Thursday, October 27, 2011

Modern Zen As The Synthesis Of Micro And Macro Perspectives

I was thinking the other night about this whole idea of 'modern zen' that I've been reading, thinking, and writing about. I had a conversation with a friend about it. About how I was assaulting this image of someone who seeks wisdom or enlightenment solely from within their own mind. But of course that can be done. There are all kinds of people living who are able to be peaceful, mindful, calm, happy, all just by engaging with their own minds. Lots of people are able to achieve mindfulness through the phenomenal mind alone.

But what I'm advocating as 'modern zen' is different than at. And I think it is probably has a lot more to do with me than anything else.

What I mean by modern zen is a synthesis of historical ontological philosophy with the personal goals of zen. Historical ontology studies the nature of our being and experience through historical methods. We recognize that much of our experience is symbolically constituted, that we have our experiences because we have labels to identify ourselves and others with. If our being and experience is symbolically constituted, then this means that self-knowledge, in some ways, must be historical knowledge.

Modern zen, for me, is an attempt to achieve mindfulness through the historical ontological interrogation of the categories that structure our experience. It means studying the history of gender and sexuality, of war and nationalism, or economic systems and political ideologies. It means the historically contingency of our thoughts and feelings may prevent us from knowing their origins. It means achieving an zen like mental state from an intellectually rigorous point of view.

I partied the other night. As I was walking around I started thinking about the phrase 'the synthesis of micro and macro perspectives'. Because this is really a question about that. The mind is the most micro perspective that I can think of. It is the bedrock of all other perspectives. Then we move outward to other, more macro perspectives. One of them being the historical perspective, another being the cosmic perspective. We can assume these different perspectives on our own lives.

I don't know if there are other perspectives beyond these three that I could distinguish. Would it be even more 'micro' to look at single celled organisms? For some reason that seems like it is macro... But I'm confusing myself. I can't think about that right now.

What I will say is that I am interested in obtaining a point of view that has managed to synthesize my micro perspective with more macro perspectives. Namely, I want to synthesize an historical perspective into my phenomenal mind. This is the synthesis of micro and micro that I am most concerned with these days. Because this notion of modern zen, in essence, is about a synthesis of historical knowledge into the phenomenal mind. It is about synthesizing a historical knowledge of symbols into my own perspective, with the goal of reducing the way that those symbols structure my experience. Studying the history of gender, for example, so that I will be less dominated by the idea that I need to be aggressive, or pay for girls, or talk to them in certain ways.

So there appears to be a trace of transcendentalism in this idea of modern zen. I don't know much about this word. And there was something about Husserl and transcendental consciousness or something. But it seems like an implication of this idea of modern zen that I am learning about the history of symbols so as to transcend their effect on me. Seems like a pretty obvious implication of what I'm saying.

I don't know if that is the case, though. In practice, transcending a symbolic order is pretty difficult, as I reflected on recently. So, if its goals are not transcendental, what then, is the task of modern zen?

This is a moment where I wish I understood zen more. Does zen contain any trace of transcendentalism? Does it in anyway advocate this type of thinking? My gut reaction is not, it does not. Instead, it would encourage me to directly engage with that reality. Not to try and overcome it through an act or transcendence or withdrawal, but to face it. To show it down straight up.

This to me seems like the right attitude or goal for modern zen to set for itself. Not one of transcendence, but one of intelligent engagement. I learn about the symbolic rules governing my experience not so as to escape them entirely. But so as to understand them, to apprehend them, and to navigate them. To synthesize that historical knowledge into an acting phenomenal mind.

And this is more of a one way street than a two way street. The phenomenal mind, the micro mind, is synthesizing the macro perspectives, and not the other way around. This is about the phenomenal mind enriching itself through imagined larger perspectives.

Hmmmm, this is the phenomenal mind synthesizing experience so as to enrich its own experience.

Modern zen, it appears, is a zen that is achieved or augmented through synthetic experience.

This is all very new to me. These conclusions, this relationship between synthetic experience and modern zen. But I guess it makes sense. If historical study is inherently about synthetic experience, which Collingwood implies it is, then there must be some relationship between historical ontology and synthetic experience, and thus a connection between modern zen and synthetic experience.

Hmmm. This notion of modern zen has a lot of development left in it. I need to work on it more. I need to read more zen. Need to continue to think about historical ontology. Need to continue to think about the political implications of these ideas, of the idea of self-creation that is necessarily bound up with it all. I need to take account of the role of synthetic experience.

This is all in progress.

There is a third perspective I'll touch on briefly: the cosmic.

Lately I've been watching a lot of shows on the origin of the universe. Really intense and strange stuff.

Narrators say shit like "understanding how something could emerge from nothing means understanding the nature of the universe, and the nature of ourselves."

Scientists consistently assert that to understand ourselves we have to understand the nature of the universe. That understanding the big bang means understanding our place in the universe.

This doesn't sit quite right with me, though.

It was like when I watched a show on parallel universes and the big bang and I was so outraged that they kept referring to it as 'a theory of everything'.

But what about the social and historical worlds? That theory of the universe would leave that domain completely untouched. This type of cosmic, pre-historical knowledge would be valuable until we crossed the threshold into history: into the time when language begins to structure reality more than nature and instinct. And perhaps language is just another instinct. Which I have no problem with, and why Searle's chapter in Making The Social World 'Language As Biological And Social' is invaluable to me.

But what I'm railing against right now is what I perceive as a false claim to self-knowledge. I don't think these physicists know what they are talking about when they say that understanding the universe is about understanding ourselves. Because I can't imagine what type of useful knowledge would come out of that discovery. How would that fact leave the social world changed in any way? What types of decisions would be encouraged from that revelation?

I don't know. But my hunch is that self-knowledge must be historical knowledge. That is the more effective way of knowing ourselves, and also an ignored mode of knowing. People don't think of history as a source of self-knowledge. But I do.

But anyways, the point of this post is to deal with the idea of synthesizing macro and micro perspectives. At the core of modern zen is the attempt to synthesize historical knowledge of symbolic order into the phenomenal mind. This implies that modern zen is fundamentally about augmenting phenomenal experience with synthetic experience.

The cosmic perspective, however, I still don't know what to do with.

The question is this: What macro perspectives can be usefully synthesized/incorporated into my phenomenal mind? What macro perspectives will best inform my micro perspectives?

Questions questions question!

I highly recommend Collingwood's An Essay On Metaphysics. I can't wait to really do some serious writing on it, because I suspect it is a gold mine for these ideas. I know it is.

It is like The Order Of Things but better.

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