On the logical necessity of mysticism, Part 1
The word mysticism is a lot like the word metaphysics; it doesn't mean what most people think it means. The word mysticism carries with it a lot of baggage that must be left behind before one can begin to grasp its true meaning and significance.
Mysticism is not meditation; it is not channeling; it is not ESP, it is not strictly an Asian concept. It is, as Webster's New World Dictionary defines it: “The belief in direct or intuitive attainment of communion with God or of spiritual truths.” There is no dogma here, no rites of initiation, no lunatic fringe stuff at all. Mysticism is the belief in direct communion with the basic principle of the universe – you can call it God, Allah, the Tao, Buddha-Nature, Gia, or whatever. The name you pick is not important; I call it God.
This direct communion means that spiritual truths are grasped without an intermediary: without logic, without science, without a guru or minister, without a spirit guide, without doctrine – in fact, without words. A mystical insight puts a spiritual truth on the level of a slap in the face – once you experience it, there is no question about its reality – at least to the one who has felt it.
Being able to pass this directly experienced spiritual truth on to others is a problem, however, since it is perceived without the intermediary of words, and words are how we communicate. Thus some of the most profound insights sound nonsensical. Such is the level of frustration that these folks may walk into the desert or the mountains and abandon the company of other humans forever.
I contend that there is no doubt that some knowledge exists which cannot be communicated. Trying to communicate it anyway leads to the paradoxical sayings that are often attributed to mystics.
Here is why mysticism is a logical necessity: (1) We think in words, (2) Words are approximations, therefore (3) There are things which cannot be expressed; this is the essence of the mystical.
(To those who respond that thoughts do not arrive in words but are simply expressed in them, this is simply not the case. I will beg your indulgence while you read on to see why.)
As Wittgenstein states in proposition 6.522 of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus:
“There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”
The Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is, to a great extent, a logical proof of the necessity of mysticism. In a manner reminiscent of Lao Tzu's writing of the Tao Te Ching, the words of this short book had to almost be bled out of Wittgenstein while he wrote it. Consider these two quotations:
“Those who speak, do not know; those who know, do not speak.”
Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus
Now consider how hard it is to write a treatise on the matter! Consider all of the aspects of life which cannot be adequately expressed in language: “love”, “beauty”, “flow”, “happiness”. In many ways, all of the things in life that matter most are the hardest to describe.
More on this the next time…