Reflections on Becoming in the Science of Logic

Lately I have been reading the Science of Logic by G.W.F. Hegel. This is a mountain of a text and I am not yet through it. Nonetheless, I am finding that Hegel speaks to much of what I intuitively feel is true about the world. What follows is my own personal reflection of the first development in the Science of Logic: Being, Nothing, Becoming. This should not be taken as a commentary or a guide to Hegel’s ideas; if you are interested in that you should go read him yourself as I have less than no authority on the matter. The intent of this is to put my own understanding into words.

Starting From What We Know

Existence is the only obvious fact. Existing in general is immediately apparent to consciousness, which must exist in the first place just to reflect on existence. Expressing existence is difficult to do by way of language, because existence cannot be separated from its existing in the way that ordinary objects can be separated from their subjects. A ball can be conceived of apart from its bouncing, a plane can be conceived of apart from its flying, a boat apart from its sailing, and so on. Existing apart from existence, however, is nonsensical, it is the object of its own activity and it is reflexive as such. Existence, as opposed to existing, is only rendered an object or property by convention of language, which forces us to make inelegant proclamations like “existence exists”. As true as it is to say that existence exists, the statement obscures the fact that existence and existing are the same thing.

Thinking is likewise inseperable from the thoughts it thinks. When we say we “think thoughts”, it gives the impression that thinking is a process we apply to thoughts, as though thoughts are mysteriously provided to us and all we do is engage them in thinking. This puts the relationship backwards. Put rightly, thinking is the generation of thought. Thought, as experienced, is identical to thinking. There is no “thought” that can be held apart from thinking. Expressing a thought with language divorces it from our subjective experience and packages it into a static concept for another person to experience. In so doing, it ceases to be thought at all, merely becoming a concept to be beheld as thought in the mind of another. True thinking is therefore just as self-involved as existence. It is reflexive. Thought thinks, and being is.

To say that something “is” connotes a passive presence, one where the thing has no part in its own being. On the other hand, despite a lack of literal difference in meaning, “being” connotes activity. To “be” is to play an active role in your own presence, and in that sense, “being” is a form of “doing”. Upon inspection, however, the difference between “is” and “be” reveals itself to be little more than a linguistic peculiarity, an illusory difference that exists only in notion. “Is” and “be” are words with the same fundamental meaning. If something is being, then that something is.

“Being”, however, is not an ordinary something. It is the object and the subject of its own activity, which, as such, cease to be distinct determinations within it. Existence may be the only obvious fact, but existence is mediated by its own being. Existence is. Mere being may as well be called “pure being” and understood as the absolute abstraction of all that “is”. It is utterly indeterminate, which is to say it is devoid of any diversity or definition. Pure Being may be conceived of as abstract and absolute presence, so long as such terms are not mistaken for its definition or nature. Pure Being has no nature outside of itself. It is wholly simple, wholly immediate, wholly indeterminate. To define Pure Being is to disturb it, to hold it in abstraction and thereby mediate it. In this violation, the concept of “Pure Being” ceases to be identical to its content, which is mere and pure. Pure Being as a concept in the mind of the beholder is not Pure Being, Pure Being is ineffable, it can only be grasped in its immediate primordial form, which is formlessness. We call it “Being” because we are discussing it and language demands that things have names that mean something. It means nothing and nothing is its meaning. It might well be called “Ousia”, Aristotle says of Ousia that it is “that which is in every subject, but never spoken of”, and this is truly the same idea. It might be called “Brahman”, the supreme unified reality, the unity of all existence. It could be considered the qualia of no qualia, the experience of of no experience. Such ideas, truthful as they may be, carry sensuous and conceptual baggage. Any concept of Pure Being is invalid, it is ineffable and language can only point thinkers towards seeing it for themselves. The being of Being is not in its concept, it just is. Pure Being alone is, and as such it is immediate indeterminacy.

This is where we start in the development of presuppositionless logic as outlined by Hegel.

Remark: “Being”, as an absolute abstraction, seems static. In concluding that “being” and “is” are the same, it is natural to think that their truth is really the passive “is”. It is common to believe that the active sense of the word “being” only arises because it is required by language. On the other hand, the notion that things “are”, in a static sense, seems inconsistent with reality. Reality appears dynamic, undergoing perpetual transmutation and development. It remains to be seen that “being”, as static, is only a moment of the truth held in artificial separation from the rest. Dynamism develops immanently from mere being.

The Contradiction of Being and Nothing

Being is. Because Being is the absolute abstraction of all that is, it may therefore be said: Nothing is not. Just as Being may be conceived of as absolute presence, Nothing may be conceived of as absolute absence. This is not just a semantic game, but it may appear as such because the topic of “Being” and “Nothing” is completely abstract and, in a sense, ineffable. Conceptualization of these ideas is only a pedagogical aid, taken in their truth one need only look themself and see: Being is, and Nothing is not.

This introduces a problem. Notice that a determination has been made between “is” and “is not”. If Nothing “is not”, then, in a negative sense, Nothing actually “is”. As such it ceases to be “Nothing” and disappears into Being. On the other hand, if Being is absolutely abstract, then it has no content. It ceases to “be” anything at all and it disappears into Nothing. Being and Nothing therefore vanish into each other.

Now notice that a new thing has again occurred. Being has “become” Nothing and Nothing has “become” Being. We started only with Pure Being and we have discovered dynamism in the form of “Becoming”. Also take note of the fact that this is only apparent in retrospect, i.e. Becoming is not created by the mind, it is noticed. If the reader is not following, they are encouraged to try to hold Nothing in their mind (or equivalently, Being). Dwell on nothingness, absolute absence (or on pure being), and experience this for yourself. That is the only way you will understand. In Hegel’s Logic, truths are identified retroactively by the thinker. The thinker does not derive these truths or force them, the thinker merely realizes what has already derived itself. This is speculative thought, it is an entirely different type of activity to normal thought, and it must be experienced to be grasped. It is important to understand that Hegel’s Logic is an activity and as such it cannot be explained to you adequately, the aforementioned deficiency of language prohibits it. What it is truly like to swim or take a psychedelic drug or look at the stars cannot be explained, in their truth these are ineffable phenomena, you have to do them to understand them. Real truth, the reflexive kind, is like this as well. You must experience your own existence to ascertain certainty of it as Descartes did. You are directly involved in the process, it is a first person experience. Typically, when ideas are presented to us, we analyze them in the third person and make a concept out of them. We act on concepts externally, applying thought as a surgical tool to find what is inside a given idea. The topic at hand, however, is self-thinking thought, and such an approach will not work. Starting with no presupposition means we must work immanently from within the idea, working externally introduces contingency.

As long as this is described to you with language, which is dead in its abstractions, it will be meaningless. If this is confusing, just keep reading for now.

It may be argued that we did not start with Pure Being alone, but rather we artificially introduced Nothing into the equation. This is as absurd as it sounds. To “Introduce Nothing into the equation”, taken literally, means that we didn’t introduce anything to the equation, and hence we did actually start with Pure Being alone. Again this appears to be a semantic trick, but Nothing is absolute absense, it is devoid of property or substance or anything at all. To Introduce “Nothing” is genuinely the same as not introducing anything at all. The meaning of the words “Being” and “Nothing” as used here is startlingly literal, and this is a theme throughout Hegel’s work.

Earlier it was said that Being is immediate and utterly indeterminate, which means that it is devoid of any diversity. However, this description fits Nothing just as well. Pause to think. We are left in an absurd position where absolute presence and absolute absence are identical to each other. If this is troubling, the reader is challenged to identify a difference between Pure Being and Pure Nothing. It is this unity in their opposition that results in their vanishing into each other, and this vanishing is Becoming.

Once again natural consciousness wants protest that a semantic trick has been played. To say that Being and Nothing are the same is to imply that they should be thought of as different, and so one might conclude that their opposition was an artificial contrivance in the first place. In other words, one might protest that we have just picked two words and baselessly asserted that they have identical and opposite meanings simultaneously. One could argue that when you start presuppositionlessly, you only have Nothing. Alternatively one might say you only have Being. But regardless of what we say “is” or “is not”, the paradox remains. What does it mean to be “Nothing” without the alternative of “Being”? What does it mean to “be” without the alternative of “not being”?

To obtain clarity on this matter it is necessary to grasp the truth of their unity in Becoming. Neither is truly independent of the other, and one cannot be experienced without the other. In truth, it is actually wrong to say that one experiences either at all. The only thing one may truely experience is the unity of both. The fact of the matter is this: abstract presence is the same as absolute absence, and any difference between Being and Nothing is one that is only conceived of. And yet they are opposites all the same. This is a fundamental, omnipresent absurdity, and it is ubiquitous in all areas of life once one knows how to look for it. Why does anything exist at all? Why is there something instead of nothing? These questions strike at the fundamental absurdity that is Becoming. Being and Nothing are the same.

As an aside, the choice of the word “Being” for the concept of immediate indeterminacy has a few advantages. Firstly, it can be applied in the first-person, second-person, and third-person, which emphasizes it’s universality and encourages the thinker to engage with it directly. Second, as a gerund it holds the activity of a verb and passivity of a noun, reflecting the unity of its subject and object. Third, it is extraordinarily common to speech, and hearing it in ordinary language accentuates its immanent relationship to everything. Fourth, if one sits to think about what it truly means to “be” in the most general sense, it becomes apparent that “being” is a meaningless idea. Being is not necessarily being actual. An imaginary thing still “is”, just in an imaginary way. Likewise, to be “false”, a falsehood must first “be”. These modes of “being” are no less “being” even if they are not “actual”. The word “being” as used here is not a misappropriation, rather it is the truest and most literal sense of the word. False things are said to “be”, not just because language requires it, but because in some sense they still “are”. “Being” is the word that already means what we are discussing. It means nothing, and yet that is its meaning.

It should become apparent why thought is the appropriate tool for grasping these concepts. Thought can think itself and then retroactively identify itself as thought. This enables it to grasp the true Universal Logic which also develops itself in this reflexive manner. True Logic does not start with a presupposition. Rather, it starts with no presupposition and proceeds to discover its own subject matter. Starting with “Being” is the same as starting with “Nothing”, as the truth of either is really their “Becoming”. This relationship plays out repeatedly in different forms and in higher orders of concretion: Reality and negation, something and other, observer and observed, analyzer and analyzed, and so on. In the true context of the Universal Logic, the truth of these divisions is in the unity of their opposition. When one starts with no presupposition, with the incontingent Nothing at all, the immediate indeterminacy ascends to a paradox that is immanent to all reality. Nothing needs to be introduced in order to develop a true concept, the concept develops itself. Only that which comes to be through the notion’s self development belongs within the notion. This is what is meant by “immanence”.

It is also worth noting that this development is not a temporal one, even though we describe its steps as “moments”. The notion already exists in its entirety when it considers it’s own beginning. Being and Nothing can not really be taken outside of Becoming, and Becoming cannot be taken outside of the context of the entire notion. The truth is the whole. This is why the experience of speculative thinking is really a retroactive discovery of developments that have already occurred. When thinking about Pure Being, one realizes that there was never only Pure Being, that there was already Nothing. One further realizes that there was never a distinction, they were already unified in Becoming. The truth of every step of development is simultaneous, the context as a whole is what is true. But despite the simultaneity, and even though no individual moment exists by itself, the order of the moments of immanent development is still important. Putting the steps into an incorrect order will cause confusion.

Here arises the fractal triadic structure of Hegel’s Logic, and the origin of his “dialectic”. An important thing to understand is that Hegelian dialectic is not a technique. Technique is external to its object, but Hegel’s dialectic is the immanent self development of self-concept. Technique is forced, but dialectic proceeds from necessity. It is this necessity that earns it the title of “Logic”, it self derives. Its moments develop themselves independent of a technician, the thinker plays only the role of a conduit. Thought is the only environment where the pure and whole Logic may unfold itself naturally on its own terms and complete itself. Such is the nature of anything true.

A species in its whole concept, for example, cannot be captured by an individual creature or a set of individual creatures or a strand of DNA or any such thing. It’s whole truth is in its complete and self-developing cycle of life and death and reproduction. Understanding the whole idea of a creature requires you understand its birth and conception, how it relates to other members of its own species, and its self-replication through reproduction. The truth is that all instances of a creature are really the same idea reflexively developing itself and interacting with other instances of itself until it returns itself to its own beginning. All true concepts are whole in this fashion, and as such they are utterly self-involved, self-developing, and self-complete.

That is all my thoughts on this for now. I would encourage people to read for themselves.

 Date: December 19, 2023
 Tags:  philosophy hegel

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