On the Intelligence of the Stupid and the Stupidity of the Intelligent
It goes without saying that there are plenty of bright and intelligent people who believe in nonsense. In a way, they are much more problematic than the mentally diminished religious believer, since one would think that the former's intelligence -- if it were truly intelligence and not something less -- would inevitably lead them down the path of truth. But to point out that this isn't so is a monumental understatement. If anything, the person who explicitly rejects religion is generally the most philosophically confused. Unmoored from perennial truth, they go on a wild nous chase that we know ahead of time will never lead anywhere.
In short, there is no necessary connection between intelligence and truth. At first blush this seems odd, but at second blush I think you can see why. It has to do with the two aspects of our intelligence, one natural (or animal), the other supernatural (or divine). For example, at this moment I have a nine week-old puppy playing at my feet. She is obviously very intelligent, but no matter how intelligent she becomes, she will never know truth. This is because she has only natural intelligence -- the sort of intelligence that can more or less be explained by natural selection (not really, but we'll let it slide for the moment).
But why can Coondog's intelligence never know truth? Yesterday a commenter who is himself brimming with rudimentary intelligence took issue with my statement that "either natural selection explains our intelligence, or our intelligence explains natural selection. You can't have it both ways." Instead, the commenter declared that "natural selection is the cause of our intelligence; in turn, our intelligence provides the written and/or verbal explanation of natural selection. Problem solved; now we have it both ways."
The tail-chasing circularity of this dogomatic barkument should be evident to all coonines. It is logically equivalent to saying that truth and intelligence do not exist, since they may be reduced to blind natural selection. With such a view, there is not even an ontological basis to draw a fundamental distinction between animal and human intelligence, much less between the evolved brain and the uncreated intellect.
Now, the above commenter may be excused, since his sort of metaphysical nonderstanding is obviously a "sign of the times." In most men of our age, the intellect has been reduced to a shadow of itself. In most people it is more a virtuality than an actuality, encased as it is under thick sheets of higher education. Even so, it is difficult to completely kill a soul while its body still lives. As Schuon observes, there is no watertight partition between the intellect and the reason, "for a sound process of reasoning indirectly transmits something of the intellect." Nevertheless, "the respective operations of the reason -- or the mind -- and of the intellect are fundamentally different," irrespective of "certain appearances due to the fact that every man is a thinking being, whether he be wise or ignorant."
In other words, you can't actually stop thinking, despite what the occasional Tolle-troll drops by to tell us. As a matter of fact, their insipid thoughts make the case, don't they? If they were actually coming from the plane Tolle thinks he has achieved, their thoughts would be luminous and clear instead of murky and new-agey. Furthermore, they would be "generatively resonant" for the person reading them, not dense and stagnant. And finally, you could not build a financial empire around them, a la other new age hucksters such as Deepak Chopra. The secret protects itself, something proven every time Chopra opens his ghastly piehole or sets his beastly fingers to the keyboard.
Schuon writes that the lower mind is analogous to the intellect "insofar as it is a kind of intelligence." However, at the same time, it is opposed to the intellect "by its limited, indirect and discursive character." Clearly, the reasoning of the lower mind cannot determine its own limits or provide its own materials, which are "exterior" to it. On the other hand, knowledge of the intellect is interior to it, but externalized, so to speak.
For example, Polanyi has written extensively of how the intellectually gifted scientist (as opposed to the typical "worker bee" scientific laborer) employs a kind of translogical vision in order to identify a fruitful problem that will then be susceptible to conventional reasoning. But this vision can never be reduced to some mechanical or deterministic rational formula (any more than great songwriting can be reduced to knowledge of musical scales). Rather, it is much more analogous to artistic vision, to a sort of holistic seeing, than to scientific reason. It is a kind of "seeing within," or into the "withinness of things." It is what Einstein meant when he said that he wanted to understand the mind of God.
Frankly, I do this all the time with my posts. I can often read a single sentence and intuitively know that this sentence can be expanded into an entire post. But if you are an "expert" at anything, I think you will see that you routinely do it as well. For example, I am quite sure that a successful businessman such as Smoov can peer into the marketplace and intuitively see things that are completely invisible to me, just as Dupree can look at a pro wrestling match and see all sorts of subtleties that elude me.
Another way of saying it is that the limits of the lower reasoning mind are inherent and intrinsic, whereas the apparent limitations of the intellect "are merely accidental and extrinsic." No, the intellect cannot know "total truth," for that would be equivalent to being God. Nevertheless, the formula "as above, so below" means that it is possible for the intellect to, as Schuon describes it, "establish certain points of reference which are adequate and sufficient," somewhat analogous to the way in which "it is possible to represent space by a circle, a cross, a square, a spiral or a point and so on." One immediately thinks of how scripture -- say, Torah -- is intended to function as a perfectly adequate "representation" of the eternal.
In any event, "there is no difficulty in the fact that pure intelligence -- the intellect -- immensely surpasses thought," even if we do not possess God-like omniscience. Philosophers and scientists habitually try "to enclose everything in the cogito alone," which is a fool's errand, for there will always be areas "which exceed the possibilities of reason" but "none that exceed those of intelligence as such."
For what is human as opposed to animal intelligence? For starters, it is objectivity, or the ability to consciously transcend self-interest, something no animal can do. Is is also discernment, or the ability to pass "from appearances to reality, from forms to essence, and from effects to cause." And beyond objectivity and discernment is faith which, according to Schuon, "is the propensity to pass from the concept to the thing itself, or from knowing to being." Faith is specifically a mode of knowing nonlocal realities, or an unknowing that clears a space for the supernatural ingression of real transhuman knowledge (which is always a grace).
At risk of championing the obvious, this kind of faith-lit intelligence far exceeds the animal intelligence of the Darwinians, let alone the lowbrow atheistic ravings of the Dennett-Harris-Hitchens crowd. After all, "intelligence is the perception of the real and not the 'intellectualization' of the unreal." The former not only gives rise to discernment of the higher realities of which it is an adequation, but "to the awareness of our superiority in relation to those who do not know how to discern."
All Raccoons know that this sober attitude is not to be confused with the smug sanctimony of the new-age Chopras on the one hand and the religious nuts on the other (for these are simply two sides of the same worthless coin). Rather, as Schuon points out, this awareness "is not in itself a fault, for we cannot help being aware of something that exists and is perceptible to us thanks to our intelligence."
But at the same time -- and this is the key -- awareness of this "superiority" -- if that's what we're going to call it -- automatically engenders humility, since it brings with it awareness of hierarchy, and therefore, our own relative inferiority to those -- and that -- who vastly surpass us. It is why it would never even occur to me -- or to any Raccoon, for that matter -- to pose as a some sort of spiritual master, as do the lowerdown Chopraesque darklings who fleece the grazing multitude of spiritually bereft sheep.
I don't mean to rely upon Schuon so much, but he wrote so many wonderfully lucid things about human intellegence, plus, as you know, I'm writing these posts under adverse circumstances that make it more of a challenge to dwell in the infinite in the usual leisurely way. Besides, I'm hardly inventing truth, but simply passing along the Truth as it is given to me, hopefully in a way that is not too distorted by my own bobliviousness.
As I have mentioned on many O->ksions, if I can simply redirect people back to the extraordinary richness of their own authentic spiritual traditions without being too much of a muddleman, then I will have accompliced your climb. That's enough for me, and nothing gives me more metaphysical joy than to hear testimony to this effect. For it means that it is not about me, which is naturally a great comfort. To know God is to know oneself, which is simultaneously an exalted privilege and a humbling diminution. Again, man is the measure of all things except for that which takes the measure of man.