MD Mysticism and the appearance/reality distinction

From: Elizaphanian (
Date: Mon Mar 31 2003 - 11:38:15 BST

  • Next message: Elizaphanian: "Re: MD Mysticism and the appearance/reality distinction"

    Hi Matt, Scott, DMB, all

    This is a spin-off from the postmodernism thread. I think it deserves its
    own title (clarity is all).

    Scott said (in the philosophy and theology thread):
    ...sanity is defined as having the same static patterns as those around
    you. My position is that from a larger perspective, those static patterns we
    all share can in turn be seen as insane. That is, the mystical experience is
    not a vacation, but a regaining of reality, analogous to waking up from a

    I agree with that. Yet I think Matt has a point when he says there are (can
    be?) some philosophical assumptions embedded when we use the word 'reality'
    in such contexts. I'd like to concentrate on that point.

    Matt said:
    Granted that not all mysticisms are the same. The main point I want to
    make about mysticism is that if it has a concept of "maya," a notion that
    if we move past the illusion of our senses or concepts or language or
    whatever, that we will then see Reality as it truly wants to be seen, then
    I would interpret it as having an appearance/reality distinction.

    In other words, Matt is denying that there is such a thing as reality,
    understood in an absolute sense, which can be discerned by us, as a result
    of mystical experience (or anything else). This notion of reality is, I
    would agree, an essentialist/modern/Platonist notion, and highly dubious.
    Let us call it Reality (capital R) to keep its philosophical status clear.

    DMB (in striking style) comments:
    You're hunting in the wrong ocean, Ahab. Your great white whale, the
    appearence/reality distinction, swims in the sea of epistemology.
    Metaphilosophically or otherwise, mysticism is not the same as epistemology.

    I think it indubitable that mysticism is not the same as epistemology, but I
    don't think it makes the point that DMB wants it to make. Mysticism is
    different from all philosophical disciplines, surely? The issue is what is
    claimed on behalf of mystical insights, and those claims can have
    epistemological status.

    DMB goes on to say
    You're demonstrating a misunderstanding of mysticism here. You've
    misconstrued it as epistemology so that "unmediated experience" becomes the
    real reality or foundation. But that's not what's going on at all in these
    descriptions. Pirsig is only making a distinction about two kinds of
    experience, mediated and unmediated, static and Dynamic. Pirsig's expanded
    empiricism says both kinds of experience are valid and verifiable. The
    distinction between these two kinds of experience does not does not "dip
    into the appearance/reality distinction" because experiences ARE appearences
    and in the MOQ that IS reality. Distinct? Heck, in the MOQ appearance and
    reality are indentical. Experience is all you get.

    The issue here is clearly what the philosophical status of 'unmediated
    experience' is. I think Pirsig's view is fairly clear. All our experience is
    of Quality, and it comes in two forms - static quality, which is experience
    mediated by (primarily) previous intellectual understandings and knowledge,
    and dynamic quality, which is an experience that cannot be encompassed by
    those static latches. It is 'new'.

    However, that perspective of Pirsig's does not necessitate an equation of DQ
    with Reality. I think that DMB is equating DQ and Reality, whilst Matt is
    denying it (I'm not sure where Scott stands).

    Matt said
    This is why I think Pirsig is totally ambivalent on the subject. The
    concept of "mediated experience" doesn't make any sense to me except to say
    that something is getting in the way of experience. Something is
    distorting it, like, say, green glasses. If we can shed the distortion,
    the green glasses, we will have unmediated experience, something
    undistorted, something pure.

    I think that it is important that Pirsig leaves DQ indefinable. Another way
    of putting that is to say that it cannot be talked about. As soon as we
    start to talk about something, it is no longer dynamic.

    Let me come at this from a slightly different angle. I imagine that we would
    agree that our understandings can improve - that some understandings of the
    world are of higher quality than others. Let us take the difference between
    Copernican and Ptolemaic astronomy as the paradigm example. When the
    conceptual leap from the earlier to the later conceptions was made, there
    was an increase in quality of worldview.

    The question is - how best to characterise this shift? Can we do it without
    making reference to a concept of reality (or Reality) at all? What is the
    status of the 'new' - that is, how are we to describe it epistemologically.

    If we can get some agreement on that - or at least, if we can clarify our
    differences - it may allow us to come back at the question of mysticism


    "When we speak of God we do not know what we are talking about. We are
    simply using language from the familiar context in which we understand it
    and using it to point, beyond what we understand, into the mystery that
    surrounds and sustains the world we do partially understand" (Herbert

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