KARL JASPERS FORUM
Commentary 64 (Reply to Müller R23)
MOONBEAMS R US
by William A. Adams
3 October 2009, posted 17 October 2009
In an earlier post, Herbert Müller rejected the idea that reality is self-projected. We only “structure” reality, he insisted. “One has to distinguish between reality structuring, which is needed for all reality, and creating. For instance if you create a song, its existence depends on you, both for you and for everybody else” (R23). The implication is that there are other things that do NOT depend for their existence on human mentality. I find this implication incompatible with Müller’s 0-D theory which denies all self-existent ontology.
Müller offers a reductio ad absurdum defense: “If I understand W Adams correctly, he claims that the same is true for the moon; it would not exist without him, both for him and for everybody else “ (R23). That argument extrapolates beyond what I proposed. I suggested that ontology is entirely psychological projection, with no mind-independent residual, no self-existent, unprojected noumenon. But I did not assume or assert individualism. I do not claim the moon’s existence depends on me, personally. The error of solipsism arises from the faulty assumption of exclusive psychological individualism.
Instead, it is more reasonable, and more consistent with observation, to suppose that psychological projection of ontology is mostly, nearly entirely, communal and tacit, not individual. It arises from deep wells of tradition and unspoken assumption. As a scientifically educated modern mind, it is difficult for me to account for the existence of the moon in any way other than that given by standard scientific cosmology as a self-existent fact. Yet with effort it is possible to grasp an alternative understanding from ancient mythology. Once, the stars in the sky were pinholes in the darkened heavenly sphere, beyond which the light of The One, shone. The moon was a larger hole in the sky or perhaps an animated goddess in her own right. Did these holes in the sky depend on human mentality? This is tantamount to asking whether the existence of the gods depends on human mentality. Modern existentialists have argued, yes, it does. Freud said as much. Sartre and many others did also. It is not an unusual argument.
The idea of psychological projection as the origin of ontology is difficult to understand. One instinctively wants to argue, “The plain fact is that when I look into the sky on a clear night at certain times of the month, there is a large bright light up there. That light exists for all people, and always has, regardless of the mythology used to interpret it.” Who could argue with that? I could. The assertion of that “fact” has a multitude of deeply built-in assumptions. What is “the sky?” Did Ardipithecus recognize any object that could be discriminated as “the sky?” Or did she just go about her business gathering food, reproducing, raising offspring, and so forth? Are we sure then that humans have always and forever identified something that could be called “the sky”? Or is that a later category, an invention of millions of years of communication, socialization, conceptual and linguistic development?
This is not a question about possessing certain words or concepts to name a thing. The question is this: What are the grounds for asserting that a thing exists if no living being has ever discriminated it or imagined it? I suggest that the only grounds are modern historical-scientific ones. Put aside that modern thinking, and put yourself in Ardi’s place, before science existed, before modern humans existed, and assuming she never happened to notice (discriminate) a bright light in the night sky, there are no grounds to assert that the moon has always existed. Historical imperialism is a modern invention. "A bright light in the night sky" is a relatively modern, educated concept that makes up the so-called plain fact, which is perhaps not so plain as it first seemed.
Still the modern mind wants to protest, “Regardless of the animal’s ability to conceptualize or even discriminate the moon in the sky, it still existed even before there were any animals on the earth.” But again, I suggest that it is possible to step outside the boundaries of contemporary thinking and modern scientific cosmology. Did the moon as we presently understand it, exist prior to the existence of any human? Modern science says yes. The Bible says yes. But it is not inconceivable to imagine a different mythology, perhaps more akin to those of Native American cosmologies, which would say no.
If we are utterly, totally, irreversibly, irrationally committed to modern scientific cosmology, the answers are predetermined and you can call me mad. But modern mythologies have internal contradictions, such as the one I have highlighted in Herbert Müller’s metaphysics. Instead, I suggest an alternative that takes radical constructivism to its logical conclusion : reality is entirely a psychological projection, including the moon in the sky. This solution accepts the argument that Müller and others have offered against the existence of mind-independent reality, but does not awkwardly have to say, “Oh, except NOT the moon, that’s different.”
This is not an entirely satisfactory argument. I do not have “The Answer” to our most fundamental questions. I merely claim it is not unreasonable, not impossible, to understand how the existence of the moon could depend on our collective mentality. All you have to do is step outside the current scientific cosmological story, which I think many readers of this forum would understand to be a particular, socially constructed narrative, pre-eminent in our time, but not necessarily the absolute negation of all other possible constructions.
e-mail <bill.adams111 (at) gmail.com>