19 November 2011

Origin of Klnowledge

“Over immense periods of time the intellect produced nothing but errors. A few of these proved to be useful and helped to preserve the species: those who hit upon or inherited these had better luck in their struggle for themselves and their progeny. Such erroneous articles of faith, which were continually inherited, until they became almost part of the basic endowment of the species, include the following: 

that there are enduring things; that there are equal things; that there are things, substances, bodies; that a thing is what it appears to be; that our will is free; that what is good for me is also good in itself.

It was only very late that such propositions were denied and doubted - it was only very late that truth emerged, as the weakest form of knowledge. It seemed that one was unable to live with it, our organism was prepared for the opposite; all its higher functions, sense perception and every kind of sensation worked with those basic errors which had been incorporated since time immemorial. Indeed, even in the realm of knowledge these propositions became the norms according to which “true” and “untrue” were determined - down to the most remote regions of logic.

Thus: the strength of knowledge does not depend on its degree of truth but on its age, on the degree to which it has been incorporated, on its character as a condition of life. Where life and knowledge seemed to be at odds there was never any real fight; but denial and doubt were simply considered madness. Those exceptional thinkers, like the Eleatics, who nevertheless posited and clung to the opposites of the natural errors, believed that it was possible to live in accordance with these opposites:

they invented the sage as the man who was unchangeable and impersonal, the man of the universality of intuition who was One and All at the same time, with a special capacity for his inverted knowledge; they had the faith that their knowledge was also the principle of life.

But in order to claim all of this, they had to deceive themselves about their own state: they had to attribute to themselves, fictitiously, impersonality and changeless duration; they had to misapprehend the nature of the knower; they had to deny the role of the impulses in knowledge; and quite generally they had to conceive of reason as a completely free and spontaneous activity; they shut their eyes to the fact that they, too, had arrived at their propositions through opposition to common sense, or owing to a desire for tranquility, for sole possession, or for dominion.

The subtler development of honesty and skepticism eventually made these people, too, impossible; their ways of living and judging were seen to be also dependent upon the primeval impulses and basic errors of all sentient existence.

This subtler honesty and skepticism came into being wherever two contradictory sentences appeared to be applicable to life because both were compatible with the basic errors, and it was therefore possible to argue about the higher or lower degree of utility for life; also wherever new propositions, though not useful for life, were also evidently not harmful to life: in such cases there was room for the expression of an intellectual play impulse, and honesty and skepticism were innocent and happy like all play.

Gradually, the human brain became full of such judgements and convictions, and a ferment, struggle, and lust for power [Machtgelüst] developed in this tangle. Not only utility and delight but every kind of impulse took sides in this fight about “truths”; the intellectual fight became an occupation, an attraction, a profession, a duty, something dignified - and eventually knowledge and the striving for the true found their place as a need among other needs.

Henceforth not only faith and conviction but also scrutiny, denial, mistrust, and contradiction became a power, all “evil” instincts were subordinated to knowledge, employed in her service, and acquired the splendor of what is permitted, honored, and useful - and eventually even the eye and innocence of the good.

Thus knowledge became a piece of life itself, and hence a continually growing power: until eventually knowledge collided with these primeval basic errors, two lives, two powers, both in the same human being. The thinker: that is now that being in whom the impulse for truth and those life-preserving errors clash for the first fight, after the impulse for truth has proved to be also a life-preserving power.

Compared to the significance of this fight, everything else is a matter of indifference: the ultimate question about the conditions of life has been posed here, and we confront the first attempt to answer this question by experiment. To what extent can truth endure incorporation?

That is the question, that is the experiment.”

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