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Humankind, Being, and Time1
I remember a verse from the holy book about the issue of existence.
And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.
Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods before Me Exodus 20:2–3
The Issue of Self
The issue of Self reminds me of a Latin expression used by Thomas Aquinas: “ego sum qui sum” i.e. “I am that which I am”, “I am what I am”. They say that God told Moses “I am who I am” when they spoke at the mount Sinae. This brings the associations of Hallac-ı Mansur who said “I am the Truth” and Sufi’s words of “Those who know their selves, know the God.” That is why I have chosen a verse from Qoran which shows that God fills and encompasses all existence, or that all existence is God alone; and from the Ten Commandments, I have chosen the first commandment. As you know, it is customary in our culture to write “Huve-l Baqi” on gravestones.
That is, distinct from the human consciousness, God is immortal, permanent, and it is the unchanging Truth. In Ibn Arabi’s words, this eternal divine self is the “Unity”, the “Absolute Oneness”
It is God alone which can be purely itself, and it can stay unchanged; because it is an absolute self. In contrast to this, human beings are mortal: their existence is variable and ephemeral. Buddha too has expressed the truth that the body, the senses, consciousness and such elements which comprise a human being are dependent on time, subject to change, and together only temporarily. And even if understanding things of a changing nature is not impossible, it is quite hard.
In this case then “What is human”. I ask myself “What am I?” and the self replies: “I am who I am!”; “ego sum qui sum!” Which means that our self is aware of itself. Because when our self states “I am that which I am” it is not merely expressing its own existence, but by differentiating and excluding itself from the rest of the existence, this self has such a consciousness that it does not remain at knowing itself but also defines the external reality. Human existence and time, i.e. all the matters of philosophy centers on this interpretation which states: “I am who I am.” If the existence can be apprehended, it can only be so through a self that knows and recognizes it.
We know our self without an intermediary with our own inner consciousness. We may doubt the correspondence of this consciousness to the reality but we may not deny its existence. We cannot know the inner world of the persons other than us. We may evaluate the external appearance, their words and behavior, but we cannot know the evaluation they make about themselves internally, just as our evaluation about a person may be wrong, so may theirs be about their own. Thoreau narrates a mystical Indian story about the nature of the self in us:
There was once a prince who was exiled from his city and was raised by ranchers because of which he thought of himself to be a member of these barbarian people. One day, one of the viziers of his father found him and explained to him who he is. Thus he got rid of this wrong idea about himself and understood that “he was indeed a prince!”. ‘Such is the human spirit’ bespoke the Hindu philosopher, ‘it misunderstands its own character because of the conditions in which it lives; until a spiritual master reveals the truth to him; then it recognizes itself and understand that he is actually a Brahme!’
As it can be seen, this mystical Hindu tale relates the human spirit to the Divine Spirit.
An author said “I dream, therefore I am.” Descartes who started constructing his philosophy by doubting in everything had said “All that we know may be a part of a dream.” In order to express that every understanding that we obtain through our sense can be defective. Descartes begin with a doubt even in his own existence and reaches the conclusion that he is thinking at that moment. Consequently, he formulates this as “cogito ergo sum.” with the intention to reach an indubitable reality. However, this formulation again indicates the existence of a “thinking” self. Nevertheless, in order to be able to respond to the criticisms of skeptics, the disciples of Descartes turned this formulation into “I think that I think, therefore I think that I exist.” as a reluctant statement. Meanwhile, in one of my articles titles Turkish Intellectual Tradition, I had said that the word “cogito” should be interpreted as “becoming conscious by thinking” Because the “thinking self” is already the thing we call “self”. The state of consciousness about itself and phenomenal occurrences are formed in this manner. Now if we will take skepticism to the point of nihilism to be doubtful even from the self that says “cogito ergo sum”; at that point everything becomes superfluous and no possibility or need would remain to philosophize. There is no need to reduce things to absurdity. Of course when we are indulging in philosophy we shall doubt all sorts of knowledge and shall accept only after examining and being gratified; however, consciousness is a thing that it is not in our hands or capacity to doubt the existence of a state of consciousness and consciousness of the self cannot be doubted in. The existence of this consciousness is manifest. But we may still discuss the essence of this consciousness.
We may say “ego sum qui sum” “I am that which I am.” yet this is a tautology. But what is Ego? In his work titled sacred ladders of knowing your self, Ghazali gave examples regarding which different ways the word “nefs (self in Arabic)” is used in Quran, and demonstrates how the concept of nefs is being used throughout the Quran in passages as to signify either Qalb(heart), nous, or spirit; consequently he wrote that in Arabic these concepts can be used in a way to signify the same thing. It seems that through the self, i.e. “nefs (heart, nous, spirit)” we get to know ourselves and the world outside of us, and reason. Ghazali says “nefs” is the local noumenon. I.e. it is our self that reasons and it is also what gives judgment about the world outside of it; however we cannot think about this very consciousness of the self or the human spirit; because consciousness begins with the self. We must also clarify in what meaning we use the word consciousness. The image/representation that occurs in our brain — for example, the seeing when we give attention to an object in our environment — is what call consciousness.
Whereas, it is known that our nefs/self has no direct contact with the outside world, the impressions that come from the outside world through the sense organs such as eyes and ears reach our brain in the form of some electrical impulses and chemical waves, and our mind/self makes some inferences according to the representations that these waves create in our brain; judges about the world outside of itself and about existence; to put it in another way, our consciousness is being formed from data about the outside world which are obtained indirectly, and that reaches to our mind after passing through neurons. We do not only see the shape of an object, but we also decide what it is. That is to say, we attribute a meaning to what we see.
In this case, let us look a little bit closer at this “nefs/self” which philosophizes which wants to know and express itself and the existence, and which might mean either heart, nous, or spirit. Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi says that:
Oh brother, thou art but a thought,
and what remnants thou have art only flesh and bone.
It means that human is a being that knows and gives meaning to its self and the existence and the self is where the noumena are; i.e. it is the nefs which thinks; flesh, bone, organs, sensory organs are just tools that the self uses. Through these tools the self obtains some sensorial impressions about the existence outside of itself. These impressions pass through neurons and reach the center of consciousness — brain — and some electrical and chemical reactions occur among the neurons of the brain, and this interaction between neurons give to our selves a consciousness of seeing that depicts the world outside of itself. Neither human nor animal can ever doubt the tools of perception used by the self, that is from the state of consciousness which is formed by the sensory organs — the view of the outside world as it appears to us there are then. Nevertheless, in contrast to the animal consciousness human consciousness examines into this view with reason and knows that what he sees may not be true. “For instance” says Ghazali, “although the sun appears small to our eyes, we know due to reason that it is even greater than our world.” I will make an analogy with the hope of clarifying to you what I understand from concepts of consciousness and self. It is possible to a certain extent to understand the imagery that occurs through interactions between neurons by comparing it to a computer. The electricity that enters the computer is coded in the computer language as 1 and 0 as the presence or absence of current through the semi-conductive chips. Each data that reaches the brain of the computer is expressed in binary numbers. I am writing this text in Word2000. Each letter I type is thus converted into numbers and processed via this program, and an excellent spectacle forms in the screen. Data from 5 sense are processed in the brain and like the excellent spectacle in the screen an image of the outside world appears in our consciousness. So the Self, if we consider it analogous to the word program, is not only becoming aware of the spectacle which is created with the data which reach the brain; but it also reasons and gives conclusions about this. Here too, the formation of a spectacle is being realized by brain activity of course; but the self or human mind does not remain solely processing this data giving it a shape and showing it at a screen, but it is always conscious of itself too. For instance, like Hal900 in Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction book, if a computer could be produced which struggles with human, and is aware of its actions and its existence, then we could say “it has a self.” We compare its current way of functioning to consciousness. And if it is permissible to liken it, just as the mind behind the abilities and possibilities behind this program are humans who constructed the computer equipment/hardware and the word program; in the same way, behind the consciousness in the brain is our self or nefs which we may call either as ruh(soul), aql(nous/reason), or qalb(heart) accordingly, and this spirit is both aware of its own existence and is in control of all the actions of the mind.
Nevertheless, not much is known yet about the actions of the brain or the nature of mind. Scientists such as doctors or neurophysiology experts are unable to explain the nature of consciousness and mind. Even now, among doctors, attempts exist to describe the events in the brain with regard to the current information; but there is no consensus. Enough for now about the enigmatic relationship between the self and mind. However it is obvious that this “self” gives the eventual decision about itself and the existence outside of itself. Perhaps, as the research about this matter progresses we might or will confront not only our own self inside but a somehow related “infinite self” as mentioned in this Hindu tale and mystique experiences.
In any case, it would be naive to suppose that our nefs or soul which is the location of conception accepts that data that enters the brain from outside through sensory organs passively, like an electronic brain, without applying any qualitative action. We are looking at the spectacle of the outside world through the selective and distinctive eyes of our soul and fields of interest, and see only what we would like to see; this is a psychological phenomenon. The self may impress its own mold on the existence outside of itself. We reflect our soul to the outside world.
The Issue of Language
So the ability of the nefs to understand the existence outside of itself is limited with the tools of perception it has. To express the vision and representation of the world which itself creates in the mind as a state of consciousness is restricted by the contingency of language. Firstly the abilities of our soul and 5 senses limits our reasoning and comprehension. Then the abilities of the language we use curbs our ability to express this thought. Our self is aware of itself even while we are dreaming and in the moment it directs attention, it is aware of the things occurring in its consciousness, the human mind possesses the ability to decide whether the image which forms in its consciousness is real or not, however, is it really as free as we think when it comes to expressing its thought? And is it conscious of the semantic foundations of the language which it uses to express its thought? There are many issues that the skeptic philosophers have criticized in the history of philosophy. When it comes to the criticisms on the issue of language, I will go further than Wittgenstein in this matter and question the semantic roots of words and concepts, and say: “each word or concept we may use will always remain insufficient to express the meaning we intended.”
I had made quite large criticisms about the limits of any kind of language in my article called I am the witness of meaning who is the actual owner of the Word? But for now I will suffice to point out to the presence of expressive and comprehensive problems that the language is creating. Unfortunately the words which are the symbols of language and the reality are quite different. Words are like maps describing a terrain. They do not show the terrain but describe it. As Cassirer says, human is an animal which is fond of creating symbols and myths, and it thinks through these symbols. And Spengler says in The Decline of West that “Number is the symbol of causality” and “Mathematics is a first class metaphysics”. Human gives names to everything that exists; they call things with the names they give, i.e. vocal symbols that we call words. Thus he tries to enchant them, that is, tries to rule over them. Is it possible that a truth resides in these sound symbols? To believe in a symbol is to believe in a metaphysical thing, a meaning that does not really exist, there, in the material existence of that symbol. Therefore language is a first class metaphysics. Is it not a completely metaphysical mode of existence that the sound symbols which are merely noisy-words contain a meaning beyond their physical meanings, that creates these? This indicates the impossibility of thought without believing in metaphysics in a way; because it is metaphysics to believe in language, to believe in the reality and value of words, and we think via language. Symbolic thought is a mystical and metaphysical event. It is quite the more metaphysical that the words we use bring up their connotations and build a thought step by step. I do not like repeating what I had written before, but at this point, I will make one more quotation from I am the witness of meaning who is the actual owner of the Word?
Philosophers are not men of literature, they do not play with words and are not interested in aesthetic beauty of words: they examine words as concepts in regard to their relations with each other and the reality. As for the scientists, for them it is not the words themselves which is important but the truth of the world of objects which we are trying to express with them — the correspondence to reality —. It is for this reason that scientists prefer the language of maths which uses quite abstract but clear and precise symbols instead of words which, like maps, does not mirror the features of the terrain fully. The game of language is played in one way by the philosopher and another way by the scientist. Wittgenstein said that “philosophy aims to clarify the thoughts logically.” He also said in his work called philosophical investigations that: “philosophy is a challenge against the deception of mind via the use of language.”
Although language may seem quite natural to us, we say that language has limited abilities in its ability to express reality, and even has mind-deceiving aspects. But human mind is capable of inventing abstract and artificial languages such as the language of math which is able to put aside the faults of natural languages. Technology also endowed us with great tools of perception and precision; it supplemented the ability of the eye to see with telescopes and microscopes, and devices that allowed us to see other light wave frequencies that human eye couldn’t see. Therefore we should put more trust in technological observation which makes it possible for us to build a different and more precise depiction and consciousness of the world by increasing our perceptive capabilities, rather than the perspective and common sense received through the limited 5 sense that nature endowed us; however when it comes to the field of thought, we should not forget that even this scientific mode of consciousness and perception must use super-languages such as logic and mathematics that present the complex nature of truth in simpler terms in order to select simplify and get rid of the deception of normal language. This is why we mention 3 more criteria for reality other than the “coherent theory of truth” which was considered the criterion of the reality in the old ages: “correspondent theory of truth”, “pragmatic theory of truth”, and “performative theory of truth.” We thus arrive at the issue of whether the world-view of the self has a reality outside of itself in the world of “existence.”
How Real are the Categories of Time and Space Outside of the Self?
We say that the “self” develops some interesting ideas and worldview about time and space; however to what degree are the ideas of the human soul about the existence may be true? The coherent theory of truth which used to be considered as a sufficient criteria is no longer sufficient to us. Today we speak of “fuzzy logic”, “multi-valued logic”, and even “paradox logic”. I ventured even further and defended the paradox logic against Aristotelean logic from the point that there are some paradoxes in physics and even mathematics, and I think even Change and Time have paradoxical natures. In the mentioned book I have shown that paradoxes which are unwelcome in the Aristotelean logic exist in quantum mechanics in physics, and not to mention the natural languages, it exists even in the numbers of mathematics which is humankind’s sharpest language of thought. Not just with the irrational numbers as in the time of Pythagoras, but after Goedel’s Theorem in 1931 paradoxes were found even between the rational numbers. Based upon this point we have developed a new theory of existence, a universe view that defends the paradox logic opposed to the Aristotelean logic and takes time as a reference rather than space.2 Thus we arrive at the issue of “what is existence?” and “what is time?” The countless contradictory perspectives and skeptical criticisms about the nature of existence and whether it can be known are known issues.
According to Heraclitus “all things are in a constant flux and constancy is merely an illusion and only change and the law of change, i.e. Logos is true.” Citation needed Parmenides was saying just the opposite; according to him “the image of movement and things seeming separate is just an illusion.”Citation needed We who are living at the age of cinema screens can easily comprehend the idea that the image of movement on the screen is an illusion. We know that perpetual projection of images in short time intervals give animation these otherwise still images. According to Parmenides “Universe and the state of existence are not changeable and indivisible, and claims that express change or variety are paradoxical.” As it is known Zeno of Elea who was his disciple demonstrated that believing in change and motion creates logical paradoxes. Meanwhile, I could also say that the impression of things as being in constant change and flux is imposed by the feeling of time, which exists in our consciousness.
According to Plato’s allegory of the cave there are “Permanent, indivisible, perfect and apprehensible ideas” and there are “perceptible, discernible and familiar objects” “As all things which are perceived by the senses go through a process of change, claims about these things given at a frame of time would not be true at another time. Therefore these changeable things are not real in the full sense of the word.”
Indeed to what degree can our knowledge correspond to reality? Can a consciousness imprisoned in its own cave (allow me to say the skull) perceive the world outside of itself “as it really is” through shadows which are reflecting from the real world outside of itself (world of ideas) onto the wall of the mind. Can a consciousness imprisoned in the skull know the world outside of itself completely and without fault?
As for Democritus, it is known that he developed an atomistic theory of existence. The Islamic theologians in the middle ages have taken up the idea of the indivisibles from him. Even modern physics relies itself on this ancient idea of atoms when examining the nature of the material world outside of our Self. At the same time, physicists have developed such capable tools that let alone dividing the atom, now they are working on tiny particles, so tiny as to be meta-physical, imagined and calculated unstable sub-atomic particles.
According to me, Zeno’s paradoxes about change and movement is actually about the continuity of time and existence. Regarding this issue, only the main lines of ideas present in The Meaning of Existence can be summarized here: Quantum mechanics shows us that objects do not have a continuity; they behave both as particles and as waves; location cannot be precisely specified using a three dimensional system of coordination as quanta shows both particle and wave characteristics. Thus it imposes a paradoxical idea that quanta can be particle and it can be a wave and furthermore insists that this paradox corresponds to reality. Let us put scientific observations to one side, even mathematics which is the most precise language that human mind can aspire at is full of some paradoxes. Goedel Theorem has demonstrated that paradoxes exist even between rational numbers. Cantor’s Set Theory too leads to some paradoxes. So, let alone geometry, even in arithmetics – even among rational numbers – there are certain paradoxes. Now then, it is a futile attempt to resolve Zeno’s paradox through the set theory like Russel tried because the nature of Set theory itself is paradoxical. Hence there are paradoxes even in mathematics albeit Aristotelean logic is unable to digest it, we are obliged to acknowledge the existence of paradoxes in reality.
As we ought no longer to trust in mathematics which we consider more precise than logic, we interpreted this problem that “existence should be perceived as a process of being in time” That is, it is not Space and the objects within but time that should be taken as the real frame of reference, and that the existence and continuity of objects should be considered as a process which occurs completely in time. Because let alone physics even mathematics is compelling us to accept some paradoxes. In that case the paradox logic which is prevalent in the orient should be adopted instead of the Aristotelean logic. Because if we dismiss time, it is evident that a perspective that takes Space as a foundation, and the ensuing logic that forms from it cannot reconcile with paradoxes and contradictions. However, notions such as time and change themselves are paradoxical in essence. Zeno’s arguments intended to prove his master Parmenides right. I think to reject these paradoxes or to prove them wrong is a futile attempt. There might be some problems here.
I don’t deem it possible either. The reasoning and inferences of Zeno appear quite true and sound to me. I say that the impression of our consciousness about the continuity of material things is an illusion, that existence is not in a world of permanent objects, and even that the objects themselves belong to a world of historical events, and that time itself is naturally of a paradoxical character, and I think that Zeno’s paradoxes about change and movement result from these. Lastly, the concept of continuity in time, let alone seeming to be quite natural as continuity in space, it is not even possible. In that case there should be a force that provides continuity in time and of space in time. However, such a continuity requires the renewal of objects, and that it is only possible with the condition that a Constant Creator exists.
Judging by the non-existence of the past and the future Aristotle was saying that “Time is the addition of its parts which do not exist; therefore time does not exist.” Although we feel an “infinite-present”; as the present time is a transition between the past and the future “this moment” cannot exist independently from these two times. And this is the problem of continuity of time. Is existence really something that has continuity in time? If we are to look at the issue from the point of view of time or history, we can affirm it only insofar as the things that already took place. The future does not yet exist. And as for things that existed till now, are there any philosophical necessities for them to exist in the near or distant future? Could not the existence disappear in the next moment along with our selves that exist in it?
We have mentioned that scientists play a different language game than the philosopher and are interested in whether words and notions correspond to reality rather than the words themselves or their logical relations; and that therefore they prefer mathematics which is more abstract and simple, while it is a more “powerful” language. According to the scientific mind, reality is physics; i.e. reality is the material world, not metaphysical.
However, the human soul which evaluates this material world is a metaphysical being rather than physical. Perhaps, as in the Indian story above, this soul/self is not even mortal, but somehow related to the Divine Self. In the faith of the Semitic religions, God have spirited 3 into human from its own soul. The self itself is a very abstract and non-material being. It may be so, however, how much can we trust in the mediums of perception and the five senses that the self employs to perceive the external material world? Science has tools that improve our perception. Telescopes, microscopes, X-Rays, and other tools which are the products of advanced technology have shown us that the world outside of us is not like what 5 senses present it to be. As science advanced we have discovered that the world is not really like what we imagined it to be in our minds. Due to this ability to look deeper, we trust in science’s depiction of the world rather than what five senses and common-sense impose. As a result, the reality that scientific tools and instruments depict, does not resemble the reality that our self with its sensory organs perceive.
However, we had already mentioned that we have the potency to correct the images that our sensory organs present to our mind, through rational, scientific, and human consciousness. Our self which tries to know and understand the existence can even understand the realities described with the language of mathematics. But science’s depiction of reality, the material world outside of us, became to overcome our soul’s ability to imagine and comprehend. Just as we were grappling with the idea that space and time are not separate things and the existence should be understood as a four dimensional space-time continuum; now the physicists started talking about a world with 10 or 11 dimensions and a super-string theory. Okay, we know it; that physicians are dealing with sub-atomic particles have not crushed the atoms but crushed the “sub-atomic” particles too: in 1911, atom consisted of protons and electrons, and in 1930 they added the neutron to this. but when they smashed atoms in particle accelerating laboratories, things got mixed up. Particles such as “meon” or “Peon” started coming out one after another. There is even a sarcastic question by a scientist called I.I. Rabi about the “meon”: “Who ordered this particle?” Meanwhile, in 1963 Gellman who developed the theory that particles such as “Meson” and “Barion” should also consist of particles called quarks. Having his inspiration from Ulysses by James Joyce, he started claiming that three other quarks he oddly named “up” “down” and “strange” ought to exist also. According to him “two quarks made one meson and three quarks made one barion.” In the meantime, they started some quite absurd namings such as “red, blue,, and green quarks” and even a “beauty quark.” As if this was not enough, they are making research upon research to discover imaginary and dreamt of particles because “theoretically, it must exist” While we are objecting to the semantic foundations of natural languages, these weird namings in this esoteric physics language is startling.
We had previously mentioned that there is also a pragmatic theory of truth. If a theory is useful, very well, it means it is true. According to William James, “Reality is a belief that has potential to lead to a successful action.” He evaluates beliefs according to their utility in solving problems. It appears that Scientific truth fits a little bit to the pragmatic theory, and a little bit to the correspondence to reality theory. We mentioned above that although quantum theory contains logical contradictions, the scientists consider the quantum theory to correspond to reality: i.e. unlike philosophers who are interested in concepts and the logical coherency of a notion, they are interested in the reality of the material world.
However it appears to me that a theory can be logically congruent, semantically functional, scientifically correspond to reality, and even pragmatic, yet even if it satisfies all of these four criteria of truth, it can still be wrong. If we make a judgment about the chair in front of us, it can perfectly fit these four criteria; but its reality can still be dubious. Hans Reichenberg wrote about the existence of a scientific philosophy in his book titled The Birth of Scientific Philosophy and he was regarding the atom theory of philosophers as metaphysics. “If the imaginary and unstable particles appearing in quantum physics is not metaphysical, are not field theories and super-string theory which is trying to link four forces a first rate metaphysics?” We have nothing to say about the success of science, but like philosophy’s criteria of truth, the reality of scientific criteria can be found to be naive.
The Issue of Time
When it comes to the issue of time, no matter what anyone says, I say that “my soul decides what is real” because denying time is in a sense denying our Self and anything we speak would be reduced to the absurd. According to us, just as space exists due to the matter it contains, so does time exist due to the events it consists of. I shall not refer to the laws of thermodynamics in physics, to provide proof for the existence of time, for physical observations are, finally, being translated into a language that the human self, and find acceptance or refusal according to the reasoning of the self. However, the feeling of time is a direct result of the priority or posteriority of events the self experiences, and the reversibility of this order; i.e. it arises from the impossibility of returning to a previous condition in time. Therefore, the consciousness of time is just as consciousness of the self of itself, an indubitable state of consciousness and it is actually also related to the feeling of the existence of the Self. It is the self which gives the ultimate decision about time; and of course it can reason and criticize its own impressions, imaginations and thoughts, however, if the self should doubt of its own existence, we must talk no more at that point. Therefore, according to this situation, we must infer that, “For the self, the passage of time is as real and indubitable as much as its own existence.”
Goethe was saying in Faust:
Your genius is renowned throughout the world,
but holy man, why can you not beat the time?
The self knows of its existence and time because it has sensory organs and a worldview that forms due to them; but just like history, we cannot observe the Existence directly, without an intermediary. We have to judge about the existence through evaluating the information given to us by sensory organs. Also, we should not forget that until the impressions of the sensory organs pass through neurons, reach brain and create an image about the external world, though it may be a short fraction of time as one-third of a second, time passes; therefore, the observations of the self are “impressions of the near-past” which is now mixed with past and shall always remain in the past. So, what we feel and see as “this moment” has actually been seen a very short time ago and the observation belongs to the near-past and is now history. I must underline history because a historical event can be remembered but cannot be repeated or reversed. Our self itself experiences time through the countless perpetual impressions which it receives through the five senses. This feeling of time itself plays a very important role in the formation of the consciousness of the self, because the self recalls the impressions of the past in the order of priority and posteriority until the present moment. It is due to memory that despite the changes in its own consciousness it gains a consciousness of the continuity, i.e. the existence, of the self which evaluates and understands those states of consciouses.
However, had it not been for the feeling of time, and the ability to remember, it would be impossible for the self to know itself. The existence of the self itself is causing the feeling that time exists and it is passing, by noticing the perpetual shifts in the states of consciousness, and the order of imaginations in the consciousness. In a sense, consciousness is to notice something. In this sense, the existence of the self itself and the consciousness of time is so intertwined that both are felt as indubitable states of consciousness that exist in our mind. It is the intellect which doubts, not consciousness; and consciousness is such a thing that the self cannot doubt the existence of its own consciousness. When we look at an object we see it. When we turn our head and look at another object, the image of the previous object vanishes and a new image replaces it as a new state of consciousness. That is, the imaginations in the consciousness are changing from one moment to the next; although the previous image completely disappears and is replaced by a completely new image, and all imaginations in the consciousness are varying each moment, the consciousness never doubts that it really sees the object, i.e. the existence of its visual imagination which forms in the mind.
Our minds can object that the image in our minds really exist in the external world; there might be moments when we ask ourselves “Am I dreaming?”; and besides, this is how we wake up from some of our dreams; but even then, it is not whether such a visual imagination really exists in our mind which we doubt but whether it really exists in the external world. For, we may be dreaming, but when we are dreaming lets acknowledge that “even when we imagine, it really exists in our mind.”
I do not know of an experience of a self which can doubt its own state of consciousness, and I do not think it is possible: not even in cases of madness or in the state of coma. Just as humans can see dreams, madmen can hallucinate; the things they see may not exist in reality, but taken as a state of mind, hallucinations and dreams are absolutely equivalent to a vision in wakefulness 4
Why do I insist on these observations although it is something we know well and understand by personal experience that the image arising in the consciousness cannot be doubted. First of all, I want to clearly express what I understand from this concept of consciousness whose use in language is obfuscated: so that my intended meaning of the impossibility of the self to doubt its consciousness is clear. Thus, according to all we have written here, there is the fact that the Self cannot doubt its existence. Philosophical skepticism is still possible in this of course. However, when taken to such lengths of nihilism, there is no point in speaking and it becomes impossible to say anything where philosophy and thought would be needless. Secondly, we said that “The Self cannot doubt its own consciousness, that there is an image like that.” This is impossible according to this description about the consciousness; because the state of consciousness is the image itself, and that image being shaped by our mind, it exists there, while the possibility that it may not exist outside of our mind is still open to debate.
Our consciousness about time is not just a state of consciousness, but it is the entirety of the states of consciousness as far as we can recollect them, and because of this wholeness, it it appears to be a more obvious truth than any other state of consciousness. Additionally, because of the indispensable part it plays in the formation of identity, remembering the things that happened in terms of priority and posteriority – as in remembering our childhood – is indispensable to consciousness. That is why the consciousness of time and the consciousness of the Self manifest themselves to the same degree of certainty. In the same way that the self proclaims to “I am who I am” it also proclaims “Time exists, because I exist.” It would even be appropriate if the self were to say “Time is I” because although the content of consciousness perpetually changes with the impressions rushing from the senses, identity which remains unchanged is a thing that perceives time and has a continuity through time. So it does not just say “I am who I am” but “I am who I am, the same person, for as long as I knew myself.” If the self did not have this consciousness of itself we could discuss whether time existed, or vice versa, in order to put the existence of time into question, we should also be able to question whether the self existed.
By remembering its previous states, the self preserves its permanence and continuity. Despite all the changes in its emotions, remembrance, knowledge, consciousness, behavior, preferences, in short, in all of its features, the self remembers the times bygone, the childhood days, and even a 50 year old consciousness thinks that it has that same consciousness which it had when it was 9 years old even after all the psychological changes which takes place between a pre-pubescent child and an old man. So in short, a person is as sure about time as it is about his or her own consciousness. As I have also said before, these states of consciousness cannot be questioned. If mind puts the Self/Time consciousness into question, it would put mind itself into question and that would be the end of discussion.
Yet, despite coming to a sensible point of not opening our consciousness and time for questioning, there is still something that we need to discuss: we accept the self and its consciousness of time, but the images about the external objects which arise in the consciousness really exist? Allow me to explain the situation by caricaturing this with a coarse example: when there is a car passing on the street, can it appear to be an elephant or a horse in my mind? Can I claim that I am seeing a ship in that moment? And when I say this, would you conclude from my words that I am dreaming on that instant? Can our impressions of the world through our senses or their impressions in the consciousness which it creates in our mind be so wrong? Or is it possible for me to go so wrong in expressing what is in our mind and for you to misconstrue it to such a degree? According to all that we have said so far, I cannot dispute the existence of my self and the consciousness of time which belongs to it; if it is an elephant that appears in my consciousness, I cannot doubt that image, because there really is an elephant there, and because we cannot doubt our own consciousness, I shall think that it is an elephant. For the animal self, there is an elephant and it is seeing an elephant, and that is that! However can the human self doubt whether what he is seeing may not actually be an elephant but an automobile? Although we do not have such concerns in daily life, it is permissible from a philosophical perspective. Albeit we know scientifically that our sensory impressions undergo many changes when flowing into our mind through a certain distance over a certain time through neurons — that is although the self is not leaving its shell to contact the world outside directly — we do not notice that we see objects through the eye, and feel them as if we see them in our consciousness without intermediaries. And we do not doubt the existence of things we see with out eyes. If we listen to common sense, we do not need to doubt either. But are things really what they seem to us to be? Philosophically this is a very justified doubt. Georgias said that: “if something existed we would not have been able to know its nature. Even if we were able to know its nature, we would not have been able to tell it to others.” His words, after all the uncomely analogies above, seems absurd and it looks as though this radical skepticism makes it unnecessary to talk. But no, the reality is not that simple: I think that when it comes to the issue of existence, we have to take this skepticism very seriously. Many skeptical views have been expressed throughout the history of philosophy. Let us elaborate a little on the ideas of Georgias.
Georgias’s skepticism seems broad: but he does not keep quiet, he speaks; so he does not deny his self. When he says “if something existed” and also doubts his own existence, as I mentioned, the discussion would have come to an end there, and we would say, let us not have ever heard about what he said. However, if we understand Georgias as not refuting the existence of his self but the understandability of the nature of that self, then a productive philosophical discussion would arise from his radical skepticism. In what I have written so far, I have proclaimed discussions of the existence of the self and its perception of time to be meaningless. We had also wrote that it is impossible for one to deny her/his state of consciousness. But we had left it open to debate whether the things we see exist or not. Georgias says that even if it existed we could not have known. It seems absurd at first, especially in those simple ages of antiquity; but when we check our scientific knowledge and cultural body of knowledge, we see that we cannot say he is speaking talking non-sense.
Georgias understood just by the power of his reason that things may not be as they seem, but we know very well according to our contemporary science that objects are not as they seem to us at all. Our eyes are sensitive to only radiation between two frequencies of light; it can only see those colors and white light between those frequencies. But it cannot see the ultra-violet or infra-red. In short, we see only one among twelve kinds of light. On the other hand, scientific technology has developed various tools that allow us to see various kinds of light that our eyes cannot see. When we translated these different waves of light from these tools into a recognizable format that our eyes can perceive, we have started to see a completely different view of the world from our natural vision. It is thus impossible as we actually use these tools today to claim that the world is as it appears to our eyes which are sensitive to only white light, i.e. as it appears in our consciousness. Twelve different lights with different wavelengths mean that there are eleven different appearances of the world different than ours. To put it more correctly, since we now use these tools today, it is only one of the twelve views of the world that our eyes can perceive; i.e. when we look from the veil of the white light the world looks as we see it, but is is a truth that it looks different under different lights. In saying that we cannot understand the world as it is through the five senses that we have, Georgias was saying something very true to our understanding of the world
His second refutation that is even if we knew something we would not be able to express it is also very justified. We had already expressed it in the issues of language. To express the the way reality appears to us is not possible neither with any of the natural languages nor with artificial languages such as the language of science or mathematics. Language too can only express the realities within its boundaries of expression; like the limit our eyes have with white light; therefore we do not have a language suitable to express the reality completely. Even if there are specific aspects that can be expressed with an esoteric language, we cannot claim that they are understood even by the scientists who know that language.
In my book called The Meaning of Existence taking the continuum hypothesis in mathematics as the starting point, according to mathematics and by necessity of logic, I had concluded that existence must not have a continuity. Yet, history and time, or in other words, the events that take place in a certain time and place 5 must definitively be temporary, and I had claimed that the persistence and consistency of the material world throughout time in spite of this necessity is startling. Time is of a metaphysical character, and as Aristotle said, it does not have a real existence, it does not exist as a material. Yet existence is all about events, and events mean the addition of the dimension of time onto the three dimensions of space. If existence is a space-time continuum it comes into being in time. If existence is made up of such a space-time container, and if time is real — and our conscious-self tells us so — then, I had said, this continuum can only exist due to a constant creation and renewal of one moment at another with additions to its previous state, and that this can only be explained with a premise or postulate of a constant creator. If we shall continue to trust our conclusions, this metaphysical premise of God is as real as our own self. When I pondered on this premise/postulate of such a constant creator as a metaphysical basis, I realized that it is similar to some old arguments such as the cosmic proof and the argument from design. These ideas expressed with the new findings of the new physics and mathematics at hand today seemed to be a more modern and sophisticated repetition of these old arguments. All in all, this issue is so long and intricate as cannot be discussed here. Nevertheless, I want to express this issue as a verse in Quran which says:
To God belong the East and the West;
Whither-soever you turn, there is the Face of God;
God is All-embracing, All-knowing.
So there is only the divine-self. Furthermore, our consciousness of our self is so too; by recreating the universe in its own image and imagination, if it is alright to say so, it is busy recreating in its own consciousness. Whereas the past is gone and the future is not yet to be.
If it is alright to express in this way, even the idea that something can exist or move is itself a metaphysical understanding of existence. Indeed, I can say that my own consciousness and soul feels the existence of time indirectly just as it feels its own existence as an indubitable truth, and reflects this understanding of being that it has onto the outside world. We look at everything from the window of understanding of our own soul.
It is this consciousness of time of the self that forces us to believe in a God who created this time and renews the existence every moment. This activity of the divine will creates and preserves the world, and the human self recreates within itself a copy of the world as a state of consciousness and imagination. Philosophical, theological and scientific conclusions aside, the soul/self/reason recreates the external world in its own image by reflecting its own nature to it. This is in the nature of human soul. It has to believe in God because it imagines that which exists in its own image. Thus it understands God in analogy to its own: just as the self is both the soul of the body separate to it, and in the body as identical to it; God too is both immanent in the being and also the soul that rules over the being. Thus with this analogy of the self even the paradox of how God can be immanent and transcendental is solved.
Alright, why does the self try to understand the universe by analogy to itself? Spengler says: “For there is no other way of thinking possible for humans.” The verity of this belief can be doubted philosophically, however this is a state of consciousness and its presence cannot be denied. Human consciousness reflects its perception of time onto the existence. From there, starting out from the idea of time, it believes in the presence of a God without needing to reason interminably and from a much shorter way, perhaps with a spiritual intuition and will. Now then, in a sense the consciousness of the self, soul/heart/nous inculcates the idea of the necessary existence of God. This is what is meant with the saying6: “one who knows oneself, knows one’s God” Despite everything that we have said so far, and despite the belief of the self coming perhaps from the intuition of comparing its own nature with the nature of existence, of course I cannot claim that we can know or comprehend the nature of God fully. At this point now, it will be more appropriate perhaps to repeat these old words about the existence: “Something is moving…” And not just something outside of us, but something deep down, in our self, in our heart, in the depths of our soul. Our heart not only itself but the existence of an infinite being outside of itself.
As Cüneyd-i Bağdâd-î said:
“The color of water is that of its vessel.”
1. This is the text presented in a Congression of Philosophy Return
2. Those who are interested in about my ideas regarding this may refer to that book for the details. Put a link to the page in the book Return
3. Spirit: from Latin spiritus “a breathing (respiration, and of the wind), breath; breath of a god,” Return
4. The purpose of my explanations o this basic issue is to clarify what I mean by consciousness, which is a fuzzy term. Return
5. We describe an event as the 3 dimensions of space and the dimension of time. Return
5. (من عرف نفسه فقد عرف ربه) Men arafe nefseh fekad arafe rabbeh Return