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The Laws of Thought

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

10. Thinking Logically


1.     Logical Attitudes


Logic is usually presented for study as a static description and prescription of forms of proposition and arguments, so that we forget that it is essentially an activity, a psychic act. Even the three Laws of Thought have to be looked at in this perspective, to be fully understood. To each one of them, there corresponds a certain mental attitude, policy or process…

  1. To the Law of Identity, corresponds the attitude of acknowledgement of fact, i.e. of whatever happens to be fact in the given context. Here, the term ‘fact’ is meant broadly to include the fact of appearance, the fact of reality or illusion, or even the fact of ignorance or uncertainty. Also, the attention to eventual conflicts (contradictions, incompatibilities, paradoxes, tensions) and gaps (questions, mysteries); and by extension, other forms of oppositional relations.
  2. To the Law of Non-contradiction, corresponds the policy of rejection of contradictions. Contradictions occur in our knowledge through errors of processing of some kind (e.g. over-generalization, uncontrolled adduction, unsuccessful guessing), which is ultimately due to the gradual presentation of information to the human observer and to his limited, inductive cognitive means. The Law is an insight that such occurrence, once clearly realized, is to be regarded not as a confirmation that contradiction can occur in reality, but as a signal that a mere illusion is taking place that must be rejected.
  3. To the Law of the Excluded Middle, corresponds the process of searching for gaps or conflicts in knowledge and pursuing their resolution. This is the most dynamic cognitive activity, an important engine in the development of knowledge. And when a contradiction or even an uncertainty arises, it is this impulse of the human thinking apparatus that acts to ask and answer the implicit questions, so as to maintain a healthy harmony in one’s knowledge.

Thus, the exercise of logic depends very much on the human will, to adopt an attitude of factualism and resolve to check for consistency, look for further information and issues, and correct any errors found. The psychological result of such positive practices, coupled with opportunity and creativity, is increasing knowledge and clarity. The contraries of the above are avoidance or evasion of fact, acceptance of contradictions, and stupidity and laziness. The overall result of such illogical practices is ignorance and confusion.

Whereas ‘consciousness’ refers to the essentially static manifestation of a Subject-Object relation, ‘thought’ is an activity with an aim (knowledge and decision-making). The responsibility of the thinker for his thought processes exists not only at the fundamental level of the three Laws, but at every level of detail, in every cognitive act. Reasoning is never mechanical. To see what goes on around us, we must turn our heads and focus our eyes. To form a concept or formulate a proposition or construct an argument or make an experiment or test a hypothesis, we have to make an effort. The more attentive and careful our cognitive efforts, the more successful they are likely to be.


2.     Unity In Plurality


The … ‘wave’ theory of universals, granting its premise that everything is ultimately reducible to ‘waves,’ i.e. mobile vibrations in some sort of continuum, leads to the very radical conclusion that ‘all things are one.’

The world as it appears to our touch-organs or to the naked eye – or even the eye aided by microscope or telescope – may give the impression that dimensionless points, lines or surfaces exist in nature, but as Physics has evolved it has become clearer that physical objects do not have precise corners, sides or facades – but fuzzy limits, arbitrarily defined by the visibility to our senses (specifically, sight and touch), aided or unaided, of concentrations of matter or energy.

For example, the tip of my penknife may seem like a sharp “point” to my touch or sight, but it is really – according to physical science (i.e. upon further investigation and reflection) – a rough, voluminous conglomerate of atoms, which are themselves complexes of smaller and smaller particles (electrons, protons and neutrons, seemingly some distance ‘apart’ from each other, etc.), which are themselves without beginning or end being really vague clusters of waves. Similarly with regard to the cutting edge or flat sides of my penknife.

Indeed, if one takes these considerations to their extreme conclusion, one could say that no object has a beginning or end, every object stretches to the ends of the universe or to infinity, and what we refer to as a specific individual object is merely the most humanly visible or concentrated part of that whole, which we arbitrarily or conventionally consider a separable unit (and habitually name, to solidify our viewpoint). So that ultimately, there are in fact no individual objects, but only ripples in the single object that is the universe as a whole.

Where does an atom (or any other body) begin or end, granting that all consists of waves? If we see a star billions of miles away, on what basis do we say that the star ends over there, while the “light from the star” is here? Rather, we ought to say that the light we see is part of the star, i.e. that it extends all the way to us (at and through our visual sense organs, and on to our memory) and beyond. At what distance from the star do the gases or the light it emits cease to ‘belong’ to it, and are to be considered as ‘separate’ bodies? The cut-off point can only be arbitrary, i.e. mere convention. Gravity operates at astronomical distances. What objective ground do we have for distinguishing a field from its apparent origin? Furthermore, stars are in constant flux, arising in time and disappearing in time. At what point in time (as well as space) may we claim that the matter and energy we now call a star is ‘not yet’ or ‘no longer’ a star? Surely, the quarks from which the star emerged were already ‘the star’ and when the star bursts or is absorbed into a black hole it is still ‘the star.’ We ourselves are stardust – does that mean that the stars in question became us, or that being a star – from the beginning of time to its end – includes eventual human forms?

In this view, every entity in the universe stretches out with every other to fill the whole space and time of the universe! And if we say this, we might as well say  – without any mystical intent, though in agreement with Buddhist mystics – that all things are one. There are just more intense concentrations of matter or energy here and there, now and then, in one continuous field, but nowhere dividing lines. Because we perceive only fractions of the totality, only the aspects involving the sense-modalities, we isolate small blobs of the whole as individual phenomena. All phenomena perceived are centers of complex wave activities in the universal fabric; We ‘individuate’ phenomena with reference to the sense-modalities they exhibit which are accessible to our senses. We regard as delimiting an individual object in space and time such perceivable fraction (visible to the senses) of the wave activity stretching to the ends of the universe – ignoring its larger invisible extensions, later induced by reason. Thus, all individuation is fantasy (this can be known by rational considerations, as here), reinforced by naming (itself a sense-modality phenomenon, by the way). In which case, strictly speaking, nothing is divisible at all.

That would seem to be a correct view of our physical world in the context of present knowledge – the hypothesis most consistent with experience, experiment and current scientific theorizing. We thus, provided we anticipate the results of Physics and claim that some sort of unified field theory is sure to be established, and provided we stretch that assumption to include wave explanations of the mental and spiritual domains, arrive at a concept of the world as ‘unity in plurality’ – a harmonious marriage of the philosophies of Pluralism and Monism. Heraclitus was right – everything is ultimately motion (i.e. waves) and Parmenides was right too – everything is ultimately one thing (i.e. the medium subject to waves).

We could even view this conclusion as a justification of the Buddhist view that “all things are empty!” For instance, the message of The Diamond Sutra seems to be that all objects material or spiritual are infinite vortices with no beginning and no end. They are neither categorical as they seem; nor can they be surely declared hypothetical, being delimited merely by our naming of them, but having no sure limits in themselves so far as we know so that they are therefore effectively boundless.

We have already, inspired by Buddhist doctrine, concurred with them that individuation is a man-made artifice. But even granting that we might legitimately, out of mere convenience, focus on specific places and durations of the universe, because a disturbance ‘stands-out’ there and then in relation to our senses – we are still left with the question as to what it is that is disturbed? What is the medium or substratum of all wave motions? We are tempted to view it as a stuff and call it “existence,” or like Descartes call it “the ether.” The problem is that since the Michelson-Morley experiment on the velocity of light such a substance underlying waves has apparently been discredited. These physicists measured the velocity of light in the same direction as our planet’s motion and in the opposite direction. To everyone’s surprise, they found the velocity identical either way. This was eventually explained by Albert Einstein as indicative that there is no absolutely stationary substratum or “ether” relative to which wave motions occur, and he built his famous theory of Relativity as an alternative world-view (such that space and time coordinates are depend on the velocity of the observer relative to what he measures).

Thus, although when we think of waves, and mathematically work out their motions and interactions, we regard them as disturbances within some medium, it turns out that there is no such medium according to experimental indices! On this basis, we can agree with Buddhist philosophers that (surprisingly, incomprehensibly) nothing is being waved – i.e. that the ultimate nature of “existence” is “emptiness.” And there is no need of high meditation or mystical insight to arrive at this conclusion – it is seemingly justified by ordinary experience and reason (scientific experiment and theory).


Drawn from Phenomenology (2003), Chapters 7 (sect. 3) and 4 (sect. 5).


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