An Introduction to the Thought of Sun Myung Moon: Unification Thought and V.O.C. Theory

Chapter 9 - Epistemology

Epistemology, the science of knowledge, is a branch of philosophy that deals with fundamental issues related to the question of how knowledge of a given object can be obtained, and more specifically how correct knowledge can be obtained. Its goal is to bring to light the origin and object of cognition and to discuss the method and development of cognition. Epistemology as a philosophical discipline has been affected by modern physiology and medicine. It has often applied the experimental method to study the process of acquiring knowledge, and yet, many points are still in need of clarification. Unification Epistemology's task is to clarify the entire range of questions pertaining to cognition and knowledge, including problematic issues inherited from the past.

I. Outline of Unification Epistemology

The main issues commonly debated in discussions on epistemology are the questions of the origin of cognition, its object, and its method.

The position of Unification Epistemology on each of these points will now be introduced.

A. The Origin of Cognition

In terms of the origin of cognition, the philosophical positions that have traditionally been opposed to each other are those of empiricism and rationalism. In past epistemologies, the relationship between the subject of cognition (human beings) and the object of cognition (all things) could not be satisfactorily explained. Those defending the position of rationalism (with an emphasis on the subject of cognition) have tended to insist that accurate knowledge is only possible through human reason, whereas those defending the position of empiricism (putting the emphasis on the object of cognition) have stressed that cognition occurs by grasping the object as it is, through sensation.

Kant, who attempted to unify rationalism and empiricism, thought that cognition occurs when the sensory content coming from the object and the categories (forms) of understanding present in the subject are brought together and synthesized by the power of imagination.

According to Kant's view, understanding takes place when the elements contained within the subject (human beings) and those contained within the object (all things) are joined. However, the necessary connection between the subject and the object and the way in which the two are combined is not clearly understood. For Kant, the human subject of cognition is only able to understand the world of sensory experience within the scope of the forms, or categories of human understanding.

In his view, the thing-in-itself, which corresponds to Unification Thought's sungsang, is unknowable.

According to Unification Thought, cognition occurs when the human subject makes a judgment relating to a thing (an object of human dominion). While experience is also involved in making cognitive judgments, judgment itself is produced by the activity of human reason. Therefore, experience and reason together are needed in cognition. Accordingly, in Unification Thought, experience and reason are both equally indispensable and cognition takes place through the unified operation of the two. Also, because human beings and all things by nature resemble each other as subject and object, human beings are able to experience full and accurate cognition of all things.

B. The Object of Cognition

Philosophers have been divided over the issue of the object of cognition. The issue in question is whether the object of cognition (i.e., a given thing) actually exists, as realism maintains, or whether it only exists within the human mind, as maintained by subjective idealism. In Unification Epistemology, both standpoints are brought together. Unification Thought acknowledges that all things exist objectively outside the human subject of cognition, i.e., Unification Thought accepts realism. Human beings, as the subjects of all things, exercise dominion over them and are able to cognize them.

Since all things are the objects of human dominion and cognition, they must exist externally, independently of human beings.

In subjective idealism, the existence of things as we experience them every day is denied. Things are considered to be nothing but ideas that appear in our consciousness. According to Unification Thought, this amounts to recognizing only the subject element of cognition, namely the ideas (prototypes) that exist in the mind. Cognition means judgment, and judgment can be regarded as a sort of a measuring act. For measurement, a certain standard (criteria) is needed, and it is the ideas within the human mind that fulfill that function. These ideas are called prototypes. Prototypes are mental images within the mind of living beings, i.e., they are ideas that are present in our mind or consciousness. Cognition takes place when a prototype (an image within the mind) and an image coming from an external object are collated as subject and object. Thus, Unification Epistemology is a theory of collation where the subject of cognition (ideas) and the object of cognition (things) establish a mutual give-and-take relationship. As we have seen, subjective idealism emphasizes the reality of ideas and realism stresses the reality of things. In Unification Thought, neither of these two essential elements standing in a mutual relationship of subject and object can be dispensed with.

C. The Method of Cognition

In terms of the method of cognition, the philosophical world has been sharply divided between Kant's transcendental method and Marx's dialectical method. The two are unified in Unification Epistemology.

According to Kant's transcendental method, elements of sensation coming from external things (their shape, color, etc.) are perceived by the human mind through the a priori forms (categories) of our understanding. Thus, the leading element in cognition always consists of the way in which the subjectivity of our judgment evaluates the sensory contents by applying what Kant calls the a priori categories.

The things that form the objects of cognition provide the content of experience, and the human subject of cognition applies the a priori categories. According to Unification Thought, however, things have both content and form, i.e., attributes and categories of existence, and the body of the human subject has content and form as well. The form and content of human beings and those of the things perceived in cognition resemble each other. By mutually interacting through give-and-take action, they provide the first stage in the process of cognition.

At this stage, the give-and-take action is of an external nature. It is the process by which a cognitive image is produced within the human body (through its sensory organs). This is called an external image.

For instance, when we see a flower, an image of the flower is reflected in our retina and appears in our cerebrum as transmitted through the optical nerves. However, cognition cannot be achieved through this process alone. It will only take place when a standard of measurement is present in our mind. Such a standard will lead, e.g., to the judgment that the image appearing in our sensory organs "is a flower." This standard of judgment is a concept or prototype. This prototype, in turn, must necessarily be equipped with the subject's essential components, i.e., content and form. Thus, the image present in our mind acts as the subject and the image appearing in our body functions as the object; when the two are collated there is an inner give-and-take action and the process of cognition is completed. In other words, cognition is the product of give-and-take action on two levels, external and internal. In view of that, the method of cognition in Unification Thought is neither identical with the transcendental method nor identical with the dialectical method. It is a method based on give-and-take action and can be called the give-and-take method.

In Marx's dialectical method, matter determines the mind, which corresponds to the position of materialism. According to dialectical materialism, only material things have objective existence and thus content (attributes) and form (form of existence). From this perspective, the material element alone plays the decisive role in cognition. Thus, the categories of understanding that appear in human consciousness are merely a shadowy reflection of the forms of existence of material reality. The method of Marxist dialectics represents a reversal of the proper order in the relationship between subject and object. It denies that there is also content and form in human consciousness, i.e., in the subject. From this perspective, the give-and-take method of Unification Thought appears as a combination of the transcendental method and the dialectical method. Precisely speaking, Unification Epistemology includes an element of dialectical materialism in the outer give-and-take action and it includes an element of Kant's transcendental method in the inner give-and-take action. We can thus say that it unites the two theories (see Fig. 17).

Fig. 17: Unification Epistemology as the Unification of the Transcendental Method and the Dialectical Method

II. Content and Form in Cognition

In both the mind and the body of human beings (the subjects of cognition) there are content and form that correspond to all things.

Cognition, then, is the collation of content and form that occurs between things and the human body and, further, between the human body and the human mind; it is give-and-take action.

A. Content and Form of the Object and Subject

The process of cognition is completed in two stages. First, outer give-and-take action occurs between all things and the human body (our sensory organs); then, inner give-and-take action occurs between the human body and the human mind. In other words, an external image is created in the human body through outer give-and-take action. Then an image is formed through inner give-and-take action within the human mind. At the first level, the give-and-take action consists of the collation between the content and form of perceived things and the content and form of the human body. The human person is an encapsulation of the universe (a microcosm) and the integration of all things. Therefore, the human body has the same attributes (structure, elements, texture, etc.) as all things in a compact form, which makes the first stage of give-and-take action possible. The content of the object of cognition (a thing) refers to its various attributes, which include such things as shape, weight, size, color, and sound. The form of the object of cognition refers to the specific context in which theses attributes appear. Hence, the context that determines the boundaries in which an attribute appears is called the form of existence.

The human body as well has content (attributes) and form (form of existence) corresponding to the content and form of all things (the objects of cognition). But cognition is not possible merely due to the fact that our body and all things share a similar content and form. A second level is necessary, that of inner give-and-take action between our body (the external image) and our mind (ideas). Since cognition is a sort of judgment, the mind must be equipped with criteria that enable it to evaluate the images coming from the external world as they are reflected through the body. And since cognition is a phenomenon of thinking through which the external object is evaluated, the mind of the subject must also be equipped with content and form.

The content and form present in the mind of the subject is what we refer to as prototypes. When collation occurs between the content and form of the material elements of all things (as reflected by way of the human body) and the prototypes (our mental content and forms), the cognitive process is at last completed.

In summary, first, the content and form of the human body corresponds to the material content and form of all things. Second, the content and form of our mental images, i.e., the prototypes, corresponds to the content and form of our body. This two-stage development in the act of collating content and form represents the cognitive process.

B. Elements Making Up a Prototype

The prototypes constitute the criteria, or standard of judgment by which the mind evaluates the sensory messages that reach it through the body, coming from the material world. They are concepts. The material elements of all things have both content and form. Thus, the prototypes that correspond to them must naturally also have content and form. The content of the prototype is called the protoimage and its form is referred to as the relational image, or image of form.

The protoimage represents the aspect of content of the prototype. It is the standard of judgment that is reflected in consciousness. In fact, the protoimage is a mental image of the attributes of the cells and tissues as reflected in consciousness on the cellular level. As a mental image, the protoimage is a mental content that corresponds to a material content. As such, it is a sungsang-type content. In short, our mental images correspond to the content or attributes of all things. In terms of content, cognition is made up of the correspondence between protoimages, a mental content in the human mind (subject), and the material content or attributes of all things (object), as they are perceived by the senses. When give-and-take action occurs between them, cognition becomes a reality.

The image of form, or relational image, on the other hand, represents the form aspect of the prototype. It represents the thought form, or standard of judgment within our consciousness. In reality, the image of form is the form of existence of cells and tissues as it is reflected in consciousness at the cellular level. It is a thought form that gives certain restrictions to the action of thinking. The human body, which encapsulates the universe and encompasses all things, has the same form of existence as all things. However, cognition will not be achieved unless there is a thought form within our consciousness representing the ultimate standard of judgment. Hence, from the point of view of form, the cognitive process is completed when the forms of existence of all things (object) establish a give-and-take action with the corresponding thought forms existing in human consciousness (subject).

III. Protoconsciousness, Image of Protoconsciousness, and Thought Forms

A. Protoconsciousness

From the perspective of God's consciousness, the universe created through the Logos (reason-law) is the locus of cosmic consciousness.

Protoconsciousness is the individualized cosmic consciousness that permeates tissues and cells. From the perspective of the function of the mind, protoconsciousness is a mind of a lower level. Thus, we can say that it is a lower level cosmic consciousness that has penetrated cells, or that it is God's mind operant at a lower level. Just as an electric wave enters a radio and produces a sound, cosmic consciousness penetrates cells and tissues and gives them life. In the end, protoconsciousness can be equated with life. It is potential consciousness endowed with sensitivity, perceptiveness, and purposefulness.

The function of protoconsciousness is to decipher hereditary information (the genetic code); to cause the cells and tissues of the body to act according to that code; and to transmit information. Once cosmic consciousness penetrates the cells and becomes protoconsciousness, it reads the genetic code of the DNA. Then, it causes the cells and tissues to act according to the instructions contained in that information. Protoconsciousness also has the function of causing the growth and development of cells and tissues, the creation and growth of new organs, and the reciprocal relationship between cells and tissues in the growth of living beings.

B. Formation of the Image of Protoconsciousness

Protoconsciousness has sensitivity that allows it to sense the structure, constituents, qualities, and changing conditions of cells and tissues intuitively. Here, the content sensed by protoconsciousness (i.e., the mental image of the attributes or contents of the cells reflected onto protoconsciousness) is the protoimage. Protoconsciousness is able to grasp the content or attributes of cells.

Furthermore, the conditions required for the inner give-and-take action between the elements within the cell (the nucleus and the cytoplasm) and the outer give-and-take action between different cells are referred to as the form of relation. Since the bodies of human beings and other beings can only exist under such conditions, the form of relation is also called form of existence. The form of existence is reflected on protoconsciousness, resulting in a mental image that we chose to call a relational image or image of form.

Protoconsciousness has protoimage and relational image (image of form), which together we call image of protoconsciousness, which is the same thing as the prototype mentioned above. Precisely speaking, when considering the process from the perspective of the image reflected on protoconsciousness, we speak of an image of protoconsciousness. When considering the process from the point of view of the subject of cognition, we speak of a prototype.

C. Formation of the Forms of Thought

The body is the encapsulation of all things. Therefore, the form of existence of all things is also the form of existence of the body. Since this form of existence is reflected onto protoconsciousness, it is also a mental form, or a relational image. A mental form is a thought form that comes into being based on the form of existence. The thought form(s) thus corresponds to the form(s) of existence. In this way, when the form of existence (form of relation) present on the material level in cells and tissues is reflected onto protoconsciousness, it becomes a mental form or relational image. This relational image on the cellular level becomes a type of information that is transmitted to the higher center of the brain. Through this process, various images of relation are grouped and categorized. When they reach the cortex center, a thought form is established, i.e., a thought form is created on the level of the brain as a mental form corresponding to the form of existence in the external world.

D. Forms of Existence and Thought Forms

Since the thought forms corresponds to the forms of existence, we cannot understand the former without properly understanding the latter. In order for things to exist, individual entities must be related to each other, and the same is true of the various elements making up each entity, whereby the form of relation is the form of existence. In Unification Epistemology, the forms of existence are based on the four-position foundation, give-and-take action, and the origin-division-union action. The forms of thought (mental forms) correspond to these forms of existence. In Unification Epistemology, there are ten basic forms of existence.

1. Existence and Force
2. Sungsang and Hyungsang
3. Yang and Yin
4. Subject and Object
5. Position and Settlement
6. Permanence and Change
7. Action and Effect
8. Time and Space
9. Number and Principle
10. Finitude and Infinity

IV. The Method of Cognition

A. Give-and-Take Action

The method of cognition is the method of give-and-take action.

Therefore, we can state that cognition is the product of give-and-take between subject and object. In cognition, subject refers to a person who fulfills certain conditions by showing interest in the object and through processing prototypes. Object, on the other hand, refers to things that fulfill the conditions proper to an object by having content (attributes) and form (form of existence). Cognition means acquiring and increasing one's knowledge, thus it can be included in the concept of multiplication through give-and-take action.

B. The Formation of the Four-Position Foundation

Cognition is realized as the result of the give-and-take action between subject and object, centering on purpose. Thus, for give-and-take action to produce cognition, four elements or positions, i.e., a center (purpose), a subject, an object, and a resulting being are absolutely necessary. The first step in the process of cognitive give-and-take action consists of purpose standing in the central role or position. This purpose, in turn, consists of the purpose of existence of all things, according to the Principle, and purpose in the ordinary sense, as it applies to individual beings in daily life.

The second step in the cognitive process is the role or position of the subject. As was stated, the subject must both show interest for the object and have prototypes. The third step is the object (in this case all things), which must have attributes (content) and form of existence or form of relation (form). The fourth step is the result, cognition itself.

Fundamentally, cognition is the process by which the content and form of the subject and the content and form of the object are collated through give-and-take action and are made into one united body. Creation proceeds from an inner developmental four-position foundation to an outer developmental four-position foundation. Cognition, on the other hand, proceeds by first realizing an outer identity-maintaining four-position foundation, then an inner identity-maintaining four-position foundation.

V. The Process of Cognition

A. The Sensory Stage of Cognition

The sensory stage is the formation stage of the cognitive process, in which the outer identity-maintaining four-position foundation is first established (Fig. 18). Centering on a conscious or unconscious purpose, give-and-take action between the subject (a human being) and the object (a thing) takes place and the content and form of the object are reflected on the sensory centers of the subject, forming an image or a representation. This sensory content and sensory form can be referred to as the sensory cognitive image. At the sensory stage, the sensory content and sensory form are merely a fragmentary assemblage of images, which have not yet become a unified cognition of the object. Therefore, at this stage, knowledge of the object is not yet concrete.

Fig. 18: The Sensory Stage of Cognition

B. The Understanding Stage of Cognition

The understanding stage is the growth stage of the cognitive process, in which the inner identity-maintaining four-position foundation is established (Fig. 19). With this stage, cognition reaches a degree of completion. First, the sensory cognitive image that has been formed in the outer four-position foundation is transferred to the position of object (the inner hyungsang) in the inner four-position foundation.

Then, the prototypes corresponding to the sensory cognitive image are drawn from the memory by spiritual apperception. These two elements (the sensory image and the prototypes) combined constitute the inner hyungsang. Give-and-take action of the collation type then takes place, as spiritual apperception (the subject) compares the two object elements, i.e., the prototype and the sensory cognitive image, and decides if they coincide or not. The process of comparing is referred to as collation. It is through this collation that cognition occurs.

Unification Epistemology thus is a theory of collation in terms of methodology.

Fig. 19: The Understanding Stage of Cognition

C. The Rational Stage of Cognition

The rational stage is the completion stage of cognition and refers to the process of thought in which reasoning proper and the association of ideas take place (Fig. 20). The subject, or inner sungsang, chooses necessary elements from among the various ideas, concepts, mathematical principles, and laws already present within the inner hyungsang and performs various mental operations with them, such as association, separation, analysis, and synthesis. These operations are performed when the inner sungsang establishes a comparison between the ideas and concepts within the inner hyungsang. This amounts to give-and-take action of the collation type, through which new ideas and concepts can be obtained. Knowledge increases through the repetition of such operations.

Fig. 20: The Rational Stage of Cognition

VI. The Process of Cognition and the Physical Conditions

A. Parallelism between the Psychological Process and the Physiological Process

The human being is a dual being of mind and body. The cells, tissues, and organs constituting the body are all composed of both mental and physical elements. Additionally, human actions and operations are also dual in nature, which means that psychological and physiological actions are always at work in parallel. Therefore, in the view of Unification Thought, psychological and physiological processes are similarly at work in parallel in the cognitive act. Mental activity, for example, arises through give-and-take action between the mind and the brain.

This parallelism between the psychological process and the physiological process similarly manifests itself as a phenomenon of correspondence in the transmission of information. The human person constantly receives various types of information from outside and inside the body and responds to these. The stimulation received by a receptor (sense organ) such as the eyes, the ears, or the skin, becomes an impulse and passes through the afferent path of the nerve fibers to reach the central nerves. The central nerves process that information and send out instructions that are transmitted as impulses through the efferent path of the nerve fiber to the effectors (muscles and glands), which respond to it. For Unification Thought, behind this physiological process of transmitting information there must necessarily be an accompanying conscious process. That is, behind the movement of the chemical matter in the nerve fiber and the transmitter substances at the synapses, protoconsciousness is at work on the level of the cells, perceiving the content of the information and transmitting it to the center.

In today's theory of cybernetics, the phenomenon of consciousness also appears to advance synchronously with the physiological transmission of information on the cellular level. Cybernetics studies the automation of the transmission and control of information in machines.

In living beings, the phenomenon of cybernetics occurs when stimulus and response are transmitted from the sensory organs to the central nerves, the peripheral nerves, and the muscles. However, in the case of living beings, this automatism is not merely a mechanical operation, but the autonomous operation of a self-regulating organism.

On the cellular level as well, there is a continuous repetition of the transmission of information from the cytoplasm to the nucleus and the response from the nucleus, whereby the cell exists and multiplies.

This process demonstrates that autonomy (which is a form of consciousness) is at work on the level of each individual cell. In other words, this autonomy is called life or, to use Unification Thought terminology, protoconsciousness.

B. Physiological Processes and Three Stages of Cognition

According to contemporary cerebral physiology, there are physiological processes in the cerebral cortex that correspond to the three stages of cognition. First, the information about sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch is transmitted through the peripheral nerves to the sensory area corresponding to the visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile senses respectively. This physiological process corresponds to the sensory stage of cognition.

Second, the information from the sensory area is gathered in the parietal association section, where it is understood and judged. This process corresponds to cognition in the understanding stage. Third, based on this understanding, thinking is made in the frontal association area, and creative activities are carried out, which corresponds to the rational stage of cognition.

C. The Formation of Prototypes and the Physiological Process

As stated above, in the sensory stage, the content (attributes) of cells and tissues corresponds to the protoimage, and the mutual relationship between these elements corresponds to the relational image. Since this protoimage and relational image are constituted on the levels of cells and tissues, they can be called terminal protoimage and terminal relational image respectively. On the other hand, the protoimage and the relational image that arise at the understanding stage of cognition are called central protoimage and central relational image. In the process by which the terminal protoimage and the terminal relational image reach the higher center through the nerve paths, they undergo selection at each level of the central nervous system where they are combined and associated to become a central protoimage and central relational image. When a central relational image reaches the cerebral cortex, it becomes a thought form. Here, each level of the central nervous system stores protoimages and relational images on its own level of the cerebral cortex.

Among the elements composing the prototypes, we also find empirical images (and notions). These empirical images are the images or notions gained through prior experience and stored in the memory center. They will thus become portions of prototypes that will be used for further cognition. These are called empirical prototypes, whereas those prototypes that are present from the beginning are called inborn or original prototypes. Borrowing from the language of physiology, we could say that original prototypes correspond to hereditary memory, while empirical prototypes correspond to acquired memory.

D. The Ideation of Codes and the Encoding of Ideas

In the process whereby a human subject cognizes an object, the information coming from the object, upon reaching the sense organs (the eyes, the nose, etc.), turns into an impulse, which is a kind of code, and reaches the higher center through the sensory nerves. The impulse, then, is ideated in the sensory center in the cerebral cortex and is reflected in the mirror of consciousness as a particular notion or idea. This is the ideation of a code. On the other hand, in the case of practice involving an object, actions are taken based on certain ideas. In that case, the idea becomes an impulse, passes through motor nerves, and moves an effector (a muscle). This is the encoding of an idea. 

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