​Where the Rivers Meet (WTRM) Website



Metaphysics, for me, is the starting point in which an indigenous philosophy can be formalized into a contemporary academic discipline.  Metaphysics is what we believe to exist.  As an example, the terms “animate” and “inanimate” have always bothered me, cause they divide and categorize creation.  While the video listed above is western and does not reflect a particular indigenous metaphysical belief it shows that mainstream  views of “animate” and “inanimate” are being re-thought.  This also is an example that the hearing of indigenous metaphysics sparks new questions and that is a major part of philosophy; to come up with new questions.  New questions sometimes depend upon seeing something from a different angle, and that is the beauty of mainstream and eastern philosophical traditions; it helps us form our hypothesis for scientific and philosophical inquiry. 

Metaphysics is a field that I understand simply as one dedicated to the study of “what exists” through an understanding of the “nature of being”.  Very few comments were focused on metaphysics relatively speaking, most focus was in the area of “ways of knowing” (epistemology) and/or methodology.  What does this say about the majority of philosopher’s world views and ontological commitments?  Not sure, but I find it interesting because does it mean that the nature of “what can be known” or the nature of being” is underestimated and perhaps that is because of a set of ontological commitments to the western world of reason and science.   It is that paradigm in which we may search for the inter-dynamics between metaphysics of indigenous thinking and mainstream philosophy.  The other interpretation of this lack of commentary about metaphysical challenges to indigenous philosophy is due to my own limited knowledge of metaphysics; after one course I am not making claims of expertise.  In fact, I may have missed the cues or implications of statements provided to me by philosophy professors which is why the process has to open up to create some kind of level playing field to talk about the survival of philosophy as a discipline and its potential for growth in a global, interconnected reality.  New metaphysical possibilities should be conceived and realized. 

I like being the “old fool” in class sometimes when I ask 20 something year old students (and I am being stereotypical here I know – old school!) why do they believe that a worm does not have a conscience?  The usual response is – as it is taught to them – that worms can’t reason because they don’t have brains which they argue is connected to conscience (although one wonders about the conscience of certain brainy characters in our midst).  In addition our conscience and ability to reason has not served us well given the devastation we have caused to the earth, to those with a different sex or colour or to those of us creatures that belong to the animal or plant species.  Humans have nothing to brag about here and perhaps we can learn from the old Ojibway lesson that says humanity is the baby of creation and we have much to learn (say in co-existence and consumption) from our older brothers and sisters, the animals, plants and the physical (animate) earth.

So, all that can be said in relation to the claim that worms have no conscience is that IF (1) there seems to be a correlation between brain activity and the presence of conscience, (2) that science has not proven that conscience can be realized only through the brain and (3) that worms (as a hypothesis) can have their conscience mechanism sparked by a non-brain source has never been disproven, THEN worms cannot have a conscience.    BUT, this statement is over-stated by bad science or science groupies and are overrated by students and others.  In claiming that worms don’t have a conscience mainstream philosophy would be more authentic in limiting its statement to say only that within mainstream philosophy, it is reasonable , it is a justified true belief that worms don’t have a conscience.  We must assume only within the limits of our research and ontological commitments, the constraints of our socio-cultural and socio-psychological experiential and intellectual knowledge that something is the case and that something is a limited, non-universal statement.

With regards to metaphysical diversity, philosophers “get it”.  They have the gut feeling that if we look at things from a different cultural perspective, that we understand the colonialization of intellect (who owns knowledge and who get’s to say what knowledge is, etc.) that we understand the power and influence of ontological commitment or a set of beliefs guiding a researcher’s quest. They also understand that metaphysical diversity, we become creative in birthing different questions.

Transformative Experience is described by the Center for Philosophy of Religion in the following manner:

​​Transformative experiences have an epistemic dimension and a personal dimension. An epistemically transformative experience is an experience that provides knowledge that is epistemically inaccessible to the knower until he or she has that experience. As one might put it, the content of the proposition describing the experience is graspable only by having the experience itself. The paradigmatic cases of such experience involve cognitive phenomenological states, such as the state of knowing what it’s like to see color or the state of knowing what it’s like to hear music. A personally transformative experience involves an experience that transforms the self, the subjective preferences, or the epistemic states of a knower in some deep and perhaps even unpredictable way.
Transformative experiences raise distinctive philosophical questions about individual decision-making, because a transformative experience that is both epistemically and personally transformative can change, in a way that is epistemically inaccessible to the decision-maker before the experience, one’s preferences concerning the acts that can lead to the new outcomes. Transformative choices, then, ask you to make a decision where you must manage different selves at different times, with different sets of preferences, but where the proposed changes are epistemically inaccessible to you before you choose whether to become the new self.

What is the nature of experience?  How is it transformational?  Indigneous experience, how it forms wisdom and how it is ritualized, re-told in oral traditions such as story telling, etc. is a key component in indigenous thought (and a main organizing tool for sytemizing indigenous philosophy)  to the formation, dissemination and maintenance of the indigenous world view.    Experiences such as those recieved during a vision question or a dream sequence is vital to the development of indigenous knowledge.   The s;tudy of transformational experience segways into a direct conversation with indigenous thnkers. 

Sources:  The Experience Project 
Philosophy of Transformative Experience

​​TRANSCULTURAL - philosophical thought is trans-cultural, e.g. the logical structure of a modus ponens or modus tollens argument will not be different across cultures. Similarly, I think that the basic metaphysics options of thinking about what reality includes, e.g. materialism, theism, absolute idealism, etc. do not differ across cultures. 

“A Dialogue on Language Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” (published in the collection of essays called On the Way to Language). Granted, it is written from a Heideggerian and therefore western perspective, but it highlights the challenges of gaining a genuine understanding across cultures and languages. For Heidegger, language is one of the primary ways in which Being (the manifestation of the whole of what is within a given historical horizon) is disclosed (along with mood and understanding), which is why to really understand Heidegger one must understand something about the German language. In this dialogue, Heidegger (who presumably is the “inquirer”) struggles to understand the way the Japanese world is disclosed in its own terms. No less would be the case with indigenous thinkers. 

I am particularly attracted to the matriarchal social structure of some first nations, and would definitely want to know more about it.  - I was thinking about the metaphysical limits of philosophy itself; this is what is out there and needs to be studied, can we not re-think the metaphysical limits self-imposed on western philosphy?

FOLK PSYCHOLOGY – can be aa window into both metaphysical visions and epistemological theory. Folk psychology “is the understanding of mind embedded in everyday life.  We took there to be psychological evidence that the very basic levels; what develops in a child before the age of four or so; is pretty universal, but that culturally specific factors enter later.” While this is clearly an epistemological focus, the metaphysical interest I would imagine would be to a) question the assumption that human develop is completely objective till the age of four; how about kids who learn songs by that age, or develop special memories, etc., these are related to the possibilities of a culture or groups believing in the concept of ‘grandfather” or “grandmother” spirit realities; if a culture believe in those things, then they are likely to be more sensitive of child behavior that suggest the idea of one’s grandparent.  This could be linked to claims of genetic or inter-generational memory of which many indigenous peoples believe. 

  •  Stich (1983) has argued for a form of eliminative materialism—the view that talk of the mental should be replaced with talk of its physical substrate. Since then, however, he has changed some of his views on the mind. See Deconstructing the Mind (1996)

EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY (X-PHIL), while epistemological, can offer insights into metaphysical constructs by acknowledging the role of intuition, intuition can be a sense responding to a world view or metaphysical fact nested within a cultural structure.  Does not intuition, in part come from possibilities, that we either understand or don’t.  All this paranormal activity, cosmology and possibilities in what were termed as “myths”, “legends” and other labels that disallowed metaphysical possibilities in diverse cultural realities? 

ENVIRONMENTAL PHILOSOPHY – in terms at least of ethics assumes the validity of an indigenous world view with respect to the environment and eco-systems.   In terms of metaphysics, etc., and in terms of eco-centric philosophies, one philosopher writes “I find what I understand the eco-centric philosophies that I have witnessed (Anishinabe, for the most part) is inspiring metaphysically, ontologically, ethically and aesthetically.”

To quote an environmental philosopher “our work must get rid of the Western idea that humans can manage it all for their own immediate gratification, and must open to a world much bigger than we are.  We must acknowledge the fundamental importance of philosophical traditions connected to the land.  Many environmental philosophers of colonial descent are avid for indigenous insight” [metaphysics.. I think so]

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY – is a mainstream sub-field that is particularly open to the validity of indigenous ontology.  One philosopher wrote about his/her interest in what “beliefs, stories, and traditions of indigenous peoples in relation to death (one of my areas of interest)…in addition to the goal of better understanding what people think about, and do surrounding death, my goal is to incorporate teachings into a course we offer on the philosophy of death.  I have also been learning about indigenous knowledge systems”….”mainstream medicine, for example, needs to learn to pay careful attention to the distinction between mind-body-spirit-community-land that motivates the indigenous philosophies that I have seen”.

The area of the nature of “the self” and “self-knowledge” was brought up by one philosopher as to how these reflections can relate to social and political theory.  This is a good example of how exploring indigenous world views often expressed by stories one can find how a particular philosophical tradition can offer insights to ‘self” and/or ‘self-knoweldge”.  This concept is extremely important in terms of mental health issues that led to other successes and failures in the indigenous community  - so it has pragmatic applications, but no one can have too much self-knowledge (and I am sure there will be a philosopher out there that questions my own non-thought in this regard…my truth but unanalyzed truth claim!). 

The issue of the philosophy of race is also looking at indigenous thinking; one professor refers me to Gloria Anzaldua and her book “Borderlands/La Frontier” which describes the experience of the new Mestiza (part aboriginal and Spanish). 

PHENOMENOLOGY - I got some comments regarding phenomenology which I will not even try to explain, it is better for me to quote the professor in this regard as I have no experience with this YET!.  “Phenomenology is the study of structure of consciousness as experienced from the first person  point of view.  The central structure of an experience id intentionality, its being directed towards something, as it is an experience of or about some object.  An experience is directed towards an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions”  David Abram ( is mentioned by the philosopher as he is connected with some indigenous viewpoints; (i.e. Couthard’s use of Fanon’ philosophy in order to think about the indigenous situation in Canada).

ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY – on the one hand some philosophers indicated their interest in possible relations between ancient philosophy and indigenous philosophy in that both traditions existed before, developed independently and not influenced by the emergence of the Enlightenment and the emergence of science.  Some ancient philosophers don’t see the potential connection, but my thought is how do we know what intersects with what?  We really have never studied ancient or scholastic philosophy in direct relation to indigenous philosophy.