Monday, May 12, 2014


‘Well, what are you, Ian? A realist or an idealist?’ a philosopher colleague of mind asked of me recently.

My reply, which I thought would phase him at least a little … except that it didn’t … was as follows: ‘I am both.’

This reminds me of something the American pastor Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured left] once said in a sermon in his church in New York City. He said, ‘I have been accused of belonging to both the fundamentalists and the modernists and that is a fact, I do.’

As I see it now, realism and idealism need each other, and involve each other. Each is made complete by the other. Indeed, there is, as I see it, no fundamental difference between them, strange as that may seem. Idealism is essentially a philosophy of becoming and coming-into-being whereas realism proceeds on the assumption that things have already come into being. Each of the two schools of thought complements the other in an overall philosophy. However, all that is for another day.

When it comes to teaching the law I use realism and empiricism, and stress to my students the principle of non-constitutive relations, that is, nothing is constituted by or is dependent upon, nor can it be defined or explained by reference to, the relations it has to other things. So, we have the person who holds the book in his hand, we have the thing held (viz the book), and we have something else as well---the act of holding. However, when it comes to explaining the workings of the human mind, and matters pertaining to the human spirit (eg faith, hope, and love), I tend to be an idealist.

Now, the realist or empiricist---well, at least some of them---will say that when it comes to the mental function we call cognition, we are talking about a relation between a subject and an object term, namely, a relation between the mind and its objects. So, we have the person who knows (or believes, thinks, remembers, or perceives) and the thing known (or believed, thought, remembered, or perceived), the latter existing independently of the knower (or mind). Well, I think all that is true as far as it goes, and I also think it’s very helpful---indeed, essential for a true understanding of what we are---to separate the person each one of us is from objects and creations of the mind. The latter include, most importantly, all of those hundreds of ‘selves’ that we create in our mind and which we mistakenly take to be the real person we are. (For a further explanation of that matter please see this recent post of mine.) However, I don’t think this realist account tells the whole story. Worse still, I think it is quite misleading and in some ways untrue. Let me explain.

Let’s focus on what actually happens in the human mind itself. You know, we don’t really understand thought or consciousness and what’s involved. There are various ideas on the matter, and some important discoveries have been made on the subject in recent years, but much that pertains to thought and consciousness remains a mystery. Be that as it may, this is how I see it---at least as respects thought and thinking. The idea in our mind that there is some ‘thinker’ or ‘thinking self’ within the mind is fallacious. There is no such thinker or thinking self---at least there is no thinker apart from the thoughts. There are only thoughts, and thinking, and it is the thinking that creates the mental construct, so to speak, of a notional (but not actual) thinker. The latter is, well, illusory in the sense that it has no separate, independent, and permanent existence apart from our thoughts or the person each one of us is. Yes, the thoughts come first, not the thinker. It is the thoughts, or more exactly the process of thinking, that creates the thinker. Actually, the thinker (that is, ‘thinking self’ in our mind) and the thinking are a ‘joint phenomenon,’ as the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti [pictured above right] used to say. They are not two separate processes or entities. Indeed, the so-called thinker/thinking self is not an entity at all in any real sense.

Now, some of you will say to me, ‘Well, Ellis-Jones, assuming for the moment that is the case, so what?’

My response is this. If the thinker in our mind is created by the process of thinking in our mind, a separation in thinking has taken place in our mind. We have the thinker---note, I am not talking about you, the person, being the thinker, but rather ‘something’ supposedly existent in your mind---and the thinking or thoughts. Yes, a separation has taken place in our mind, and it is an artificial one. This separation, although illusory in the sense outlined above, is nevertheless a division in our mind and thinking which is regrettable in a couple of respects. First, the separation or division is perhaps the major cause of our losing immediacy and directness in our moment-to-moment experience of life, Secondly, the separation or division is a cause of our developing what can only be described as a false or artificial personality---a personality that prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are, and others as they really are. This separation or division has a momentum all of its own and spills over into our society and world at large. As I say, it is all most regrettable.

The bottom line is that there is no ‘watcher/watching self’ or ‘perceiver/perceiving self’ in your mind. There is just the thing watched or perceived together with our sensory perceptions of that object, with the object being the objective or causal condition (that is, ‘cause’). Well, is there anything we can do about this? There certainly is. First, try to understand that what I’ve described above---although seemingly counter-intuitive to perhaps many of you---is actually the case. The understanding and insight gained will help to free you from the bondage of separation or duality in our cognitive processes, and that will assist you in being able to see things as-they-really-are with directness and immediacy. You will then be able to penetrate the core of reality, and that is a wonderful thing. Krishnamurti wrote:

‘When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing? Seeing the flower makes you say [i.e. think], “How nice it is! I want it.’ So the “I” comes into being through desire, fear, ambition [all thought], which follow in the wake of seeing. It is these that create the “I” and the “I” is non-existent without them.’

In truth, there are only the following three ‘relational’ elements in order for a stimulus to be perceived: first, the sense-object (or simply the object in question); secondly, a sense organ; and thirdly, attention or consciousness. (It is more-or-less the same with our thoughts and thinking, except we have no sense-object and sense-organ involved as such.) Now, in order for there to be an immediacy and directness about our moment-to-moment experience of life, those three occurrences need to occur more-or-less simultaneously---that is, no separation. If those three events are not simultaneously experienced---and that will happen if we engage in thinking, analysis, comparison, interpretation, or judgment in connection with the object in question (be it external or internal)---then the chances are that what will be experienced will be nothing but ... the past! Yes, the reality of the immediate experience will subside. Indeed, it will die! Any consciousness of it will be in the form of an after-thought or memory, as we glance back to re-experience, and (sadly, yes) evaluate, a past experience.

There is, of course, a time for thinking, introspection, analysis, comparison, interpretation, and judgment. I certainly affirm the need for rationality. The trouble is, we think far too much, and we end up forfeiting our otherwise direct and immediate connection with the flow of life.

Now, go out there and look---really look, and just look, doing nothing but look---at a rose or some other flower. Don’t start thinking about the flower. Don’t start comparing the flower with other flowers you have seen. Don’t judge or otherwise assess the beauty of the flower. Just look at it---without there being any separation. Perceive the flower here and now. See it as it really is---as a new moment. That moment will never come again. Yes, this presence—indeed, omnipresence---of life is the whole of reality. It is all here and now, and it is all that there is. Life, you see, is not cumulative. It is from moment to moment---both being as well as becoming. Don’t let your experience of life die on you---not even for a moment. ‘Accept the offer of newness in the now,’ to borrow a wonderful line from the American spiritual teacher and writer Vernon Howard.

None of this will come easily to many of you, but may I suggest---only suggest---that you start to live this way … if only as an experiment. You may be pleasantly surprised at the change … as you come to see---really see---things as-they-really-are ... perhaps for the very first time.

The photos of flowers were taken by the author.



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