In this series of essays I would like to be more personal and offer the reader a view into myself. I will present a simple philosophy of life, how Hanzi views the world and my own place in it. It is, then, a kind of applied life philosophy or phronesis, an attempt at describing what I feel is practical wisdom. I suppose you could say that this project is a form of self-help literature, except the format doesn’t give “you” any advice. Each essay brings up one main point, but they are interconnected—also with other ideas I have presented.
“The existence of will means that all things that arise are non-indifferent”.
So basically there is this vast mystery of existence that is always-already directly present, a horizon of direct experience, and stuff arises within it: objects appear, there are senses which seem to reflect some aspects of these objects from some angles, and there are feelings and thoughts and ideas and suppositions about these occurrences or events. There is a large flow of perceptions and they are not indifferent; they all feel like something, they all matter. This ever-present horizon of experience is truly vast; if I were to name everything present, from what is felt on the tip of my tongue, to the complexities of the background sounds to the enormity of visual experience, to things lingering in the outskirts of my mind, this would be a task worthy of Sisyphus.
But if the totality of experience must always elude me, as it is infinitely larger than my ability to delineate its parts and direct attention towards them, I can at least use very broad strokes to review its territory. Within this field of being, I can count at least three categories, three worlds at different remove. There is 1st person reality, 2nd person reality and 3rd person reality.
1st person reality
1st person reality is the pure being of reality itself. Nothing is ever outside of 1st person reality. All people I have ever known, all the words they have taught me, all the sensory perceptions, all the feelings, all the discoveries about what was hidden from my view (when I learn new insights about the world or even about my own unconscious motives); it all always comes up within the field of experience. Even if I may postulate that there is a world beyond this field of experience, I can, by definition, never travel beyond it. In this sense, I am the universe: I am all that arises. What I conventionally name “Hanzi” and refer to as “myself” is a loose and complexly interrelated set of categories within this field of experience, and the boundaries of these categories shift. Some things that appeared not to be Hanzi turn out to be—and vice versa. And even if I can see that the experiencing of the world seems to be tied to this—rather handsome—object called Hanzi, I must still admit that fundamentally, it is just a category (or complex set of categories) within the wider field of experience.
One of the objects that arise within this vast field (with no outer edges) is something that I have learned to call “will”. It is a powerful and elusive entity and it seems to steer some of the flows of events, but not others. It can lift a right hand, or tap keys on a keyboard, but it cannot change the weather. What I conventionally conceive of as an “I” or refer to as “Hanzi” seems to be structured around this elusive entity, the only “causal” phenomenon within the entire field of experience: the only phenomenon that seems to be able to cause other events to occur. The will seems to have the capacity to be expanded; I can sometimes volitionally soothe anger, sometimes not. The volition itself seems to be governed by other forces, some of which I can in turn affect and change. Hence, “I, Hanzi” seem to be structured around an awake participatory aspect of a larger process that is not in itself structured around Hanzi.
The existence of will means that all things that arise are non-indifferent. I don’t want pain and suffering; some things are unpleasant and some pleasant. I seem to want the pleasant sensations and things. But not only do I steer some movable aspects of the world (my body) towards pleasantness (drinking water, resting) and away from unpleasantness (quenching thirst, not being exhausted); the will participates in all-that-arises. It hardly leaves anything alone: I saw the blue skies today, and I saw that it was good; something stirred at a subtle but profoundly present level in other parts of my awareness, and these subtle sensations are somehow inherently good. I see a lily, and I like it. I cannot quite say why I like something, but sometimes I learn things about the mind, or the world, or things about myself, that seem to explain part of what may “cause” my perception of something to be “good”. My will is there; it participates by imbuing all of experience with at least some vague aspect of non-indifference.
2nd person reality
Within this vast field of experience there are some select few nexuses of objects, of categories of properties, that seem to have whole separate oceans of subjective experience. I cannot know for sure, and sometimes I can mistake something that seemed alive and awake—like a wax doll—for a person or a non-human animal.
But if I am correct, I am not alone in this world; there are other realities of non-indifferent emergence of vast horizons of phenomena. Some parts, some small subcategories of my entire world, look back at me and glimmer of other worlds. Consciousness is looking back at consciousness. I am become two. There is a second person.
I am speaking, of course, of you. You that I know, you that I don’t know, you without whom I would be entirely lost, you whom I love, you that I am afraid of, you who I wish to reach, you who I, ultimately, live for.
As far back as I remember, I have always known you; you are all that matters to me. You have always been there. Nothing is more imbued with my will than you. When I die, you will still be there. Some of you die, disappear. I miss you. Some of you live on after me. Some of you I left when you needed me because I couldn’t handle you and you made me unhappy. Some of you are bad to me. Some of you are unbelievably good to me. Some of you subtly betray me, some of you reach out through darkness and confusion. Some of you are my friends, and sometimes I feel you misunderstand me.
But I gather that I, the continuous flow-of-events that is Hanzi, must in embryonic, fetal and neonatal stages not have know of you. I must have glossed over making the differentiation within the greater field of experience, that another ocean of consciousness was looking back at me. But once I had made that discovery, I have been with you with every breath. I truly am nothing without you.
Not all of you have eyes. Some of you are words on screens, in letters, in books, in music, in architecture. Some of you are non-human animals. But, metaphorically speaking, your eyes looking back into me is all that ever has mattered and ever will.
You are somehow a higher reality than a world of “just me”. And yet, for all I know, you are just a hypothesis. In this sense, I must remain a religious creature; I must live by the faith in you. I must interact with you and learn more of these words from you, and I must shape you, and I must resist you and I must be with you.
3rd person reality
Some of the things that arise seem to be seen also by you; I can tell by your reactions. Hence, I have a subjective realm that, in the last instance, seems entirely inaccessible to you and you have an unfathomable world forever beyond my reach—the entirety of 1st person experience—and then there seem to be some categories of things that both you and I can see and respond to. The world of objects. Of things.
It’s true then, as Kant noted, that we cannot know the thing-in-itself, only a reflection within ourselves, based upon our senses and our perspective. But we can help one another to triangulate more and more things about reality and its objects.
When I met you—yes You—I learned that in your reflection is the source of truth about the nature of all things that are forever beyond my direct reach. Through you, and in my meeting with you—and the multiplicity of you, of (metaphorical) eyes looking back at me, of eyes also looking at the cosmos—a whole world is constructed beyond my senses. A world that I then inhabit and imagine before myself and after my death.
This world grows as you teach me about it and as I observe it and test my observations with you. I dive into it, and I dive deeper, and everything is torn apart and rebuilt a thousand times. And it grows and it expands beyond all fathomable boundaries—the sheer vastness of physical space, the counter-intuitive but elegant order of the physical universe, knowledge about the mind, knowledge about physiology, about myself being an object within the world, about systems and ecologies and histories and languages, about science, about metaphysics, about perspectives—and about fundamental categories of existence that allow me to write these words.
Thus, 3rd person reality is a creative and created category within my field of experience as I meet you. I sometimes dive so deeply into this constructed world of reflections, triangulation and ideas that I think that it is the most fundamental one: it does, undeniably, contain the Hanzi object from which I seem to be peering out, as it does contain You. It is even the case that I seem to be able to explain properties of my own will by understanding things about objective reality. Objects explain me: “I probably said that because I was tired and angry” and so on.
And yet, I am not an object described in 3rd person; I am prior to any such object. And neither are You. You are something more transcendental, primary and holy than any other object that I can describe through the meeting with you. First there is “isness” or “suchness” or “being”—and then there is You, and when I meet you, “I” am also born and the journey of the self through self-understandings begins—and then there is “it”, the objective reality that we discover in the intersubjective realm. It is not harder than counting to three.
Some inescapable consequences
Hence, nowhere within 2nd or 3rd person reality do I find the will. I can infer that the will, non-indifference, should exist within your inner ocean of experience, imbuing everything that arises in your subjective universe. But such an inference of the existence of will is not the same as the direct participatory experience of will itself. Your will can be shaped by 3rd person explanations, same as mine, but I can never directly access it, never directly cause events to occur through it.
In other words, for all practical purposes, my will is the only causal participatory category in existence. I can will my hand to move, and I can walk over and lift your hand with mine, or use symbolic language to ask you to raise it, but I cannot ultimately will you to will anything. I can will to try to affect your will, or read a book about affecting you, or even to will you to affect me; but I cannot will anything into being beyond my own inner horizon.
In the last instance, this has the consequence that I alone have the full responsibility for all of reality, including you. It is tempting to elevate this into a general, universal rule that applies to “all of us”—“you have the responsibility for all of your reality and I have the responsibility for the entirety of mine”; but that would be missing the point. I really am alone here. Even if I postulate this or that rule that I have come up with, and you don’t get it or don’t buy it, it still boils down to my responsibility to communicate it to you and to make sure it makes sense in the first place. Fundamentally, I cannot blame you for not agreeing to what I think is correct. There is a logical, casual reason for why you don’t agree, and my job is to find out why, or at least to find a way of handling our difference.
There is really no escape from this complete responsibility and hence I am ultimately even responsible for all of your treatment of me. If you are good to me, if you despise me, if you would harm me, or harm anybody else, these are simply the facts of the matter. Only somewhere within my own field of experience is the will and thus the potential to affect reality. Even if there is a long chain of interactions through which we affect one another, the only the parts of this chain that appear to my inner experience are the ones that seem to have the true, direct causal quality. I have all of the responsibility, not by fairness or by duty—but by logic and definition. If you react to me, fairly or unfairly, I cannot call God to tell on you; I need to figure out how to respond productively so as to affect your future behaviors. I am responsible for what you think of me, for how you see me, for the emotions I awaken in you, and for how you act towards me.
If all blame of you is in fact a misunderstanding on my part, I am left with a message of universal love (for you) and corresponding universal acceptance (of the facts of reality, including those facts that pertain to the loose categories of “you” and “me”).
Because I exist only in the now and the will can be exercised only within the ever-present field of experience, the past “I” is also an object. Hence, I have no choice to accept it. The conclusion is hence universal love, non-judgement and self-acceptance.
“[…] my will is the only causal participatory category in existence”.
That being said, blame or other upset feelings can still be a means of affecting myself to affect you, and these feelings can be useful. There is a subtle distinction here: one category of fundamental hatred, in which I hate the imagined category of your metaphysical free will that I see as harming me or just not doing what I want – and one category of blame that is recognized as a regulatory surface phenomenon inherent to our social relations. The latter is okay, the former is a misunderstanding and leads me to chase a ghost.
So I have thus exorcised all evil from the world, at least all other evil than my own. Because your will is by definition not part of 1st person reality, it cannot be viewed as directly causal, and hence it cannot be viewed as a viable subject of metaphysically warranted hatred. (This, by the way, largely resolves the conflict between free will proponents such as the materialist and determinist Daniel Dennett and free will opponents like Sam Harris. Free will exists, but only in 1st person reality. The paradox is that it both contains objective reality and is contained by the latter.)
It thus means that “the truth” is love and acceptance, and that judgement and unacceptance are mistakes I have made—but which I accept and don’t judge.
Another conclusion has to do with God
On the one hand God is dead: if the only free will that exists, does so in 1st person reality, there is no reason to try to bargain with 3rd person reality. Nobody is home. I’m just talking to myself. God by definition must be dead, because it is a category within 3rd person reality. God, in this sense, is a bad habit of my mind to try to force my own 1st person perspective upon the unknowable 3rd person world of objects. Because of the tenacity of this habit (feeling “special”, “chosen”, “enchanted” and so on) I must kill God again and again. There is, of course, nothing special about the object Hanzi or the narratives or memories I may have thereof. My habit of injecting such specialness into reality is my 1st person reality colonizing and violating 3rd person reality.
On the other hand, I must submit to God, because in the last instance even my own will is always-already layered in something infinitely larger than myself. Hence, I am always only a thin slice of a totality that I cannot see the beginning or end of, and hence I cannot in any way be the most important or special part of existence. I must have faith in something beyond my 1st person reality, something infinitely larger.
The only reasonable response to the infinite and to the enormity of existence is submission; I must seek to grasp at least some of this enormity and try to see at least some comprehensible values that are larger than myself, and I must submit my free will to what is good, even if I cannot know what the ultimate source of that goodness may be.
This is a further step along the path of secularization. We used to think that there was “someone” out there, someone to hear our prayers. We bargained with 3rd person reality. A part of us wanted to steer it, when we can only ever submit to it, except through the causal power of our will. But that secularization is incomplete: it leaves islands of God, in the 2nd person, everywhere in the world around us. But these are also ultimately beyond my will and my direct reality. When I believed in You as a source of good or evil, as a will, I was mistaken. I now must take the full responsibility for the universe, including for you—by logical necessity.
So God is both dead and my will is always-already submitted to God. Both of these things are simultaneously true. And I have the full responsibility for all that arises. And I love you. And I must seek the truth, and that is only possible together with you, and in your eyes the dead God looks back at me.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his Facebook profile here.