Radical Empiricism

“If you look very carefully, you’ll see that consciousness is simply one with whatever is immediately arising- as we saw the mountain, for example. You as a subject do not see the mountain as an object, but rather, you and the mountain are one in the immediacy of the actual experience. So in that sense, consciousness as a subjective entity does not exist- it’s not a separate something that has an experience of a separate something else. There is just One Taste in the immediateness of experience.

So pure experience is not split into an inside and outside – there is no twiceness, no twoness about it! As James characteristically put it, “Experience, I believe, has no such inner duplicity.” 

-Ken Wilber, Brief History of Everything

In my opinion, this stance is as powerful as, if not more, any traditional stance on subject-object relations. It seems that before twoness, there is an immediate oneness (at least in experience), which we then go onto differentiate. That’s what thought is for. Surely, thought has a purpose, but just as reason was a means to intelligently understand the universe, is not “radical empiricism” or more simply, awareness, a means to further understand ourselves? In other words, a direct apprehension of our being; where we begin, before the very first ideas arise.  Wilber gives us a quote from Bertrand Russell:

The main purpose of this essay ["Does 'Consciousness Exist?"] was to deny that the subject-object relation is fundamental. It had, until then, been taken for granted by philosophers that there is a kind of occurrence called “knowing,” in which one entity, the knower or subject, is aware of another, the thing known or the object [the "two hands" of experience]. The knower was regarded as a mind or soul; the object known might be a material object, an eternal essence, another mind, or, in self-consciousness, identical with the knower. Almost everything in accepted philosophy was bound up in the dualism of subject and object. The distinction of mind and matter and the traditional notion of “truth,” all need to be radically reconsidered if the distinction of subject and object is not accepted as fundamental.”

And this holds as much truth today as ever before. How might this affect not only the classical philosophies, but the psychologists, social scientists? Would it affect them at all, or are these fields far too specialized to be influenced by such a deep alteration in fundamental assumptions about ourselves? That question is something that would have needed William James and Bertrand Russell to follow through on their insight, but it seems that they did not push further than these discoveries.  They merely introduced profound ideas whose seeds have yet to be pushed up through the soil of the western mind. Perhaps as many fundamental ideas are changing, this fruit will be rediscovered. 

My bets are that if the social sciences begin to exchange their research, learn from each other, they may begin to find new influences in philosophy; how we see ourselves and the many diverse yet holistic facets there are to human nature, and furthermore, how richly our species is connected to the universe at large.

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