Above and Beyond, the Call of Buddhi
Every once in a while I am going to try reworking and editing something I've previously written on this blog. For one thing, as any writer knows, writing is not writing, Rather, writing is editing. Writing a blog does not afford you much of an opportunity for the latter, so it's not necessarily writing at all, but first-drafting, or thinking in public.
As an evolutionary traditionalist, I look at the various authentic revelations--in my case, I especially focus on Orthodox Christianity, neo-Vedanta, and Judaism--as vertical axes around which our minds may spiral and ascend. We need those immobile axes to serve as the fixed stars that provide both a space and a trajectory in which we may "reason" about divine things. Tradition is the space of the spaceless God.
Another important point is that a religious practice does not so much involve discovering new truths as it does rediscovering the old ones time and again. Because our consciousness is perpetually drawn down and out into the world of maya, we generally must counter that force by re-membering oursophs. Rhythm is a spiritual force-multiplier, which is why we must dwell daily on certain primordial truths and ideas that will deepen as we ascend the axis of tradition.
When we last entered the no-Spinoza zone, we were discussing the culmination of rationalism in the pivotal figure of Immanuel "Manny" Kant, who placed a bright line between the worlds of phenomena (the small world we pretend to know) and noumena (the larger world we can never know). For Kant, there was no way to escape our nervous system and "get at" the world, so to speak. As a result, to paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, we end up with conjecture on one side (science), a dream on the other (religion and various post-Kantian idealistic philosophies). Or you could say that we are bequeathed an unavoidably divided and irrational world. On one side is that parallel looniverse known as the academic left, on the other side various atavistic religious systems that try to interpret the world as if the Enlightenment never happened.
But in truth, any such "bifurcationist" strategy that tries to horizontally divide one part of the world over and against another part will end in paradox and absurdity. For example, Whitehead noted that the Cartesian dualism of "thinking" vs. "extensive" substances--AKA, mind vs. matter--had resulted in "a complete muddle in scientific thought, in philosophic cosmology, and in epistemology." Not for nothing has philosophy been called "error on a grandiose scale," or "a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." It begins with false premises and therefore cannot help but end with false conclusions.
As the Jesuit philosopher of science Stanley Jaki explains it, philosophers are forever trying to get to second base before they have touched first. They start their analysis at second, but have no philosophy that can justify or explain how they have gotten there. For the presupposition of any philosophy is the belief that man can know truth, that he can encode this truth and place it in an object (for example, a book), and that this object can in turn cause a wondrous thing called understanding in the consciousness of another. Therefore, the first duty of a philosopher is to endorse the idea that knowledge may be embodied in objects and cause understanding in subjects. A miracle! True human knowing is a genuine miracle, but outside the explanatory paradigm of traditional metaphysics, it is an impossible miracle that no postmodern philosophy can explain. It is only because God expectorated a mirrorcle that we can be his spittin' image and know truth.
One may well ask, "What in the philosophy of deconstruction justifies such a process?" For speaking and writing the nonsense of deconstruction presupposes a reality that, whatever else it may be, is capable of encoding information and transmitting (mis)understanding--which is still a kind of understanding--from one mind to another. How is this possible? No purely materialistic philosophy can explain why objects are intelligible, any more than purely idealist philosophies can explain how ideas are embodied in objects.
Rather than beginning with the horizontal division of the world into phenomena and noumena or mind and matter, traditional metaphysics begins with the division between vertical and horizontal: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." It affirms a hierarchical order of the cosmos, in which the corporeal domain is considered only the lowest tier, outer shell, or "epidermis." The cosmos is regarded as a theophany infused with a logos, so that the visible and tangible things that unfold in time are a reflection of the atemporal realm above it. This is captured in the adage, "as above, so below."
Following this line of reasoning, human beings are not considered ancillary to a hostile or indifferent cosmos, but central to its structure and purpose. Man is a microcosmos that contains the same blueprint as the macrocosmos. It is because we are a microcosm that we are able to so unproblematically know--we are able to know the cosmos because it preexists in us. As the great third century Greek Father, Origen, put it, "Understand that you have within yourself, upon a small scale, a second universe: within you there is a sun, there is a moon, and there are also stars."
In the traditional view, the horizontal division of mind and matter (or phenomena/noumena) that results in paradox and absurdity is eliminated. However, there are vertical divisions that reveal a hierarchy of ontological degrees of reality, and corresponding ways to know them. There is not a tiny phenomenal island that we can know, surrounded by a limitless noumenal ocean that we can never know. Rather, we begin with the lowest level of being, material reality, which corresponds to our empirical, rational, scientific methods of exploring and describing it. True, there are degrees of understanding, but the process is much more analogous to comprehending a great work of art, say, one of Beethoven's symphonies. While the symphony will yield much deeper insights to the trained ear, that doesn't mean that the symphony available to our senses is simply the audible aspect of a noumenal symphony that we can never hear. The cosmos has degrees of withinness that only yield their secrets as we spiral up the axis of traditional metaphysics.
For what Kant called the noumena--the greater unKnown reality--is not behind but above. It is accessible to humans, but only through the proper means. Because the human intellect derives its light from the divine intellect, truth is bonded and underwritten by our nonlocal Sponsor. While it is true that all knowledge is in some sense participatory, that doesn't mean that knowledge is merely subjective--again, ours is an objective, hierarchical world susceptible to degrees of knowing. Knower and known are not divided but unified in the act of participatory knowing, so that the known universe is the universe. (Interestingly, Descartes obviously formulated his ideas at the peak of classical physics, since which time that paradigm has been toppled by quantum theory, which shows how thoroughly entangled consciousness is with the world, i.e., that it is impossible to draw an unambiguous line between knower and known in the probabilistic quantum world. And yet, no science describes the world more accurately and objectively than quantum physics.)
By ridding ourselves of horizontal dualism and returning to the real world of hierarchical oneness, the cosmos is no longer reduced to an incomprehensible and absurd material flatland devoid of intrinsic meaning. Truth may be known because man was made to know it. In fact, if someone tells you otherwise, you might ask them exactly what in their philosophy permits them to doubt that assertion? For their philosophy presupposes what it cannot justify: knowledge of truth and reality.
And if you really want to irritate them, you can tell them that, In the Chronological, Ontological, and Epistemological Beginning was (and is) the Word. That is, antecedent to anything else that might be said about the cosmos, it must fundamentally be composed of things capable of referring to other things, of things that point beyond themselves and convey messages and meanings. Even on a strictly mathematical basis, the fact is, quality must inhere in quantity, because ordering anything means that there must be a system whereby something can stand for, or refer to, something else. What are the beautiful equations that govern the Big Bang but words dwelling in matter, words spoken 13 billion years ago that we can unpack from matter and clearly hear today? Ah, quantum cosmology, the celestial song supreme!
Postmodernism offers only a factitious liberation from traditional ways of knowing the world. There is no way to get around the principle that the world is intelligible and that the mind is capable of knowing it. And once this is understood, it becomes clear that human consciousness is intrinsically related to the totality of being in a way that belies any postmodern superstition. There is a source of truth antecedent to man that is perceived not by the senses, but by the intellect. No, not that intellect, that horribly twisted and partial thing that is present in mere intellectuals. Rather, that miraculous capacity which lies a few degrees above the worldly intellect and within the heart: the nous, the buddhi, the psychic being.