Continuing on the theme of Ken Wilber…
Wilber states that essentially there is a trade-off between what is fundamental and what is significant, and I think that this has a profound effect for many philosophers out there, especially when it comes to our motivations for doing what we do.
I for one consider myself just that, a philosopher and it has come to my attention that there is a huge trade off between what is significant and what is fundamental.
I often get asked, “Why are you studying this? What use has it? What will you do with all this knowledge?”
Especially because I am spending a significant amount of time studying Mathematical Set theory! Furthermore, it comes to my own attention that whatever I am doing seems to have no end (i.e. the subject just get deeper the deeper you go) and that it really has very little practical value in the ‘real’ world.
The level of abstraction in set theory is so high that you can’t even use it to do any ‘Math’ as you would have it, everything is abstract and at a level where it doesn’t really apply in the world at large. In fact Set Theory is so abstract that most of the time you can not imagine what you are thinking about and have abandon most of the hooks we use to ‘understand’ something.
So the question is why?
The answer lies in the subtle fact that what is fundamental is the basis, the underlying support for what is practical (read significant). Without quarks, there are no atoms, without atoms there are no molecules and without those we wouldn’t exist. In the ‘everyday’ world, knowledge about quarks is useless, it is insignificant. But this is just a surface reality, it is now fact that quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, the atom bomb, do affect us and that the real world power happens to lie with those people who have learned to control these forces.
Similarly in philosophy, when we study, meditate and familiarise ourselves with near total abstraction we build a fundamental base upon which we can control our ‘inner’ realities, i.e. our thoughts, our sense of being. At first, on a surface level it is insignificant, and in fact knowledge purely on the level of abstraction IS insignificant. The fruit in the matter is how we can integrate and use this knowledge to control our internal processes.
I believe that a proper study of set theory can really deliver on this, the even bigger point is that ‘are you able to integrate this knowledge with the higher tangible reality’
I believe that set theory in this way has probably suffered a lot in these terms. Most people don’t even realise it exists. Of those that do, many ignore it because it seems so removed from reality.
Many Mathematicians too, while personally engaged in the field, fail to apply it to higher realities. The subject remains buried, and the really brilliant Mathematicians get buried inside their own worlds too, never to surface and preach their finds to the masses.
Two mathematicians worth mentioning here are Gregory Chaitin & Ian Stewart. Chaitin is inspiring, Stewart can show you the way. If you ever have the chance to get hold of their books please do.
My question and search is for those people out there who have bridged the gap. Who can show us how the insignificant theory is the real base for reality, those who can explain it to us real mortals and get more of thinking and participating in the engaging debate.