Existential Shrinkage and the Imagination of Reality (11.19.10)
Dawson felt that imagination was the most important mode of the metaxy (discussed in yesterday's post), the divine-human "bridge" that is Man; and that creativity and imagination were "the greatest gifts God had bequeathed to the human person" (Birzer). Or, if you prefer the psychedelicized words of a raving ethnobotanist,
"The imagination argues for a divine spark in human beings. It is absolutely confounding if you try to see imagination as a necessary quantity in biology. It is an emanation from above -- literally a descent of the world soul" (Terence McKenna).
In order to know reality you must first imagine reality, something no animal can do. This kind of higher imagination is "the ability to see clearly beyond the here and now into the reality of eternal forms -- thus allowing one to order one's soul to the eternal community." In its absence, the human being loses his ability to order anything; reality flattens out, so that animals become indistinct from humans, men from women, gods from kings, kings from men, men from monsters, art from entertainment, superstars from benchwarmers. All the world essentially becomes analogous to pornography, which is sex drained of eros, or matter drained of soul.
In contrast, the task of the true Christian -- like the neo-Vedantin -- is to unite matter with soul in order to sanctify the world. You might say that there is a vertical His- and Heresy, the former involving an "upward flight" from the world into the Abbasolute, the latter being a "downward escape" into the considerable charms and snares of Mamamaya. But where we are supposed to live is within the innercourse of the two, or more precisely, the One, which can be envisioned but not seen; or only seen with higher vision, which is to say, imagination. With our intelligence we may discern this reality, but with our imagination we may unite ourselves with it. The former is mind, the latter is heart, and their union forms basis of the higher I-mage -- the mage that imagines. That would be us.
As usual, Schuon says it best: "The vice of outwardness is the lack of harmony between the two dimensions: between our tendency towards the things that surround us and our tendency towards the 'kingdom of God which is within you.' What is necessary is to realize a spiritual rootedness that removes from outwardness its tyranny at once dispersing and compressing, and that on the contrary allows us to 'see God everywhere'; which means to perceive symbols, archetypes and essences in sensible things.... Similarly regarding matter: what is necessary is not to deny it -- if that were possible -- but to withdraw from its seductive and enslaving grasp; to distinguish in it what is archetypal and quasi-celestial from what is accidental and indeed too earthly; hence to treat it with nobleness and sobriety. In other words, outwardness is a right, and inwardness a duty..."
A one-sided, unimaginative, dryasdust outwardness is an affliction that particularly affects the left. Even back in his day, Dawson could already see that most liberals were "simple-minded secularists and utilitarians who failed to understand truth, beauty and goodness" and "lacked the power of imagination. They were quantifiers and calculators, sophisticated men of the world, but not of the soul. They had been duped by worldly wisdom" (Birzer). This attitude results in the mechanization of man and makes him "less than God intended him to be." To put it another way, the inevitable outcome of secularism is that one is free, but not free to realize one's spiritual potentialities, and therefore only free in the manner of an uncaged animal; or an animal with impenetrable barriers he cannot see, thus giving the illusion of freedom.
Imagination mediates between the possible and the actual. It is what allows the infinite to become intelligible, i.e., to be represented in the finite realm. As Bolton writes, "each relative world contains only a cross-section of the universal possibilities," and each person is just such a relative world. This world can be quite large and expansive or small and cramped, depending upon the individual case. In other words, the "size" of the exterior world in which one lives and moves is merely a projection of the human interior.
For example, when we consider the inconceivable vastness of outer space, only a materialized mind living under the "reign of quantity" fails to realize that he is really contemplating the infinity of his own mind, for the physical cosmos is neither large nor small. It's just a coonvas on which we paint beautiful or ugly pictures with the materials available to us. Bolton writes that "it may seem strange to speak of the mind as though it were a thing having a physical size, but it undoubtedly has its own analogue of spatial capacity." Furthermore -- and this is a critical point as it pertains to scientism -- the ability "to grasp one part of reality brilliantly while being oblivious of the other things that human minds are capable of can be more opposed to the truth than the perceiving of all things equally dimly."
And this is why, as I have mentioned before, even the literal creationist is surely closer to the reality of the situation than the unimaginative atheist who has drained reality of its most essential ideas and archetypes. His mind "contracts" the cosmos in order to make it adequate to the cold and shrunken proportions of his own being. This "existential shrinkage" would be a great embarrassment to atheists if only they realized how silly they look to us, but like children and savages, they live in a kind of naive cognitive innocence without a fig leaf of metaphysics.
Regarding the "intelligent error" of shrunken secularists, Schuon writes that "It is only too evident that mental effort does not automatically give rise to the perception of the real; the most capable mind may be the vehicle of the grossest error. The paradoxical phenomenon of even a 'brilliant' intelligence being the vehicle of error is explained first of all by the possibility of a mental operation that is exclusively 'horizontal,' hence lacking all awareness of 'vertical' relationships." In turn, this exclusively horizontal mentality "creates a void that the irrational necessarily comes to fill." And of course, there are not just scientific materialists but religious ones, those "whose intellectual intuition remains latent, this being precisely what constitutes the 'obscure merit of faith.'"
Reason can never arrive at reality. At best, it can remove obstacles in the way of our imaginative vision. As Schuon explains, reasoning is analogous to "the groping of a blind man, with the difference that -- by removing obstacles -- it may bring about a clearing of vision; it is blind and groping due to its indirect and discursive nature." That is, "it is a means of knowledge, but this means is mediate and fragmentary like the sense of touch, which enables a blind man to find his way and even to feel the heat of the sun, but not to see." To put it another way, it allows us to uncover the transcendent vision "which one possesses a priori," i.e., vertical recollection.
What does it mean to say that the cosmos is "expanding?" Again, if one is only referring to physical reality, the point couldn't be more banal. In the absence of an objective frame of reference outside the system, for all we know, the cosmos could equally be contracting toward a metacosmos encircling it. In a very real way, the only thing that is actually expanding in the world is man's inwardness, is it not? And if you're not expanding, then you are contracting, for the mind cannot cease its dynamism, its "metabolism" of reality. You are what you eat, and if you eat the quantified and atomistic sawdust of secularism, you will inevitably be spiritually malnourished, just a shell of your future self.
Slowly, through grace, each Christian is sanctified, the debris of the world being gradually removed from the order of his soul, and then the human as the metaxy serves as the bridge between the spiritual and material worlds. --Bradley Birzer