Let me recap a couple points and then begin to put some legs under them – prior to knocking them out from under us (yes, it’s a trap of sorts, and yes, Brevity is hanging by its fingertips out the window).
Reason is more a method, than a faculty – it is the name we give to the process of satisfying our curiosity and wonder. To rise above the level of animal cleverness, it must be learned in order to be gained. Our distinctive human attribute, the ability to associate deep conceptual structures of both memory and forethought, are strengthened and deepened through our use of Reasoning.
However, the human tendency in repetitive thought and action, is always to reduce, to simplify, to shortcut - to seek lazziness. Have you noticed that? We always seem to try to skip over any step that isn’t absolutely required, everything from not painting behind the baseboards, to reducing “Thank you, I appreciate it” to “Cool, thanks”. There are evolutionary advantages to this, but dangers as well. It also leads to a tendency to assign our choices and actions over to remembered processes, faculties, natures – rules, a seductive attribute of explanation – the red headed step child of Reason. We get the sense that we are describing ‘things’ occurring out there through cause and effect operations – lightening strikes and thunder follows, a stem separates and the apple falls down, drought comes and people migrate… but is that thinking or just repeating observed associations, and does it really need to work that way?
We do the same with our use and consideration of, Reason. It is a difficult business maintaining the attention to the Now necessary to uniting Reason with wonder, and avoiding the associating of plain old ‘thinking’ with it. But isn’t that how it is commonly used, day in and day out, it is used interchangeably with ‘explanation’, ‘logic’, ‘facts’, ‘thinking’, ‘conclusions’ and so on. Yes, and Love is commonly used in association with soda pop and sunglasses – but I hardly think that type of usage sheds any light upon Love, do you? In fact, to the extent that such usage becomes equated with the term ‘Love’, it actually conveys a debasement of Love, doesn’t it?
And so it is with Reason.
But Reason (not its techniques, more on those later) is properly practiced when we, with our full attention and focused curiosity, examine some item of wonder. Our attention is all consumed by this, we examine this and that, hold it in light and shadow, we not only examine, but speculate in time as we wonder what affect X or Y would have upon it. During this process, we draw upon our stores of information, of remembered steps and rules as tools of our attention (themselves learned through attentive reason), they enable our curiosity and feed our wonder – but they do not dictate, they do not guide us, they are but maps that suggest the lay of the land, but do not overrule the information of our own eyes and feet.
This is the sense we have when we are actively involved in Reasoning, it can be exhilarating, fascinating, interesting. It is also the most dangerous aspect of Reason, in that it is so easy to identify with You, with your judgment, with your living understanding of the world and all that is within it. Reason is open to your direct control and application; you can test your observations and conclusions about some aspect of the world, through it. But while it is in fact You doing all of this, the first caution you need to keep in mind, is that it is not only you, that makes it possible. You carry within you not only the particular steps of scientific method, but also the vast store of ‘facts as you know them’, which contribute to your every thought, and more importantly, to the direction of your every thought, and to the boundaries of your every thought.
This active Reasoning is where the steps and technique of Logic first formalized by Aristotle, serve to test and verify your questions and conclusions. Its tools, the syllogism and fallacies, etc, give one not only a sense of great intellectual power, but the reality of it. The active reason armed with technique can be extremely effective, efficient, and persuasive.
But it is not Reason, not in and of itself. Considering this activity of Reason to be Reason, leads directly to further false assumptions, and deepening errors in identification and association. Here, building from this, I can in just a couple lines, lead into the error and destruction of modern philosophy:
This sense we have when actively involved in Reasoning, is exhilarating, fascinating, interesting. This active Reasoning is where the formalizing of steps of Logic first laid down by Aristotle are open to application. These tools, the syllogism, fallacies, etc, give one a grasp of great intellectual power.
With Reason, you can be extremely effective, efficient, and persuasive, revealing new truths and wider wisdom, by questioning and cross examining all and recording your progress. Record your steps, hold up all conclusions to verification. If it can not be examined and quantified, it can’t be truly examined, it is more stuff of fancy, than of Reason.
When you engage in the more mundane task of thinking something over, then you are a more passive passenger on the ride, and established rules of procedure and order are in charge. This is the state of most children in school, solving the umpteenth math problem, answering what the ‘theme’ of an essay was, writing down the ‘ten causes of the civil war’, etc. This is not Reason or reasoning, this is but secondary thinking and explanation, rather than engaging in critical thinking necessary to Reason.
During these activities, signified by the boredom through which they are endured, there is a noticeable lack of engagement on the part of the doer – there is little of ‘You’ involved in the process. This serves to create a paradigm, a false impression of reality, which can actually blind you to reality, hide it from your ability to even really know pure reality as it is in itself…[screachhhh ... needle dragging across record]
Focused Reason – the one legged stool
One noticed truth can lead to much error, when it is taken to be a whole Truth of its own.
How Reason operates, is without genetic predefinition. How it operates, by default, is outlined by family, community, culture, civilization. If I were to continue on in the fashion above, we would have found that we’d run into deepening confusions, shortcomings and error.
In those short paragraphs above, can be found Descartes (question, quantify, the Cogito), as well as the foundation for Rousseau’s noble savage and the idealization of Natural Man, the innocent Child as superior to the hidebound parent, the unhindered free spirit or savage, as above ossified civilization. Hume and Kant both lurk there in the blind spots, as well as the self centered time provincialism of the Progressives.
This becomes the one legged stool, a very curious leg which labels it’s fellow supporting legs as competitors, and does away with them, if not checked in the attempt. It does this with the line “If it can not be examined and quantified, it can’t be truly examined, it is more stuff of fancy, than of Reason.” This tendency to dismiss what doesn’t fit into the examination template is a grave danger of using Reason without the rest.
One of the reasons for this series of posts, some exchanges I had with Allotetraploid, portrays the above situation as a positive turn, as do the moderns, this way:
"...By only acknowledge those concepts that could be substantiated by direct or indirect observation it became possible to form an understanding of the world whose likeness has never before been seen.
The difference between scientific reason and everyday reason is that there is standards of proof and validity in science, that tends to eliminate non existing entities (like the Manticore), and never add new entities without having them confirmed by experience. The scientific credo became “seeing is believing”, and out went the entire mythology of old, together with the gullible mentality of idly accepting hearsay and mere constellations of words as equal to demonstration."
In ‘the entire mythology of old’ and ‘mere constellations of words’ lurks the horrific mechanism which lays Reason down on a Procrustean Bed, and chops it down to the size of the scientific method, and the source of the troubles we experience around us in the world today. This hacks away all that doesn’t yield to putting its tongue out and saying ‘ahh’, it lops it all off, and leaves a shivering (and perhaps over compensating) You standing there, all alone in the world,
landmarks – gone,
compass - gone,
identity – gone,
purpose – gone,
boundaries of ethical behavior – gone,
trag(edy)ectory? Full speed ahead and destination unknown.
In identifying Reason as being equivalent to that single attribute of it; the attention focused in wonder, you have a child as your chief guide. This one feature of Reason is wonderful for gathering data, just as a child does go about acquiring their culture and methods of thought from family, friends, community and schooling, but having done so, to then jettison all of that data so laboriously acquired just because their vast and deep layers of information don’t yield to a bullet point verification checklist, does nothing so much as put you back to the position of a child – but this time armed and dangerous. In our cases, armed with that most lethal of all weapons, Western Reason. Without those other attributes of Reason which the unguided scientific method amputates from your soul: tradition, culture, religion etc., Reason cannot operate safely, or even dependably, under the single minded direction of attention, to the exclusion of the rest of its nature.
Remember that on our own we know nothing, we are but clever primates. We know to think and to know, by way of Culture passed to us through the words and actions of our parents, family & community. These are the current wares selected as bestsellers in the market place of experiences.
Without the direction of these, the disaster of unchaperoned efficiency portends a future fated to be strewn with the decay of Art, the death knell of culture and of civilization.
Reason is the operation of your attention, upon a current concern. It examines and integrates the data of your senses, to arrive at a conclusion – but it must be remembered that the area of your focused attention is as that within a thin crack of light cast into a darkened room – there is far more room than the light illumines, and for all its dark invisibility, that does not make it disappear.
This is not to say either that you shouldn’t examine traditional thought, but only that to give it no more than a Joe Friday interrogation “Just the facts ma’am”, and assume that all of existing tradition had nothing else going for it than what you are willing to read upon its surface, is foolish – and not surprisingly rhymes with childish. It’s as if you assume that your immediate assessment of the moment could not possibly be missing one single thing that an entire culture over the course of decades, centuries even millennia, have examined and concluded as being an effective behavior and or solution to a problem - you assume you have given a complete and correct answer when more than likely in your short consideration of it you probably haven’t even yet fully grasped the question.
Bricks in the support wall of Reason
Below consciousness, we have the wealth of past attentions, integrated by experience, habit, concept, impression… and so much more, related by reference and cross referenced in a vast criss-crossing that would put IBM’s servers into an overheated state; in my digital watchmakers view of our mind, there is a constant query running and popping up alerts and notifications beneath our awareness, sometimes when weighted by a high index of danger, revulsion, pain or pleasure, they grab our otherwise occupied awareness, and we focus upon them. But even in moments of focus, we can not possibly note or retain awareness of what is involved in that query of the darkened room.
I'm reminded of a writer, Robert Kurson in his book “Crashing Through” about Michael May (a remarkable person even apart from this), one of, if not the only, blind men made able to see later in life, who was actually able to come to terms with Vision. One of the ways he was unique, was that he only chose to the surgery to restore the sight lost as an infant, because of his already boundless sense of curiosity.
On regaining his sight, he got color and movement right away; objects, he was eventually able to associate with the words and sense of them which he already knew; but complex things like a face, are still meaningless to him. “Vision is Knowledge” Kurson notes, and there is nothing, nothing, which we see, that is not bound up with extensive amounts of direct data, and intricately related to so much else, all of which is in turn related to… you get the idea.
We forget the years of infancy spent observing our parents faces, up close, far away, touching, rubbing, kissing - the immense amount of 'facts' that the infants focused attention acquires and stores into mind to form knowledge of eye shape, frown lines, smiles, angular tilt, lip shape and tension - immense amounts of facts and mental impressions, concepts, hierarchies of concepts are over the years ordered into the conceptual depths of a human face, from which we can derive knowledge from, and the vast bulk of this knowledge is formed and stored long before the child has words to name them and relate them. Language is incredibly vital to us, it exponentially expands the reach of our minds – but prior to our acquiring it, a foundation will already have been laid deep within our minds, upon which all else is constructed.
When we dismiss the knowledge and effort an infant has put forth prior to uttering its first words, that simple cooing and focusing upon us and upon our faces which we think so cute, we are dismissing an intellectual effort worthy of a Phd. in human psychology.
The complexity of our knowledge only increases and deepens as we grow older. We don’t often consider the incredibly intricate web of knowledge described through the interweaving lines, horizontal, vertical and curved, that is a Beautiful Women, and an even wider web of understanding tied to the muscular twitching of her eyebrow – perhaps portending heaven or hell to the man in her gaze, and how much more still is tied to that which she… well, again, you get the idea.
Without that continuous deepened relation of percept, sensation and concept to unite into further conceptual hierarchies, no knowledge can be forth coming. Most of the blind who are made to see, only see... stuff. Undifferentiated, meaningless stuff. It is only slowly, tediously, that they may – if they are curious enough to know - begin to combine that stuff out there with their already existing thoughts in there, to create recognizable facts and then by relating them within their conceptual hierarchies, Knowledge.
Our focused attention aspect of Reason examines the surface relief’s summations of new and old data, learned processes, current experiences becomes remembered experiences and data as well to be integrated…In short, there is a reason why, we cannot limit Reason to one slender, focused definition, and why it has so many definitions, because it traverses time integrating not only what is, but what was and what (we guess) will be. To try and say that Reason is the scientific method, or that without the scientific method Reason is of no value, is to knock out its sister legs and attempt to balance our minds upon a one legged stool.
For Reason to have a capital ‘R’, it must be more than what it immediately grasps in focused attentions thin ray of light. As a simple human face represents an incredible depth of knowledge and understanding, so too, and to an even deeper extent, do our other familiar experiences such as manners, civility, respect for elders, habits, customs, religion – all those things that are ‘the entire mythology of old’ and ‘mere constellations of words’.
The Marketplace of Experience
One way to look at the contents of a Culture is as it being the marketplace of historical experience. Those historical experiences are the result of the exercise of individuals attentive reason, noted, tested, refined and past on through the experiences of hundreds and thousands of other individual’s experiences. The two must be guided by something else, a higher goal and understanding than that of the moment, or of tradition. I don’t mean in any sense that we should be unquestioning of tradition and culture, but that we should be cautious in considering any action to overturn the ways of tradition. They are the tried and true, they have passed through the fire of day to day experience for a reason.
There is something there, there.
But how do we go about discovering the nature of what that is, and of how it combines with different aspects of Reason, which is after all the subject of this series’ question (and in a blog, no less). Well… we’ll try doing as the Greeks would, examine the question from the ground up. This is where Philosophy will come in to describe the ends of Reason, which as Aristotle pointed out, is Happiness – the goal to which all other acts act towards, and which itself serves no other goal – the one goal that is an end in itself.
But is it? Here we get a stable three legged stool of Reason, with legs of Focused Attention, Philosophy and Culture, but what is it set upon? What is the ground upon which the three can find stability? What precedes the word of understanding? The thing itself. That which IS, and which is All that IS, the I AM THAT I AM.
Here we step into the realm of, in ascending order, the Poetic, the Mythic, the Religious – and likewise, there is the spiral nature of conceptual understanding which always leaves us in the ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ conundrum.
So far, I’ve only barely touched upon a portion of what must be considered to answer the question of ‘What is Reason’ – many points I’ve alluded to and passed on without explanation but explanation is very much needed (and forthcoming), such as the double edged sword of Effectiveness and Efficiency and the decay of Art and Culture, the formation of Concepts; and others I haven’t even mentioned yet. Patience, we’ll get there.
For the next step, I propose going back to the folks who invented Reason as it is known in the west, the Greeks, and see what we can see from there.