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The Problem of Higher Civilization -- What Perspective on Reality?

A preface to "Personhood IV"

Henry Flynt

(c) 1994 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

The endeavor is to supersede the determinations of reality propounded by every civilization--especially the present one. This is the same as providing the generating ideas for a higher civilization--because the existing determinations of reality would not be superseded if, for example, physics and physical technology remained the most potent pragmatic methodology known.

Evidently archeology places the start of the cultural conception of the autonomous world of things at 25,000 or so years ago. While the scholarly problems of characterizing stone-age thought or the ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, or Chinese belief-system are abstruse, one can discern an autonomous world of things--on which multiple fantasies or phantoms are superimposed. (Spirits, natures.) The imagined interaction of phantoms and things is magical or miraculous. Supernatural hierarchies reflect social hierarchies.

The present inquiry places every determination of reality stemming from these ancient conceptions at issue. In the intervening millennia, a principal development has been the increasing importance of the notions of thing-like abstraction and mechanical abstraction.

Turning to contemporary civilization, it differs from past modes of life in the ever more rapid expansion of science, technology, and economic manipulation. Advanced science, and economic manipulation, permeate and structure everyday life.

A rigorous dichotomy is established: science versus the humanities. The "human" side of life is placed on the defensive--especially insofar as the human side depends on religion to justify it. The human or poetic side is sequestered in an invidious way. The latter is conceived as infantile, undisciplined, demented, petulant, etc. etc. These conclusions are so ingrained that members of the culture no longer experience these attributions as surprising or disparaging.


I propose to propound ideas (a conspectus of reality) which can support a higher civilization. Roughly, that requires a new human self-image and a new world-picture. Limited ideas--specialized innovations within existing sciences, or cultural fads--are irrelevant to me.

The ideas which I will present cannot be compared to the humanities side of the contemporary science/humanities dichotomy. For one thing, the new ideas must be able to overmaster present-day science and technology. The endeavor must envision rebutting, affecting, and changing natural science from the outset.

The inquiry can begin only among those who are educated in the present civilization's "science"; but it must gain meaning outside that circle in order to be realized. (In other words, it cannot be realized as the secret of a priesthood.) As for those of the cognoscenti who think that they have already arrived at the best of all possible worlds, they will be averse to this inquiry. (As will those who have a vested interest in the humanities--or science, for that matter--or any other well-institutionalized pursuit.)

Because I am financially independent, I can think about anything I want to. I don't have to be attached to a discipline or a specialty. I don't have to defer to disciplines or specialties "outside mine." I don't have to accept the professional consensus in "the other disciplines" as the best that can be thought and done. So it is that I cannot be equated with a subsidized scholar.


When I speak of an idea or a conspectus of reality supporting a civilization, what do I mean? I don't claim that new ideas cause the world to change--only that ideas are the imaginative medium or vehicle of a civilization or mode of life.[1] With reference to a given civilization's encompassing idea, one can distinguish such phases as

- a reality-definition or world-conception;

- a human self-image;

- a family of technological modalities.

In particular, what can I say--about human self-image?--which will match the civilization-building fecundity of the influential belief-systems; while differing from them as much as, or more than, they differed from one another?

* *

As a parable to suggest the magnitude of the endeavor, let me mention certain conspectuses of reality which were the imaginative vehicles of historical civilizations. I invoke these belief-systems heuristically: to illustrate what I mean by an imaginative medium or vehicle--what I mean by an idea which engages the totality in a socially meaningful way. I address the belief-systems in terms of the reputations they have today.[2] These sketches are highly composite; they run roughshod over the intricate nuances found in any major philosophical author.

Religions are social packages; and diverse interests promulgate themselves through any given major religion. Those scholarly issues are irrelevant here. I'm not dissecting the belief-systems as historical scholarship would do.

There is another qualification. A civilization may not really be defined by its overt ideology. There is a public ideology, and then there is what is believed by elites. The latter may be protected, and may have to be protected, from mass scrutiny.

In spite of the qualifications, the sequence of public ideologies is worth reviewing as a heuristic exercise. Further questions as to the legitimacy of using the historical belief-systems as illustrations belong in a collection of ancilla.

Some of these belief-systems are anachronisms today. They have been run off the road by science, technology, and global capitalism. Nevertheless, when the atavistic belief-systems defined reality otherwise than as external and thing-like and mechanical, they were not merely stupid. When they ascribed epistemological value to non-alert, unpragmatic states of existence, they were not merely stupid.

A. Hinduism

Let me characterize Hinduism without disputing it.

Meditation is a spiritual technology through which the individual can awaken from the waking state. One discovers that behind the veil of palpable waking consciousness, each of us is an illusory individuation of cosmic mind. (Human participation in the God-experience through contemplation.)

Logic and the alert waking state are part of the illusion, the veil. The notion of waking up from being awake plays a crucial role epistemologically.

The solution of the many-minds problem: empirically noncommunicating egos are illusory individuations of the one cosmic mind. Again, this can be discovered in experience, by meditation.

Every person illusorily individuates the one consciousness. My expression for this result is cosmic solipsism. Cosmic solipsism can be validated in extraordinary experience. So, the highest avenue of verification is a non-mechanistic one.

Meta-self or soul is immutable. (Comparison with the Greek idea of immutability.) How the soul persists through waking, dreaming, unconscious sleep is an issue. According to the doctrines of reincarnation and karma, souls are not tied uniquely to humans. A soul passes at the death of a being to another being who is just then born--manifesting a law of just deserts.


B. Buddhism

Buddhism takes the question of personal happiness as the ultimate problem for a sentient being. The solution is found in the extinction of the self. Gutama Buddha's purported inability to find the substantial and eternal world-mind behind his palpable consciousness (via the Hindu avenue of meditation) led him to an "accidental" psychology and epistemology, a "process" psychology and epistemology. A doctrine of emptiness as freedom from illusion. Buddhism is a life-philosophy, a quietist, absurdist estheticism. A serenity purchased at the price of acquiescence or non-intervention.

Buddhism was unmistakably on the poetry and attitude side of the science/poetry dichotomy. Buddhist logic confounded epistemology with logic, and at bottom was a body of metaphysical interpretation.


C. Neoplatonism (also theosophy)

Neoplatonism was never the name of a state ideology. However, it was widely influential in the Mediterranean world: beginning with the end of the pagan era and ending in the Renaissance. I am taking it out of historical sequence in this review.

"Classic" Neoplatonism emphasizes a hierarchy of realities, descending from a supreme principle which is undifferentiated and beyond being. Below the One is a divine mind which contains the Platonic Ideas. Individual human minds and material things exist by virtue of participation in higher realities. Humans can know the higher realities via extraordinary experience--via self-purification.

Actually, I wish to emphasize a version of theosophy which claims to cognize the psychology of the divine mind who creates. Why does a perfect and eternal God create an imperfect and limited world, i.e. the material world and free human beings? Ten psychological attributes are ascribed to the divine mind (reflecting a belief, stemming from Pythagoras, that ten was a magical number). The material world exists as a symbolism of God's mental processes. (In a way which anticipates Freud's notion that the events in dreams are symbols of psychological dynamics.) For the Renaissance, natural science was an attempt to read Nature as consisting of signs of God's intent.


Hinduism and Neoplatonism are anachronisms in the modern era.[3] Nevertheless, they represent attempts at a conspectus of reality which takes phases of consciousness as elemental; which understands that something weighty is required to embrace the plurality of minds epistemologically; and which understands that the existence of language at all would be a miracle, that to speak one word is a miracle. Hinduism and Neoplatonism acknowledge issues relative to which the modern outlook is in default.


All the while, Hindu and Neoplatonist cultures encouraged gullibility and deceit. Legerdemain and hoaxes were preferred avenues of corroboration. While it is something of a digression, let me make my opposition to occultism explicit here. I repudiate the following.


D. Ancient Greek philosophical thought and natural philosophy

The Greeks prepare the way for the first non-religious (non-mystical, non-magical) cosmology. We see the beginnings of the modern orientation in the Greek orientation--even though Greek philosophy will need to be deeply modified (by the embrace of the palpable world, pragmatism, and empirical law) before it becomes modern science.

According to Greek philosophy, if there is a faculty which defines humanness, it is cognizing. No serious attention is given to the question of reality in states other than the alert waking (logical) state. Consciousness, subjectivity, "the existential" are converted to things.--Or else they are disregarded.

"Opinion," and sense-evidence, are relative and variable and uncertain. Also, sense-evidence is unrationalized mathematically. Natural language is suspect because it is filled with relative predicates. ("This water is hot." The truth and falsity of the proposition are relative; therefore a contradiction is derivable: the water is both hot and non-hot.) So it is that opinion and sense-evidence are contemptible and unacceptable.[4] Only permanent, certain knowledge is worthy of the name.

Logical norms, even if overly schematic, have absolute and permanent authority. (And they have this authority without having to account for their origins.) When logical norms conflict with the evidence of the senses, it is the evidence of the senses that must be repudiated.

Geometry and astronomy must be deduced from self-evident first principles.[5]

The outcome is that the reality-type of the thing is displaced to the intangible realm to become the impersonal abstraction. The impersonal abstraction or mechanical abstraction eventually becomes the primary constituent of reality.

In Plato, for example, reality is entirely divorced from the palpable. Nevertheless, all of reality has the reality-type of a thing; it must be cognized in the alert waking state; and it must be cognized deductively.


E. Christianity (and its roots in Judaism)

Exclusivist worship of a personal deity who commands humanity morally. Repudiation of magic and of mysticism.[6] Radical separation of humans from nature.[7] Christianity, originally a movement for Palestinian Jews, becomes a mass ideology, a slave ideology, in the ancient Mediterranean world. It parallels Gnosticism in that fulfillment lies not in the mundane world, but in the soul's survival of death. Early Christianity is hostile to Hellenistic philosophy,[8] and to reform of Roman society on a religiously neutral basis. It prevails against the backdrop of the fall of Roman civilization.

Christianity did not begin with a philosophical conspectus of reality. The codification of such a conspectus was a labored process which took many centuries. At the end of the Middle Ages, for example, Christian philosophy appropriated Aristotle, as transmitted by Islamic civilization. In moral theology, the Church crystallized the doctrine of the primacy of the dignity of the person.

During the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, Christianity mediated the transformation of Hellenic natural philosophy into modern science. (God the infinite; God the lawgiver.)


F. Modern Natural Science

No comments are necessary because all of my work takes modern science as the issue.


G. Modern Social-objectivism

This orientation, which arose in Europe in the nineteenth century, assumes that all of reality is "social." Presupposing the specifically modern construction of the historical past, social-objectivism posits a natural, secular entity called society. Society stands in relation to the individual psyche entirely as cause to effect. Also, society is more fundamental than inanimate nature: indeed, the sociology of knowledge treats natural science as a societal myth.[9]

Social-objectivism holds that propositions about inanimate nature, and about the supernatural, are "social" in the sense that they need not be more than fabrications serving one or another social interest-class.

From its beginning in nineteenth-century Europe, social-objectivism evinced totalizing and ultimatist pretensions. The terrestrial biological aggregate called humanity, or society, was declared to be absolute being, the ground of being. My awareness that I am alive was only an effect, of which society was the cause. The sun, moon, and stars were only effects of which society was the cause. All theories were merely social faiths. One could say that social-objectivism was the result of joining secular naturalism to human constitutivity in epistemology. The universe is something which the biological aggregate invents.

Nothing more graphically illustrates the irony of progress than the rise of social-objectivism. In the name of naturalist relativism, social-objectivism regresses to the most primitive fallacies possible in philosophy.

* * *

It is evident from the foregoing that all the great belief-systems begin with affirmative doctrines which have to be accepted via credulity. Of course, each of the belief-systems are connected to a technology or "sensuous-practical activity" of one sort or another. But that is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy or vicious circle. In no way does it "prove" the belief-system.

Each of the belief-systems is in large part "imaginative nonsense"--with a tremendous slippage or padding relative to practical activity, which in turn has tremendous padding relative to sense-data.[10] Further, the world-views are filled with concealed violations of their own proclaimed logical norms. (An appendix will have, as an example, my critique of "epistemological diffraction" in Hinduism.)

I cannot assent to this reign of credulity. I cannot agree to propound another affirmative dogma that has to be swallowed via credulity--another wish-fulfillment, another myth, another package of repressed contradictions. I must begin by spotlighting all contradictions and shattering all credulity. For the first time, I build an orientation on "cognitive nihilism" (if you want to label it as a detractor might).

Thus, the initial stage of my presentation will have a superficial resemblance to skeptical exercises throughout the history of thought. How do we know that the empirical world is not a direct hallucination?[11] --how do we know the future will be like the past?--etc. Hitherto, the civilizations were too primitive to derive any practical advantage from such skepticism. Skeptics were the least honored of philosophers. They presented their posture as a passive aestheticism (Sextus' ataraxia; Montaigne). Their stance was viewed in the mainstream as futile, if not anti-social.

My claim is that civilization has reached a threshold where "practical" benefits can be reaped by foregoing inherited objective-reality concepts. That is a promise which will be explained as I proceed.

I propose not to announce a new myth--but to bury myths. I seek to put an end to majority cultures which are elaborations of gullibility.

At bottom, it is incredulousness which I propose as the source of a higher civilization. That is so unexpected and so weighty that it could serve as required.

* *

Becoming specific, I shall summarize material which I have presented repeatedly elsewhere; I include it here only for completeness.

I take literally and seriously the question of the existence of language at all.[12] This question is the intersection of the problem of what is reality with the problem of the medium of assertion, description, and communication.

The outcome is my "Is there language?" trap. `There is language' ought to be a substantive assertion. Yet `There is language' must be true if it can be asserted: its possession of meaning would manifest the existence of language. The necessity to answer yes to the question whether there is language implicates the existence of language in a universal epistemological antinomy or reductio ad absurdum. The existence of language is not a contingent fact but rather self-validating gibberish. A text such as "The Flaws Underlying Beliefs"[13] achieves a negative universal result on cognition--instead of affirming a trivially self-defeating "position." The text short-circuits the medium of which the text is a sample; yielding a short-circuit of linguistically embodied cognitive thinking as such.

Discourse about the trap is a heuristic activity evoked by lack of insight. It cannot be expected to have safeguards against self-undermining formulations; and is far more compromised or hypocritical than the trap itself.

The cognitive short-circuit is paradigmatic in that its gambit can guide the selective subversion of belief-systems--or in other words, of inherited determinations of reality. The details of doing this may be difficult and circuitous. In 1980, I grouped all such ventures together as "astute hypocracy."[14]

The short-circuit decisively vitiates in principle the inherited world-views--spun as they have been from credulity and apologism. It decisively vitiates in principle all "new myths." I promise instrumental procedures which belie the inherited reality; but now they are going to come not from increased gullibility, but from the decrease of credulity.

There is a second exercise correlative to the "Is there language?" trap (which in fact preceded the trap in the evolution of my thinking): namely "radical empiricism." There is an analysis to define "experience" (immediate sensation or whatever) in a way stripped of "beliefs" (espoused propositions). This direction is more problematic than the "Is there language?" trap. The naive dénoûement of this analysis, namely to announce that "only experience exists," is trivially self-defeating. Indeed, the genuine lesson is that there is an "Is there non-experience?" trap, which is correlative to (and "implies") the "Is there language" trap. So radical empiricism does not hit the mark as directly as the "Is there language?" trap.

But although radical empiricism is problematic and off-the-target, it is also a valuable intuitive guide in the selective subversion of belief-systems--that is, a means in astute hypocracy.


When Hume precipitated a skeptical crisis in philosophy, the subsequent philosophers took as their mission to mediate between credulity and intellectual integrity: to crush skepticism and to "prove objective reality." The goal was to find moments which somehow smash through subject-object estrangement. Each of the moments or devices which were proffered were discarded by the public after one generation: because they were mere gimmicks, mere casuistries.

Nevertheless, it is appropriate for me to include here two of my responses to moments claimed to smash through subject-object estrangement. That is because my observations impinge on the problematic of the person-world--the topic of the balance of this essay.

1. The mere circumstance that "lived experience" has the dimensionality or texture of a self-world confrontation mediated by willing, doing, concern, etc. cannot prove that that ostensible "world" is objectively real or is the same for everybody. (And subjective temporality does not prove that everybody exists in the same objective time-stream.) The relative personal world which the self confronts has not been proved the same for everybody. I act, exercise will, etc. in dreams as well as in waking life. In general, dreamed experience fully possesses the dimensionality or texture which is claimed to prove objective reality. In short, philosophy has not distinguished worldhood from a mirage.[15] It was not stupid of Hinduism to note that.

2. To be embroiled or mired in life, in activity, in such a way that you are cemented to your beliefs, which seem practically or pragmatically validated, does not prove that your beliefs are (uniquely) indispensable. A technical gimmick in metallurgy can be known for thousands of years, yet receive a different explanation (in terms of some invisible reality or organizing fiction) in every century.

* *

For completeness, I most mention meta-technology: even though it is not the topic in "Personhood IV"; and even though I expound it exhaustively elsewhere. The selective subversion of belief-systems leads to kaleidoscopic mutations of the experience-world and of scientific laws. A family of instrumental modalities is elaborated which act on inherited determinations of reality--"between self and world." Sometimes meta-technological procedures select already-recognized phenomena--interpersonally comparable subjective phenomena like the perceptual illusions, the fact of dreaming, etc.--using these phenomena in constructs which break the bonds of objective reality or of scientism.

Every meta-technological procedure has to be replicable by the generic "reader." As for expositions of meta-technological procedures, they rely on apparitional meaning. The generic "reader" obtains meaning by imputing it. The conditions or junctures produced alter the boundary of the conceptually possible; so a new mental ability is exhibited, and a claim of realism is extraneous. Meta-technology excludes hearsay and psychic brutalization (including the deceptive use of hypnosis).

In certain very general ways, meta-technology parallels the modern science which it proposes to displace. In some sense, it is impersonal knowledge. It does not aim to provide personal happiness. It is not a creed; to assent to it perfunctorily is meaningless. It is a family of specific results. It is required to be interpersonally replicable; or to employ interpersonally comparable subjective resources. What makes it different from science is that it acts on the determination of reality or on cognitive laws.

* * *

The body-text which follows is concerned with the person-world. The idea of the personal microcosm.--Which immediately provokes the question whether a generic analysis of the personal microcosm is viable. But before we turn to that question, I must insist on all the "structure" I include in the personal microcosm.

Person-world analysis starts from the culturally supplied tenet (the common-sense tenet) that my/one's waking episodes have the longitudinal unity of an objective world and comprise the proper arena for motivation and morale, and for striving toward thematic futures. (As opposed to my/one's "illusory" motivation and morale in a dream.)

My self counts when it is the longitudinal, thematic unity of my waking episodes. My self is my self.

- But I comport to "my" objects (this drinking glass in my microcosm) as everyone's objects.

- I comport to speaking and attending to speech as everyone's medium of communication.

The topic of the doer as a thematic, motivated self which continually integrates a totality strongly requires a reality-hierarchy--but it is a reality-hierarchy which has never before been defined. Personalistic subjectivities are taken not only as palpable but as central; without any religious allegiance.

The vicissitudes of the person-world are the topic of the body text.

The rather heterogeneous continuum of "cognitive nihilism," meta-technology, and personhood theory is my proposed replacement for all belief-systems.


[1] Example: The relation of Marx to twentieth-century socialism in all its versions. It is hard to imagine twentieth-century socialism, as it unfolded, without Marx's grand ideational crystallization in the nineteenth century.

[2] And not, for example, in terms of how Plato and Aristotle were seen by their contemporaries.

[3] India hardly relied on Hinduism to make its atomic bomb.

[4] Sophists and skeptics took a forensic pleasure in defending the weaker side; but overall, philosophy is deliberately intolerant of falsehood.

[5] Heidegger writes well about this in What Is a Thing?

[6] Here mysticism is defined as human participation in the God-experience.

[7] Cf. Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (1981), pp. 70-71.

[8] Note the Christian destruction of Porphyry's magnum opus Against the Christians; and the mob execution of Hypatia in 415.

[9] An object-lesson in the sociology of knowledge is Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality (1966).

[10] Cassirer is one philosopher who had already acknowledged this; but neither he nor any of the other philosophers did anything with the admission.

[11] Never mind representations in recent physics that there is a hidden cosmic reality relative to which our entire universe is of inferior reality.

[12] Given the appearance of Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982), I had better mention that my "Is there language?" trap was first published in 1964.

[13] In H. Flynt, Blueprint for a Higher Civilization (Milan, 1975).

[14] In the draft of "Is Incredulity Self-Defeating." (The essay was later completed but has not been published.)

[15] Max Scheler made solipsism the chief issue in his review of Being and Time.