J'ai une plume

"Qui plume a, guerre a."

Religion: Content, form and utopia

The sort of ‘postmodern’ acknowledgement of religious diversity and its attempt to nullify the potentially deadly consequences of the inherent disagreements seems to me to be completely backwards. The idea is that all the different faiths, especially the monotheisms, are really talking about the same things in different ways – that the content of their belief is fundamentally the same and it is the form this belief which differs. It is certainly a useful fiction for curbing the worst excesses of religious violence, but one is inclined to wonder whether it is applying a plaster where an amputation might be more prudent.

It should already give us pause for thought that what I am about to say next would outrage, or at least cause discomfort to, a great many tolerant, liberal people: the major monotheisms are not talking about the same thing and are, at their core, fundamentally irreconcilable. A world in which there was no friction between religions would be a world in which the constituent beliefs were empty or nearly so. They differ at the level of content.

On the other hand one can argue that the form of religious belief is indeed common. As I have indicated in an earlier post on David Hume, the usual form of religious belief is one whose primary feature is a willingness to take seriously ancient written testimony of miraculous events. The content of the belief will be dependent on which of the holy texts one chooses to take seriously. Although such experiments are obviously impossible, it would be very enlightening if one could go back in time and transfer one of the faithful at birth to a different family of a different religious confession and see if the form of belief would latch onto different contents in a different environment.

My mental response to the fact that the majority of people adopt the religion of their parents is one of bemusement.

Simon Blackburn has given a brief treatment of the status of religious belief. It may be the case that religious moderates do not treat their beliefs in the same way they treat other beliefs. At the most mild end they might be merely a set of useful stories which help ground a series of community traditions and practices and help keep families and societies cohesive. The fact remains though that there are a great many people who take every letter of a particular religious text as the literal word of God. I have a great deal of sympathy for these people since it cannot be denied that they have been brought up in an environment with these traditions and practices which tell them that ‘these stories are really, really true’ but then paradoxically expects them to return to their secular lives, rather than taking the logical step of treating their religion as the most important – perhaps the only important – thing in their life. If they are not ‘really, really true’ then the wrong thing is being preached.

The liberal postmodern wants to allow the flourishing of the moderates on the basis that they are looking at the same thing from different angles. A more appropriate analogy would be that they are looking in opposite directions from the same point. It is because of the wildly different contents of religious beliefs that a pluralistic harmony is impossible in a society which includes literalists of differing faiths. And it is because of the ambiguous approach of moderates to their ‘beliefs’ that such literalists are bound to emerge within multicultural nations. The liberal, postmodern vision turns out to be strikingly utopian.

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Pseudo-profundity vs. philosophy

The work of philosophers is often misperceived by people of other professions thanks in part to the existence of a great many other things which call themselves philosophy. The sort of ‘wise’ aphorisms which can be read in magazines, heard at lifestyle conferences and spouted by one’s elders at the dinner table rarely stand up to any form of analysis, but nevertheless are seen by a great many people as the currency in which philosophy deals.

“Love is only a word” is an example of this pseudo-profundity which Daniel Dennett calls a ‘deepity’. A deepity is a phrase which sounds like it contains a great depth of wisdom by virtue of being perfectly ambiguous. On one level it is clearly false that love is only a word. ‘Love’ is a word, but love itself is not (inverted commas are important). The fact that ‘love’ is a word is also trivially true. We are thus left with a statement which can either be interpreted as obviously false or trivially true. By failing to exercise our powers of analysis on this statement we end up thinking about both meanings together rather than separating them and perhaps seeking clarification about which meaning is intended.

I would risk the hypothesis that the sense of awe which these aphorisms can evoke in people is created by the logical impasse of the self-contradiction. Our mind has been following the flow of a conversation or of a written work and is suddenly forced to stop at the chasm in reasoning created by such examples. Unless one is able to separate out the meanings effectively, we are stuck with something which we know to be obviously true, and yet also know to be false. Such a feeling borders on the sublime and leads to a mental response of ‘that seems very interesting, I’ll have to go away and think about that.’

Of course it is usually the case that the resolution to think about it further is forgotten while the initial interest and sense of wonder is retained, leading to the conclusion that the utterance is a particularly wise one.

Stephen Law has pointed out that you can also achieve this effect without the need for an ambiguity in meaning. Ordinary trivially true platitudes such as ‘death comes to us all’ can be elevated to the level of profound insight if enunciated with enough gravitas. Likewise one can take the other side of Dennett’s deepities – that of self-contradiction – and use it without even needing the trivially true side. Law again gives us one of the finest examples in ‘sanity is just another kind of madness’. It sounds profound doesn’t it? Except that sanity cannot be a form of madness because they are defined as opposites. Nevertheless perhaps an important point has been uncovered?

It is at this point that pseudo-profundity and philosophy separate more fully. The ‘guru’ will be content to say ‘sanity is just another kind of madness’ and sit back smugly. The philosopher will instead begin the project of trying to understand how someone could be seduced by such a contradiction. If Socrates were to muse on madness, instead of making this mandarin statement he would seek out someone who claimed to be able to define the difference between sanity and madness and begin questioning her in order to understand. It would perhaps turn out that our initial attraction to this contradiction was that we are suspicious of the legitimacy of sanity and insanity as categories. Perhaps Socrates would show us that they are meaningless concepts, or perhaps that they lack any concrete existence but are instead merely useful tools of classification in a medical context. Whatever the result of his investigation, he would not simply be content to reel off conciously ambiguous, trivial or self-contradictory statements and expect the title ‘philosopher’.

Dear diary, today cycling made me a Kantian

At the risk of becoming any other banal blogger who seems more interested in the contents of his sandwiches than the contents of his thoughts, I would like to relate a banal little story from my banal little life.

As I was cycling home the other day, I was stuck behind a couple of frustratingly slow cyclists. They were cruising along in the cycle lane smoking and, irritatingly, travelling two abreast, making overtaking difficult. We cycled alongside a group of stationary cars caught in traffic. As we approached a pedestrian crossing the light turned red, indicating that we should stop. The cyclists ahead of me continued at their own pace and sped through the lights in spite of this. It turns out that at this point there was a man in his 40s crossing the road on his bike who decided to jump on that legal high horse which afflicts men in middle age (to say ‘moral’ high horse would be incorrect and would legitimise it) who yelled at the kids, “Stop! Stop! You have to stop at the red light! Stop!” After being ignored he proceeded to mount the pavement and continue on his way.

Personally I object to such displays and in this case I had legitimate reason. I continued along the road until I caught up with this man who was on the pavement waiting to cross another road. I turned to him and said, “For reference, it’s just as illegal to cycle on the pavement.”

The angry abuse which followed me as I cycled away proved that I had done my job. Not only was he obnoxious and abrasive, but he was an unbearable hypocrite. Cycling through red lights is indeed illegal and potentially dangerous, but cycling on the pavement is (in the UK) also completely illegal and is statistically far more likely to harm a pedestrian. I could go on at length about why this man deserved to have his home repossessed and his eyes put out, but that’s not the point of my story.

The point of my story is that my anger with him did not arise from any feeling that he was overall in the wrong. On the contrary, he was right to call them out for potentially endangering other people’s wellbeing by cycling irresponsibly. At the point where he squawked in indignation at these other cyclists, I had actually stopped at the red light, leaving me in the clear. My anger arises from the hypocrisy of the situation; he was ready to make this comfortably outraged judgement on others while breaking the very rules he purported to be upholding. Rarely does an example of hypocrisy present itself so clearly.

Hypocrisy is the ultimate Kantian crime because it amounts to what Kant calls a ‘contradiction in conception’. Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be formulated as “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” This is usually formulated in the housewife version, “What would the world be like if everyone did that!?”

As much as he tried, this man could not be a good Kantian in his indignation. What makes cycling through red lights worse than cycling on the pavement if both are illegal and dangerous? Probably the tiny mind which treats a red light as an infallible deity but other human beings (especially unfamiliar ones) as tools. But as Kant also believes, human beings are ‘ends in themselves’, meaning you specifically should not treat them like tools.

It is extremely tempting to continue this ad hominem against a nameless man indefinitely, but I shall simply finish by apologising to this strawman whom I have abused so thoroughly. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and that clearly also applies to the Highway Code (paragraph 64, if you care), which you ought to actually read before you get self-righteous again. Idiot.

What ‘real’ money (still) isn’t

The criticism of an economy which is now composed of primarily virtual movements of capital is naive and betrays a lack of understanding of the real nature of money. It is not entirely unheard of for those imparting folksy wisdom to seek to smugly ‘remind’ us that most of the money we use is now merely a set of digits within a computer database and is not ‘real’ money at all. In this case the urge to retort petulantly in order to wipe the knowing smile off our would-be mentor’s face is entirely justified. Far from being a clever observation on changing times, this amounts to no more than an embarrassing sign that one has failed to understand what money is. Or, more commonly, that one has fallen into a state of fetishism.

Even those of us who have never given it much thought would be quick to conclude that money is simply a symbolic representation of value and not a magical object in itself. Much early economic analysis is concerned with precisely this demystification of money. Karl Marx’s great inversion was to recognise that while money appeared to be this simple object, on the level of ideology we are nevertheless apt to treat it as though it was in itself a desirable object. We disavow this belief and rationally accept that it is simply a method of exchanging value and yet our actions betray an unconscious commitment to money as an end in itself, rather than a mere means.

Rightly or wrongly, a suspicion towards the digitalisation of financial transactions is a suspicion towards the structure of the monetary system of exchange itself. Our elderly strawman has accidentally hit upon an entirely different insight, not into the slow destruction of ‘real’ money, but into the fundamental lack of such a Thing in the first place. To a pre-coinage society, the introduction of currency must appear arbitrary, abstracting the real value of goods (providing food, shelter, protection, pleasure, etc) into some sort of mutually agreed token. Opposition to such a system would nevertheless crumble under the weight of expediency. Likewise the transition from a gold or silver based economy to one founded on government fiat must also appear to remove to ‘real’ value on which money seems to be based, leaving it as a mere signifier without a signified. The more recent transition to card-based consumerism disturbs the very fetish itself, the material object imbued with excess value although, again, no real change has actually taken place.

There is a whole library’s-worth of books which could be written on the role of money within personal and social psychic reality. Indeed, there are a few authors who seem to be attempting to fill such a library on their own with their unstoppable torrent of words. Philosophers rarely worry about adding to the deafening din of second-rate ideas, but this little piece of muddy thinking gave me an itch and I do apologise for scratching it so publicly.

How Hume clarifies the ‘God debate’ (part 2)

Yesterday we had a very brief look at Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and their implications for theism. Before we move on to his better-known work on miracles I would like to reiterate how frequently the first half is misunderstood despite its simplicity. It is important and acts as foundational to what comes next.

At the end of the previous post we granted that one or more of the proofs of God’s existence might hold (although it is not clear that any of them do) but the debate is not over. In fact it has just begun. It is rarely the case that one who is convinced by the proofs is willing to leave the matter there. Having established the existence of some entity which deserves the title ‘God’, they will usually begin to assert all manner of things about the nature of this entity, which is absolutely fine if they remain strictly in the realm of the a priori. However, most (if not all) will stray into statements which can only possibly be supported with empirical evidence.

It is here that Hume strikes his second blow. Real belief is more often produced in one who has witnessed a miraculous occurrence than in one who has read a philosophical treatise supporting the existence of God. To one who believes they have witnessed a miracle, Hume simply asks whether it is more likely that the laws of nature have been temporarily suspended in your favour, or whether you are deceived by another person or by your own senses. In every instance you should reject whichever is more unlikely (the ‘greater miracle’). The matter is even more serious if it is not a miracle you have witnessed yourself, since written or verbal communication adds another level of separation from the actual event. We all know of stories which get altered in the retelling, whether by deliberate lying or by exaggeration. Nor is it convincing for a record to talk of an event being ‘witnessed by many’ – without independent verification the record still counts as a single report (and one is tempted to reply ‘nice try’ when authors of scripture are at pains to assert that hundreds of other people saw an otherwise unrecorded event). Hume recognises that lure of a sense of wonder – believing in fantastical occurrences is certainly enjoyable, but he warns that this in itself is no form of evidence.

A common misreading of Hume’s Of Miracles is to conclude that Hume was committed to disbelieving in the occurrence of any miraculous event whatsoever. This is not the case, and he gives the example of a hypothetical situation in which records from isolated corners of the Earth all document the sky growing dark for several days at a particular point in the past. Hume’s algorithm would simply lead to the conclusion that the greater miracle would be for a set of inaccurate records to correlate with one another precisely in spite of the lack of any possible contact between the authors. In a situation such as this, Hume would be forced to admit that the miraculous darkness had in fact occurred. His point is simply that there is no such evidence for any of the miracles reported by religious authorities. Or if we are to believe that the miraculous had occurred, then what is allowed for one religion cannot be denied to another. This is a problem because – to put it simply – they can’t all be right.

Overall Hume wishes to know why the faithful believe what they believe, and to challenge them to question themselves and others. We close with a rather affable scepticism which makes better arguments than many within the so-called ‘New Atheism’ movement and does so without descending into vitriol. It is the friendly debate of the philosophical sceptic with the academic theologian and is probably best conducted over a good meal and a bottle of wine.

How Hume clarifies the ‘God debate’ (part 1)

David Hume, who is perhaps the greatest Scottish philosopher, recognised two primary sorts of argument in favour of religious belief. The first were arguments from natural theology, the second concerned miracles. Into the first category fall arguments for God’s existence such as the argument to design or the cosmological argument. It seems highly unlikely that anyone is ever moved from a position of scepticism to a position of belief by these sorts of argument, but it is true that many who already hold religious convictions can (and often do) call on these arguments to supply a rational foundation for their faith. Hence Hume saw it as important that they were taken seriously.

Hume plays with these types of argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. An example of this comes when he parodies the teleological argument, which proposes an analogy between the world and the human mind (or products of the human mind such as Paley’s ‘watch in a field’) by pointing out that the world has just as much resemblance to a vegetable as it does to a mind. Throughout the dialogue it is clear that the character Philo – who advocates scepticism, although not outright atheism – has the upper hand, which makes it slightly mysterious that the dialogue closes with the narrator awarding victory to Cleanthes, the advocate of teleology. One possibility is that Hume was simply being ironic, using a technique he had employed elsewhere of blindly reaffirming Christian orthodoxy at the end of his pieces to reinforce his view of its absurdity.

In his recent book on Hume, Simon Blackburn gives an insight into Hume’s overall project concerning religious matters. He argues that Hume is quite happy to allow these classic philosophical arguments for God’s existence precisely because they prove almost nothing. At the end of a serious wrangling over the cosmological or teleological argument, what is one left with? The so-called ‘God of the Philosophers’ about whom we know next to nothing. It is here that time and time again philosophers and theologians commit an unforgivable non sequitur by moving from an apparently successful argument in natural theology to a full-blown theism which simply assumes what it must prove.

To put this all another way, Hume’s (and Blackburn’s) thought on this matter is that even granting that any of these arguments hold, we are in no position to now assert that any particular God (or group of gods) exists. To go from a successful demonstration of the cosmological argument to the assertion that the God of the New Testament sent his son to die on the cross is just as invalid as moving to assert that God’s angel Jibril dictated His final word to the prophet Muhammad. Indeed, it is no more or less outrageous to reason to ignore both of these major religions and move to Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism or the Rastafari movement. For the theist, all the really important work is yet to come.

Once this has been laid out it may all seem rather obvious. But consider the mind-numbing God arguments beloved of debating societies. If the problem is not correctly identified it is inevitable that both sides will talk past each other. The lesson to learn from Hume’s discussion of natural theology is that proofs of the existence of God should be no part of the theist’s arsenal in such debates since they are apt to misfire or even backfire in the presence of members of an incompatible religious confession. Hume’s work on religion is not exhausted here, and I shall touch on the second prong of Hume’s attack in a future post where we shall consider his ‘Of Miracles’.

Schopenhauer’s advances on Kant (part 2)

Where we left off last time, Schopenhauer had deduced an indivisible, undifferentiated noumenon as the identity of Being. He needs a name for this entity, although this will be difficult since it is nothing like anything we experience in the world of phenomena. He has so far negatively defined it as something which does not possess spatial or temporal properties in itself. It is at this point that he makes mistake of nomenclature which still hinders true appreciation of his work today.

Schopenhauer points out that everything we can experience has some sort of temporal existence, for otherwise it is outside our direct apprehension. The same is nearly true with spatial existence. The one exception in his eyes is the will. Schopenhauer understands will to be the basic force underlying all thought. Emotions are merely expressions of a will satisfied or thwarted. Knowledge is slightly different, but knowledge alone does not have the power to produce action, only will does. In fact this is slightly off the mark. Schopenhauer does not identify my willing as the cause of my raising my arm, instead willing an action and performing an action are really two sides of the same thing – not unlike the noumenon/phenomenon distinction we encountered last time. Schopenhauer makes the very good point here that I almost never consciously will these movements, and yet the mental and physical components of an action cannot be isolated.

Given this understanding of will as the real grounding of thought and action, Schopenhauer goes on to point out that one’s own thoughts, unlike anything else one has knowledge of, do not possess spatial properties. For this reason he concludes that human will is the closest thing to the noumenon which it is possible to have knowledge of and thus he decides to refer to this noumenon itself as Will. His own terms for noumenon and phenomena form the title of his central work The World as Will and Representation.

I mentioned earlier that this name was a mistake and anyone following closely should immediately see why. Schopenhauer is chronically misunderstood to be ascribing some sort of personality or super-mind to existence and his philosophy is therefore often dismissed as fantastical. This is wrong. Schopenhauer makes it clear on numerous occasions that both meanings of ‘will’ are to be taken as distinct. The will as thing in itself is the animation of a human, the growth of a plant, even the falling of a rock under gravity. These are all manifestations of the will. Anyone who has read Dylan Thomas’ immortal poem ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ will have the best understanding of what the will is in Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Indeed, Bryan Magee speculates that Thomas was probably familiar with Schopenhauer and may have even drawn inspiration from him when he wrote that poem.

All this being the case, we have arrived (by one route of many) at what, for Alain Badiou constitutes the central problem of philosophy. What appears is multiple, but what appears is one. This is a problem which runs as a common theme right the way back to Parmenides. If we are to take Schopenhauer’s philosophy seriously, we urgently need to give an account of how this indivisible, undifferentiated will can be the real thing in itself, and yet what we experience as appearance is a multiplicity of different things. This is not a trivial problem.

Schopenhauer’s advances on Kant (part 1)

In my last post I addressed the problems of infinite time and space from a Kantian perspective. Kant allows that we have access to something in the world, but is against the naive realism of the Humean variety for various reasons, including those which we discussed previously. Because time and space produce antinomies when viewed as inherent properties of things in themselves, Kant concludes that they exist only within the mind of the perceiver. This puts him in the idealist’s camp. Where he differs from philosophers such as Berkeley is that for him time and space do relate to things in themselves directly (and crucially he never denies the existence of things in themselves as Berkeley would) but they are conditions for the possibility of experience. This makes his brand of idealism transcendental idealism.

Kant is now confronted with a host of problems. He has asserted the existence of two worlds or modes of being – that of appearances (phenomena) and that of things in themselves (noumena). To many philosophers brought up in Humean realism, this seems like a piece of ontological extravagance – we now seem to have doubled the number of entities since objects such as my computer have a noumenon and also a phenomenon. Kant only defines noumena negatively, by saying what they are not, since he argues that to say any more than that is to slip into groundless speculation. He is also left with the knotty problem of causation. Kant places causation into his table of categories – concepts which we use to order our experiences. This means he has allowed causation an existence only within the mind, rather than within the world as it is in itself. This should seem slightly familiar to the Humean, who has given up on explaining causation, classing it as an inaccessible relation. Kant’s problem is that he seems to have nullified causation, only to then write as though noumena ’cause’ phenomena, which is impossible in his system.

Our three main problems with Kant’s metaphysics are thus his ‘two worlds’, his relative silence on the nature of noumena, and the ambiguous status of causation. To all of these problems, some sort of answer can be found in Schopenhauer, who believed himself to have completed Kant’s system.

Schopenhauer rejects the ‘two worlds’ interpretation of Kant and instead characterises noumena and phenomena as being two sides of the same coin. He also identifies an implicit contradiction in Kant in the downgrading of time and space – Kant moves both of these into the mind but nevertheless continues speaking about noumena as if they were bare particulars ordered in some sort of spatio-temporal analogue, which can’t possibly be allowed. Instead Schopenhauer realises that the characteristic feature of time and space is that they individuate things – they make existence multiple. For there to be any notion of counting objects (whether concrete or abstract), there must either be a space in which to contain them or a temporal sequence in which they come one after another. Without time or space, we are left with a single, indivisible, undifferentiated thing. Thus the first part of Schopenhauer’s great advance on the Kantian system is to come to the realisation that noumena is the wrong word – we should instead speak of the noumenon – the single thing in itself which underlies all experience.

In my next post I shall continue the discussion of the noumenon and some of the interesting issues it raises. I shall also cover some of Schopenhauer’s other advances on Kant’s system.

Kant on infinite time and space

Lucretius presents us with the famous problem of the size of the universe in De Rerum Natura. He argues that the universe must be an infinite space for otherwise what would happen if a man travelled to the very edge and threw a spear outwards? Would the spear stop in mid-air? If so, what would be stopping its flight? How could the nothingness outside the universe act as a barrier? To allow that the spear would continue flying would be to admit that the man in question had not reached the edge of the universe – or that to do so was impossible. To allow that the spear would stop would be giving a substantial nature to the ‘outside’ of the universe. Of course the notion of an ‘outside’ to the universe is incoherent because it amounts to the postulation of a ‘thing which is not contained in the set of all things’.

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant agreed with Lucretius’ objection to a finite universe. However, he did not believe that this was the whole story. Kant points out that, while we can use infinity as a concept within mathematics, to allow any sort of infinity a concrete existence was to fall into incoherence again. The set of natural numbers is obviously infinite, but numbers are not concrete objects, merely conceptual entities within the mind. An infinite set cannot, by definition, be completed, so both infinite space and infinite objects produce problems.

The same argument can be applied to time. If time is finite we are at liberty to wonder about what happened ‘before’ the beginning of time and what will happen ‘after’ the end of time. Kant’s point is that we cannot help but think of time as an infinite series, since if we imagine a timeline, we can always imagine it extending further forwards and backwards into the ‘nothingness’ which contains it. The point here, as with space, is that the ‘edge’ of time can only be imagined as an ‘edge’ separating time from something else. The notion of a pure edge to time makes no more sense than in the case of Lucreius’ spear. On the other hand, the concept of infinite time also presents us with problems, since if time were infinite then the present moment could not exist because an infinite time (without beginning) would have to have passed before this moment, which means this moment could never be reached.

These are two of Kant’s antimonies which he presents later in the book. Probably the eternal lesson to be learned from philosophy is that if neither of the two possible answers makes sense then the question is wrong. Kant points out that it is not just up to us how we intuit time and space – we necessarily have to think of them as infinite, even though such a thing is impossible for concretely existing things. He therefore presents his own solution which is that time and space do not actually exist in objects as they are in themselves but are merely a method of ordering the experiences of the subject and rendering them coherent. If Kant is right it is no great worry that time and space produce these antimonies since they are simply a way of structuring our interactions with the world – and they do a perfectly good job of that.

Of course, the question remains as to what things in the world actually are if they are not chunks of matter existing through time and moving through space. How are we to understand the ‘thing in itself’?

A meditation

There is no way that the dualists can a priori restrict the types of substances to just mental and physical. They could be emergent from a third, higher property, or they could coexist with such a substance. There is no reason to simply posit the one either – there could be a whole pantheon of substances along with the mental and physical which have not, or indeed cannot, be discovered by us. The only thing which prevents us from considering the universe in this way is the merciless cut of Occam’s razor. Here we return to the realm of the sceptic, for whom neither Occam, induction, nor deduction will suffice.

There are thousands of ways the universe could be which would lead to an experience consistent with what we view as reality, assuming our sensory apparatus were tuned in the right way. It is impossible to link qualia of different sorts except in the most basic ways (and even then, it seems clear that such links are learnt rather than inherent – what does yellow smell like? Perhaps lemon? Only through experience) so why should we stop at five, ten or twenty distinct senses? The old phenomenological question about whether my experience of the colour red could be the same as your experience of a middle C is laughably limited in its scope. Why should any of my experiences stand in coherent comparison to yours? This is the real meaning of Nagel’s ‘What is it like to be a bat?’

I imagine a dark landscape which is not really a landscape, nor is it properly dark, for it has neither colour nor form. It is only comparable to a dark landscape in the emotions it provokes in me – I feel alone, uncomfortable and lost. It is a connection to something (reality? The inside of my own head?) which should be ‘passed over in silence’ as it is not describable in terms of other phenomena. It is the closest I can come to seeing what you see. For all I know, this is how you interact with the noumenal world. The feelings I have for such a landscape are alien and disturbing only because they are unfamiliar. They may only be one of many ways in which we differ. What about time and space? Do you understand them as I do? Is your human exterior to which I feel warmth and familiarity merely a projection that you yourself would not recognise, indeed could not recognise because the sensory apparatus or intellectual make-up required to comprehend (in my sense) is absent, or warped, or more correct than my own?

These may sound like the ravings of a madman (or merely a sceptic), but this is mainly down to the mode of their presentation. We shall be able to consider these thoughts systematically and render them more comprehensible when we come to a treatment of idealism.