Bigsley the Oaf

Toward a Structural Theory of Thought Disciplines (Part 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on May 29, 2013

In my previous post I put forward the notion that “Religion > Philosophy > Science > Mathematics.” I’ve thought about this at length, and it doesn’t seem to be correct. Instead, I’ve decided that the following diagram more correctly represents the relationship between the four thought disciplines:



To quickly go through this decomposition:

The top row is composed of “individual” disciplines. Meaning that these disciplines do not require groups of entities to manifest. An individual will suffice.

On the left, “Philosophy” is concerned principally with phenomena as experienced by the individual. Qualia (color, sound, touch, etc.), “feelings” (love, lust, jealousy, rage), etc. fall into this domain. The purpose of philosophy is to somehow explore/articulate our understanding of these things. I will talk more later about what constitutes a thought discipline, methodologically speaking.

On the right, “Mathematics” is concerned mainly with ideals as conceived of by the individual. Categories, sets, “objects,” and the relationships between them. If Philosophy talks about what happens as experience “enters” the individual, Mathematics talks categorically about what is the relationship between the resulting representations.


Suppose there’s a man looking at a tree. Philosophy will speak about the “pure experience” (phenomena) that “enter” the man (e.g. the green of the leaves). Mathematics provides a category (green) and a set of relationships between that category and other categories. E.g. the “green” that it is can’t be something else. E.g. its “green” aspect relates it to other things (e.g. trees are green in Spring, therefore it might be Spring).


The bottom row is concerned with “collective” disciplines. These disciplines require either absorption of the ego into a super-ego/ego structure (think of the hierarchical nature of most churches/academic institutions) or dissolution of the ego (think Buddhist Meditation, Yoga, etc.)

On the left, we have Religion, which is principally concerned with the phenomena that can be experienced collectively. I want to be very specific in saying that I do not believe Religion operates when there are many individuals observing phenomena together. Rather, it requires ego loss – absorption into a group. In such a state, phenomena are experienced collectively. E.g. the group may experience a vision, a collective feeling (Glossolalia, shaking, singing, etc.), etc. The line between the individual and the group disappears…

On the right, Science is interested in idealized conceptions that can be agreed upon by a collective entity. If Mathematics describes the relationships between phenomena as experienced once they are represented conceptually, Science describes the relationships between collective phenomena (things everyone can see, touch, taste, etc.) once they are represented conceptually. Just as Mathematics requires an ideal representation in order to express how the represented thing is related to other things, Science requires a representation (quantitative/systematic) to express how the represented thing is related to other things.

As an example, a bunch of people see a cow in a field. The “seeing” is Religious, but their discussion of the cow, its properties, how it relates to other things, truths about it, etc. is Scientific. This example might seem ridiculous, but I believe that’s because we take such primitive Religion/Science for granted. In future posts I’ll talk about how more advanced Religious/Scientific ideas fit into this framework.


On Method

I wanted to talk a little bit about what it means for something to be a thought discipline at all. What does it mean to “do Philosophy,” “do Mathematics,” “do Religion,” “do Science,” etc.

Doing Philosophy

To do Philosophy means to interact productively with phenomena. By my scheme, Analytic Philosophers are not doing Philosophy, they are doing Mathematics (or maybe a hybrid). “Philosophy” in this sense is the work of the Greeks, the Continentals, the Buddhists, the Persian Metaphysicians, the Daoists, the Confucianists, etc. Although these discussions take place collectively, they are interested in the focus and preparation of the individual to deal with phenomena as experienced individually. To see color more. To feel the wind more. To become a connoisseur is a Philosophical act. To cogitate on color (as Goethe did) is a Philosophical act. To stand in naked experience of Spirit, Science, Mind, etc. and plum their depths (as many Continentals, Buddhists, etc. have done) is a Philosophical act. It is the refinement of our relationship to phenomena that constitutes Philosophy. Philosophical books are nothing more than guides – they allow you to walk the same paths that the pioneers of the mind/spirit/etc. did.

An example of an achievement in the method of Philosophy is “understanding a koan” – piercing a paradox – undoing a knot in your relationship to the phenomena you experience. Every instance of cognitive dissonance is a riddle waiting to be undone.

Doing Mathematics

To do Mathematics means to interact productively with representations of phenomena. A circle is a mathematical object, a set is a mathematical object. Saying how circles, sets of circles, sets of sets, etc. interact, are composed, are related, etc. is “doing math.” Theorems state relationships between truths, constraints, etc. Again, although these discussions generally take place collectively, they focus on the relationships between representational truths in the individual. It only takes one person to do math.

In some sense, Math is a (very specific) subset of Philosophy. This is because representations are phenomena (mind-phenomena). Thus, Mathematics is in some sense the refinement of our relationship to phenomena that occur purely in the mind.

One example of an achievement in the method of Mathematics is to fully understand a Theorem and its ramifications. E.g. to deeply understand the Intermediate Value Theorem (that a continuous function that takes a value x at point a, and a value y at point b must take every value between x and y at some point between a and b) is to comprehend the nature of continuity and thereby continuous phenomena.

However, Mathematical results need not be so abstruse. Even basic conceptual relationships such as “I need sugar to make a cake” are essentially mathematical, because they relate object categories (sugar, cake) via fixed and well-specified relationships (“need”). Mathematics is the language of process.

Doing Religion

I know the least about this, since religion is arguably much older than the other disciplines (probably predating humanity – is a pack of wolves or a flock of birds not religious in the sense of collectively-experiencing?). Further, I know much less about world religions. Further, almost everyone is religious (including “atheists” which claims that there are no deities but does not necessarily write off spiritual experiences), and religion is ridiculously complicated.

My best guess is that to “do Religion” is to dissolve your ego into a collectively-experiencing structure. It is to refine a group’s relationship to their experiences. To go deep into weird experiences – either involving drugs, meditation, rituals, etc. This is actually a lot more obvious than Math/Philosophy, since we can easily think of many of the things that people do which are Religious. I suppose this is a good time to talk about the difference between the “experience” and the “process” – religious “experience” would be “seeing God,” – the “process” is the refinement of your relationship with that experience/similar experiences (perfecting the rituals, etc.)

A religious achievement would be the recording of a religious text or a set of sutras – a preserved collection of interwoven ideas that encode the stuff of a coherent religious group – its rituals, etc. The distillation of the kernel which generates the religion.

Doing Science

In the same sense that “doing Mathematics” means to interact constructively with representations of phenomena that an individual is experiencing, “doing Science” means to interact constructively with representations of phenomena that a group is experiencing. To distill out the conceptual “core” which generates the truths that are observed.

There’s a lot to say about Scientific process, but generally it involves some method of patching together lots of individual conceptual expressions. E.g. take the concept of “reproducibility” – the idea that a phenomenon is “true” or “really happened” only if it can be independently reproduced by anyone in the scientific community.

Scientific achievements take the form of “theories” which are distilled groups of ideas. In the same sense that religious achievements are the distillation of the kernel of practices, scientific achievements are the distillation of the essential truths which underpin our observations.


Further Study

If you have any questions or thoughts, please ask/share! I really want to flesh out these ideas so that we can come to meaningful conclusions about what-is-what!

I’m also interested in “mixes” – e.g. Mathematical Philosophy (Analytic Philosophy – Wittgenstein, Russel, Whitehead, etc.), Philosophical Religion (Sufism, Gnosticism, & other mystical traditions), Religious Science (Carl Sagan!), Scientific Math (Physics, Economics, etc.)

Good night and good luck!


2 Responses

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  1. okie said, on May 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Are you referring to Science, Mathematics, Philosophy, and Religion as they currently exist in our society or to what they are in some ideal sense? Or are you sort of proposing definitions? I don’t really see why science or math would/should be more collective or individual than the other. It seems like one could do science alone just fine.

  2. emma said, on May 30, 2013 at 2:46 am

    Is science a subset of religion the same way math is a subset of philosophy?

    I assume so, according to the way you have defined things here. But, how does science require absorption into the superego in a way that mathematics does not? Is mathematics as it is practiced a science, because it involves many people agreeing to the same representations? Is the only true mathematics as you have defined it the understanding an individual has in her mind?

    Also, is it really fair to group things that require absorption into the superego vs things that require dissolution of the ego? In particular, it seems that (at least according to mythology) religions that require ego dissolution *can* be practiced alone (i.e. the first Buddha supposedly achieved enlightenment without assistance.) However, Christianity – to contrast – has always required the presence of another (“God” with an individualized identity) and the mythology of Christianity has always involved groups (even the first man was made after the animals, and needed female companionship immediately.)

    If you transformed “collective” to be “ego absorbs into superego” then had the category “group experience religions”, then you had a new level “ego dissolves” which led to “solitary religions” (you could probably think of better words) what would be the ideological category for the “ego dissolved” level?

    Is this even a relevant breakdown?

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