July 20, 2022

Late Spring.
Before he goes, the uguisu
Says over and over again
The simple lesson no man
Knows, because
No man can ever learn.

— Kenneth Rexroth, The Silver Swan


If we accept that our understanding of reality has a basis in modeling, then we must accept a primary incompleteness in this conceiving process: a model is a compaction of what, to borrow a term from William James, may be called “thick”—in drier terms, a model, generally representing some purely extrinsic object, is itself purely intrinsic and must therefore, practically speaking, be fully disjoint from what is purely extrinsic.

Quite simply, we can never know all aspects of an obvious exteriority. Less obviously, the same can be said of interior objects as well. We begin by noting that awareness is somewhat distinct from analysis—more specifically, we may call analysis a directed form of awareness, that is, it is a downstream, specific subordinate routine in the general process of the living (reminiscent of Hegel’s “purposive activity”). Here, we may repurpose and revise our conclusions from an observation by Russell: in Principles of Mathematics, he distinguishes the property of being from the property of existence: where all subjects with the extant property are said to actually (physically) exist, all subjects with the being property are those of “every conceivable term, [that is] every possible object of thought,” meaning that “propositions about them” could be constructed even if technically they may not possess actuality. Refinements in philosophical logic may provide finer alethic tools, but underlying all analysis is the given of distinguishment—that is, entities with Russellian being are not at the foundation of awareness but are products of an active (although often not entirely voluntary) mental exercise (what Descartes called “the action of my mind” in his Meditations).

More precisely, objects held in the mind—that which possess Russellian being—are so held by a distinguishing process which gives definitive shape and contour to what had been of imprecise distinction. Indeed, the essence of meaning of logical quantification lies in the identification of properties belonging to entities—prime of which is the essence of an entity itself: that which possesses Russellian being. This trivially may be extended to all mental constructions, formalized or otherwise: a proposition in having any practical meaning must be distinguished from other propositions—that is, in the concretizing process of distinguishment is irremediably inhered a fundamental division: to borrow from Aristotle, if there is an A, then there must be a not-A. And, in being able to observe this division, we necessarily remain outside of A.

Intuitively, this must obviously be so: to analyze, we must maintain distance, something which is given to us by the intrinsic-extrinsic division when observing externalities. But the same, as illustrated above, must also be when analysis is performed on interior targets. Analysis can not be had without a fundamental division between the observed and the observer. That is, models are inescapable—analyticity, in necessitating distinguishment, affords operational acuity but never direct contact.

A construction here may be had: if we observe this interior-exterior division, then we somehow remain outside of both interiority and exteriority. An apparent counterargument may here be seen: if we take A to be our person, then we cannot somehow be “outside” of A, and yet we still observe elements which are A and others which are not-A. However, we must remember that interiority and exteriority are subordinate properties of Russellian being, which is to say that our general awareness is simply presented events, and the subordinate distinguishing routine sorts out their intrinsic/extrinsic localities. It is true that we remain outside of interiority and exteriority, but it is not contradictory: general awareness precedes conceptual mentation, of which interiority and exteriority are elements.

Indeed, this may be extended to observe the experience of no-self. Normally, we take “I”—self-identity—to be the totality of our person—all that we are. Roughly speaking, there are two clear poles to “I”: the physical-”I”, the living agent’s concept of oneself which is imbued with the property of physical existence; and the mental-”I”, the aspect of ourselves which is imbued with the property of Russellian being, i.e. the living agent’s concept of oneself independent of the property of existence. (Here, we make no claims about the underlying substance in which physical and mental experience originate, only that there is a clear spectrum between the two in our conceiving of events.)

Self-identity is doubtless materially convenient—the concept of one’s physical disjunction from other materiality is necessary for our continued operation: A is our physical locality, not-A is everything outside. The precision, however, is rather simplistic, e.g. we generally disregard our porous biological nature (including the biome that is the body) when conceiving of the physical-”I”. Though it rather easy to forget (and easy to never fully realize), this rather obviously points to the concept of the physical-”I” being a model (and usually a rather crude one at that).

Obviously, we possess physicality and limits of extension, but much is clearly lost in the modeling. And, the same can be said for our conception of who we are inside, i.e. our mental-”I” is no less a model than our physical-”I”. The proof is rather straightforward given the above framing: the mental-”I”—and the general “I”—is in the first place a conceptual entity, that is, it is necessarily imbued with Russellian being. However, if we take the mental-”I” to be the totality of the living agent’s mental activity (and not a model of the living agent’s mental activity), we run into immediate contradiction: if we take the above formulation and use A to stand for mental-”I”, then some element must in the first place hold this totality, meaning that the mental-”I” cannot be a totality of all mental activity. In being imbued with Russellian being—that is, in being in the first place conceived—the mental-”I” becomes the observed, and in being observed does that necessarily imply an observer, which is to say that an awareness available to the living agent must “exist”, and this awareness must “lie outside” the mental-”I”. Thus, “I” is inextricably a model, empty of inherent substance.

Here we have quickly run into the failure of language (which itself presupposes Russellian being), hence the use of quotes around “exist” and “lie outside”: it is not entirely true to say that awareness is, because it neither has an obvious physical representation (and therefore cannot be said to exist) nor can it be exhaustively conceived (that is, in imbuing it with Russellian being do we necessarily lose correctness). Awareness cannot even be said to belong to its own ontological category, as an ontology is a lattice for distinguishment, which, again, is a proper subset of general awareness. Indeed, all that can be said is that awareness is awareness—it seems to presuppose only itself.

Again revisiting Descartes’ Meditations: “as I have the power of understanding what is called a thing, or a truth, or a thought, it appears to me that I hold this power from no other source than my own nature.” And, we find, perhaps, an answer to the riddle Wittgenstein left behind, the Nietzschean mystery at the end of his Tractatus:

(6.54) My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

(7) Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.



If we are mere automata whose only objective is to maintain operational efficacy in service to meager economic hegemonies where innovation is subordinate to control and outsized profit, then no more need here be said—the model suffices. For the rest of us—the humans—there is something to be appreciated in exploring and realizing reality.

Toward this endeavor, we may begin to understand very old concepts. Borrowing from Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum:

Taking axioms of Aristotle as a model, we may express the principal axiom . . . in our poor earthly language in the following manner:

      A is both A and Not-A.


      Everything is both A and Not-A.


      Everything is All.


As we have seen above, “our poor earthly language” has already run into limits of expression: if conceptual thought is a specialized form of the more general awareness possessed by the living, then it may be that greater truths meaningful to the living may “lie” firmly outside the bounds of analyticity. And, furthermore, the boundary is simple and obvious—namely that of distinguishment. As Ouspensky put it: “these axioms are in effect absolutely impossible [and are] merely attempts to express the axioms of this logic in concepts. In reality the ideas . . . are inexpressible in concept.”

Concepts have a somewhat more intermediate position in the grand scheme than is immediately concluded by many: reality precedes awareness, which in turn precedes the construction of concepts, which in turn precedes all formalisms or sentences. Not only are models distant from actuality, they lead far, far too many astray, confusing people to varying degrees into forgetting the primary incompleteness in models. Whitehead labeled this the fallacy of misplaced concreteness: when the understanding of an actuality is restricted to its exhibition of “certain categories of thought”, then “aspects of actualities . . . are simply ignored” via this restriction according to his Process and Reality. “Thus the success of a philosophy is to be measured by its comparative avoidance of this fallacy, when thought is restricted within its categories”—the exclusively-analytic philosophy, according to the preceding constructions, fails in general success and possesses only relatively-specific success. It is efficacious in its goal but, by its very nature, can not extend its reach beyond distinguishment, a special category of the general awareness of the living agent.