When the illusion realizes itself

What happens when an illusion becomes cognizant of its nature as a mirage?  Is it then really such an illusion after all, or does it actually have some kind of reality, something that persists beyond its own transience?  I think it does, and I put the question to Averroes and Spinoza.

Why these philosophers?  To begin with, Averroes, at least his Latin ghost, was and remains notorious for proposing that there is ultimately only one mind, a cosmic or metacosmic one, which gathers sensory data through all of us and by which we gain the universal ideas which empower cognition.*  To phrase this Cartesianly, there is only one true res cogito, but although it is very intimate to each of us in a way, it is not any one of us specifically.

Meanwhile, Spinoza was and remains notorious for proposing an early modern version of Eleatic pantheism. In his system, Cartesian dualism is moot because the cogito and the extensa are really just two attributes or perspectives of a single substance.  Moreover, this substance is the most clear and distinct of Cartesian ideas, namely, God.

You can see how their views resonate; they even have similar problems.  Regarding Spinoza, its unclear whether the laws of Nature and the will of God, which are the same, are arbitrary, even absurd, not to mention tyrannical. The same holds for Averroes if the monopsyche is inflated to be co-terminus with the divine and the universe.**

More importantly, for Spinoza, the cogito is just an illusion, likewise the perception of freedom, which is only ignorance of causes.  Similarly, for Averroes, individual cogitos are mere percolations of and channels for the uploading-downloading process, and hence, also illusory.  For both thinkers, upon death the individual cogito, identifiable with the soul, perishes.

In other words, what we phenomologically hold to be ontologically true — we sense something eternal about ourselves — is actually just a mirage. True wisdom is seeing ourselves for what we supposedly really are, namely, illusions, of course with some solid content while alive, but ultimately just transient happenings, channels for the self-mediation and action of the All.

But here’s the rub, for Averroes and Spinoza don’t realize that it is that very process of achieving wisdom which evidences something eternal.  Consider Averroes, an eye attempting to peer into its own endless gaze: his insight into himself as a sight emerging from a vision vaster than his own introduces a meta-level of consciousness that is irreducible to that very greater sight.

Whence comes this meta-level of consciousness?  Clearly, as Descartes might point out, a circle cannot know it is a circle precisely because of its seamlessness; there must be an observer.***  And is it virtual or real?  Likely the latter, for precisely the same reason.  Simply put, an illusion should not be able to realize its nature, otherwise it would not be an illusion.

I think these comments could apply to other thinkers who veer on the pantheistic or panpsychic, particularly Hegel and Schopenhauer.  I am also perhaps not saying anything particular original, but I do think it’s a useful way to resolve certain problems in Averroes and Spinoza.  Would they agree with me?  Well, doubtlessly not, but I think they might be relieved if I turned out to be correct.

* Perhaps the monopsyche sees through all finite sensing beings in the universe.  For one, it’s unclear whether, for example, the monopsyche also sees through animals and angels; for another, were Averroes alive today, might he include extraterrestrials?

** As I understand it, Averroes is unclear regarding the extent to which the monopsyche is separate or united with the universe or the divine.  Regarding the former, interestingly and ironically, the monopsyche could possibly be subject to the same epistemological debates as the individual psyche.

Regarding the latter, Averroes and his mentor Avempace considered the monopsyche to be the true goal of mystical and scientific searching, which would imply that they identified it with God, yet there is no reason why the monopsyche could not simply be the Primu Mobile of cognition and hence still separate from the divine.

*** Of course, the observer could be the very artist who draws the circle, but the potentials for deification in Descartes is a topic for another post.  A more interesting question here is where this observer is.  Perhaps in a larger All, which is arguable, but then we might risk an infinite regress of meta-pantheisms.  It’s more likely that the observer exists intermediation with the observed, resolving both pantheism and mind-body dualism.


3 Replies to “When the illusion realizes itself”

  1. Hmmmm it seems I’ve actually proposed something of a Cartesian solution to this problem: I see my own illusoriness, therefore I am. Additionally, my friend Olivier points out that a more interesting question is neither the “where” nor the “who” of the observer but its precise “what”, i.e., its specific substantiality.

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