Perhaps our realities not only exist within our conceptual frameworks, but are our conceptual frameworks. Reality, existence, for us, is our conceptual frameworks. So, the question is: from where do we get these conceptual frameworks, and what exactly are they?
We are contextual beings. Things only exist, for us, as, or within a, context. Conscious existence, reality, for us, is relation. Without relation, things do not exist for us. How can we know what something is without it fitting into a context, without us being able to relate it to something else? It is simply impossible to imagine something existing “in a vacuum,” for even at the end of the line, dualistic beings relate things (everything, in fact) to themselves, to their self, to their conceptualization of who and what they are.
Is “context” something that is hard-wired in us, in our minds, something that we impose upon nature, on the data of life, the only way we are able to process sensory data and thoughts and experiences? Can things exist without (or outside of) context? Perhaps; but the way our minds work, the way we process data (“data” being everything), makes such a possibility utterly incomprehensible. But, just because existence, for us, is intrinsically contextual, doesn’t mean that things as they actually are, independent of our minds, exist contextually the way our minds contextualize things in order to comprehend them.
How can we even talk or think about “existence” in a way that isn’t utterly subjective to the contextual way that we conceptualize and comprehend? The way things “exist” is one thing, the way they “exist” to us is another; at least as long as we are ignorant and confused by the illusions of our conditioned existences. This is the importance of “awakening,” of recognizing and questioning the illusions of our conditioned existences—for most people are not even aware that there might be a difference between the way we comprehend and process our experience of things and how they really are in the absence of our illusions. People casually toss off words like “is,” “exist,” and “right” and “wrong” without having any mindful notion of what they are talking about. But, these casually, and often unconsciously, assumed and accepted illusions certainly contribute to, and even control, people’s values, moralities, and actions.
The way we experience and process the “data-flow of things” may not be the only way it can be processed. This is, I think, one of the, of not the, most important things we can question and try to understand, and even possibly attempt to transcend—the point of which is living truly, living free of ignorance, and thereby being who we really are. This is where certain “idealists,” such as Kant, are often very misunderstood. They are not saying that things only exist in our minds, but rather that the way things exist for us exist as they do for us because that is the only way they can exist for us, because that is the only way we can process the data of nature, of life. We are “prisoners” of our minds and how they work, in the sense that we have no choice but to process this way. This is what I think we can learn to consider from Kant, and it is something that has yet, in my opinion, to be adequately challenged and refuted, at least by the Western philosophical tradition. It is a matter that simply cannot be avoided; it must be considered when anything is considered. To do otherwise is simply to be handicapped, to be in denial, to deny and avoid major forms of our conditioning.
Why is this important? Why is “metaphysics” such as this important? Because it challenges us to question our assumptions, not only about what things are, but how we should act in this life so that we may live truly, not out of ignorance. A thoughtful consideration of “metaphysical” and “epistemological” issues (whether or not one uses these words) is integral to an understanding of ethics and thus morality, of the ways we are already acting and being without recognizing what we are doing and why. For how we act is ultimately important. Who can say it is not? When it comes to the Western philosophical tradition, some people say that Socrates was limited in his scope, but in the end, in the actual moments of our everyday lives, what is more important than understanding why we do what we do?
From my personal notes, 8/19/99.