Thursday, April 10, 2008

Second Thoughts About First Causes

It seems to me that there is an intrinsic dynamism in human thought, which is implicit in the idea that O has an eternally "restless" trinitarian interior. If our thought could ever perfectly mirror reality, it would be static instead of dynamic, and no evolution could occur. Thought can ascend higher or plunge deeper without ever reaching its object. But how do we orient it, and know which way is up? Obviously, "thinking" in itself is neither here nor there, as it can lead us closer or further away from its proper object. How do we anchor thought -- or provide it with a compass, so that it may at least know "true north?"

I'm searching for a metaphor.... It is as if life takes place in a watery medium between two solid shores. So long as we are in the water, we must swim. Occasionally we hear rumors of someone who reached the farther shore in this life. In fact, we have also heard of One who left the peace and safety of the father shore to dive into the water to be with us and teach us how to drown.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
--Leonard Cohen, Suzanne

Now, writing the Coonifesto required a great deal of "thought." And yet, there is a point in the book -- perhaps I didn't make it clear enough -- where I acknowledge the futility of ordinary thought to penetrate the reality which we seek. Let's see if I can find it.

There are actually several points, at least one per chapter. Here's one, p. 180: "Swept along by the crosscurrents and undertows of history's insane kaleiderescape, the fatal dis-ease of life only became more acute for human beings. Stumbling and bumbling down the darkness of centuries, our self-awareness only ratcheted up the tension, the dilemma of precarious being floating aimlessly over, but still firmly tied down to, a somehow familiar and yet alien sea with no apparent destination."

You might say that the emergence of science has allowed us to precisely calibrate our fundamentally broken compasses, so that we may navigate the vast Sea of Nothing with ever finer degrees of precision. Today we can get nowhere faster and more efficiently than any previous generation, plus there's so much more to do there when we arrive -- so many distractions, which have the effect of making the shadows of nothing look like something. But this something is merely the substance of nothing.

"As soon as a fragile and anxious loopwhole in biological necessity, the ego, was discovered, there were really only two choices -- with life, stasis is not an option -- either be pulled back into the body or the collective mind, or move forward and explore further upward into this new dimension beyond the boundaries of the senses."

Once again, the two shores. Secular progressives aim for the lower dimensional shore from which the human journey began -- back to matter and to the senses. Thus, the left essentially bifurcates into the hedonists (i.e., sensualists) and the activists (crypto-Marxist materialists and collectivists). The lives of the former are dynamically static, while the lives of the latter are statically active, but either way, both paths lead nowhere fast. For if the transcendent -- which, for our purposes, breaks out into the Good, True, and Beautiful -- is man's true home, then hedonism and materialism must necessarily invert the human journey and pull us back to the dark realm from which the human fleshlight first demerged from matter.

Now, I don't know anything about sailing the lower waters, but I'm guessing that it's no different from any other skill, as O-lucidated by Polanyi. Remember his metaphor of the blind man and the cane? At first, as he probes the world with the cane, he will be aware of physical sensations in the hand. But as he becomes accustomed to it, the cane will eventually become an unconscious extension of the hand. He will no longer even be consciously aware of the physical sensations, but rather, will feel "through" and beyond them, in order to "attend" to what is at the end of the cane. In turn, this will allow him to internalize a "world picture," or three-dimensional space in which to operate.

A moment's reflection will reveal to you that we are all in the position of the blind man. After all, our arms and hands are merely probes in the dark which our brains use to construct a map of the world. Likewise our eyes and ears. It is as if we all live in our own private submarine. We never actually touch water. Rather, we live inside the submarine, where we navigate the waters with our maps and instruments.

As human beings have developed, our maps and instruments have grown increasingly complex and sophisticated, which can give us the illusion that we are "closer" to the water. And yet, we must remember that science always operates from inside the submarine, and that the scientist, qua scientist, never actually touches water.

Art is a different matter. When we dwell in art, it is as if we leave the sub and take a little swim in the sky. Take, for example, music. Music proves that sound has not only an exterior accessible to science, but an interior known only to the soul. In fact, I am reminded of Sam Phillips' shock and awe when he first heard the preternatural sound of Howlin' Wolf's voice. He said to himself, this is where the soul of man never dies.

That's the experience we're all after, right? The absolute conviction that this is where the soul of man never dies. For to touch this realm is to touch the Absolute and eternal, in whatever medium, whether in art (the realm of the Beautiful), virtue (the realm of the Good), or science and theology (the realms of the true and True, respectively, the former being the penumbra of the latter).

Now, you wouldn't know it, but these thoughts were prompted by two books I'm currently reading, Creative Tension, by Michael Heller, and another one that shall go unnamed (file it under integral/new age/evolutionary).

In the case of Heller, he is an unusual man, in that he is both a first rate physicist with a specialty in cosmology, and a Catholic priest and theologian. However, he is refreshingly cautious about how science and theology relate to one another, and this book, although challenging, is proving to be a sort of psycho-spiritual disinfectant, helping me to clarify certain intuitions of mine and make them more explicit.

Beyond that, it is helping me to grapple with the fundamentals of my worldview, which is always healthy. In my mind, there is still this painful dichotomy or tension between the anti-evolutionary worldview of Schuon and the cosmic-evolutionary view, not just of science, but of esteemed pneumanauts such as Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo.

But Heller emphasizes that we must be extremely cautious about prematurely or superficially bridging these worlds, for a variety of reasons, both scientific and theological. To cite just one example, science is always provisional, whereas theology is always about the permanent and atemporal. What we call the "Big Bang" is merely the extrapolation of a certain model used by physicists to understand the physical world. In these models, at a certain point, the "history" of subatomic particles disappears into "nothing." Therefore, some people make the hasty conclusion that this must be the same "nothing" out of which God created the universe.

But this is not only wrong, but it demonstrates a peculiar lack of imagination. The "nothing" of the physicist is merely the area beyond the horizon of his model. There's still "something" there -- it's just that the physicist's model does not permit him to even hazard a guess as to what it might be.

But the Nothing of theology is a much vaster principle, having to do with the emanation of Being from Beyond-Being. This is what I meant the other day when I said that in my book I was not trying to equate the Big Bang with God's eternal creative act, but to use it as a "fable" to retell that timeless story. As I said on p. 2, "Borrowing freely from Christian, Greek, Jewish, Hindu, Taoist and other sources, the creation to which it refers did not happen just 'once upon a time,' but occurs continuously, in the timeless ground anterior to each moment."

"Put it this way: neither the cosmos nor this book have a proper 'beginning,' but both have a center, a center that starts where science ends and must therefore be described in mythological terms. The purpose of myth is to help us re-collect what we have forgotten about our timeless source, our eternal nature, and our ultimate destiny."

In short, my huge mythunderstanding is a little sea shanty to sing between the shores. To be continued....

But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.
--Leonard Cohen

Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, J.W.M. Turner

23 Comments:

Anonymous joseph said...

beautiful post, Bob. Love the Cohen quotes.

4/10/2008 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

Huge feast day for raccoons at OC today!

Today is also the Feast of two esteemed pneumanauts Teilhard de Chardin, Priest, Scientist, Visionary, 1881 - 1955, *and* William Law, Priest, Mystic, 1686 - 1761

Read whatever chapter of Scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it--yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon Him.
~ William Law

-o.o-

may our souls welcome

the Noachian deluge

when it comes our way

4/10/2008 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Joseph--

I never understood the song until today. And even then, "I" didn't, something else did. Just as someone other than Cohen must have written it. Probably the same entity.

4/10/2008 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Bob - And I can't read those lyrics without hearing Judy Collins singing them, yet until I read them I didn't really follow where they were leading until now. Which tracks for me with what QP quoted above (William Law on scripture), "...unless it has turned you wholly and solely...".

Interesting.

4/10/2008 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"It is as if we all live in our own private submarine. We never actually touch water. Rather, we live inside the submarine, where we navigate the waters with our maps and instruments.

As human beings have developed, our maps and instruments have grown increasingly complex and sophisticated, which can give us the illusion that we are "closer" to the water. ..."


The blind man, yes, but I think I disagree... at least with the sub ... I get the point... and were the sub more of a scuba-suit... I might be able to go along with it, but I think that image, of you standing outside of reality... of maps and sonar blips being our only awareness of the sea... I see danger.

We naturally analyze in order to better integrate and synthesize, but the sub analogy it seems to me stops short at analyzing and separates us, prevents further integration and synthesis back into the Whole - doesn't it lead to a MANy Cosmos?

Our eyes and nerves are extensions of our brain, and the Mind & Soul presumably suffuses it all... although being analytics, we like to think of our brains as being separate from our bodies, but it's not so, is it? Any more than a single note is separate from the Chord it is sounded within? Any more than we can say that our bodies are separate from the world or the universe or...? Our senses and nerves don't separate us from reality any more than our feet separate us from the floor we stand upon - less sonar blips than conduits, it seems to me.

That is not to say that we don't use maps, we clearly do, but I think we use them much more like the hiker consulting his map while navigating the trail he walks, than the submariner looking at the map, enclosed within and separated from the sea.

Our maps, our conceptual knowledge, help us envision and understand the landscape we are passing through, but they don't separate us from it. Isn't it the scientismic view, the view that we are separated and en-sub'd that,

"... we must remember that science always operates from inside the submarine, and that the scientist, qua scientist, never actually touches water."

Art is putting the map down, laying in the grass, breathing in the air, running and diving into the stream ... the sun, the crisp air, the bracing splash - no maps needed, you're there!

?

4/10/2008 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

And not missing the main point, I don't think, our best grasp still feels the sun, the crisp air, the bracing splash as separate occurances which Reality doesn't distinguish, and the Reality, is only reality, because of what gives rise to it, and is ultimately unaffected by it...

4/10/2008 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

And from another map maker, the other Herman: Melville in Moby Dick->

Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth;



that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea;



while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore.

4/10/2008 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

And now for every soul's, at sea, navigational needs.

4/10/2008 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Off topic, but in line with something Van said recently...something is happening, but what?

4/10/2008 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous dusty said...

This is me working things out in reflection of the post. Sorry if meanders, or is off topic; but I thought I'd post anyway.

"The "nothing" of the physicist is merely the area beyond the horizon of his model. There's still "something" there"

This reminded me of a quote:

"Anything superior and anything divine, insomuch as it is superior and divine, is unknown, hidden and veiled." (Eckhart)

"but both have a center, a center that starts where science ends and must therefore be described in mythological terms. The purpose of myth is to help us re-collect what we have forgotten about our timeless source, our eternal nature, and our ultimate destiny."

Does having a center ultimately imply a sort of monism? There are, I think, four distinctions here: not-two, the dual, and the ongoing synthesis of the two, the field of synthesis being analogous to water ( or waters ). Synthesizing is a process of centering oneself in two seemingly opposing principles in order that a mutual fecundation might take place between the two. Synthesis, just as thinking, is a Trinitarian process where two relatively mature centers of opposites give birth (not blending with the help of nothing, but birthing with the help of O) to centers that are, in the overall process, ever increasing in the degree with which they mirror the end of mutual relation and mutual indwelling (e.g. legitimate twofoldness ); and it is, I think, only through the miracle of O, here representing the beyond being, not-two, or essence in general, that Being can enter nothingness and transmute it into something-ness. Without the beyond-not-two, monism would have to be the ultimate aim—the separating of what’s true from what’s not true, which also culminates in absolute heaven and hell (my worst nightmare) Instead, I believe that there is Truth, and in consequence the process of the dynamic play of manifestation reconciling, or being reconciled by the Divine. Rather than life being a process of learning to swim, but destined to drown, swimming and drowning are just part of learning how to eventually walk on water, or hover above, so to speak. (the light shines through the flesh--just as a the light from a lighthouse beams down into a choppy ocean, it remains untouched by the chaos.)

Monism would be the infinite psychotic nightmare, a place where we have our imaginations (myth), but nothing to in-spire and give life to them; all would be breathless and aimless—dead and sinful—everything would “miss the point.” There would be no reason for anything to arise to begin with, which I could imagine is the principle reason that Hegel called it the false infinite—not being the void in actuality, it could never give birth to itself. Birth necessarily involves two elements, but is dependent on the former: the timeless ground and the “groundless.” Having a center could not necessarily imply monism, therefore. For that center would be no center at all, and would more or less denote an embodiment of the anti-Christ. Rather, and although, having a center implies opposites and finitude, those opposites and relative elements are pointed at Truth itself—the unborn and unconditioned—and in this way, survives Death, through death and rebirth; sublation , methinks.

4/10/2008 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Pardon me while I belabor the point, the (Conceptual) Map's we receive, use and even make, aid us in our explorations and we learn more about our surroundings than we

otherwise would, and we further detail and annotate those maps - noting feet above sea level, soil composition, avg rainfall, degrees of grade of the hills - and while the wise hiker

retains this info, consults it, knows it to be accurate, he doesn't mistake the map for the mountain, and if there is a chasm before him which the map doesn't show, he doesn't

attempt to walk across it just because the Rand McNutty cartographer says the chasm is not really there.

And while the landscape is illuminated by sunlight and moonlight enabling us to better experience the hike, the wise hiker knows that all three are but shadows of the True

Sonlight, and must be... in order to be....

That image of separation, of existing outside of, which the sub popped into mind (for me anyway), I always seem to find at the root of all the straying or misguided paths, whether starting with Zeno, Descartes or Hume, Rousseau & Kant, that lead to the full range of error from Daniel Dennett determinism to the 'chant it and it will be true' newage of Deepak Chopra... creates a dualism, a two, that prevents getting to three and unity....

4/10/2008 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

" For if the transcendent -- which, for our purposes, breaks out into the Good, True, and Beautiful -- is man's true home, then hedonism and materialism must necessarily invert the human journey and pull us back to the dark realm from which the human fleshlight first demerged from matter."

yyyYYYEP!

4/10/2008 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . . this painful dichotomy or tension between the anti-evolutionary worldview of Schuon and the cosmic-evolutionary view, not just of science, but of esteemed pneumanauts such as Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo<<

Always a juggling act, fer shore. I've long thought de Chardin's slow evolutionary glide to the Omega Point to be disturbingly pre-deterministic, with not much room, if any, for spiritual volition - it seems to negate the necessity of consciousness.

This is a bit simplistic, but - I tend to see the role of evolution as giving birth to genuine creative self-awareness, a post-evolutionary state that paradoxically exists within the ongoing evolutionary state, much the same way individualism exists within the One-ness. One then has the option of choosing to get with the evolutionary program or to thwart it.

Seems like a dangerous gamble the Godhead took when dying to Itself in order to manifest Creation. However, here's the Genius of the Plan, I think - very, very few individuals would, upon attaining a certain level of consciousness, not desire to get with the Program.

Obviously, I think very few people today to be anywhere near "critical mass" consciousness.

4/10/2008 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob's post is a vivid reminder that most human activity is like whipping water in a teacup with a fork. After you're done, the water in the teacup is unchanged.

And yet, the world-movement requires constant upkeep to keep from sliding into ruin.

Spirit people like Coons are best utilized in the essential services sector-- the provision of food, shelter, law enforcement, medical care, energy, transportation, education, data management, defense, making useful durable goods like clothing, or in the arts. These efforts "uphold the world" and are pleasing to God.

Other endeavors are questionable: the provision of tobacco products, vapid entertainment, larceny or crime, expending oneself in excessive leisure, or providing luxury items to the rich.

These do not uphold the world, or in fact drag it down.

Spirit people should do things to uphold the world.

4/10/2008 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Will said "This is a bit simplistic, but - I tend to see the role of evolution as giving birth to genuine creative self-awareness, a post-evolutionary state that paradoxically exists within the ongoing evolutionary state, much the same way individualism exists within the One-ness. One then has the option of choosing to get with the evolutionary program or to thwart it. … Seems like a dangerous gamble the Godhead took when dying to Itself in order to manifest Creation …"

Yes. In those moments where I'm designing how the creator should have created the universe so he could meet with my approval, I think there must exist, somewhat paradoxically, a combination of determinism and freewill.

I don't see how a single thing, a single property of the universe, not an electron valence or quirky quark, as it is now, could be other than it is, based on how it developed, and all of that followed as it had to, from the first splitting second... with the teensy tiny exception of what may be the material equivalent of free will, the (as it appears to us at this point anyway) chaos factor of chance. That seemingly kicks in at every step of the way, but again, only in ways that the contextual laws of physics (which is just to say reality being as it is and does according to what it IS) support, and as those moments of random chance occur – you can predict that the leaf will float to the ground, that isn’t optional or at the mercy of chance – but will it flutter left… or right… that is unpredictable – and everything results from that, as it must, and in accordance with it, as it IS.

As it IS, on this end of the result stream that has flowed out from the literal and metaphorical Big Bang, there are no optional properties, all interlocks with and supports all. This is why the whole Necessary vs Contingent equivocation swindle drives me so nuts;("You can't imagine Ice being warm so that's a necessary truth, but you can imagine Ice sinking, so that's a contingent truth" - which is just an attack on the truth of Truth) Ice is ice, and whether it floats or sinks is a result of what Ice IS, and what water IS and what gravity IS, there's nothing arbitrary or optional about it, ice floating on water is massively integrated with everything other physical fact of reality down to the subatomic structure of all the molecules and forces contextually involved, at that local space-time point, there, and on out to the far stretches of the universe.

I suspect, that consciousness (leaving out the vast unknowns to us about that - and saying nothing about WHAT is conscious), is a logical result of those same (known and unknown) laws. BUT as consciousness becomes self aware, it is freed from the deterministic restraints of ice floating, in that it is randomness harnessed into choice, free will, which lets us choose to float this way or that. Without that unrestrained freedom of choice, there would be no thing to think about, no third dimension within which to think, nothing but two dimensional mechanical cause and effect – though it too is bound to rules of consciousness in the sense that it has its own version of ‘ice floats and does not sink’, but where it floats to… that’s within its, our, choice.

Without the universe containing that daring freedom of chance, without being set free of cause and effect necessity, there would be nothing to be conscious of, without the I AM there is no what if or Who IS?

Ok. Database is rebuilt, I'm going home now.

4/10/2008 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous dusty said...

"Always a juggling act, fer shore. I've long thought de Chardin's slow evolutionary glide to the Omega Point to be disturbingly pre-deterministic,"

When I think of determinism, I think of Fate--impersonal and imposing. But when I think of free will, I think of destiny--personal and patient, leaving room for choice. (If destiny could have a human quality (well, I guess destiny is the human!)). If there is an omega point just beyond the horizon, I envision it as the culminating drive towards Self-actualization, something more or less destined to happen by our own historic impulses, vertical and horizontal.

But wait...every time I start to think about free will and fate, I always get stuck in how they relate to one another. I could make the opposite argument that the omega is in fact Fated to happen, we being compelled by force (there being no other way out) without consent or choice. Come to think of it, that's exactly the way my life is--it's evolve or die. The human is fated to its humane destiny, or death; and what human would choose that?

Fate and free-will seem to me two sides of the same thing, depending on ones vertical altitude and place within the dream. Determinism seems infinite, a problem remedied by Being who through the will and intelligence of his Mind can choose what part of the infinite dream manifestation to focus on; and what deity would choose eternal hell? Not Christ. Methinks.

(dream equals determinism, whereas dreamer equals free will, ultimately not-two?--Klein bottle?)

4/10/2008 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger Voltron said...

The thread seem a little serious tonight, so I guess I'll keep my "I thought we all lived in a 'yellow submarine'" comment to myself...

Another interesting post Bob!

4/10/2008 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger Gecko said...

Turner, Cohen, Godwin all in one post. Thanks be to God.

4/10/2008 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Bareface
beautiful psyche
broken teeth and grinding dreams
till we have faces

4/10/2008 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Quite the mood that painting sets.

At the risk of picking out cornflakes that look like Illinois, anyone else notice the face in the top left corner? Positioned diagonally, lips above the first mast from the left (nose and eyebrows where you'd expect them to be), leading up towards the corner...

Kinda spooky, isn’t it…?

4/11/2008 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger QP said...

Images of Crisis:
An essay exploring the symbols in Turner's "Slave Ship".

4/11/2008 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Wo - thanks QP! I've used that site a number of times before, but never noticed the commentary on artwork - cool!

(and... it's nice to see I'm not just beginning to see Illinois in my corflakes)

4/11/2008 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

qp:

re crisis:

Weird coincidence. Heller says that the word "salvation," which became a technical term in early Christian theology, actually belonged to the ancient Greek medical vocabulary, and meant that

"the crisis was over and the patient was on the way to recovery. In a more extended sense it could denote the safe return of a traveller from a dangerous voyage."

4/11/2008 02:56:00 PM  

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