Second Thoughts About First Causes
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