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.