The Limits of Knowledge (1)

These next blogs are a modified version of chapter thirteen of The Mystery of Matter (MM) which was published by IED Press in 2010. They ground a reassessment of the traditional role of religion in our lives. Modern science provides a fundamental confirmation of the apophatic “minority view” always present in Christianity but never predominant: “God” is unknowable and therefore religion knows nothing about “God.”

being-here is energy  

I have endeavored to elaborate an alternative to traditional essentialist metaphysics.

Please note changes in termninology. By knowledge I mean an objective apprehension that assumes the distinction of subject and object, where the object is not the subject. I intend to go beyond that. My goal is to understand reality. By understanding I mean a connatural perception in which the subject is an intrinsic part of the object apprehended. Understanding involves the use of conscious operations — contemplation, interpretation, recognition, realization and metaphor — that transcend abstractive knowledge and have, specifically, a somatic dimension acknowledging matter’s active energy as the common ground between subject and object.

I am using the words presence, being-here, synonymously to refer to the experience of existence in the present moment. Existence-in-time replaces the traditional essentialist term “being” which I have rejected as a false abstract conceptual construct that skews our perception of the true characteristics of reality. Ultimately existence is matter’s energy.

The analysis has determined that whatever exists, as far as we can know, is matter’s energy. Ultimately it is reducible to energy which is the primordial reality. I use the doublet matter-energy to avoid any temptation to separate the two. They are one and the same thing. Moreover, we have said that matter’s energy is existence. Material energy is what we are made of and it’s what everything that we can relate to is made of. We can have no direct cognitive relationship with anything that is not matter’s energy. Even mediaeval philosophy, dedicated to establishing and exploring what they believed was a world of immortal spirit, admitted that knowledge of such transcendent realities is necessarily indirect, an inference made from the only direct natural knowledge we can have: the experience of material things. The foundational ground for the possibility of our awareness of everything, both ourselves and things other than ourselves, seems to be that we are all made of exactly the same “clay” — constructed of the same sub-atomic quarks and gluons, electrons and neutrinos which some believe to be simply the different vibrations of homogeneous strands of energy called “strings.” What appears to us as phenomena that range from inert solid matter to empty space, are sim­ply different manifestations of this energy.

Existence is energy; that means being-here is not simply here. Being-here is not at rest; it is intrinsically dynamic. It moves, it changes, it enters into combinations within itself which modify its activities and its appea­r­ances. It selects among the features and character created by these new collectivities on a continual basis — always in the service of only one goal: continued existence, survival — survival means existence. This restless recombination defines material energy’s evolution: always chang­ing, always in motion, always in process for more existence.

Existence is matter’s energy.

The process that emerges from material energy’s dynamism uses repeated patterns of recombination that I have called a “communitarian strategy.” It is a process that moves forward by the aggregation, integration and complexification of elements. It is focused always on being-here. We say it is an “undefined” energy not because it has no direction, nor because it is formless, but because the form it takes is not heuristic, i.e., it is not re­gu­latory or guiding. Form follows this energy; it does not lead it or direct it. This constitutes the seminal difference between the ancient essentialist metaphysics and cosmo-ontology. Being-here is only directed by and for being-here. It has no purpose beyond itself. There is no rationality involved. It is absolutely self-deter­mining and all forms are subservient to existence. Rational thought, plans, purposes do not describe or define this process. There is no point to being-here except to be-here.

We experience matter’s energy as an existence that is driven to endure. This goal remains ever the same whatever the recombination. All its many changes are for only one thing: being-here-now. Being-here, therefore, means staying-here, continuance, and so it implies perdurance in time. The attempt to perdure spawns a necessary derivative: presence resists cessation and dissolution. It survives. So perdurance necessarily implies being-here “better,” that is to say, more resistant to cessation, more securely, more tenaciously, more intensely. It is the foundation of survival. It explains the changes that produce new species when environments change, and it also explains the extended stasis (resistance to change) characteristic of successful species when environments don’t change or don’t change enough to warrant adaptation. Being-here is a passion for itself, an obsession and an insatiable addiction. We have called it a congenital self-embrace. Presence wants to endure, but not simply to continue; such craving seeks a guarantee and there­fore an intensification of what it does. It wants to be-here; it wants to ensure being-here. So it is driven to survive, to embrace itself in a paroxysm of self-posses­sion. Consciousness is only one of the many manifestations of this self-posses­sion and therefore it is secondary and ancillary to it. Existence, as opposed to the ancient prejudice, is not primarily thought, but desire.

Presence is-here and what is does is to stay here. It survives. It is what Spinoza called the conatus sese conservandi — the drive for self-preservation. In Spinoza’s vision it was the core property of everything that existed … a modal expression of Being itself (“God”) from which everything emanated. For Spinoza as for Aquinas, “God’s” essence was existence itself … esse in se subsistens. “God” alone was “substantial” being and all existing things were modal — a way of utilizing “God’s” being.

So matter’s energy which expresses itself in being-here displays itself as a self-embrace, a thirst for being-here that goes on and on in time and in intensity. The metaphoric nature of the description offered here is intrinsic to our interpretation. We will deal with the significance of this shortly. But here it’s important to emphasize: the drive manifest in this perdurance is not the result of evolutionary selection. Selection, ra­ther, presupposes it as the source and explanation of its effects. Natural selection is an expression of the conatus. It is the basis of all development and therefore we can also say, it is a function of matter’s energy.

existence is time

The notion to which we have given the word-label existence is not derived from an abstraction. It comes from the experience of being-here-now. If there is any valid “intuition of being,” it is here and now that we find it. The experience is that of the present moment because nothing that exists, exists in the past or in the future; whatever exists, exists only now. It’s a “now” for which the essentialists with their obsession for eternal immutability have little respect. For the “now” we experience is not a fixed value; it is a fluid, changing, temporary phenomenon; it is always gliding out of the past and into the future. Being-here is essentially time-related; it is a modulating process. For since being-here mani­fests itself in the present moment, the perdurance of any entity comprised of matter’s energy necessarily creates a flow of present moments, a non-discrete continuous sequence proceeding into the future. The insistence of what’s present to remain present, which is its self-embrace displayed in its conatus creates our experience of time.

This flow of time is inaccurately said to be composed of “moments.” Reality is, in fact, an unbroken continuum perceived by our minds as static entities enduring through the sequences of time imagined as “moments.” We use that term “moments” only because we find it difficult to imagine pure ceaseless unpartitioned change. Our concepts, we are reminded again by this, are like snap-shots. They freeze selected aspects of incoming data. It’s the way abstraction works. We cannot immediately “conceptualize” time-as-end­less-flux even though we experience it that way. Fortunately, we are able to refine our images because we reflect on experience and so we can intentionally work the fluidity of time into our notions. But there really are no instants or moments of time.

There are still other corrections to be made. Our images don’t always conform to the phenomena. The perennial philosophy tended to ima­gine existence as if it were something in itself apart from what exists. (That’s because our word-labeled “snap-shot” concepts — our ideas — tend to be taken as if they were “things” and not mental images. It is the basis of Plato’s fatal error. Our ancestors also erroneously conceived spacetime as if it were something independent of the enduring existence of what is-here. But time is not a glitch on a graph, or the tick of a clock. Spacetime does not exist apart from what survives and endures, nor does presence exist apart from the particular configuration of matter’s energy actually surviving as this or that individual entity. Time and temporary configuration are simply the way we experience energy gathered, being present and remaining present. Time is the perceptible continuum produced by what being-here does. Being-here embraces itself and its integrated functions, its recombinations. It endures, it transcends the moment and carries itself endlessly into the next — it survives as itself. Time is simply another word for the experience of being-here-in-process, existence sustaining itself, clinging to itself, and changing as it must, to remain itself.

This understanding of time as a derived property of matter’s energy, as we saw in chapter 3, corresponds to a similar understanding of space. It concurs with the new understanding that has emerged from the theories of relativity about the unified phenomenon now called spacetime. Spacetime is not an “entity” in itself. It is the measurable perception of the relationship of matter’s energy within itself, to itself, as an existential self-em­brace; it is a derived property of the conatus, the inherent self-sustaining dynamism of the substrate. The notion is that material energy even in the form perceived as particles, can also be understood as a wave field of presence that extends, not unlike gravity, throughout the entire universe.

This further emphasizes the unity of matter’s energy as a Totality. What we see when we look out on the Universe are not discrete, independently existing particles or their aggregates residing in an empty “clock-box” called spacetime. We are looking at an unbroken continuum, one single continuous manifold of overlapping and compenetrated fields, a kind of plasma, whose dynamic intra-rela­tion­ships and valences account for every last feature of our Universe as we know it, from time and space to the diaphanous complexity of our human intelligence.[1]

The “nature” of existence — what it is — is to be seen in what it does. And what it does is to perdure as itself. The “nature” of existence is to exist. It evolves into myriads of forms and simultaneously “creates” time and space even as it remains itself.[2] Matter’s energy remains itself through a process of sequential interior re-ar­range­ment, an unfolding that has a communitarian character: the progressive elaboration of integrated functions.

Matter’s energy is never found by itself in an unintegrated or uncombined state. It is intrinsically communitarian, creating bound relationships within itself, the better to survive. It is a dynamic self-posses­sion built on and issuing in temporary stasis and endless change, as one tentative arrangement after another is used and transcended, searching intensely for a secure foot­hold in existence. All this change is simply the recombination of the selfsame substrate. It explains how matter’s energy has developed into everything that is-here including the spacetime “envelope” in which “things” appear to exist. It displays itself as an endless dance of internal self-explora­tion — a self-unfolding that is at the same time a self-embrace. It is as if it were a single living organism.



[1] David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge, London, 1989, p.220f. see appendix 5.

[2] Actually, it’s more accurate to say it “is time and space,” because spacetime does not exist apart from matter’s energy under any conditions.


2 comments on “The Limits of Knowledge (1)

  1. Sal Umana says:

    Tony, I have been studying this for several days now, and I believe that you have made a break through in epistemology or the study of knowing. I always found the study of knowing the most difficult of all the parts of philosophy. I think, in my own limited knowledge that you have made a break through in the understanding of knowledge, of matter, of energy, of existence, in short, of the whole human understanding of ultimate reality. I don’t expect to ever really understand what you are saying here, but I suspect you are saying something that has never been said before. I’m talking mainly about the synthesis you have made of matter, energy, “God as symbol”, existence, life, and intuitive knowledge.
    Some excerpts that struck me: “Being here is energy.” “Matter’s energy is existence.”
    ” By knowledge I mean an objective apprehension that assumes the distinction of subject and object, where the object is not the subject. I intend to go beyond that. My goal is to understand reality. By understanding I mean a connatural perception in which the subject is an intrinsic part of the object apprehended.”
    I have always experienced intuitive knowledge as my becoming one with the object, so that there is no longer subject or object, but one being. I think you are saying that the One Being is not essence but existence which is energy. Am I on the right track?
    Sal Umana

    • tonyequale says:

      Sal, hi!

      Thanks for your observations.
      Yes, you are on the right track. This piece will be followed by four more over the next two months that form a unit. Together they summarize the metaphysical and epistemological vision laid out in The Mystery of Matter (2010). I’m sure you will recognize it, and the implications of this change in perspective. I look forward to a more robust discussion once all the pieces are in place.


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