Evolution of Intellectualized Conception and Discourse in Western Civilization
In order to incorporate progressing knowledge into the mainstream, as an epistemic system with enough cohesion and universality to cogently drive social development long-term, academia would have to change minds. Civilization had emerged out of conflicts between rival tribes, and been built to favor the interests of victors, with authority a mechanism for maintaining disproportionate wealth, resources, behavioral license and security, as much if not more than the means to safeguard and enhance quality of life in general populations, let alone the futuristic prospects of a globalizing humanity. For B.C.E. millennia, factions had been antagonizing each other, erupting into war, lowballing or hardballing competitors in negotiations, and reaching tenuous compromises, with minimal concern for traditionalizing the collaborative pursuit of truth or formulating all-inclusive values. Large-scale civilizations initially carved out their place in the world via a torrent of conflicting personal and collective priorities, so that the first enclaves of enlightened purpose were faced with a difficult task of overcoming the very essence of political and economic life while repudiating precedents of intimidative force that were the only way wholesale usurpation of values had ever been achieved. And these reformers were not wrestling with superficial delusions to be countered merely by well-timed moments of reasoned communication carried out informally between individuals, though of course efforts at the individualistic scale are crucial to this cause; a multigenerational mass movement of consciousness shifting and institutional transition unlike anything ever attempted in history would have to find and grow its niches, for an existence of dissonance is foundational to terrestrial biology.
Humanity’s restiveness has its roots in the essence of our planet’s matter. At the beginning stages of biological evolution, aggregate mass with its thermodynamic properties gelled into structures which became differentiated from their environments in complex ways, altogether a relative locality that would give rise to spatiotemporal awareness upon the emergence of sense-perception. This interfacing amongst both organic and inorganic locality is adequately described by the law of the excluded middle, a statement of the mutual exclusivity in time and space induced by the quantum decoherences of particularization within conglomerates of Earth’s atoms.
Interactions between organic and inorganic mass as well as those of nascent organisms exerted selection pressure for life’s chemistry to become more nuanced in its responsiveness to surroundings, allowing some creatures to win the biological sweepstakes by adaptation. This started as biochemical mechanisms of stimulus and response, but some lineages gained the ability to etch transcription of happenings into their molecular structures, enabling more predictive behaviors by way of sensitization and habituation.
Organisms evolved perceptual apparatuses to better target stimuli, and their workings waxed integrated and large-scale enough that bioactivity consisted in more than systems of atomic attraction and repulsion analogous to laboratory chemistry, but a kind of holistic “flow”, the first sign of comportmenting we loosely refer to as libidinous drive, life’s impetus. Libido self-selected for bodily structure, impelling lifeforms towards specialized organ systems and functional molecules with a vast assortment of relatively local or nonlocal effects. This vitalism generated the nervous system, a hybridization of decoherent, thermodynamic particularity (comparative locality) with quantum coherent tunneling and entanglement of synapses (comparative nonlocality), capable of integrating far-flung structures as libido’s control center and the locus of what would bloom into qualitative experience.
Perceptual capacities swelled in some lineages by way of accretions and refinements to the body and brain until libidinous drive involved contributions from intentionality, cognitive complexes which interpret phenomena via the greater association-making plasticity of thought and motivate an organism by subtle and diverse modulations. The modules of these first intentional minds served many functions: semiconscious control of interoceptive states, channeling and suppression of affect, binding of exteroception and proprioception into predictive responses to the environment, keener insight into all kinds of phenomenality, and a more logiclike, coherent organization of memory. At this stage, cognition had surpassed the nonimprovisational nature of basic physiology, holding arrays of both anticipated and actual outcomes together at the fore of awareness such that what we regard as choice could take place. Libido was no longer mere instinctual drive modified by behavioral trial and error, but discriminative purpose which ran trial and error experiments as hypothetical conceptualizings located entirely in the mind, not only reflexively reacting and then adjusting to experiences but preemptively comprehending them.
In many lineages, affective, perceptual and conceptualizing states of consciousness differentiated and deepened, alloying into self-regulative functionalities, often under the sway of neuromaterial modules for self and social awareness. Intentionalized admixing of observation, feeling and higher level thought transitioned association-making into advanced reasoning, affect into emotion, perception with its kaleidoscope of impressions into a faculty largely subordinated to the self, sublimating motive and causal recognition into intellecting desire. This graduated from the prehuman dichotomy of compulsions and protological ascertainments all the way to humanity’s civilized experience of existential conflict between aspirations and worldviews, the species’ minds rife at times with exuberation, angst, yearning, disillusionment or aching resignment, a discordance between what we want, what we can idealistically imagine, and the realities we must consign ourselves to. Stark awareness of discrepancy between wishes and actuality, impinging upon the foreground of our psyches’ surplus, sometimes idle and frequently thwarted adeptness at envisioning possibility is the root of contradiction, an intentionality that challenges the boundaries of that which it knows.
Over the course of our species’ history, contradiction between apparent reality and desire, substance and human will, supraintentional vs. intentional manifestings of excluded middle diversification within organic and inorganic structures of a spatiotemporal environment on Earth, has been elicited in many ways.
Tenseness between individuals offers an example. Our species is constantly encountering friction as personal purposes and preferences clash with those of family, friends, acquaintances, cultures, society generally, and much of collectivization is absorbed in dealing with the standoffs induced by predispositions, predilections, urges, goals, ambitions or zealousness. Literature and dramatic art as a whole take thematic advantage of social tension’s impact, as the majority of works pit a protagonist whose personality is wrought in detail against foils responsible for putting the hero or antihero in some kind of evocative predicament. Discrepancy between an artist’s purpose and the audience’s interpretation is also pervasive, precipitating a huge diversity of impressions, and much time is spent reflecting on and debating the meanings and merits of memetic creations.
The irresolvability of many ambiguities in symbolic art highlights how contradictoriness is not merely invoked by clashing intentions, but also simply from the uncertainty inherent in any instance of attempting to identify and express truism. All human experiencing has at least a modicum of transparent truth-value, the plain facts, but overall perspectives are partial, conditional and temporary, with intelligence disputing opinions, theories and practices, observing, experimenting, collaborating, asserting or submitting as seems reasonable. Some facts and derivative truths prove actualizing to a human being, while some go so far as to place strain on the essence of an individual’s frame of reference or what he or she stands for, and the dissonances among favored, disfavored and difficult viewpoints inundate the encultured modern psyche, compelling unsettling transitions.
Simply the nuts and bolts of everyday correspondence are exacerbative to contradiction. Verbal expressions are like the tip of an iceberg, belying a vast underlying bulk of unconscious signs, implicit suggestiveness, hidden motives, conceptual schemas, past and present experiences of every communicator, all submerged in an ocean of reality, the contents of which largely exceed observation’s scope. As acts of idea transmission proceed, the symbolisms of imagery and language frame our mass of concepts, outlining holistic shapes and bringing specifics into focus, but at the same time the context of discourse is demarcated from wider milieus of existence, fact, truth and belief, a rhetorical influence towards adopting some perspectives and excluding alternatives, not infrequently leading to subliminal, connotative or ideological fallacy. Symbolical content colors interpretation in bold shades, while what the depictions that utilize it omit holds as much sway as explicit denotement, for recipients tend to omit this as well. Skilled, determined or relentless semiosis can produce fissuring between thought and even conceptual reality: the more moving, self-coherent and tightly reasoned a presenting of information is, the more convincing it becomes, but this paradoxically estranges an audience from total implications, creating insular universes of meaning that hold the power to delude even those formulating them. Symbolic portrayal of conceptualizings can ossify the mind with false confidence, putting it in opposition to rival valuations as well as what lies beyond the periphery of signification.
Contrast between the mechanistic and social construct perspectives on emotion with which we began section 4 provides an example of language’s seductions absent a methodological approach for augmenting and organizing fact-based truth such as has been crafted in academic settings. The staunchly mechanistic camp tends to hold that much of behavior is beyond the control of willpower, with authoritarian measures such as policing and other deterrents necessary to place a check on gravitation towards conditions under which the species’ members are virtually guaranteed to violate others. If these autonomic forces of motivation allow for evolutionary change at all, it would require discrepancies in reproductive success which favor those who possess the innate predisposition for greater thresholds of self-control. The social construct camp views emotion as a product of the way humans process experiences conceptually and imbue concepts culturally, with metamorphosis possible by way of consciousness-raising that intellectualizes humanity’s intention-driven selves. Evolution towards increases in the species’ emotional stability and behavioral harmony would be carried out by inducing reflections and self-conditioning via cognition-centric techniques such as mindfulness practice, simultaneously steering society in the direction of traditions that foster rather than inhibit growth in the direction of conflict-mitigating discipline. An extremely mechanistic outlook seeks to architect governing power structures as the keystone of social organization, while those who adopt the social construct standpoint strive more towards an enlightening of consciousness with the ultimate dream of making power struggle and the inhibition of human will that accompanies it obsolete.
It is easy to notice how a few turns of phrase make these perspectives seem equally airtight: authority must strictly enforce rules while molding largely intractable trait profiles by force, or enlightenment realizes the intellect’s potential for regulation of its flexible comportment via a journey towards self-awareness. It is obvious to most moderns that utter incompatibility is not the consequence, for many citizens balance public roles with private betterment, but in order to obtain a theoretical reconciliation of transpersonal validity, the ponderer has to push past rhetorical boundaries and add something new, “clear and distinct”, systematic and transformative to the mix, subverting his or her preexisting assumptions in ways that can present a confirmational challenge.
Without in depth analysis, ongoing acquisition, and generalizing synthesis of fact, the two points of view seem to oppose each other: if emotional and additional forms of behavior are instinctive, one finds it plausible to pursue institutional balance of power, and if concept-subordinate, a soul-searching which culminates in enlightened self-mastery seems ideal. The former focuses on control, security and bureaucratic optimization as a constraint on disorder, while the latter looks to free association within collectives and existential actualization as a constraint on oppression. The former has led to some of our most successful political machinery such as “checks and balances” and civil services, which however seem susceptible to corruption and rogue ambition, while the latter has resulted in movements like world religions that help conduce peak ethical commitments at many times and in many places, but frequently veer towards indifference, militancy or radical doctrines that have not been sustainable on a large scale, usually set aside in practice.
As soon as we examine the factors that mold human behavior, this conceptual confrontation begins to dissipate. All of our species’ activity, whether physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional, involves a rather simple duality between negative and positive reinforcement, either discouraging or encouraging the recurrence of deportmental strategy, and both kinds of conditioning, no matter what the circumstances, are exacting their effects on a psychology firmly attached to physiology, especially our brains, all closely related by heredity. The commonality between human minds — pain, fear, happiness, sadness, memory, perception, conception, neuron synapsing, hormone and neurotransmitter secretions — means that our species’ cognitive profile can be theorized with a single assortment of models progressed via inclusion and synthesis of more and more fact into the general picture.
As observational contexts diversify towards novelty in instrumentation, investigative methods and theoretical constructs, unprecedented phenomena come to the attention of researchers, and the definitional framework of science is stretched to accommodate these changes. When knowledge content has grown so transformational that previous conventions are inadequate to address it, the boundaries of discourse can burst and new paradigms take shape. At these moments, thought struggles to cope with inconsistency; traditional complexes of symbolic expression, within which language and conception are united, break down, truth starts to seem unclear, the mind strives to reconstitute images, representations, meanings via an open-ended enterprise of reasoned abstraction, forcing particulars to fit into a revised whole they were not tailored for so that they make optimum sense, with functional relevance maximally innovated.
When we attempt to incorporate the models explicated by neuroscientists Fields and Barrett into our dialogue of instinct, cognition and culture, just such a reconfiguration occurs. Fields’ “rage circuit” idea reduces to the abstract concepts of sequence and threshold: mechanistic linearity cascades in a spatiotemporal direction like a row of dominoes, but only when initiating force reaches a sufficient level, after which causality is automatic. Barrett’s “constructed emotion” is more nondeterministic, seeing the nervous system as arising out of an innumerable variety of spontaneous processes that in essence impel themselves, an array in which the intentions comprising identity have an executive role. If we synthesize the truth they both contain, it seems the nervous system operates by way of at least two dynamics: a causal motivity distributed between simultaneous physical modules, governed by the self, which in some cases is subjected to triggering mechanisms that can temporarily alter the mode of the system so it becomes reflexive, such as in life or death situations.
If we extend this hybridization of models to the analysis of human behavior, it seems we can expect to find multiple mechanisms of linkage between body and mind. In the majority of cases, conscious awareness will have an impact on actions by way of decision-making, and this becomes truer the longer the timeframe within which opportunity is afforded to micromanage ourselves. Psychological counseling, with this in mind, has taught us to utilize a “cooling off” period when we are angry or distraught, disengaging from stress and regaining control so we do not do something regrettable in the heat of the moment. Western culture has also generally learned to reflect more on behavior, considering the perspectives of those around us with deliberateness, as well as committing to conflict resolution and compromise, looking for “win-win” outcomes. However, under some conditions the human mind is guaranteed to lose control, an overriding of the self by impulses which cannot be resisted, and we should take some care to organize our relationships and societies so as to mitigate incidence of unbridled sentiment to the extent that it causes violence and destruction.
As can be seen, contradiction between the interpretations of emotion as reflexive or reflective is mostly resolved by academia, via theories of how cognition affects behavior and how behavior can be influenced by culture, a synthesis which has been incorporated into institutional practice during the previous century. Counselors are positioned in places where individuals are most likely to either face overwhelming pressure or lack coping skills, popular literature and the education system can promote cooperation and self-control, while many try to teach human beings to be more contemplative when possible. The paradigms represented by Fields and Barrett have been integrated within our modern episteme as well as infused into many practices of behavior management.
Yet plenty of complications still exist in the domain of emotion regulation. Some citizens have a difficult time adopting coping methods because of predispositions, either from genetic endowment, long-term traumas which diminish stress tolerance, or intense, life-disrupting events, circumstances where even proficient counselors can only do so much. Most counseling falls far short of even these limitations upon its effectiveness, for practitioners are paid extremely well, closer to the upper middle class than the lower, of much higher social rank than many of their clients and always better informed about the technicalities of what they are doing, leading to prejudice and elitist mentalities that sour delicate, therapeutic relationships with some of those they treat. As a money-making venture, applied psychology is subjected to all the usual discontents of wealth and power: predation on the vulnerable, exploitation of the naive, and disingenuous marketing, sometimes boosting the industry and a pretentious agenda at the expense of those who are supposed to be its beneficiaries. And counseling as well as the higher education which furthers its conceptual frameworks is too expensive or selective in many countries to serve most of the population, so dissemination of even its best insight lies well below full potential.
In this and probably all fields, there is a gap between academic and public knowledge which must be bridged by some kind of discourse, a dialogue that conjures new ideas, spreads these ideas amongst the occupational community, and packages concepts into forms suitable for widespread application, altogether a foundation of progressing objectivity. The keystone of this discoursing is literature, which sets the tone and strategic agenda of education, vocation, and human reasoning in general via seminalizing concepts, then popularizing them by giving human beings an appealing experience.
An impartial presentation of the facts and every interpretive angle is the ideal, but optimum balance and comprehensiveness are rarely if ever attained. The most rational authors must still sell their work, and this requires rhetorical purpose, a dramatic and ideological manipulation that is crafted to match the paradigm a publisher, academic department or company wishes to promulge, often seeking polished coherence at the expense of giving full recognition to ambiguities, a glib excising of the contradictions inhering in any quest for truth. The audience brings inclinations to the table, which in some cases constrains it to particular genres and self-affirmational subject matter while inducing confusion about the author’s intent. This is accentuated by complexities of the episteme itself, so that quibbling over obscure implications never ceases, often going so far as to generate rival movements with even brief statements, though precisional prowess of the intelligentsia’s artistry has advanced. And many individuals reject educational reading, sundering them cognitively from other subcultures. Though writing-centric learning has tempered culture’s divergences, impediments fracture collective thought into alternate conceptual universes, allowing evolutionary drift to persist in exacting divisive effects.
How does knowledge develop in the absence of academia? First, perceptual experiences are assimilated to memory and higher cognition with assistance from what has been termed conception. As human beings interact, they attempt to share concepts, stimulating conveyance of these concepts with language. This prompts the psyche towards reflections and expression, with resultant cogital complexes of perception, conception and language conditioned as habits of thought. Aspects of these mentalities are conventionalized as customs while humans live together or otherwise associate for prolonged periods, so that collectivity is instated as a factor in cognitive bearing, having primary influence upon the kinds of observations and contemplations regarded as desirable, meaningful, beneficial, and ultimately of importance or acceptability within the scope of practice. Recurringly apropos or touted insights are entwined with individual and cultural identity as lives unfold in communities, and an intricate mass of mutual facts, beliefs and values coalesces as the informal episteme. Idiosyncratic histories of behavioral conditioning, language use and socialized thought are a key component in graduation of reality from real or illusory to that which is communally and existentially true or false.
Outcomes of action shape the world, bringing further phenomena to our awareness and introducing new significances, necessitating that beliefs change. Though preexisting culture exerts some inertial resistance upon transmogrification of belief, especially when the natural and social environment remain stable, transitions are of course common as well as more challenging the greater a community’s complexity or fluctuation.
Prehistorically, traditions contained much apotropaism, the sense that beliefs are legitimized by spiritual endorsements, the violation of which supposedly disrupts the natural order. Thus, while mutations to practice and perspective could still accumulate over hundreds of years, precivilized life inclined to be stalwart if circumstances were likewise constant, excepting the rapid evolutionary drift in languages. As life became more centered around technological innovation, driving agricultural surpluses and spurring the species towards enlarged, settled, secerned populaces, as well as an increase in leisure time along with the furthering of technology itself, rate of cultural transmutation accelerated. Territorial rivalries instigated violent conflicts, leading to conquest-centric ways of life, the transplantation of victor populations into new regions, and material and logistical advances serving to sustain empires while paving the way for mass migrations during peacetime. Though multicultural civilization synthesized intellectual traditions among much else in advantageous ways, and efforts to maintain class hegemony compelled progress towards efficient administration of trade as well as more universalizable systems of legality, society was locked into an existence of byzantine difficulties and volatile metamorphosis.
Nontechnical language use trends towards reinforcement of divisions between subcultures and their beliefs, for the organic aim is rhetorical success more than an ideally precise modeling of causality, stimulating concepts in other minds sufficient to get gratifying responses, not total explication. While humans are communicating thoughts linguistically, much of their experiential conditioning is dismissed, overlooked or neglected for the sake of psychological impact or incapable of springing up from the unconscious to inform meaning. The approximational as opposed to high fidelity orientation of most expressing makes it unintuitive and almost unnatural to convert one’s observations, beliefs and approaches into comprehensive principles applicable in an objective manner as required for modernity’s science, high technology, mass production and technicalized economies. It was a tremendous labor for the first philosophical thinking to institute rational analysis as the foundation of civilization and transfigure language into a technique for critiquing and revising culture.
Subcultural distinctions can be further rigidified by boundaries constraining the kinds of expression deemed appropriate. This is certainly characteristic of civilized environments, where the logistical demands of life escalate, communication becomes complex, and inspiring trust in one’s competency harder to compass. Diversified societies of intricate material, economic and historical preconditions are more psychologically toilsome, and in the presence of a subcultural variety that must often recast itself, humans get what stability is possible from community ritualizations, such as manners, colloquialisms, artistic and literary styles, visual cues of dress, or aural cues such as speech patterns, so that they can quickly discern who will be affiliated with, at what level of formality, informality or intimacy, and for what purpose. Academia faces the formidable task of batching information so it edifies and appeals to as wide a cultural sphere as possible, an objective sort of knowledge drawing all the threads of heritage and behavior into a cohesive whole. This requires considerable speculation, excogitating and experimentation, an entering into sometimes radical opposition with the organic normalization which is ever parsing and indurating society into exclusive traditions. Intellectualism of any importance must not only nurture rationality on its own terms but diplomaticize such that arcaneness and innovation are granted credibility and public relevance.
Instituting academy-spearheaded standardization in civilized cultures was a historical hurdle. The first philosophers were usually either supported by aristocracies, aristocrats themselves, or limited to an austere subsistence in small communities. In Europe, the Christian church did much to promote academia for the sake of crafting strategies by which to spread its teachings and resolve complications of exigesis and doctrine. Priests such as St. Augustine and monks like St. Thomas Aquinas travailed to make the religion intellectually respectable, and monastic orders, especially the Jesuits (Est. 1534 in France), disseminated Christianized learning throughout the world as colonization ran its course. Governments everywhere sponsored institutions of learning such as universities to aid in administrating territories and architecting policy, an effort that reached full force upon dissolution of Europe’s universal church with its heavy-handed regulations, a subsequent revitalization of independent study during the Renaissance followed by outpourings of cutting edge astronomy, alchemy, anatomy, medicine and engineering, together with the radiation of European academia to imperial holdings. Literature has of course played a pivotal role for organizing intellectual life in all civilizations, and globalization motivated the translations and multicultural scholarship that by the 20th century were fast turning objectivity into a universal system of pedagogy and vocation.
Even with the most enlightened of premodern academia, temptation to overreify theory was strong, only heightened by bewitchments of language. The mind innately leans towards a reductionistic mindset when conceptualizing reality: an explanatory idea dawns on us, then we psychologically fixate, trying to fit or ‘reduce’ observations to the presuppositional mold until conditions upset our confidence such that change seems practical or unavoidable. We are constantly tweaking cognitive models of objects and our world in general while we interact with technicalities, whether it be figuring out how to program a t.v. remote, repairing a car, resolving procedural errors at work, or predicting the weather, a problem-solving experimentalism that is fundamental to human mentality, but the more precedential, integral to culture, and epistemically core a theory with its attendant beliefs is, the greater our fixation, to the point that conceptual hubris can sometimes only be shaken by upheaval in worldviews and social arrangements.
More chimerical still are the underlying intuitions that influence thinking under many circumstances, some of which were described in section 3, chapter 1, “The Basis of Reasoning Instincts in Causal Intuitions about the Physical World”, and chapter 2, “Fallible and Illusionary Reasoning Instincts”. Though reason aimed at sense-perception is one of our most efficacious instruments, it has an iota of compulsivity like any brain process, and without critical psychology such as was popularized by Kantian philosophy and which came into its own during the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe, we tend towards viewing conceptualizings of spatiotemporality as metaphysical foundation or transcendental essence, the conditions of the possibility of existence as such, rather than an apperceptive function, the conditions of the possibility of experience. When psychological naivete does philosophy, it siphons off empirical facts of our world until all that remains are the intuitive fundamentals — parts, wholes, action and reaction, synthesis, division — then assembles them into a holistic account, seeking a self-consistency which is superficial in relation to actual causality, consisting in post-hoc illusions. Essentializing aggrandizes properties of the human mind until we overreach with concepts like the ‘prime mover’, the basic particle or eternal recurrence, exaggerating human nature into cosmic principle, artificially tying together the loose ends of a gallimaufry that is mere serviceable biology in order to create an apex conceptual framework, intellectually satisfying and sometimes an enhancement of thought’s efficiency, but often not at all instantiated beyond the reasoning mind.
As already alluded to, rhetorical polish rebars essentialist reductionism when parameterizing concepts such that they appear speciously certain, discouraging critical thought with the beguilements of discursive framing. Skilled language can make almost any compilation of ideas seem unambiguous, self-sufficient, complete, glossing over the involutions, conjectures, inexhausiveness of any reasoning about the real world until even dubious claims are interpreted by some as indisputable, further fermenting philosophical credulity and occasionally an extremist ideology.
At the beginnings of civilization, humanity’s reasoning intuitions were being applied almost exclusively in their natural role, as a means to make judgements regarding the structure of environments for technological and ecological desideration, crucial to selective breeding, construction, management of food production, and settled life generally. Early civilized humans conceived hypothetical solutions to the problems of a more arduous existence, put these practical insights to the test in daily life, then carried out modifications based on the results. This amounted to employment of deduction, an inferencing from conceptual structures to anticipated facts, coupled with induction, an inferencing from observed fact to implications for the viability of conceptual structures, in essence ‘scientific method’, but not yet having been explicitly formulated such that it served as a formal procedure for cumulative progress, still at this stage embodied subliminally in technical developments which were closer to opportunistically conditional than systematically directional.
The first literature of antiquity aimed primarily for rhetorical effects, telling an evocative story and symbolizing the values of one’s culture while minimally concerned with technical or empirical accurateness. But as technology advanced, taking center stage in human relationships and the sustenance of civilization, authors began to construe the traditional content of written artistry — historical origins, the nature of the world as a whole, social dynamics, the meaning of human life — as amenable to scrutiny by reasoning. As mentioned elsewhere, even the most analytical works did not initially extricate themselves from rhetoric, and combined with the enticement to essentialize, reducing encyclopedic knowledge to underlying intuitions and then erroneously reifying them as reality’s absolute principles, nascent philosophy usually emerged from the quest for comprehensive truth with an image of the world as driven by fundamental rationale, a supreme ordering analogous to human law.
In ancient Greece, the fountainhead of future analyticity and science in Europe, this rationale was distinguished by philosophy into two domains: ‘telos’ or cosmic rationale as manifest in knowledge of the external world, and ‘logos’ or reflective reasoning, the mirror for this cosmic rationale in the process of coming to understand. Much of Western theorizing up until post-Medieval eras seems to have presumed the rationalizability of existence, leaving very few if any records of investigating arational phenomena such as instinct, the unconscious, value enculturation, or the technicalities of empirical unpredictability. Natural philosophy addressed the rational principles of our planet and supposedly geocentric cosmos; human nature was queried in terms of logic, social history, also practical disciplines such as politics and ethics; and metaphysics held on to the dream of uniting all knowledge within the scope of essential principles.
During the European Renaissance, technical thinking which had been exercised in quantification and engineering for millennia began to blend with efforts to understand the ‘natural laws’ of the cosmos, motivating invention of better observational tools such as telescopes. By the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, telescope technology had become potent enough to revolutionize the European model of reality, as it was proven by direct visual evidence that humans do not live in a small pocket of the empyrium tailored for terrestrial life, but rather a vast spatial universe in relationship to which the race is an almost inconsequential speck, despite our privileged place in the dominance hierarchy of Earth’s organisms.
Many of the first mathematical models were addressed to simple, intuitive phenomena such as the revolving of planets in our solar system, and fit the data with little equivocality, but as groundbreaking protoscience proceeded, the error which could arise in association with quantitative description grew more salient. This attention to recurring uncertainty readily conjoined with the nominalist heritage of Middle Ages Ockhamism, together engendering a paradigm viewing mathematical representations and eventually empirical explanation in total as approximation, intrinsically subject to imprecision. Early Modern philosophers of the 17th century reflected upon the phenomenon of fallacious observation with some care, a skepticism that questioned many essentialist precedents and commenced the reinterpretation of empirical discovery as more a matter of methodology than revealed truth, a function of humanity’s reasoning capabilities instead of metaphysical rationale.
The impossibility of using direct measurement to analyze most geometric figures for purposes of quantitative modeling was a barrier, but Isaac Newton brought resolution in the 17th century with invention of calculus, a method enabling empiricists to make infinitely precise approximations without measuring, solely by the manipulation of symbolic expressions. This opened up an unbounded world of mathematical form to modeling efforts, setting the stage for modernity’s physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology and biology.
Philosopher Gottfreib Leibnitz of the same era, also a genius of deduction who independently invented calculus without however devoting it to empirical objectives, likewise realized the relevance of symbolic systems for constructing representations of our world, as well as in analyzing the logic of language. His very early experimentation with new metalanguages for truth-value, inspired by a long tradition of mathematical proof, foreshadowed the late-19th century innovations of Charles Sanders Peirce and Gottlob Frege, their robust systems of symbolic logic expanded by analytic philosophy, particularly philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. Technical idioms platformed the development of logical architectures that when wedded to number theory and integrated into technological designs seeded electronics, computers, and a great leap forward to the Information Age.
In the 18th century, analysis of reason, the organs of human knowing, made great strides, inspired by the earlier protoscientific shifts in worldview that cast much doubt on the possibility of an observer-neutral explanatory framework in the mold of essentialist tradition. Immanuel Kant crowned the Early Modern discoursing that had fleshed out this philosophical skepticism with his Idealism, drawing up an epistemological theory which gave the first comprehensive treatment of how the world interrelates with human minds as we acquire knowledge. This seminal schema reinterpreted truth as begotten by categories of reason, the structure of conceptualization, prefiguring psychology and neuroscience. Its acknowledgement of the limitations that cognition places on our ability to define reality in terms of absolute structure dealt the decisive blow to system-building metaphysics, so that future philosophies would be much more intuitionist, obligated to qualify insights about nature and the universe with reference to relativities of perceptual and cultural perspective, the discrepancies between apparent and actual causality as well as amongst individuals. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Kant’s anatomy of reason would be enriched by the new fields of phenomenology and its offshoot mereology in a similar delineation of the conceptual categories associated with logic, identity and more.
Also around this 18th century period, European population was expanding fast, with subcultural diversity a major policy issue, as even minority demographics had grown to hundreds of thousands if not millions strong. It was necessary to assess the new dynamics of these larger societies, finding ways to mobilize the masses, prevent unrest, and predict long-term ramifications. Philosophers studied human nature, economy, political systems and ethics as reconstituted by sprawling multitudes, with mainstream thought evolving towards more egalitarian ideologies committed to offering concessions and broadened participation, appeasing the irrepressible public with opportunities to advocate for its own interests through legal channels and reap maximum benefit from institutions, ultimately for the goal of sustaining countries’ intellectual and technical formidability in the rivalries of Europe.
As knowledge spread under the influence of egalitarianism and the continent started to academicize, analysis of literature increased in sophistication. Philosophy was growing more conscious of historical context as evinced by written records, a cognizance of the way culture differs by time, place, the idiosyncrasies of various individuals and collectives. At first this burgeoning relativism by and large refused to relinquish the age-old ultrarationalist bent of high-level thinking, resulting in preponderant Hegelianism, a paradigm regarding historical development as the interaction of sequentially parallel forms that self-organize in relatively neat and tidy, ‘thesis’, ‘antithesis’, ‘synthesis’ arrangements, as if analogous to dialectical reasoning. Karl Marx customized this notion to develop Communist theory, integrating dialecticism with the somewhat messy facts of European economic history to propose a hypothesis about the path social development was likely to take in the future. Dialecticism must have been diffusing into the intellectual milieu at large, for a field biologist named Charles Darwin applied the same idea to naturalism, a completely distinct academic area, setting forth a model of how geology and taxonomy change by way of selection pressures that interact as they propagate in parallel, and this theory of evolution provided the foundation for life science of the future — molecular genetics, environmental ecology, evolutionary psychology — while uniting all of modern biology to date within a single paradigm.
In the 19th century, European philosophers dedicated their energy to analyzing the arationality of existence, a theme which had mostly been ignored until exploding population and the complicacy of imperial rule brought arbitrariness in human life and practice to the foreground. A movement that purveyed philosophy as literature gained a following, championed by Friedrich Nietzsche and others, which refrained from filtering the relativistic aesthetics of modern life out of philosophical reasoning in order to more organically, holistically portray the nature of truth while refusing to expunge subjectivity of the willing agent from inquiry. This ‘Romanticism’ strongly influenced the intellectual climate, with its surreal ultrarealism stimulating more conventionally analytical fields such as medicine and field biology to show interest in phenomena that had previously been shunned, such as madness, irrationality and the organic causes of immorality, touching off a theoretical parsing of the psyche into arational functions by new research disciplines like linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and cognitive science. Its literary dimension continued on despite trajection in the 20th century towards a society centered around high technology and technical professionalism, spawning academic movements of structuralism, modernism and postmodernism which worked to deconstruct the evolution of motive, knowledge, belief and valuation as exhibited in records of the memetic past.
So if there is an overall direction within the multimillennial progression of our episteme, it seems this can be summed up as a move from essentializing, reductionistic pursuit of absolute truth to more pragmatic and adaptive methodologies in all kinds of untapped areas. Our conceptualizing of the world has become more conscious of perspective, the dependence of knowledge and appearance on both a metamorphosizing nature of the observer as well as the context within which reality is viewed. Thanks to academia, humans suffer much less from the impression that language, due to rhetorical skill, abstruseness or unfamiliarity, is indisputable, coercive or insurrectional rather than consisting in tentative proposals to be mutually interrogated. The public more collaboratively and creatively shares in building theory instead of submitting to doctrine, ignoring ingenious ideas, or resisting epistemic change.
At this point, we can muster a developmental phenomenology of truth in expression, tracing the cultural evolution of explicit conceptualizing within European civilization. During prehistory, humans spent much of their time solving technical problems that environments and societies posed, fixating on the constituent elements of assorted contexts when some sort of perplexity became apparent, then mastering those local conditions with the application of creative reasoning. Our species also projected affective states and sensations, intellectually refined in comparison to most of Earth’s organisms, into social relationships and reality in general as personal and cultural valuation. Narrative was one of the primary vehicles for expressing values, an aesthetic of artistry and verity that organized symbolic utterance as cultural motif, giving voice to some of the most inspired and high functioning mental states. Thousands of years were required before these two avenues for expressing the human spirit would merge, yet by the latter half of the first millennium B.C.E., technicalized thinking and storytelling traditions had melded into an analytical discourse which did not merely assign value to experiences, but sought to subsume them with exhaustive explanation. Expression was no longer impetuous though cathartically actualizing will engaging with the world, but an incisive conquest of nature, culture and one’s own intellectual frailties, which tried to unravel the Gordian knot of existence by delving into its essence with reasoning, upholding an ideal of supreme, incontestable accurateness as mastery of one’s psychological milieu. Self and communal fulfillments effectuated by pursuit of objective truth motivated steady philosophical progress until ancient Greeks and others had given accountings of reality’s structure and principles that still hold some elucidative weight in our 21st century.
The “venerable” geocentric model of a static cosmos promulged by Greeks such as Aristotle held an unassailable place in human understanding until the late-Medieval period, when a contrasting idea was entertained that natural philosophy and associated expository expressing are approximations rather than a reflective mirror of this supposedly static cosmos. Dismantling geocentrism during the Renaissance and replacing it with the heliocentric model proved that the mind’s image of reality can change in major ways, with technical approximations being not only partial but liable to systemic error. Due to this insight, a philosophy of skepticism came to prominence that questions and revises models, even sometimes going so far as to doubt the very possibility of certainty. Systematic methodologies such as those of calculus and eventually statistics provided a way to rank models according to plausibility (accuracy) and approximational soundness (precision), which made reasoning the obvious locus of knowledge and put external essence in subsidiary position. This culminated in philosophies that propounded the mind’s interpreting of nature as the decisive factor in epistemic structure.
As theories of dialectical history and especially physical evolution entered the picture, it became demonstrable that the fleeting certainty of modeling is not an anomaly, but mutation and metamorphosis are intrinsic to the total structure of reality. All models have thus far been temporary in their validity due to the conditions of both our world and ourselves, so that we must be willing at all times to amend these models in order to move towards better compensations for systemic fallacy as epistemic contexts falsify.
The modern consequence of knowledge’s tentativeness was that language which expresses it began to seem provisional as well. Academic discourse does not consist in fundamental, unerring truths to be proclaimed as absolute authority, but even the most meticulous verbalizations, in scholarly writing and elsewhere, have a degree of imprecision like the approximational modeling which they describe. Even the strongest rhetoric is hypothetical, and acceptance of this truism is an epiphany that breaks down submissiveness to orthodoxy, allowing humans to fully embrace unincarnated possibility, epistemic progress and paradigmal obsolescence with alacrity, gaining a concept of self-determination that maximizes the willpower necessary to strategize a remodeling of our world. This is the essence of enlightenment’s intellectual dimension: the symbols we use to conceive existence and communicate our understandings to others are not representations of the indubitable, but rather a tool we wield which can be harnessed to serve actualization of the self. Grasping the idea of expressed knowledge’s conditionality and arbitrariness equips the psyche to see how it can shape this arbitrarity into a boundless variety of forms to suit its interests.
Academic logic’s history provides a perfect example of movement from the stasis of rhetorical essentialism to adapting theoretical positivism. Aristotle’s 4th century B.C.E. syllogistic logic was an essentialist model of persuasion, reducing natural language to metastatements, grammatically abbreviated ‘premises’ as for instance “Socrates is a man” and “all men are mortal”, containing atomic factual ‘terms’ such as “Socrates”, “man” and “mortal”, from which were derived ‘conclusions’ like “Socrates is mortal”, altogether including a narrow collection of inference types generalizing how a large range of explicit assertions are true or false. No indication is given that it should be regarded as a conditional, temporary approximation; the model is proposed with faith in its legitimacy, as a function of broad scope and self-consistency, for Aristotle even goes so are as to declare noncontradiction the primary criterion of well-formed deduction. At this stage of ancient Greek academia, even the critique of rhetoric itself was committed to the tenet that efficacious theories imply ontology.
Chrysippus (b. 276 B.C.E.) and his successor Stoics invented propositional logic, more closely examining the properties of true and false statements. They began to refine the Aristotelian term framework into an algebralike format, inspired by advancements in mathematical proof, translating assertions of atomic fact along with their connective inferencing into metasymbolic denotation, much later reworked into a comprehensive technical system, e.g. S ^ P (either S or P), or S & P (both S and P). This transitioned logic from Aristotle’s technical rhetoric of apt explicit meaning’s supposed essence in natural language to logic as a progressional methodology, still looking to define some kind of essence, but with ascertainment that the modeling context is not absolute fidelity, instead modifiable as a series of improved explanations. This was early infusion of Kantianlike thinking, the critical and revisionary perspective on system-building, into a branch of philosophy, as well as insertion of certain Platonic-styled concepts of pure form, such as the aforementioned bifurcation (disjunction) and recombination (conjunction), into formulation of inference rules. It hybridized philosophical intuitions about the nature of structural form, which had been enhanced by materialism, with languagelike truth-value.
After some sporadic, nonsymbolic dabblings in the field as well as a barren period from the 15th to the 19th century, Gottlob Frege worked out a complete system of predicate logic at the turn of the 20th, with a fully algebraic notation similar to that used for formal deduction and proof in mathematics. Its grammar was entirely contrived, with no likeness at all to natural language; to the extent that logicians employed it in representing linguistic expressions, this was carried out by translation into a technical symbolism which is undecipherable to even a fluent speaker unless instructed. Predicate logic eliminates all phonetic properties of natural language that are superfluous to concrete meaning, such as prepositions, conjunctions, tense or gender, arranging nouns and verbs in maximally compact formulas, e.g. ‘Sxy’, where ‘S’ stands for the predicate of a sentence, while the variables ‘x’ and ‘y’ symbolize subject and object, with the meaning of the formula determined by arbitrary rules of inference for variable relationships, explicitly specified at the outset. These ‘well-formed formulas’ are mixed and matched into compound statements expressing complex inferential relationships, then tandems of statements can be manipulated through a series of steps to perform deductive proofs in an economical manner, exactly as in modern math. Philosophically speaking, predicate logic reduces expressions to the objects they are about, interpreted as subsisting within the boundaries of a contextual ‘universe’ — “humans”, “quantities”, “duck-billed platypuses” — with its specific criteria for inferential possibility. It is a concise, multipurpose way of describing objective truth-value and modeling relations between sets of existents.
This system was the next step in liberation from essence-conceptualizing, not merely malleable enough to encompass an ample breadth of meaningful forms like propositional logic, but at least in principle capable of being adapted to fit the object-context of any common, technical or symbolic language, old or new, with clear cognizance that it is a designed, pragmatic instrument, a so to speak technology of representation, not a naturalistic or exceptionally ontological entity. Yet predicate logic was still spellbound by a measure of essentialist commitment, namely the constrainment of object-contexts as such to the spatiotemporal frame of reference, attaching it to some naive realism groundrules for the nature of factual content, existents distinguished, acting and reacting while occupying mutually exclusive positions (law of the excluded middle) and in noncontradictory ways (law of noncontradiction), an interpretation of variables as consisting in forms analogous to material objects with their definite shapes, sizes and locations, basically a grammatical template for inferencing about an essentially corporeal rather than theoretical reality. It reified spatiotemporality, the conceptual substrate of mechanism as well as inorganic and organic matter in the sense-perceptual world, which is intrinsic to technological thinking and body awareness insofar as they are linked with properties of thermodynamic aggregate mass in Earth environments, erecting a technical idiom upon the functionally powerful but philosophically flawed premise that our macroscopic behavioral medium is of fundamentality in the phenomenal world.
The notion that mechanistically material, ‘physical’ causality is foundational essence gives us a practical reductionistic chassis for many technological purposes, for instance engineering, but when we extol essentialist reductionism of this or any type as philosophical doctrine, even with recognition that essence evolves, it can hamper imagination in the inexperienced thinker. As the situation currently stands, independent or advanced study is often required to effect a consciousness-raising that surpasses essentialism, as the reasoning of popular culture tends to be underachievingly shallow even in the 21st century. An unfortunate situation can, however, be remedied by academicizing which presents modern knowledge in a more balanced, multifaceted way, contextualizing physicalism along with all paradigmal camps such that we stimulate mind-expanding perspectivizing instead of ossificational essentializing. While physicalist essentialism was perhaps viable for making academic knowledge more intuitive in an early 20th century epoch of primordial science and undereducated populaces, it has become a stumbling block to intellectual progressiveness that the culture of objectivity needs to overcome.
Revival of formalism at the turn of the 20th century was in part a critical response to the 19th century psychologism that believed an acceptable theory of logic would be based on knowledge of the psyche. Logicians such as Frege and Edmund Husserl argued that this radically intuitionist paradigm, by viewing logic as psychical rather than a universalizable mode of reasoning, had subjected it to all kinds of unscientific and pernicious presumptions about the human spirit, heredity, instinct, predisposition, discrepancies between subcultures, ethnicities and individuals, an obsession with thinking of rationality as determined by preternatural or sociobiological aptitude, fomenting a nativist relativism anathema to objectivity. Proponents of the analytical paradigm as well as those of Kantian-inspired, phenomenological Idealism regarded psychologism as a debasement of academia with the nihilism that some such as Nietzsche had warned might one day engulf Europe.
Rapid improvements in the discipline of formal logic spurred its exponents towards the ambitious goal of forging a comprehensive theory of truth-value. Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead coauthored Principia Mathematica, a three volume work which assigned itself the task of uniting all extant mathematics within a single theoretical system of metaprinciples and formal symbolic notation under the assumption that methodologies and techniques of quantification are based on a self-coherent universe of logical inferences and operations. Then in the 1930’s a movement called logical positivism came together in Europe, influenced by philosophers of the Vienna Circle, taking on the objective of grounding mathematics and scientific research on logical foundations, with a symbolic language suitable to all theoretical efforts, a universal framework for objectivity. While this paradigm invigorated research in the field of logic, it succumbed to the quagmire of essentialism, asserting that the only meaningful questions in philosophy are those formulatible in its terminological system, which if embraced as standard methodology would have expunged subjectivity, literature, and much of historical metaphysics from mainstream inquiry. The consequences did not turn out to be this immoderate, but nevertheless induced a divergence of ‘Analytic’ philosophy with its anchorage in formal logic from the rest of the philosophical tradition, along with a possible role in inciting the sharp divide between hard sciences and the humanities that persists to this day.
Many of these analytic logicians, despite throwing a lasting wedge between their own work and that of other subdisciplines in philosophy, ended up eating their words, moving over some decades towards an approach which assessed truth-value with greater naturalism, considering the way logical meaning is bound to and varies by expressive context, in line with discrepancies of function and epistemic history, until all delimitations of actual and potential possibility in the field nearly evaporated. Academic logic had proceeded through multiple stages: Aristotle’s ontological model of deduction’s essence, the Stoics’ progressive model of expression’s essence, Frege’s system for flexibly modeling supposed spatiotemporal essence, the logical positivist prospection into a system of discourse rendering transparent the essence of all theoretical structure, and finally bursting out of essentialist chains entirely in a discourse that is perspectivist to the core, with its unprecedented and growing versatility.
The essence of logical structure as modeled by academia originated as metaphysical causality manifest in the forms of deductive reasoning which had been termed ‘logos’, proceeding to the forms of causality as embodied in natural language, then spatiotemporal form as the substrate of physical causality, then conceptual-theoretical form as a supposed substrate of all possible causality, and finally an infinitely permutable perspectivism which dissolved the notion of fundamental form altogether. From the opposite side of the coin, in terms of reasoning rather than essence: metaphysical ‘logos’ or absolute reason originated in ancient Greece as the supposed seat of logic in deductive language (syllogistic logic); then this transitioned into an approximational reasoning for representing logic as expressed in natural languages (propositional logic); then reasoned expression in language and math became an approximating technique for representing the logic of spatiotemporality (predicate logic); then this was expanded into reasoned, expressive discourse of all symbolic types as an approximating methodology for organizing the logic of epistemic content as a whole (logical positivism); and finally a total emancipation from the gravity of reductionist notions as objectivity in the field of logic launched towards maximum adaptivity, freer in the latter half of the 20th century to reimagine itself and branch out towards new horizons than it ever had been.
Research in the discipline of logic expanded into numerous specializations, particularly many that are affiliated with math, like set theory, proof theory, computability theory and model theory. Intuitionist logic eliminated the law of the excluded middle from its inferential systems, which was useful for constructing mathematical proofs with nonspatial entities, and paraconsistent logics provided inferential systems which even omitted the law of noncontradiction, applied in modeling the structure of conflicting arguments among much else. Around this same post-WW2 era, the rest of the intelligentsia was also diversifying into new areas, with every academic department dividing into dozens if not hundreds of subfields. Students obtained the license to design their own specialty by immixing degree programs, accommodating a wide range of interests and points of view.
Modernity was truly beginning to get it: epistemic development loosened itself from the fetters of an essentializing that places greater value on doctrinal solidarity than practicality or progress, as well as from the rhetoricality which only accentuates this habitude and even deludes many of the academics who articulate scholarly rhetoric into dogmatic stagnation. With public schooling, pedagogical literature, and online resources that put most of the world’s knowledge within reach in a matter of seconds, intellectual enlightenment is accessible to nearly everyone. Humanity at least in principle, and more often than not, has access to the information that will empower mastery of any academic subject and fulfill our potential. Even individuals of average means grasp how they can make themselves into cognoscente via diligent study, and our cultures are so saturated with technical fact and theory that expertise in at least some areas is virtually unavoidable. Human willpower is far more cerebral than it ever has been, with polymathic enlightenment costing a couple hundred dollars a month in the U.S. Contemporary knowledge has brought about massive increases in intellectual agency for our well-educated cultures, and the 21st century will be tasked with integrating these competencies into institutional structure so as to actualize the species, blazing a trail to an age of high technology and human legacy.