This essay's title may appear to be contradictory--referring to understanding something that's unknown. The nature of humans is not unknowable--as we'll discuss how to gain progressive knowledge of it in this essay. But there are unknown aspects of human nature which we shall discover as we continue to investigate this phenomenon. We must not assume that we already completely grasp human nature. 1
"Who then are lovers of wisdom?
Those who seek to discern the ultimate nature of reality."
Plato, The Commonwealth (475e)
Genuine philosophers--lovers and seekers of wisdom--have always sought for an understanding of
the ultimate essence of all reality, never being content with mere opinion within the realm of sensory objects.
For most people, faith in ordinary perception is total; they believe that they see, hear, taste, smell, and touch a "real" world "out there" with unquestionable truth. They assume that reality is as they perceive and conceive it and to them the ordinary world-view ("consensus reality") is not only acceptable but preferable to any other they might consider. They believe that their view of reality is correct because for the ordinary events of life their perception is accurate enough to allow them to avoid running into tall buildings and anticipating that the sun will "rise" 2 in the morning without fail.
Part of "consensus reality" is the belief that a lone person 3 can discover the nature of physical objects through his perception of their external and internal physical properties. "Truth" is conceived to be a sort of ready-made thing which can be grasped by an effort of the individual thinker, and readily transferred and communicated to others.
We've discovered a great number of difficulties with this "common sense," empiricist view of knowledge in our previous studies. Aside from those difficulties, we find that we cannot discover the nature of genuine humans 4 in the same way we can detect the nature of physical things because genuine humans are entirely different in their essence from merely physical things. Humans, because of their extraordinary nature, may be described and defined--understood--only in terms of consciousness.
Sub-Humans Can Be Understood as Physical Objects
We must recognize that members of the homo sapiens species can devolve to become completely sub-human in nature. The terrifying result of the current destruction of our culture by a deranged gang of thugs is that the mental incapacity of masses of humans no longer allows cultural knowledge to be passed from one generation to another. Within the last several generations, essential cultural knowledge has not been transferred, including how to think, how to read and write, and how to relate effectively with others. The ignorance of the current masses is particularly calamitous in the areas of social knowledge, leading to an easily manipulable citizenry.
Since sub-human brains are mere combinations of infantile beliefs and emotional patterns, they can be easily programmed and controlled. The devolution of mortals to a sub-human state was eloquently described by Boethius in 524 CE.
"Whatever loses its goodness ceases to be. Thus wicked men cease to be what they were; but the appearance of their human bodies, which they keep, shows that they once were men. To give oneself to evil, therefore, is to lose one's human nature. Just as virtue can raise a person above human nature, so vice lowers those whom it has seduced from the condition of men beneath human nature. For this reason, anyone whom you find transformed by vice cannot be counted a man.
"Although vicious men keep the appearance of their human bodies, they are nevertheless changed into beasts as far as the character of their souls is concerned."
Boethius, the Emboldenment of Philosophy
Boethius goes even farther; he claims that persons who give themselves to evil--instead of seeking divinity--actually cease to be. The essence--the very being--of a human is the pursuit of unity with Higher Consciousness. To pursue anything other than that goal means that a human ceases to have true being.
"Perhaps it may strike some as strange to say that evil men do not exist, especially since they are so numerous; but it is not so strange. For I do not deny that those who are evil are evil; but I do deny that they are, in the pure and simple sense of the term. For just as you may call a cadaver a dead man, but cannot call it simply a man, so I would concede that vicious men are evil, but I cannot say, in an absolute sense, that they exist. For a thing is that which maintains its place in nature and acts in accord with its nature. Whatever fails to do this loses the existence which is proper to its nature."
We Can Only Understand Human Nature Through the Experience of Dialectic
Whereas we can study the nature of ordinary physical objects through the use of science and mathematics, the essence of human nature is not ascertainable through those means. In his Oration on the Dignity of Man, Pico della Mirandola makes it clear just what a different kind of reality human nature is:
"We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom and choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have power to degenerate into the lower forms of life which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul's judgement, to be reborn into the highest forms, which are divine."
Because we humans are of a dual nature--earthly and divine--our ordinary procedures of investigation do not enable us to understand ourselves. Our methodology of exploration must partake of the same nature as the reality being explored.
"It is only in our immediate intercourse with human beings that we have insight into the character of man. We must actually confront man, we must meet him squarely face to face, in order to understand him. Hence it is not a new objective content, but a new activity and function of thought which is the distinctive feature of the philosophy of Socrates.
"Philosophy, which had hitherto been conceived as an intellectual monologue, is transformed into a dialogue. Only by way of dialogical or dialectic thought can we approach the knowledge of human nature. Previously truth might have been conceived to be a sort of ready-made thing which could be grasped by an effort of the individual thinker, and readily transferred and communicated to others. But Socrates could no longer subscribe to this view . . . Truth is by nature the offspring of dialectic thought. It cannot be gained, therefore, except through a constant cooperation of the subjects in mutual interrogation and reply. It is not therefore like an empirical object; it must be understood as the outgrowth of a social act."
Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man
"Understanding can be acquired only by actual participation in the reality."
Betty and Stewart Edward White, Across the Unknown, 1937
Understanding human nature--including understanding individual humans--can only occur in dialectical interchange between persons--"only in our immediate intercourse with human beings." We cannot stand apart from people and study them as we do physical objects if we wish to gain true insight into their essence. Understanding of human nature requires a new kind of social activity and new supra-mental processes of Reason.
"If the soul . . . is to know itself, it must engage with another soul, and especially in that region in which what makes a soul good, wisdom, occurs, and at anything else which is similar to it . . . Can we say that there is anything about the soul which is more divine than that where knowing and understanding take place? . . . Then that region in it resembles the divine, and someone who looked at that and grasped everything divine--wisdom and understanding--would have the best grasp of himself as well."
Plato, Alcibiades, 133 b-c
Truth about human nature is not something already determined which we discover as a solitary investigator examining an external object or a predetermined body of knowledge. Such truth comes into realization 5 in the social activity of dialectical interchange, one or more embodiments of consciousness encountering other focal points of awareness.
"The integral Knowledge is something that is already there in integral Reality: it is not a new or still non-existing thing that has to be created, acquired, learned, invented or built up by the mind; it must rather be discovered or uncovered, it is a Truth that is self-revealed to a spiritual endeavour: for it is there veiled in our deeper and greater self; it is the very stuff of our own spiritual consciousness, and it is by awaking to it even in our surface self that we have to possess it."
Aurobindo, The Life Divine
The Essence of Human Nature Is Conscious Activity
When we go beneath the surface, we recognize that humans are in their essence focal points of conscious activity: sensing, speaking, reflecting, making, hearing, achieving, realizing, becoming aware, and so on. Ordinary comprehension as the discovery of predetermined knowledge cannot grasp the human essence.
Socrates: I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.
Phaedrus: You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which the written word is properly no more than an image?
Intellectual descriptions expressed in linguistic form always follow limpingly behind the fleeting, progressing, ongoing movement of human conscious activity. Verbal expressions of thought can only fix glimpses and shadows of the original human reality. The descriptions they set down for later examination are already shells from which life has all but flown. That is why a portrayal of a human in words is always lacking in the vital principle; why narration fixes merely a phenomenon that has ceased to move and progress. A human being is becoming, living, always proceeding, and can therefore be depicted only in a medium that is similarly fluid and alive: the social activity of dialectical interchange.
Only the process, the social activity of dialectic can embody and reveal human nature because it involves a dynamic intuitive mode of apprehension and communication, the power of attaining to direct knowledge without extraneous rational thought and inference.
Dialectical interchange involves the more direct "language" of active intuitive apperception. Intellectual reporting can never fully embody or signify human conscious activity.
The "language" we must use in seeking understanding of human reality is made up, not of words, but of those moving, ever-changing things known as actions--doings. Mere intellectual recountings of living human existence are only useful when we later wish to analyze what has previously occurred.
In true dialectic or in spiritual meditation and contemplation, we act through inspiration, the instantaneous and unmediated expression of that which, when undiminished by habits of ponderous thought, comes to us directly from higher sources. Our inspirations are then undiluted by passage through the fixed and stationary medium of cogitation. Participants in dialectic engage not in pondering and deliberating, but in expressing immediate inspiration from the Source. It is only after the activity of dialectical interchange that we can legitimately formulate thoughts and select words and expressions by which to formulate reflective wisdom.
"The primary meaning of consciousness is the presence of the self to itself through operations that attain an object. The originating meaning of consciousness is the self-presence that grounds every other form of presence in human consciousness. The secondary meaning of consciousness is the mediation of self-presence through conscious acts. The tertiary meaning of consciousness pertains to the object or content of the conscious activity."
Emile J. Piscitelli, "Insight As a Theory of Knowledge: Basic Method And Metaphysics"
Immediate inspiration is the language we speak when we try to understand human nature: a fluid, flowing language, ever-changing, ever moving in intercourse with the human essence it expresses. That is why in dialectic--and other forms of mystical meditation and contemplation--we look, not to formulated statements for evidence of understanding, but to the living, moving force within us, which brings instantaneous illumination.
Reflective thought--expressed in carefully chosen words--is an arrestation, a fixing of an elapsed reality, while the living thing--conscious activity--wings its way out of sight. Immediate inspiration is an expression of human experience, which we may not intellectually comprehend at the moment. In dialectic, meditation, and contemplation we free ourselves temporarily from the intellectual mechanism and engage in the language of immediate action--intuiting, allowing a free flow of ideas, speaking extemporaneously, inter-acting spontaneously, not-thinking. This kind of unrehearsed, unedited "doing" is the elemental mode of interaction and communication between persons and other dynamic realities. It is similar to the experience of not merely saying "I love you," but loving through action.
The rapid twinklings of birds flocking through space are illustrations of the directer language which dialectic speaks. The hesitation of a tenth of a second by any single member would inevitably throw the whole operation into jostling confusion.
This uninterrupted, primordial language of unmediated intuition is what Socrates taught participants in dialectical interchange. At first, we may feel it to be almost impossible to obtain that flexibility of spirit which receives accurately and undistortedly the immediate impulse from the depths of being--the impulse which translates itself into the sure and spontaneous action that is its expression. We stammer and hesitate and use wrong "words" and "awkward phrases" in attempting any new or little-accustomed language.
In the experience of immediate inspiration in dialectical interchange, there is manifestly no room for ponderous communication of ideas filtered through a mechanism such as the brain. The action of flocking or intuiting is itself the reality. It is not a question of receiving an impulse and deciding to act on it, nor of receiving an impetus and diverting it into the groove of long-established habits of thought or behavior. Human conscious activity is only understood through the immediate manifestation of an impelling force.
"The self-presence of the subject is the primary form of presence because it is I who am conscious. Acts are said to be conscious when they mediate the object to the subject: I am conscious through conscious acts. The object is that of which I am conscious through conscious acts. Neither objects nor other persons can be present to me without the mediation of conscious operations. Consciousness is experience grounded in self-presence. If consciousness is experience, then consciousness is the experience of experience, the experience of understanding, the experience of reflection, and the experience of deliberation and decision. Insight undertakes an examination of consciousness as experience in order to understand: experience, questioning, understanding, reflection, judging, and deciding. The self-affirmation of the knower arises in a reflection on my conscious acts so that when I judge that I am a knower, I am saying that I am one who experiences, understands, judges, and decides. What I know is my self as knower. When I decide to live and act in accordance with self-knowledge, I have appropriated my rational self-consciousness."
Emile J. Piscitelli, "Insight As a Theory of Knowledge: Basic Method And Metaphysics"
When we begin learning to follow intuition in dialectical interchange, we make many blunders and mistakes. This occurs because of the distortion of habits of thought, puzzlement as to what we're experiencing, or because before the first and pure impulse is brought to conscious attention, it's diluted by deliberation. Thought, for all its mechanical nature, is extraordinarily swift, and before the flash of perception reaches expression thought may unconsciously interpose a hundred considerations that modify it.
What we think is the pure impulse has thus become a hybrid before it reaches its expression in action. Only with practice and with trial-and-error can fluency and accuracy in this language of intuition, as in all others, be obtained. But we can succeed in gaining proficiency in this primordial language of inspiration through persistence of effort.
The spontaneity of dialectical interchange is not, however, mere mindless blathering, bantering, or Freudian free-association of senseless mental effluence. We learn to use the unfamiliar powers of intuition and inspiration, becoming conduits for Ideas already existent in a higher realm. Dialectic involves allowing this supersensible wisdom to flow through us in an untrammeled and unpremeditated way in realizing and understanding human life. Instead of the uprush of crude, raw discharge, we become unobstructed channels for exalted, resplendent conceptions and sentiments.
The Creation of Individual Human Nature Within the Experience of Dialectic
We cannot grasp the essence of a genuine human as we do the nature of an ordinary physical object because such an authentic person discovers, invents, creates, and recreates herself continually, especially within the social context of dialectic.
Dialectical interchange is a
shared mystical experience. In the spiritual dimension, persons act on each other through a kind of radiation effect, as fire has a radius of heat or as ice emits an aura of cold. Spiritual awareness involves becoming a part of the essence of the entity you are apprehending.
In dialectical interchange spiritual transformation--re-birth--occurs, bringing about an awakening in that part of our being that is open to inspiration and generation.
Advanced humans learn through dialectical interchange how to become co-conscious with one another in a super-human Intelligence. Whatever is known within this super-consciousness is known at all points.
We learn to advance beyond our current terrestrial state of being, shunting off (becoming detached from) our ordinary sense-based existence and attaining spiritual awareness. Only through introspective and dialectical contemplation can we understand this process of spiritual regeneration into unitive consciousness, by the inwardly turned eye of the Soul. We release ourselves into the surrounding Universal Life so our experience can explain itself.
"Thou must thyself be the way; the understanding must be born in thee; thou must enter into it, so that the understanding of the work in the practic art . . . may be opened to thee."