Sunday, November 04, 2007

Probing the Vertical Unknown of the Expanding Cosmos

First of all, don't forget to vote for One Cosmos for Best Religious Blog right here. Remember, cheating is mandatory, since you can vote every 24 hours until November 7. We got a bit of a late start and missed two days of voting, so stand up for our kind and strike a blow against the Normals!

Well, here I am again, blogging on the weekend. I've got a lot of thoughts running around my head, and it feels like if I don't get them out, they'll either get backed up or off-loaded to make room for fresh ones. Then they go back into general circulation in the pneumatosphere, where one of my competitors for Best Religious Blog might steal them, and this mission is too important for me to allow them to jeopardize it. I know Dave and Frank are planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen. Although they took thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing them, Petey can see their lips move.

Anyway. This new book I'm reading about Polanyi discusses ideas with which I'm already familiar, but looks at them from a slightly different angle, so it's quite stimulating. You might have noticed -- especially with particularly deep truths -- that you have to keep learning them over and over, partly because they have so many ramifications, but also because of the human tendency to "overrun" the truth even after we've stumbled into it. In addition, Polanyi, like Bion, is very "unsaturated," so that his ideas provoke or stimulate more than they indoctrinate; in fact, I always try to accomplice the same climb with my writing.

This idea actually goes to the very heart of Polanyi's critique of positivism in particular and of scientism in general, something I'll be discussing in more detail in subsequent posts. That is, he did not regard scientific theories as objectively true; but nor are they merely subjective. This represents a false dichotomy. In actuality, subjective and objective are complementary and operate in a dialectic fashion to extend the human mind into the unknown, thus expanding the interior (and therefore exterior) horizon of the cosmos.

That might sound overly abstract, but it's not. Polanyi compared scientific theories to the cane of a blind man. Imagine if you suddenly lost your sight and had to explore your surroundings with a cane. At first you would be very aware of the sensations of the cane in your hand. In a sense, your world would be very "cramped" and up close. But with time, the cane would begin to be an extension of your hand, so that you could "feel" things beyond your hand by essentially ignoring it.

In other words, if you focus on the hand, you specifically lose "sight" of what the cane is touching. Eventually the hand's "touch" would extend as far as the cane. Polanyi called the "hand knowledge" tacit and the "cane knowledge" focal. He also called it from ---> to knowledge; however, he felt that all meaningful knowledge shared this from ---> to structure. It doesn't mean that the knowledge isn't "real." But there is no way to conceptualize it in the absence of an active subject who evolves by converting more and more focal (to) kowledge into tacit (from) knowledge, thereby expanding the space in which he lives. For example, various scientific canes have allowed us to "see" all the way back to the origins of the cosmos, just as psychoanalytic canes allow us to peer into the unconscious.

(Interestingly, the latest scientific theories expand the cosmos "without limits," into a false infinite, in that it literally cannot be conceived; one of the purposes of religion is to provide a limit with which to think about the infinite and the eternal, and without which there can be no ultimate meaning.)

Can you see how this works? I'm not sure if I'm being clear. I am certain that all of my readers are experts at something. As such, you might remember what it was like before you knew anything about your area of expertise. As your expertise has grown, you have internalized more and more tacit knowledge which you no longer have to even think about -- indeed, might not even be able to explicitly think about anymore. For the true expert, most of his knowledge has become tacit and no longer capable of being made wholly explicit. It reminds me of something Yogi Berra said about hitting a baseball: You can't think and hit at the same time.

The difference between a good teacher and a bad one is often the ability to remember what it was like to not possess the tacit knowledge that constitutes your expertise. In short, even more important than being smart, you have to remember what it was like to be so stupid. This, of course, is one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to argue with leftists, since Raccoon elders no longer remember what it was like to be so stupid. And if we do remember, it generally makes us cringe, so we don't really like to go there.

Now, there is a vertical reality just as there is a horizontal one. Obviously. And just as -- by the way, this is my idea, not Polanyi's -- just as scientific theories extend our cane into the horizontal unknown, religion is here to extend our cane into -- you guessed it -- the vertical.

I'm already sidetracked, and this is such a rich subject that it would be worthy of a month of posts, but take the example of Torah study. The Torah is considered the timeless "vertical blueprint," so to speak, of vertical reality. And if you read the words of a great rabbi -- say, Abraham Heschel or Adin Steinsaltz -- you can readily see that their greatness lies in their ability to employ Torah as a cane with which to probe the Divine interior. Either you "get" this or you don't. But if you don't get it, you are "vertically illiterate" in the same way that someone with no knowledge of math is "horizontally illiterate." This is what an atheist is: a verticilliterate, nothing more, nothing less. But so too is the "fundamentalist" who gazes at the cane but not that to which it points.

So real knowledge can only point, not "contain" -- but it can point further and further, without ever arriving at its deustination. Again, there is no word that is identical to what it designates. Thank God! For the space between words and what they designate is the evolving transitional space inhabited by human beings. When a word loses its "carrying capacity" and becomes overly saturated, language -- and therefore, reality -- can no longer evolve. This problem can afflict religion no less than science.

For example, there was a time when science became overly saturated with the mechanistic model. By the early 20th century, scientists were "trapped," so to speak, within this mechanical, deterministic world. It took that great unKnower, Einstein, to probe beyond the finite machine world into the infinite sea of energy that underlie it. Even so, many westerners are still ghosts in the machine, not realizing that they have been set free and that the spiritual limits that constrain them are entirely self-imposed.

I keep some of my favorite "vertical probes" in the sidebar of foundational raccoomendations, such as Meditations on the Tarot, or Schuon's various works. The author of Meditations will show you how to use scripture to think vertically; if you meditate along with him, you will be vaulted into a vertical world that is every bit as real -- more so, actually -- than the bizarre and literally unimaginable world of quantum physics.

Likewise, I find that Schuon is the vertical pneumographer par excellence. Sometimes his writing is so clear it is unclear, being that it is the purest essence of pure vertical thought. For rank and file humans, it is generally necessary to have this essence clothed in something more recognizable, such as scripture, myth, or art, especially since God wishes to be known by all men, not just metaphysicians. But scripture is equally adequate -- to say the least -- in disclosing the vertical, especially for those of an essentially bhakti, or devotional, temperament. But for those of a more jnani temperament, knowing the Real also requires a kind of head-in-heartfelt devotion that easily provokes feelings of awe, wonder, and gratitude.

O, we forever thank you for your vertical I-amissaries and alluminated mannascrypts, without which we would be schmendwrecked and moroned with the verticilliterates & other unfundies!

10 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

Whew! I'm glad you got that off your mind. If one of your competitors had grabbed those ideas instead ... a real disaster!

Thanks, as always!

11/04/2007 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"... you can readily see that their greatness lies in their ability to employ Torah as a cane with which to probe the Divine interior. Either you "get" this or you don't. But if you don't get it, you are "vertically illiterate" in the same way that someone with no knowledge of math is "horizontally illiterate." This is what an atheist is: a verticilliterate, nothing more, nothing less. But so too is the "fundamentalist" who gazes at the cane but not that to which it points."

Yep. And then there are those of both varities who stop walking around and mostly use the cane to whack whoever strays into their space.

11/04/2007 09:42:00 AM  
Anonymous cousin dupree said...

Who, me?

11/04/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Cousin said "Who, me?"

Hmm... nahhh...somehow I always pictured Cuz as less of a Cain man, and more of a very Able Louisville Slugger kind of guy.

And dextrous enough to switch to a hatchet when Murphy calls him to bed.

;-)

11/04/2007 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

"...since Raccoon elders no longer remember what it was like to be so stupid. And if we do remember, it generally makes us cringe, so we don't really like to go there..."

...true, but it does make for the occasional amusing cautionary tale...

11/04/2007 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous dilys said...

Echoing walt's alchemical recipe about this general idea --
Don't get discouraged.
Wait.
Wait years if necessary.


Bob et al. saying what the kabbalists have said -- Something hovering, there and not there, encountered not on a raid, more on a rambling expedition. Taking just about any great text or parable or holy maxim -- slow down, breathe, think about it, ask for wisdom, walk around it, and sometimes (not "to order," or course), before you register what has happened, Robin's Spicy Bear has wiggled the other end of the stick, his fragrant breath unsettlingly near.

11/04/2007 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Coonified said...

Us sucked through a gyre
Blind people beat us with canes
Stop it dumb morons!

Center cannot hold
With all of this confusion
Plz! Intellection!

But, nooooo. People trip.
People fall on their own lips.
Damn ! Just look within!

Trapped and Tripped for now
Dumb verticilliterates
Heaven help us please!


If no one esle feels the same way you can just put me in place of us.

11/04/2007 01:28:00 PM  
Anonymous dilys said...

Here's a barely on-thread essay on "the God -- though good -- beyond ethics" contra the "wish-fulfilling cosmic bellhop," from James Bowman.

11/04/2007 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"In addition, Polanyi, like Bion, is very "unsaturated," so that his ideas provoke or stimulate more than they indoctrinate; in fact, I always try to accomplice the same climb with my writing."

Mission accompliced, Bob!

11/04/2007 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Tap tap tap...hello?
Tap tap tap...anyone there?
Here's mud in your eye, go wash.

11/04/2007 09:49:00 PM  

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