Chapter 2 The Desire For Scientific Knowledge

Revised 3/07/2010
Copyright © Tom Last 2009-10

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Philosophy of Freedom Self-Study Course
 Thinking Cognition Ethics
 Chapter 07   reality-based thinking
ego  Chapter 08   ethics of self-knowledge  
 Chapter 06   independent thinking  
 mental picture 
 Chapter 09   ethical individualism
 Chapter 05   critical thinking concept  Chapter 10   ethics of authority
 Chapter 04   reactive thinking perception  Chapter 11   ethical naturalism
 Chapter 03   reflective thinking 
thought  Chapter 12   ethical norms
 Chapter 02   one-sided thinking desire  Chapter 13   ethics of self-gratification 
 Chapter 01   compelled thinking action  Chapter 14   group ethics



The Philosophy of Freedom

Chapter 2
The Desire For Scientific Knowledge

Rita Stebbing
Summary 1
Summary 2
Summary 3
Self-Observation: Intellectual Curiosity
Textbook
Notes

Factual Thinking:  We will not engage in any speculations. We will rather descend into the depths of our own being. (2.9)

The fact that thinking, in us, reaches out beyond our separate existence and relates itself to the general world-existence, gives rise to the desire for knowledge in us. Beings without thinking do not experience this desire. When they are faced with other things no questions arise for them. These other things remain external to such beings. But in thinking beings the concept rises up when they confront the external thing. (5.8)

They ought as dispassionate and, so to speak, divine beings, to seek and examine what is, not what gratifies. He should, equably and quietly, look at and survey them all and obtain the test for this knowledge, the data for his deductions, not out of himself, but from within the circle of the things he observes.  -Goethe

The truth of a view in the domain of which it belongs is no evidence for its universal validity. Anyone who seeks a conception of the world must recognize that the first essential is to avoid one-sidedness. -RS, Human and Cosmic Thought


Question: With what world-view or in what way do we try to reconcile our thought-content with the world-content?

Thought Training Exercise:
PTIT exercise #2A Right Thinking
PTIT exercise #2B Right Thinking

Comments - Questions:
Chapter 2 Discussion Forum

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Chapter 2 Summary 1

We can best begin our inquiry into this initial problem --the cause of thinking and its nature-- by asking what compels us to seek for knowledge. Introspection answers this question. The search for knowledge is due to the feeling innate in the human being that he belongs to the world and yet is separated from it. We seek for a bridge to reunite us with the world. Introspection reveals that it is our own consciousness which creates the contrast between the self and the world, and yet also senses at the same time that we belong together.

This fact indicates clearly that there must be some element within us which belongs also to the world, and that, if we find this element, we will have found the bridge to unite the human being with the world. (next summary chapter 3 Thinking as the Instrument for Understanding the World)
 


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Study Topics
pursuit of knowledge

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to text
2.0 Transcending The World Of Phenomena
We search everywhere for what we call the explanation of the facts. We seek something more in things that exceeds what is immediately given to us. This addition we seek splits our whole being into two parts; we become conscious of contrasting with the world. We confront the world as independent beings. The universe appears to us as two contrasting sides: Self and World.

2.1 Materialism
The Materialist tries to understand thoughts by regarding them as a purely physical processes. His belief is that thinking takes place in the brain, much like digestion takes place in the animal organs.

2.2 Spiritualism
The Spiritualist denies Matter (the World) and regards it as merely a product of Mind (the Self).

2.3 Realism
If one would really know the external world, one must look outwards and draw on the fund of experience.

2.4 Idealism
What Fichte has actually accomplished is a magnificent thought-picture of the world, but one without any empirical content.

2.5 Materialistic Idealism
Materialism is right when it explains all world phenomena, including our thoughts, to be the product of purely material processes, but, conversely, Matter and its processes are themselves a product of our thinking.

2.6 Indivisible Unity
The third form of Monism sees the indivisible unity of Matter and Mind in even the simplest physical atom.

2.7 Contrast Self With World
We first encounter the basic and original polarity in our own consciousness. We are the ones who detach ourselves from the mother soil of Nature and contrast ourselves with the World as Self.

2.8 Nature's Influence
It is true that we have estranged ourselves from Nature; but it is equally true that we feel we are within Nature and belong to her. This can only be due to Nature's influence on us, which also lives in us.

2.9 Knowing Nature Within
We can only find Nature outside us after we first know it within us. What corresponds to Nature within us will be our guide.

2.10 Something More Than “I"
We must come to a point where we can say: Here we are no longer merely 'I', here is something more than 'I'.

2.11
Description Of Consciousness
I have not been concerned with scientific results, but rather with a simple description of what we all experience in our own consciousness. Even those sentences about the attempts to reconcile Mind with the World have only been included to clarify the actual facts.

2.12 Facts Without Interpretation
My concern is not how science has interpreted consciousness, but rather how we experience it hour by hour.


Textbook
The Desire For Scientific Knowledge


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Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast,
And each withdraws from and repels its brother.
One, in hearty lovelust,
Clings to the world with clutching organs;
The other strongly lifts itself from dust,
Into the high ancestral spheres.

Faust I, 1112

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749–1832

2.0 Seeking An Explanation Of World Phenomena
[1] With these words Goethe characterizes a trait belonging to the deepest foundation of human nature. The human being is not organized as a self-consistent unity. We always demand more than the world offers. Nature has given us needs, but their satisfaction is left to our own activity. However abundant is our share of Nature's bounty, even more abundant are our desires. We seem born to be dissatisfied. Our desire for knowledge is only a special instance of this unsatisfied striving.

"We seek everywhere for what we call the explanation of the facts."
We look twice at a tree. The first time we see its branches at rest, the second time in motion. We are not satisfied with this observation. Why, we ask, does the tree appear to us first at rest, then in motion? Every look at nature evokes a number of questions in us. With every phenomenon we encounter a task is given. Every experience is a riddle. We see a creature emerging from the egg that is similar to the mother, and we ask the reason for this similarity. We observe a living being grow and develop to a certain level of perfection, and we seek the factors determining this experience. Nowhere are we satisfied with what nature spreads out before our senses. We search everywhere for what we call the explanation of the facts.

[2] We seek something more in things that exceeds what is immediately given to us. This addition we seek splits our whole being into two parts; we become conscious of contrasting with the world. We confront the world as independent beings. The universe appears to us as two contrasting sides: Self and World.

[3] We erect this barrier between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness dawns in us. But we never lose the feeling that we belong to the world, connected to it by an enduring bond, that we are not beings outside, but rather within the universe.

[4] This feeling makes us strive to bridge the contrast, and in the final analysis, the entire spiritual striving of humanity consists of nothing but this bridging. The history of spiritual life is a continuing search for the unity between ourselves and the world.

Religion, Art and Science all pursue this same goal. The religious believer seeks in the revelation granted by God the solution to the mysteries of the world that his Self, dissatisfied with the world of mere phenomena, presents him with. The artist seeks to incorporate the ideas of his Self into his material to reconcile what lives within him with the outer world. He also feels dissatisfied with the world as it appears and seeks to mold into it that something more that his Self, transcending the world of phenomena, contains. The thinker seeks the laws of phenomena, striving to penetrate with thinking what he experiences through observation.


Only when we have made the world-content into our thought-content do we again find the unity from which we have separated ourselves.

We will see later that this goal can only be reached if the task of the scientific researcher is understood much more deeply than is usually the case.

The whole relationship I have described here between the Self and the World confronts us as historical phenomena in the contrast between the one-world theory of Monism, and the two-world theory of Dualism. Dualism directs its attention only to the separation between the Self and the World brought about by human consciousness. All its efforts are an ineffectual struggle to reconcile these opposing polarities, which it may call Mind and Matter or Subject and Object, or Thought and Phenomenon. The Dualist has a feeling that there must be a bridge between the two worlds, but is incapable of finding it. Monism directs its attention only to the unity and tries either to deny or blur the differences actually present. Neither of these two points of view can satisfy us, because they do not do justice to the facts.

The Dualist sees Mind (Self) and Matter (World) as two essentially different realities, so he cannot understand how they interact with each other. How can Mind know what is going on in Matter, if the essential nature of Matter is entirely foreign to Mind? Given these conditions, how can Mind affect Matter in such a way that its intentions translate into deeds? The most absurd hypotheses have been proposed to answer these questions.

The Monists are not in a much better position. They have tried to solve the problem in three different ways. Some deny Mind and become Materialists; others deny Matter in order to seek their salvation as Spiritualists; yet others claim that Mind and Matter are indivisibly united, even in the simplest substance, so it is not surprising that both kinds of existence appear in the human being because nowhere are they found apart.


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2.1 Materialism

How does Matter come to
reflect upon its own nature?


[5] Materialism can never provide a satisfactory explanation of the world. This is because every attempt at an explanation must begin by forming thoughts about the phenomena of the world. So Materialism takes its start with the thought of Matter or physical processes.

But in doing so, it is already dealing with two different sets of facts: the physical world and the thoughts about it. The Materialist tries to understand thoughts by regarding them as purely physical processes. His belief is that thinking takes place in the brain, much like digestion takes place in the animal organs. Just as he attributes mechanical, chemical, and organic processes to Matter, so he also credits Matter, under certain conditions, with the capacity to think. But he overlooks that all he has done is shift the problem to another place.

The Materialist attributes the power of thinking to Matter instead of to himself. This brings him back to his starting point. How is Matter able to reflect upon its own nature? Why does it not simply accept its existence, perfectly content with itself? The Materialist has turned his attention away from the clearly defined subject, his own self, and instead becomes occupied with a vague awareness of a complex configuration: Matter. And here the same problem comes up again. The materialistic view cannot solve the problem; it can only shift it to another place.


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2.2 Spiritualism

[6] What about Spiritualistic theory? The Spiritualist denies Matter (the World) and regards it as merely a product of Mind (the Self). He imagines the whole phenomenal world to be nothing more than a fabric woven by Mind out of itself. This world view finds itself in difficulties as soon as it attempts to derive from Mind any single concrete phenomenon. It cannot do so either in knowledge or in action.


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2.3 Realism

If one would really know the external world, one must look outwards and draw on the fund of experience. Without experience Mind can have no content. Similarly, when we go into action, we have to translate our intentions into realities with the help of physical things and forces. In other words, we are dependent on the external world.


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2.4 Idealism
"What he has actually accomplished is a magnificent thought-picture of the world, but one without any empirical content. "
The most extreme Spiritualist, or if you prefer, Idealist, is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He attempts to derive the whole world structure from the "Ego". What he has actually accomplished is a magnificent thought-picture of the world, but one without any empirical content. As little as it is possible for the Materialist to argue away the Mind, just as little is it possible for the Idealist to do without the outer physical world.


Johann Gottlieb Fichte

1762–1814


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2.5 Materialistic Idealism


Friedrich Albert Lange
1828- 1875
[7] The view of Friedrich Albert Lange is a curious variation of Idealism presented in his widely read History of Materialism. His view is that the Materialists are right to declare that all phenomena, including our thoughts, are the product of purely material processes, yet conversely, Matter and its processes are themselves a product of our thinking.

“The senses give us only the effects of things, not true copies, let alone the things themselves. But among these mere effects we must include the senses themselves, along with the brain and molecular movements thought to go on there."

In other words, our thinking is produced by the physical processes, and these are produced by our thinking. Lange's philosophy is nothing but the story, translated into concepts, of the brave Baron Münchhausen, who holds himself up freely in the air by his own pigtail.


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2.6 Indivisible Unity
[8] The third form of Monism sees the indivisible unity of Matter and Mind in even the simplest physical atom. But nothing is gained here, for the question that actually originates in our consciousness is once more shifted to another place. How can a simple substance manifest itself in two different ways, if it is indivisible?


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2.7 Contrast Self With World
[9] To all these points of view, we must emphasize the fact that we first encounter the basic and original polarity in our own consciousness. We are the ones who detach ourselves from the mother soil of Nature and contrast ourselves with the World as Self.

Goethe has given classic expression to this in his essay Nature.

"Living in the midst of her (Nature) we are strangers to her.
She speaks to us ceaselessly, yet tells us none of her secrets."


But Goethe also knew the other side:

"Human beings are all within her and she is within all human beings."



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2.8 Nature's Influence
[10] It is true that we have estranged ourselves from Nature; but it is equally true that we feel we are within Nature and belong to her. This can only be due to Nature's influence on us, which also lives in us.


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2.9 Knowing Nature Within
[11] We must find the way back to Nature again. A simple reflection can show us the way. It is true we have torn ourselves away from Nature, but we must have retained something of it in our own selves. We must seek out this element of Nature within us, and then we will discover our connection with it again.

Dualism fails to do this. It considers the human Mind as a non-material spirit totally alien to Nature, and then tries to hitch it up to Nature. No wonder that a connecting link cannot be found.
"We can only find Nature outside us after we first know it within us."

We can only find Nature outside us after we first know it within us. What corresponds to Nature within us will be our guide. This maps out our path of inquiry. We will not speculate about the interaction between Mind and Matter. Instead we will probe the depths of our own being in order to find those elements that we have retained in our flight from Nature.


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2.10 Something More Than "I"
[12] The investigation of our own being must bring us the solution to the problem. We must come to a point where we can say: Here we are no longer merely 'I', here is something more than 'I'.


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2.11 Description Of Consciousness
[13] I am aware that some who have read this far will will find that my remarks do not conform to 'the current position of science'. I can only reply that, so far, I have not been concerned with scientific results, but rather with a simple description of what we all experience in our own consciousness. Even those sentences about the attempts to reconcile Mind with the World have only been included to clarify the actual facts. This is why I have attached no value to using terms like 'Self', 'Mind', 'World' or 'Nature' in the precise way that is customary in Psychology and Philosophy.


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2.12 Facts Without Interpretation

Ordinary consciousness is unaware of the sharp distinctions made by the sciences, and up to this point it has only been a matter of recording the facts of everyday experience. To object that the above discussions have been unscientific would be like quarreling with the reciter of a poem for failing to immediately accompany every line with aesthetic criticism. My concern is not how science has interpreted consciousness, but rather how we experience it hour by hour.


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Chapter 2 Summary 2

The Fundamental Desire for Knowledge
In this chapter, Steiner begins by observing the fundamental split between the self and the world, and characterizes this split in terms of the desire that the self has to know about the world. People sense that despite being detached from the world they see, they also belong intimately to it. Accordingly they want to know how the world works and to know where they belong in it.

The means with which we approach this knowledge is as much a polarity as the "self and world" polarity itself. Steiner identifies this particular polarity of approaches as "one world monism" vs. "two world dualism." Assigning a variety of terms to dualism, Steiner equates "self and world" to "subject and object," "spirit and matter," and "thinking and phenomenon." To the degree that the self/subject thinks about the object/phenomenal world, it takes part in a spiritual activity, but it does so in a material world.

Steiner argues that neither monism nor dualism are satisfactory for gaining knowledge about the world, because "they do not do justice to the facts (18)." By separating the two worlds into opposed spheres, dualism creates a state of alienation between self and world. Monism for its part either denies the reality spirit, leading to materialism, or denies reality of matter, leading to spiritualism.

Materialism cannot explain the world because any description of the material world must begin with forming thoughts about the world, and thinking is a spiritual activity. The world is never "just what it is," to a human perceiver--it is always thought about and speculated about. On the other hand, spiritualism cannot explain the world fully because pure spirit has no way to make itself known to the human organism without material senses or the object world about which thoughts and ideas are formed.

Steiner argues that the way back to "unity" is to seek out that part of the spirit world that our material organisms have taken into their own beings. "We can find nature outside us only when we we first know it is within us. What is akin to it in our own inner being will be our guide (22)." (next summary chapter 3 Thinking as the Instrument for Understanding the World)
 


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Chapter 2 Summary 3

"Only when we have made the world-content into our thought-content do we again find the unity."

I stated in my Philosophy of Freedom that it is only by making the world-content into our thought-content that we restore to the world the unity it lost for us in childhood. As children we we saw only the sense perceptible aspects of the whole. Thought, however, is an integral part of the full reality. So we can say the child has access to only half of what the world consists of. Only later, when we have grown up sufficiently to develop thoughts, do we have access to the thought aspect. But it is not just in us. We know that thoughts are an integral part of everything, and we treat our thoughts as part of the reality of things and we use them to reconnect us with it.
-Rudolf Steiner


As a child we discover the sense perceptible part of the world. Later, when we have grown up enough, we develop thoughts. Thinking connects us with the thought aspect of the world. But at the same time it separates us as the mental process splits the world into two halves: our objective outer perception and our subjective inner thought-world.

The search for knowledge is due to the feeling that we belong to the world, but are separated from it. We have a longing toward wholeness, to be re-integrated into the world whole. We seek for a way to restore the unity with the world we lost in childhood in various pursuits such as the study of nature, mathematics, music, painting, or spiritual practice.

The fact that we feel we belong to the world indicates that there must be some element within us which belongs to the world, and if we find this element, we will find the element to unite us with the world. The key to finding the unity again is that thoughts are not just in us, they are an integral part of the whole of reality and can reconnect us with it. In this sense, we will find the unity again when we have made the world-content into our thought-content.

This chapter describes how our thoughts originate out of various world views. A single view point will reveal a truth about a particular domain of reality, and in fact may be the key to understanding that domain, but that view point cannot be universalized to explain everything. Broadmindedness is necessary. The danger is to become fixed in a one-sided world view.

 


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additional notes

Dispassionate observation of nature
“A far more difficult task is undertaken by those whose keen desire for knowledge urges them to strive to observe the objects of nature as such and in their relationship to each other. These individuals soon feel the lack of the test that helped them when they, as men, regarded the objects in reference to themselves personally. They lack the test of pleasure and displeasure, attraction and repulsion, usefulness and harmfulness. Yet this test must be renounced entirely. They ought as dispassionate and, so to speak, divine beings, to seek and examine what is, not what gratifies. Thus the true botanist should not be moved either by the beauty or by the usefulness of the plants. He must study their formation and their relation to the rest of the plant kingdom. They are one and all enticed forth and shone upon by the sun without distinction, and so he should, equably and quietly, look at and survey them all and obtain the test for this knowledge, the data for his deductions, not out of himself, but from within the circle of the things he observes.”  -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

2.3 Absolute Idealism
For Fichte, the external world lost its independent existence in this way: It has an existence that is only ascribed to it by the ego, projected by the ego's imagination. In his endeavor to give to his own “self” the highest possible independence, Fichte deprived the outer world of all self-dependence. Now, where such an independent external world is not supposed to exist, it is also quite understandable if the interest in a knowledge concerning this external world ceases. Thereby, the interest in what is properly called knowledge is altogether extinguished, for the ego learns nothing through its knowledge but what it produces for itself. In all such knowledge the human ego holds soliloquies, as it were, with itself. The Riddles of Philosophy (TROP)

2.5 Agnosticism
Lange's world conception leads to the opinion that we have only a world of ideas. This world, however, forces us to acknowledge something beyond its own sphere. It also is completely incapable of disclosing anything about this something. This is the world conception of absolute ignorance, of agnosticism. It is Lange's conviction that all scientific endeavor that does not limit itself to the evidence of the senses and the logical intellect that combines these elements of evidence must remain fruitless. That the senses and the intellect together, however, do not supply us with anything but a result of our own organization, he accepts as evidently following from his analysis of the origin of knowledge. The world is for him fundamentally a product of the fiction of our senses and of our intellects. Because of this opinion, he never asks the question of truth with regard to the ideas. No matter what the idealistic philosophers had thought concerning the nature of facts, for him it belonged to the realm of poetic fiction. (TROP)

2.6 Indivisible Unity
Haeckel’s very way of looking at things predestines him to be a monist. He looks upon spirit and nature with equal love. For this reason he could find spirit in the simplest organism. He goes even further than that. He looks for the traces of spirit in the inorganic particles of matter: “Without assuming a soul for the atom, the simplest and most general phenomena of chemistry are unexplainable. Pleasure and displeasure, desire and aversion, attraction and repulsion must be a common property of all material atoms.” As he traces spirit down to the atom so he follows the purely material mechanism of events up to the most lofty accomplishments of the spirit: “As the motion of our flesh is bound to the form elements of our muscles, so our mind's power of thinking is bound to the form elements of our brains. Our spiritual energies are simply functions of these physical organs just as every energy is a function of a material body.” (TROP)

 


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How can you not understand when thinking is a noun?

If you think the German word Denken means "thinking" as a verb, you haven't done your intellectual exercise. If you don't do your intellectual exercise, how can you experience spirit?
You criticize translation of Denken to mean only thinking, but you don't know that the German noun das Denken does not mean thinking as a verb (present participle)!
How is it possible for you to claim that Denken has been translated as "thinking" and not be able to recognize that "thinking" is nominalized and a noun?
Have you spoken with any of the translators to whom you abusively refer as translating "robotically" to determine whyt they say about why they translated Denken as thinking?