Response to Dallman re: Ideas/Patterns

Well my post on Obama and The Fourth Republic has started to generate some good discussion. Thanks to Bill Harryman who had some kind words for it and linked to it here on his blog.

Also at Bill’s blog and cross-posted in the comments to my post Matthew left a comment (after some push back from a commenter or two on this site) that I have to say I found (finally) to not be a screed. His argument is well thought out and well articulated, remarkably free of the charged language. Why he couldn’t have just written that kind of comment the first time around I have no clue. Such comments are most welcome, always have been, at this site. The others not so much. The upshot of which is I can actually respond to this comment and engage with what he is saying. I don’t respond to what I think is vitriolic disrespect.

Bill H. senses something of what I try to get at with those kinds of posts like the Obama/4th Republic one.

Bill writes:

And sometimes, looking for larger patterns helps us make sense of our moment in history — we are right now living through one of the great moment of American history. Why not seek to contextualize these momentous events?

Even if you disagree that we are in a great moment in US history, I think his point still stands. I find something valuable in contextualization. If others don’t, ok, then don’t read my post. Or do and disagree with it, ignore it, whatever. But that’s all it really is, playing with some ideas and exploring some threads.

As to Matthew’s question of what value this approach has, I find that it helps provide a healthy sense of detachment. That way, a person doesn’t get caught up in the Obama-mania hype and its utopian idealism and the inevitable crash and disappointment that will follow when he doesn’t met the unreachable expectations set for him. Nor when the hard right noise machine gets going, will a person fall for the loony notion that he is some socialist demon who is essentially un-American in his thought or practice. Having a contextual frame creates a space in which rational discrimination on his good & bad decisions as prez can take place. It could save a lot of emotional heartache–that seems practical to me.

That point aside, I’d like to explore the central thrust of Matthew’s comment ‘cuz this is something worth pondering.

MD writes:

Basically, what in my view is fundamentally operative in the human psyche is not patterns, but instead ideas. Ideas such as the 104 ideas meticulously catalogued by Mortimer Adler, through his scholarship in the great works of western literature. The key thing is this: given an idea, a predisposition to various patterns, determined and shaped by the idea itself, arise. Patterns within ideas. Like plants within a garden. Alter the garden, the plants change. Alter the idea, or ideas, and the patterns one might detect (whether illusory or not) change. In other words, the idea is the medium which is the message.

He then states my views come out of the Great Ideas of Progress, Metaphysics, and History. [Looking over Adler’s list I would add Eternity, Theology, Religion, Language, Justice, God, Evolution, and Dialectic but that’s up for debate.]

Anyway, as to the ideas themselves–his categorization I mean. History is certainly important to me. I do possess a degree in it. So yeah that comes through in my writing. Guilty as charged.

Metaphysics….I’d prefer cosmology if you pinned me down. I don’t like the term metaphysics. Metaphysics for me represents a lack of human freedom, of choice. I think the social-technological-economic elements of life are always in play (something that doesn’t fit very well I think into Adler’s schema). If that is what is meant by a metaphysics then sure. I’m not sure that is what is meant by the term.

Another word for those two is of course contextualization, which Bill pointed out. A term I would prefer more than any other (also not on the list).

But Progress is wrong. This is a subtle but crucial point. My ontological view is Process-based not Progress-based. [Ontology is only one of the views represented on this blog btw]. Process does not equal Progress. Let me repeat that: Process does not equal Progress.

Process simply means everything builds on everything prior and includes it. There is always a moment of novelty, freedom, and potentiality that will then become part of creation from now on. And sometimes yes there is progress within process. Over the long haul looking back we can talk about some kinds of progress–“the long arc of history bends towards justice.” We use to have slavery now we don’t.

Sometimes however there is regress. Truths can be broken down and anarchy loosed. What might seem at first like progress may in fact be things getting worse in some ways. And what will be progress for one or some will undoubtedly cause pain for others.

Lots of the time there is simply well, process not anything I would label progressing or regressing or even transgressing. Wrong terms for those moments. For all of Matthew’s long claims to me being some raging lefty, notice how fundamental conservation (conservatism) is to process. Inclusion, retention, conservation all intrinsically are a component of every moment in existence.

The moments of “progress”–the term I would prefer is emergence–are few and far between. The ones that truly stick and are of lasting value become within a generation or two, conservative. All that is to say a process based view is deeply conservative. Even those moments of creative novelty create all kinds of new situations that have the potential to do even worse evil. They are not unalloyed perfect moments of sunshine and wonder. Not exactly the view of a naive leftist.

Onto the point about Ideas or Patterns as primary. Matthew’s line once more:

Basically, what in my view is fundamentally operative in the human psyche is not patterns, but instead ideas.

I think what is fundamental is neither ideas nor patterns but perspectives. Perspectives as a word I realize is just another idea or really abstraction, but as to what I’m pointing to–which is lived experience, occasions arising in process lingo–it is not. It is a mode of being alive. Ideas are a deep part of that reality as are patterns but each grow I would say from the a prior moment of choice. [Hence my critique of metaphysics as a closed, un-free construct]. Perspectives are first, second, or third person ways of being alive. Phenomenological, dialogical, observational.

Patterns come from taking a certain perspectival stance. So I would say contra MD that ideas/patterns always co-arise but even in their co-arising are secondary realities. Neither is primary even within the secondary status of coming after perspectives (if you catch my drift). For the purposes of greater depth it is a worthwhile exercise to take one side of that dyad as primary (again primary cum-secondary, the first of the second moment) and see how thought moves by putting the other as derivative (as Matthew argues with ideas then patterns) but I think you could do the opposite as well–i.e. reverse the hierarchy. Just remember you are doing an “as if” either way.

The garden (ideas) grows the flowers (patterns). And if you change the garden the flowers change as he says. Certainly true. It could also be true however that the flowers change the soil or bring certain insects and animals to the neighborhood, which might influence how, and in what way the garden is changed (if it is changed at all). i.e. Patterns might shape the ideas. One year at the garden at my parents house we grew melons and a turtle came by and would eat the rotten ones. From then on I got my grandpa to plant melons for him. The pattern of the relations shaped the choice of my idea of what to select for the garden.

Both are true. But ideas needs to be unpacked a bit I think.

Even if we first take the step of entering the first person mode of existence, but within that frame we focus first, then ideas are not the primary thing. Nor patterns for that matter. In process thought this is called prehension, it’s a felt-sense of the whole. A kind of knowing deeply related to the whole around else, that opens us out unto the arising whole, is responsive to it (and the whole to us).

Or if we enter the first person mode and then within that mode first enter meditative space then ideas eventually cease. There is still a cognition if you like, but it is not conceptual. Constant repeated entrance say into such a psychic state will having regularized patterns over time–e.g. in the brain, in general steps/stages along the meditative path–and it is worth checking in with those patterns (particularly the second one mentioned) as a way to contextualize. It doesn’t solve any problems per se on the path. It just gives you a sense of location. But you still have to walk and do whatever it is you are doing. It doesn’t do it for you. But it might help you make a better decision as to how and in what direction to proceed. That’s all. It’s an observational pov. It’s only as valuable as observation can be.

Ideas I would argue are the fundamentally operative element in the human psyche only along a certain swath of the bandwith of potential consciousness.

In short, I think this is a false dichotomy. I mean what is Adler’s Great Ideas except a pattern of repeated ideas he sees continually emerging throughout Western literature? A pattern that helps reveal certain paths of knowledge and occludes others. Like all patterns. An interpretation, a way of making sense of what is otherwise an infinite amount of reflection/information. What’s interesting to me about his list is what makes the cut as well as what doesn’t.  All I’m saying is these Ideas, in my mind, are not Platonic real existents that are the Form of all thought.  He hasn’t empirically cracked the final code of Western thought and therefore is representing the real final truth. Freed from the necessity to do what it can not, it’s worth exploring as a way of thinking.  There are other ways as well.  Try those too.

In Jewish exegesis when contradictory interpretations of a passage of the Bible are offered by different Rabbis, they are just allowed all to sit on the table simultaneously. Somehow they are all right in Jewish thought. The same I think applies here–that’s all I’m calling for. Take his view, take my view and explore how thought moves in them. No need really to pick a side. My take isn’t the final truth and doesn’t want to be, doesn’t need to be.

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Published in: on November 9, 2008 at 1:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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