Friday, March 17, 2006

Above and Beyond, the Call of Buddhi

One of the central influences on my thinking, the psychoanalyst W. R. Bion, wrote a book entitled Second Thoughts, published in 1968. In it, he republished various early essays he had written in the 1950's, but included extended commentary on them from the point of view of the mature Bion. In other words, the book consisted of a dialectic between two Bions, as he meditated on what he thought he knew at the time, what was implicit in what he had written, what was no longer valid, etc.

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.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Back in the Pink

Speaking Lies to the Powerless

Very little time to blog this morning. Have to bring my young 'un in for a hernia operation this morning. He had it done last August, but it came undone. Please pray for his, er, testicles.

Interesting piece this morning at American Digest, entitled "The Shame of New Orleans." It reminded me of one of Petey's infallible axioms, that liberals do not Speak Truth To Power. Rather, they Speak Lies to the Powerless, in order to keep them that way.

The execrable Spike Lee, speaker par excellence of lies to the powerless, has a new crockumentary coming out about hurricane Katrina. It includes the bombshell truth that it was the U.S. government that blew up the levees. "Here's the thing," says Spike, "Even today, a large part of the African-American community of New Orleans thinks that those levees were bombed. Now, whether that is true or not, that should not be discounted.... In the collective mind of African-Americans, it is not some science-fiction, hocus-pocus thing to say that the government is doing stuff," he continued. "Even if it didn't happen, you cannot discount it and dismiss it as 'Oh you people are crazy'."

Do you see the chain of illogic? Some blacks believe the levees were bombed; it doesn't matter whether or not it's true; in the "collective mind" of blacks it is true; belief in things that are untrue is neither science fiction nor hocus-pocus; it is an insult to suggest that people are crazy just because they believe their own delusions.

Is this not a perfect description of the liberal ghost dance? It is wrong to call liberalism an ideology. That would be a compliment. Rather, it is an emoteology. Since liberalism has been discredited, it has been reduced to attacking the very foundation of truth, which is what deconstruction, "diversity," and multiculturalism are all about. Truth is perception. Perception is reality. My reality is my truth. All truths are equally valid, but yours is a racist lie.

Thus, speaking lies to the powerless is not some kind of intellectual parlor game for liberals. It is the very key to their survival. For example, if they did not get 90% of the black vote, they would no longer be a viable party in something like twenty-six states. Speaking lies to the powerless is absolutely essential to keeping power in the hands of those who create the perception that blacks are powerless, helpless children. It's entirely circular. Trillions of dollars later, there is still no "exit strategy" for the War on Poverty.

Vanderleun writes that "A man of Spike Lee's stature and position should be ashamed to continue to inject the poison of conspiracy into the race issue in America today. But being ashamed didn't get Spike Lee his position and stature. Being shameless did. Weaving the big lies of contemporary race hustling into movies made Spike Lee what he is. It is working for him and there's no reason to think shame enters the picture."

Exactly. Like the Muslim Middle East, it is not that these are "shame cultures." Rather, they are shameless cultures. They should be ashamed, but they cannot tolerate their shame, because they have never learned to regulate it. So they project the experience of shame and convert it to aggression that seems to be coming from the outside. But that is preferable to having to feel it on the inside. Far preferable to live in a persecutory racist, sexist, and homophobic country than to have to deal with one's own painful internal feelings of shame, guilt, envy, inadequacy, whatever.

Vanderleun recognizes the unconscious self-deception. That is, "there is a deep shame associated with New Orleans and you won't see it any Spike Lee 'documentary,' or in any other dramatization of the event." He quotes the black intellectual Shelby Steele, who, in actually speaking hard truths to power, is disqualified from being an MSM-appointed "black leader" like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. He is not "authentically black," and he certainly isn't an example of diversity, since he doesn't think like Jackson or Sharpton or the New York Times.

Discussing New Orleans, Steele observes that "I think New Orleans shamed black America.... For generation after generation, New Orleans was full of human despair and backwardness. The flood just brought to the surface what had been there for so long, so we could see it on TV every night. And black America was truly shamed -- just ask blacks and they'll tell you. The whole world finally saw how hopeless and desperate the poorest blacks are. So then the question becomes, what do we do? Instead of saying what we should have said -- which is that this was an extraordinary wake-up call to black America, and we've got to make some profound changes in our way of life -- we said, 'George Bush is a racist.' Then we weren't shamed any more. He did it. He's the bad guy. He's the problem. And, once again, we're victims of white racism. We pulled out that old trustworthy excuse that has served us so well for 40 years. We blamed our problems on white people. And it works."

Exactly. Dysregulated shame means that shame cannot be tolerated. So it must be psychically converted to something else. But this can only happen with a whole panoply of cultural messengers that help create the illusion that the perception is the reality, that the lie is the truth. Steele goes on: "It doesn't matter that you've got a black mayor who's obviously incompetent. Bush is the fall guy because he's white. And no American politician ever asks black America what they're going to do. Whites just accept the excuses. That's why Bush is just going to dump a lot of money into New Orleans."

And that's the point, isn't it? Money is power. There are different ways of going about getting it. One way is to engage in what is called "activism." Another more direct way would be to engage in "economic activism," otherwise known as "work." But really, what could Al Sharpton actually do for a living? Jesse Jackson? Louis Farrakhan? Who would hire them? To do what? These are deeply dysfunctional people.

Blacks who point this out are excommunicated from blackdom. And whites who point it out are branded as racist. Vanderleun observes that to actually speak truth to the powerful race-baiting money machine would threaten "the vast bureaucracy and wall to wall entitlement programs that have been thrown up by the government over the decades to keep so many African Americans firmly inside of the Democratic Party's Plantation."

The race-obsessed liberal media constantly reminded us of "the color of the faces" of the residents of New Orleans. A couple weeks ago, when the story came out about how many of those residents defrauded the government that was trying to help them, not one story mentioned the color of the faces. Nor should they have. Instead, they only focused on the incompetence of the Bush administration. Thanks to the MSM, we already knew that Bush was a racist. But it's worse than that. Now the liberal media have discovered that he is hopelessly naive, for he actually trusts black people. Unlike the MSM and the rest of our liberal elites.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rationalism, Adolescent Rebellion, and the Translogical Wisdom of the Fathers

You never know. I thought yesterday's post was going to be a little too "inside-baseball" to generate much interest, but there were so many intelligent and provocative comments. Not only was it apparently not too pedantic, but it seemed to touch a nerve in certain readers.

In fact, reader FFH thought we might have crossed a certain line into the realm of inside-beanball, or "extremely judgmental righteousness." FFH says "I know a little anger against what one considers evil is justified, but it seems to me there is a tone of Old Testament overreaction here aimed at one man we hardly know. He said some incendiary things, obviously, and in this extraordinary blog of yours we have a place to state our case, but to flay him so mercilessly seems a little ungodly to me. Do we really think God cares what we think of Him at every moment on our journey toward understanding? Can we not cut each other a little slack from time to time as we all stumble toward enlightenment, as God does for each of us?"

Yes and no. Although there is certainly no desire to hurt anyone's feelings, I personally don't believe in mincing words. Sometimes clarity can come off as arrogance or sadism, when it is simply clarity. Perhaps it is a matter of taste. I remember when going through my clinical training, I had to undergo a certain number of hours of personal analysis. Now, not only is psychoanalysis a diverse and far flung science, but its individual practitioners are quite varied as well. I was specifically interested in finding someone who was both brilliant but also on the more blunt end of the spectrum, someone who could "see through" me and not try to make me feel better in the short term. Assuming that the person is accurate in their perceptions, I always regarded this as a more elevated form of empathy. It is the difference between a friend who holds your hand and tells you that everything is going to be okay--even if it isn't--vs. someone who gives it to you straight and says, "it's your fault, and here's where you're messing up."

Ideas Have Consequences. If you haven't read that slim little volume (linked below), you really ought to, because it is one of the keystones of modern conservative thought. It is so pithy and so pregnant with implications, that I have probably read it a dozen times. It is just the kind of book I like--very unsaturated, leaving lots of space to engage your own imagination. Although I don't agree with every word of it, it's just so provocative in nailing the essential philosophical divide in our time, that I go back to it time and again for inspiration and clarity.

After all, if ideas didn't have consequences, there would be no need to get all excited about them. If leftists want to believe that men and women are identical, what's the big deal? If secular fundamentalists want to teach kooky materialist metaphysics dressed up as neo-Darwinism, why object? If the sophisticates at the New York Times believe that poverty and not bad values or absence of fathers causes crime, so what? If neo-Spinozean environmentalists want to say that the environment is God, who gives a hoot?

Now, I have no objection to Spinoza the person (or Benedict the person, for that matter). What I object to is his dangerous ideas. Even then, I should hasten to point out that, in his day, Spinoza undoubtedly represented an advance over what had come before. Remember a few days ago, I made the point that one of the key developments of modernity was the separation of the realms of religion, science, politics, and aesthetics. Prior to the enlightenment, those realms were thoroughly conflated--just like the Muslim Middle East today--so that the church wielded all kinds of inappropriate power over who was in charge or what people were free to discover with their intellect.

In fact, Spinoza was actually excommunicated from his orthodox Jewish community, presumably because of his heretical ideas, although no one knows for sure. I don't know much about 17th century Judaism, but it may have been quite intellectually stifling, much like the Catholicism of the day. So for someone to rebel against it may well have been a courageous thing to do. Looking at it from a world-psychohistorical standpoint, I see the Enlightenment as mankind's adolescence, as we rebel against mother and father God and move out on our own for the first time. This is obviously a vital and unavoidable stage in psychological development.

But all of us--well, some of us, anyway--know that adolescence is just a stage, not an endpoint. While the Islamic world awaits the day that it can leave its cognitive infancy behind and enter adolescence, the task of the West is a different one. We must leave the cognitive adolescence of secular rationalism behind and claim our full manhood, which involves a translogical synthesis of reason and revelation, science and spirit, vertical and horizontal, Adam and Evolution.

Thus, our dispute with pure rationalism as an overarching explanation is not just over the content of its ideas, but with the personal and psychohistorical stage from which those ideas arise. In this regard, it is critical to bear in mind that the great religious sages and saints of history are not illogical but translogical. It is not that they have abandoned worldly reason. Rather, they have transcended it. Reason is still entirely appropriate to the limited realm it addresses, but an entirely different form of reason applies to the supersensible world. Religions are metaphysical systems that use language in a very special way to disclose the hyperdimensional domain of Spirit and and to make it "present" to us.

But again, that will only happen if you raise your intellect up to religion, not drag religion down to ego-level pseudo-rationalism. This vulgar form of religion is undoubtedly what Spinoza and his ilk were objecting to. In fact, Spinoza is considered one of the first, if not the first, to introduce "higher criticism" to the study of the Bible, and to regard it simply as a historical document rather than a revealed one. Again, this undoubtedly had its place in the adolescent scheme of things, but it takes a grown man to get over one's adolescent rebellion and to realize that our parents weren't complete idiots--or how much uncannily luminous wisdom there is in scripture.

The Apostle Paul was fully aware of the translogical nature of his agenda, mentioning it time and again: "This is the wisdom we preach among the perfect, yet not the wisdom of this age nor of the leaders of this age, which will come to nothing. We preach the wisdom of God, mysterious and hidden, which was foreordained by God before all ages for our glory, a wisdom that none of the leaders of this age have ever known." At the time, that was a completely crazy thing to say, yet who could argue with it? Has not what passed for the wisdom of the first century sunk into oblivion, while Paul's divine folly continues to be proclaimed in every corner of the world? Who would have thought such a thing possible at the time? Only a madman, a fool for God. It is useless to try to understand the things of which Paul speaks with the lower consciousness of pure rationalism.

Thankfully, America's founders were in the mold of Paul rather than Spinoza. These were post-enlightenment men, and yet, they were men, nothing at all like the intoxicated and intemperate adolescents of the French Revolution--and most every other revolution since then. In holding firm to Judeo-Christian principles, they believed that they were obeying both reason and common sense. Who could have the audacity to call such men backwards or regressive, when these world-historical political avatars--and I use that term advisedly--still know more about us than we will ever know about them? They are still our primary defense against the adolescents of the ACLU and the secular Left. They saw them coming.

True philosophy (not academic philosophy, which is just an adolescent parlor game) depends on two variables: the depth of one's intelligence, and the source and value of one's information. Neither of these conditions may be reduced to rationalism, for "depth of intelligence" is not something subject to rational measurement, any more than depth of aesthetic vision is. And reason can only prove what follows from its premises, which may or may not be true. Moreover, some true premises are not necessarily arrived at rationally--certainly not in the case of supersensible knowledge or revealed wisdom. The rationalist is someone who reasons adequately in the world of phenomena, but who is closed off to the supralogical and transrational interior of the cosmos. Therefore, rationalism is by definition a false and partial metaphysic which will simply stamp the world in its own restricted form. This represents not a discovery of integral reality, but its foreclosure. At best, as the greatest rationalist, Kant, concluded, it can map the phenomena but cannot speak of the noumenon except to say that it exists (or "in-sists").

There is a story about Sri Aurobindo contained The Adventure of Consciousness, which is the best general summary of his philosophy (linked in the sidebar). I bring it up because Sri Aurobindo is widely considered to have been the greatest Hindu sage of modern times, in large measure because he had a thoroughly Western education and developed a translogical system that unified the vertical and horizontal:

"The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual gymnastics. Probably he had seen that one can continue indefinitely to amass knowledge and to read and read and to learn new languages, even all the languages in the world and all the books in the world, and yet not advance [spiritually] an inch.

"For the mind does not seek to know truly, though it seems to--it seeks to grind. Its need of knowledge is primarily a need of something to grind. And if perchance the machine were to come to a stop because the knowledge was found, it would quickly rise in revolt and find something new to grind, to have the pleasure of grinding and grinding: This is its function. That within us which seeks to know and to progress is not the mind but something behind it which makes use of it:

" 'The capital period of my intellectual development,' confided Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, 'was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!'"

Of course, that was just the beginning of the Adventure, not the end.

Fatigue and Fuzzy Vision in the No-Spinoza Zone

Friends, this is a test of my blogging kung fu. Kung fu very weak today. If I ramble, you will forgive me. Last night, for whatever reason, His Majesty woke up every 45 minutes or so, leaving me a sadly depleted caricature of my normally buoyant self. It's not that I mind being tired. In pre-blogging days, I would have simply set the day aside to get myself caught up with tasks and responsibilities that only call upon the medulla, such as cleaning out the rain gutters, doing my taxes, or checking my entire body for skin tumors.

One thing about fatigue and illness. They do serve to reinforce the hyperdimensional nature of reality, for when we are sick or tired--at least for me--the higher dimensions sort of become eclipsed. The world collapses back down to its lowest representation, the material. In fact, one of the most painful aspects of chronic pain and illness--including mental illness---is that it tends to foreclose those higher dimensions, leaving us exiled in a flatland of mere physicality.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Sophisticated secularists are of the uniform belief that religiosity represents a lower order of thought, at best a quaint mythological way to represent our infantile hopes and wishes. But this could not be a greater distortion of the truth, for in reality, we must raise intellect up to religion, not lower religion down to our intellect. In order to do this, we must develop latent capacities that lay dormant in the psyche. In so doing, the familiar world we know with our senses is turned upside-down and inside-out, as we begin to see the higher in the lower. Time becomes space, in that mere duration is now experienced as the moving image of eternity. Faith becomes vision--literally.

It is not just a matter of knowing where to look, but how to look. Religions are supposed to provide structures in order to illuminate the spiritual facts of our experience. Like good scientific theories, they not only make sense of those facts, but also allow us to see new facts, in the same way that the paradigm of quantum physics allowed scientists to see an entirely new realm of phenomena that was invisible to them with the old Newtonian, mechanistic paradigm. The facts were there all along, but without a theory through which to look, no one saw them. Likewise, spiritual facts are all around and within us, but without a spiritual practice, they tend to go unnoticed. One might say that you should try to know God not because He exists, but so that He exists.

As I have mentioned before with regard to imagination, it has a positive and a negative connotation. In its negative sense, it involves abandoning ourselves to the idle machinery of the monkey mind. It is a kind of bad detachment from reality in favor of an infrahuman sub-reality. It is as much a closed circle as is mere cerebral intellectuality.

But imagination in its positive sense is absolutely vital for religious understanding. Again, imagination is the membrane that makes contact with the higher world. It is dangerous to try to understand religious truths in a merely rational way, because it reduces them to the mere known and undermines their function of bypassing the ego and vaulting us out of our conventional way of knowing.

Apparently, there are few people who understand what I'm talking about. But those who do understand, understand exactly what I'm talking about. How then to communicate with those who don't? To them it will just seem like irrational nonsense. One of the benefits of being this tired is that I can well understand where they're coming from. To a certain unavoidable extent--except perhaps in saints and avatars--the higher planes are somewhat state-dependent, no different, really, than the way in which morbid anxiety during a test might prevent one from accessing the information needed to pass the test.

Here again, this cannot be emphasized enough. We only bring a few vital tools with us as we approach the realm of spirit, and much of our spiritual practice has to do with honing these tools, in particular, imagination, attention and memory. Attention must become focussed and yet relaxed and fluid, while memory must begin to operate vertically, not just horizontally. To the extent that attention is fragmented and dispersed in the horizontal, it is doubtful that you will be able to recollect the vertical. This is what meditation and prayer are all about. They are the keys to the kingdom, but they are not ends in themselves. Rather, they are simply exercises: "verticalisthenics," as I call them.

Speaking of being misunderstood, reader Benedict S., a disciple of the philosopher Spinoza, is a case in point. He is trying to understand this blog through the lens of Spinoza's purely rational philosophy, which cannot be done without reducing it to an image of Spinozistic pantheism. I specifically reject any form of pantheism based not upon intellectual speculation, but upon objective metaphysics and personal experience. I'm sure that most readers who enjoy this blog would agree entirely with me.

I see no evidence that Spinoza had any personal acquaintance with the transcendent God, which is why he attempted to reduce the vertical to a simple horizontal oneness. In short, he engaged in a misguided search for the One through the application of reason, therefore taking him down the sterile road of cosmolatry. Like all wrong philosophies--no matter how brilliant--when they reduce reality to mere cerebral intellection they will be only faint shadows of the Real--adumbrations that are missing a few vital dimensions, because the higher reaches of thought lie outside any application of worldly Aristotelian logic.

Of me, Benedict writes that my recent entries stike him "as having been written by a relatively educated and erudite individual, but one who on some matters regards himself as a 'seeker'. (On others, Bob pretends to be a 'having founder,' but I'll save that for another day.) Bob speaks of the many different views of God that have been recorded by many different people, the early and modern Christians, the Buddhists, the Hindus, and (I suppose if I read all the way through) all the other people who have at one time or another 'seen God' as this or that apparition."

Do you see the problem here? To be a guest in the Cosmos and employ that condescending and passive-aggressive tone, with the use of "pretend" and "apparition"? I'm frankly not surprised that Petey got a little ticked off. Petey doesn't barge in to other people's blogs and bash Spinoza, although he could surely pick him apart if he felt like it. He's done it before. It is hardly as if we didn't encounter Mr. Spinoza on the way up, dwelling in the foothills of pure reason. How to communicate with such an individual? One cannot. One shouldn't even try, for one has already been dismissed as someone who pretends to see apparitions, or worse, someone who actually sees them. Either way, not a person to be taken seriously. I am clearly someone who lives in the no-Spinoza zone.

Benedict dismisses me as someone who is perhaps "not really interested in finding the absolute truth," which is presumably Spinoza'a metaphysically closed and circular rationalism. He says that I "speak off and on of [my] preference for the 'vertical' as opposed to the 'horizontal' life. [Bob] means by 'vertical' a looking upward in our mind's eye, searching as it were for Godness, as opposed to looking around horizontally in the world. My criticism of his method traces essentially to the horizontality of [Bob's] vertical look. By delving into the fuzziness of the ancient religions, and apparently trying to jibe them with his own in a detailed sort of way, [Bob] adds unnecessary complexity to his struggle. I would rather simply say, 'Those people were looking for God,' and then move on to a search focused more on the here-and-now. That's what [I] did years ago and wound up with Spinoza's God, an absolutely simple concept of the divine."

This such a beastly distortion. The only reason I am taking the time to correct it is because it was posted publicly on his blog. I do not "speak off and on of my preference for the vertical as opposed to the horizontal life." First, his impoverished definition of verticality demonstrates a complete lack of familiarity with how I use the term. Second, I specifically emphasize in all of my writing that reality has both a horizontal and vertical component, and that any comprehensive view of the world can ignore neither. The whole point is to live vertically in the horizontal--not to get lost in the horizontal wasteland of materialism, pantheism, or rationalism, but also not to pursue purely escapist spiritual programs that facilitate only vertical ascent without proper deference to the horizontal.

Benedict's contemptuous dismissal of religion ("maybe he's not really interested in finding the absolute truth") betrays only his (and Spinoza's) innocence of that to which religion refers. To the extent that religions appear "fuzzy" to him, that is an honest statement. However, it is not a statement about the object of his perception, but a statement about his distance from that object. Of course Truth appears fuzzy and simple from so far away.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bulletin: Humans Still Evolving, Leftists Left Behind

(This post is about the "new evidence" that human beings did not somehow stop evolving 100 or 200,000 years ago, but that evolution has been going on continuously. It just takes me a while to build up to that.)

I still remember my first psychotic patient during my pre-doctoral internship at Camarillo State Mental Hospital in California. Many schizophrenics love to pun. Well, that's probably not the right way to put it. In reality, they can't help punning, because they see all kinds of weird connections between things that you or I might miss. Plus they confuse symbols with what they refer to, so for many of them the world is just one giant, frightening, paranoid pun.

Anyway, he took one look at my name and blurted out "Godwin! Is that like a combination of God and Darwin?!"

Well, as a matter of fact... Even then, in the mid 1980's, I was working on ideas that would somehow unify the seemingly irreconcilable realms of science and spirit. For example, in my doctoral dissertation (completed in 1988) I tried to demonstrate how advances in modern psychoanalytic metapsychology mirrored the new scientific worldview that was emerging as a result of quantum physics and chaos theory (metapsychology simply involves one’s most general philosophical assumptions about the mind). To me, the underlying models and assumptions were so eerily similar that the connections were obvious. It was just a matter of pointing them out.

In this regard, creativity has much in common with schizophrenia. It's just that the schizophrenic exercises this creativity in a completely undisciplined way, and sees connections where none exist. Anyway, that's what my dissertation advisor gently advised me.

Just kidding there. Actually, I published my first two scholarly articles out of that dissertation, which, in many ways, remains as valid (or invalid) as anything I've ever written since then, even though I supposedly knew so much less back then. That is a story in itself, something I almost posted on yesterday--that is, how, with an intense and pure focus, we are seemingly able to tap into dimensions of knowledge that apparently exist outside of us, like platonic fields of pure logos. I truly believe that. The identical thing happened with regard to my spiritual practice. Eventually I reached a sort of very dramatic tipping point, where, instead of just putting data in, stuff began pouring out in what I still regard as a completely mysterious way. I never would have predicted it.

The portentous title of my dissertation was Psychoanalysis, Postmodern Physics, and the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution: Toward a Rapprochement of Mind and Nature. So you see, even then I was looking for unity--the unity of mind and nature.

There's also a pun in there, for "rapprochement" is a term of art in psychoanalysis, having to do with the infant's initial separation from the mother between the ages of 16 and 24 months, as he tries to negotiate the gap between himself and mother--between separation anxiety on one side and fear of, and desire for, merger on the other. Many things can go wrong developmentally during this subphase, as the infant is torn between becoming a separate person vs. reuniting with the primordial mother.

What I was hinting at in the title of my dissertation--and which I don’t think anyone else "got"--was that human beings collectively and historically struggled with this same fundamental developmental conflict, of individuation from the group vs. being swallowed up by the collective. If you only look, you see this dynamic throughout history, leading right up to the present day. It also happens to be one of the red threads that is implicit in almost everything I write, specifically, that human individualism is not the norm, but a very late historical development that only emerged on a mass scale in the West some 300 or 400 years ago. Human beings are fundamentally "groupish," and individual identity must be wrested and won from this more primordial matrix.

Clearly, this is one of the problems we are dealing with in the Muslim Middle East: can these cultures evolve to the point that they value the individual, and can therefore cope with democracy, liberty, and free enterprise, or must they always remain mired in a pseudo-religious primitive group mind?

I was later given an award for my dissertation and had to give a trembling little speech. I still have a copy of the speech tucked away in my dissertation. It just goes to show you that most of us really have just one Big Idea that we continue to rediscover over and over, because my book was simply a continuation and elaboration of many of the same themes. The speech goes a little like this:

“This dissertation is really a reflection of my own personal obsession, which happens to involve the mind, that is, the subjective internal world, and its relationship to the objective, physical universe.

“In our time, we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in the manner in which reality is to be understood.... And I’m not talking about the shift from Reagan to Bush. (That weak laugh line actually drew applause. I was still a leftist nut back then, as, apparently, was everyone else in the hall. A safe assumption when in the presence of a mob of psychologists.)

“In the three hundred years since the onset of the scientific revolution, science gradually came to regard everything in the universe--including ourselves--as mere machines.

“In this way of looking at things, the mind is completely superfluous, roughly analogous to the smoke emanating from a steam train.

“But there is within science a growing movement which is beginning to mount considerable evidence for the notion that, rather than thinking of material reality as fundamental, it is the evolutionary process which is the foundation of reality.

“What is so interesting is that these patterns of process seem to be woven into the very fabric of the universe, fractally recurring and cutting across all of the various levels we study--including human mental development.

“In other words, we are gradually seeing the picture emerging on every level of scientific inquiry--from physics to chemistry to biology to cosmology--that the mind is not some sort of accidental intruder in the world, but rather, the nonmaterial organizing principle supporting the whole enchilada.

“This general endeavor is called the Evolutionary Paradigm, or synthesis, and my study was simply an attempt to fully integrate psychoanalysis within this new framework.

“The appearance of life itself forces us to reconsider all of the reductionistic schemes and artificial boundaries we have invented to divide various domains such as mind and matter, animate and inanimate, physics and psychology.

“The great physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote that ‘The same organizing forces that have created nature in all its forms, are responsible for the structure of our soul, and likewise for our capacity to think.’

‘I believe that the evolutionary synthesis is nothing less than a grand new myth for our age, through which we may understand our place in the universe, our relationship to the totality.

“With our new understanding, we can truly say that the development of the cosmos culminates in an unbroken fashion in the thought of man.

“Anything short of this view, I think, ignores the irrefutable testimony of Life and Mind, and is unworthy of our true stature.”

We've gotten a little off track here, so this will probably have to be a two-parter. I haven't even gotten to my main point, which is the "new evidence" that human beings did not somehow stop evolving 100 or 200,000 years ago, but that evolution has been going on continuously: "Humans have continued to evolve throughout prehistory and perhaps to the present day, according to a new analysis of the genome reported last week.... So human nature may have evolved as well. If so, scientists and historians say, a fresh look at history may be in order. Evolutionary changes in the genome could help explain cultural traits that last over many generations as societies adapted to different local pressures."

They’re half-right. They still don’t know about the evolution of child-rearing and its effect on the type of adults produced in a given culture. Give them another 50 years or so.

Now get this: "Trying to explain cultural traits is, of course, a sensitive issue. The descriptions of national character common in the works of 19th-century historians were based on little more than prejudice. Together with unfounded notions of racial superiority they lent support to disastrous policies."

Of course trying to explain cultural traits is a sensitive issue, because it completely flies in the face of everything leftists hold sacred. Do you remember the fate of Charles Murray, a thoroughly good and decent man who had the audacity to hint at this in his infamous book, The Bell Curve? This is how you can tell liberals are phony. They mindlessly attack proponents of intelligent design, because it goes against their modern superstition of a godless universe. But if natural selection threatens one of their sacred superstitions--that all cultures are equal--then they viciously attack and smear the messenger.

To the Left, Charles Murray’s evidence was regarded as no different than that of the 19th century historians--a priori dismissed as "little more than prejudice" lending "support to disastrous policies." It will be interesting to see how the secular left will cope with this new evidence of continuous evolution and try to make it fit into their junk metaphysics.


Interestingly, the article implies that anti-Semites such as Hitler are half right about the Jews, in that they are different. The big difference is that, as a group, they are not less evolved but more evolved. In the end, I do not believe, as these researchers suggest, that the differences will prove to be genetic. Rather, I believe that the differences have to do with the scandalously humane way that Jews began treating their children--especially female children--hundreds and even thousands of years ago. This sharply set them apart from most other human groups, and naturally produced superior humans (on the average) and a superior culture, despite the most adverse external circumstances. However, I seriously doubt that this is encoded in the genes. For example, if Jews were to suddenly begin treating their children as barbarously as Muslims do throughout the Arab world, within a few generations they would be as backward, regressed, and primitve as they are. Evolution giveth, and evolution can taketh away.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunday Bike Ride Up the Sacred Mountain

It’s Sunday. Anybody up for a little raid on the wild godhead? Okay, but before we leave, unknowculate your brain, make your resurrections in advance, and don’t forget your peaceport. And as we blestoff from the errport, be sure to leave your apprehensions behind, because you kant take ‘em with you. Not where we’re going.

One of the central tenets of Orthodox Christianity is that one cannot know God in his essence, only in his energies. Most of the great Christian fathers were apophatic to the core, meaning that the only unqualifiably true things that can be said of God have to do with what he is not.

In this regard, Christianity is perfectly in accord not only with perhaps the greatest Jewish theologian, Moses Maimonides, but with the Upanishads as well. The Upanishads say that ultimate reality, or brahman, has two faces, one that we can see, the other that we cannot. Nirguna brahman refers to God with attributes, while saguna brahman is the apophatic God beyond name and form, which no tongue has soiled and about which we can say nothing in the affirmative sense. It is jodo, the Pure Land of Zen, or ain sof, the ainsoferable gnosis all of Judaism--yes, old what's his G-D name.

In the esoteric approach to Christianity, there is the unknown Godhead that is beyond creation, beyond conception, and beyond being. It is this aspect of God that I attempted to convey as a sort of invocation at the beginning of my book, rendered here in a more poetic form:

.... nothing,
a formless void without mind or life,
a shadow spinning before the beginning over a silent static sea,
unlit altar of eternity, fathomless vortex of the Infinite Zero.
Darkest night, dreamless sleep:
Outside in. Spacetimematterenergy.
No beforeafter, nobodaddy, no mamafestation, nothing but neti.
One brahman deathless breathing breathless,
darkness visible the boundless all.
Unknown origin prior to time and space,
fount of all being, unborn thus undying,
beginning and end of all impossibility,
empty plenum and inexhaustible void.

Some people say that you cannot prove the existence of God, but this is not so. It is not as if God is on a continuum of probability. Rather, God either is or cannot be. Since God is the one thing that cannot not be, he obviously is. On the other hand, our existence is indeed problematic. How is it possible for us to exist? Now that is a mystery. Inexplicable, really. In the absence of He Who Is, it is frankly impossible.

Anyway, the God that absolutely is cannot be known discursively. He does not exist, and we are his children. And since he doesn’t exist, only He knows it. But to the extent that He does exist, He knows nothing about it. Anything short of this divine unKnowing, no matter how sublime, is the sage’s prison.

Continuing with my little invocation, I next tried to capture the emergence of God-with-attributes, as the primordial I is given birth from the primary matrix and patrix of Godlessness-without-attributes:

Who is?
A wake.
A lone.
Hallow, noumena!

Yes, we have it on excellent authority that God has a highly developed sense of humor, and, as it so happens, is a big Seinfeld fan. You might say that God is the ultimate guffah-ha! experience.

In philosophy, the “noumena” is Kant’s term for the unknowable ultimate reality behind appearances (actually, it should be “noumenon,” since by definition it cannot be plural). The world that we can know with our senses and categories is the phenomenal world. Thus, what we call “the world” is actually a form of our sensibility. That is not to say that it is unreal or just an idea in our head. However, it is to say that all we know about it consists of ideas in our head. Whatever it is outside our knowledge is by definition unknown to us. It is the unmapped land of the noumenon, hallowed be its namelessness.

Christianity speaks of a trinitarian God: father, son and holy ghost. This is not to say that Christianity is not monotheistic. Obviously it is. For one thing, most Christian mystics, such as Meister Eckhart, speak of a Godhead that is beyond the trinity. Thus, I would regard the trinity as saguna brahman, perhaps the last thing we can know about God before we surpass that mystery and know nothing at all in the pregnant silence of higher bewilderment.

Vedanta also speaks of a primordial trinity within the heart of saguna brahman: sat-chit-ananda, or Being, Consciousness (sometimes translated as “knowledge”), and Bliss. Interestingly, St. Augustine as well as certain Greek fathers designate the Christian trinity in a similar manner, as Being-Wisdom-Life.

In other words, it seems that as we ascend into the knowable God on this side of creation, we eventually come to a place of unalloyed being, pure consciousness, and boundless joy. Or so we have heard from the wise.

Here we are at the threshold of the unknowable God, the uncreated realm beyond being, “blissfully floating before the fleeting flickering universe, stork naked in brahma daynight, worshiping in oneder in a weecosmic womb with a pew.” Careful--take one more step and we are back to NOTHING, pure emptiness, a formless void without mind or life, a shadow spinning before the beginning....

Ahh, talk me back taddy, talk me way back, talk me way way way back, back to the beginning, back ones again by oursophs, back before our bigending, back before old nobodaddy commuted wholly matterimany, back before exhaling into a world of sorrow and ignorance, back where eternity pierces our presence, back where we always are, back at the still point of the churning whirl, way way back again, back unborn to the infinite father shore.

Hello, new man!