Absolute surfaces and participated existence

When movies want to tell us that a character is looking through a telescope, they put a visual circle on the screen surrounded by black, that is, the visual world is put inside a larger, unseen world. Again, if a show wants to explain that something is being seen through a camera it changes the shot to something more restrictive, less fluid, and somehow contracted within the context of the show, while the show itself is, as a rule, not seen as something being filmed. These are symbols, of course, but they work because they reveal something. The immediate visual world is not within something, but the tools we use to assist visual experience (at least so far as we understand them as “seeing”) are within a visual field.

Raymond Ruyer uses an idea like this to describe visual experience itself as “an absolute surface”, that is, a surface which, though finite, is not finite by being contained within something larger, and within which it can be located. Cameras, and telescopes are not seen as having an absolute surface but a relative one, even if we speak of them as “seeing”.  Put another way, finite contained realities are made possible by a context that is unbounded according to any relevant sense in which the finite realities are themselves bounded.

As a peculiar mode of the relation between instrument and agent, this absolute versus relative surface should be able to serve as an analogy for the relation of God and creatures, and of the intellect to its object.

The participated character of our intellect means that we must understand experience in a way similar to how telescopes are symbolized on screen as a visual field surrounded by darkness: i.e. we understand all beings in relation to a context of non-being, that is, through the principle of contradiction. We cannot understand being without this shadow of impossibility to which it is opposed, but it is ridiculous to say that being just is this relative opposition. It is somehow known in itself, though always along with its shadow. This arises precisely because of the instrumental and participated character of our intellect, and gives rise to our need to know through composition and division, and by way of making scientific systems.

Seen in this way “being itself” means being without the shadow of non-being related to it. It is outside of consciousness as human, and so in a very important sense totally unknowable to us, even though we understand it as that which is simply knowable in a direct way in itself. We can, moreover, at least make sense of what it would have to be, and we can even know something of the consciousness that would characterize being itself, if this is fitting to speak about. Asking why it exists would be like asking where in the vast darkness our visual experience is occurring.

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1 Comment

  1. thenyssan said,

    May 14, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Bizarre…I was JUST thinking about the last time you blogged on this idea from Ruyer. What the heck did we both just watch on TV?


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