Neil Longenbaugh: Socrates knows he is wiser than the common man because he does not profess to know what he does not. This creates a few problems for me. How can Socrates know for sure that he doesn’t know something. I think the only thing he can be certain of is that he knows nothing for certain, and if this is true then how can someone be wiser than another person if both know equally nothing? This idea is a paradox that can’t be clearly answered unless Socrates is claiming that the craftsman and poets claim to know something and he nothing.
Mr. Himwich: Problem is that the craftsmen and especially those muse-inspired poets think that do in fact know – but, of course, they don’t as is revealed under socratic questioning. You do touch on a difficult issue: Does knowledge require that we know that we know and perhaps even to be able to articulate what we know and be able to teach it to someone else. Absent this kind of knowledge we might categorized our “knowledge” as belief, hypothesis, intuition, educated guess, etc.
Mr. Longenbaugh: I think that knowing something for certain is impossibility. We can know that we can think, and articulate this to other people, but we cannot know that we know something as it truly is. I agree that we can classify our knowledge as hypothesis, intuition, etc… What is truth though? If it is impossible to know for certain then can we find truth in our educated guesses and such?
Mr. Himwich: So much depends on what one means by "truth," as you well know. For me, the truth is paradoxically the very activity of a mind that searches for understanding. This activity of mind is the very truth it searches for. It is always thus, e.g. we create the very world that seek to understand as if it were separate from us. The truth is as close as thought itself. I know this will sound mystical or worse -- plain nonsense. What is your idea of truth?
Mr. Longenbaugh: I feel that truth is something sought after. I think that there are elements that we must find within ourselves, but I think that the physical world also contains truth. I think one can find a balance between retrospection and examining the world they live in for truth. I think that truth is perhaps what you do not know, even if what you think is the truth is not really how it is. Since you believe truth to be activity of mind, do you think believe that everything we perceive and experience is some sort dream or separate experience than reality based on your mind’s bias towards the world?
Mr. Himwich: I think your understanding of truth is sound. I must admit that mine is a work in progress. When I say 'activity of the mind', I mean just that: not the products of that activity, just the pure activity itself. That activity is the existential answer to the mind/body question (how the brain and consciousness relate). If we thereby solve the mind/body question, then we will also solve the mind's relationship to the external world. I know this sounds weird. Truth for me is not this and that bit of knowledge or even the collection of such bits into a whole. It is what actually happens. Again, not what physics tells about the nature of the universe, but the universe itself as it happens. If we could understand our own activity (our own happening), then we could understand everything else. We are part of the happening of things. Again, I admit I exploring ideas here. Let me try one more time: we are already what we seek to understand. In our very attempt to understand what we already are is the Truth. (I am laughing at myself. Feel free to laugh at me as well.)
Mr. Longenbaugh: I can accept your argument (for lack of a better word), but it does bring about a few more questions. These examples seem to perhaps be contradictory, or perhaps by the nature of activity they aren’t. Someone who is in a coma for example or a dream that persists indefinitely for example, is their understanding subconscious because dreams to me seem to be more of a ride than activity. Should we try to understand these knowing we can’t control them, or should we try to learn to control them? What about out of body experiences while awake? (I won’t give any examples) These provide a little trouble for me and I’m sure for you too. I think that I can understand what I believe to be awake reality and activity.
Mr. Himwich: This is becoming more about my wayward ideas than yours (not to say yours are wayward). But I am happy to continue. It seems to me that the Truth only appears when we are actively in search for it, but it remains paradoxically and necessarily elusive. The search and Truth are like the sun and the moon, the moon’s reflected light derives from sunlike mind. (I am expressing ideas here I have never expressed before.) What we want to understand is not the moon itself but the light that illuminates it, yet we fail to recognize the source of the light comes from our own consciousness. This little analogy must be read allegorically.
Mr. Longenbaugh: That is a good analogy. This raises an interesting question. Is the moon necessary? Can we simply look straight into the sun and try and find Truth? I think that before we can journey to the sun, we must first understand the moon, or start searching. It seems maybe that the moon is more tangible than the sun. We can travel, and search for what the moon and its light means, but I don’t think its ever possible to make it to the sun. In the context of this analogy, we can keep getting closer to the sun or Truth, but the closer we are, the hotter it is. This slows us down and eventually burns us before we can ever get there.
Mr. Himwich: I think that consciousness before it is consciousness of something is nonexistent, or rather exists as a potentiality only. This goes back to that question in class: if you stop thinking, i.e. stop being conscious, do you cease to exist. That is a very live question. I would hasten to add that in the mystic traditions, especially with respect to meditation practice, there is a possible turning away from the object to consciousness itself. The reported experience is the usual wonderful mystic nonsense (of which I have a great share): a sense of unity with all things and then joy.
Mr. Longenbaugh: I’m turned toward thinking that consciousness is existence. And going away from this consciousness I think is a good thing, because I’m not sure even if there is necessarily one direction that you must head. Turning away could very well be just as real as going in the “normal” direction if we have to call it that. I can’t say I’ve experienced many of these traditions but I have a basic understanding. Do you believe that there is a certain direction, or is there a possibility or two, even an infinite amount of suns, or levels of consciousness?
Mr. Himwich: I am thunderstruck by your statement that consciousness is existence. I have made that very same statement on another occasion. First, there are some esoteric eastern philosophies that do in fact speak of levels, e.g. personal consciousness and an transcendental consciousness, in which one experiences the loss of the self that the personal consciousness has constructed. I hardly know what to say about such things. I would rather discuss this "turning away" that you speak of. Speaking for myself, the "turning away" is the journey that through experience leads back to sun. This means that only by going away from the sun can we ever really know it as the source of our being. Thus, the journey, as in epic journeys, always leads through the Underworld where there is little or no light at all. That may sound poetic, but it involves real suffering. Is such a journey the good? Yes, but I speak only for myself here.
Mr. Longenbaugh: I think that the turning away is a perspective. If you turn away from the sun, you can see how far you have come and what you have experienced. I think it can help you appreciate the sun more. I am concerned whether it is possible to turn away and never go back? Hopefully death doesn’t bring this but I think that a loss of consciousness means that there is no more journey.
Mr. Himwich: Just to sum up: There is both an objective and subjective aspect to this: reality is and is not what we are aware of: there must be something that is apart from consciousness itself and yet that there is anything at all, existence itself, is due to consciousness. This is why we both search for truth/reality as something external to our consciousness and why we keep returning to consciousness as the ground of being. It is the paradox upon which the journey hinges. The journey is the effort to return to oneself. It gives meaning to our life, precisely because we never arrive.