On the Cenoscopic and Ideoscopic – and why they matter — Part 4 *DRAFT*


Explaining the Diagram 

In an attempt to graphically depict the points I have made, the above diagram offers, I hope, a plausible way to situate the cenoscopic and ideoscopic dimensions in their interrelations. As with any scheme, this one too will finally fall short of embracing important nuances, but it still may prove useful as an initial sketch of an important distinction. Some of its imperfections can be mitigated by bearing in mind the qualifications itemized below.

  1. The ‘Beyond’ : Both ideoscopic science and cenoscopic science (philosophy) aim at going ‘beyond immediate experience’, but their reasons for doing this are quite different, and thus the transcendence reached is likewise different.  The first typically pursues  causes and conditions hitherto unknown (and the word for this is ‘discovery’), whereas the latter endeavors to make us conscious, anamnetically (à la Menon), of principles and contexts already known implicitly, but forgotten or dimmed by time and distraction. One might characterize philosophy’s purpose as follows:  to make us fully aware of what we already implicitly know, so that we can, in turn, fully become what we already potentially are.
  2. Why transcend? : What is meant exactly by ‘getting beyond the appearances’ and, especially,  ‘saving the appearances’?  Ideoscopic explanation says: “Despite the way things look, this is how they really are.”  Cenoscopic science says: “The way things look actually makes sense, and philosophy exists to help us to grasp why they look the way they do and what it all finally means.”  The former must save the appearances from the decontextualizing reduction of its analyses.  The latter, however, will endeavor to read the appearances and bring their principles to light, in the context of those very appearances.  
  3. Between the cenoscopic and the ideoscopic : ‘Nature’ is ideoscopically studied by the top, bottom and left-hand sciences. But it is also studied, although with different methods, by cenoscopic philosophy; we call this the ‘philosophy of nature.’  These two ‘versions’ of a given area of knowledge will appear in most domains of science. As an accessible example, one could point to the difference between more holistic, ‘appearance-oriented’ methods of so-called alternative medicine and the chemical and pharmaceutical approach of much of modern health care. The cenoscopic and the ideoscopic here invite complementarity.  * * *  ‘Culture’ (again, in its broadest sense) is ideoscopically studied by the right-hand sciences, where one looks beneath the obvious world of our consciousness to what upholds it, guides it, but also what abuses and contorts it, within the intricacies of the unconscious mind; behind the conflicting tendencies of our social instincts; the uniting and yet mystifying constants in the morphologies, syntaxes and semantics of the thousands of human languages; the underlying patterns and possible meanings of our cultures, their varieties, histories and conflicts; the forbiddingly complex interrelations between mental experience and the most complex matter known to the universe, our brains; etc. But all this is also studied cenoscopically when we turn to the philosophical disciplines of ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics and the philosophy of art and technology. This is what merits the august name of ‘practical’ philosophy.
  4. Ideoscopic collaborations? : There are obvious cross-relations between the four domains: not only the aforementioned attempts to bring the very big and the very small into a single explanatory pattern, but also essays of evolutionary science at giving a comprehensive account of human culture. Neither of these proposed marriages are anywhere close to consummation, but we would do well to pay attention to their courtships. More interesting, and already much more in evidence, are the relations between the very small and evolutionary science, on the one hand, and the emergence of the idea of cosmic evolution in the very big. These conceptual links exist, but again, have not yet justified erasing the distinctions that still hold between the interlinked domains. There is still much to ponder and interpret in these links.
  5. Usurpations? :  Since ideoscopic science is often practiced by specialists with little or no familiarity with traditional philosophy, and perhaps a reluctance to attribute epistemic value to the humanities and the fine arts – and even more reluctance regarding religion – the vast cenoscopic realms of human experience often find themselves under ‘ideoscopic assault’. No one can realistically ignore the straightforwardness of the cenoscopic and its time-honored importance. Any scientist intent on explaining as much as he possibly can with his new tools and perspectives, will find himself tempted to take isolated parts of the cenoscopic world hostage and attempt to prove that its surface content is, in truth, only what ideoscopic analysis says it is.  I spoke at length of this earlier in the essay, so will only point out a few of these epistemological ‘occupations’ with us today:  logic, and sometimes even metaphysics, are sometimes usurped by highly sophisticated mathematics; philosophical psychology (or anthropology) by the ‘cognitive sciences’; philosophy of nature by modern physical science as a whole; ethics by behavioral psychology or psychoanalysis; etc.  For such reductionists, it’s ideoscopic science or no science at all. This is why I hold it to be imperative that philosophers today defend and highlight philosophy’s autonomy in the cenoscopic domain, and acknowledge it as the preeminent dwelling-place of being and truth.
  6. Inverse hermeneutics: although we can clearly learn significant truths about the cenoscopic through ideoscopic perspective, it will surprise some to discover that even greater truths about the ideoscopic could actually be mediated by the cenoscopic. Facing all the gigantic telescopes and cyclotrons of the contemporary specialist, the cenoscopic thinker might dare to suggest that he possesses an even more promising toolbox of interpretive ways and means. These he will claim to find in the cenoscopic matrix rather than in ideoscopic extrapolations; it could even be the case that only the lights of cenoscopy display the frameworks within which the ideoscopic becomes not only intelligible, but also meaningful, and its cognitive chasms finally bridgeable.  * * *  For those well tempered in the humanities and the arts, trained in thinking straight with the help of classical philosophy, and with steadied hearts through proven spirituality, the cenoscopic world will seem more like a painting than a pattern, more like a musical score than a mathematical scribble, more like a strangely significant scenario than a haphazardly produced pastiche, more like a world pregnant with hidden meanings than a whirlpool of teasing but deceptive mimicries – and I suspect they may be right.  When looking upon a painting of Rembrandt, or watching a play of Shakespeare, or listening to a Haydn string quartet, it will not be without interest to know how the canvas was made and where the pigments were first mixed; how the stage was mounted and the potential actors auditioned; what kind of wood and what kind of gut went into the making of the violins.  All this will bring interesting information to bear upon the beauty and drama of your experience of the art.  But here comes the insight that may help us to truly situate the real value of the ideoscopic disciplines in regard to traditional ones. We instinctively subordinate the canvas, the pigments, the stage floor, the interviews, the wood and gut of the instruments, and all these hidden processes to the work of art itself.  And lest the world of art be deemed too arbitrary to serve as an adequate metaphor for the sweeping principle I am invoking, take instead a human body. We may regard a given beautiful woman – say, Scarlett Johannson – to be lovely as nature (or nature’s God) made her; as we look upon her, we may be excused for lack of interest in knowing her exact weight, her cholesterol levels, the precise length of her alimentary canal, the number of cells in her body, and exactly how many millimeters lie between her two nostrils. All such ideoscopic cognition only points to what we already see – and see quite well – cenoscopically. Those ideoscopic factors make any sense at all only in meaningful subordination to the one context that really counts (the cenoscopic). It may sound bizarre to modern ears so accustomed to hearing how small and insignificant we are in the world of galaxies and protons, or how adventitious our frame and touch-and-go our beauty are over the eons of evolution. But maybe it is the modern ears that are bizarre, and not the idea. Which leads me to my 7th, and final point.
  7. How real is the cosmos?  Nicolás Dávila, in one of his thousands of scholia, wrote:  “The universe is important if it is appearance; insignificant if it is reality.” This seemingly overblown Platonic point actually grows in wisdom the more you ponder it. It may in the end apply to all of created reality, whether cenoscopically or ideoscopically viewed. But I think it applies in a particularly revealing way to the latter. How real is the cosmos, after all? How real is an atom? I mean by these the vast ideoscopic cosmos astronomy unveils, and the bizarre, buzzing worlds of the ideoscopic atomic and subatomic dimensions nuclear physics lays before us. When the specialists tell us, without blinking an eye, that the (ideoscopic) cosmos is over 99% empty space, and that the so ‘foundational’ atoms don’t fare much better, instead of just dropping our jaws and giving another salute to the scientists and their wonders, we might stop and actually think about what is being said. We might first protest that our world (the cenoscopic one) is quite full of things indeed: the stars as they appear; the earth as we tread upon it; the animals as they fly, crawl and swim; and we humans as we show off millionfold the fruits of our intellects and free wills (both the nice ones and, sadly, the not-so-nice ones!).  And these are things we know, and know every day; and although they are full of mysteries and enigmas, the mysteriousness itself is quite palpable, so to speak. As for the atoms and the interstellar wonders, the evolutionary narratives and the sociological and psychological explanations of why we humans do what we do, things are a bit more shaky. How knowable (i.e. how full of cognizable entity) are these things, anyway?  And, more importantly still, what human fulfillment is gained by knowing them?

At the very least we have to admit that we can only ask these questions from a cenoscopic point of view. If one day a similarly intelligent query should be forthcoming from the ideoscopic world – like an extraterrestrial arriving on earth, speaking English and conversant in our habits of thought –  I will reconsider my doubts as to ideoscopic claims of cognitive supremacy. Until then, I wish modern science godspeed and will continue to take interest in its findings. I hope nothing I have written here suggests that I am anything less than an enthusiastic fan of the best of modern science and technology. But I wish more specialists would join me in the celebration of cenoscopic normativity, and from time to time return to Shakespeare, Aristotle and the wisdom of the Scriptures, in order to keep our cenoscopic selves happy and well-adjusted. Only in this way can we be as fully in tune as possible with the world we know to be real and meaningful, and the place from which we can slowly but surely make our pilgrimage to eternity.


On the Cenoscopic and Ideoscopic – and why they matter — Part 3 *DRAFT*


Three Cenoscopic Dimensions

We have always lived, we still live and our descendants will continue to live in the cenoscopic world. Since that is where our homeland lies, ideoscopic ventures will inevitably carry traces of the language and perspectives so familiar to us. This will be true however deeply its voyages distance themselves from domestic shores. Not only will we find ourselves referring, almost biologically, to the ‘birth’ and ‘death’ of stars, give astronomers’ civil names to comets and lunar craters, we will even distinguish subatomic quarks from each other by referring to our own familiar coordinates of  ‘up’ and ‘down’, and classify leptons – this one is delicious – according to their ‘flavors’.  Why, we don’t even shy away from using baby-talk when casually referring to the solemn ideoscopic inauguration of the cosmos: we pull the pacifier from our lips and giggle as we say ‘Big Bang’. There will also be slightly ambiguous areas of overlap between cenoscopy and ideoscopy. We can, for instance,  catch sight of a galaxy or two with our naked eyes, spot a few of the larger molecules, and no one in Hiroshima or Nagasaki had any doubts that their everyday experience was invaded by the then very visible power of the atom. Blurry borders, however, do not cease to be borders, and once you are beyond the blur, the ambiguity unmistakably fades. These are two diverse universes of knowledge. And however many nominal mementos you may carry along into these alien probes, the differences will still be obvious, and their exegesis imperative.

Although my focus here has been on philosophy as the privileged exercise of reason within the cenoscopic context, this is not to say that reason is the only road on which we walk in our common experience. Far from it. Our direct bodily experience in moving about, taking a stroll, practicing a sport or performing exercises is obviously presupposed before we can philosophize at all – and certainly before we can embark upon whatever ideoscopic adventure we choose. Exceptions like Stephen Hawking are so remarkable, and so edifying, precisely because they are exceptions. Our ability to overcome crushing handicaps is simply a witness to the inner power of our minds and souls, and a reminder that the body is there to work for the sake of higher goods. Humanistic studies and the arts, at their best, are designed to keep our sensory and emotional experience in tune with those goods.

Now philosophy is practiced to some extent by everyone endowed with an intellect, whether in an amateur and shorthand mode in most cases, or with method and elaboration on the part of the few who are called to dedicate their lives to it.  But the high vocation of the love of wisdom (the definition of which I ponder in this post) is flanked by two companion cenoscopic dimensions providing knowledge of at least equal importance, and without which philosophy itself tends to bet either unduly absolutized, or (worse) reduced to a servile shadow of its true self.  These are, on the one hand, the humanities and the arts, and on the other, religion and spirituality. I will comment briefly on both.

Humanities and the (Fine) Arts


We first must resist the modern temptation to drag both philosophy and religion (or ‘religious studies’) under this rubric, or under one of the ideoscopic classes. In the country where I teach (Brazil), philosophy finds its academic home in departments of ‘human sciences’ (more or less coextensive with the English world’s ‘social sciences’, but not entirely), along with history and geography, for example. The academic residence of religion nowadays is an even more complicated matter which I discuss elsewhere (in My Writings). Let it suffice here to declare that defenders of philosophy in any pre-modern sense (of Platonic or Aristotelian vintage) will regard such classification as a demotion and humiliation. That serious adherents to any of the major religious traditions would feel the same at seeing their convictions and practices similarly subordinated, goes without saying.

What I understand as the humanities are basically four areas of irreducibly human experience, predicated on our characteristic word- and language-oriented natures (speaking, reading and writing), and our lives situated necessarily, and consciously, in time and space.  Thus: 1. language; 2. literature; 3. history; 4. geography.  As a side-note, nothing concerns me more about my university students in recent years than how poorly they speak their mother tongue (or write it, if they write at all), how little they read, how ignorant (and even uninterested) they are about the world that went before them in time (history), and the world beyond their own neighborhood (geography).

Learning one’s own language well should be a foremost educational objective of any person intent on living a fully human life. I suggest to my students that they do this, and then – at least ‘instrumentally’, i.e. enough to read basic texts and intelligently use lexical references – learn another modern European tongue. For those interested in going deeper, the exploration of one classical tongue (Latin, Greek or Sanskrit, for example), can also be embarked upon. I discourage them from becoming polyglots (unless their upbringing included this as a natural consequence of living in a foreign country, or in a bilingual family). I discuss the problems with this here.

Then, one should familiarize oneself with the best literature available in those languages and develop the habit of regular reading. Certainly the classics should have pride of place; they bear the name of ‘classic’ for a reason. But there are plenty of very good books that are not classics and yet can be profitably read, especially by those who might find the standard classics intimidating. One can easily find good guides to avoiding worthless ‘pop’ books and to steering clear of contemporary specimens of the written word which often only compound the confusion we already live in. Life is short.

History and geography should be explored incrementally, and without comprehensive ambitions. You can never master either, so doing so should not be the goal in education. What you can do is learn to navigate intelligently and attentively in both, and develop an alert eye for relative importance and significance, avoiding mere lists of dates or longitudes and latitudes of places. Remembering the past in perspective and travelling selectively within the wealth of our temporal and spacial contexts, will become a vital background and interpretive reference to all you thereafter see and hear.

As for the fine arts, a word or two about art itself. What today is usually called art tends to be restricted to the visual arts, with both music and literature – and, for more technical reasons, architecture – generally located in separate departments at universities, or civil institutions. This is largely a continuation of a tendency in the ancient world to attribute to the ‘Muses’ (the mythic daughters of Zeus and Memory) only the arts that address the ear. Our ears seem to be more spiritually open to inspiration, as – unlike our eyes – are always physically open. Included here would be music itself, but also to all forms of poetry, drama and narrative. The visual arts, in contrast, find their works more connected with matter and thus with the ‘servile’ labors of preparing materials, cutting canvas, building edifices, etc.  Nonetheless, philosophically considered (at least with Aristotle), all of these would be seen as equally productive activities (poiein) and thus susceptible of being disciplined and guided by a kind of knowledge, or ‘know-how’. This is precisely what the ancients called techne (translated into Latin as ars).

Confusingly, two further ambiguities muddy the waters of distinction still more. First: 1) A medieval discrimination between the servile arts (those performed in view of some end beyond themselves, like agriculture, medicine, culinary art, etc.) and the liberal arts (those performed – in theory, at least – for  their own sake and the light and intuition they afford, like the language and mathematical arts);  and 2) before modern times, and especially before the Industrial Revolution, the so familiar distinction of the ‘fine arts’ and ‘technology’. The two contrasts are related in dealing with the question of ‘use’. In more tradition-oriented ages, the idea of making something that is useful (like a chair, a spoon, a hat, a building, even a comb) that was not simultaneously beautiful, was less common, and often enough unthinkable. This is why contemporary furniture lovers often go for ‘antiques’. It is also, I suppose, why Americans fly by the thousands to Europe in order to wander about in its cities, which are – in a proportion far outstripping what even New York or San Francisco can offer – stunningly beautiful. They are also surprisingly efficient at allowing people to get around without bulldozing asphalt highways through them.

Thus, my reference here is only to what we usually mean today by the ‘fine arts’. These are, namely, the visual arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, photography and the numerous minor varieties; the performing arts: drama, dance and music in all their forms and combinations; and today, we must add the ‘seventh art’: film (in all its multiple manifestations). One can fan out from these into subdivisions and hybrid arts, but the ones enumerated here are enough to make my cenoscopic point. Along with the humanities, the fine arts provide our senses, our emotions, our imaginations and our memories with the vicarious experiences which provide some measure of compensation for what our own limited time on earth, and our always limited opportunities for travel, cannot afford us.



I have already philosophized at length about religion (albeit in Portuguese, see My Writings). Here I will only describe how religion and spirituality also find their proper home within the cenoscopic context, and how they complement and enrich both philosophy and the humanities with the arts. Since religion typically addresses the question of transcendence, it is directed to the person as a whole (traditionally symbolized by the heart).  Whereas the arts and humanities approach us preferentially through the senses and the imagination, and philosophy through reason and reflection,  religion goes for the jugular.

Still, we need to determine whether that transcendence is of a piece with some or all of the four ideoscopic domains, or not. Each of them is, after all, a region of human experience by definition lying ‘beyond’ the day-to-day world around us. One could even argue that religious practices, in their endeavors to access transcendence, actually seem to mimic the four marks of ideoscopic method outlined at the outset of this essay. Are not the ‘graces’, ‘energies’, ‘states of consciousness’, ‘siddhis‘, ‘favors’, etc., typically offered to religious adepts much like the telescopes and other contraptions used in specialized science to ‘pass over’ into a new dimension of knowledge? And are not the churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and pagodas in some ways like the controlled experiments of the scientists – the holy places marking off the sacred from the profane as experiments mark off their area of inquiry from the rest of the world? Is this not analogous to the scientist separating the sought phenomenon from extraneous factors? And as the ideoscopic specialist commonly focuses on efficient and material causality to the exclusion of formal and final, do not religious practitioners similarly, in prayer or meditation, aim for what is not of this world, to the exclusion (or at least ‘bracketing’) of that which is?

Not really, but the parallel is interesting. The ‘going beyond’ which is germane to ideoscopic science usually advances by taking steps through space or time; religious transcendence characteristically opens a door that is within the depths of our personhood, and engages a transcendence sui generis, one that is akin to intellectual intuition, but which goes much deeper; it is, the the classical formulation, a transcendence that is immanent, and an immanence that is transcendent. The human person finds no religious enlightenment, liberation or salvation by floating in outer space in a cumbersome spacesuit, or by nose-diving down into the inhospitable quantum world, or by regressing backward (to some pre-human state) or even progressing forward (to some ‘transhuman’ state); and although they have tried valiantly, even the social sciences have only helped to understand how we got to where we are, but not why we are anywhere at all. Our existential predicament remains.

So just as the arts and humanities are all greeted and practiced only within the Lebenswelt of the cenoscopic, likewise the religious quest can only make sense within that same matrix where our lives unfold in all their specifically human shapes and sizes, needs and hopes.

Philosophy (or Cenoscopic Science)

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The purpose of philosophy is to make us fully aware of what we already implicitly know, so that we can, in turn, fully become what we already potentially are.  This I take to be the summary description of what philosophy, both theoretical and practical, aims for. Nowhere in the world has this project been more fully understood and more perfectly articulated than in the legacy of the compact triadic dynasty of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. For three successive and contiguous generations to throw up three philosophical geniuses of the first rank, and in such a way that the first teaches the second, and the second the third, is nothing less than a providential dispensation, the ignorance or denial of which we dare at our own peril. The evident launching pad of the mind’s journey in its confrontation with being (our noein in the face of einai) was accepted by all three, although a menu of possibilities were rehearsed in Plato’s dialogues and explored with such intensity that the greatest Platonist of them all, Aristotle, could escort the best reflections into the newly identified outlines of the sciences, many of which we still use today.



On the Cenoscopic and Ideoscopic – and why they matter — Part 2 *DRAFT*

what-i-like-is-the-way-they-twinkle-charles-e-martinCharles E. Martin, New Yorker, Sept. 3, 1966

Often enough, the cenoscopic and the ideoscopic mix, if only because we can never entirely extract ourselves from our experiential  homeland in the former. That is where we live, and even when we peer deeply into telescopic space, or down into the mini-world of the microscopic, or when we climb high to a hypothetical vantage from which to view Darwinian eons and the magic metamorphoses of evolution, or venture into whatever sophisticated methodology the human sciences may devise, we still plant our buttocks on the same cenoscopic chairs, stare at our recorded results with our eyes of flesh, and scurry off afterwards for a cup of coffee, or a cocktail, once our ideoscopic labors are concluded. No one resides among the galaxies, or buys an apartment next to a quark, or places bets on whether this or that primitive quadruped will eventually become a feline or a canine, or spends 24 hours on a psychoanalyst’s couch (although those who linger too long in an ideoscopic mode may find they need to).

If our cognitive conquests in specialized science end up subduing and even disqualifying the sustaining environment of the cenoscopic, there are consequences. What we lose in context, perspective and focus – and this is especially so when the ideoscopic claims to be the truer view of things – can make the new facts and truths, however valid in detail, ultimately disorienting and confusing, even for all intents and purposes unreal. Our properly human problems do not easily map upon ideoscopic dimensions; for even the human, social sciences can be of help only to the extent that their results translate back into the cenoscopic idiom.

To protest that modern science does indeed reveal new truths does not really address the question. It is not just truth that we want, but truth in perspective. After all, just as our moral problems are not really due to evils as such, but rather to misplaced and disordered goods, so also are our knowledge-related problems not ultimately due to falsehood or mendacity as such, but rather to misplaced and disordered truths. Pure evil and pure falsehood are so feeble in entity, they don’t even exist as subsistent realities. What purchase they have on existence is always parasitic on the good and the true, upon which they piggy-back for their derivative lifespans. What we need in order to overcome human problems is human perspective, which ideoscopic science, by definition, cannot easily summon into its field of vision. When your tummy hurts, your tummy hurts, and not your cells, your molecules or your atoms. And when you laugh at a joke, your mind and your torso both quake with delight, and no calculations of cellular chemistry can explain “what’s so funny”.


Although modern science and technology have been sources of considerable enlightenment and progress in battling the ills that afflict us, they have also been begetters of horrific pollution, creators of biological, chemical and nuclear weaponry, and upchuckers of masses of plastic toxins that get dumped by the tons into our oceans – and end up, sooner or later, in our organisms. Of course, the technocratic apologist will soon speak up in defense of his handiwork. You can’t have a tree standing in the sun without it casting a shadow, he might retort. And after all, many of the problems caused by advanced science may well be solved by yet more advanced science. True enough, but the real problem with science run amok is not just too little, or too much, ideoscopic data, but rather lack of the kind of context, perspective and focus that this sort of knowledge cannot gauge, or even surmise, to begin with.

It was not for this that it was developed, nor does its proven value and strength lie in any inherent, synoptic ‘wisdom’.  Its obsessive specialization not only does not brook criticism of the blinkers that line its chosen channel of vision, it puts them in place with cold determination and approval. It wants the isolated target; it’s cerebral left hemisphere all the way! What matters is that a method ‘works’, or that a fugitive phenomenon is seized and put under the spotlight; the limited and squinted field of vision is indispensable for keeping attention typically focused on two things and two things only: quantity to be measured, and power to be captured and employed. When the more rhapsodical among us insist on searching the world for meaningvalue and purpose, we will be sent crestfallen from the fortresses of ideoscopic victories. We have to look elsewhere to satisfy our old-fashioned preferences. Fortunately, we won’t have to look far.

The Cenoscopic World

The use of this rather heavy-handed term to refer to what in saner times would have simply been called ‘the world’ was made necessary by the success of the ideoscopic perspective in imposing itself on our imaginations. What we cannot see has, counter-intuitively, become more real to us than what we can. We fancy we know what atoms are (tiny solar-systems revolving merrily in the depths of matter), what black holes are (big black bottomless pits out there in the void), how one-celled protozoa can turn into complex mammals and reptiles (we’ve seen it in Disney animations, haven’t we?), and how the anfractuous theories of a Marx, a Freud or a Durkheim can claim to lay to rest the conundrums of our behavior – all these modern insights we believe we have ‘sighted’ (although neither our retinas nor our imaginations were invited to the show); and all the while the things we truly see with the two orbs in our head – for instance, the textured surface face of the real as it unfolds before us as we walk through a park – are re-categorized as illusions at worst – at best, mere ‘appearances’.

The sun only seems to rise and set, and only a fool thinks that it really does, right? The stars seem stately and stable, but they really aren’t, right? And the “tiger, tiger, burning bright” that we admire at the zoo just happened, by chance, to turn out that way, right? Think about it. Is there really no way of acknowledging the legitimacy, for instance, of the heliocentric model without at the same time downgrading our cenoscopic eyeballs? Need we tell our eyes they are not seeing what they are seeing when they behold the solar orb ascending gloriously over yon horizon? As the solar sphere climbs majestically to its noonday paramountcy, it just doesn’t empirically work when we try to watch the horizon sink in the same way that we watch the sun go up. After all – I feel like a philosophical freedom-fighter – what right have these new purveyors of ideoscopic perspectives to such imperialistic epistemology?

What is more, this dictatorial shifting of our sensibility is not even consistent with science’s own very modern conclusions about motion and relativity. If there is one consensual conviction that has come out of four centuries of modern physics, it is that there is no fixed topological point of reference anywhere in the cosmos (at least insofar as it is now known). There are only relative points of reference, depending on the system in question; in each of our perceptions, we get our bearings from the priorities of perspective that come from elsewhere in our experience. For an astronomer abstractly contemplating the earth from outer space, pondering its physical relation to the planets and the sun, the heliocentric model makes sense and reveals physical causalities we cannot accurately accommodate within the geocentric model (e.g., the erratic movements of the planets). From that perspective, there is obviously truth in heliocentrism, and no cenoscopic thinker worth his salt will deny it. But why should that perspective be dominant for the non-astronomer, the simple earth-dweller, who with craned neck looks heavenwards and follows the path of the sun, the soles of his feet planted securely upon soil and grass. If he says: “Wow! That was one gorgeous sunrise!”, is he just revealing to us that he is a benighted and misguided yokel?


Consider the stars, seriously. The cenoscopic view of the night sky is of a beautiful canopy of twinkling wonders, all in an ensemble display that, like no other – as Plato said long ago – arouses the experience of wonder from our breasts. We instinctively assemble them in symbolically meaningful constellations, give them names, use them to navigate the seas, measure the seasons and establish the weeks and months of our calendars. They are reliable, always there, even when waiting for us behind the clouds. The sphere of their steadfastness is the grand celestial orb within which we live, the largest embracing limit of the aesthetic miracle that is our home, our true celestial ceiling. The passages of sun, moon and planets against their backdrop only highlight the permanence of their multiple sparkles.

Now what does ideoscopic astronomy add to this? Actually quite a bit. We know, for instance, that almost all of what we see up there is neither solid, nor liquid, nor gas, but a fourth state called plasma. That’s interesting. We also know that virtually all the stars we see belong to our own, local galaxy: the Milky Way. We know too that there are further billions upon billions not just of stars, but of other galaxies out there, surpassingly beyond the reach of the naked eye. These and a few other insights can serve and even enhance the wonder we feel as we look at the starry sky. All this is fruitful, and shows how the two perspectives can co-exist and enrich each other, provided we not commit epistemological treason against the homeland of the cenoscopic. There is a point, you see, where ideoscopic science can leave off supplementing and begin displacing.


First, we are often told the stability we witness is an illusion, and that the galaxies with their stars are actually zipping away from each other at unimaginable velocities. We don’t get to perceive this (comparisons of present measurements with those of centuries ago may pick up small shifts, but this hardly concerns our present-day star-gazing). The real encumbrance are the distances. Ah, those distances. The closest star (still in our own cozy Via Lactea) is over four light-years away (and don’t pretend that you can imagine that; you can’t). Our nearest galaxy ‘neighbor’ is two and a half million light-years away.  And, adding immeasurably to the complications attendant on such incomprehensible remoteness is a truly surreal ideoscopic revelation. Buckle up!

Each of those stellar points in the sky lies at a different – often wildly different – distance from us. That means the ‘age’ of each star’s light is also different. Astronomers like to wow us first with the inconceivable stretches of light-years, inviting us to imagine riding a beam of photons and getting to our destination in, maybe, a few hundred thousand years. We all smile at the fantasy. But then they inform us that the starlight we see here and now does not give us empirical information on the actual being of the very stars we are admiring; it only tells us that so and so many years, centuries, millennia or millions of years ago (depending on which celestial orb we point our pupils at), a certain star sent forth that illumination, and that today we cannot even be sure that star still exists.

What a bizarre astronomical history lesson we are being ideoscopically taught as we survey the vault of the heavens! Imagine if we could send a camera drone over the earth for a few weeks and, as you afterwards view the footage, you were to see, in those same few weeks, the first hominid sporting a tool, Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the beginning of the Second Crusade, Galileo walking over to the Holy Office in Rome, and John F. Kennedy being inaugurated on the steps of the U.S. capitol. This is not history, but a chronological phantasmagoria. So with the stars. It is bizarre because, far and away, the most significant and the most realistic view of the stars is the one on unmistakable display in our cenoscopic experience: it is how they look to us from our home on earth. Again, all motion is relative, as is all rest, and the fixed stars of our sky look the way they do because that is, for us, truly the way they are.

I am not disputing at all that modern science can give us a new perspective on why the sun ‘appears’ to rise and set, enlightening us indeed on how the earth – in the great ‘out there’ – rotates about its axis as it revolves around the sun. This is a fascinating and useful new angle to bear in mind while we gaze at sunrises and sunsets. However, it is something quite different to insist that that, and that alone, is the truth of the matter, and that what we are seeing is a beguiling semblance, a fata morgana, even an optical illusion. No it is not. If our terrestrial existence postulates the relative stability of the earth we stand upon (whose speedy cosmic career through our galaxy is a part of no one’s everyday experience), and the relative mobility of all that passes over our heads – and that means not just clouds and birds, but also sun, moon, planets and stars – then in our system of reference, we have full epistemological rights (I would even say a duty) to declare that what we see is real. Assuming, quite legitimately, the relative stability of our domestic orb – which far more than just being one ‘planet’ among many, is in truth a unique, marvelous, scary and real  home to us – all those celestial objects up there really do move. 

We who live in the cenoscopic world – a world which includes, by the way, the ideoscopic scientists (but don’t tell them) – do walk around on two legs, watch the sun rise each morning (and, naive romantics that we are, find it beautiful, even moving), look “up” and are uplifted by the view of a sky populated with light and meaning (and not peering “down our noses” into empty cosmic space), play snooker with David Hume’s descendants (and find that the balls on the table – however the Scot may have impugned their consistency – really do “have balls”, so to speak), hum a tune, love a lover, entertain a dream, plan a trip to that mysterious, formidable and enticing mass of entity we call ‘the ocean’, and….well, you get my drift.

We who live as human beings know that the ideoscopic take on reality is a supplement, an addition, full of new and fascinating perspectives indeed, but not at all one which casts our day-to-day experience into irrelevance; nor does it reduce it to a a chance by-product of fantastically imagined dimensions of astrophysics claiming to be ‘more real’.  Neither are we intimidated by nuclear reactions, evolutionary necessities or newly unveiled explain-it-all narratives from the most recent version of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Our better angels know better – once they have been summoned out of hiding – and they do so because their senses have been awakened by the humanities and the arts, their thought trained in realism by proven philosophy (and true philosophy is cenoscopic science!), and their hearts steadied in this world of pain and sorrow, but also of transcendent joy, by the world’s religions.

These three sources of experience are not just diversions or peripheral ornaments, but genuine sources of true and momentous knowledge, without which we soon lose purchase on our humanity. And a particularly surprising feature of this cenoscopic cognition – one that may sound offensive to adherents of scientism – is that it is actually more certain and secure (not only to us, but even in itself) than all the results of ideoscopic science taken together. This latter – as its representatives today will reluctantly admit – is, for all its insight and usefulness, at best a haven of high statistical probabilities, forever vulnerable to new discoveries, updates, revolutions and so-called paradigm shifts. The cenoscopic world, in contrast, is the home of the perennial, the universal, the formal and final par excellence. Although there is plenty to learn there and many discoveries to be made, they will all fit into the selfsame picture of reality first gazed upon by the first human beings at the inception of our incredible saga.


coming:  Part 3

On the Cenoscopic and Ideoscopic – and why they matter — Part 1 *DRAFT*


When learning something ostensibly ‘new’, the best ideas and the best distinctions are usually those that awaken something in your mind and experience that was already there, but somehow hidden by more obtrusive concerns, or outshined by what seemed to be greater lights. For the most part, self-glorifying innovations turn out to be hardly more than just technological tricks for managing and manipulating things in new ways by adding velocity, power and ease to operations we already engaged in (writing faster, getting somewhere more quickly, crunching more data than before, etc.). In contrast, more enriching advances in learning typically fashion new links among components of what we already know, and perform that fruitful fusion championed by Confucius, who identified the true teacher as the one “who could bring forth the new by keeping warm the old.”  This happens when you read Plato or Aristotle, Augustine or Aquinas, or those very few moderns (such as C.S. Peirce, or C.S. Lewis) who stepped aside from the stampede of those forever in pursuit of the totally unprecedented, and thus found the perennial to still be relevant – especially because it alone can seed the rooted innovations that can organically grow.

No one expression captures more directly the focus of this obsession with the unprecedented, and one that has come to occupy center stage since the 17th century – despite multiple demonstrable links with the past, and yet links that remain unappreciated in the furor over the novelty of the new – than (let the mantra resound): “modern science.”  This new cognitive and cultural sovereign has progressively oppressed and displaced three areas of human activity formerly enthroned in high authority, and which prevailed in ancient and medieval Western, as well as in non-Western traditional societies. We can classify them as 1) the humanities and the arts; 2) philosophy; and 3) religion.  From of old these three domains existed in symphony, one encompassing the other, only, in turn, to be encompassed by yet another in a different sort of fruitful embrace – all of them inseparable in their resources and interactive in their cognitive, as well as existential claims on our attention; ever distinct, but never sundered – they were the default disciplines which positioned the human imagination, mind and heart firmly within the matrix of the real. But as the march of modernity has progressed, they have found themselves pushed to the side, or – even worse – assigned new subordinate tasks, as modern science and its subservient sidekick, modern technology, continued to barrel forth into the world and into our everyday lives.

When I was a slowly maturing adolescent in the 1960s, I used to scissor out the “Science” section in the Time magazine our family subscribed to, quite confident that all the other political, economic and cultural news was transient and doomed to the dustbin. Science, however, had a purchase on the future. I still follow scientific developments with keen interest, careful only to distinguish between proven fact and theory and the oft misguided interpretations pressed upon them by many a philosophically illiterate scientist. But when I ponder what has happened to the world of art, philosophy and religion in the face of science and technology’s unquestioned ascendancy – even over all that is not material and measurable – I get all revolutionary. Words of an old song come to mind: “No man’s a jester playing Shakespeare on your throne-room floor, while the juggler’s act is danced upon the crown that you once wore.”

Religion has been largely relegated to the world of the private (usually regarded as a private fantasy, or at best allegorical raiment for morally upright intentions otherwise lost in a technocratic world). Philosophy, in turn, is sent – like a disobedient school boy to the principal’s office – off to the history department where it might be given some legitimacy as chronicler of our past, and mostly futile, attempts to find our way to the modern Shangri-La of science. The re-christening usually occurs under the title of the “history of ideas.” Philosophies of the past each receive their appointed diorama in this cabinet of ideological curiosities.

The arts and the humanities, in contrast, are assigned a more generous role, since the toils of science and technology do wear us out, and a bit of fun and relaxation on the weekends is welcome. Any claim to cognitive or moral tutorship, however, is denied them, unless, of course, neuroscience or evolutionary theory are able to discover a solid survival use for their exercises. But learning to merely survive was never a top priority for these traditional endeavors, and doesn’t even get close to their hereditary raison d’être.

How one intelligently accounts for the new hegemony of science and technology in a way that does not necessarily denigrate, or demote, the three earlier manifestations of man’s search for meaning, has been a challenge multiply accosted, but rarely effectively engaged (even in the sad case of C.P. Snow).  Often enough, one throws oneself prostrate to the ground before the new masters, and declares philosophy to have no future. Stephen Hawking, among others, has decreed that “philosophy is dead”, and the reason is that “it has not kept up with modern developments in science, especially physics.” (at the very beginning of his last book, The Grand Design, 2010).

More generous obituaries might still apportion a servile role to the descendants of Plato and Aristotle, allowing them to serve as science’s interpreters, even translators, since the hyper-specialized scientists often enough are incapable of speaking with those of an ‘alien’ discipline. Bertrand Russell proposed such a survival tactic. In the same vein, religions must only be accepted as the tolerated subjective dispositions of certain private individuals not yet fully in sync with the new scientific worldview (who wants to argue with their grandmother?). And, again, the arts and our love-affair with multiple (non-scientific) languages, literatures, history and the entire realm of the Muses, will be escorted into their new nursery:  a garden of diversions, to which all the belabored scientists and technicians can retire in their moments of leisure; there they may engage in restorative distractions, but only in order to return thereafter to the world of true cognition in their laboratories and university departments. There they will be coddled and encouraged to measure, theorize and relativize all those realities that the benighted folks of the past endeavored to cultivate in literature, religion and philosophy.

But fortunately people such as myself – apologists of the endangered wisdom of the past – have been given a powerful aid in putting all of this in a perspective that honors one and all of these diverse epistemic claims – both those of the past, and also the intrusively imperious ones of the present. I refer to a distinction borrowed, somewhat paradoxically, from the foremost proponent of modern utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham. The distinction is useful indeed. It was then adopted and enriched by the most brilliant of modern American pragmatists (or ‘pragmaticists’ to adopt his own personal Anabaptist term). I speak of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914). This distinction was rather ignored for almost a century until taken up by a recent American philosopher who was able to eye its full context, both in view of Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas and John of St. Thomas (of classical thought), and equally of Locke, Pierce, Heidegger and a pioneer modern Hungarian semiotician, Thomas Sebeok (of modern thought). I am referring to the marginal, unrecognized sage of Loris College: John Deely (1943-2017). As was the case with Peirce, Deely will also be noticed only by those who spend a few hours within the world of their philosophical prose, unruffled by the negligence of the professional academy.

Peirce and Deely, due to wide reading in traditional Scholastic literature (and friendship with giants like William James in Peirce’s case, and an assortment of leading Thomists and the aforementioned semiotician, in Deely’s), grew into atypical philosophical geniuses. Deely, in particular, also cultivated broad reading in the medievals, including the late ‘Latin Age’ thinker, John of St. Thomas. All this brought his mind into collaborations with Mortimer Adler, a few high-octane Dominicans, and finally Heidegger, Maritain and Sebeok. The distinction referred to above was brought to us through Peirce and Deely and gives us the best approach I’ve ever found to understanding how modern science truly relates to the imaginative, rational and religious wisdom of earlier times. This link is crucial, since the danger of modern scientism’s pomposity in the face of the more traditional fountains of knowledge is mirrored by an opposite peril on the part of the very champions of the latter, who sometimes run the risk of dismissing modern science as an aberrant offspring of the modern ‘reign of quantity’ (à la René Guénon).  Steadying the pendulum between these two extremes demands a pair of measured concepts, each of which can stand in the other’s presence without humiliation or stigma.

The Cenoscopic and the Ideoscopic

These fancy-sounding words actually highlight a quite elementary distinction, and one accessible to all with just a small amount of reflection. The ‘cenoscopic’ is, as the Greek roots indicate, a ‘look’ (skopeo, I see, I look…) that is common (koinos); Charles Peirce takes it to indicate the way we look at the world with our largely unaided senses, without the interposition of sophisticated technology or the imposition of  devised mathematical hypotheses. It’s the world we walk around in, drive our cars in, raise our children in, feel pleasure in and suffer pain in, are born, grow and finally die in; it is the world in which elephants are big and ants are small, where cheetahs go real fast and turtles go real slow; a world with a splendid canopy of azure arched over it by day, and an even more splendid wash of mysterious stars by night; a world with wet, salty oceans and sweet water running in streams and rivers, of rain that comes down and balloons that go up. It’s the world where virtually all of our literature and poetry is staged (even science fiction, if only by contrast), about which traditional philosophy reflected, and in which the great religious quests of history all took their first steps, and many more that followed.

The ‘ideoscopic’, by contrast, is a ‘look’ that is idios – ‘singular, distinct,special(ized)’ – and that began to be cultivated in earnest only in modern times.[1] It has become the very glory of modern science, and has brought countless blessings and maledictions into our contemporary biosphere. It consists of up to four radical modifications of the cenoscopic approach to the world.

  1. Instead of a subject possessed of five principal senses, we have instead an assembly of highly sophisticated instruments designed to look above, beyond and below what cenoscopic perception can mediate: here are all of our telescopes, microscopes, radiometers, and a whole army of new instruments that can ‘read behind the appearances and between the lines’, endeavoring to detect all the hidden secrets of the cosmos.
  2. Secondly, instead of spontaneous, natural experience, we have in its place the contrived, choreographed experiment, isolated from the riotous world around it, and focusing on just one, or very few, selected aspects of those things which are usually enveloped in a confusing whirlwind of relations; all but a few of these are sidelined in order to permit a specialized scientific read-out of the aimed-for ‘phenomena’, orphaned from their cenoscopic matrix.
  3. Thirdly, instead of viewing the real within the rich perspective of all of Aristotle’s classic four causes, one chooses to simplify the matter by removing the two that are most troublesome, and most suggestive of much that lies beyond the isolated fact one is hunting down. In other words, formal and final causes are shown the door; however, the two causes most germane to ‘getting a grip’ on the world in practical and technical ways (material and efficient causes) are sequestered and empowered.
  4. Finally, instead of appealing to a prior metaphysical grasp of being with an eye to what metaphysics will finally have to say about all of that which is (material or not), one turns instead to the newly expanded disciplines of mathematics (analytical geometry, trigonometry, the infinitesimal calculus for starters), and – as Galileo famously put it – endeavors to “measure what can be measured, and make measurable that which cannot”. Not only is ever more exact measurement the new criterion of what is taken to be genuinely real, but also the use of math to hypothesize in advance over what might be found in the real, so that afterwards experiments can be fashioned to confirm or disprove them.

Voilá, in summary, the new scientific method.

Kant famously characterized – and quite disapprovingly – the old-fashioned, Aristotelian way to do science as modeled on a pupil paying close attention to everything his teacher was saying; in contrast, with the new method, the scientist refuses to be a passive pupil, but models himself instead as the judge in a courtroom, asking very specific questions of the somewhat intimidated witness, and insisting that all else be excluded (“please just answer the question!”). You only get a slice of reality this way, but that’s the whole point.

These four innovations joined their energies and went off in four distinct directions, beyond, before, below or within the surface realities of the cenoscopic.  Here on earth, massive geological and tectonic events of the past lie beyond the horizons of the cenoscopic eye, producing continents and oceans, mountain chains and deserts – all realities too big to encompass with a turn of the head. And there are far bigger things than these. Above and beyond the starry sky that we admire at night is the ideoscopic world of quasars, pulsars, dark matter and energy, black holes, and – we have recently been told – galaxies now counting over a trillion. None of these things are part of our cenoscopic world. However, the cenoscopically visible night sky is very much a part of that world, and – as I will endeavor to show towards the end of this text – of even greater importance and significance than all the astrophysical data you can stuff into a supercomputer. But for the moment, I am interested in giving credit where credit is due, and the marvelous world of ideoscopic science and technology deserves a standing ovation. This is the world of geology here on earth, and astronomy, astrophysics and relativity theory out beyond it. Einstein, take a bow; and Hawking, kudos for your heroic efforts (though out of respect for the recently deceased, I will refrain from comment on your embarrassing sallies into philosophy).

That was the world of the very, very big. Now we shall reverse the focus and look below and beneath this material stuff we live in and are made of. Here is the realm of the very, very small. The ideoscopic world of matter beneath us and in us is not beyond our purview like a mountain chain, but below it like a dust particle. Nearly the whole world of living cells that make up all organisms, and literally all the molecules in both organic and inorganic matter, and even more emphatically all the quadrillions of atoms with their sub-particles in the heart of it all, are there, but are not a perceived part of our cenoscopic habitat. Biochemistry, much of descriptive biology, chemistry, nuclear physics, for instance, are ideoscopic sciences; here too the bizarre world of quantum mechanics opens up (and thus we tip our hats to Planck and Heisenberg, among others).

Now, let us turn to the third reach of ideoscopic science. When we look to living plants and organisms themselves, in all their kinds, we view them cenoscopically as the populated meadow and menagerie they are – vivid and distinct, beautiful and scary: bushes, trees, vines, flowers and sprouts; tigers, bears, anteaters, dogs, cats, fish and birds and all the rest, not least of all the naked ape we ourselves are, our own awkward species – looking either like an animal gone berserk or an angel fallen from the sky. But when we read Darwin, or any of the updated versions of the evolutionary theory he hatched, we are asked to view all those life-forms as results of processes we cannot witness in a lifetime or photograph with a camera. Yet, the evidence points overwhelmingly to the reality of this protracted process of evolution that, in significant measure, made them to be what they are.

The ideoscopic dimension here is not that of the exceedingly big (as with astrophysics), or the microscopically small (as with atomic physics), but rather with a process unimaginably long-lasting, imperceptibly spread out over hundreds of thousands, and usually millions of years; no imaginable years here, or even centuries or millennia – instead: incogitable eons. The modern instruments in this case are the carbon-14 and other dating techniques; the experimental objects: the fossils we carefully separate from layers of rock, and the then applied mathematical calculations as to the number of 0’s we have to put after the agreed-on digits to measure the gaping stretches of geological time during which these changes occurred (some gradually, some abruptly – but all along unfathomable chronological spans that lie totally out of cenoscopic sight). Although evolutionary, and biological science in general, are slowly coming back to the idea of final causality (although the cowards invented a new word, ‘teleonomy’, rather than welcoming the banished Aristotle back into their company), the evolutionary narrative that has risen to prominence over the last century is that chance mutations of living matter and shifting environments provided sufficient material and efficient causality to bring about the species. The genesis of the organically complex makes ideoscopic sense only through natural selection, genetics and (one of the latest newcomers to the theory) epigenetics. That there is also something transcendent at work here is a cenoscopic insight we shall return to later.

A yet further reach of ideoscopic cognition is gained by exploring how and why one singular species (guess which?) has gone on to develop in ways no other can, and has produced a panoply of not only natural ethnicities, body shapes, physiognomies, hair types and skin colors, but – far more impressively – kaleidoscopic universes of art, religion, philosophy, science, literature, music, and everything else made by human hand and ingenuity – in a word: culture.  Living nature has produced a garden of plants and a zoo of animals, with man poised at the uneasy center of it all, but from him has come the even more varied and often bizarre world of culture. Emerging from organic nature and mysteriously transcending it, human culture invites ideoscopic science to deal not with the exceedingly big, nor the microscopically small, nor with the extraordinarily long time it took to produce natural, organic complexity, but instead with the almost unbridled and promiscuously fecund world of the culturally complex. 

It is no secret that biological science is immeasurably more multiple and manifold than physics and chemistry and all that which deals with non-organic reality. But the life sciences are trumped in turn by what we have come to call the ‘human sciences’, or more frequently, in English, the ‘social sciences’ (including what are sometimes called the ‘behavioral’ and the ‘cognitive’ sciences): anthropology, psychology, sociology, linguistics, historiography, archaeology, economics and human geography (to mention only the more prominent). As the former still deal with nature (although in its most complex manifestations), the latter deal instead with culture (here taken in a broad sense to include all that which exists only through the agency of free and intelligent human activity); this, in turn, uncurtains a further and virtually endless swirl of complexity, incomparably beyond even that of the biological. It emerges therefrom, and is forever linked to it, but it also dramatically – and that’s the right adverb – transcends it.

We see matter below and around us, and look up at the stars in our cenoscopic world, but we don’t see the molecules and atoms within, nor the quasars and black holes beyond. We also see the plants and animals around us – and the animal we ourselves are – but we don’t witness any of them evolving into different forms during our brief human existence; nor does recorded human history document such transformations. Likewise, we see human cultures still living today, we witness the actions and reactions our psychological makeup produces; we live in varieties of societies, speak our thousands of tongues, pick up a bit of history here, another bit there; and we also exchange goods, save and spend our money as we walk over the hills and cross the rivers of our immediate habitat. But there are forces at work below the surface we do not easily spot.

It takes ideoscopic science to research the cultures of the past and evaluate the many still with us (anthropology); to go into the depths to find why some of our psychological behavior is so weird and often troubling (depth psychology); to examine the hidden forces at work in the sometimes forbiddingly complex interactions that occur when human beings live together over time (sociology); to look beneath our day-to-day chatter and contemporary literature to find what is constant and determinant in the ever-changing world of human language (linguistics); to attempt to put some order in the way we remember – as remember we must – what went before us, despite its overwhelming convolutions and frequent confusions (historiography); to discover how our production, distribution and consumption of goods really works in its innermost causes, and why it turns so often into crass injustices and abuses (economics); and to study how the topography of the earth we walk and travel on, and in which we live our lives, enters deeply into the kind of thoughts we have and the sorts of lives we live (human geography). These sciences explore the ‘unexposed side’ of these and other cultural manifestations.

*  *  *

In summary, these four areas of human knowing – the astronomically big and the microscopically small, the biologically compounded and the culturally complex –  invite ideoscopic science to don its instruments, mount its experiments, measure and hypothesize about the objects in question, and finally to fashion technologies that will hopefully more deeply integrate humankind with its environment, solve problems and cure diseases that afflict our kind. Still, the great dynamic at the heart of all knowledge, namely, the desire to unify and bring multiplicity into synthesis, afflicts these four areas as it does the divisions within each of them. Past attempts at reduction – to reduce biology to chemistry, for example, or chemistry to physics – have famously failed. More recent dreams of ‘unified science’ have concerned linking the very big with the very small, and also the organically complex with the labyrinthine world of culture. There are undoubtedly links to be identified, but whether they permit final reductions of one to the other is still a very open question. My hunch (to be presented later) is that the four domains truly converge in only one world: the cenoscopic.

Einstein was famous for successfully bringing relativity physics (principally about the very big) into view; he was also famous for failing to bring that mammoth accomplishment into sync with the quantum mechanics (about the very small) that was also enjoying revolutionary advances.  Similarly, evolutionary science has seen great conquests in accounting for the traits of organisms as they develop over eons of time; but it has also stared with puzzlement at the cultural explosion of activity that the human organism has generated. How to account for all that with the mere mechanisms of natural selection and genetics has not yet brought anything close to a consensus among scientists. Attempts at a harmonization of nature and culture in biological science, though keenly coveted by many an evolutionary specialist, may miss the mark as much as Einstein did.  Again, my suspicion is that the harmony will be found only in the ontological wealth of the cenoscopic (philosophical) perspective.

In the following parts of my essay, I plan to describe in greater detail the nature of cenoscopic experience and explain why – as I will dare to suggest – it is only within its ‘common sense’ context that the two extremes of physical science make physical sense, and the two extremes of life’s complexity (natural and cultural) can at long last make vital sense.

[1] I am adopting Deely’s spelling of ideoscopy, with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘i’, for ease of reference. He found the somewhat stretched allusion to ‘ideas’ to harmonize with his view of the modern “way of ideas.” Since he is by far the most prominent proponent of the distinction, I am following his preference here.