A very unusual dream

A few days ago (perhaps a week or so) I had a very detailed, coherent, and odd dream. I had been thinking of it ever since and I decided I should write it down. It's not often the case that I have such complicated and involved dreams. In fact, I seldom remember them at all.

At the start, I was having an argument with a friend, and he told me that my position wasn't worth debating because it contained a logical contradiction. A contradictory proposition is necessarily false, and therefore addressing the merits is a waste of time. For whatever reason, I wasn't very convinced by this claim.

I decided to travel back in time to the 13th century, and went to one of the church-run schools at my city. There, there was a class on the Trivium, the basic foundations for learning: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic (argument and logic).

The course was, unusually, being taught by a woman, who was, I think, a nun. I got some ressonances to Hypatia of Alexandria, although the time frame is all wrong.

She was teaching about the burden of proof in arguments, and which aspects of an argument are whose responsibility. On a debate, the defender must state their thesis, and hold up the premises and arguments which support it, while the challenger must attempt to rebut the thesis, and in order to do this, presents an antithesis, which has its own premises and arguments. In that regard, she pointed out that when the thesis contains logical contradictions, it is unnecessary for the challenger to demonstrate the antithesis, but simply to point at the contradictions, which make the thesis necessarily false.

One of the students began to argue with the teacher, but she said she wouldn't entertain arguments on this particular point, which was well settled rhetorical and dialectical practice. I found myself, at the time, in sympathy with the teacher, in spite of my initial view. I thought the student was being imprecise about his thinking. However, I was curious about the way he would justify this view, and so I asked him after the lecture had ended.

The student said he thought a self-contradictory thesis shouldn't necessarily be directly discarded. In order to justify this, he alleged that theses belong to very different spheres of mental experience. At this point, he drew an analogy between the mind and the cosmos, also separated into different spheres. As above, so below. The mind, like the cosmos, would then be separated into 7 different spheres, corresponding to the classical planets.

These spheres would be divided into two distinct types of experience: on the one hand, the mental phenomena described by Plato on his allegory of the divided line, and on the other, other phenomena outside this realm. Beyond that, the sphere of the fixed stars represents our ultramundane knowledge of the theological: the experience of God's law and his existence, arrived at from our own nature and the power of reason, like Saint Anselm's ontological argument or the Five Ways of the Summa Theologica.

  • Intelligible world
    1. The Sun corresponds to the dialectic, the highest form of knowledge.
    2. Mars corresponds to reasoning/logic/geometry.
    3. Jupiter corresponds to belief, or knowledge about enduring aspects of the world acquired through the senses.
    4. Saturn corresponds to illusion, or impermanent impressions perceived by the senses about mutable properties of the world.
  • Unintelligible world
    1. Venus corresponds to the realm of desires and feelings.
    2. Mercury corresponds to the realm of will.
    3. The Moon corresponds to the realm of dreams.

In the unintelligible realms contradictions are not only permissible but common. It is possible to desire things which contradict each other, and to desire one thing and its opposite at once, or to hold contrary affections. Regarding the will, one may want something to occur, and yet may not want its consequences, or its causes. In the realm of dreams, all logic is of course entirely suspended.

So when one is arguing about mental phenomena that relate to affections, will or dreaming, a thesis which contains contradictions should not immediately disqualify the argument from taking place.

This was quite a fascinating position, and much more nuanced than I was expecting, so I invited the student to come to the future with me, and offered him to stay if he so wished. He accepted, and I brought him to the 21st century, and showed him a shopping centre. There, he told me he was a cloth merchant, and that he didn't think he would fit very well in this time, considering the way that commodities were traded and needs were fulfilled and so on. It all seemed very strange to him.

At this point, I woke up.