Explanation and Natural Philosophy: Or, The Rationalization of Mysticism

by Murray Code

Murray Code is Associate Professor, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, NIG 2W1 Canada. Email: mcode@aracnet.net.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 308-327, , Vol. 27/3-4, Fall-Winter, 1998.. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Dr. Code holds that there is an unavoidable mystical dimension in every interpretation of nature. His conclusion is that the natural philosopher must strive to become as much mythologist as (to use Whitehead’s phrase) “critic of abstractions.”

Every natural philosophy that aims to get something right about the world sooner or later comes up against a problem that Kant believed he had resolved when he distinguished between those concepts that he calls conceptus ratiocinati ("rightly inferred concepts") and those that he calls conceptus ratiocinantes ("pseudo-rational concepts") (GPR 309). But his failure to justify this distinction, by showing how to map a domain of rationality in which the elucidation of metaphysical concepts followed the secure path of a science ("in accordance with the example set by geometers and physicists") indicates a general limitation on natural philosophy. There is no way to determine exactly what sort of concepts are rightly inferred, nor any way to tell which concepts are indeed fundamental in metaphysics. As I argue in Myths of Reason, rationalistic thought is obliged always to "begin in the rough" with the assumption that certain "large" general ideas are just what is needed;1 ideas whose extreme vagueness reveals that the range of rational concepts is very broad indeed, so broad in fact that the vexed question of just where and how to begin doing natural philosophy becomes a primary and major worry. For unless one is prepared to endorse the (for some unquestionable) belief that an immersion in the separate disciplines of science is the proper approach to what used to be a single area of inquiry, attention must turn to topics that are normally thought to lie well outside the purview of natural science -- to myth and mysticism.

Myths are often consigned to a class of inferior or fictional forms of story-telling, while mysticism is banished to the dark cellars of the irrational. I want to argue, however, that both myth and mysticism are ineliminable from a comprehensive natural philosophy. Hence the truly rational first move for a natural philosopher is to acknowledge that he/she is obliged to speak, as it were, in two voices: one conscious of a mythopoeic element in even the most serious and systematic modes of discourse and the other conscious of an unavoidable mystical dimension in every interpretation of nature. The voices come together in a recognition of the centrality of imagination in dealing with the tension inherent in the nature-culture contrast.

Major sources of this tension are captured in the idea of repression, with E.A. Burtts’s classic discourse on The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science remaining highly relevant to the side of "nature." Searching for the source of the main current in modern philosophical thought, he focuses on the failure of early modern "naturalists" to address the anomalies in their metaphysical beliefs. He maintains that it was not only their early successes in the use of mathematical methods but also wishful thinking that fostered a tendency to make a metaphysics out of mathematical methods. For western thought also entrenched the assumption that nothing really exists outside the human mind that was not amenable to such methods. The upshot was that all sources of distraction, and in particular the "messy" qualitative characters of events, were either denied or removed from the world.

Burtt thus outlines what amounts to a philosophical type of repression. Repression can also be said to be the main concern of certain "postmodern" critiques of western conceptions of rationality (e.g., socio-theoretical, feminist, and historical critical studies). These critiques indicate that running parallel to a metaphysical repression related to beliefs about reason and rationality are a variety of suppressions or denials of crucial psycho-social factors. Thus a cultural analysis of scientific knowledge-making (on the model of psychoanalysis) may be more urgently required than further metaphysical analysis. But Burtt plays down the importance of "ethico-social" concepts (such as "progress," "control," and the like). He holds that "in the last analysis it is the ultimate picture which an age forms of the nature of its world that . . . is the final controlling factor in all thinking whatever."2

That this view is much too sanguine is evident from the power of what I shall call the myth of scientific superrationality -- the idea that scientific thought represents the epitome of rational thought. This myth comprises a number of lesser myths, one of which is that science is ideologically neutral. But as many "culturist" critics of science note, this belief is belied by the fact that apologists for science tend to defend their position by passionate appeals to the universality and immutability of the "laws of nature" that science progressively and objectively discovers: laws that it would be absurd to view as socially constructed.3 Such an objection, however, fails to take note of the fact that, as Whitehead puts it, "Nature is patient of interpretation in terms of Laws which happen to interest us" (AI 136). The plain and simple truth is that no compendium of laws, however comprehensive, could ever provide enough substance for an adequate discourse on nature. And the inescapability of vagueness in fundamental concepts also indicates that it is impossible to establish a perfectly objective mode of rationalistic inquiry. In other words, the necessity for interpretations in every instance of scientific story-telling indicates that science can never draw a sharp line between ontological and ideological commitments.

But if this is so, the natural philosopher cannot escape having to engage with the topic of myths, for as Northrop Frye points out, every ideology is an applied mythology." This means that myths precede ideologies and not, as is sometimes assumed, the other way round. The myths that underpin an ideology generally function as guides: they express what a society is trying to make of itself. Furthermore, there are at least two orders of myth, for "the mythology, good or bad, creates the ideology, good or bad" (WP 25). So the natural philosopher who aims for comprehensive explanations that do justice both to science and to ordinary experience is obliged to wrestle with the problem of the "goodness," or otherwise, of predominant mythologies, especially those that underpin the scientistic ideology.

Now, Whitehead’s writings on science can be read as a criticism of the myth of scientific superrationality. But in view of the power and tenacity of the scientistic ideology, which abhors the very idea of myth, it is not surprising that Whitehead has received so little attention from philosophers of science, despite his being one of the most original and creative thinkers of this century. No doubt one of his greatest heresies is to ascribe anti-rationalist views to orthodox rationalists.4 Whitehead’s own thinking seems to move inexorably toward the conclusion that only good myths can engender good understandings.5 The gist of his conclusion, that mythopoesis underpins natural philosophy, does not require a renunciation of logic, mathematics, and science. On the contrary, he proposes that a major, if not the principal, task in natural philosophy is to show how to reconcile systematic thinking with mythopoesis.

But before attempting such a task, a certain therapeutic exercise is required. For not only myth has been repressed in the framing of modern conceptions of rationality but also -- and equally -- imagination, a mysterious faculty that is intimately connected with, and by no means the enemy of, good reasoning. And in so far as imagination is fundamental to rational understanding, its systemic repression in western philosophy is another sign that the natural philosopher must be as deeply concerned with cultural analysis as with metaphysical analysis. Imagination may even count as the clearest indication why Whitehead is right to say that all the natural philosopher can ever hope to achieve is a "rationalization of mysticism" (MT 174).

I. The Mystery of Consciousness

The mere mention of mysticism often acts as a red flag to self-consciously rational minds, especially to those raised on the hope that metaphysics can somehow be pursued as a science. Yet this attitude may merely indicate that modern conceptions of rational thought grow out of a pervasive fear of mysticism. But in order to justify this fear and to show that, contra Whitehead, natural philosophy can be completely quarantined from myth and mysticism, it would be necessary to show, among other things, that there is no real mystery to consciousness itself. That this can be done is a presupposition of many areas of scientific inquiry ranging from neurobiology to computer technology. But not much in the way of specialized scientific training is needed to suspect that consciousness is simply not fully amenable to scientific explanation. That is to say, there is a mystery that can only be approached indirectly.

In a recent survey of research in this area, John Searle suggests that the task of banishing mystery from consciousness depends on finding a way to explain that aspect of subjective experience that he calls "qualitative feels." For he insists, as an empirical fact, on the presence of "a special qualitative feel to each type of conscious state" (MC 61). At the heart of the problem of consciousness, in other words, is the problem of qualia: to show how "brain processes, which are publicly observable, objective phenomena, could cause anything as peculiar as inner qualitative states of awareness or sentience, states which are in some sense ‘private’ to the possessor of the state (MC 60).6 Searle thus prompts an even more basic question: whether it is possible to distinguish clearly and distinctly between private and public aspects of perception.

Science suggests that there is no such thing as a purely private "percipient event" (to adopt Whitehead’s phrase) -- that is, one requiring nothing but algorithmic or mechanical material processes for its complete description. If one proposes to take science even a little seriously, some "percipient events" must involve "external" electromagnetic and electrochemical occurrences that elicit coordinated processings in multitudes of interconnected and interacting "internal" cells. A visual experience, for instance, lends itself to description as a complex semiotic process involving transmissions and integrations of signs, or bits of information, to a central organ, the brain, and more localized processes of selection, sorting, and evaluation (i.e., gradations as to relevance of various types of information) that sometimes issue in tentative (and often only vague) interpretations. In other words, rather than being a definite end-product of a singular, isolated process, a concrete image in a visual perception is the result of an essentially dynamic complex of semiotic processes requiring the coordinated, cooperative efforts of a network of socially organized communities of "interpreters" in the animal body.

If such a general description comes close to the truth, there is no reason in science, or anywhere else for that matter, to indicate that it is possible, in principle, to capture such a complex process as a visual perception with a systematic description that relies on a clear and definite distinction between the "insides" of a percipient event and its variously extended "outsides." The difficulty of drawing a line between the "inner" and "outer" physical aspects of perception is compounded by the fact that a percipient event, at least among "higher" organisms, is both forwardly and backwardly oriented. That is to say, most interpretations are influenced not only by the characters of events in the very recent past but also by those that may predominate in the very near future (e.g., the spatio-temporal configurations of possibly life. threatening developments in the immediate environment), to say nothing of the enveloping culture. This last consideration is far from being least, for when it is acknowledged as relevant, perception emerges as a series of intricately connected, extremely complex semiotic relationships connecting dynamic networks of interpretive beings and their extended environments. The ability of science to throw light on this complex business is probably very limited.

In so far as the orderly aspects of perception are essentially participatory-negotiary semiotic transactions, the laboratory where perception can be most fruitfully studied will be neither private nor public -- it will lie, mysteriously, somewhere in between. In other words, an elucidation of perception may get much further by using the metaphor of sign than by traditional means based on the idea of causality. It may be suspected that a causally-focused approach to consciousness merely proffers another illustration of the power of the myth of scientific superrationality. Searle, for instance, fuels this suspicion when he insists on the presence of qualia but fails to follow through with their "feeling" aspects. Consider also his claim that "the right way to think" about a visual experience is that "photons reflected off objects attack the photoreceptor cells of the retina and this sets up a series of neuronal processes (the retina being part of the brain), which eventually result, if all goes well, in a visual experience that is a perception of the very object that originally reflected the photons" (MC 64). If one grants that it is photons that are primarily carriers of information, the question arises how images with their special "qualitative feels" could possibly result from what might be called one-way leaps across a category gap"; that is to say, how entities that belong to the category of the actual (as feelings surely must) can be caused by entities that belong to the category of the potential (for photons, as carriers of information, merely convey "meanings in potentia").

Searle believes that the formation of ideas and images can be elucidated in terms of emergence: a conscious experience that involves a peculiar qualitative feel" is an emergent property of a system (a system of neurons). Hence he claims that consciousness is no more mysterious than other emergent properties of natural functioning -- it is a biological phenomenon (comparable with growth, digestion, or the secretion of bile), and "thus . . . part of the ordinary physical world" (MC 60). This abrupt turn from a causal theory of consciousness to talk about emergent properties not only leaves the puzzle about causality dangling, it compounds the mystery by evoking still more elementary puzzles about the meaning of emergence and evolution, as well as about how and where to locate sentience in an evolving "physical world." Lower-level neurological processes in the brain, says Searle, "cause my present state of consciousness, but that state is not a separate entity from my brain; rather it is just a feature of my brain at the present time" (MC 64). Yet he acknowledges that this move does not satisfy his aim to explain how "neural correlates cause the conscious feelings." Adding that we are a long way from knowing the form such an explanation might take," he puts his finger (albeit only for a moment) on the crux of the matter, which is the question of what form a rational explanation of matters relating to consciousness ought to take.

Searle’s account of consciousness, in short, merely throws doubt on the wisdom of his initial assumption -- that there are only two alternatives for tackling the problem of consciousness: either search for a causal theory or succumb to some sort of vicious Cartesian dualism. That this first step is an error is indicated by Searle himself in his allusion to the bipolar (private and public) character of conscious awareness, which prompts one to ask whether most scientific approaches to the problem of consciousness are vitiated at the outset by a failure to leave open the possibility of an indissociable bipolarity in key ideas (such as public-private, subjective-objective, and body-mind).

Although emergent material brains (and nervous systems) are evidently involved in emergent conscious experiences (such as "qualitative feels"), this fact only attests to the sentience of nature; indeed of the whole of nature if (as modern biology suggests) no clear division can be drawn between the organic and the non-organic. Furthermore, if nature is indeed evolutionary from bottom to top, human consciousness cannot claim to be the paradigmatic form of sentience for, as Whitehead points out, consciousness is a late, and relatively rare, aspect of evolving nature. There is no reason to think that it is not still evolving (as some thinkers, such as Rudolf Steiner, maintain). So even if science were able to prove that consciousness is impossible without brains, it would not follow that brains cause consciousness. Perhaps all that one can say confidently is that the brain is to consciousness as the eye is to seeing -- and without eyes there are manifestly no visual experiences. But because organs such as eyes and brains are only parts of whole functioning bodies, a body is evidently a necessary condition for the emergence of psychic activity, or at least for efficacious psychic activity. The point seems implicit in the very idea of "qualitative feels." Indeed, a feeling is first and foremost a subjective, concrete experience and not a property or attribute of some inert object, let alone something composed solely of abstract entities, whatever their degree of complexity and organization.7 In brief, then, a concrete percipient event is a feeling experience, which presupposes a body capable of experiencing feelings. For where would feelings be felt, if there were no bodies?

I am suggesting that only a myth of overweening power could succeed in relegating these very basic considerations to the distant background. When talk about sentience deploys the apparatus of causality and refers to bodies and their organs as "organic machines," language is forced to the brink of incoherence. Searle’s use of this metaphor to describe the brain (MC 62) is an indication that it is necessary, in order to do justice to "qualitative feels," to seek an imagery that can accommodate not only mechanical actions or reactions but also embodied sentient responses. For this metaphor pits "blind" or regulated modes of action and reaction against modes of response that exemplify a certain freedom, since a living organism is distinguishable from a dead machine to the extent that there is something unpredictable about its behavior. If the notion of an organic machine is not merely an abortive attempt to weld the incompatible ideas of spontaneous feeling and controlled behavior into one figure, it is a tacit admission of the need to find a rational explanation capable of reconciling these two contrasting types of activity.

II. Approaching Consciousness Indirectly

Searle’s account of the problem of consciousness thus shows that science was destined to run up against a blank wall when it could no longer deny the awkward fact that "inward" events (like qualitative feelings) can neither be ignored nor explained away in terms of "outward" appearances. Searle fails, however, to take the obvious next step and to note that since such events can only be inferred from outward appearances they must lie outside the scope of scientific methods, and can perhaps only be explained metaphorically. Such a step would be tantamount to renouncing the myth of scientific super-rationality. Were it not for this myth, it might be more widely acknowledged that every would-be rational explanation both presupposes a conceptual structure and privileges certain concepts that function as key interpretive metaphors. The myth of scientific superrationality thus emerges as the principal obstacle to seeing that the quality of its underlying metaphysical imaginary (the complex of metaphorics that roughly guide metaphysical reasoning about what there is and how it hangs together) is what ultimately provides a natural philosophy with whatever comprehensiveness and adequacy it can lay claim to.

In other words, the crucial and fundamental question about thinking is what type of imaginary could accommodate and reconcile complementary, closely intertwined but antagonistic ideas; for example, mechanical habit and free or spontaneous action. Current research in cognitive science notwithstanding, it seems a complete mistake to try to evade, or ignore, or try to eliminate the peculiar tensions involved in contrasting ideas. Here perhaps is the kernel of the repressions that vitiate a good deal of natural philosophy. The discovery of the ubiquity of such contrasts may even be one of the most significant events in the history of the study of consciousness. In any event, an awareness that certain polar contrasts (such as subjective-objective, public-private, body-mind, organism-machine, feeling-thought, and perhaps nature-culture) are indissoluble, yet fundamental, is one of the most important aspects of Whitehead’s philosophic thought. This aspect becomes prominent in his return to pre-Kantian philosophy.

With regard to Berkeley’s critique of materialism, a critique that the foregoing discussion shows is still highly relevant, Whitehead suggests that Berkeley’s challenge is to show how to reconcile matter and spirit. For Berkeley, Whitehead suggests, puts his finger on an ur-question of natural philosophy: "What do we mean by things being realized in the world of nature?" (SMW 67). In respect to human experience, Berkeley challenges us to explain "the complete concreteness of our intuitive experience," a phrase that is consonant with his insistence that concrete reality consists in just those ideas we do in fact have. Whitehead’s question can be rephrased in Berkeleyan terms thus: "What do we mean by ideas being realized in minds?" For Berkeley’s attack on matter as an adequate basis for explaining the genesis of ideas or mental phenomena is unequivocal. It is unintelligible, he holds, to say that insentient entities are capable of causing sentience. Neither can ideas themselves cause other ideas, for ideas are inert things. He thus invites his successors to face the question: If you insist on the existence of causal agency in nature, where else should this agency be located, if not in spirit?

Whitehead’s response to Berkeley is to grasp the nettle with both hands. Since he believes that Berkeley’s theological solution to the metaphysical problem of explaining experience is unsatisfactory, he concludes that it is necessary to find a niche in natural philosophy for both matter and spirit "as abstractions in terms of which much of our physical experience can be interpreted" (SMW 67). His development of Berkeley’s thought, however, takes a course that is radically different from that of Hume or Kant, a course that testifies indirectly to the truth of Whitehead’s heretical claim that an element of mysticism is unavoidable in rational explanations. This claim is tantamount to an assertion of the fundamental importance of the powers of imagination.

To learn more about these powers, it is helpful to turn to Kant, who is likewise influenced by Berkeley (by way of Hume). He too is exercised by the question of what we mean by things being realized in nature. Like Berkeley, Kant believes that our knowledge of reality is knowledge only of appearances and their relations, except in his case this knowledge is the result of variously conditioned subjective constructions. Yet Kant can also be read as starting from the fundamental assumption that cognition presupposes a synthesis of outer" and "inner" conditions of the possibility of knowledge, a synthesis that is dependent on a faculty of imagination. In the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant stresses the indispensability of this faculty in the synthesis of the sensible and the intellectual -- a faculty he describes as "a blind but indispensable function of the soul, without which we should have no knowledge whatsoever" (CPR 112). Yet Kant retreated from the radical implications of this statement in the second edition of the Critique, with perhaps unfortunate consequences for subsequent philosophy in so far as he helped foster an "islanded consciousness."

Commenting upon this crucial moment in the history of metaphysics, John Rundell asks how Kant constructs the imagination in his account of the formation of knowledge. Although Kant insists that our knowledge is always of representations, and not of objects capable of existing outside our powers of representation, Rundell points out that the representations must themselves emerge from a synthesis of reason and imagination (CJ 91). In Kant’s analysis of this synthesis, imagination turns out not to be simply reproductive (that is, not simply to function in accordance with a priori principles in associating and reproducing appearances). It is also productive in an originative sense (that is, it is formative and creative in its own right). Thus a tension, indeed a chasm, opens up in the relation between reason and imagination, for the latter is only partly dependent upon the determinate concepts and rules of the understanding, it is itself "a creative force and source of reflexivity."

In sum, then, in his encounter with imagination, "Kant confronts an abyss, where, were he to fall into it, he would confront chaos and uncertainty. He pulls back onto the ground of certitude. In so doing he circumscribes the nature and role of the imagination, especially its synthesizing power, making it dependent on the understanding" (CJ 95).

While a distaste for chaos and uncertainty is understandable in an inquiry that aims for apodictic certainty, the image of an abyss suggests that a fear of or aversion to mysticism may partly explain Kant’s retreat. At any rate, it seems difficult to overestimate the importance of this confrontation between reason and imagination in western philosophy’s quest to understand the world. Not only is imagination one of the neglected areas of modern philosophy, it may be an ongoing victim of repression. Indeed, John Sallis, after examining the uneasy relation between metaphysics and imagination in a historical light, concludes that the very constitution of metaphysics involves a massive repression of imagination. Running from Aristotle to Hegel, he argues, is an interpretation of metaphysics as a drive to pure presence -- a telos that envisages a moment when all images and imagery are rendered otiose and the original truth stands revealed. Recent Continental thought has thoroughly criticized and undermined this drive, exposing the strategy by which imagination was finally repressed [in the so-called closure of metaphysics] as precisely that, a strategy. To counter this strategy does not require, says Sallis, a renunciation of metaphysics as a mode of inquiry but rather only a recognition of "the return of the repressed" – a "release of imagination into the entire field" (D 15). But if this is so, Kant may have been right in the first place, and only imagination has the power to synthesize the sensible and the intellectual. That is to say, imagination may well be the sine qua non for both knowledge and reason in so far as both are dependent on a prior unification of the "inner" and "outer" conditions of experiencing.

There is also reason to believe that the material and the immaterial (or spiritual) are very intimately intertwined. It may be that every rationalistic inquiry, which is committed to the belief that something intelligible and (at least partially) true can be said about the world as we find it, is obliged to acknowledge mysteries evoked by the notion of an imagination capable of overcoming the divisive effects of the distinction between the sensible and the intelligible that Plato introduced into metaphysics. So it is worth reviewing some of the basic considerations that seem indispensable to getting anywhere with the problem of consciousness.

Arguing as a philosopher and a psychoanalyst, Cornelius Castoriadis depicts the event of a visual perception concisely. He observes that both "primary" and "secondary" qualities are creations of the living body, i.e., "of the embodied psyche in humans, creations more or less permanent or transient, more or less generic or singular. These creations are often conditioned by an ‘external’ X -- not ‘caused’ by it. Light waves are not colored, and they do not cause the color qua color. They induce, under certain conditions, the subject to create an ‘image’ which, in many cases ... is generically and socially shared" (RE 140, emphasis in original).

Castoriadis’s emphasis on the word "condition," as well as his reference to both the biological and the cultural dimensions of perception, reinforces the claim that science, whenever it attempts to address the topic of mind, simply runs up against the limits of its own competency. This is partly because, as Castoriadis emphasizes, immaterial "things" like conscious images are not "in the mind." Rather, "they are just what they are: images." This line of thought suggests that the products of minds are best conceived as issuing from constructive acts performed by "embodied psyches," in which psyche and soma resolve their tensions and oppositions with the help of "radical imagination."

This last idea, according to Castoriadis, is neither new nor unexamined. What he terms "radical imagination" roughly corresponds to an idea introduced twenty -- three centuries ago by Aristotle, who discussed two completely different meanings for phantasia -- one of which (prime or primary imagination) is, says Castoriadis, that "without which there can be no thought and which possibly precedes any thought" (RI 136-137). But this idea has had little influence in the development of rationalistic thought, not surprisingly perhaps since it implies that the concepts of experience and reality are as intimately related as psyche and soma. Indeed, Castoriadis claims that radical imagination operates "before the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘fictitious’.... It is because the radical imagination exists that ‘reality’ exists for us -- exists tout court -- and exists as it exists" (RI 138, emphasis original). In this view, then, reality and experience are two poles of an indissoluble bipolarity that is perhaps only bridgeable by means of a variety of different kinds of imaginative acts. For the difficulty in explaining experience is not to be resolved simply by reversing Kant’s retreat from the idea of an intrinsically untamable, productive or creative faculty of imagination. Once the mysterious figure of imagination has been allowed to put its foot inside the door of philosophy, its presence can be felt in every room of the house. Since primary (or radical) imagination is prior to consciousness, secondary (e.g., poetic) imagination seems required to explain the creation of the concepts that discourse requires.

Tricky questions arise at this point, since the poetic creation of ideas is only more or less self-conscious and controlled. Perhaps just the "right" figurative imagery can on occasion, like the sensory imagery arising from acts of primary or radical imagination, spontaneously appear (in the form of intuitions, insights, or dreams). Furthermore, in so far as many (all?) of our most fundamental concepts (such as object and subject, matter and spirit, and so on) come as indissociable polarities, a philosophical imagination would seem to be indispensable for retaining the essential unities of merely apparent dualities. Yet another form of imagination (best called mythopoeic) may explain the genesis and power of the ideas that mediate between individuals and the groups they form. And as for the general character of thought -- patterns peculiar to such groups, a collective or social imagination, or what Castoriadis calls a "social instituting imaginary," may be needed to explain the differences between cultures and their peculiar destinies (RI 149).

Thus, although the notion of imagination is extremely vague, it is not on that account any less respectable than a good many other fundamental philosophical notions whose usefulness seems to be directly proportional to their degree of vagueness. In any case, the endemic vagueness of fundamental concepts points up the need for an essentially metaphorical treatment of the ideas they convey. Kant himself suggests that only more or less insightful acts of metaphoring can explain successful scientific attempts to render the world partially intelligible, despite his monumental attempt in his Critique of Pure Reason to banish all metaphors from the domain of speculative reason. Consider his use of the notion of representation, whose countless appearances in philosophical discourse implies a certain "rightness." Of course everything still hinges on how this metaphor is interpreted. Returning to visual perception, in which information carried by photons is somehow converted into images, one might say that these images are in a sense re-presentations of a something (or of some part of a something) that has been presented to the perceiver. But a representation is never simply given or directly caused, nor ever precisely replicated. It is subject to the vagaries of "internal" decisions (selections, modes of integration, and so on) that are not caused but rather conditioned by "external" influences (such as altered bodily states through fatigue, drugs, etc.). Thus it is better to think in terms of an ongoing unconscious activity of representing; that is to say, an activity of minding, where images (and intuitions, ideas, phenomena, etc.) emerge as the results of acts of representing.8

III. On Minding and Mysticism

We assume, then, a faculty of imagination, indispensable to sentient awareness, leads to a view of representing, or minding, in which all reasonings are bound up with interpretations of latent information as mere possibilities.9 Minding thus refers at bottom to . . . to nothing that can be positively identified as the fixed and palpable furniture of an enduring world-mansion. It is here, in other words, that one becomes aware of the mystical in its most unencumbered form -- not as something uncannily "other" to ordinary experience, but rather as something interwoven into all experiencing. What the mystical is most strikingly "other" to is mindings (usually wedded to materialistic imaginaries) that are mesmerized by the Cartesian myth that the world and world-makers can be sharply distinguished and analyzed separately and systematically. For a rough picture of the world has emerged in which thought, both conscious and unconscious, is an intimate interplay of only more or less focused and engaged acts of minding that result (mirabile dictu!) in a flux of only more or less well connected images, and more or less coherent concepts and beliefs.

No doubt most acts of minding are governed by habitual, or law-like, patterns of response whose different characters distinguish world-making capabilities across a wide organic spectrum. Since it is virtually a truism that no organism could create the world anew at every instant, it is hardly surprising that habits or customs or instincts predominate in the production of experience. Yet wherever habit or instinct does not dictate how reality is to be constructed, imagination enters into the making of reality-experience. Thus, complexity in types and relations between acts of minding may have grown exponentially with the evolution of "higher" organisms as the imaginative element in the construction of reality became more socially diffused; i.e. as the construction of reality became more participatory-negotiary in character. But this complexity is not what I mean by the mystical.

The mystical dimension in understanding seems to have been acknowledged at the very birth of philosophy, as is evident in two insights of Heraclitus. These are of interest here since they attest to the usefulness of semiotic metaphors for understanding thought. The first insight, that all is flux, manifestly informs Whitehead’s choice of process as a guiding metaphor (as a pivotal concept of his metaphysical imaginary). This choice bears witness to his conviction that "metaphoring," and hence imagination, are indispensable to philosophical understanding. While he does not mention the second insight explicitly, it is consonant with his elevation of creativity to the category of the ultimate. Whitehead observes, for instance, that the idea of process, or "passing on," is bound up with the meaning of creare ("to bring forth, beget, produce"). And Heraclitus can be read as commenting on the intimate connection between creativity and the perceptual aspects of process.10 Consider the famous fragment (Diels 101) which reads (according to Luigi Romeo): "The lord, who has the Oracle in Delphi, neither discloses nor hides his thought, but indicates it through signs."11 The significance of this observation for understanding cognition, says Romeo, lies in the implication that the intimate nature of things is hidden in all of us, so that "each person must analyze, himself on the basis of internal signs (as well as external ones that might act only as catalysts)." This means, in other words, that "each human being has his own built-in oracle as part of his mind," which a person discovers through intuitions.12

This may be the semiotic key to Whitehead’s cryptic remark, which he calls an "axiom of empiricism": that "all knowledge is derived from, and verified by, direct intuitive observation" (AI 177). This "axiom" is consonant with Berkeley’s emphasis on the direct apprehension of ideas as the principal basis of our knowledge of reality. But Whitehead’s response to the vexed question of the nature and genesis of our ideas and capacity for reason was bound to differ radically from that of both Berkeley and Kant, given that one of his overriding concerns was to observe the indissociability of conceptual bipolarities. For ideas in this view cannot be coherently conceived as stemming either from "out there" or "in here." Pursuing the semiotic hints of Heraclitus a little further, one is led to regard the "stuff" of mindings as arising from, or better perhaps precipitated out of, creative affective responses to potential influences. These are conveyed by "external" signs that prompt psychosomatic mediations (or embodied, usually habitual, but inherently imaginative syntheses of the sensible and conceptual).

This conclusion, that metaphor is indispensable for understanding consciousness as an ongoing, essentially imaginative precipitation of the meanings inherent in signs, is implicit in Whitehead’s theory of perception. Here he distinguishes between two modes -- causal efficacy and presentational immediacy -- linked by an active synthetic functioning which he terms "symbolic reference" (S 8). The mode of causal efficacy does justice to the consideration that Kant only half-acknowledged in the idea of noumena: there must be "external influences" that condition "inner" imaginative processes. The mode of presentational immediacy refers to the projection of images that results from an internal processing of "outside" influences.

Causal efficacy also meets Berkeley’s challenge to clarify the fundamental notion of causality. Without needing to deny the existence of "outer objects," Whitehead’s response to Berkeley is formulated as the principle of conformation whereby "what is already made becomes a determinant of what is in the making" (S 46). But since determinants that are actually relevant can only be inferred from concrete events, by arguing backwards to those factors in the past which have provided the conditions for the present, Whitehead’s interpretation of the notion of matter is not vulnerable to Berkeley’s objection that insentient matter could not possibly cause ideas and images. Every process of becoming must begin somewhere, before going on to new "things." So Whitehead’s reply to Berkeley is, in effect, that matter really does matter in the ordinary sense of the word, since whatever acquires material existence is always capable of influencing by means of signs the becomings of subsequent "things."

Perception in the mode of causal efficacy also points to the reason why there are bodies in the first place. Only bodies are capable of feeling feelings. Bodies and their various organs are the necessary primary receptors of the multifarious influences conveyed by signs qua possibilities, for that is what signs come down to.13 And signs in general have the power to arouse concrete feelings in embodied subjects; such as, for instance, the "qualitative feels" in conscious experiences.14

The function of symbolic reference is thus to bring harmony out of the meeting of the two modes of perception, one of which faces the "outer" world while the other is engaged in the "inward" constructive or projective tasks that result in sense-data. Functioning on the basis of the principle that "the how of our present experience must conform to the what of the past in us" (S 58), symbolic reference operates in the intersection of the two modes of perception, an intersection at which "a pair of such percepts must have elements of structure in common, whereby they are marked out for the action of symbolic reference" (S 49). Once again imagination appears to be the only faculty capable of performing such a "marking out."15 Moreover, Whitehead emphasizes that symbolic reference, at least in human symbolisms, is generally a two-way affair in which the symbol and the symbolized are frequently interchangeable, a situation that suggests a reciprocal interaction between secondary (poetic) imagination and the social or cultural aspect of symbolizing.16

Insisting on the imaginative factor in the projection of sense -- objects in no way implies that they are illusory -- a consideration that everyday life gainsays, since often fatal material consequences ensue from representing things wrongly. The possibility of error in imaginative activity also indicates that the mode of presentational immediacy, which gives rise to that vivid but sometimes hallucinatory play of symbols that constitutes the sensory world, is secondary to the mode of causal efficacy. Acts of representing that result from perception in the latter mode give rise to the projection of images as conditioned acts of becoming. And inasmuch as no act of becoming is ever completely determined, it must always involve an element of self-determination. In one of his most important insights, Whitehead holds that "self-determination is always imaginative in its origin" (PR 245). Hence in so far as perceptions can be called emergent features of a self-determining activity, images can be called real (primary) imaginings.17

To summarize, the theory of symbolic reference supports the view of a percipient event as a working through of various (potentially creative) imaginative interpretations. As such it is always subject to errors that can be controlled but not governed entirely by practical and/or socially established evaluative or critical methods.18 The indispensable factor of interpretation in the dynamic processes of semiosis even leads to the idea that there is a generic form of imagination in physical becoming, in addition to a primary or radical form in human perception, a consideration that would indeed justify calling creativity the category of the ultimate, just as Whitehead maintains. The field of imagination at any rate is broad, ranging from automatic, instinctual, or reflex actions (in which the problem of meaning is virtually, but not entirely, non-existent), to more or less habitual modes of response to "natural signs," and rising ultimately to sophisticated conceptual activity and various poetic or secondary forms of meaning -- making in cultural and social significations.19 In the higher reaches of semiotic activity an increase in imaginative freedom is accompanied by a greater risk of error. Thus the variety and complexity of human cognitive activity is scarcely surprising, since this sort of activity requires balancing a multitude of factors that stem partly from private (subjective) feelings and Intuitions and partly from public institutions that are the final arbiters of legitimate modes of symbolizing.

At this point it is possible to distinguish roughly between the mystical and the mythical dimensions of rational understanding. The mystical element belongs to the category of the private or personal, while the mythical element belongs to the public. For it is only in the private dimension of experiencing that the (usually fleeting) realization can occur-the apercu that, as Whitehead puts it, "we are in the world and the world is in us" (MT 165). Indeed, in the Heraclitean picture I have sketched the world is the scene of a restless play of signs and symbols that, for its more sentient creatures, speaks as much through embodied minds as to them.20 The emphasized words, it is important to note, do not imply that meaning dissolves into a random series of conventional modes of symbolization and interpretation. Semiotic activity in general aims to make meanings palpable, often in a literal sense. The world is a bath of signs, many of which carry practically useful, indeed vitally important, information about the spatiotemporal configurations of events in the immediate environment.

Referring to the relatively stable, common or garden "sense-data" which certain forms of minding produce (in their encounters with "nature-in-the-raw"), Whitehead observes that "We enjoy the symbol, but we also penetrate to the meaning. The symbols do not create their meaning: the meaning, in the form of actual effective beings reacting upon us, exists for us in its own right. But the symbols discover this meaning for us (S 57, emphasis added),21 a remark that recalls Wittgenstein’s famous conclusion of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is"; except that the how of world-making, if it is ultimately dependent on imaginative interpretations of signs or symbolisms, becomes every bit as mysterious as the fact that it is. The putatively solid and objective display of "outward appearances," in which hard-headed empiricists place so much trust, is only a partly reliable compendium of more or less standardized interpretations of "natural" signs. But since human beings usually deal with symbols (i.e., signs that already bear the imprints of prior interpretations), empirical observations become more or less complete instances of symbolizings that are inherently subject to reinterpretations. Thus there is an intrinsic ambiguity in the categories of the mental and the physical and a certain arbitrariness, as well as mystery, in cognition. Indeed, "it is a matter of pure convention," says Whitehead, as to which of our experiential activities we term mental and which physical" (S 20).

Whitehead is often quoted as saying that western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Since Plato is often cited as the source of the sharp separation of the sensible and the intelligible that has preoccupied subsequent generations of philosophers, it is hard to overestimate the significance of Whitehead’s footnote. He helps show that a variety of forms of imagination is required to bridge the chasm opened up by Plato between the sensible and the intelligible, a bridging that must take into account a large number of fundamental polar contrasts involved in the contrast of physical-mental?22 Given the obscurity of imagination, it is not easy to see why natural philosophy could be anything but an attempt to rationalize mysticism.

IV. On "Naturing," "Culturing," and Myth

I have argued that a natural philosophy that begins with the assumption that certain fundamental bipolarities are indissociable at once demythologizes a badly mythologized rationality and opens the door to a mythopoeic component in the elucidation of experience. It also begins with what is almost a truism among non-philosophers: experience is inescapably "messy." Experience is always moulded by events, forces and symbolisms stemming from a variety of sources, including private and public histories, -- competitive and cooperative inclinations, natural and socio-cultural imperatives. Even our most seemingly direct encounters with nature cannot be excluded: that peculiar red in the sunset is neither part of the permanent outer" fixtures of the world nor a product of rule-governed "inner" constructions. Rather it is emblematic of what is manifestly possible in human experiencing; not imposed upon the world by minds so much as precipitated in embodied acts of minding.

That an animal body is first and foremost a society (as Whitehead reminds us) is a useful indicator that every rationalization of experience depends at bottom on a more or less happy conjunction of "naturing" and "culturing." For we have arrived at what appears to be the most general and indissociable of polarities. All acts of "naturing" (or "raw" sensing) and "culturing" involve an amalgam of (to use Castoriadis’s terms) "radical imagination" and "a social instituting imaginary." The latter notion provides the essential public or social counterweight to radical imagination since, as Castoriadis points out, the proper contrast to society is not the individual -- every individual is a product of social forces -- but rather the singular psyche.23 Thus the contrast of psyche-soma in the mindings of a singular individual evokes a parallel contrast of society-psyches. And analogous to the indissociable contrast of soma and psyche at personal levels of representing is a like indissociability in the contrast between the "body" or institutions of a culture and its "collective soul." Thus the functions of radical imagination and the radical social instituting imaginary are closely interdependent, which perhaps explains why the latter notion has been, says Castoriadis, "totally ignored throughout the whole history of philosophical, sociological, and political, thought" (RI 136).

Just as the radical imagination refers to the "substance" of singular psyches, a radical instituting imaginary refers to the peculiar "soul" of a culture. But here a recognition of an intermingling of the singular and the plural seems necessary since even the innovative mindings of a singular psyche are inevitably part of an enculturated struggle to formulate adequate symbolisms to express the relations between an "I" and a "We." The putatively unique "I" of a singular psyche, conceived as a dynamic sequence of private acts of representing, is in any case only a sequence of abstractions -- there is no such thing as a whole and completed "now" of an isolated Self. Singular psyches are better conceived, in the view I have been sketching, as fleeting nodes in a multi-layered semiotic network whose connectivities are both ensured and characterized by shared modes of symbolization, or signification, such as language supplies.24 Here the "We" often claims the last word, but so long as some vestige of radical imagination remains, singular psyches are not subservient to public customs, institutional definitions, entrained instincts, ingrained habits, and soon. As poets and artists continually remind us, many acts of representing are inherently creative and thus capable of transcending established modes of representing.

Transcendence is a tricky notion, however, and requires qualification, for the world is also partly at the mercy of its representing creatures whose activities, at least in the case of "higher" organisms, can have an integrative or a disintegrative effect. There is no lack of evidence in this century alone that imagination does not always lead to happy outcomes. This existential truth is re-acknowledged in every assertion that freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility.

Responsibility at the private level of minding belongs to the order of feelings, yet at the public or social level the topic of responsibility leads to that of myths, for every society is self-creating. Thus what Castoriadis calls "social imaginary significations" resonates with the idea of myth in the large sense of the word, since these significations, he notes, shape the society just because they shape the psyches of individuals. That is to say, they create "a ‘representation’ of the world, including the society itself and its place in this world . . . [which] is far from being an intellectual construct" (RI 152). They make a society a being for itself. So while societies are free creations, and thus creations ex nihilo, they are neither "creations in nihilo, nor cum nihilo... They are creations under constraints" (RI 149). This suggests that a culture is an evolving process in which primary modes of signification emerge under constraints and eventually become embodied (or perhaps ossified) in its institutions.

What powers, one wonders, more potent than myths could enforce constraints at the cultural level? In respect to social significations, meaning -- making and evaluative judging (in various art-forms, rituals, ceremonies, political organizations, and so on) are ultimately informed by all our attempts to understand. Myths, as Frye puts it, tell us "why we are here and where we are going" (WP 23). Thus myths express what a society is trying to make of itself, for better or for worse. It seems to follow that, just as a dominant philosophical imaginary governs the quality of understandings of the world, so the myths that inform a self-creating social imaginary must delimit what that society can as well as should make of itself, while leaving certain possibilities open. A social instituting imaginary may therefore be regarded as good and/or healthy (as well as free and responsible) just to the extent that it fosters the creation and preservation of myths incorporating "beneficial" insights in its processes of self-creation; that is, ideas that are "right" enough to enable long-term harmonies in its "naturings" and "culturings." Without doubt the meanings of "right" and "beneficial" are obscure and controversial, but it makes just as much sense to speak of better or worse social instituting imaginaries as it does to speak of better or worse metaphysical imaginaries.

My conclusion is that the natural philosopher must strive to become as much mythologist as (to use Whitehead’s phrase) "critic of abstractions" (SMW 87). The truly creative ones, like Whitehead, are also creators of mythopoeic concepts.25 This requires facing up to certain political responsibilities, assuming that the general aim is to improve our collective understanding of and attitudes towards each other and towards nature. As Whitehead maintains, the function of reason ideally is "to promote the art of life" (FR 8), a function whose dependence on a sense of responsibility becomes increasingly evident as human beings, the self-styled rational animal, become (with much help from science) ever more globally powerful. Hence the growing environmental crisis is reason enough to locate myth at the center of rationality. Yet this re-centering yields no paradox of rational thought, nor does it lead to a conflict with science. There can be no doubt that science is an impressive monument to the powers of human imagination. But uncritical proponents of the scientistic ideology (and the myth of scientific superrationality) steadily subvert our understanding of this world by ignoring the extent to which it is itself an ideology supported only by a dubious myth. Hence the aptness of another of Whitehead’s maxims: "As we think, we live" (MT 63), which could serve as a guide for natural philosophers bent on sailing into the stormy intersection of nature and culture – "As we think about the imaginative dimensions of our world-makings, so we will live."



1. Whitehead concisely sums up the situation: "we must grasp the topic in the rough, before we smooth it out and shape it" (MT 6). I examine this idea from a number of angles in my Myths of Reason: Vagueness, Rationality, and the Lure of Logic (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1995), and discuss the Kantian project to delimit a precise domain of rationality in my "On the Poverty of Scientism, Or: The Ineluctable Roughness of Rationality," Metaphilosophy 28 (1997), 102-122.

2. E.A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954), 16-17.

3. See Social Text 14 (1996) for a sample collection of essays on the so-called "Science Wars" the ongoing polemics between the critics of science and its apologists who think that "culturist" critiques of science are attempts to spread unreason.

4. See, e.g., 5MW 16: "Science has never shaken off the impress of its origin in the historical revolt of the later Renaissance. It has remained predominantly an anti-rationalist movement based upon a naive faith .... Science repudiates philosophy. In other words, it has never cared to justify its faith or to explain its meanings; and has remained blandly indifferent to its refutation by Hume."

5.He says, for instance, that "The father of European philosophy, in one of his many moods of thought, laid down the axiom that the deeper truths must be adumbrated by myths" (MT 10).

6.This primary empirical consideration, which affirms the importance of the mind-body distinction, is strongly contested, says Searle, by "the professionals in philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, neurobiology, and cognitive science" ("Consciousness and the Philosophers," The New York Review of Books [March 6,1997],43-50). Indeed, "the history of mind over the past one hundred years has been in large part an attempt to get rid of the mental by showing that no mental phenomena exist over and above physical phenomena" (43).

7.This consideration is systematically ignored in various attempts to link, for instance, the intricacies of quantum theory to conscious phenomena.

8.Cf. Charles S. Peirce who observes that "just as we say that a body is in motion, and not that motion is in a body, we ought to say that we are in thought and not that thought is in us" (CP 5.289). This remark is consonant with Whitehead’s observation that "mind is inside its images, not its images inside the mind…" (Quoted by W.E. Hocking, "Whitehead On Mind and Nature," The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, edited by P.A. Schilpp [New York: Tudor, 1951],383-404, esp. 385). In so far as minding is not a direct confrontation with actualities, but is rather a process dealing with floods of possibilities, the semiotic imagery is highly appropriate since signs, as Peirce insists, belong to the order of possibilities. I explore these points in my Myths of Reason, especially Chapter 6.

9. The emphasis on possibility is important since even the "solid" objects of the world can be understood as (to adopt Mill’s phrase) "permanent possibilities of sensation."

10. Whitehead is explicit about his debt to Heraclitus in his choice of the pivotal metaphor of process. He remarks, for instance, that "the flux of things is one ultimate generalization around which we must weave our philosophical system" (PR 208). Furthermore, "no entity can be divorced from the notion of creativity" (PR 213).

11. Luigi Romeo, ‘Heraclitus and the Foundations of Semiotics," Frontiers in Semiotics, ed. By John Deely, Brooke Williams, and Felicia Kruse (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 224-234, esp. 232.

12. Romeo, "Heraclitus and the Foundations of Semiotics," 233. Romeo links this fragment to Diels 116: "Every human being has the faculty not only of knowing himself but also of reasoning rightly."

13. Referring to an assumption held by both Hume and Kant, Whitehead observes that "what is already given for experience can only be derived from that natural potentiality which shapes a particular experience in the guise of causal efficacy" (S 50). Here he stresses the role of the body, for in the mode of causal efficacy, "the almost instantaneously precedent bodily organs" impose their characters on the experience in question.

14. Cf. Peirce who describes an interpretant of a sign as "a feeling produced by it," thus closely linking the interpretation of a sign qua possibility (or mere potentiality) to a peculiar quality of feeling that is, to what is simply felt. See, e.g., CP 5.475.

15. The description of the action of symbolic reference recalls the Kantian synthesis, for symbolic reference is a "synthetic activity" that "fuses" the two modes of perception into one perception to yield ‘what the actual world is for us" (S 18). In this process, appearances are mediated by "colors, sounds, tastes, etc., which can with equal truth be described as our sensations or as the qualities of the actual things which we perceive. These qualities are thus relational between the perceiving subject and the perceived things," where the perceived things "are actual in the same sense as we are" (S 21-22).

16. Whitehead remarks, for instance, that symbolism "is inherent in the very texture of human life" (S 61-62).

17. The point is consistent with the fact that imaging does not always require the stimulation of "external" influences, as is evidenced aplenty in dreaming.

18. Symbolizing ultimately refers to valuations: "The object of symbolism is the enhancement of the importance of what is symbolized" (S 63).

19. The importance of imagination throughout the organic realm is indicated wherever organisms manifest a capacity for error (as when a fish is deceived by an artificial fly). As Whitehead observes, "symbolic reference is still dominant in experience when ... mental analysis is at a low ebb" (S 19). But as we descend the organic scale there is less and less conceptual analysis. In regard to the most primitive forms of organization, Whitehead stresses the fact that a society "bends its individual members to function in conformity with its needs, so that symbolic reference gives way to vast systems of inherited symbolisms that result in automatic or reflex action" (S 73). Here we see why an ontology based on the metaphor of habit rather than law or mechanical action and reaction is superior for describing the order in nature.

20. Peirce usefully distinguishes between signs and symbols, the latter referring to the conventional side of the semiotic activities of human organisms. He also suggestively remarks that the entire universe "is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs" (CP 5.548n).

21. The emphasis is added. Thus images might well be called (to use Susanne Langer’s phrase) "the primitive symbols of ‘things’."

22. Given Whitehead’s concern to avoid what might be called the fallacy of polar divisions, his dismissal of S.T. Coleridge (in his references in Science and the Modern World to the revival of Berkeley’s protest by the romantic poets of the 19th century) is puzzling. Coleridge too believes it is essential to renounce the Cartesian temptation to divide (as opposed to distinguish) antithetical but interdependent fundamental notions, such as subject and object, and to insist that concrete experience demands that philosophy respect the unity of such polar distinctions. It is not hard to believe that Coleridge would have been highly sympathetic to, for instance, Whitehead’s remark that "In our direct apprehension of the world around us we find that curious habit of claiming a twofold unity with the observed data …. Our immediate occasion is in the society of occasions forming the soul, and our soul is in our present occasion. The body is ours, and we are an activity within our body" (MT 149). Such claims lend support to the notion of primary imagination, as well as to the importance of secondary imagination in philosophic understanding, and both ideas are urged by Coleridge in Biographia Literaria, especially Chapter XII.

23. "The true polarity is between society and the psyche (the psyche-soma)" (RI 148). There is therefore no avoiding the topic of society which is, as Castoriadis remarks, "an abysmal subject," an allusion that recalls the abyss from which Kant retreated.

24.According to Castoriadis, language provides the key to understanding how reason is able to connect the realms of "inner" and "outer." But a more semiotically oriented approach, which stresses not only the ability to verbalize but also the irrepressible human urge to symbolize in many different ways, is capable of accommodating the powers of words (as sophisticated, conventional symbols) to the powers of other, more universal, forms of symbolism, such as those of mathematics or art.

25. The natural philosopher’s mythopoeic task is perhaps best expressed by Emily Dickinson who enjoins poets to "Tell all the truth/but tell it slant." For it is just at the point where telling how things really are in this world is obliged to forgo descriptions in terms of material relations and begin to deal with the "inward" spiritual dimension that Frye’s observations become especially pertinent. He remarks, for instance, that ‘the spiritually conceptual is the ‘underthought’, or progression of metaphors underneath the explicit or ideological meaning . . . [since] every system of conceptual thought has a metaphorical and diagrammatic skeleton beneath it" (WP 120).



CJ John Rundell, "Creativity and Judgement: Kant on Reason and Imagination." Rethinking Imaginations: Culture and Creativity, edited by Gillian Robinson and John Rundell. London: Routledge, 1994, 87117.

CP Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Volumes 1-6, edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss; Volumes 7-8, edited by Arthur W. Burks. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960.

CPR Immanuel Kant Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Norman Kemp Smith. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

D John Sallis, Deliminitations: Phenomenology and the End of Metaphysics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, second edition, 1995.

MC John R. Searle, "The Mystery of Consciousness," The New York Review of Books (November 2, 1995), 60-66. See also John R. Searle, "The Mystery of Consciousness: Part II," The New York Review of Books (November 16, 1995), 54-61.

RI Cornelius Castoriadis, ‘Radical Imagination and the Social Instituting Imaginary," Rethinking Imaginations Culture and Creativity, edited by Gillian Robinson and John Rundell. London: Routledge, 1994, 136-154.

WP Northrop Frye, Words With Power. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1992.