DECENTERED

For far too long, humanity has sought to ground its choices — its very existence — on the certainties of religion, science, and philosophy. We have intentionally choked out the uncanny, the mysterious, and the uncertain by leaping from assumed truths to newly defined truth without questioning the a priori structures that hold them in place (e.g. the scientific method, the Bible, and all other truth-filters). And by following the human need for security, we are inherently becoming centered — whether in ourselves, our thoughts, or our systems.

Now, that is not to say that the above examples are wrong — in this post, I am intentionally trying to get away from such distinctions — but rather that they are partial: both biased and not reflective of the whole. They all lead to truth in a sense, but never open to the larger picture until they can be brought together and assembled into a society of truth, heterogeneous and antagonistic to the very end. In other words, they must not be synthesized, but entertained in light of their disparities.

Over the past few weeks, this shift has become increasingly important in my own life. After focusing on the question “what is there?” for the better part of 3 years, I have now begun to realize that this question, though not inherently unanswerable, is a never-ending spiral into stagnant abstraction. If you seek a unity with this question, you are faced with the plurality of the above examples — science, religion, and philosophical schools. If you seek a plurality, there is always the issue of reciprocal determination, or the notion that each piece determines the nature of all the others (and will change with every addition and subtraction of terms). Believe me, it is an extremely interesting question, especially for a naive teenager. But when functioning in the world — a place of inherent dynamism and expressive duty — it is useless.

That is why I have begun to seek a new question, and a new way to define the itch that I have always been driven to scratch.

Is this it?

Rather than seek an open-ended, abyssal question such as the one defined above, I have decided on a simple yes-or-no question: Is this it? However, I must add that looks can be deceiving. For there are only two answers, but the question itself is generalizable and expandable.

For instance, what is the this which we are talking about? Is it (1) existence itself, (2) the structure of human perception, (3) the current sociopolitical environment, (4) the way in which you interact with everyone in your daily life, or (5) any number of other objects of reflection? Though existence — the is-ness of everything — is essentially primary, it is nonetheless undefinable without reference to the pre-existent objects given to you by your relationship with the world. The parts, it seems, inherently compose the whole, whether or not the whole is existentially separate from the parts.

Furthermore, let us take the structure of human perception as an example. There seem to be two paths — yes or no — but there are in fact three. Here are the potential consequences of each answer.

Yes

Resigning to my fate, I have determined that there is nothing outside of current human perception. Despite the advances of pharmacology and neurotechnology, I will never be able to escape the sheer fact of experience, the very intensity of the flesh — the color red, the scent of flowers, and the coarseness of grass beneath my feet. I am stuck here; the “I” can never leave this place, this beautiful prison of the flesh. I am always here now — wherever here and now happen to be at this moment. Yet, I might add, I have not tested the limits of this assertion, and the truth always lies at the limits of my perception. What if I were to throw myself deeply into the world, enter a thoughtless flow of action and dynamism? Would the flesh still remain? Conversely, what if I were to spend the next 30 years of my life in deep meditation? Would the self dissolve — and the flesh remain? And finally, what if I were to actively seek out the deepest love, pain, joy, and sadness? During these shifts, would the flesh simply change its character, its pure givenness to the “I,” or would it become something wholly different?

No

Neuroscience has taught us much about the nature of our perception, largely through the exploration of limit-cases. Synaesthesia, the mixing of senses, has shown that taste might evoke a palpable object in front of oneself. A degeneration of vision might cause one to literally see a sink, knobs and all, yet actually be moving towards a urinal. And in the far future, we will be able to add capacities to our nervous system — from seeing infrared light, enhancing memory, or adding AI to the stream of our thoughts — and treat virtual spaces as we would our physical environments. Except, of course, we could inhabit a world of pure mathematical flux, be in two places at once, understand each bit of represented information, and fly around in a reconfigured body unconstrained by the forces of physics.

Nevertheless, the following statements must all be proven — primarily for myself — through direct experience of such occurrences. How can this be done, and how can it be conveyed to others? That is the task that is left at the end of this “answer.”

Yes and No

Why must the above answers be mutually exclusive? I see no contradictions between the inescapable presence of the flesh and the malleability of the contents of experience. Truly, this was never an either/or question, but instead a “yes, and…” exhortation to further inquiry, to an ever-expanding domain of truth. There is no need for reconciliation — only for expressive action. Show the others that this is really the case, in a way that they cannot refuse.

As can be seen, there is much more to the question of “Is this it?” than first meets the eye — even when only in reference to a single definition of “this.” I hope that this inquiry has not only gotten you to think about your own answer to this question, but also to inquire into the question driving your own life. Is it a motive force pushing you towards new modes of expression? Or is it a stagnant vortex causing you to spiral aimlessly around its insatiable core?

The answer to this question — the answer to all decentered truth — is up for you to determine, to express, and to display. Let’s get to it.


Originally published at Garrett Flynn.