MICHAEL FINKENTHAL

Rethinking Logic : Lupasco, Nishida and Matte Blanco


"La contradiction est la sauvegarde de l'éternité"
Stéphane Lupasco


What the three authors mentioned in the title have in common, is a life-long search for a radically new way of understanding knowledge and affectivity; each of them, starting from a different problem has arrived to a new epistemology which required in turn, a new logic. Stéphane Lupasco began with an in-depth analysis of the paradoxes and the "oddities" of the quantum mechanics (even if somebody talked of a re-assessment of Kant!), Nishida Kitaro wondered about the possibility to understand the Zen experience and its meaning - seemengly a contradiction in terms. Matte Blanco following Freud, who already pointed out that the logic of the unconscious is not the "ordinary" logic underlying rational thought, strived to find the new logic of the unconscious as well as a logic of the affectivity. In any event, the scientist - philosopher, the Zen believer philosopher with strong scientific inclinations and the medical doctor with a passion for mathematics had in common genius, originality and a stubborn opposition to conventional ways of thinking.

In the present essay, I will only retrace the origins of their quests and present a few of the basic ideas of the mentioned authors; I shall try to emphasise the underlying unity of their work as well as the novelty of their different approaches. The framework is too narrow for a more detailed analysis or an attempt to discuss the ontological implications of the Lupasco and Nishida in particular. This must be done though in the future.

Since this work is a contribution to a colloquium and a book dedicated to Stéphane Lupasco, I will dwell mainly on his thinking, so that I will use the other two authors mainly to "backlight" his contributions and emphasise not only his originality, but also his "completeness": his, was an all-encompassing thought system including matter, the living and the psychological. However, since Lupasco is very well presented in the accompanying contributions (while the others are not), I must begin with a very brief presentation of the two other authors considered here.

Nishida Kitaro (1875-1945) is the most famous Japanese philosopher of the post-Meiji era. He is considered the founder of the "Kyoto school" of philosophy which comprised among others, Tanabe, Hisamatsu, Ueda Shizuteru, Nishitani; Daisetz Suzuki who has made the Zen thought known in the Western world during the last fifty years, was his best friend. Just before the end of the Second World War, they contemplated to leave Japan together and become the messangers of her thought and of her soul in the world, and try to regain for her a dignity lost - they felt - after the disastruous years of the war. Nishida began his philosophical career with a book published in 1911, An Inquiry into the Good ; from the beginning he was hailed as the most important philosopher of the country and in a book about his work published recently we still read that "one had to wait for Nishida for a work that could disprove Nakae Chomin's judgement (in 1901) that there was no philosophy in Japan...Nishida's work is the first to deserve the name of philosophy" (Nakamura Yugiro, ap. John C. Maraldo, in Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives , SUNY Press, Albany 1995). The reader interested to explore Nishida's philosophy can start with the volume written on the subject by his pupil and follower Nishitani Keiji. As I hinted above, Nishida's quest begins with the question, "how is the understanding of the pure experience of satori , enlightement, possible?" As a Zen believer he had another "problem" too: the impossibility single out the Self as an independent entity sepparated from the surrounding wholeness. The so difficult to understand (to the Western mind), all inclusive "emptiness", sunyata or mu (in Japanese), does not allow for the objectivation of the thinking "I".

Therefore, Nishida found soon himself in search for a logic of the place, basho , this whole (domain) where the subject and the predicate dwell, since "for any judgement to take place, there has to be a whole in which the subject and the predicate are contained" (from an article written in 1920, and recently translated into English by W. Yokoyama, private communication). But this "place", this domain cannot be grasped by the knowledge based on the ordinary logic since it is in itself the very thing which makes this knowledge possible. It is "the ground of knowledge", as Nishida likes to call it. From the point of view of knowledge this place is empty. But this "emptiness" is precisselly the content of our affectivity, it is the basis of our beliefs. In the above quoted article, Nishida writes: "Beliefs do not clash with knowledge; rather they form its basis....(they) are a truth that grows out of our affectivity". For those of us who are familiar with Lupasco's writting about affectivity, the above sentences resonate and trigger thoughts; what are these thoughts we shall see a little further.

Let me now say a few words about Matte Blanco. His basic book is The Unconscious as Infinite Sets (Duckworth, London 1975) and the most thorough presentation of his work is to be found in Eric Reiner, Unconscious Logic (Routledge, London and New York 1995). We notice that these titles are already inducive of possible comparisons with Lupasco's work (as well as Nishida's who was a very early discoverer of the potential of the Cantor's theory of infinite sets and the abstract set algebra, for the explanation of complicated philosophical ideas, such as "coincidentia oppositorum"; see for instance Nishida Kitaro, Coincidentia Oppositorum and Love , in The Easter Buddhist, Kyoto, Fall 1997). He was born in Chile in 1908 and died in 1995, in Italy. He lived and worked in the fields of psychiatry and psychoanalysis in Chile, USA and Italy; in England, during the thirties he studied in parallel with psychiatry and psychoanalysis, Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica and in the fourties mathematics with Courant at Columbia University. Matte Blanco called the classical (two-valued) logic, bivalent logic . It is the logic dominated by the principle of non-contradiction, the logic of "either-or". But this logic is not at work always in our verbal conscious (and pre-conscious or mythical) thought; the use of the metaphor, the expression of the imaginary is often governed by a "combinatorial thinking", a logic of the "both-and". Moreover, an emotion requires a simultaneous evaluation of an external event or circumstance and an internal reaction to it; a "holistic experience of multiplicity" as Reiner calls it. Affectivity includes potentially a contradiction, therefore it must be governed by a new logic; it is not that reason is discarded in an emotional act, but rather we have to deal with a dynamic situation which implies some sort of a "flow" from A to non-A. Who said that Matte Blanco or Stéphane Lupasco?!

A very important role in Blanco's epistemology is played by the concepts of symmetry and asymmetry. Since difference and discrimination are basic functions in both perceiving and thinking logically, the ability to identify asymmetries is paramount for logical reasoning. Symmetrization of the asymmetric, which often occurs in the unconsciuos or in mental illnesses, is a destroyer of complexity, it tends to, unrealistically, simplify things. At first Matte Blanco used the terms homogeneity and heterogeneity for symmetry and asymmetry. Homogeneity is a state of simplicity, of equilibrium whereas heterogeneity engenders complexity, teaches Lupasco. Are these parallels superficial coincidences only?

The question I want to concentrate upon in this essay, is that which is in fact common to all three authors: that of the relationship between rational thinking and affectivity. Which is that of the relationship between knowledge and belief, between philosophy and religion. Ultimatelly, it has to do with the major existential question of our times: how to avoid nihilism. The Greek and the Enlightement optimism is rejected by a mind tired of the "tyranny of reason" - as Chestov put it - but, at the same time, afraid of the deep mists of Romantic and Existentialist thinking. In contemporary history, we found ourselves often trapped between the aberrations of a political reasoning which pretends to be rational, scientific even, and the uncontrolled emotions of the "vivere pericolosamente". Should we stay with Pascal or with Spinoza? This dualistic way of thinking, the polarization which leaves only a void between the poles, is what all three authors rejected. Lupasco who already in 1935, understood that affectivity can be included in philosophical thought - in spite of Spinoza's, "non ridere, non lugere, etc." - only through the creation of a logic of the becomming (logique du devenir) to replace the static logic of the being, has perfected his view after the war. I will not dwell here on the long and fruitful debates he had on these subjects with Benjamin Fondane during the war years (to some extent they are discussed in my introduction to the recently published essay of Fondane, L'être et la connaissance , Paris-Mediterannee, Paris 1998); the fact is, it seems to me, that a mature and fairly complete exposition of his new logic of the becomig has been published by Stephane Lupasco during the years following the second world war. And if I give here a few details about the books as well as the basic ideas contained in them, details superfluous for the French readers, I do it for the benefit of the English reader who has very limited - if at all - access to these important works. Immediately after the war the book Logic and Contradiction (PUF, Paris 1947) was published, followed by The Antagonistic Principle and the Logic of Energy ("Le principe d'antagonisme et la logique de l'energie", Hermann, Paris 1951) and The Three Types of Matter ("Les trois matières", Juillard, Paris 1960). In these books the new epistemology based on a logic of the inclusion of the contradiction - A and non-A exist simultaneously at various degrees of "actuality" and "potentiality" - has been fully developed. When I see only A, non-A is totally virtualized and the oposite is true as well. Every real situation is characterized by a mixture of A and non-A (of heterogeneity and homogeneity) actualized and potentialized at various degrees (a combinatorial situation, of "both-and" would have said Matte Blanco from his point of view); a third state of equilibrium between the two, the state T, is that of the "absolute contradiction", where the free energy of the system is at its highest point. This is the state which enables self-awareness ("la conscience de la conscience").

The reflecting Self is therefore for Lupasco, the site of the absolute contradiction. It is pure contradiction between heterogeneity and homogeneity. Its products, the "symbol", the "concept", the "myth" are themselves ruled by the logic of the contradiction included. They are dynamic elements in which an extensive value dominated by the homogenious stays in contradiction/tension with the comprehensive value characterized by its heterogenious essence. "The concept, as opposed to what the classical logic claims, is the locus of the contradiction" ( Les trois matières , p.75, my translation from French). The concept may be "clear" and amenable to rational operations if it is homogenized so that its extensive, exact value comes into focus. At the other end though, it may become blured when becoming more and more heterogenious it will loose its sharpness, and will thus aquire more than one meaning. In that picture, the distinction between the "rational" and the "affective" disappears; the "psychic phenomenon" (le phénomene psychique) has the dual possibility of being actualized into physical or biological matter (I must mention also that, based on the relativistic equivalence between energy and matter, Lupasco prefers to substitute "energy" for "matter", which makes easier to comprehend his "terminology of the contradiction").

We see therefore that while Nishida and Matte Blanco, arrive at an "integration" of the affectivity into the philosophical (or reasonable, scientific) discourse by following a peculiar path, with a specific purpose in mind, for Lupasco this "integration" is a corollary of a more general and systematic view of the problems related to cosmos, man and life. The question remains, of course, how "functional" these solutions are: do they make a real difference in our lives? Is Lupasco's logic of the included contradiction, the logic of the becoming, more useful to overcome a painful existential situation, or would it help in making moral choices? Is the Zen follower reaching satori easier, after having understood Nishida? Can the psychiatrist treat easier a modern man driven astray by a complex and incomprehensible world, or by a whims of an ubuesc dictator? Those are unavoidable questions to philosophies which try to integrate affectivity. On the other hand, living with the contradiction, is a new experience for us. The importance of the above mentioned works is in the fapt that they bring us this simple but radically new message: we must make a conscious effort to live the contradiction and the uncertainty if we want to survive in a world which has become exceedingly complex.

Michael FINKENTHAL

Professor of Physics
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Bulletin Interactif du Centre International de Recherches et Études transdisciplinaires n° 13

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