The Limits of Reasoning

“What Am I” is the most important question we can ask and yet the answer may have to be discovered not by reasoning but by experience.

I was thumbing through back issues of John’s Consciousness, struck by his often beautiful reflections on existence. They seem to have taken a rather melancholy turn of late and I was reminded of Tennyson’s poem “Crossing the Bar” by his most recent post The Fading of The Light.

“Professional” philosophy is so often full of pompous and jargon filled junk.  As John pointed out, philosophy steps in where science is unable to tread and hence need not be dominated by those who make a living from it. You, me, any of us are as likely to come up with a plausible answer to the question “Why” as the most earnest professional bore.  And indeed we should do just that – there are few if any answers or facts provided by science as to where we come from or why we exist, so we are all as qualified to speculate as the most prominent physicist.  And probably better qualified than the armchair pseuds who talk in riddles and get paid for it.

It seems to me that we may be stuck, metaphorically speaking, inside a fish bowl.  Even the brightest fish with the most advanced consciousness would have difficulty in conceiving what life on dry land is like (the “experience” of life on dry land) since he is unable to visit it. We by contrast, while not amphibian, are nonetheless able to conceive in our imaginations what life as a fish might be like since we can splash around in the sea. We can put on breathing equipment, we can descend to the depths, we can embrace the silence and the currents. We can swim with the fish.

And so it is with consciousness.  We are stuck within our own brains, we can see only what our sensory equipment will let us see. What our limited brains let us imagine.

Take the concept of dimensions in space and time.  Is it string theory which tells us there may be eleven dimensions and not the four we are used to?  Our brains have difficulty in letting us sense the meaning of eleven dimensions. From our four dimensional fish bowl we do not have the experience or indeed the equipment to visualize or fully engage in the experience of eleven dimensions.

I have always yearned for a sense of transcendence.  I have always wanted it described to me, or,  better to experience it.  To some extent we have all glimpsed it. It can sometimes be felt in the gaps; in silence, in beauty. In peace.

Certainly that is why I have always been so engaged with the more intelligent examples of science fiction and faerie stories.

Where exactly do the civilizations of Iain M Banks sublime to? What do they sublime to? What was Tom Bombadil or Gandalf and where did their powers come from?

Banks and Tolkien describe places and states we would like to enter. And of course so do the truly awful and destructive religions of the world.  I suppose you have to give some understanding to the religious nutters who commit foul atrocities  – but quite why they think they will be rewarded for so doing by houris and paradise is beyond me.  But the motive is perhaps the same – the seeking of transcendence.  Transcendence through murder and unspeakable cruelty in the service of a monstrous and non existent deity.

I can not rationally envisage infinity. I can not reason my way around the concept of what is out there from my absurdly small mole hill by the sea side on a crumbling planet in a wispy spiral of the Milky Way.

Perhaps therefor there is something to be said for expanding our consciousness in the way generations of mystics have done for countless aeons.  We are told that the Buddha achieved enlightenment and omniscience through meditation. Christian nutcases seem to have achieved the same through starvation, isolation and general physical misery.  Although given that they came up with very different interpretations of reality, one side must have got it wrong.

Where does that leave the modern seeker? How best should we peer through the doors of perception?

For those of us with enough patience and time perhaps meditation is the answer. It seems to have done the trick for tubby old Siddhartha.  Better his route than that of the miserable followers of the one god. I never did go for flagellation and misery.

Or perhaps the answers lie in psychoactive drugs. Whoever wrote Revelations had to have been high on something. Mind you, if ever there was an accurate definition of a “bad trip”, there you have it.

Joking aside, truth may well be found in getting “out of our skulls”.  By altering our minds we may perhaps be able to break out of the fishbowl. To live in the 11th Dimension. I really don’t see any other way.



  1. I thank you for being so gracious in your characterization of my blog posts, and while I generally try to maintain a positive outlook most days, on occasion, I do tend to drift “out to sea,” sailing upon the ocean within me. My current circumstances offer much greater latitude for being reflective than was the case in previous years, and it seems I have lately allowed the flood gates to remain open a bit more often emotionally.

    While melancholy is a natural inclination for poets and creative spirits through history, my inclinations are not quite in line with Tennyson’s poem just yet, although I must admit to having composed more than a hundred poems over the years, and between 1999 and 2004, I hosted an online poetry group on

    As poets, we express our joy and sorrow in both the writing and the reading of our thoughts and emotions, as well as in our sharing of poetry and poetic notions. In doing so, we reveal our thoughts to ourselves, as well as to others. Whether we give it a particular form, shaping our expression into a sonnet or when composing rhyming couplets, or simply state it outright in free verse, what is essential in poetry is that expression of our deeper feelings, whatever they are.
    In that spirit, I thought you might enjoy reading a poem I wrote, which presents a similar form or profile to Tennyson’s, only without the melancholy:

    In Truth There Is A Kind Of Joy
    By JJHIII24

    In truth there is a kind of joy,
    Our knowing brings an able grin.
    With every effort, we annoy,
    Until the light of truth comes in.

    Discovered truth may make us laugh,
    And not to know can bring us down.
    At times, we cut the truth in half,
    Hoping to avoid that frown.

    But even when the truth is bland,
    It’s better knowing, we often say,
    At least we know just where we stand,
    No longer false in any way.

    Release the joy and seek what’s true,
    In spite of ignorance that’s bliss.
    There’s greater joy in front of you
    That ignorance will surely miss!

    © July 2010 by JJHIII


  2. You wrote “Whoever wrote Revelations had to have been high on something.”
    My favourite discussion on Revelations is the BBC Radio In Our Time Religion : The Apocalypse . This was first broadcast on 17 Jul 2003 . Drugs are mentioned, but there is more to it than that with many reasons why Revelation should be read but also why it should not be in the Christian Canon. Happy listening


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