Bring Out Your Dead!
I've never been that interested in biology per se. However, I've always been fascinated by the philosophical and cosmological implications of biology -- of the fact that we just happen to find oursophs in a cosmos in which Life is possible. Biology itself is a closed system that can only tell us about already living things, which is why these doctrinaire Darwinians are so grandiose and presumptuous in belowviating on matters above and beyond the narrow limits of their competence. Biology assumes the existence of living things, and attempts to describe their workings.
But biology cannot step outside itself and pronounce on the cosmic significance of Life Itself. Only a Raccoon can do that, bearing in mind the quasi-eternal semi-mystery that That which is called the Fraternal Order of Raccoons existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the planting of the human race until Toots Mondello arrived in the flesh, and the Lodge he founded with Herman Hildebrand in Bensonhurst, which already existed, came to be called the Raccoons.
A long time ago, back when I wanted to be an actual scholar instead of a guerilla ontologist, I published a paper called Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. It had to do with analyzing the mind as an open system, and trying to understand the underlying structures and mechanisms that made its evolution possible. It was based upon Ilya Prigogine's revolutionary ideas about the dynamics of dissipative structures, which are open systems that operate in far-from-equilibrium conditions and exchange matter, energy, or information with the environment. I'd show you the paper, but I don't know how to upload a PDF file from my desktop to the blog.
Yesterday I was thinking about this in the context of our genes. Our genes don't really account for much that happens to us beyond the age of 20 or so. Or, to put it another way, they more or less determine everything that happens & unhappyns, unless we actively intervene with a different, non-genetic agenda. I say this because in the "archaic environment" in which our genes were selected, most people barely survived childhood, and you were very lucky if you made it to the age of 30 -- by which time you would be an old and crippled geezer because of the extraordinarily harsh conditions of the time.
So when you think about some of the troubling aspects of human behavior, they become more comprehensible if you understand that our genes are only really designed to get us to the age of reproduction. After that, we're on our own. For example, take the type of male aggression we were discussing yesterday. It is partly fueled by testosterone, which is also one of the main reasons women outlive men.
In other words, the same hormone that causes a man to fight other men for the privilege of getting his genes into the next generation, also causes him to die significantly younger once the job is done. Really, when we talk about any genetically caused disease that occurs after the age of 30 or so, we're dealing with something that didn't have much relevance in the archaic environment. For example, my diabetes -- which is completely genetic, as far as anyone knows -- didn't strike until I was 48. In the archaic environment it wouldn't have mattered, because I would have been dead by that age anyway.
But the whole point of human existence is that, unlike other animals, we don't merely live at the biological level. Rather, we mainly live on the psychological and spiritual levels, which are no less ontologically real than the biological level. In fact, as it so happens, they are more real, as they are closer to the source of existence, the Absolute Real.
That is, in order to have a cosmos -- any cosmos -- there must be order, and if there is order, there must be hierarchy. The realms of matter, life, mind and spirit (and there are additional degrees within each of these levels) are all reflections of this ordered hierarchy. It is not as if we begin with dead matter, to which life and mind are somehow magically added. This is an absurd proposition which denies the other half of evolution -- which indeed makes it possible -- which is involution. Involution is ontologically prior to evolution, and both sets its limits and determines its possibilities. This idea is captured in the ancient Christian formula that God became man so that man might become [or attain to] God. Another way of saying it is that the Absolute became the relative so that the relative might become the Absolute, or Brahman became maya so that maya might become Brahman. It is the underlying metaphysical principle that matters, not its exact formulation.
In such a cosmos, life and mind are not the impossible riddles of science, but inevitable mysteries rooted in "the nature of things." Yes, it's exceedingly weird that we are alive, but only if you detach yourself -- as modern people have increasingly tended to do for the past couple hundred years -- from the rest of the existentialada.
For this reason, modern sophisticates look down, say, on Christianity as an atavistic sort of fairy tale, which I suppose it is if you are only living at the biological level. For it is addressed to the Spiritual Man, not the animal man. In its own way, it is just as "scientific" as science, only with a science appropriate to the spiritual level. Not only can reductionistic science not ascend to this level (obviously), but it denies its existence. This is no less absurd than a physicist denying the existence of life just because it is impossible to derive biology from physics. It's true that you cannot get from physics to biology. Nevertheless life lives.
You also cannot get from biology to Truth, Wisdom, Beauty, or Virtue. Nevertheless, these transcendent ideals are real, in fact, among the "first fruits" of the involution of the Real. No truly human life -- either individually or collectively -- is possible without living in their light. Which is why scientism, materialism and atheism are such childishly monstrous philosophies.
Now, I have no idea where I'm going with this. Once again, the boy was up last night with a fever, and now he's starting to wake up. Therefore, to the extent that any of this has a point, we might have to wait until tomorrow to find out what it is. But at least I know I'm alive, since I'm sitting here amidst uncertainty and doubt, wating for a handout from Petey.
I guess these thoughts were provoked by reading a chapter in Kallistos Ware's The Inner Kingdom called Go Joyfully: The Mystery of Death and Resurrection. With respect to the spiritual level of our existence, Ware writes that "there exists, hidden within each one of us, a secret treasure house, an inner Kingdom, that is amazing in its depth and variety. It is a place of wonder and joy, a place of glory, a place of encounter and dialogue. If we will only 'dive' into ourself, then we shall each discover eternity within our own heart. Jacob's ladder starts from the point where I am at this very moment; the gate of heaven is everywhere. And this inner Kingdom, present within me here and now, is at the same time the Kingdom of the Age to come..."
But what makes things so confusing is that the Kingdom exists amidst such squalor, so to speak. Or at least human beings have made it so. It needn't be this way, but then again, I suppose it must. For just as Life cannot exist except as a perpetual balancing act that spans physics and biology, our spiritual life can only exist on a sort of uptightrope between man and God, relative and absolute, transcendence and immanence, O and (¶) (the latter symbol referring to the psychic being, the intellect properly so-called).
"You will be dead so long as you refuse to die," says Ware (quoting George MacDonald). "It is precisely the death of the old that makes possible the emergence of the fresh growth within ourselves, and without death there would be no new life."
Therefore, in a very important sense, death is in the service of life, and certainly did not exist prior to life (i.e., it is not real but a deprivation). We can certainly see how this is true of nature at large, which, if it were to become static, would be dead. It is only because it can constantly change and perish that it can be alive at all.
We can also see how the principle of death works on the psychological level. In order to become who you were meant to be, you must essentially kill off those parts of you that are interfering with the process and stand in the way between you and You. I see this especially vividly in my 28 month old, who is always at the boundary between past and future, between dependence and independence, between mastery of one phase and then leaving it behind in order to face a new unknown challenge. Therefore, Life itself is actually a life/death dialectic, or, you might say, death and resurrection.
Returning to the spiritual level, Ware points out how Christ's dying is a "life-creating death." In fact, this appears to have been the "take away message" of his mission. But it works on many levels. Last week we discussed Otis's spiritual impasse, which is a sort of death-in-life, not because he cannot live, but because he won't die. Or at least that's another way of looking at it. In order for us to grow psychologically and to mature spiritually, we must necessarily die, not just once, but repeatedly. As Petey quipped in One Cosmos, in order to become an extreme seeker, some disassembly is required. But only for the rest of your lifedeathlife.
Or as Ware writes, "True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So to be fully alive, our faith needs to continually die."