Monday, August 06, 2007

The Spiritual World and the Animal Environment

I may actually be able to write something new today. During the past month or more, I've been waking at 6:00 instead of 5:00, and the loss of that little hour makes all the difference. But this morning I woke up at 5:15, giving me a little window of uppertunity.

So, what does it all mean, anyway? Alfred North Whitehead defined philosophy as the pursuit of that question. As I have mentioned before, I'm not a bitter person, but I do still mildly resent what leftism has done to our educational system, because it took me half my life to unlearn all the leftst brain-washing and soul-dirtying and rearrive at where my philosophical endeavors should have started to begin with. I wasted so much time learning things that are not only wrong but harmful to the soul and incompatible with true happiness or fulfillment.

I hate to say this, because it sounds immodest or presumptuous, but these outwardly unpleasant little transitional phases I go through always have an implicit lesson, in that they 1) teach me not to take my (ab?)normal state of mind for granted, and 2) reacquaint me with the flatland world in order to better comprehend those souls who are stuck there permanently and have never been lifted above it. I don't know how anyone can stand to live there. It's just so... cramped... and ill-furnished.

What in the world is the world? Or, to put it another way, what kind of world is the world of man, and is it the same as the world? These questions are addressed in an enjoyable book I'm currently reading, For Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy, by Josef Pieper. One of the themes Pieper develops is the idea that all other animals merely live in a world, whereas human beings are privileged to (potentially, at least) live in the world.

For example, many people assume that all animals with eyes see the same object, when this is patently untrue. Pieper cites the example of a certain bird that preys on grasshoppers, but is incapable of seeing the grasshopper if it isn't moving. Only in leaping does the grasshopper become distinct from the background -- which is why many insects "play dead." In their resting form, not only are they "dead," but they are literally invisible. It is as if they drop into a hole and no longer exist in the world of the predator. Even if the bird were starving, it could search and search, and yet, never find the unmoving grasshopper right under its beak. In short, the animal cannot transcend its biological boundaries, even with an organ -- the eye -- seemingly equipped for the task.

Pieper quotes the biologist Uexküll, who distinguishes the animal's environment from the actual world. As he writes, "The environments of animals are comparable in no way to open nature, but rather to a cramped, ill-furnished apartment." Animals are confined to the environment to which they are adapted, and from which they can never escape. Most of the world is simply not perceived or even capable of being perceived. In fact, the world literally did not come into exstence until human beings happened upon the scene.

But given Darwinian principles -- which, by the way, we can only know about because we have transcended them -- how did mankind escape its environment and enter the real world? Or did we? Are we as trapped in a narrow cross-section of reality as any other tenured animal? If so, then both science and religion are impossible. Like the bird looking for the immobile grasshopper, we could find neither "the world" nor "God," despite diligent searching. But if science is possible, then God is necessary. Or, to put it another way, since God exists, science is possible.

Pieper writes that the human spirit is not so much defined by the property of immateriality as it is "by the ability to enter into relations with Being as a totality," in a way that clearly transcends our mere animal-environmental boundaries. (Interesting, isn't it, that the cult of global warming mostly appeals to those flatlanders who elevate the environment to the world? It is very much a religion for the folks mired down in 2D.)

Now, as Schuon always emphasized, the intellect properly so-called (i.e., nous) is not restricted to an environment. Rather, it is "relatively absolute" and therefore able to know the world. As Pieper writes, "it belongs to the very nature of a spiritual being to rise above the environment and so transcend adaptation and confinement," which in turn explains "the at once liberating and imperiling character with which the nature of spirit is immediatly associated."

This is what I was driving at on p. 92 of my book:

"Just as first singularity was an explosion into (and simultaneous creation of) material space-time, and the second singularity a discontinuous 'big bang' into the morphic space of biological possibility, the third singularity was an implosion into a trans-dimensional subjective space refracted through the unlikely lens of a primate brain. Up to the threshold of the third singularity, biology was firmly in control of the hominids, and for most of evolution, mind (such as it was) existed to serve the needs of the primate body. Natural selection did not, and could not have, 'programmed' us to know reality, only to survive in a narrow 'reality tunnel' constructed within the dialectical space between the world and our evolved senses."

But then suddenly Darwin was cast aside and "mind crossed a boundary into a realm wholly its own, a multidimensional landscape unmappable by science and unexplainable by natural selection"; humans ventured out of biological necessity and "into a realm with a vastly greater degree of freedom, well beyond the confining prison walls of the senses."

I suppose natural selection can explain our adaptation to an environment, but it cannot explain our discovery and comprehension of the world. Pieper quotes Aristotle, who wrote that "the soul is in a way all existing things." What did he mean by this? What he meant was that the soul is able to put itself in relation to the totality of Being. While other animals have only their little slice of Being, the human is able to grasp Being as a whole.

Thus -- running out of time here, but thus -- to be in Spirit is "to exist amid reality as a whole, in the face of the totality of Being." Spirit is not a world, but the world. Or, to be precise, "spirit" and "world" are reciprocal concepts, the one being impossible in the absence of the other. Science itself is a completely spiritual world, or it is no world at all, only an environment. Usually an academic environment.

37 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only see a picture with a caption on 89, but obviously it must be close by? Unless the quotes weren't directly referencing the book.

The bird example seems a poor one though, comparing a human to a bird is odd. Birds are very dull. Now if you were to compare a human to one of only 6 creatures besides humans to recognize themselves in a mirror readily, well that might be different. Ultimately it would make no difference, but obviously some animals can know a world beyond their own without getting confused. So now where does the argument go?

8/06/2007 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I found it, page 92, close indeed.

8/06/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And, apologies, I'm not knocking the argument, but some animals do have some very basic intelligence of sorts, as if in a sub-hierarchy.

8/06/2007 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, that's my point. There is no naturalistic way to get from the relative intelligence of animals to the absolute intelligence of humans.

8/06/2007 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aristotle actually says all beings have souls, but only humans have a soul of reason, which contains the properties of all souls below it. So in full context, everything is a complete being because all things have a soul, humans are just a level above. Essentially, it just another hierarchy, but instead of being separate, we are still in essence connected and earthly as lower creatures because we still share the soul of lower beings.

8/06/2007 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

"Pieper writes that the human spirit is not so much defined by the property of immateriality as it is "by the ability to enter into relations with Being as a totality," in a way that clearly transcends our mere animal-environmental boundaries."

This passage of Pieper is very similar to the one in Leisure: The Basis of Culture (I don't have it here, but think it's the 2nd section of the one on Philosophizing) that's got my forehead all bruised up from banging against it. I wonder if it's the same essay reprinted and or different translation? It uses the same example of the grasshopper and bird, and the same references to Uxehull and Aristotle. I've been going along up to this point, nodding, digesting and underlining, but his emphasis and use of 'relationship' has lost me. In it he emphasizes 'relationship', as humans being set apart because they are in relationship to the innermost of other objects in the world... that only a human is in a relationship with others in the world... which seems weak to me or missing something essential, or I am missing something essential to his point.

In what you've ref'd here he uses 'enter into' which makes more sense to me, I don't think it's worded that way in 'Leisure'.... To me it's obvious that everything in the world is in some relationship with other things and creatures in the world, but that only a human has a relationship with any of the other things and creatures in the world. Seems to me that the emphasis needs to be on Has or 'enter into', rather than on the existence of a Relationship itself.

Just wonder if you think that the 'Has' or 'enter into' is the right track for reading that, or if I'm missing still missing something there?

8/06/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, I think it means Being, as in existence. Not as in other beings.

8/06/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, if that was even where the confusion was. I haven't read his work, but if somebody could reference it so I may further grasp his work I would appreciate it.

8/06/2007 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh never mind, I just realized it was a link.

8/06/2007 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Being is different than existence. Humans are trinitarian: Existence (body) Being (mind/soul) and Beyond-Being (spirit). All animals have souls, but no animal possesses a spirit, which is not really 'ours' but the 'exterior of the interior' a little window into the divine. I.E. that actual relation to the center, the 'center at the periphery'.

'Being' then refers not to existence (matter) but the principles behind matter that make up philosophy and science.

8/06/2007 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

Anonymous said... "Hmm, I think it means Being, as in existence. Not as in other beings."

I get that, it's the seeming use of relationship as what alone sets humans apart, rather than being able to have or enter into one, which has been throwing me. I get the way it's used in the post today, it's in Pieper's book "Leisure", that's lost me.

Maybe it'll make sense rereading the section tonight after having read this today....

8/06/2007 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My apologies, I have not come to fully understand these philosophies.

But in correcting Aristotle I do not see the point, for he is dead. And surely everybody already knows that Aristotle's views are not absolute or complete.

You seem argumentative.

8/06/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

By the by, Raccoons. Check this out when 'ere you get the chance. A scientist has (seemingly) finally seen the motionless grasshopper and wondered, was it there all along?

A quote:

"The threshold for such universality has however generally been assumed to be high, and to be reached only by elaborate and special systems like typical electronic computers. But one of the surpising discoveries in this book is that in fact there are systems whose rules are simple enough to describe in just one sentence that are nevertheless univeral. And this immediately suyggests that the phenomenon of universality is vastly more common and important--in both abstract systems and nature-- than has ever been imagined before."

8/06/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

"...In short, the animal cannot transcend its biological boundaries, even with an organ -- the eye -- seemingly equipped for the task."

What a timely post! Here's what happened this weekend.

I love to kayak a certain stretch of flatwater, the "Meanders" flowing into Payette Lake in Idaho. It's common to see a lot of wildlife up there - deer, moose, osprey, eagles, and so on. What isn't so common is getting close to them. They see you coming and move off.

But Saturday, I rounded a bend in the river and came upon a deer standing in a marsh. He hadn't heard me coming, so I paddled a couple strokes into the marsh, then drifted. He noticed me at first, but because I was silent and unmoving, I was thinking that he thought me more a log than a threat. I was able to drift within 10 feet (admittedly not a real smart thing to do) before the boat came to a halt in the reeds.

I watched him for some time. I had a camera but chose not to lift it because it would have disturbed the moment (although a photo and haiku would have been so much simpler than telling this story). I could hear his teeth tearing the grasses from the marsh, his breathing, and even the flap of his ears as he batted them at flies. I could have nearly reached my paddle out to touch him. When I finally dipped the paddle in the water, the deer whipped his head up, froze momentarily and snorted, then bolted through the marsh to dry ground. I clearly didn't exist in his world until I stopped 'playing dead.'

As I sat watching God's magnificent creature, I was thinking how it was a one-way street, that this was a gift prepared just for my enjoyment and wonder. I was also aware that it was not reciprocal. This was not a 'communing with nature' event, but was 'communing with God in the midst of his creation.'

That's why I don't approach bears. Or moose. I have no need to commune with their nature. I do have a little sense, or so I like to remind myself. ;-)

This world is such a miracle. All things are created for our benefit, a terribly misunderstood concept these days.

8/06/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

anonymous said "You seem argumentative."

???

8/06/2007 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Nous Eyes
after the harvest
louis dreams of lemonade
glass sweats from the ice

8/06/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous akhetaten said...

The vulture, the hippopotamus and the falcon are all spiritually advanced beings.

Don't let appearances fool you. These creatures are the personal stock of powerful spiritual entities who have been around for aeons.

8/06/2007 08:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to you Van, to River. His criticism of outdated beliefs were unnecessary, as if he were trying to correct somebody who was merely summarizing something. And I think that it's already been established that Aristotle's beliefs are not shared. He seemed to jump the gun to I suppose stave me off from agreeing with "On the Soul," with which I never took a stance on it's validity.

Of course, while one could say that animals don't have a spirit, another has also already said animals don't have a soul. In simpler terms, you can define words to suit any of your purposes in philosophy, which can become confusing. I know that in some philosophy, the spirit is the heart of the soul, and that no soul would exist without it, which would entirely refute the claim of animals not having spirit if they have souls, at which point if you don't believe animals have spirits then you wouldn't believe they have souls in the first place. And I know, animals don't have access to the divine, but spirit doesn't have to be a "window" to the divine, it has merely been defined to suit that purpose for this philosophy. Or one could say that the Soul of Reason contains spirit, which would in no way go against what Aristotle has established, we'll call it an amendment.

But let's not fool ourselves, we are all capable of fitting language logically to prove any reasonable belief, and sometimes absurd beliefs as well.

8/06/2007 08:33:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

I seem to recall reading or hearing somewhere that in Genesis (1:20, I think) one way to translate or understand the original text was not "living" creatures, but rather "ensouled" creatures. Of course, now I can't seem to find a source, so take it for what it's worth, but at the time I thought it a very interesting distinction.

8/06/2007 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

aNONakhetaten (or whatever you are) - Almighty God may love the animals but He did not create them in His image. Join the spiritual world - it was meant for you.

8/06/2007 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

annonymous said "Not to you Van, to River. His criticism of outdated beliefs were unnecessary, as if he were trying to correct somebody who was merely summarizing something. "

Hmm... Always hard to tell with annony's how long they have or haven't been poking around, but River has been here quite some time and he usually flows along pretty smoothly & serenely (I'm usually the argumentative one)... but I've gone back over the comments a few times in bafflement... and the only touchy tone I can pick up ... seems to be coming form you... perhaps just a case of some words gone astray between one set of fingertips and another set of eyes... anyway, seems more huh? than Argh!, probably best to let it go.

This one did catch my attention though "And I think that it's already been established that Aristotle's beliefs are not shared. " where was that established and by who? He's kind of a favorite of mine, so I'd be interested in the details there. Sure, he misses on some particulars here and there, but over the last 3,000 years there've been few to match him or pull together as much deep sense as he did, IMHO.

"But let's not fool ourselves, we are all capable of fitting language logically to prove any reasonable belief, and sometimes absurd beliefs as well. "

Your 'spirit vs soul' paragraph wouldn't sit still for me, and together with the last one, I'm not so sure where you're coming from. Fitting language logically to prove reasonable beliefs is kind of the point of using language, or should be... putting 'any' in the middle there though tends to turn the meaning away from trying to point towards Truth, to trying to rationalize whim, which I think you'll find most here have no interest in whatsoever. Neither do most of us accept that that makes all statements and arguments of equal relative worth. There's Right and there's Wrong, Truth and Falsehood, and though we may not hit the bullseye, I think we're all pretty confident that we are aiming at it. I am of course speaking for myself, but I don't think I'm alone.

Hopefully you are on the same range.

8/06/2007 09:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

Ben, Skully, you're watch, I'm sleep typing again.

Nitey-nite all.

wv:daquybxq Daiquiri boxing? sounds unwise. Fun... but could lead to impromptu chin foo do demonstrations.

8/06/2007 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the intended direction is that the views of any philosopher are not universally acknowledged. In fact, philosophers argue, over the same exact subject, in opposite directions, while neither may be necessarily wrong. We can observe two completely different truths, truths that may nullify each other, but truths no less. In some instances what you believe simply is what you believe, you can support the belief and others their own, but neither can prove the other wrong.

Hmm, well one could see from mere observation that not everybody agrees with Aristotle, so other than saying, "look around," I can't really express how his beliefs aren't shared. I wasn't saying I disagree with Aristotle myself or that I found flaws in his arguments, as the conversation shows River was the only one to point out the deficiency in "On the Soul" Not me. River's statement was an example of the point to begin with. I didn't establish it, it established itself. I don't care to prove common sense.

And if you think that there is only right or wrong, well that doesn't make sense. Especially if you believe in a hierarchy. In a sense, only One comes out on top, or one. But no matter which (o)ne you believe, all is either right, or all but one is wrong, and that can't possibly fit.

8/07/2007 06:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, if you only believe in one truth well I should take time to address that it is belief, but belief in a truth is not belief in all truths or absolute truth. But to accept a truth is to accept your beliefs. Which I would applaud anybody for.

8/07/2007 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Hmm... speaking of coherency. Eh?

The Soul vs. Spirit thing is quite important. Just because I was firm about my point does not make me argumentative. If you disagree explain why instead of attacking my method.

It might depend on what one means when one refers to 'the soul', but be assured there is only one truth to the whole thing no matter how much you shuffle the definitions.

As for:

Of course, if you only believe in one truth well I should take time to address that it is belief, but belief in a truth is not belief in all truths or absolute truth. But to accept a truth is to accept your beliefs. Which I would applaud anybody for.

It is not coherent. Please start again.

8/07/2007 07:40:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

By the way, often we disagree with philosophers, Aristotle for instance, in the letter - but agree in spirit. Or, we may agree in letter but disagree in spirit. For instance, Aristotle seemed to believe that you could arrive at the One through study of the Many. Most folk here would agree that this is the same mistaken approach of modern science - and that the One precedes the Many. You just can't "Get there from here."

8/07/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

River,
words are blunt instruments. For instance the Bible seems to assert that animals have spirit (which may go up or down when they die). But this does not mean that they have spirit in the sense that humans have spirit. When used about animals, spirit in the Bible can be read as lifeforce or breath of life. When used in the more advanced sense, it is specifically mentioned to apply to humans: "Spirit in man is a lamp of the Lord" and "None can know what is in man except for the spirit of man". A casual reader might not get that distinction and assume that animals and men are in the same league since they are both "spiritual".

8/07/2007 08:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

annonymouse said... well, something, but I'm afraid I can't make out what it was.

And although Aristotle certainly made errors, River notes one, Plato as well (many more), another would be their habit of looking at effective gov't as a starting point for proper models of gov't, rather than beginning with the proper rights of individuals, and working up; but it would be a huge error to toss them completely to the side for it, it just means that, as always, you can't just accept what 'authorities' say, you have to think as well.

BTW River, your comments and Gagdad's post were very helpful on rereading that section of Pieper's last night; sometimes you just need someone to say 'look at it this way' [head spins 'round], to get things to click.

8/07/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I wasn't attacking your method, I just didn't see the purpose in it. And I didn't say you were argumentative, I said you seem so. But, obviously I left it open as a possible misunderstanding by using the word "seem." Obviously you were just "firm."

Not coherent? Hmm. Well, this is the most important part.

"belief in a truth is not belief in all truths or absolute truth. But to accept a truth is to accept your beliefs."

Meaning, not all things are true/false, some are merely true but differing, and in that instance, what you would believe is what is true, and to accept it is to believe it. IE, you believe your ideas, which are your truths. But not the only truths. Not in every instance is your truth my truth.

Which is why I get confused by Van

because I don't understand your point of, "Wrong or Right."

"annonymouse said... well, something, but I'm afraid I can't make out what it was."

Well it was excellent that you took the time to understand it, and I'm glad you took the time to address it anyway, because I finally figured out our misunderstanding... I don't believe anywhere have I thrown out Aristotle's ideas or claimed them to be absolute. I merely said that not everybody agrees with them fully, and that that doesn't make his ideas null. So ultimately, we agree(with what you just said). So my confusion merely lies with the idea of "wrong or right" which obviously you don't mean completely wrong or completely right. Correct? And if it isn't completely wrong, or right, why say there is Wrong or Right. That is what confused me, it makes it sound absolute.

8/07/2007 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, I have to appreciate the Annonymouse,

Almost unique, and not quite clever. I didn't realize we had gotten to feces flinging yet. Usually we have to say something that actually offends first. Which means I probably have, at which point I realize, I should probably go.

8/07/2007 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Van said...

anonymous said "Of course, I have to appreciate the Annonymouse..."

Actually that really was a typo, a sleep typo in fact. Sorry. When I've had it with anonymous's I forgoe the feces flinging, and just address them as 'aninnymouse'... yes, childish, but amusing.

However,


"But in correcting Aristotle I do not see the point, for he is dead."

That at least seems fairly absolute.

"And surely everybody already knows that Aristotle's views are not absolute or complete"

As does that, but this,

" ...one could see from mere observation that not everybody agrees with Aristotle, so other than saying, "look around," I can't really express how his beliefs aren't shared. I wasn't saying I disagree with Aristotle myself or that I found flaws in his arguments, as the conversation shows River was the only one to point out the deficiency in "On the Soul" Not me."

is what seems more representative of what you want to not say... basically it seems as if what you want to say, is to not say it... lots of wriggle room in most of your sentences... and forgive me, but when things wriggle past me, I pretty much want to stomp them. It's an old habit.

And a fine example of such wriggling and the incoherence River noted, is this one,
"And if you think that there is only right or wrong, well that doesn't make sense. Especially if you believe in a hierarchy. In a sense, only One comes out on top, or one. "

Without an assumption of Right and Wrong, etc, you won't be able to construct a hierarchy, such mush will only form a squishy pool. Case in point:

"So my confusion merely lies with the idea of "wrong or right" which obviously you don't mean completely wrong or completely right. Correct?"

Incorrect, I completely meant absolutly.

"... And if it isn't completely wrong, or right, why say there is Wrong or Right."

Precisely the point.

"... That is what confused me, it makes it sound absolute."

Absolutely.

8/07/2007 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Now we have Anonovictim.

How predictable

8/07/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Anon, I simply make a point of being blunt.

A piece of advice: Empty (or partly) drain your words of known connotations. This is a kind of 'Zen and the art of understanding Theology' kinda thing.

So when Van says 'Absolute', you might have to jump back a bit to figure out what other thing he means when he says it.

But, Mags is right, words, blunt instruments.

That's why I love 'em.

8/07/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

Wham!




;-)

8/07/2007 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean, of course you can't correct somebody who's dead, it can't be anything but absolute.

When you say something isn't absolute, that is in no way absolute in itself. And you claim it to be. Van, you can't even keep up with yourself. It's a shame. I feel sorry for your ignorance.

See, you claim I don't want to say anything, which isn't true. You just don't get the concept of an open mind, you feel one has to make a decision apparently on issues that don't need one.

Actually with JUST RIGHT or WRONG you cannot have a hierarchy. Would you like me to construct the algorithm? It's pretty basic. You could essentially have a system of only sub-hierarchies, but you'd never actually have 1 full complete hierarchy to compare, because again there's only right or wrong.

And then "precisely the point." You agree that you disagree with yourself. Now I feel really sorry for you.

"Absolutely."

Oh now you agree with yourself again. Well, sorry you seem so confused.

I mean, you didn't prove anything, except to yourself. But even then you sound like you disagree with it.

I mean, technically you already admitted you don't get it, but continued to blunder on like an ass anyway, so I should have just left. Now you're just desperate to prove no point. I like your style, it's easy to beat.

Oh, I guess you'll write something back, lol. I won't respond. Because you'll just do the same thing as before.

8/07/2007 08:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

Wow.
Parody?

8/07/2007 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, have you written anything about your college experience that took you leftward? Just curious as I have two children who have been brainwashed at a university.

8/08/2007 07:04:00 AM  

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