Objects of Negation

Now this may not appear immediately as a religious thread… but it is.

Objects of negation are a particular interest of mine and run rampant throughout all religious scriptures…

What is an object of negation? An object of negation is an object that is understood indirectly through the negation of another object.
For example, if we assume that there are only two sexes and I say Bill is not a girl - then the subsequent object of negation is “Bill is a Boy”.
Bill is Boy is a phenomenon that is fully understood through the negation of Bill is a Girl.

Similarly we have other understood phenomena that are objects of negation but are objects that are a mere absence of something:
For examples…
A draught is a negated object of rain
Darkness is a negated object of light
Ignorance is a negated object of knowledge
Vacuum is a negated object of matter
And the list goes on and on (it would be interesting for people to add to this list).

As can be seen… a draught, darkness, ignorance, vacuum, etc are nonexistent phenomena as they are phenomena that are imputed by the mind that apprehends them by negating another phenomena. In other words they are objects of mind that are imputed through the mere absence of other phenomena. They have no characteristics in themselves other than they lack characteristics of the negated object.

These objects do not exist other than by the mere imputation and fabrication of human consciousness - nevertheless they have measureable effects.

If we read religious scriptures with this in mind, we begin to understand many of the symbols and references in the scriptures.
The doors begin to open and we begin to understand the meaning rather than the words.

As an illustration let us ponder the meaning of this symbol - Yin & Yang (there is no correct or incorrect answer).
Through concentrating and contemplating on an object we get to understand that object thoroughly.

In a similar context, you might have heard of the Via Negativa or apophatic theology. According to this religious logic, the existence of God can only be known through negation. A prime proponent of this negative theology was the fifteenth century Neoplatonist, Nicholas Cusanus. Here’s a good link to Cusanus and his theology of Learned Ignorance and the Via Negativa.


Also, here’s a wiki link on apophatic theology.



I’m with the Eastern religious philosophers who tend to believe that it is more important to see what we consider as polar opposites, by which seeing we define each, as just places on the wheel of our experiences. These “oppositions” you decribe are semantic, not experiential.

Hi jonquil, thank you for the read. I did not read it all (as I have a dreadful headache at the moment) but I read most of it.

I found the wiki link a lot easier to read as it gave a general overview that does not necessarily relate to a concept of God.
As I am not a Christian, it becomes difficult for me to grasp many of the concepts as there is little historical framework for me to operate from.
But what I read aligns very well with Buddhist schools of thought of negating objects.
I particularly like how Nicholas Cusanus conceptualized the Universe from a cosmological point of view which, when pondered, was brave to do in the fifteenth century (given that he died 100 years prior to Galileo’s birth).

I suspect this would require more reading and contemplation when my headache subsides.

Agree on many levels but it is difficult to understand your view from such a brief response (but brief is more often than not the best response).
From my experience, if a person grasps very strongly at Life (for example) then they will subsequently also grasp very strongly at the negation of Life (death - which is non-existent and fabricated). The more strongly we grasp at these polar opposites the more unpleasant the reality we create for ourselves and fear arises in the hearts of men/women who grasp strongly to life and death.

Similarly, if I have no-money then this is a negated object of money. By definition no-money is a non-existent object but yet it still appears very strongly to the mind that apprehends no-money and its impact appears very real. No-money cannot purchase the things that money can. If we are upset and a friend approaches us and asks us “Why are you upset?” we then point to empty space and say “Nothing”. What appears to our friends mind is voidness but what appears to our own mind is no-money (the negation of money).

As a consequence - I experience mental pain whereas my friend does not experience mental pain.

The concept of “negative theology” as discussed in the article linked above seems very useful, no matter where someone is coming from - Buddhist, Christian, secular… whatever.

You’re covering the same ground I’ve been on for a while myself. Cold is the absence of heat (molecular movement), and another which is a little harder to understand is that a fabrication (lie/untruth) is the absence of Truth. A lie does have its own properties or characteristics, but they are false since it is conceivable or sustainable only in the human mind.

I tend to think of yin & yang (an excellent symbol for Truth) as more of a representation of complementary things such as male/female, logic/emotion, objective/subjective. And as those pairings have some overlap, I think the symbol might be more accurate to have shaded boundaries between light and dark, or better yet, a spectrum blend from red to violet keeping the white (composite light/Truth) and black (the unknown/unknowable) spots. I have a problem visualizing it though.

Thank You Painful Truth, many people on this forum have covered this topic but there is a huge difference between understanding something on an intellectual level and experiencing something. For example, if your partner tells you a big lie and you find out about it… do you think “This is an absence of Truth” or do you feel angry, upset, or hurt. From a scientific point of view there appears to be a mismatch between theory (the intellectual understanding) and the results (the experience). You, I and others will experience mental pain until this mismatch is resolved (and I do very much experience mental pain).

I like your input about the Ying and Yang symbol. What you are describing about the shaded boundaries is already there but represented in a different form (you just need to examine it a little closer and you will find it).

The Ying and Yang symbol, on a superficial level is about complementary appearances. It achieves this by obvious means such as the solid boundaries between black and white. On a not so obvious level it achieves this by placing a bit of black in the white and a bit of white in the black side (which symbolizes that within white lies the seed of black).

But, on a very subtle level it illustrates that the distinction between black and white is not obvious as it is difficult to determine where black begins/ends or where white begins/end (as per your shaded analogy). Look at the symbol and find the beginning of the black or white - where is it?

When is the precise point of a sunrise and when is the precise point of a sunset?
Can the sun rise if there was no previous sunset?
Cause and Effect then instructs us that the cause of the sunrise is the prior sunset - therefore the sunset is the beginning of the sunrise.
But what is then the cause of the prior sunset?

What is the significance of the shape/form of the black and white of the Yin & Yang symbol?
Is this shape/form random or deliberate? If it is deliberate then what thoughts does it conjure up?

Intellectually this is all very easy to understand but experientially this is not how we see the world. We (including me) see the world as discrete independent objects that exist from their own side. We see and experience things as solid and tangible forms that do not have causes - sunrise and sunset appear as two distinct and unrelated objects.

If our partner lies to us then this appears as a solid-tangible-lie that exists separate from its causes – the consequence of this way of thinking is mental pain.
When we begin to understand the causes of this lie then the mental pain diminishes to the degree with which we understand the causes. We also know this from direct experience but there seems to be a haphazard and fumbling approach to our method (we are serendipity and forgetful scientists when it comes to finding the causes of our own peaceful states of mind).

A picture tells a thousand words.

The fifteenth and sixteenth century Catholic mystics were really something, and what we learn from them stands up with anything in the mystical tradition anywhere any time. I think they were rather gutsy myself, particularly the Neoplatonists (some of whom were burned, most notably Giordano Bruno), considering the stature of the Church and the threat of the Inquisition.

Whatever mystical tradition carries the most energy for you is the one you should go with. I like to study as many of them as I can to get different perspectives, but my energy is with that of the Catholics because I was raised Catholic. I really love the ideas of Nicholas Cusanus, who speaks from the perspective of one who found a language to describe the mystical experience of reality and God in a way that still works even today. When I discovered that science had caught up with Cusanus, that made my day, my whole life really. I am a happy soul.

Thank you again, it has really opened up my eyes and it is something that I intend of looking into in the future. The problem that I have found with I Love Philosophy is that it is encouraging me to buy books with money that I do not have, to place these books on shelves where there is no space and to read them in the time that I do not have. But such is this existence of ours. Thank you again, it is wonderful.

Thank you anon, I am familiar with the concepts of emptiness but merely from an intellectual point of view. I have no experience or realizations of emptiness itself and so do not consider my input of any worth. But it was a great read and something to ponder (it raises a lot of questions that I do not know how to ask).

I know what you mean. I have the money but not the space. Luckily, a lot of stuff can be found on the net I’m pleased to say.

Mozart said for him the music was in the spaces… a profound thought.

Rodin said that sculpting was the art of the hole and the lump. I sometimes think of both Rodin and his protege, the poet Rilke, as architects of the sculptured spaces.

You evoke the Taijitu, but seem to neglect the fundamental truth of that symbol. In doing so, I can only imagine you are being coy. Compare the strong, moving lines of the Yi to the weak, unmoving lines. Extremes do not produce negation but rather sympathetic elements. Real difference only exists between similar things.

The desert and the jungle are both marked by opposite extremes, but in their extreme nature they are both equally hostile to human habitation. In temperate climates, we can complain of too little or too much rain in a meaningful sense. Trapped in a room devoid of light, you cannot see. Stare at the sun and you will become blind. Under normal lighting, we can distinguish between light and shadow. They say the wisest man to have ever lived is one who recognized his own ignorance. And in the deepest vacuum of space, particles and anti-particles spontaneously arise only to cancel each other out.

Nagarjuna warns us against thinking in terms of “this and not that”. While my own notion of the Mean is decidedly along the Confucian/Aristotelian line, I can’t help but admire the bold decisiveness of the Nagarjunan path. And within the confines of this discussion, I think the wisdom of Nagarjuna and Wen needs more emphasis.

Hello Xunzian, I do not comprehend fully what you are stating but if you think the wisdom of Nagarjuna and Wen needs more emphasis then be my guest and please elaborate. It is not something I am completely familiar with as it is a lifes work to comprehend this type philosophy/logic. I have some reference books which I can dig out and try to follow the train of thought as I am open to discussion on this topic (the Middle Way).

Aristotle and Nagarjuna are sharing a meal at a fantastic resort on Santorini. The dessert course is fairly open-ended, so the waitress asks the two philosophers what they would like. In keeping with his ideal of the Mean, Aristotle asks what are the best and worst ingredients available. The waitress replies that they recently received a shipment of the finest Belgian chocolate – quite probably the best chocolate in the world. They also have a tub of peanut butter sitting around for tasteless American tourists, a foodstuff widely considered inedible within Europe. “Excellent!” says Aristotle, “I will take a mixture of that chocolate and the peanut butter! A high-concept Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, if you will.” The waitress takes down Aristotle’s order and then asks Nagarjuna what he wants. Nagarjuna thinks about it for a moment, and then orders the crème brûlée – commenting that he doesn’t really care what dessert he gets provided it contains neither the chocolate nor the peanut butter.

As for Wen, well, we don’t know the authors of the Yijing but King Wen is traditionally associated with the text and so failing real individuals, we may as well use his name as a signifier for all the different authors.

You can see in that image how straight lines become broken and broken lines become straight. The lines that change aren’t the weak lines, it is the strong line that transitions because the process of negation considered in the OP isn’t a matter of polar opposites, opposites lead to mutual creation. Objects of negation can only exist between fundamentally similar elements so that we can make the distinction of “this and not that”.

Back to the image of the Taijitu that you posted earlier:

Not how at the point of greatest whiteness a point of blackness arises and the whiteness wanes to black. White, at its fullest extension, is becoming black. Far from negating each other, these two elements are engaged in the process of co-creation.

Thank You Xunzian, a very special post.

I appreciate your point of view and would agree with you on many levels.

By object of negation I am referring to what appears to the consciousness and so when a human consciousness apprehends white it does not perceive white directly. It perceives everything that is not-white and then apprehends this as white (in a similar manner as with black). There is a generic image that forms within the consciousness of white which is formulated through the negation of everything that is not white. For white to appear to our consciousness there also appears an image to our consciousness of everything that is “not-white”. If this were not the case then the distinction of what is white would become confusing as what is not-white is ill-defined. When a human consciousness apprehends the Taijitu image it apprehends the black and white as two separate and distinct objects. These objects appear to the consciousness as two distinct and negated objects (everything that is not-white is black and everything that is not-black is white). After all, it would be incorrect to assume that everything that is not-white is white.

In a similar fashion, everything that is not-Elephant (table, chair, dog, car, planet, human, pen, cup, etc) is apprehended by the human consciousness as Elephant. If someone points to a frog and asks us “Is that an Elephant?” our response would be “that is not-Elephant”.

With the Taijitu, indeed it is a symbol of co-creation for the valid reasons that you describe but I would say only on a conventional or functional level.
When I look at the symbol I do not perceive separate and distinct objects that are in the process of co-creation. I perceive, as you say, white at its fullest extension is becoming black (but then again, at what point is white becoming black?). This is an interesting concept to ponder - at what point does white become black? We can point to it with our clumsy fingers but if we zoomed in and in and in and in and in and in with our minds - would we find a definite point that white transformed and became black? How is it possible for one substance to transform into another substance? If it is possible then where/when does this transformation occur? If it is not possible for one substance to transform into another then, by logical conclusion, it can be said that those two substances are the same substance but appear different.

Note: It is worth considering that there are two factors occuring here; a) what appears to human consciousness, b) what exists in reality

I think that area provides a good starting point. Yangming argued (I think successfully) that the mind and the world are coextensive. If that is placed within the understanding that the world is a hermeneutic process, the first (the world of the mind) and the second (the world of symbol) collapse into a single entity. How do you divide the world of the mind from the world of symbols since the mind understands/creates reality symbolically? Now if you believe that these symbols represent something (that is, reject solipsism), then it follows that these constructs are ultimately mirrors or reality, right?

In this thread I discussed this issue with Anon, though that is actually a response to an earlier discussion Anon and I had had, which is also linked in that thread. Sorry, a bit of digging is required, but the links are there so it shouldn’t be too hard. Actually, both threads that I linked in that particular one should elucidate my position on this issue as clearly as I can.

Basically, my position boils down to an “imaginary force” argument where the frame of reference that the question is being approached is flawed, so a whole bunch of slop has to be thrown on to account for that flawed perspective. A few different things can happen because of this, on the one hand it can become overly grandiose because extra “imaginary forces” have to be thrown on to account for the initial “imaginary force” until the whole system becomes this unwieldy gobbledegook, but one that can still be used more-or-less accurately in a predictive/useful manner. The other alternative is to try and strip everything down, often just to a particular “imaginary force” at play and create a system that, while logically rigorous is not predictive/useful. The former is bad because eventually the exceptions become so pervasive that the system collapses (often sped along by deconstruction), and the latter is bad because it doesn’t work/achieve what it set out to do, so why bother discussing it at all?

Continuing to answer you post in reverse order :wink:, I’d say that the Taijitu is infinitely divisible, so at all times white is becoming black and black is becoming white. However, after white has reached its fullest extension, we notice the black because it continues to wax while the white either recedes or remains constant, depending on your view.

I’m reminded of a very silly paradox that deals with this issue, the White Horse Discourse. We need to be careful of the categories we employ and how we employ them. As an animal, a frog is closer to an Elephant than, say, a plant. And as a living being, a plant is closer to an Elephant than a rock. Consider the following excerpt from Black, Alison Harley. “Man and Nature in the Philosophical thought of Wang Fu-chih” p. 161-164:

If we accept that view, it would mean that the sameness that persists throughout the change is an imposition of our understanding of it as opposed to intrinsic to the thing. Hence hermeneutic reality.

Admittedly, there is also the issue of causality which is important for all of this. If we accept causality (and not accepting it results in nonsense, so I’m OK with taking it as a given Hume’s reductio ad absurdum aside – in no small part because incorporating it would force a more post-modern, meaningless outlook and those are bad) the changes that occur in things aren’t radical breaks but gradual. In the functions that we impose to model our universes, there are few that involve total and complete breaks followed by starting off at an entirely different point and most of those functions are either cyclical or periodic, which reaffirms the same point.

But sometimes we miss part of the experience and the change goes on without us. I remember coming home after being away for a long time. During that time, my younger brother had grown up and I literally did not recognize him until he gave me a hug and I realized this must be my little brother!

We can agree that there are certain things that remain the same that allow us to identify a thing as a thing but I don’t agree that they are in any way intrinsic to thing rather they are imposed from without. Lest you think me a solipsist, that applies to myself as well! A thing’s final cause, inasmuch as it can be said to exist at all, can only be applied externally to a thing. Planets don’t orbit because it is their telos to orbit, the gravitational field of the sun (and to a lesser extent, other bodies) make it the telos of the planets to orbit. Imposed from without and responding to, that is all.

The mind reflects the world and that reflection is a composite, some would call it an artifice, because the image created contains a plurality of things together that have been subjectively combined due to circumstance (or habit, if you want to privileged the observer). In that way, the mind and the world are coextensive – the subject and the object.

After that, it is just a matter of determining how well that subjective mash-up works within the process of change as opposed to how well it lines up with any particular instance of reality within the context of time. Unless one is, for example, a historian where the goods internal to the field demand a more precise understanding not devoid of context (certainly not!) but the issue of repeatability is less of a concern. One doesn’t study Frederick the Great with an eye towards winning battles in the Seven Years War! But that, again, is a digression based on values. As a scientist, I normally think of reality more in terms of scientific models but that particular blindness of mine need not be the ultimate standard, as I’ve tried to demonstrate here with this rambling bit.

So, in reifying symbols to arbitrarily create groups, we can and do create objects of negation. But the nature of these systems is that they are marked by a fluidity of purpose while remaining contingent to said purpose. Indeed, Hans Herzberger examined the basic philosophical language of truth and came to the conclusions that there are multiple dimensions to truth, even in very basic statements such as the examples of negation that you gave above. Figure 2 on page 88 demonstrates what I am trying to say far more clearly than I can with my own words – though Figure 3 on the next page may actually be of more interest to our discussion as it directly deals with the sort of thing you are talking about.

The example is redness. Where you have a clear line between “red” and “not-red” which would seem to create the sort of negation you are talking about. But even in this case, there is a third category to which that dichotomy cannot be meaningfully applied: things with no color at all. Like ideas. “Happiness”, for example can neither be described by “red” nor by “not red”.

And that brings us back to Nagarjuna and his two-leveled concept of truth. But Anon and Ing are better people to talk to about that than I am :slight_smile: May as well admit the limits of my own knowledge.

Interesting Xunzian (I will need time to process what you have written to reply sensibly).

This is where we appear to differ in philosophical approaches and from this we head off on two separate tangents.

The assumption that appears to me is that you make a distinction between conceptual thought and non-conceptual thought.

To my mind it appears clearly that “happiness” can very easily be defined by “not-red”.
There is no great distinction in my mind between the concept of happiness and any other object that appears to the mind.

When the mind apprehends the object of red it does not apprehend red directly but rather apprehends it via a generic image of red.
A simple way if understanding this is that when I see Red the Red does not exist in my mind but rather an image of Red exists in my mind.

My mind conceptualises what red is and then when red appears to the eye consciousness it matches this conceptual image with what eye consciousness apprehends and then concludes “yes, this is red”. But prior to the eye consciousness apprehending red there must be a concept and generic image of red (in a similar way that there is a concept of happiness). If this were not the case then we could not dream of forms and colors as our eye consciousness is not actually apprehending red when we are asleep. So in a dream what is the distinction between happiness and the color red other than generic images and concepts that appear to the mind? In a dream there is no external basis for our experiences and yet we can still experience red and happiness.

If they are both concepts that appear to the mind then it can be concluded that “happiness” can be clearly described as being “not-red” as both “red” and “happiness” have no foundation in reality (when in a dream). The only difference is that in the waking world we can verify the concept of “red” with external phenomena but we cannot directly verify a concept of happiness with external phenomena. But this does not imply that, to the consciousness, “happiness” cannot be described as “not-red” as they are both concepts that appear to the mind irrespective of the method of verification.

Nagarjuna’s two levelled approach to the truth can be considered by reference to the Heart of Wisdom Sutra
Form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.

In this context we can arbitrarily assign Form as being white and emptiness as being black.

I will need to read your references in some greater detail and ponder what you have stated (this will take time and so I hope you can be patient for a response).

Thank You for that… I have never heard or read of the White Horse Discourse.

I knew a man who had was in the advanced stages of a degenerative disease along with symptoms of dementia.
Whenever he saw a fire-truck he sated “look at those men in that big red car with fire written on it”.
This was very interesting to ponder as he did not see a fire truck like I saw a fire truck - he saw a collection of parts that described an object that he was unfamiliar with. The collection of parts consisted of red, big car, and the word fire.

When I see this collection of parts I immediately impute fire-truck upon it but the gentlemen does not.

This is very easy to dismiss and say the man is not a normal case due to his brain damage.
We normal people only have an additional layer upon this that rapidly imputes fire-truck, but this does not suggest that the same process does not occur.
Being unaware of something through the force of familiarity, speed and habit does not indicate that this process is not occurring within our own minds.

Similarly if I hear a knock at the door, I go to the door and return and say “Xunzian, there is a man waiting for you at the door”.
You go to the door and return and state “There was only a two month old baby at the door step; I did not see a man.”
These two very distinct objects appear to the mind “A Man” and “A Baby”. Why?

There are in particualr two schools of Buddhist thought that are related to Nagarjuna.
The Madhyamika-Svatantrika: This school states that phenomena exist in dependence upon the mind that apprehends them but also that phenomena do also exist from their own side (or things exist but not as they necessarily appear to our consciousness).
The Madhyamika-Prasangikas: State that all phenomena lack inherent existence and are merely imputed by the mind (the mind also lacks inherent existence).

From this statement I could draw the conclusion that you find the Madhyamika-Svatrantika school of thought agreeable and the Madhyamika-Prasangika school of thought not so agreeable.

I am still working though your reference material and so please be patient.

Hello Xunzian (once again), it is taking me a while to go through your post and so I ask that you be patient again.

As a starting point what is important is to check one’s own motivation as the motivation provides a general underlying mood to a discussion.
I can only speak for myself but my motivation is to free my mind from mental discomfort and attain some inner peace (through the process of understanding the mind). This motivation determines how I approach questions, answers and thoughts and can often provide a tone that a third person is not aware of.

To check one’s own motivation is critical in any field (science, art, religion, or politics, or with relationships) as it is what will determine the outcome.
For me (and with Buddhism in general) motivation, intention, wish and desire are synonyms (these can have positive or negative effects).
Craving (in Buddhism) is generally viewed as a negative motivation, intention, wish or desire (it is negative as it results in an un-peaceful mind).

Reading the thread that consisted of Anon, yourself and others was interesting.

I think that craving is one element that is a source of problems but even more so than this is grasping at existence.
It is this grasping at existence that is the true nature of an un-peaceful mind.

To use as an example,
A mother has a baby and grasps strongly at this baby. This baby has the effect of fulfilling the mother’s life and makes her happy.
When the baby grows up, becomes an adult and leaves the home a void is left in the mothers mind.
This void is a sense of loss and a sense of suffering - this often leads to marriage break ups, mid-life crises and depression.

Where is the grasping occurring?
The grasping at existence here is the very concept of a “baby”. From a Buddhist point of view the baby does not exist at all.
What is the distinction between a baby and an adult other than a fabrication of mind?
They are labels that a human consciousness has imputed upon external objects.
What we are actually seeing is not a baby or an adult but rather a human that is in the process of continual change. If we search for a precise point that the baby transforms into an adult then we cannot find one.
The baby becomes a toddler, the toddler becomes and adolescent, the adolescent becomes a teenager, the teenager becomes a young adult, the young adult becomes an adult, the adult becomes middle aged, the middle aged person then ceases to be an adult and finally becomes an old person.

Where is the transformation in the external world? We can search for it but will we find it?
A baby, toddler, adolescent, teenager, adult, old person all lie on the continuum of persons.
They do not exist other than through the fabrication the mind.

The degree of our un-peaceful minds will directly correlate to the degree with which we grasp at the existence of the baby or adult (persons).
If we grasp strongly at the artificially created label of “baby” then we experience pain when the baby becomes a fabricated adult.

If we look at teenagers we will find that most of their pain and suffering arises from their strong grasping at reality and the fact that it is being challenged. Their likes, dislikes and their grasping do not coincide with the way the world exists and the consequence of this is that they develop anger at the world (which is triggered by hormonal changes).

Baby and Adults do not exist at all other than a mere label (a word) that is imputed on an observed phenomena that functions in a particular manner.
It is functional and for this reason it is deserving of a name but recognising that it does not exist other than this name and function is the critical part.
The label is a fabrication of the mind and this can be proven by searching for the object that we grasp at.

When we abandon the grasping we can experience the happiness of a peaceful mind (notice how this aligns with my initial motivation).
I am still working through the rest of your reply (please be patient)

Edit: I thought I needed to add this to clarify… We do not abondon the object! It is the grasping at the object that is to be abondoned.

I’m loving your responses! Do you want me to respond piecemeal or should I wait a while?

I need time to process the content of your post and so would appreciate the time to reply.
I hope you can maintain the entusiasm to reply after such a delay.

But the decison is up to you.