Logical and Spiritual REFLECTIONS
Book 3. In Defense of Aristotle’s Laws of Thought
Chapter 14. Different strata of knowledge
The fact of the matter is that we all experience appearances as same and/or different in various respects. This is a fundamental given of our ordinary experience, which we must admit, even while granting that it ought not be taken as necessarily true in all cases. And the latter caveat is not some sort of transcendental knowledge, but itself merely the product of common experience – viz. that sometimes, what has seemed to us as similar at first sight has later (upon review or reflection) seemed to us as different, or vice versa.
The basis of our rational ordering of experience is experience. We realize that it involves rational ordering only at a much later stage, after much philosophical reflection; but initially, we just instinctively do it and believe in it. The classification of such initial rationality as naïve is only possible by means of this very same faculty; there is no other, higher faculty by which we can do it. The subtlety of distinguishing between pure experience and rationally ordered experience is itself a product of such rational ordering and cannot be used to justify it or criticize it.
Once this natural order of things is understood, we can begin to understand the development and validation of human knowledge. To avoid adopting superficially logical but deeply illogical theories, we must always make sure we test any suggested argument or explanation on itself. By such reflexive thinking, we save ourselves a lot of time and trouble. This leads to the realization that human knowledge is essentially inductive, rather than deductive. Deductive logic can indeed help us eliminate absurd and inappropriate constructs, but a positive theory depends mainly on gradual induction, using experience to form and develop ideas by trial and error.
The “something” underlying change (in the Aristotelian view) is seemingly justified by experience in that when we perceive the world around us or in us, at any given moment, some aspects of the whole field of experience (all sense organs included) seem to be in flux and others seem to be static. There is no reason for us to admit the flux as real, while denying the evidence of our senses with regard to the unchanging aspects. We would have to provide some very convincing reason to allow such difference of evaluation. In the absence of justification, such difference of treatment would be arbitrary prejudice. It is therefore logical to admit both perceptions as equally empirical givens ab initio.
We may nevertheless, at a much later stage in the ordering of knowledge, in the way of a theory subject to the rules of inductive logic, posit an ultimate reality that is per se static while giving rise to changing appearances – or, oppositely, posit that nothing but change exists really. However, since the latter proposition is self-contradictory (being itself apparently something static to some degree), we would be wiser to aim for the former. Nevertheless, the latter must still be given serious consideration, for it has much going for it as a description of our world of experience.
Both change and stillness are immediately apparent in our experience. They are concrete, perceptual givens in the physical and mental fields of experience. This is a phenomenological truth, whatever conceptual theories we may at a later stage construct concerning them. When I look, listen, or otherwise physically sense or mentally project – I sometimes see, hear, etc. static things, sometimes see, hear, etc. events in motion, sometimes a bit of both kinds of phenomena, and never neither (except in intuitive experience, which is non-phenomenal).
Change is not a mere conceptual construct out of experience – it is itself experienced. Likewise, stillness is not a mere conceptual construct out of experience – it is itself experienced. Thus, though stillness and change are opposites, we ought not define either of them by negation of the other. They are both independent percepts to begin with. At any moment, I may perceive some static things, some changing things, and some partly this and partly that. The concepts we have of change and stillness are later derivatives of those percepts. It is only on a conceptual level that change and stillness are correlated as each other’s opposite.
This nuance between percept and concept has to be understood to avoid misleading analyses of the static or changing, which in any way reduce the one to the other or vice versa. Such analyses are theories – to be distinguished from the experiential facts of stillness and change. Such theories are not needed to prove the existence of stillness or change – their existence is already established by direct observation at every moment. The mere appearance of stillness and change is enough to justify the concepts of stillness and change, respectively.
It suffices that stillness seems apparent to categorically admit it exists; and it suffices that change seems apparent to categorically admit it exists. Their justification is pre-conceptual, phenomenological and prior to any epistemological or ontological hypotheses. This is true, even if at a more developed stage of knowledge, we hypothesize that apparently static phenomena are really underlain by change and so essentially illusory, or alternatively that apparently changing phenomena are really underlain by stillness and so essentially illusory.
We have to admit this position; otherwise, we would not be able to explain why or how things at all appear as static or as changing.
Thus, though the table I am looking at during this moment is an apparently quite static phenomenon, science tells me that beneath the surface, at more and more microscopic levels, this table is really composed of molecules, made up of vibrating atoms, themselves reducible to subatomic particles in motion, etc. Even while accepting the scientific theory as correct, I must still admit that at the level of my perceptions, the table does appear static. The conceptual knowledge science gives me of the table does not annul (but only complements) my perceptual knowledge of it.
Similarly, though I may go on to claim that even more deeply, the changes postulated by science are themselves just some of the movements of a single, universal fabric of being – such ultimate monistic philosophy must not be construed to invalidate the observed fact of changing phenomena at the perceptual level or the conceived fact of change in scientific descriptions of what goes on beneath the surface of static or changing phenomena. Monism is a philosophy, a theoretical construct, intended to explain, not erase, the facts of change.
Moreover, if through meditation we eventually arrive at a direct experience of the essential unity and rest of all things, such mystical experience could not be regarded as canceling lower level experiences of change and stillness, or theories about such experiences.
Note too that all the above comments can be repeated with regard to uniformity and variety, peace and conflict, eternity and temporality, and all such basic dualities. At no level of existence or knowledge are the levels above, below or adjacent to be considered as eradicated; they all coexist. All this may seem somewhat paradoxical, but it is the only way to reconcile differences.
 For example, monism might explain the differences between matter, mind and soul by postulating different degrees or shapes of motion. Viewing the ultimate fabric of existence as resembling a sea – matter might be represented by big waves and currents, mind perhaps by little vibrations, and soul say by rotations. By such analogy, we can roughly imagine how these three “substances” might be quite different yet essentially the same. (This example is not intended to exclude the possibility of other, better models.)