TALKING HABITS & DIRECT SEEING (in-progress)
As a philosopher I look at things inside and out, and talk about them, and watch my talk take shape, and see how it affects what I think I am talking about. All this is conducted in a shambling, fitful way. I know deeply that my looking is vain, ineffective, and sadly limited. From time to time I ask myself, thinking about how others perform their thinking, how did we reach the state in the history of philosophy in which so many human thinkers forget that what they mostly have are concepts, and that concepts "function" only by reference to other concepts? That they are a closed loop of talk, as it were. That this little world of talk has its laws, and one of them is that the notion of everything is not actually about "everything."
There is no getting out of this, no special "leap into the world" that leaves concepts behind. If you talk or write, you are "just" doing concepts. If you shut up, philosophy seems to be over. But so long as our eyes are open, so long as we are only waking, sleeping, or dreaming, the concept holds sway. This, at least, is what the post-structuralist critique has told us is absolutely true. Hmmm. Yet we are urged on to continue bearing witness for the presentation of the world, though it might go along just as handily without us. This is all very peculiar.
This account of how our conceptual references work makes use of a distinction that is baked into our language, the old opposition between mind and body. Can I think without using words? Yes, but not very well, perhaps. I can't tell anyone else what I find without words (see the Contagion page for an alternate account), and I have a slow time of trying to tell myself what I have found without words (note that the philosophical motive, and the story itself, is contained right there, in seed: I want to "see" what I'm thinking, and reflect on it as it goes, talk about my talking, think about my thinking). Giving an account, whether to myself or to others, requires duration, the passing of time, and a special kind of "working things out." I need the words to slow things down, to assemble the flow into a noticeable, shareable form (even for sharing with myself).
My thoughts are not automatically transparent to me. Very clearly (to open yet another line of inquiry) there is something going on, some compelling content, to be found in the very finest interstices between separate thoughts, but these cannot be spoken of, except as we have done just here, by reference. Even with words, the flow is beyond my standard capacity to capture and relate, yet I see/know there is a complex flurry of intentions and potentials of form within them. They present themselves as if they are potentially separable items, but I can say little else about them as such, except perhaps for the qualitative differences in their "call" upon my attention. The metaphors I am using here, about fineness and smaller resolutions, are reaching toward the "stopping" of thought. Much of what I am discussing here has been masterfully developed in the works of Eugene Gendlin (e.g., the treatment of "felt meanings" in Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning).
If I stand in a transported state, a timeless moment "directly seeing" then I have nothing to say. Yet I must have my timeless moment or all the rest has no import. All the persuasiveness of my notions derive from this direct seeing, which underlies my standard philosophical performances.
Note that there is no test for the quality of what I am "doing" as a philosopher, except more of the same "doing". Don't mention scientific method. In strict terms there is no physical substrate in philosophy to receive the application of scientific method. But the variety of testing that can be applied to thinking certainly falls within the perimeter of what we could call the scientific approach, especially with respect to testability and repeatability. I am the only meter for my thinking, however, unless I fashion an account and pass it on to you for "testing" too. If you cannot repeat it, or find it in your own seeing, you should ignore it, or if you choose, experiment further to find out what I mean.
Yes, there are counterarguments here. One might choose to say I have been present at "seeing directly" and "seeing without words." But this is meta-philosophical stuff and must be managed within words if we are to make these experiences a subject of conversation. When we bring these experiences back into society...
If we recast philosophy phenomenologically, as a continuous series of literary and metaphorical gestures dramatizing what is arising in our experience, open-ended attempts to describe the world—i.e., prepare descriptions that clarify, explore, disclose the felt complexity of living as it unfolds—we are on more humble and supportable ground than saying we are approaching a more perfect account of how things are. Except, perhaps, for the "direct seeing" characteristic of exalted perception, which might be said to underlie all philosophizing (although some philosophers seem unaware entirely of the fact that they may be doing this regularly, and that this is in some way a natural part of the deeper end of sleep, and can be observed). How do I know this direct seeing is available to them? I don't, of course. I make the assumption that this is true, based on my own experience: I lucked into seeing this in the first place; the affordance was there, so to speak, the handle was provided for me, and so I presume it's available to all. This availability is a hallmark of all things in this world, however rarefied, and the foundation of my familiar bafflement.
Can the philosophers who "forgot" this, be said to be on a quest for their own true natures anyway, and in the meantime, until they find out the underlying driver of their activity, they go on babbling about their favorite set of concepts (or, they go on babbling ABOUT things)?