Self is arrayed as the whole world.
Dogen, Uji (Cleary 1986, 345)

What you are aware of, mindful with, is the entire universe, as far as you are presently concerned. Can you point out one thing in the universe that you are not aware of?

No, but you can surely think of things or events that you became aware of, things that surely existed before you were aware of them, events that you did not foresee, places you have never been, situations that did not concern you at the time.

So you are aware that there is more to the universe than you are now aware of, or will ever be aware of. You also know that some of your beliefs about it have turned out to be wrong, which leads you to believe that some of what you now “know” may also be wrong. The universe of your awareness is infinitely incomplete. Does that concern you?

Charles S. Peirce was thinking along these lines in 1913, a few months before his death, when he wrote that

what I am aware of, or, to use a different expression for the same fact, what I am conscious of, or, as the psychologists strangely talk, the “contents of my consciousness” (just as if what I am conscious of and the fact that I am conscious were two different facts, and as if the one were inside the other), this same fact, I say, however it be worded, is evidently the entire universe, so far as I am concerned. At least, so it would seem. Yet there is a wonderful revelation for me in the phenomenon of my sometimes becoming conscious that I have been in error, which at once shows me that if there can be no universe, as far as I am concerned, except the universe I am aware of, still there are differences in awareness. I become aware that though “universe” and “awareness” are one and the same thing, yet somehow the universe will go on in some definite fashion after I am dead and gone, whether I shall be the least aware of it, or not.
— Peirce, EP2:472
Life flows on within you and without you.
— George Harrison, 1967

Charles Peirce and George Harrison are both dead and gone now, and life flows on without them. It flows within you too, the little current of awareness, the entire universe as far as you are concerned, but a drop in the Big Current of Okeanos. The bubble of what you know embodies your concerns, and though it’s only made of surface tension, there’s no getting out of it while you live. At best you can take in the odd bit from beyond the barrier to make it a little bigger.

Peirce was thinking about this too toward the end of his life:

… I was many years ago led to define “real” as meaning being such as it is, no matter how you, or, I, or any man or definite collection of men may think it to be; where I use the long and awkward phrase in order to avoid all appearance ​of meaning ​independently of human thought. For obviously, nothing that I or anybody ever can mean can be independent of human thought. That is real which men would eventually and finally come to think to be absolutely necessary to be thought in order to understand the truth, supposing the existence and advance in knowledge of the human race to be continued without any limitation, though I cannot pretend that I have as distinct an idea of exactly what that means as I could wish. But, alas, there seems to be a principle as inexorable as that of action and reaction condemning those creatures who enjoy the privilege of perpetually learning to find their outlook forever confined within a sharply drawn horizon, a confinement the more exasperating for the fact that they have only to exert themselves sufficiently in order to enlarge it while leaving it still a prison-wall.
— Peirce (R 681: 35–36, 1913) quoted by Lane (2018, 193-4)

What does it mean to suppose ‘the existence and advance in knowledge of the human race to be continued without any limitation’? Certainly not to believe that human life will never end, or that human knowledge will be forever advancing. It means to imagine what it would take for humans to finally ‘understand the truth,’ knowing the finality to be imaginary.

As for the little current, what does it mean to suppose you’ve been selected for a secret mission? It means to imagine that your life has a definite purpose. Why would you do that?

4 thoughts on “Peirspicacity”

  1. Besides enjoying the punning title, I found this to be a most personally intellectually stimulating post, Gary.

    Let me explain. A week or so ago I was having a sleepless night prior to a medical procedure I was to have the next day, so at about 3 a.m. I stepped out onto our 15th floor balcony overlooking the Harlem River and a NYCityscape that includes, beyond the river, much of the Bronx, and patches of Queens and Manhattan.

    I felt totally alert and decided to practice a sort of musement, a state which, however, quickly became a trichotomic thought experiment, a kind of first scientific step (as Peirce suggests it can become in the N.A.) I typed up the following notes of this experiment just before I went back to bed, but I haven’t been able to develop them much yet. I may now try to do so again in the context of your post above. In any event, here are some short excerpts which get to the gist of those notes:

    I quietly, calmly sit and observe the cityscape before me, just letting it all ‘come over’ me. Soon, however, I am thinking of trichotomy and Peirce’s Three Worlds of Experience, yet try to focus on only the first phenomenon that comes before my vision: intense, red lights on a building in the not too distance (1ns); I then become aware of the feel of a suddenly sharp night breeze against my cheek (2ns); finally, I reflect on this trichotomic experience/experiment I’m having, concentrating on its phenomenological aspects, that is, 1ns and 2ns and my thinking (3ns) about my present experience of these just stated examples of the categories.

    Phase 2 of my meditation.

    I try to imagine that only I exist, that no one else is in the world (some sci-fi ‘weirdness’ whereas all other people suddenly cease to exist): only I am perceiving, experiencing, *and* thinking about a world, the world before me, albeit constantly changing as I observe the clouds above doing–but only for me. I am the sole human perceiver/conceiver of *this* world.

    Phase 3. I imagine that I too am ‘gone’, that whatever perception/experience of the world that other sentient creatures may continue to have, that no human intelligence is there to “put it together” as a world. And as a further step, I imagine that, now, nothing whatsoever is perceived, reacted to, thought; and I even try to imagine for a moment that throughout the entire cosmos that, while there remain some sentient beings in other worlds, that no intelligent beings exist, that there is virtually — actually! — no one to *conceive* a world, a cosmos, throughout this universe. Finally, it is possible to imagine that there are *no* sentient beings either, as was surely the case in the early stages of the evolution of our universe.

    Final phase (for now) of my musings.

    I imagine that perhaps we — and each one of us — are the trikonic eyes, ears, touch (indeed, all the sensual organs), the body and intelligence through which Mind, or God (“Ens necessarium. . . Really creator of all three Universes of Experience.”Peirce) feels, acts, thinks a world? We (i.e., each one of us) are *essential* beings in the cosmos qua trichotomic Reality, that “Self is arrayed as the whole world.”— Dogen ”

    Well, there’s obviously nothing original in my musings above. But I hope that in the context of your post that I may be able to develop them further categorially.

    1. Not original, i suppose, in the sense that nobody’s ever had such thoughts before; but definitely original in the sense that the Firstness shines through it. I look forward to a more categorial development! But these things take time, don’t they? Even as time takes them …

  2. You don’t believe
    by William Blake

    You don’t believe — I won’t attempt to make ye.
    You are asleep — I won’t attempt to wake ye.
    Sleep on, sleep on, while in your pleasant dreams
    Of reason you may drink of life’s clear streams
    Reason and Newton, they are quite two things,
    For so the swallow and the sparrow sings.
    Reason says ‘Miracle’, Newton says ‘Doubt’.
    Aye, that’s the way to make all Nature out:
    Doubt, doubt, and don’t believe without experiment.
    That is the very thing that Jesus meant
    When he said: ‘Only believe.’ Believe and try,
    Try, try, and never mind the reason why.

    Well, that happened to be on my clipboard, so I’ll let it stand here as I rather like it. But what I meant to write was this:

    “I look forward to a more categorial development!”
    GR: I’m working on it!
    “But these things take time, don’t they? Even as time takes them …”
    GR: And, as you’ve aptly noted: “Time is not a renewable resource.”

  3. That Blake poem is a bit of a puzzler for me. One of those where he mixes irony and sincerity in such a way that it’s hard to tell which is which!

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