“Everything is mind,” Buddhists assert. However, this piece is not about Buddhism, but the notion that the entire cosmos is thought. In Plato’s Philebus, Socrates’ “divine mind” forms a cosmos; so this notion is not just Buddhist. Aristotle’s cosmos is thought thinking itself. The Indo-Aryans pretty much believed the same thing. In some way, even what we believe to be the physical universe is somehow simply a manifestation of thought. Moreover, as the cosmos a complete, interdependent, perfect, and one, our own thinking has access to the whole through our thought or using our minds in a way where we rid ourselves of what is imagined and our individual thoughts into a different state where we so not see ourselves or the world as a self-contained unit. While we may be a particular and individual, the whole of ourselves is actually the whole of all things.
Modern science, especially physics, is based on a Cartesian understanding of man. Descartes did something remarkable: First, he decided to doubt all pre-scientific thinking. He doubted everything except the notion that he alone was thinking. Moreover, he asserted that man alone is capable of thought (there goes god and everything else that immaterial). Everything outside of man is only extension either without inner life or completely lifeless. This duality is only overcome through mathematics. Thus, the proper way to understand the world is through a mathematical reasoning that is not rooted in the world outside of man. This Cartesian duality is the basis of how modern science approaches the world and how it understands man. What Descartes does is completely to materialize the universe and making a machine of it. There is nothing beyond man and mere extension. He even tried to locate thought in the body, giving it a material cause. Descartes is the radical opposite of “mind is everything.” There is only the individual mind and the everything else and it is highly problematic how much of our mind is connected to everything else.
A true cosmology is one where everything is interdependent. The way to destroy a cosmos is simply to deny its interdependence. When that happens, suddenly the whole of things becomes an aggregate of segments, beliefs, opinions, physical pieces, desperate systems, and so on. They vary in size and force, but they eventually all break out and become autonomous, without a context, and continue also to break down other autonomous parts. This process is known as nihilism. Nihilism in our world comes in many different names and forms. They include “progress,” Enlightenment (in the modern philosophical sense), capitalism, and what Spengler called Zivilization.
Nihilism is the very opposite of cosmos.
Modernity is an anomaly in human life. For a few hundred years, beginning in Europe and then spreading around the world, there is a movement to develop a purely material world without any higher principle than its materiality and material desires. How the world has changed! Consider, once upon a time, all students at a decent university were given St. Thomas Aquinas to learn as a practical manual for life. Today, it is very hard to find any young people who can read Thomas and make any sense of him. The education of the many today is an education to a life that has no proper end except for the satisfaction of material desires. Such a life does not need an education to a refined sense of the mind.
Moreover, the nothingness of nihilism is not at all like the nothingness which is the material, hule in Greek, or Prakriti, out of which an active intellect or Purusha, creates the world. In most cosmological systems there is an active or pure creative principle that acts on a complementary material, i.e., completely formless principle, that makes the forms or eide and substance of all things. Both the active and passive principles are not material, but they materialize everything. The physical universe is a product of a universal intelligence and the physical universe by itself cannot form a cosmos, although today there are physicists who call themselves cosmologists.
Nihilism assumes and claims to know that there is nothing outside of man and that man has no meaning of any kind, except perhaps the delusions he creates for himself. Man’s life is atomic and random. He has no whole and no context, even socially. All this kind of thinking came from one little thing, depriving the whole of its interdependence. The first one that I can think of who did was Machiavelli. In just a few sentences of the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli with great care and irony basically vacuum cleans out all that is “supernatural,” i.e., the intelligences in the air, out of the universe. One must remember that Machiavelli’s universe is an Aristotelian or Ptolemaic one, but he removes the noetic spheres that create and move the physical world. Thus, the prime mover is no thought thinking itself, but simply a last wheel of necessity that is completely material moving the rest of the physical spheres. Machiavelli did this well before Copernicus and others proved Aristotle’s speculation about the cosmos wrong.
Machiavelli’s writings are very well constructed, because they continue to use the analog to describe reality. In other words, Machiavelli’s writing imitates the reality of the world as he sees it. However, modern writers tend to the digital pole of life and write strictly in a way that at best can be said to be virtual reality.
As I wrote before in this small series, if everything is mind, then the very conventional languages and symbols we create can be used to describe the cosmos, because in some way these symbols can form wholes that imitate the whole. Political philosophy, perhaps the most complicated and most ambitious effort to describe reality, does so by finding the metaphysical truth in the whole knowledge of how man strives for the Good, both as individual and in the collective. There are some symbols that seem both totally natural and universal. For example, the center of a rotating sphere seemed such a perfect motion to Aristotle that he envisioned this theos to be a noetic sphere in motion around a perfect point at its center. The point is unmoving, while the sphere moves, just like thought thinking itself.
These kinds of symbols seem to be needed in explaining any cosmos, because a symbol is a link from the everyday sensory levels to higher intellectual realms. This link was destroyed by Descartes and what was substituted was a formal mathematical language whose symbols were completely neutral and conventional in their mediation of the body-mind duality. In effect, all symbols, including language itself, can express a partiality of truth of all things. The ancient Indo-Aryans had no problem with having 33 gods and goddesses and many more throughout the years and having these gods worshipped in the form of idols. The reason is very simple: These idols are a focal point for meditation, a bridge to higher noetic connections. Moreover, the higher noetic realms manifest themselves through human symbols. Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei. If mind is everything, then man’s mind can be analog of the rest of the divine mind. Man’s thinking and his logos find analogs in the metaphysical realm. One can even have a single tone, a single intoned word, Om, to represent the atma, the vital center of man that is the whole itself.
But all that was put into universal doubt by Descartes. That culminated later in a total nihilism. The language of nihilism is one that is forever made meaningless by time. Language changes over time as well as the meanings that we give them. It does so, because grammar is not connected to anything outside of itself that is permanent. Language maybe the House of Being (actually only the German language), but this language is presently empty, except for patriotism.
Nihilism’s language is terrorizing and commanding in its despair. The language of the Buddha for whom everything is mind is mild, terse, and very carefully chosen. The language of the Last Man of Nietzsche is entirely digital and totally uncaring about anything greater than itself. The Last Man has invented happiness. Blink. He will buy his happiness with the great currency of nihilism, capital, as his consciousness is locked into a puny little mind that really doesn’t think about anything, not even nothing.
How we think about the world makes us what we are in the spirit of the joke, you are what you eat. Better not think about that.