Scientism: Theology for the Brain Damaged (7.30.11)
We couldn't be human if we didn't have something analogous to a left and right cerebral hemisphere, with very different ways of understanding the world and processing information. As I mentioned yesterday, I believe the reason we have a left and right brain is because we simultaneously mirror, and are mirrored by, the cosmos, which has both a horizontal and vertical structure.
Obviously science deals with the horizontal aspects of the world. It is linear, deterministic, past-to-future, bottom-up, etc. It also presumes the logical atomism that seems to be "common sense" for the left brain. That is, the universe consists of an infinite number of parts subject to various forces.
But the right brain isn't like this at all. Where the left brain is time oriented, the right brain sees things all at once. It is also inherently relational as opposed to atomistic. The right brain sees connections, whereas the left brain sees divisions. It is continuous where the left brain is discontinuous.
I recognize that is is rather simplistic, but even if it is only "in a manner of speaking," there is nevertheless much truth to it. Just as it is impossible to imagine a great poet, painter or musician without a highly developed and integrated right brain, it is inconceivable that one could be a great theologian, let alone, saint or mystic, without one.
Now, it is again a simplification, but it is safe to say that the left brain operates along the lines of asymmetrical logic, while the right brain is the realm of symmetrical logic. But no one, unless they are severely brain damaged, operates out of only one lobe, so there is always some degree of integration, although it can be relatively conscious and harmonious or unconscious and unharmonious. For example, much of the bonehead philosophy that emanates from scientism comes either from unacknowledged sympathies coming from the right brain, or a denial of its voice altogether. It sounds half-witted because it is.
It should be noted that in childhood the right brain develops in advance of the left, and that it has much deeper connections to the older parts of the brain such as the limbic system; as such, it is more "emotional," bearing in mind that emotions are a source of information, and that there can be both subtle and gross emotions, and even true and false ones.
As you may have noticed, much of spiritual development involves -- or is at least accompanied by -- a kind of "subtilization" of emotion, which is why it gets harder for you to tolerate being around the Barbarians. For example, although the sacred or holy are just as real as, say, matter -- actually, more so -- they obviously cannot be detected only by the senses, but in the heart, so to speak. In turn, this is why for the left, or for Queeg, nothing is sacred, except in an arbitrary or idiosyncratic way. They cluelessly steamroll over what is infinitely precious, like a child who gleefully smashes a cocoon to see what's inside. Like Queeg, they always confuse blasphemy with courage.
Now, one of the easiest ways to render scripture or Dylan's lyrics absurd is to approach them with the left brain of the scientistic mind. This is typically what the anti-religious bigots do, with great self-satisfaction, as if they are the first to notice that a literal reading of scripture is problematic. But if you approach the same passages with bi-logic, the problem usually disappears.
For example, what can it possibly mean that "Christ is in me" and that "I am in Christ"? From the standpoint of conventional logic, this is patently absurd, like saying that "I am in the Slacktuary" and that "the Slacktuary is in me." But from the standpoint of symmetrical logic, it not only makes perfect sense, but is a kind of logical corollary, if that is the correct word. That is, if Christ is in me, then I am necessarily in him. (Again, think of dream logic, in which contradictory statements can be equally true.)
Likewise, we all know that God is both radically transcendent, or "beyond everything," and intensely immanent, or "within everything." With conventional logic, these statements would be mutually exclusive, but from the standpoint of symmetrical logic, they are again complementary.
Speaking of complementarity, one wonders if some of the conundrums of physics cannot be reconciled in this manner. For example, from the standpoint of conventional logic, it is deeply problematic that the electron appears as either particle or wave, depending upon how one looks at it. In other words, it can either be an isolated part, or else a wave that shades off into the totality of existence. In the former sense, things are externally related and local, whereas in the latter sense they are internally related and nonlocal. This is a mystery to the left brain, but a banality to the right.
To extend the analogy a bit -- and again, bear in mind that I am drawing things out to their extremes in order to create a more vivid contrast -- much of the Bible is a primer on verticality. It simultaneously acquaints us with the vertical realm, while at the same time furnishes us with a vivid kind of language with which to think about and communicate it. This language was obviously quite effective for most of mankind's history. Indeed, it is perhaps difficult for modern sophisticates to understand how easily Christianity spread. People simply heard the story and said, "makes sense to me," and that was that.
But why did it make sense? The modern sophisticate will say that it had something to do with childlike naivete, or fear of death, or wishing to have a spurious sense of control over the environment. This may well be partly true, at least for the masses. But it is patently untrue if one reads the early fathers, whose thinking is enormously subtle and sophisticated, and still completely relevant to moderns, to say the least. But again, the whole key is to understand things -- or at least to supplement one's understanding -- with symmetrical logic.
(Review material ahead -- I slept late again, and I hear the boy waking up. Plus I woke up with low blood sugar, which always causes the brain to be a bit slow in rebooting. I had hoped to get into more specific examples from scripture that exemplify symmetrical logic, in particular, Genesis and some of the sayings of Jesus. Maybe tomorrow.)
In the Symmetry of God, Bomford notes that we cannot actually conceve of eternity, since it is both timeless and changeless, whereas linear thought naturally takes place in time. But we can grasp it through various analogies in the herebelow, for example, the "everlasting," which "provides the closest image of the timeless within time." Therefore, we gain a sense of timelessness in proximity to things that are very old, like a European cathedral, or the Pyramids, or Larry King -- anything "whose beginning is lost in the mists of time, the ancient and the ageless, for these approximate in feeling to the everlasting."
At the same time, at the other end of the extreme, we may also glimpse the eternal in the passing moment, "for such a thing is simultaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change.... It is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again." Thus, a mystic such as William Blake could see eternity in a flower or grain of sand, just as Lileks can see it in an old matchbook or motel postcard.
Eternity can also be suggested "by the last event of a series." Bomford cites the example of an aging travel-writer "who had long before visited many places for the first time, and returned often, found a renewed significance in returning once more deliberately for the last time. Places regained the freshness of the first visit." Similarly, "the last words of the dying may be seen as a key to an understanding of a whole life. The last of the series completes the picture, ends the story, and thus hints at the instantaneous wholeness of eternity."
Think "it is accomlished." What was? Oh, I don't know, maybe a little bridge between time and eternity in the heart of the cosmos, making each moment an eternal new year where death touches Life and the former is tranfsigured by the latter.
Every December 31, we touch the edge of eternity, as we approach the "end" of one year and the "beginning" of another -- the uniting of old and new, as they are joined at midnight. The Book of Revelation captures this quality, only on a cosmic scale, when the enthroned Christ "announces himself as The First and the Last and the Lord God himself is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end." Similarly, St. Augustine "addressed God as 'Thou Beauty, both so ancient and so new,'" an expression of eternity which has a deep unconscious resonance.
Traditional metaphysics always makes a distinction between the God-being and the God-beyond-being -- between the personal God that can be named and thought about and the Supreme Reality that is beyond name and form. The former is the cataphatic God about whom we may talk, debate and theologize in a somewhat linear way, while the latter is the apophatic God that so utterly transcends our categories that the most we can say about it is what it is not. Various formulations are "fingers pointing at the moon," and although they are "doorways" into the divine mystery, one should not mistake the finger for the moon.
Most rank-and-file religious people have never heard of the God-beyond-being and might even be offended by the idea. They have a clear conception of what God is like, and don't want to be reminded that the real unconditioned God blows away those mental idols like a tornado through a Buddhist sand painting convention... which, by the way, is the whole point of a sand painting.
This distinction between the God-being and God-beyond-being is actually a distinction within God himself, and perhaps mirrors the distinction within us between symmetrical and asymmetrical logic. It is not a bobmade principle, but one that would be intrinsic to the inner life of the godhead. It is easy to prove that it exists, more problematic to prove that we or anything else can exist outside it. As a matter of fact, the God-beyond-being is the only thing that cannot not be, although numerous implications immediately follow. Ultimately it is the distinction between Brahman and maya, between reality and appearance, between absolute and relative, between necessary and contingent.
This brings up an interesting point. That is, does God have divine mind parasites?
Oh yes. I’m afraid so. For what is a mind parasite in the final analysis? It is a relativity that partakes of, and confuses itself with, absoluteness. God being God, he cannot help being present in all relativities. But being God, he cannot help being beyond them as well. A divine mind parasite is a relativity that steals from the absolute and then forces itself upon others absolutely. In short it is a demon. Like everything else, it must ultimately be "of God," even though it can't be. Only symmetrical logic can reconcile such a problem. Evil must needs be, but woe to the man who commits it.