Looking for the World, Finding the Creator (10.07.10)
Science is and must be exciting, since it relies on largely unspecifiable clues which can be sensed, mobilized and integrated only by a passionate response to their hidden meaning.... This is the unaccountable element which enters into science at its source and vitally participates throughout, even in its final result. In science this element has been called intuition. --Michael Polanyi, Scientist and Philosopher
Continuing our little raiding party on the wild godhead, Schuon writes that on the natural plane -- i.e., the horizontal world of empirical reality -- it is sufficient "to have at one's disposal the necessary data and then to reason correctly."
As it so happens, the same rules apply to the suprasensable world, with one important difference, "that the object of thought then requires the intervention of intellection, which is an inner illumination" (emphasis mine). However, the difference is not really as stark as one might suppose, for as Schuon adds, "if natural things may require a certain intuition independent of reasoning as such, then supernatural things will a fortiori require intuition of a superior order, since they do not fall within the reach of the senses."
You will notice that in my list of book raccoomendations in the sidebar of the blog, I don't place too many philosophers there, mainly Michael Polanyi (there is no perfect introduction, but this is probably the best one), one reason being that he most adequately expressed this idea of "lower intuition," so to speak, being critical to the evolution of scientific understanding and therefore progress into the great unKnown. It's not so much that the "intuition" is lower, only that science applies (and arbitrarily limits it) to a lower order of reality, i.e., the material/horizontal world. But to point out that the material world cannot be understood in the absence of intuition is to simultaneously affirm the obvious fact that the world is not material.
Theists often argue that most of the world's greatest scientists have been religious, but in the end, that is neither here nor there. More importantly, science itself cannot operate without certain functions that most people would regard as spiritual or quasi-religious, certainly not "mechanical" or empirical. Even to digest the most alimentary fact, "reason requires data in order to function, otherwise it operates in the void." Therefore, something transcending reason must supply the material for it to operate on, or else you are truly trapped in an absurcular universe from which there is no escape -- not even into knowledge.
In a way, this mirrors the philosophical problem of the ontological status of mathematics. That is, the most perfect mathematical account of the cosmos will never account for two things, 1) the mysterious existence of its own invariant mathematical operations, and 2) the "substance" to which the mathematical equations apply (in other words, no mathematical equation can create reality, only provide an abstract description of it).
In reality -- which is where we want to be in -- the data required by reason can only come from four sources, 1) the world, which is objective, 2) experience, which is obviously subjective, 3), "Revelation, which like the world is objective since it comes to us from without," and 4) "intellection, which is subjective since it is produced within ourselves" (Schuon).
In a gnotshul: exterior world, interior experience, exterior revelation, and interior intellection.
But it is the work of a moment to see that each of these implies and even "contains" its opposite. For example, the fact that we may comprehend the "inner workings" of the exterior world indeed suggests that it has an interior, as Whitehead understood almost a century ago, based upon the (then) new findings of quantum physics. Likewise, the fact that we may objectively understand reality must mean that there is something of the unwavering object inside the human subject. And revelation, save for the most dull-witted literalist (who may be a theist or atheist, it doesn't matter) is like a veritable interior cathedral that ultimately discloses the mind of the Creator (not completely, of course, any more than any text could exhaust the mind of its author).
Reason and experience: both are far more mysterious than the weak secularized mind can appreciate (which is why it is so easily secularized). Back to Michael Polanyi. In an essay entitled The Unaccountable Element in Science, he explains how it is impossible in the practice of science to replace unspecifiable acts of personal judgment -- AKA, intuition -- with the operation of explicit reasoning, as if our minds operated like machines. This applies not only to scientific discovery, but to "the very holding of scientific knowledge."
He begins by citing Kant, who acknowledged that "into all acts of judgment there enters, and must enter, a personal decision which cannot be accounted for by any rules." In other words, "no system of rules can prescribe the procedure by which the rules themselves are to be applied." This is particularly obvious in my own racket of psychology. You cannot unambiguously convey to another person the "rules" for apprehending the unconscious mind. Rather, this ability can only be gained through experience, even though it is "rule bound."
To bring it down to a more mundane (or sophisticated, depending on your point of view) level, when John Madden and I watch a football game, we "see" entirely different realities. What may look like mere "noise" to me, will constitute a field of extremely significant "facts" to Madden. And what looks important to me, may be just noise to him -- a sort of diversion that obscures the real action.
So, BOOM, right away, we can see that one of the indispensable skills of the scientist -- or, shall we say, the expert in any field, from football to theology -- is to distinguish between noise and information. The expert is able to convert what is foreground to the untrained eye into background, so as to attend to hidden clues that only the expert can intuit -- which is to say, appreciate as clues. In psychoanalysis it is called "listening with the third ear," but every discipline or field of study must have something similar, whether it is quantum physics, wine tasting, or biblical exegesis:
"This gift of seeing things where others see nothing is indeed the mark of the scientific genius." Atheistic flatlanders such as Sam Harris see easy solutions everywhere. In contrast, what the genius or superior Man of Achievement sees is a problem where others don't: "All research starts by a process of collecting clues that intrigue the enquiring mind.... The knowledge of a true problem is indeed a paradigm of all knowing. For knowing is always a tension alerted by largely unspecifiable clues and directed by them towards a focus at which we sense the presence of a thing -- a thing that, like a problem, embodies the clues on which we rely for attending to it."
So don't give me this "God is just an intuition" business. For reality itself is nothing but an intuition. And atheism is indeed "nothing more than the noises (merely) reasonable people make in the presence of (their own) unjustified (ir)religious beliefs."
Or, to put it another way, God is not the solution. He is the problem. But only if you can give up your false solutions and are sophisticated enough to intuit the clues within the noise. In short, to see God, you must quiet the noise and get a clue. Otherwise you'll be stuck down in the realm where truth lies -- or where "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity."
Why, on what lines will you look, Socrates, for a thing of whose nature you know nothing at all? Pray, what sort of thing, amongst those you know not, will you treat us to as the object of your search? Or even supposing, at the best, that you hit upon it, how will you know it is the thing you did not know? --Plato, Meno
Now -- if you haven't got an answer
Then you haven't got a question
And if you never had a question
Then you'd never have a problem
But if you never had a problem
Well, everyone would be happy
But if everyone was happy
There'd never be a love song --Harry Nilsson, Joy