Apodicticity: the problem of absolute certainty in transpersonal ethnology by

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Charles D. Laughlin*Barbara, CA, April, 1993. The author wishes to thank Michael Scriven, Kevin Moriarty, Andrew Miracle, and John Dockery for their helpful suggestions and ideas. Address correspondence to Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6. Ph: (819) 459-1121, fax: (613) 788-4062, e:mail: charles_laughlin@carleton.ca.

Carleton University
ABSTRACT: This paper introduces and evaluates for the anthropology of consciousness the problem of apodicticity raised by Edmund Husserl; that is, the problem of how to scientifically access and interpret the quality of absolute certainty of insight that frequently accompanies transpersonal experiences and eidetic intuitions in contemplation. An important distinction is drawn between pure and relative apodicticity, and the common co-occurrance of apodicticity and categorical fuzziness is examined. The ethnological repercussions of the experience of pure apodicticity are explored.

So it is with all the eidetic sciences. Essential contents which are mediated, which emerge as data in and through the mediating insight of thought, and indeed on principles that are throughout immediately transparent, are grounded in essential contents (or eidetic axioms) which come under the grasp of immediate insight. Every step of mediated grounding is accordingly apodeictically and eidetically necessary.

Edmund Husserl, Ideas

Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses in order to justify his logic.

Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground


In this paper I want to evaluate the problem presented to ethnology by the sense of absolute certainty that frequently accompanies intuitive insights about the self and the world attained by our informants, and sometimes by ethnologists, in transpersonal experiences and during contemplation. Edmund Husserl called this issue the problem of apodicticity (see especially Husserl 1931:51-79, 379-387; see also Husserl 1960:22-23, 1973:305-307, 1977:143, 1982:331-333 for related discussions). I will first introduce the problem of apodicticity and then will suggest some of the issues apodicticity raises for ethnographic research and ethnological theory.


1. Apodicticity. Direct experience of any kind, whether it arises during the course of the everyday lifeworld,1 during transpersonal experiences or during contemplation, is generally accompanied by a sense of necessity or certainty that Edmund Husserl called apodicticity. In its simplest manifestation in the everyday lifeworld, apodicticity is the sense that what I am experiencing really exists, and exists in precisely the way I am experiencing it. This is the quality of experience that leads to the presumption that what I experience is real. I am not merely experiencing this cup of coffee or this word processor in some detached, abstract way, they are real for me. They are sensory objects before my mind, and their reality is part of my experience of them. Thus my activities in relation to them are conditioned by my intuitive presumption of their reality. Apodicticity is an inherent, essential ingredient in the construction of my experience, whether that experience is of you, a thing, an event, a vista, or what have you.

Moreover, I suspect apodicticity has been an ingredient of my experience for my entire life, at least since birth. Contrary to Jean Piaget's view that the child has to learn there is a real world by operating upon that world, there is now sufficient evidence to suggest that a world of real objects, relations and social events is "already there" for the newborn (see Laughlin 1991 for a review), and I suspect that apodicticity is an inherent quality of that "already there-ness." And, in existential terms, the newborn is already experiencing itself as a "being in the world."

In any event, the categories "cup" and "word processor" are also real for me. These particular objects, the cup and the word processor, are instances of the general categories and ideas I have about things. These objects are real, and the categories they instantiate are also real, no matter how fuzzily they may be defined in my language and culture. The geometrical shape we call the "pyramid" is real, and the Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza is real -- the latter being one of countless thousands of material instances of the pyramid in the world. "Pyramids" are real and the Temple of Kukulcan is real. The abstract idea of the pyramid is realized in the experience of the Temple of Kukulcan, and the Temple is an instance of the notion of pyramid. I certainly do not make a distinction between an unreal mind-thing "pyramid" and a real thing "Temple of Kukulcan" in my lifeworld. And, the category "pyramid" applies to all sorts of "pyramid-like" forms from the clearest exemplars like the Temple of Kukulcan to less clear exemplars like a sloppy pile of children's blocks or certain types of organization charts and get-rich-quick schemes.

I am referring here to the sense of reality that is natural to the experience of each and every one of us, regardless of cultural background. I am not talking about some quaint distinctions posited by ethnocentric western philosophers. The kind of doubt Descartes raised about existence is very heady and very rare in the actual lifeworlds of people -- even, I suspect, in the lifeworlds of philosophers. The point is that abstract cognitions and general categories merge with sensorial formations in the lifeworlds of people under normal conditions in which the existence of neither the general nor the instance is called into doubt.

These same considerations apply for apodicticity in the context of transpersonal experiences. The same relationship obtains between general religious ideas like God, Nirvana, Holy Wind, blessings of the deity, spirit possession, out-of-body experiences, etc., and individual direct experiences that instantiate those notions. For example, one may have an intense ecstatic experience accompanied by white light and know with absolute certainty that one has "seen" or been "blessed by" the Christ. One's friend, a Buddhist, might have a similar experience, but with equal certainty know that they have "seen" one of the Lesser Lights, and know that the experience is a precursor to the ultimate experience of the Clear Light of Nirvana. Both individuals have instantiated general -- or eidetic to use Husserl's 1931:55 favorite term -- knowledge and hold their respective interpretations to be unequivocally true.

2. Categorical Fuzziness and Apodicticity Co-Occur. The quality of apodicticity is present to the lifeworld, even though the knowledge involved in constructing the experience may be fuzzy2 in its logic and its categorical distinctions. In other words, apodicticity of knowledge does not require categorical crispness. Methodologically speaking, the ethnographer cannot infer uncertainty or incompleteness of knowledge from the apparent fuzziness or lack of crispness of native categories, or the inarticulateness of reports of experience. This is an important point, not only in conceptually bridging from fuzziness to apodicticity of knowledge, but also in understanding the structure of ethnologic cross-culturally. Hamill (1990) for example has demonstrated a cross-cultural pattern of fuzzifying the distinction between validity and truth in native logic. Fuzziness and apodicticity co-occur in the lifeworlds of people more frequently than either crispness and apodicticity, or fuzziness and existential doubt.

Furthermore, the co-occurrence of fuzziness and apodicticity in the lifeworld may be understood to be biologically adaptive because the brain has evolved to both generalize from particular instances to the abstract (i.e., instantiate the general), and to believe (i.e., take as real and necessary) its application of general knowledge to the instance. For example, we may presume that a Vervet monkey does not merely see a fast moving shadow on the ground when it gives an alarm call, it "sees" (Husserl would say "has insight into," or "sees into the essence of") the hawk, and is certain of what it "sees."

3. Special Sense of Apodicticity. There is a special sense of apodicticity that arises during the course of contemplation, or during what Husserl would call the "phenomenological reduction." It is a special sense that Husserl himself liked to reserve for the absolute certainty of knowledge that accompanies direct insight into the essential attributes of consciousness. This kind of certainty is special because it is completely divorced from factual knowledge about the self or external world. It is the certainty that accompanies pure intuitive knowing -- or as Husserl would say, eidetic intuition -- by an individual consciousness about its own nature. It is this kind of contemplative knowing -- indeed, the only kind of knowing -- that can be said to be fully apodictic in Husserlian phenomenology. It is the absolute certainty of this kind that allows the contemplative to transcend the "natural attitude" (i.e., the cultural and personal historical loading) of the everyday lifeworld (Husserl 1977:152-153).

The apodicticity associated with eidetic intuition is different than the relative certainty that may obtain with factual knowledge. I may be very certain that it is 6 o'clock and time for the evening news, but my watch may have stopped an hour ago. Or I may be a doomsday cultist and believe with absolute certainty that the end of the world will occur on a certain date. All it takes to prove me wrong is to turn on the TV, or for the fatal date to come and go and the world remain undamaged.

I can be very certain about the facts I believe and yet be wrong. As Husserl put it, "From facts follow always nothing but facts" (1931:63). Conspiracy theories of history are usually wrong in this very sense. The human brain is designed to abstract patterns from experience, and to build-up knowledge based upon those patterns. Conspiracy theorists undoubtedly detect patterns in the flow of historical events, but the trouble is that the patterns usually turn out to be erroneous when examined empirically and absurd when considered relative to the limitations of human agency.

But this does not follow with direct insight into the essential processes of consciousness. I may be seeing "the wrong time" on the face of my watch, or an emirically erroneous pattern in historical events, but there is no doubt possible that I am experiencing a watch face or recognizing a pattern. And, it matters not a whit whether I am seeing a real watch or pattern, a fantasized watch or pattern, or a dreamed watch or pattern. I may be absolutely certain that a watch or a pattern of political events is the object of my consciousness.

Furthermore, because my consciousness is essentially intentional, when I become aware of this essential intentionality, I know it absolutely and there is no conceivable factual evidence that could bear one way or the other on the truth of that insight. I intuit the "already there-ness" of the intentionality of my consciousness with absolute certainty, regardless of the factualness of any theoretical explanation of intentionality. I will hereafter refer to this special sense of absolute, non-factual certainty as pure apodicticity.

4. Pure Apodicticity in Relation to Interpretation, Reason and Discourse. It is methodologically important to note that the pure apodicticity that accompanies eidetic intuitions and transpersonal experiences like near-death experiences, visions, deja vu, out-of-body experiences, etc. may "spill over" into the thought, discourse or interpretation pertaining to those intuitions or experiences. Pure apodicticity becomes associated via memory with other acts of consciousness because "certainty" for most people is a fuzzy category. One is rarely crisply certain or uncertain. One is "rather" certain, or "not quite" certain, or "pretty" certain, or "really" certain about things. Certainty is initially generated in the immediacy and necessity of direct experience, and that certainty carries over into and, as it were, contaminates memories, reflections and discussions about experience. As Hall and Nordby (1972) have noted with respect to dream research, the researcher must crisply distinguish between the subject's direct experience, the subject's memory of and reflections upon experience, and the subject's verbal, artistic or other symbolic reports of experience. While apodicticity in the pure sense may arise as the consequence of an eidetic intuition -- say, an intuitive grasp of the unity of all, or of the purpose of consciousness in the unfolding of the universe -- that sense may be generalized to thought about, and expressions of the experience. Pure apodicticity will not, and cannot arise as a consequence of mere thought or verbal description. Apodicticity in the more common, relative and fuzzy sense will, of course, tend to accompany thoughts and descriptions of beliefs. But the remarkable potency of pure apodicticity is often the underlying ground for ethnocentric and egocentric points of view about eidetic intuitions.

By extension, we may say that any philosophical, cosmological, political or other interpretation of an eidetic intuition will also not carry the weight of pure apodicticity, but may be fuelled by the spill-over effect of pure apodicticity, especially if these interpretations are grounded in either direct or vicarious eidetic intuition. For example, if I make claims about a relationship between the essential intentionality of my consciousness (say, its waxing and waning) and the movement of the planet Venus -- claims based upon my astrological interpretation of the meaning of intentionality -- the pure apodicticity that accompanies the domain of eidetic intuition has spilled over into the domain of points of view and empirical facts. The pure apodicticity of the initial intuition is unaffected by the factuality of the relations between my intentionality and astronomical events.


I have already suggested some of the methodological issues relative to the association between fuzziness and apodicticity. I have suggested that one cannot infer incompleteness or uncertainty of native intuitive knowledge from fuzzy categorization, reason or discourse. The native may well be absolutely certain in their insight without either ever having "thought it through" in a rational way or having communicated the insight to others via language -- as the bard once wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And I have suggested that, as "certainty" is usually a fuzzy category in the lifeworld of people, the memory of pure apodicticity may spill-over into the relative domain of facts when people think about and discuss experiences. Other methodological and theoretical issues of relevance to ethnology include the following:

1. Thick Participation in "Pure" Apodicticity. The most important consideration for ethnology is that the ethnographer often misses the experience of "pure" apodicticity that so enriches the memories behind native systems of knowledge and reports of experience. This is especially crucial in evaluating the relationship between experience and belief in those native religious systems that encourage the accrual of intuitive knowledge that transcends the realm of rational discourse. Arne Naess (1989) has made a similar point relative to modern day environmentalism. He notes that one cannot attain an intuitive understanding of "deep" ecology from rational discourse about ecosystems alone. The sense of "deep" ecology is essentially a spiritual attainment.

This problem still arises even in cultural circumstances where reports of experience are quite articulate, because there is always a transposition between the relative richness of direct experience and the relative paucity of meaning that is communicated vicariously by symbolism (Lewis 1965:75ff, Laughlin 1988). And as I have indicated, pure apodicticity is essentially associated with both the numinous and the esoteric -- it cannot be transmitted vicariously. The most communication can do is evoke an eidetic intuition in another person, it cannot transmit that intuition. For example, suppose I describe to you that my experience of contemplation usually happens as a descent through a stratum of emotional "yips" and neurotic turmoil into a broad river of tranquillity and thence into an ocean of calm in which no empirical ego is present and where intuitive insights arise as fast as do the questions they answer. This description will be transparent for any mature contemplative, at least for any neurotic contemplative from a Euroamerican culture. A contemplative will immediately recognize the essential features of this phenomenological description. For non-contemplatives it will communicate a range of meanings from none at all to perhaps images of rivers and oceans, or memories of their own bouts with emotional turmoil. But it may not communicate the essential aspects of experience that I intend by the description. It cannot do so because the requisite prior experience of profound tranquillity associated with empirical ego loss and fluidity of eidetic intuition is perhaps absent in the recipient.

In order to fully appreciate the importance of "pure" apodicticity of insight to religious belief and practice, the ethnographer should attain that experience. There is no other road to complete comprehension. With complete comprehension, the researcher's reflection and theory construction can be grounded upon direct experience, and not vicariously upon the fuzzy descriptions of informants. This is what my colleague, Brian Given (1993), means when he insists that proper analysis of the kind I am discussing requires thick participation on the part of the ethnographer;3 that is, participation in the native system to the extent of attaining the essential and apodictic insights upon which the native symbol system is grounded. This also seems to be the point Paul Ricoeur makes in support of his approach to hermeneutical phenomenology (Ihde 1971). Ricoeur has argued that the proper understanding of texts and other symbolic representations of a religious nature requires attainment of the experiences intended by the texts before an interpretation of the texts may be competently made. Of course, the attainment of pure apodicticity need not occur within the context of the native system. The ethnologist may have worked through to that experience in other circumstances, or in other cultural settings -- perhaps even within the context of their own religious system. Having attained the experience in one cultural context, the ethnographer can recognize its manifestations in another context.

I am often reminded here of Carol Lederman's (1988:805-806) lovely description of her exploration of the concept of angin ("Inner Winds"), a Malay concept which labels an experience that occurs during healing rituals. Carol mentions that her informants declined to define the concept for her, insisting instead that she would have to experience angin herself in order to know what it means. When she finally gave-in and undertook the healing ritual, she experienced the angin "like a hurricane" inside her chest. Thereafter, Carol was able to evaluate the meaning of the wind metaphor from the stance of apodictic experience. Angin ceased to be merely a belief and was appreciated as a metaphorical description of real experience.

I can likewise recognize the metaphorical reference to "wind" because I have had numerous such experiences of intense "bliss" movements in my body (Skt: piti) as a consequence of doing meditation with Tibetan lamas (Laughlin n.d.). And here is yet another example of the relationship between apodicticity and categorical fuzziness, for the experience of bliss rushes or angin are only "wind" in a metaphorical sense. That is, the category of "wind" is fuzzified in order to encompass the domain of inner experience. Angin becomes one of numerous experiences on the inner and outer planes that are "more or less" wind-like. Indeed, it may well be that fuzzification is inherent in any metaphorical association. Perhaps there is a broadening of categorical membership when we use metaphors to describe what would remain otherwise totally ineffable.

2. Evaluating "Pure" Apodicticity and the Rule of Multiple Interpretations. In any event, we can see that the problem of experiential ignorance in ethnology can be solved by acknowledging the methodological importance of doing "thick participation." The ethnologist knows from direct experience that there is a critical distinction to be made between the apodicticity that accompanies matters of fact -- say, equating the movement of psychic energy with the movement of wind among the Malay, or among the Navajo for that matter -- and the pure apodicticity that accompanies eidetic intuition -- say, the absolute certainty of the experience of intense psychic energy movement in the body. Once experienced, the ethnologist will never again confuse the two. Also, the ethnologist will never make the mistake of presuming that the native metaphors merely describe beliefs. The relative apodicticity associated with factuality and the pure apodicticity accompanying intuition have been bracketed4 in Husserlian terms, and thus will be recognized as distinct both in the context of self-knowledge and in theoretical formulations.

But the attainment of the direct experience of pure apodicticity, and of insight into the essential association between apodicticity and fuzziness, presents ethnology with yet another problem. Granted pure apodicticity is experienced by people as I have described, how is it to be interpreted relative to ethnological description and theory? In phenomenological terms, once we have bracketed pure apodicticity, what are we to make of it all? How is pure apodicticity to be interpreted?

The introduction of a rule of multiple interpretations may help us in forming a solution: All experiences, including all intuitive insights and all transpersonal experiences, are amenable to multiple interpretations.5 Put negatively, the rule states: There is no such thing as an experience or an intuition that admits of only one interpretation. Let me give you a couple of examples of how this rule may be applied when evaluating apodicticity. These examples are drawn from experiences I have had during meditation retreats. In the first example, I had two visions of extreme clarity in which I appeared in historical costumes and roles. My identification with the central character was immediate and was accompanied with absolute certainty of identification. One was of a swordsman in ancient Japan, and the other was a German naval officer on the bridge of an early 20th century war ship. Now, I have heard other meditators describe similar experiences over the years and they often interpreted them as evidence of their own past lifetimes. I do not interpret them in this way. I have developed several alternative interpretations of the experiences over time involving unconscious blocks and archetypes. You see, for me the pure apodicticity that accompanied the identification with these characters did not spill-over into interpretations of the experiences.

In another example, Tibetan Buddhists believe that there is a period of transition in the stream of consciousness that occurs between this life and the next, a period called the bardo. All sorts of experiences may occur within the bardo such as bright lights, whizzing down tunnels, passing through doorways and seeing various scenes, and so on. If one carries this exploration far enough, one may become aware, as I did, that all experiences described in texts for the bardo, without exception, are experiences that may be had during dreaming and meditation. Indeed, dream and meditation experiences often provide the "evidence" for the bardo because they are interpreted as memories of pre-conception events. A sense of apodicticity usually accompanies these experiences, for they are lucid, numinous and transpersonal. There is a compelling quality to their symbolic message. Yet there are alternative interpretations possible for these experiences. It is entirely possible -- indeed, it may prove scientifically productive -- to experience the absolute certainty of the actuality of these events and remain uncertain about what to make of them.

3. Pure Apodicticity and the Cycle of Meaning. It also helps to understand that religious systems always provide interpretations for the transpersonal experiences and intuitive insights, if any, that they evoke in their devotees. We have modeled this process as the cycle of meaning in which a society's cosmology is expressed in ritual activities and symbolism in such a way as to evoke extraordinary experiences that are then readily interpreted by the experiencing individual or a shaman in terms of the cosmology (see Laughlin 1993a, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990).



Influence of






by Shaman


Figure 1. The Cycle of Meaning. The society's worldview is expressed symbolically in its mythopoeia, and especially its ritual, which leads to direct experiences that are interpreted in such a way that the worldview is vivified and verified. Shamans may interject their influence into the process by structuring the symbolic expression and again by helping to interpret experience.
The association of the memory of apodicticity and a readily available interpretation is a powerful combination in traditional cosmological systems. The worldview is expressed via symbolism and activity in such a way that it may lead to experiences that in turn realize and enliven the worldview. The apodicticity that accompanies the experience spills over, so to speak, into the interpretation: "Of course there is reincarnation! Have I not recalled my own past lifetimes?" Traditional cycles of meaning are commonly quite conservative of meaning. They effectively limit the range of legitimate interpretations that may be associated with experiences to those that confirm the cosmology. As Thomas Kuhn has shown us, scientific paradigms operate in the same conservative way. In addition, scientific explanations have frequently been foisted on people as the complete and only legitimate account of things, thus imposing a kind of "scientific imperialism" (as Michael Scriven, personal communication, calls it) upon their lifeworlds.

4. The Faris Error, and an Appeal for a Healthy Perspectivism. It is well for ethnologists to remember that most human beings strive for meaning, not for truth (Ogden and Richards 1923). This is not to say that one may not find truth -- occasionally profound truth -- expressed in traditional systems of meaning. But even where there is truth to be found in meaning, people strive to make truth meaningful to themselves by interpreting truth in terms of their total cycle of meaning. So, even where one encounters a profound understanding of consciousness, perhaps even experienced by our informant with pure apodicticity, that understanding tends to be integrated by the informant with all the rest of the informant's system of knowledge by way of his or her cultural symbols and associations.

One lesson from what I have discussed here is that the ethnologist should maintain a clear distinction between the pure apodicticity of direct experience and the relative apodicticity of interpretations. We must acknowledge the profound importance of direct experience of truth that may ground the native system of knowledge, but we are under no obligation to accept as true either the native's interpretation of the experience, or the native system of knowledge from which the interpretation is drawn. In other words, the ethnologist should maintain a healthy perspectivism6 with respect to native systems of knowledge. It is perfectly possible for me to attain the experience of angin, or kundalini, or n/um without uncritically accepting the Malay, Hindu or Bushman interpretations as explanations of the experience. Rather, I should strive to describe as completely as possible -- or alternatively assist the native to describe -- how that experience fits into their system of knowledge.

Perspectivism contrasts with the type of relativism that is currently rife in the wake of postmodernism. Much that goes under the guise of the "postmodern critique" seems to be no more than our old friend, cultural relativism, encumbered with a coating of political ideology. This relativism seems to say, "Knowledge is power and, anyhow, there is no such thing as truth, so it is better to empower the Other to speak for themselves and drop all this scientific pretention which is just so much power-grabbing on our part." On the contrary, perspectivism says, "The Other has every right to voice their point of view, and I have every right to voice an alternative view, or to empirically demonstrate that the Other's view is wrong."

Adherence to relativism in its new guise, even with the best intentions in the world, can lead to serious errors of judgement. Let me give you the example of what I have come to call the "Faris error." In an otherwise brilliant piece of ethnography and historical reconstruction covering the Navajo Nightway ceremonial, James Faris (1990:6-18) argues (correctly) that the application of "foreign" western scientific theory to archaeological and other data on aboriginal history effectively places blinders and earplugs on scholars when it comes to registering anomalous data. He concludes (incorrectly) from all this that we should simply accept the "Other's" (i.e., Navajo's) account of their own history. He ends his heated discussion by raising the astonishing question, "Why, then, are not the knowledges of living authorities of local history, Nightway medicine men, accepted as truths as valid as the evidences of the material remains of the deceased as interpreted by foreign history" (ibid:18)?

Please do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying that Faris is unjustified in attacking what he sees as the blinders imposed by faulty scholarship, or the failure of researchers to take ethnohistorical data into account in their formulations. He is well within the scientific purview to point this out, for indded it is a common failing in science and every other system of knowledge. What is wrong with Faris' argument is simply this: He leaps from a discussion of the imperfections of overly theory-laden research to the logically unwarrented conclusion that acceptance of the "Other's" account of history is a better strategy for discovering the truth. In reaching this conclusion, undoubtedly motivated by the understandable desire to "empower the Other's voice," Faris distorts the nature and intent of much of native ethnohistory.

In the first place, Faris' argument distorts cross-culturally common cosmogonic notions of time. Ethnohistorical accounts are usually not intended as veridical records of historical events, but rather to add temporal significance to the cosmological account of the world and the people's place in the world. And a cosmogonic sense of time is almost always cyclical, rather than lineal or historical in the Euroamerican sense. In the second place, cosmogonic worldviews are not intended as explanations of the range of empirical facts, such as the archaeological, serological, historical linguistic, and geological data that scientific accounts are required to explain. The intent of cosmologies is to produce meaning in experience -- the experience of annual, life, and astronomical cycles, of the relations of people to land and water, of the people living where they live, of the social order, etc.

5. Truth, Apodicticity and Ideology. Relativism abounds at the moment and the Faris error is frequently committed in part because ethnologists tend to bury themselves in meaning systems without perhaps taking the trouble to attain the level of truth in understanding that may underlie those systems. As a consequence, analyses of meaning are frequently superficial. The superficiality is unavoidable when the analysis emanates from ideology, for ideology never leads to truth. This is blatant when, as with either neo-Marxist or positivist ideology, there is a doctrinal denial that an attainment of eidetic intuition or pure apodicticity is even possible, or that all systems of knowledge are but histories of ideas in service to political and economic ends.

The anthropology of consciousness would do well to avoid any ideological or doctrinal frames of analysis. Instead, our work should be grounded on the best possible "thick participation" and phenomenology. An understanding of a people's system of knowledge should be from the surface symbolism inward to the seat of truth in directly apprehended eidetic intuition. Let's recall Carol Lederman's experience for a moment. She eventually moved from an intense study of Malay healing ritual and symbolism "inwards," so to speak, until she actually experienced the truth of angin. There is an absolute adequacy to Carol's experience of the "Inner Winds" that cannot be matched at the level of fact (see Husserl 1931:382-387 on evidential adequacy). There is no conceivable evidence that could persuade Carol that the experience of angin does not occur. The truth of angin for Carol is real. And because her encounter with angin was direct, and no longer at the level of belief or vicarious description, her account of Malay healing is far more compelling as ethnography than, say, any merely hermeneutical analysis of the meaning of angin might be.

Of course, lots of argument can arise about the significance of angin in the Malay cosmology, because that kind of analysis lies at the level of fact. One could imagine all of the schools of analysis converging on the problem of the significance of the "Inner Winds" in Malay cosmology. There might be Jungians looking for archetypes, semiotic structuralists deducing the principles of the pure mind, and hermeneuticists probing for etymologies and grammatical rules. There might even be a stray biogenetic structuralist putting electrodes on people in order to get a measure of autonomic system reactivity during a bout of angin. But none of this is work at the level of truth -- only at the level of fact and meaning. And nothing any of these analysts can contrive will bear the authentic mark of eidetic intuition and pure apodicticity in the way that Carol's account does. Furthermore, unless they have a Carol Lederman around to remind them, the other analysts may forget that what we are actually trying to understand is a direct, transpersonal experience in relation to a native system of knowledge and healing.

6. Apodicticity, the Development of Truth and Bharati's Top. Because the ethnologist may not seek truth via direct transpersonal experience, he or she may also fail to realize the developmental dimensions of truth. Anagarika Bharati (1975:31-33) makes this point when he suggests that religions appear to diverge markedly only when considered at the level of symbolic detail, but they appear to converge when considered at the level of mature spiritual experience and contemplation. Bharati uses the metaphor of a child's top with symbol systems ranging upwards and diverging from each other toward the center, but converging again toward a single point at the zenith. He carries the metaphor even farther by suggesting that the paths only lead upward as long as the top is spinning -- the spin representing the actual effort required to realize the truth intended by each path. If the top stops spinning, it flops over, thus representing dead traditions with no realization of truth and exhibiting only the artifacts of truth in their symbolism -- say, as in the case of the symbolic system of the ancient Maya.

Apropos to our topic, the ethnologist who does not seek the truth of the system will not be able to appreciate the pure apodicticity that accompanies each and every step in the realization of a maturing path of truth. Even when the ethnologist makes an attempt to attain the esoteric experience of the native, as Chagnon (1977:154) did on one occasion with Yanomamo hallucinogens, dance and chanting, he or she may not realize that the experiences had by the shaman are the product of years of maturation of that state of consciousness. The fact is, we do not really know what the Yanomamo master shaman experiences when he is possessed by his spirits, or flies off to eat the souls of enemies.

7. Alpha Cuts and Explaining Apodicticity. I do not wish to leave the impression that pure apodicticity may not be approached empirically. On the contrary, the experience of apodicticity cries out for explanation as a phenomenon, especially as it relates to interpretations and systems of knowledge. After all, it is one of the most important factors that account both for adherence by adepts to a path of spiritual exploration, and for the tenacious systems of belief of conspiracy theorists (e.g., Hitler's world-wide Zionist plot, McCarthy's witch hunt for Communists, UFO abduction theories, etc.), of zealous religious cults with charismatic leaders (Jim Jones and Jonestown, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, Charles Manson and the Manson Family), and of schools of scientific theory that have outlived their empirical usefulness (behaviorism in psychology, structural-functionalism in ethnology). Indeed, Husserl himself knew that apodicticity posed a problem worthy of more complete exploration, but to my knowledge he never got around to dealing with the problem in his writings.

Understanding any essential element of consciousness in phenomenology requires that the element be bracketed within the total field of experience. Indeed, part of what I have been doing is explaining why apodicticity and fuzziness co-occur by bracketing them singly and together. Such an approach to explanation requires crispification of otherwise fuzzy relations. Although it may sound like a contradiction, the phenomenological process of bracketing involves the imposition of crisp boundaries defined within normally fuzzy categories, all within a single act of consciousness. Such precise boundaries are termed alpha cuts in fuzzy set theory (see Klir and Folger 1988:16-18, Zimmermann 1990:14). A fuzzy set may contain a number of precise boundaries defined on distinct qualities, or for specific purposes, or from various points of view.

What I have been doing here is crispifying a fuzzy relationship between the direct apprehension of apodicticity on the one hand and conceptualizations about, and expressions of apodicticity on the other hand. I have been doing this by drawing appropriate alpha cuts, sometimes isolating apodicticity, at other times isolating the relationship between apodicticity and eidetic intuition, or between apodicticity and fuzziness. In bracketing (i.e., imposing an alpha cut around) apodicticity during contemplation, one does not in any way remove apodicticity from its context of experience. One only becomes aware of apodicticity, its role, its relations, etc., and the process of becoming aware elevates the feature into clarity as an object of consciousness -- much like a dominant figure in a bas-relief. The process of bracketing is the same for any quality of consciousness (i.e., angin, intentionality, love, etc.). After bracketing within awareness it is then possible to develop conceptual understanding of apodicticity (etc., etc.) grounded upon the abstract pattern of relations retained in memory. The process of conceptualization may result in an interpretation relative to a cycle of meaning, or may lead toward explanation. Science, of course, is in the business of explanation. We answer "why" questions, not just "is" or "what sense do you make of this" questions. But when we engage in explaining, we are entering into the domain of facts and relative apodicticity, even if the object to be explained is pure apodicticity, or more likely an essence accompanied by pure apodicticity.

I have emphasized this distinction repeatedly because it is methodologically critical. For example, my own pet explanation of pure apodicticity is that it is produced by the brain's aesthetic recognition of its own organization or nature. My explanation is similar to Persig's account of "quality" in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But where Persig was interested in the aesthetics of subject-object relations involving external objects, I am suggesting an aesthetic relationship between subject and internal objects.

This explanation makes a lot of sense to me, but then it would do, considering I created it. A different explanation might appeal to you -- perhaps the ancient Greek view of divine inspiration. Or you might find it necessary to create your own explanation, one more to your liking. And of course we could argue about whose explanation is better. We could set some kind of standard for what "better" means (e.g., which is more "pleasing to the mind," which accounts for more empirical details, which accounts for how the experience arises, which uncovers the mechanism producing the experience, etc.). We may even reach some sort of consensus as to why pure apodicticity accompanies eidetic intuitions. But whether or not we reach a common understanding on the "why's" of apodicticity, neither of us can deny the experience of pure apodicticity once we have had it. It is real for both of us, just as is the association of pure apodicticity and categorical fuzziness. What we make of these essential features of consciousness is another matter altogether.


In conclusion, the issue I have put before you is the theoretical and methodological problem raised by the sense of absolute certainty that commonly accompanies transpersonal experiences and the eidetic intuitions arising during contemplation. I have suggested that the memory of pure apodicticity pervades interpretations and symbolic expressions based upon those direct experiences, and thus adds a profound sense of ultimate reality to the system of knowledge from which the interpretations are drawn. I have also suggested that this sense of apodicticity is not diminished by the fuzziness of natural categories related either to thoughts about the experience, or to interpretations of the experience -- that apodicticity and categorical fuzziness commonly co-occur in transpersonal experiences.

The upshot is that ethnology needs to become more sensitized to the importance of apodicticity both as an essential element in the structure of consciousness and as a factor in understanding the relationship between experience and worldview in native cosmologies, and in religious and political movements in modern Euroamerican culture. The discipline needs to maintain a distinction between the sense of pure apodicticity that arises in direct experience and the sense of relative apodicticity that accompanies matters of fact. I have argued that a cultural relativistic, or postmodern, approach may be bad science when it abrogates the responsibility of constructing explanations in favor of uncritically accepting the native account of truth merely on the grounds of political correctness. A healthy perspectivism grounded upon thick participation will carry us a lot farther than relativism toward building a mature science of consciousness.


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* This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness (SAC), Santa

1 The concept of the life-world, or Lebenswelt, originates with the last major work of Edmund Husserl (1970:103-189), and was later developed in works by Merleau-Ponty (1964), and Schutz (Schutz and Luckmann 1973, 1989; see Spiegelberg 1982:144).

2 I have explored the implications of categorical fuzziness and fuzzy set theory in Laughlin (1993b). Fuzziness refers to an easing of the restrictions upon membership in a category -- categories being cognitive classes of objects "which are considered equivalent" (Rosch et al. 1976:383). Fuzzy sets are categories with graded membership, and constraints upon membership in a category are elastic. Instead of an object either belonging to, or not belonging to a category, as is the case in classical set theory, the object may be more or less a member of a category. Examples of fuzzy categories often cited in the literature include "young child," "good person," "tall man," and "beautiful woman." Fuzzy numbers include notions like "lots," "several," "occasional," "a bunch," "a few," etc. By the same token, fuzzy reasoning or logic (Giles 1979, Lakoff 1973) "relates to what might be called approximate reasoning, that is, a type of reasoning which is neither very exact nor very inexact" (Zadeh 1975:1). While propositions in classical logic are considered to be either true or false, in fuzzy logic they may be more or less ("sort of," "maybe," "fairly," "pretty much") true, or more or less false. Natural categories tend to be fuzzy, rather than crisp, in the context of the everyday lifeworld.

3 He paraphrases and extends Clifford Geertz's notion of "thick description."

4 "Bracketing" is the process of intuitively singling out for scrutiny some feature of consciousness in situ as it were within the total field of experience. See below for further discussion.

5 This is similar to Jean Piaget's suggestion that any behavior may be produced by multiple structures.

6 I am indebted to Michael Scriven for introducing me to the distinction between perspectivism and relativism.

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