Surprise vs comprise

I’ve called my metaphysic a “metaphysic of surprise”. To get what I mean by this, it is helpful to keep in mind the basic terms of my metaphysical conceptualization, which are 1) metaphysical reality versus 2) our understanding of reality which is truth.

In my view truth is an adequate-as-possible person-reality interface, true to the degree that it affords effective interaction, and never an exhaustive symbolic representation of reality as naive thinkers (at least in our culture) seem to reflexively assume. Truth is more like a well-designed, well-made tool than it is a tiny symbolic duplicate of reality we carry around inside our heads. Not to exclude tiny symbolic models, since maps are among our most useful tools, just that a map is only one of many useful tools, and maybe not even the most typical one.

This way of thinking about truth is what Dewey called “instrumentalism”. As a designer, my ears prick right up at this notion: tools ought to be designed, but all too often they are only engineered, with the result that only fellow engineers can master them. Is this not the case with philosophies? Philosophy needs a Steve Jobs to barge in and demand that we design our philosophies intentionally to be useful, usable and desirable for the people who use them, and understand the world through them, and (if the tool is well-designed and well-made) will become such a fine extension of our own being, we will forget we are using them at all and simply experience reality as our philosophy presents them, as self evidently what it is.

But no matter how solid our craftsmanship we can never avoid the reality or reality. Reality will always glow beneath the surface of what we make of it, through the seams, the worn spots, the flaws, the cracks that form from careless use. And reality can also erupt through truth and shock us with both its reality and with how our truth cannot deal with it. We get truly locked up because we don’t think about using truth, we think with our truth, and when reality breaks our truth, thinking simply can’t work. We can’t even talk about what is happening unless we have tools for accounting for such breaks. We can even experience total breaks where our entire truth is experienced as broken, which paradoxically allows us to know the truth about truth. We never know truth better than we have none. This is when religion happens. This is when mystery is here.

This is when the conceptual schema that give us the sense the world is comprised (com+prise, together-grasp) can be seen in its provinciality, as something (literally) incomprehensibly vast, defying not only quantity but quality — in other words, infinity — is known in the most non-comprehending way. Should the word be suprehended? At any rate, we can be utterly certain that we are surrounded by a reality that defies our current understanding and expectations. Etymologically, surprise means beyondgrasp which has a fine double-meaning of being beyond one’s grasp or of being in the grasp of the beyond. Being surprised can be viewed as comprehending turned inside-out.

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