“When so many hours have been spent convincing myself I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?” ― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Consider the humble magnet. Hold the magnet over a pile of iron filings. The iron filings move without physical contact from the magnet. Sure, you can talk to me about electromagnetism. I can’t see it, though. Yet, it has a definite and demonstrable impact on the physical world that I can rely on. Likewise, gravity. We infer a presence that we cannot otherwise perceive. I jump out of a plane, I fall. We accept the existence of governing laws in the natural world on the basis of observable effects and the authority of the big brains who gave it a name. When you can observe an effect, but cannot perceive the cause, rather must through its repeatability assign a name to it (as a proper magnet will move iron with some degree of consistency), we call that cause “supersensible” or beyond the perception of our unaided senses.
At the micro-level, with the aid of technology, we can sometimes begin to directly observe the existence of previously supersensible phenomena – sometimes, but not always. Often we find ourselves going down the rabbit hole of infinite inference. This is a problem amongst both skeptics and anomalists when faced with effects sans directly sensible causes, and in a world where science is relegated to public broadcasting and anomalies to the Discovery Channel, much like politics, we all live inside bubbles of belief and inference, lacking the ability to experience much directly. We may quibble about what constitutes sensible evidence for strange phenomena, but scientist and anomalist alike often commit the error of conflating their inference of the cause, with the cause itself.
This bothered philosopher Immanuel Kant. A lot of things bothered Kant, from the Earth’s rotation to the nature of space and time. Kant argued that space, time, and causation are “sensibilities” and exist as “things-in themselves”, but their nature is unknowable – our mind shapes our experience and structures reality into a comprehensible whole. That is to say, the key to the universe is understanding the common structural elements of our experience, be the evidence of a thing sensible or supersensible. We are like sea creatures floating in the current as a variety of morsels rush by us, snatching them up, swallowing them if they taste good, and spiting them out if they don’t – what father of anomalistics Charles Fort meant when he talked about “a procession of the damned” as we twirl through his Super-Sargasso Sea.
Another philosopher (because who else thinks about these things except philosophers) George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in his Phenomenology of Mind took Kant one step further and argued, “The inner world, or the supersensible beyond, has, however, arisen: it comes to us out of the sphere of appearance, and the latter is its mediating agency: in other words, appearance is its essential nature and, in point of fact, its filling. The supersensible is the established truth of the sensible and perceptual. The truth of the sensible and the perceptual lies, however, in being appearance. The supersensible is then appearance qua appearance. We distort the proper meaning of this, if we take it to mean that the supersensible is therefore the sensible world, or the world as it is for immediate sense-certainty, and perception. For, on the contrary, appearance is just not the world of sense-knowledge and perception as positively being, but this world as superseded or established in truth as an inner world. It is often said that the supersensible is not appearance; but by appearance is thereby meant not appearance, but rather the sensible world taken as itself real actuality”.
Many things exist around us in this supersensible realm of “appearance” that we take for granted, as our beliefs and inferences have common structural qualities, the essence of which we are taught from birth, worthy of exploration. Yet they remain appearances. This is not to deny the existence of an underlying stratum of concrete evidence, which might one day emerge from the supersensible to sensible realm, but until such time as this, we rely on inference only accessible through the structured perceiving of the unperceivable. A speck of dust is an orb is a ghost. A UFO is an alien craft is a trick of light is an interdimensional interloper. “Show me”, is the cry of the unreflective skeptic who equates inference with cause, while “understand me”, is the proper realm of the anomalist.
What a vapid place the universe would be if it were filled with only unconditional universals, and how reductive our experience of consciousness would be. We can infer ideals, but this does not mean we can crystalize them, only draw them into our natural conceptions through their appearances, and through those appearances (which when it comes to strange phenomena, repeat, or to use Fort’s phrase, “the solidity of the procession as a whole”), perhaps strive to understand their irresistibleness. As journalist Tom Vanderbilt once said, “The road itself tells us far more than signs do.”
That was something surreal…. From what i gathered I’m in awe… From what i didn’t gather.. Well that’s what philosophers are for! 😁
Freaking philosophers. You try scrubbing, you try soaking…
😄😄 kudos on patiently unpacking this for us laymen readers ☺️
This is a very interesting post, ExoterX, and I admire the sense of fair play you exhibit in including both scientist and anomalist among those who sometimes conflate inference of cause with cause itself. Do you think this error is an indication of slipshod metaphysics or the rejection of metaphysics (as in the case of positivism)? This post brought to mind an essay titled “Science and the Inescapability of Metaphysics” by Robert Delfino (a professor of philosophy at St. John’s Univ.) in which he cites Einstein’s remark about the regrettable “fear of metaphysics.” What’s so scary about metaphysics anyway?
I like to think of metaphysics as a set of ordering principles, neither true or false, rather a framework (one of many) for approximating understanding, where phenomena are not directly observable. That of course, doesn’t ever rule out the possibility that someone is a moron, or God forbid, a positivist)