In order to construct a coherent worldview I first need an epistemological grounding, a first principle. I think the statement by Descartes
I think, therefore I am is a fairly good starting point, because it seems that the perceptual experience of being conscious is epistemologically primary — as in, every means to knowledge is contingent on consciousness — every sense and every thought experienced is through consciousness.
However, the statement
I think, therefore I am actually suggests that this epistemological axiom is in fact not
being, but rather
thinking; the logic requires that thinking is primary because it proves being, and not the other way around. The point I want to make in this article is that we think through language; and so language precedes thought, and thus consciousness. With language I don't just mean language in the colloquial sense, but a descriptive system; the way we communicate (and think) is through representation, abstraction, relation and logic. For example you might say some people think without words — only in pictures — but even that is a language; a system consisting of syntax (form) and semantics (meaning), though both can vary depending on the language. Besides the statement by Descartes logically requiring language to precede being, the very sentence itself is formulated in language and thus seems to be contingent on language once again in a more meta way. Chris Langan, author of the Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe,1 has a rendition of the idea I'm getting at that describes it very well:
Why is the universe a language? Basically, because any scientific or philosophical description of the universe is necessarily formulated in language, and the descriptive functionality of language implies that its content reflects the algebraic structure of language itself. Because every other intelligible descriptive structure, including every mathematical structure ever discovered, is formulated in terms of language, it is the most general and expressively powerful descriptive structure of all.2
What I want to get across in short is that the underlying order of reality is always instantiated through language, and can be found in every structure and system, ranging all the way from our axiom of thinking (and thus consciousness) as described earlier, to the senses such as vision, to morality, to philosophic and scientific theories of the world.
The fact that you are thinking necessitates an ordering principle to the process of thinking, the fact that you have vision and can differentiate objects requires an ordering principle, the fact that we can describe the material world seemingly quite accurately using logic, mathematics and theories requires an ordering principle. Take even the most basic laws of physics, what is a law? It is an ordering principle, it is a language; a description of the workings of physics, and even if there were no humans to communicate this description, it would still be in place descriptively and thus in a sense linguistically. There is a common principle between the inside world of our minds, and the outside world, namely; language, law.
In order for anything to exist there has to be law, order, language, else it would just be incoherent chaos, or as Chris Langan calls it, unbound telesis. Aquinas had the similar conception of māteriae prima, a type of 'substance' that is totally unformed and indefinable, 'substance' totally devoid of fōrma; thus it being pure potency, only when this potency is actualized will it become definable.3 The Pythagoreans had the concept of the dyad meaning
a pair and is represented by the number two. The dyad being the duality of apeírōn, meaning
infinite, boundless, indefinite, and péras meaning
finite, limit. The Pythagorean “Two” representing disunion, the falling apart of the Absolute Devine Unity (represented by one), and is therefore the number that is connected with the world of creation, where everything is a creation of a combination the indefinite — apeírōn, or potency — and péras — that which defines, actualizes — or in our terminology of law and language, legislates.4
In a reality without order, without physical, logical and meta-logical laws — and on a deeper level, without form or essence, without act, without péras — nothing coherent would be able to sustain and nothing definable would be able to exist. The Greek word kósmos tells a similar story, its etymological meaning being
a production of order out of chaos. Another interesting etymological fact about kósmos is that the Proto-Indo-European root of the word means
to announce, proclaim.
In religion the concept of language being primary also seems to be very common,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,5
And He taught Adam the names, all of them,6
And Our Word unto a thing, when We desire it, is only to say to it, “Be!” and it is.7 The aforementioned idea of universal law, and ordering principle, also has its roots in religion:
Ṛta - in Vedic religions, meaning
That which is ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of the natural, moral and sacrificial orders,
fixed or settled order, rule, divine law or truth. Like law or language, ṛta can be found in various domains:
These different connotations are not contradictory but complementary in nature. Material sciences attempt to access ṛta from the perspective of the physical universe; the science of yajna is a similar pursuit from the perspective of religion; ṛta translated into social conduct is considered dharma; and the philosophical dimension of ṛta is called satya.
And it seems that God is one with these ordering principles:
Creation is brought about through certain principles, although the Creator itself is beyond these principles. The fundamental principles underling this Creation, and also permeating it, are collectively called ṛta, which is one with the Divine.8
Ṛta has quite an interesting etymology; it is related by its root to the Latin word ōrdō, meaning order, and it is even more closely related to the word rite. A rite is etymologically that which is accomplished in conformity with order, and which consequently imitates or reproduces at its own level the very process of manifestation; and that is why, in a strictly traditional civilization, every act of whatever kind takes on an essentially ritual character.9
Tao - in East Asian traditions, its etymological meaning being way or path. Laozi explains in the Tao Te Ching that
The Tao is not a “name” for a “thing” but the underlying natural order of the Universe, and as with ṛta, we seem to be getting a non-dual conception of reality,
The Tao is a non-dualistic principle, it is the greater whole from which all the individual elements of the Universe derive. As with ṛta, one can attempt to access tao, in the Taoist tradition there is the conception of te, te structurally has the same radical as tao, the second character means
to acquire, so some say that te means
what is acquired from the Tao.
Like ṛta, tao has an interesting etymology, it might have its origin in the Indo-European root dhorg, meaning way or movement, the English words track and trek share the same origin. Even more unexpected than the panoply of Indo-European cognates for tao is the Hebrew root d-r-g for the same word, and the Arabic t-r-q, which yield words meaning
track, path, way, way of doing thingsand is important in Islamic philosophical discourse, namely ṭarīqa, a Sufi order, the spiritual path to reach the inward truth, ḥaqīqa.
Aša - in Zoroastrianism, meaning
truth, right(eousness), order or right working. The aforementioned ṛta and aša are both thought by some to derive from Proto-Indo-Iranian hr̥tás, truth.
For Christianity and Islam I had trouble drawing many of the exact similarities as I did before, thought I can draw some:
Logos - in Christianity, meaning
word, reason, order, a title of Jesus Christ, and thus God. Logos might be a little different from the aforementioned examples, because it involves personification of that universal order, in that way it might in fact be more akin to te, a way to attempt access the universal order. It is interesting to note that the (or a) Catholic translation of the Bible translates logos as tao. Since there is so much information and so many different interpretations of logos I'm kind of put off researching, so you can do that yourself.
Ḥaqq - in Islam, meaning
truth, reality, Al-Ḥaqq also being one of the 99 names of Allāh, often used to refer God as the Ultimate Reality. An interesting aside is that since God is an indivisible unity, one can not talk about particular Divine Aspects, since this would imply multiplicity and mutability, thus the Names of God are in a sense interchangeable. This means that Al-Ḥaqq refers to exactly the same essence as Allāh. Taking this into account when thinking about the shahādah,
there is no God but God(
lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu), we could just as well say
there is no reality but Reality, which again takes us to a non-dual conception of reality, in Islamic terminology waḥdat al-wujūd, meaning oneness of being.10
The sūfīs have the conception of ḥaqīqa, translated as
what is real, genuine, authentic, what is true in and of itself by dint of metaphysical or cosmic statusor
the inward truth. Earlier we mentioned the ṭarīqa, the spiritual path leading from the sharīʿa, the exoteric, to ḥaqīqa, the esoteric, the inward truth, though even this is not entirely true, because ḥaqīqa is beyond distinction of exoterisism and esoterisism. Thus the ṭarīqa can be likened to te, the means, and ḥaqīqa to tao, the end.11
In short, this conception of language and law I have been speaking of, has precedence in tradition and is closely interwoven with the traditional conception of God, though I'm personally not yet sure if the common traditional conception is that of law emanating from God, or being ultimately one with God.
I don't know if I used language in this article as really meaning a linguistic system, as Chris Langan seems to do, or more as a kind of analogy for ṛta, order, et cetera, which may or may not be completely describable linguistically. While writing this article I started out really being attracted to the former, but as I did more research (René Guénon's book
The Reign of Quantity & The Signs of the Times influencing me a lot) I came to see many similarities between the CTMU and Scholastic thought, unbound telesis being prime matter, coherence being substance impregnated with form, and so on. One of my intentions was to somehow link the very skeptical position of
I think therefore I am, which pertains only the mind, to the outside physical world through this common principle of law. Ultimately there really is no cathartic conclusion to this article, but it is rather written as a journey. Yeah that's definitely no excuse.
1For an introduction to this theory, see Explaining the CTMU (Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe). ↩︎
3For a good introduction to māteriae prima, fōrma and other Scholastic concepts, see
The Last Superstitionby Edward Feser. The first few chapters of
The Reign of Quantity & The Signs of the Timesby René Guénon also talks about the concept of māteriae prima extensively, see also this video series by John David Ebert for a good and concise analysis of this book. The blogpost On the Science of Numbers by Jan de Maansnijder is also very useful in regards to understanding the traditional qualities of certain numbers. ↩︎
The Mystery of Numbersby Annemarie Schimmel, Waleed El-Ansary also references this book in his lecture Islamic Esotercism & Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Science, and Art. ↩︎
5John 1:1. ↩︎
The Study Quransays that the “names” are considered by some to be those that people use in discourse with one another, such as “man” or “sea”. To others, to be taught the names of things means to be given knowledge of all things. Still others say he was taught the names of angels; or that he was taught the names of all his progeny. al-Rāzī thought this means that Adam was taught all the languages on earth, and his descendants came to prefer one over the others in the course of time. Martin Lings in his book
Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitionsstates that Adam was taught the true language, the language in which the sound corresponded exactly to the sense. A primordial speech that is the most perfectly expressive and onomatopoeic. ↩︎
7Quran 16:40. ↩︎
9Etymology from René Guénon's book
The Reign of Quantity & The Signs of the Times. ↩︎
10For more a in-depth look at waḥdat al-wujūd and esoteric interpretations of the shahādah, see
What is Sufism?by Martin Lings. ↩︎