Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Time, Freedom, and Transcendence: Aiming Your Eros For the Heart of the World

So, if time is headed somewhere, how would we know it? Science -- or scientism, anyway -- must be officially mute on the subject, since it begins with the assumption that time is linear and "empty," just a kind of abstract duration, pure quantity with no qualities. But what if time, like space, isn't empty, but conditions the events within it? In fact, modern physics reveals that there is no such thing as a kind of three dimensional empty space that contains various contents. Rather, things aren't in space but of space. And since space and time are inseperable, we would have to say that every manifest thing is "of" spacetime. But how can we say what that is, if we can't get outside of it?

I first encountered the idea that time has qualitative properties via the late Terence McKenna, who has got to be the most mesmerizing speaker I've ever heard. I've mentioned before that back when I used to work the graveyard shift in the supermarket, the local Pacifica radio station ran a sort of new age program from midnight to 5:00 AM called Something's Happening that would play McKenna's lectures. A lot of stuff that doesn't make sense by the light of day makes perfect sense when you are in a fatigue-induced altered state at 3:00 AM. Importantly, it's not just the fatigue, but the night that alters things. Night is the perfect example of time conditioning the events within it. As they pertain to consciousness, nighttime and daytime couldn't be more different. In fact, they're as different as night and day.

When I wrote my book, I wanted it to be sort of the equivalent of one of McKenna'a lectures. I wanted it to be a trip -- to somehow trigger an alteration in consciousness similar to what McKenna did for me at 3:00AM in 1984. As I mentioned, I basically wrote the book in the late 1990s, but did a lot of editing between then and when it finally came out in early '05, always asking myself the questions 1) is this weird enough?, and 2) is this funny enough? Of course, I was still searching for my vision at the time, and hadn't perfected the formula. If I could write it today, it would be much weirder and funnier. In fact, that's another example of what we're talking about here -- the idea that our future self is here, just over the horizon of the now, luring us toward it.

McKenna's first book was entitled The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching (I guess he published the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide before this, but anonymously). Yes, the book is often completely crazy, but in the best sense of the word. If you are going to speculate, I suppose you might as well pull out all the stops. But in my book, I definitely tried to hug closer to the shoreline of the known, so to speak. Whenever I speculate, you can at least see the dry land of science off in the distance.

I'm reading the forward of the new edition by Jay Stevens, who writes that he had heard about this strange book through word of mouth, and eventually tracked down a copy (this was, of course, in the days before Amazon, when this wasn't so easy):

"The bibliophiles among you will appreciate the keen anticipation I felt as I carried it to a nearby cafe and cracked it open and discovered that, indeed, this was a truly heavy book.

"Dense. Technical. Fascinating. Infuriating. Marvelously weird.

"Mixed in with theories drawn from the study of schizophrenia, molecular biology, and ethnobotany were pungent disquisitions on shamanism and psychedelic philosophy. Plus what seemed to be a story about an encounter with an insectoid intelligence who had curious things to say about the nature of time. The closest thing I could compare it to was an alchemical text published in the classic period -- the seventeenth century -- before the bonds linking science and magic were severed, when it was still possible to have a scientist magician on the order of Isaac Newton."

That's another critical point, because it cannot be overemphasized that our modern scientific and materialistic worldview is largely artificial and superimposed on a human template that is more poetic, holistic, magical, and visionary. To the extent that we lose contact with these latter faculties, we become alienated from the core of our humanness. If you think about it deeply, you can almost feel this philosophy of materialism as a kind of dead weight we all carry around -- sort of like a mute twin that lives inside of us and is always overriding us and interpreting things in its own coldly abstract way.

I am quite sure that the whole phenomenon of the "1960s" (if you know what I mean) was an attempt to throw off this "dead twin" and live more in direct contact with our human ways of knowing and being. As such, it was hardly progressive, but nostalgic and romantic to the core. As I (and Will) have mentioned in the past, there were many positive aspects to this unleashing of spiritual energy, and to a certain extent, I have taken it upon myself to try to rehabilitate this movement and weed out all of the pathological elements that inevitably crept in due to the very nature of our humanness (I should add that I throroughy reject perhaps most of McKenna's ideas, their entertainment and inspiration value notwithstanding).

For the trick is to integrate the scientific and "magical," not choose one over the other. Furthermore, "progressivism" is only progressive to the extent that it converges upon permanent and transcendent values that lay outside space and time. Otherwise it is either random -- i.e., in an arbitrary material direction -- or a direction imposed by elites from on high.

In the introduction to the book, McKenna writes that "The search for liberation, a paradisiacal state of freedom that mythology insists is the ahistorical root of the historical process, has always been the raison d'être of the human species' conscious pilgrimage through time." Through the course of history, various human groups "have all claimed possession of a set of concepts that would in some sense 'free' their practitioners. The entire human experience, individual and collective, can be described as the pursuit of that which frees."

As I attempted to do in my book, McKenna takes the widest possible historical view, noting, for example, how monotheism, as it developed in the West, "freed early humans from the nearly complete domination of consciousness by the pan-vitalistic animism seen everywhere resident in Nature," and how "the coming of Christianity freed its adherents form the fear of a wrathful and paternalistic God." Likewise, modernity offered freedom from what had become "the dogmatic stasis of late medieval Catholicism."

One could add the huge vein of freedom opened up by America's founders, along with the liberty inherent to the free market system. But to what end? Obviously freedom cannot be an end in itself. There is not just freedom from, but freedom to. To what? What is our freedom for?

Paradoxically, freedom is only meaningful if it is limited -- i.e., if it is converging upon something. For example, let us say that we are free to discover the truth. But the truth is fixed. Therefore, in a certain way, only the person who lives in illusion is radically free. In fact, I believe this explains the irrational freedom that is pursued by the left, which is a meaningless, solipsistic freedom. Since the truth constrains us, they imagine that if we only abolish truth, then we will be radically free. It sounds crazy, but this is the explicit strategy of all postmodern philosophies that undermine the existence of objective truth.

For example, if a radical feminist abolishes the idea of archetypal sexual differences, she imagines that this "frees" her -- which it does, in the same sense that you are free if I drop you on the moon.

This is why it needs to be said that the truth will set you free. Oh, really? How can that be? You don't say "2 and 2 are free to be four." Rather, they must be four. How can we reconcile truth and freedom?

At the conclusion of the book, McKenna includes an extended quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Hans Jonas, who outlines a sort of cosmic creation myth that might help to explain the conundrum:

"In the beginning, for unknowable reasons, the ground of being, or the Divine, chose to give itself over to the chance and risk and endless variety of becoming. And wholly so; entering into the adventure of space and time, the deity held back nothing of itself."

But "if the world and God are simply the same, the world at each moment and in each state represents his fullness, and God can neither lose nor gain. Rather, in order that the world might be, and be for itself, God renounced his own being, divesting himself of his deity -- to receive it back from the Odyssey of time weighted with the chance harvest of unforeseeable temporal experience....

"And for aeons his cause is safe in the slow hands of cosmic chance and probability -- while all the time we may surmise a patient memory of the gyrations of matter to accumulate into an ever more expectant accompaniment of eternity to the labors of time -- a hesitant emergence of transcendence from the opaqueness of immanence."

But the advent of man means the advent of the double-edged gift of knowledge and freedom:

"The image of God, haltingly begun by the universe, for so long worked upon -- and left undecided -- in the wide and then narrowing spirals of prehuman time, passes with this last twist, and with a dynamic quickening of movement, into man's precarious trust, to be completed, saved, or spoiled by what he will do to himself and the world. And in this awesome impact of his deeds on God's destiny, on the very complexion of eternal being, lies the immortality of man."

That's a pretty heavy cosmic responsibility. No wonder secularists reject it.

"With the appearance of man, transcendence awakened to itself and henceforth accompanies his doings with the bated breath of suspense, hoping and beckoning, rejoicing and grieving, approving and frowning.... For can it not be that by reflection of its own state as it wavers with the record of man, the transcendent casts light and shadow over the human landscsape?"

Well? What can freedom be for if not for truth, liberty if not for virtue, time if not for timelessness?

20 Comments:

Anonymous dilys said...

I'll forego comment, the house is full of vacationing spouse and repairmen, and my head is still spinning with this recovery of a kind of GagPredecessor Polymath, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy; and this new blog, parsing Bad Ideology fostered by Good Reformational Ideas.

Linking. The last refuge of the cyberSlacker (^o^).

7/03/2007 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Great post, Bob. Can't even hope to comment.

Dilys, great links, as ever! Hmmmm... cryptocalvinism!

As an aside, what is with the "crypto" prefixes nowadays? At my crazy job I was contacted by a "cryptozoologist" the other day. Luckily, he had a website where my curiosity was cured!

Wiki says that a cryptozoologist is "one who searches for animals hypothesized to exist, but for which conclusive proof is missing."

That's a handy little prefix that could be handily applied to all sorts of words for marvelous effect around here.

7/03/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Joan of Argghh! said... "Wiki says that a cryptozoologist is "one who searches for animals hypothesized to exist, but for which conclusive proof is missing.""

So then... CryptoHumanist is obviously the term most in need.

7/03/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Well? What can freedom be for if not for truth, liberty if not for virtue, time if not for timelessness?"

Everyone know what a .zip file is? Where you can have a little compressed file such as KnowledgeAndWisdom.zip sits in your PC's file folder... innocently, nonchalantly taking up 1 or 2 megs of memory... until you happen accross it and say "Hmmm... wonder what's in this one?", unzip it and suddenly 'Shazam!' thousands of megabytes of files, Gigabytes even, explode into your harddrive?

Warning - reading and thinking about that sentence is almost sure to cause an explosive decompression of ideas and understanding. One should not operate heavy machinery while doing so.

7/03/2007 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger juliec said...

"One should not operate heavy machinery while doing so."

Oh, so that explains the dizzy spell I had this morning after reading today's post :)

Cosa's comment yesterday about walking with (or rather, after) his dad pretty well sums up the current line of thought for me. I may catch up by the end of the day, but tomorrow I gno I'll have a lot of walking to do once more. Good thing it's such a delightful trail!

7/03/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Hexagram 46
calligraphic sky
yarrow dipped & lines are thrown
wind pushing upward

7/03/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

" the idea that our future self is here, just over the horizon of the now, luring us toward it. "

Sounds an awful lot like Prevenient Grace.

John 6:44: "No man can come unto me, unless the Father who hath sent me, draw him..."

From Wiki:
Prevenient grace is divine grace which precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.

7/03/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

AMEN.

7/03/2007 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

The entire human experience, individual and collective, can be described as the pursuit of that which frees." - Amen!

If any of you have studied Qabalah (not the recent Madonna prayer water version), you might have studied about the word Yahweh - I am that I am.

Yod Heh Vav Heh are the four hebrew letters spelling YHWH. One of the interpretations of it is that each letter represents one of the four ancient elements that make up the world - "what is, was, and always will be" ie reality/truth.

The name Jesus - Jehoshuah (YHSWH) introduced the letter Shin into YHWH (representing the introduction of the Holy Spirit into reality) - an interpretation, according to Paul Foster Case, a 20th century US Qabalist, is that the fiery Shin is a freeing force leading to the conclusion that "What is, was, and shall be frees" - Reality/Truth Frees - which is the esoteric name of Jesus Christ.

Which brings us back to One Cosmos and this community all aspiring to the same thing.

7/03/2007 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaing of freedom here is an article you'll find interesting

How a 'gay rights' leader became straight

7/03/2007 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

Environmentalism: the new death cult?

I don't even know where to begin. It really doesn't look very good for the West. I'm now convinced that widespread atheism--on the left AND the right--is the biggest threat we face, dwarfing Islamism, North Korea, etc.

7/03/2007 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous goldfinger said...

As in all things, and in line with Bob's caveat to mix materialism judiciously with mysticism to get the correct result, moderation is the key.

In one's spiritual life one must not be swept away by every vision or idea that enters the mind; some things will be of more value than others.

A healthy scepticism about the contents of one's own mind should be cultivated.

10% of your thoughts may be direct from God--the other 90% could be a mishmash of purely mental functions, mere synaptic burps. You must pan out the gold from the gravel intelligently. That process takes a long time to learn.

Therein is the entire art of spiritual living, along with the faith that the 10% gold will be there in your pan.

Believe it; it will be there, is already there.

7/03/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous walt said...

The three or four paragraphs in the middle of this post about freedom -- "Freedom is only meaningful if it...is converging upon...truth." etc. -- are full of useful distinctions. I wonder why something as vital to us as human freedom is so generally ignored, or spoken of so generally, as though it is something we all understand?

As usual, the image of intersecting vertical and horizontal lines can really help to guide our thinking about degrees and types of freedom. It becomes obvious that the "radical freedom" of the materialist living in illusion on the horizontal, is of a different order entirely from a Raccoon reaching upward, choosing to live aligned with the truth, even so Greater Truth might be real-ized.

Feels good to sort these ideas out!

7/03/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"Paradoxically, freedom is only meaningful if it is limited -- i.e., if it is converging upon something. For example, let us say that we are free to discover the truth."

Aye, there's the rub! I've struggled with the paradox of "the truth setting one free" for years. I think sometimes I substitute truth (facts) for Truth.

The thing is, truth is a *living thing.* It's not a set of rules to follow. Truth is Christ, actually, a person. I struggle with a "mind parasite" that beats me down for not doing all I feel I should be. I fall easily into the thinking that the truth is just a set of standards by which to measure myself, but it's not.

Maybe I'm veering OT, but I was just reading about homeschooling in freedom (via an article by the Elijah Company), in which one homeschooling mother says, "“You know why home schooling is so hard? It’s because of the FREEDOM we have." I so agree with that statement.

The article goes on...

"Freedom is scary. It makes us want boundaries, rules and regulations so we always know exactly what to do and exactly where our kids stand compared to everybody else’s kids.

"It’s like being a Christian, isn’t it? As a Christian we can choose rules or a relationship. Being legalistic is easy, because we know what we have to do to be 'acceptable' to God and we can gauge whether we are doing better or worse than we are 'supposed' to do. But living out of a true relationship with God can be very hard because we’re not in charge of the standards any more. Only God’s opinion matters, and He tends to judge by the spirit of the law, not the letter.

"Because it’s always easier to rely on external measurements in order to know if we are doing things 'right,' home schooling parents tend to gradually drift toward some imitation of the public or private (let us say 'institutional') school, just like a Christian will always tend to drift toward some form of legalism. We like the safety of having a system as well as the security of knowing where we stand at all times. Plus, it’s always easier to have someone else figure things out for us, whether that someone else is our pastor or a curriculum publisher."

Why does the human spirit always turn back to bondage, rejecting the freedom available to us? The "free radicals" are enslaved to the horizontal, and always seem to become dogmatists themselves, no different from the legalist.

Truth is a living thing, and bears living fruit in our day-to-day lives. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is blessed freedom. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. All that the human heart longs for--all that our laws aim for--grows out of "abiding" in the freedom of the Spirit.

Why can't I get this through my thick head? :)

wv: bdzosuxz Bad zoe sucks.

7/03/2007 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

"Why does the human spirit always turn back to bondage, rejecting the freedom available to us?"

Ahh, but you've already answered the question. Because it's easier. It's easy to follow directions, to listen to an obvious authority, to go along to get along; often times, such directions go hand in hand with what we think we really want to do anyway, which makes it pleasant, as well. Determining and following the Spirit of the law is trickier; you must think for yourself, and while the Voice of Authority is there, it tends to be very very quiet and subtle, and easily drowned out by our own mind parasites. It also, frequently, asks of us that we delay gratification, or even do things we really don't want to do.

7/03/2007 10:25:00 PM  
Anonymous tsebring said...

Susannah,
you are right on the money; bondage is always easier than freedom. Jesus said so Himself when he spoke of the broad way that leads to death, and the narrow way that leads to life (and then proceeded to proclaim that He indeed WAS that way Himself). The analogy of the camel passing through the eye of the needle (actually not a real needle, but a small hole in the Jerusalem city wall)also fits into that thesis. I remember Bob several posts ago speaking of how freedom is actually against our lower human nature, which loves structure and regulation for the same reason it hates work and commitment; because the former is easy and the latter is hard.

The left has always been willing to cede responsibility and destiny to a government bureacracy rather that take that responsiblity upon itself. That bureacracy can be as small as the crackpot who is the head of a communal cult, or as large as the president of a world government; the commonality is the lack of control of one's own destiny and, therefore, accountability for one's own decisions. For the leftist, that means ceding that responsibility to a large governmental politburo that owns all property and controls education, finance, healthcare, etc. For the Islamist, that means Allah, as infallibly represented by a Grand Caliph or Grand Mullah who alone speaks for Allah and whose word is final on all things, even life itself, and to whom any dissent is punishable by death.

But, as you brilliantly stated,Susannah, that can even extend to the smaller realms of schools and churches. Our public school systems have become like miniature People's Republics, dispensing thought and morality of a relativistic and even Marxist flavor with a kind of religious zeal, and supressing any mention of God, the Bible, or time-honored traditions. I believe that this is above all why large numbers of conscientious parents are moving to home schooling; they are tired of leaving their children in the hands of leftist commissars for 7 hours a day and fearing for their minds, as well as leaving them swimming in the cesspool of our youth culture (much of which the left can take credit for).

In this same vein, this explains why I left the organized church and joined a small, local home church, of which there are an exploding number in the US and the world. The organized church has become several odious things: one, leftist and koolaid-consuming, ala the World Council of Churches, the Jim Wallis crowd, the Quakers, etc.; two, mad with materialism, ala the Prosperity movement and the Tulsa Gang (Roberts, Copeland, Hagen, Osteen, Tilton, Hickey, et al), and three, rigid and dogmatic (ala small fundamentalist churches that approach cults in their control of members). Upon reading writers like Gene Edwards and Frank Viola and their scathing critiques of the organized church, and their descriptions of home church life in contrast, I was drawn in that direction and have never looked back (even though I disagree with some of the writings of both).

The Israelites kept wanting to go back to Egypt when things got tough out in the Sinai; it's a hard, hard lower instinct to overcome. The only explanation for why we even bother trying is that deposit of the Divine that has been left inside of us by God Himself; a God-shaped hole that only the Spirit can fit inside. The leftist tries to fill it with scientific rationalism or marxist utopianism; the godless rightist tries to fill it with unbridled free market capitalism, ala Ken Lay. Both are doomed to failure. The answer lies upward, and outward.

"Up up and away
with my beautiful, my beautiful
Racoooooooon...."

7/03/2007 11:30:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

Bob,
You said,
“I have taken it upon myself to try to rehabilitate this movement and weed out all of the pathological elements that inevitably crept in due to the very nature of our humanness…”

And also:

“Paradoxically, freedom is only meaningful if it is limited -- i.e., if it is converging upon something. For example, let us say that we are free to discover the truth. But the truth is fixed. Therefore, in a certain way, only the person who lives in illusion is radically free. In fact, I believe this explains the irrational freedom that is pursued by the left, which is a meaningless, solipsistic freedom. Since the truth constrains us, they imagine that if we only abolish truth, then we will be radically free. It sounds crazy, but this is the explicit strategy of all postmodern philosophies that undermine the existence of objective truth.”.

When all the weeding is done, aren’t we basically left with a huge pile of weeds and that small mustard seed of what came before and has always been, however misunderstood?
As in all human movements, there are the few who realize the significance and the masses who turn it into “the world is my oyster” narcissism. Civil rights has turned into a victim and entitlement culture. Freedom, if not limited within the boundaries of truth becomes slavery, yet human nature sets about to produce people who are very adept at forging the links to those chains. Take for instance the visiting trolls who see you as the oppressive, paternalistic, chauvanistic MAN, a stodgy old white racist throwback of the 1950s, before the age of (un) enlightenment Blind to the fact that you desire to relieve them of chains from which they don’t wish to be relieved.
In my opinion, what passes for the “spirit” of the 60s has given us much more negative than positive in the forms of the “progressive” movement, cynical deconstructionists and the modern Democrat party, and given enough time and power, they’ll destroy this country. We could do with a bit more of the spirit of 1776 and a little less 1960s spirit. The first was truly progressive and eternally relevant, the later has become a pile of putrid weeds. One can only hope that the timelessness of those early freedom ideals will win out in the end.
Thanks for helping out the small percentage who, as in the past, still get what you give in their search for clarity but I say F what the 60s has morphed into, virtually from the start. Hallelujah to the day when the last deadhead rolls off the end of the conveyor belt of life.

7/03/2007 11:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hoarhey:

I certainly understand your point, In reality, you could say my motives are entirely selfish. It's as If I don't want to think that my whole life -- and that of my generation -- was just a total waste and an illusion. For example, I think of talk radio as a true extension of the "free speech" movement of the 1960s, whereas the left simply became caricatures of the people they were rebelling against. Likewise, certain freedoms opened up in the 1960s, and freedom, as Jonas points out, is always a double-edged sword. It can be used for spiritual ends or for anti-spiritual ends, as in the case of the left.

7/04/2007 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

There was a spiritual movement in the 60's. The Jesus People movement helped along the charismatic movement, which changed my family history and upbringing significantly. :) I was thoroughly churched and shielded from much of the rot resulting from the sixties...but often times we attended fellowships more in the "house church" spirit than in the mainline or fundamentalist spirit. Because many charismatics stayed within their own denominational tradition, I wound up having an ecumenical upbringing.

7/04/2007 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger geoffb said...

I went to college in the late 60's. To me there were two quite different "movements" at that time which now are talked about as if they were the same thing. One was the "sex, drugs, rock 'n roll" hippies and the other was the "New Left". their paths intersected on some issues but the one was more of the "libertarian, leave me alone" mold while the other wanted to take control of the reins of power for themselves and control everyone. Both are now talked about as being the same but they were not.

7/05/2007 07:34:00 AM  

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