The Anthropic Subject and the Anthropic Object

As I wrote in another post, we like to think of ourselves as living in a post-anthropic era where human beings are not special beings at all. This belief is half right. We are certainly aware that human beings are one object among many; we are no longer the centre of the objective universe. But as Descartes points out, the de-centering of the human being in the objective world is accompanied by the radical centering of the individual consciousness in the subjective world. That is to say, if we take objective criteria to be the only criteria of knowledge, then the only subjectivity that we can accept is our own. Forget anthropocentrism, we are forced to accept a radical subjectivity centred around myself.

In a world of infinite objects, I am the only subject.

A complementary phenomenon happened in classical Indian philosophy and contemplation where the self was decentred leading to a very different critique of anthropocentrism. Descartes maxim of extreme subjectivity says “I think therefore I am.” The Buddha removes the ‘I’ in both halves of that phrase. Neither knowledge nor existence is predicated on me. This earlier attack on anthropocentrism doesn’t reveal us as one object in an infinite array of objects, but rather as one subject in an infinite array of subjects.

It’s no surprise that in this discovery of an infinite array of subjectivity, the contemplative traditions lost interest in exploring the objective sphere, just as modern science kept consciousness at bay for centuries.

In a world of infinite subjects, the world is the only object.

The contemplative traditions -as much as science- were victims of their own success; the more they explored subjectivity the less interesting and unimportant the world of objects became. Each side reveals the blind spots of the other. It is now time to bring the two together in a new anthropocentrism and then start the de-centering process all over again, except that this time we need to liberate both the subject and the object.

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