Jul 282006

By Ken Wilber [img_assist|nid=5|title=Ken Wilber|desc=Ken Wilber|link=node|align=right|width=92|height=100]

It is flat-out strange that something – that anything – is happening at all. There was nothing, then a Big Bang, then here we all are. This is extremely weird.

To Schelling’s burning question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” there have always been two general answers. The first might be called the philosophy of “oops.” The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it’s all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens – oops! The philosophy of oops, no matter how sophisticated and adult it may on occasion appear – its modern names and numbers are legion, from positivism to scientific materialism, from linguistic analysis to historical materialism, from naturalism to empiricism – always comes down to the same basic answer, namely, “Don’t ask.”

The question itself (Why is anything at all happening? Why am I here?) – the question itself is said to be confused, pathological, nonsensible, or infantile. To stop asking such silly or confused questions is, they all maintain, the mark of maturity, the sign of growing up in this cosmos.

I don’t think so. I think the “answer” these “modern and mature” disciplines give – namely, oops! (and therefore, “Don’t ask!”) – is about as infantile a response as the human condition could possibly offer.

The other broad answer that has been tendered is that something else is going on: behind the happenstance drama is a deeper or higher or wider pattern, or order, or intelligence. There are, of course, many varieties of this “Deeper Order”: the Tao, God, Geist, Maat, Archetypal Forms, Reason, Li, Mahamaya, Braham, Rigpa. And although these different varieties of the Deeper Order certainly disagree with each other at many points, they all agree on this: the universe is not what it appears. Something else is going on, something quite other than oops….

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  12 Responses to “The Philosophy of Oops…”

  1. As much as I like reading a lot of Wilber's stuff, he's made a logical misstep here. First he questions the idea that something 'just is', for no reason whatsoever; the 'oops' of being. He seems to feel that this is a copout to the question of 'why oops?'. To answer that question, he posits a 'deeper, or wider patter, or order, or intelligence', a greater reality behind and sustaining this reality. But, if I were to ask him why this deeper reality exists, what would be his answer? Oops? I think this problem has less to do with 'oops', and more with 'why'. In our cause and effect experiential existence, 'why' is really asking the question, "from what cause do these effects proceed?" But existence itself is NOT a cause; rather, (put rather crudely, I admit) causation is what existence is doing, like the waves on the ocean. Positing a cause for existence itself is simply a category error. Believers in the 'why' problem simply create a fallback position, and then grant this position special status vis-a-vis causality; but that special status is nothing more than a contrived liguistic device that falls apart when looked at too closely. Mine is not an argument against a 'higher order', but it'll take more than Wilber's fallacious reasoning to convince me that there is one…mm

  2. I think he’s formulating the wrong question to express a profound mystery we all intrinsically feel. The question is not really “WHY is there something rather than nothing?” The “Why” here isn’t simply a matter of causation. It’s a signpost for the entire interior dimension of subjective life in which purpose, intention and meaning live. And the question is – is this interior dimension intrinsic to the Kosmos itself, or is it just some strange alienated aberration taking place in my own head? Is this, in other words, a Kosmos in which “why” is a valid part of reality? Is this, in fact, a pan-psychic Kosmos?

  3. Before I post let me plainly tell you that the Pharisees and Herodians in the following excerpt from Matthew might have been any clandestine cabal in time and in no way reflects upon modern rabbinical Judaism. I personally study modern rabbinical Judaism and have a deep spiritual respect, love and empathy for my Jewish brothers and sisters. God is and ever shall be the same as when salvation came first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.

    We were created in the image of God, but not all of us see our godlike image. Is it as some would tell us tarnished beyond all possible recognition or are we simply looking where it is not found?

    There exists a debate concerning resistance to Roman occupation in the time of Jesus, questioning whether Jews should pay only the temple tax (the state tax of Israel) or both the temple tax and the tax of the occupying Romam Empire; after all, bankrolling Rome is defacto bankrolling the occupation of the Holy Land. This argument would continue until 1948.

    Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

    The word ‘portrait’ in the above New Testament transcript is interpreted as the word ‘image’ in the King James Version* and other texts. Iesous was implying we return to the worldly economy what we receive from it without neglecting the economy of The Kingdom of God.


    Eretz Israel

    * The King James Version being recognized as the first English translation closest to the correct Hebrew translation for hundreds of years before the modern Jewish press. The translation was respected so much as to be used in American and European synagogues.

  4. A very neat, concise and logical foundation for ethics.

  5. There are several points I find instructive in understanding Jesus’ answer on taxes.

    First of all, the tribute coin was a graven image of Caesar. It was forbidden to bring any such image into the temple (where we are told this exchange took place). This was the very reason there were money changers in the temple courtyard, so that worshippers could enter the temple and pay their temple taxes with uncorrupt coinage. This particular coin would also have likely included the inscription: “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” – a second blasphemy. It’s hard to imagine Jesus looking on such coinage with anything but contempt, and it is significant that while he didn’t seem to have such a coin, his accusers DID, and had carried it into the temple precincts.

    Secondly, Jesus told his questioners to render “to God the things which are God’s”. Can anyone imagine that anything (other than something utterly evil and corrupt) does not belong to God? As Dorothy Day put it, “If we rendered unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar.”

    Thus the hypocrisy of the accusers. While they are claiming to be interested in the things of God, they are clearly participants in a blasphemous and corrupt political system.

    Thoreau put it this way:

    “Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. “Show me the tribute-money,” said he; — and one took a penny out of his pocket; — If you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar’s government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it; “Render therefore to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God those things which are God’s” — leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know.”

  6. Live well.

  7. Yes, it is. Not my doing, but the software seems to be having issues. Let me see if I can retrieve it somehow…

  8. Something moved it into the “unpublished” category, and then generated an error when I changed the status to “published”. But it seems to be there now. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Might be time to upgrade the software…

  9. Interesting affirmation of the value of human life. Are we all descendants of Adam and Eve? This would seem to be a Jewish truth. If so, we are all semites. Jews should drop the viewpoint that they are different from everyone else. They are not.

    I noticed your perception of differences in identical twins. There are similarities too. There are amazing similarities that go beyond physical similarity. In the cases of identical twins separated at birth and raised without knowledge of their twin, many things have been learned. They make identical choices when they buy things like toothpaste and shampoo. They have similar jobs and homes. They usually die within 2 weeks of each other.

    This vexed my caseworker greatly when I had to deal with DSHS as they sought to deny my parental rights forever. DSHS caseworkers usually believe that environment is supreme in forming what the child will become. From the study of identical twins separated at birth and raised in very different environments, we learn that heredity plays a very significant role.

  10. Matt 17:24-27

    When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
    Also one reason that Jesus overthrew the tables of the money changers, is because of those who sought to make gain for themselves out of Holy Things that pertained to the Temple. Thereby making the Temple “a den of thieves”. Matt 21:12, Mark 11:15 and Luke 19:45.

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