einstein never finished.
A Course in Miracles accomplishes what Plato, Einstein, and experimental science have failed to do: construct a coherent thought system that isn’t shot through with contradictions and irrationality. It accomplishes this through uncompromising non-dualism, the proposition that between Mind and matter only Mind can be real.
It must have been in the backs of the minds of those who have clung to sensory perception –the learning disciplines, the professions, politics, the arts, communications, religion -- that it’s the first and last line of defense for civilization. They must have feared what populist politics, pop culture, the internet, and social media have wrought, a breakdown of consensus around reality, truth, morality, and the institutions – the “establishment” -- charged with maintaining it. Fears around replacing a paradigm as ingrained in the human mind as sensory perception are not to be taken lightly. The stability it has provided cannot be taken for granted.
This could have been the larger purpose of RP’s case against “idealism” and “spiritualism,” philosophies it considers subjective and irrational and, therefore, unrealistic, a threat not only to the reign of sensory perception but also to common sense, learning, and civilization. It takes its place among the Child’s evolving experiments with regaining its knowledge base for informed choice, a flawed product of the insights, the threats, the irrationality, and the politics of its time, but a worthy cause, nonetheless. It deserves respect.
Kenneth Wapnick, Love Does Not Condemn: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil According to Platonism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and 'A Course in Miracles' (Foundation for A Course in Miracles 1989)
Adam Becker, What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics (Basic Books 2018)
Carlo Rovelli, Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (Riverhead Books 2017)
A Course in Miracles (Foundation for Inner Peace 1975)
May 5, 2020