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On The Impossibility of Reason

This article explores the ultimate impossibility of obtaining a reasonable, or logical, explanation of the universe and the consequences deriving from that realization.

Self Referential Algebra

Let us take an algebraic analogy to the rational explanation of the world around us:

If we define A in terms of B and C, B in terms of D and E, C in terms of F and G, and so on: we must ultimately arrive at a situation in which z is defined in terms of A and B. All of our arguments are therefore confined to a self-referential loop, in which each thing is defined only in terms of other things, which are themselves only defined in terms of the original thing. When one unknown is defined in terms of another unknown, which is ultimately defined in terms of the original unknown, all that we have truly succeeded in doing is multiplying the number of things that we don't know.

Whilst we may gain a deep understanding of the connections and relationships between things, we never arrive at an understanding of the 'thing-in-itself'.

The Thing In Itself

“We are compelled to further inquiry, because we cannot be satisfied with knowing that we have ideas, and that these are associated with certain laws, the general expression of which is the principle of sufficient reason. We wish to know the significance of our ideas. We ask whether this world is nothing more than a mere idea, not worthy of our notice if it is to pass by us like an empty dream or an airy vision, or whether it is something more substantial.

We can surely never arrive at the nature of things from without. No matter how assiduous our researches may be, we can never reach anything beyond images and names. We resemble a man going round a castle seeking vainly for an entrance, and sometimes sketching the facades. And yet this is the method followed by all philosophers before me.” (Arthur Schopenhauer, 'The World As Will and Representation')

A purely logical or rational model, as described above, will furnish us only with an understanding of the interactions between things, rather than an understanding of things themselves. One may postulate, of course, that no such 'things' exist, and that the only reality is the web of connections and interactions (or 'events') themselves; there is a strong argument for this which finds some support in quantum physics, but that this still leaves us in the position of being unable create a rational model of the fundamental reality, as it is illogical to talk about interactions between things which don't exist.

The Meaning and Purpose of Existence

One way to escape from this conundrum can be found if we accept that the fundamental nature of things is not rational or logical, but rather wilful.

When we try to understand things we are looking for meaning. All of our knowledge is formulated in terms of meaning - we observe something and we ask ourselves “what is the significance of this?”. The significance of something, its meaning, is a description of how it impacts on other things - it is again a description of the relationship of a thing with other things. What we fail to recoginize, however, is that understanding is singular and the information content contained in a piece of knowledge is dependent purely on the degree to which it impacts on other things - on its significance.

This singular web of interconnections which is the totality of our understanding of the world around us, must also be significant to us. Otherwise, as Schopenhauer writes, it would ” pass by us like an empty dream or an airy vision”. This data construct can therefore be seen, not as a description of the world as it is in itself, but as it exists in relation to our will. Anything which does not take part in this sometimes parallel series of interactions from the ultimate object back to our will therefore does not become integrated into our knowledge - which is the web of known interactions we have built up - and therefore can have no meaning or significance to us.

If we are honest, therefore, we will state that it is our Will which is the highest aspect of our understanding, not our reason or logic, which are merely tools we use for building a network of relationships which are ultimately traced back to the central root of the will.

Meaning and Purpose are therefore inextricably linked - something which has also been found by quantum physics in the role of the observer (it has been found the the intention of a scientist in setting up an experiment can influence its outcome - if you look for a wave when studying an electron or quantum of light you will find a wave, but if you look for particle you will find a particle).

The realization that the Will must be placed above reason is most fully and beautifully described in the work of British esoteric writer Aleister Crowley. If you are interested in exploring the nature of the Will and harnessing the power of this understanding then I heartily recommend his work; you may also like to start off with this interesting introduction here on Devtome: A Third Way: Magic as the synthesis of Religion and Science

Categories: Philosophy


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