Three princes, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, have come to the palace to seek the hand of the princess. The king has declared that the cleverest of the princes is to be granted his daughter in marriage, and he tests them in the following way. He puts them in a room, with a door that leads to the princess. He shows the princes four markers: three white and one black.
He places a marker on the back of each prince: explaining that the marker will be either black or white. He discards one marker. The princes can see each other’s backs, but cannot see their own back. The king declares that the cleverest prince is the one who first opens the door to the princess and tell her correctly the colour of the maker on his own back. If he tells her incorrectly, he is to be banished from the kingdom.
Unbeknownst to the princes, the king has placed only white markers on each of their backs. There are actually no black markers.
The Muslim prince reasons as follows:
- I can see the other princes have white markers. So either I have a black marker or a white marker on my back.
- The other princes are not moving to the door. They can see my back.
- Let me imagine what my Jewish competitor sees. He can see that the Christian has a white marker. If he saw a black marker on my back, he could immediately conclude that his own marker is white, and would be moving to the door. But he is not moving.
- Therefore, I must have a white marker.
So he starts to move to the door to claim the hand of the princess.
The problem is, both the other princes have reasoned exactly the same way and also start to move to the door, all at the same time!
And because everyone realises that everyone else is moving, they all immediately stop, puzzled.
The Muslim prince reasons again:
- My previous reasoning was based on imagining what the Jewish prince could see of me, and the fact that both princes were not moving.
- But now they are both moving! So perhaps I do have a black marker on my back.
- But everyone has now stopped! So everyone here has the same doubt as me. But if everyone is in doubt in this way, no one can have a black marker on their back.
So he starts to run to the door, certain this time he is correct. But the other two princes reason in the same fashion, so all rush to the door to claim their bride.
What we have framed as parable is, in fact a variant of a story psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan employed to illustrate the formation of selfhood in Time. (In his version, the three princes are prisoners, the King is their warden and the door leads to freedom. But we choose a somewhat less Gnostic metaphors for our existence within the space of Reason.)
Lacan says the performance of a proof exactly constitute our experience of Time: “Logical Time”. Lacan characterises the cosmos as a linguistic space of signification. A space of signs. As subjects, we move through the Cosmos making judgements: speaking, acting, choosing, perceiving, creating. Arranging signs. We concur: the Cosmic Romance has thrown us into the space of Reason, of difference, grounded in the sublimation of the Logos-as-Truth, into a space of lightness and darkness, from Truth to truths and falsities. And it is through navigation of this space — through making judgements — through proving with the Logic of Life — that we will all ascend to Wisdom.
Our movement in proof is a movement back to the Beloved: it is Love. So our proofs are Love. And True Time is Logic. So Time is Love.
The characterisation gives us a key to understanding signification and judgement as a process, the relationship between recording our lives and the Temporality in which we move. An understanding of the phase of Reason within the Cosmic Romance.
But what is the personal use of such a characterisation, from a practical point of view? Does it help us ascend at all?
Following Lacan, we have a key to how we can make illuminated judgements, how we can release the sparks of light hidden within the signs we array. If making judgements is making proofs, the question is how we can prove illuminated judgements.
Practically: illumination must occur through a emergence of self-awareness in proof. An awareness of the logical process itself. Illumination means becoming fully aware subjects: in fact, becoming fully human!
- A moment of seeing. At the beginning of their story, all the princes apprehend the nature of the problem and its given axioms. They are thrown into a language game, equipped with signs (black and white dots, the King, the princess, the three princes, their backs, the door), rules of sign formation (there are dots on each back, the aim is to get to the door to marry the princess) and rules of logical inference (standard laws together with means of hypothesis about other princes). The language game has yet to commence. At this point, importantly, each prince is a pre-subject: Lacan would say, the Muslim prince, fundamentally, does not know who he is. At the moment of seeing, the subject is simply arbitrary, non-situated “one” of a statement of the language game’s setup: “one knows that …”.
- A moment of comprehending. When each prince applies the rules of the language game to reach his first judgement, that he does not have a black dot on his back, he is making an intersubjective judgement. He has formed a proof in relation to his understanding of the other princes’ proofs. This movement is intersubjective in that its precondition is that he understands there are other subjects who are always playing the game, who are also making judgements. He understands that other subjects exist in Time, and uses this understanding to form his strategy. He understandssubjectivity, because he has objectified the existence of the others as logical movements through Time, as proving subjects.
- A moment of concluding. When the princes hesitate in doubt, each then moves through a new logical proof to reach a second judgement, one where they are now certain that there are no black dots. This final movement of judgement is where full selfhood of the reasoner emerges, because here the prince realises that his subjectivity is also subject to objectification on the part of the competing princes. He understands that his logical movement through Time, his logical inferences, are also subject to the same treatment he gave the others. Through the mirror of the other princes, he is now self-aware of his own existence as a maker of judgements, self-aware of his nature as a logical movement of proof through Time. He becomes aware of his own process of logical inference, and then uses this self-awareness to make a second judgement. He is now a full self, a self of self-aware action.
So we see that a proving subject becomes only self-aware of his existence as a proving subject through making a proof that involves other proving subjects. We cannot be self-aware unless we play a language game in which there are other subjects, unless we are able to reason about their reasoning, and unless we reason about their reasoning about our reasoning. But all these things are possible in the language games of life, because we have been thrown into the Cosmos of Reason with other subjects. We can call this intersubjective form of language game a competition or race, because it involves its players reflecting upon each other, guessing how others are seeing us. If self-awareness is the nature of illumination, then illuminated judgement emerges through this race.
And thus, intersubjectivity, the race of intersubjective understanding is key to the formation of illuminated judgement.
But this has all been said in the Holy Book:
O Mankind, We created you from a single of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you. (Qur’an 49:13).
Everyone has some course he steers by, so compete in good deeds. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together; God is Capable of everything. (Qur’an 2:148)