Saturday, October 11, 2008

Monkey in the Middle

Time for your weekly rerun from 700 posts ago. This one was originally called My Theory, Which is Mine: The World is Intelligible at One End, Intelligence at the Other, and Human in the Middle, but that was too long for a title. The point is, man is the vertical being who bisects every plane of reality, from the lowdown downdest to the tip toppermost of the poppermost man on a flaming pie. As always, lots of new thoughts have been slipped in as they occurred to me.


Who knows where ideas come from, let alone ideas for ideas? But there was some sort of vague notion in yesterday’s post that was trying to get me to think it, but didn’t quite make it over the linguistic horizon. So let’s make another raid on the inarticulate this morning, and see if we can’t drag it across the phoenix line.

The main idea is something of a truism, even though few people seem to draw out its implications. And this idea that I have -- which is mine, by the way -- follows the lines I am about to relate. Ahem. This idea -- which belongs to me -- is as follows. This is how it goes. Ahem. The next thing that I am about to say is my idea, which is mine. Ahem. Ready? My Idea, by El Bob Gagdad. My idea is along the following lines. This is it. This is how it goes. Remember, it's mine:

Religion embodies specifically human knowledge aimed at the human world.

The reason why this is both controversial and axiomatic is that the human world is gradually being eclipsed by a non-human world that results from a human activity, science. Let me back up bit, and lay a frim framdation.

Let us stipulate that there is but one world, a noumenal world that simply is what it is (O), regardless of our theories (k) about it. In short, O = O. O ≠ (k).

O is like the ocean. It tosses up theories about itself like so many grains of sand on the beach. And then it washes them away like tsand castles in a tsunami. The little human monkeys that theorize about O often forget -- especially lately -- that they are as much a product of O as their theories. Thus, at best, their manmade theories can account for everything but the theorizer. Even if these theories approach the penumbra of this thing called Truth, they cannot account for this most shocking aspect of existence, which is not just that Truth exists, but that it permeates existence on every level. Very strange.

Although existence is necessarily One -- if it's not, then your theory has some 'splainin' to do -- it nevertheless discloses many seemingly irreconcilable worlds -- at least if we begin at “the bottom” of the cosmos and try to work our way up. For example, modern physics reveals a world “underneath” (whatever that means) ours that operates along shockingly different lines than the human world. I don’t want to go into all of the details now, but one of the major conceptual problems in physics is that even physicists don’t know what to do about the bizarre micro-world they have discovered, as it cannot be reconciled with the macro-world of relativity, let alone with any human world. It's as if macro existence floats on a swarm of the incomprehensible. And we all know how painful that can be.

And neither the macro-world of relativity nor the micro-world of subatomic physics has anything to do with the human experiential world, at least in the absence of a heroic dose of psilocybin. In fact, the quantum world is so paradoxical that it literally cannot even be imagined. That is, if we try to picture what goes on down there, the picture will most certainly be wrong. This is not to say that we cannot use quantum physics, which we obviously do. It is just that we cannot use it to understand our world, the human world. You cannot read a (post-classical) physics text and expect it to disclose any useful information about our day to day world.

Likewise, with regard to cosmology, the “big bang” undoubtedly conjures up a visual image, but the image has nothing to do with the reality, any more than you could imagine the square root of negative one. For it is not a human world.

Nor is the world of DNA a human world, or even a living world. From the standpoint of the human world, life is not a function of DNA; rather, DNA is a function of life, which is a total freaking mystery. As my son grows older and I pass on to him the eternal secret of the Gagdad way of life, I am not going to hand him a textbook on genetics or natural selection and ask, “any questions?” To do so would be absurd, but absurdity is no barrier to the tide of brain-dead materialism that continues to encroach like weeds upon the human world.

Consciousness too is a complete and utter mystery. You will often hear the cliché that you can learn more about human beings by reading this or that great novelist than you can by studying psychology, and this is often true. There are certain forms of psychology that most certainly do not touch the human world, behaviorism among them. I remember once, during one of my internships, getting into a debate with another intern. He was a behaviorist, while all of my training was in psychoanalysis, the most deeply human of all merely psychological (as opposed to anthropo-theological) theories. It wasn’t so much that he was wrong. Rather, he wasn’t even wrong, because his theory was so detached from psychic reality. Truly, it was like trying to explain to a blind man why he shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day.

Again, science is a wonderful human activity, but it does not disclose a human world or provide any useful information about the meaning of life or even about what it means to be human. In fact, science itself must be placed in the larger context of the human world if we are to avoid reducing humanness to some scientific abstraction.

This is where religion comes in, because -- to restate my theory, which is mine -- it represents the most human of knowledge, aimed at human beings and the human world, which is to say the real world. Yes. This is something that truly needs to be emphasized: that science does not disclose the real world, but various abstract models of the world that humans -- and only humans -- may access, and only because of their humanness.

Thus, science is an extension of the human knower, but it can never explain the existence of the human knower. In other words, it is a small part of the larger world called truth to which humans have unique access. While animals are subject to the laws of the cosmos, the fact that we can know the truth of these laws places us infinitely “above” them (even if not beyond them, at least in the embodied state).

As I have mentioned before, religion often involves implicit metaphysics without explicit knowledge. What I mean is that embedded in any religious tradition are all sorts of exquisite metaphysical insights that are expressed in an obscure, ambiguous, symbolic, or mythological way. Thus, they have to be unpacked and understood. Well, not necessarily. They do their deepest work on a resonant unconscious (or supraconscious) level, but the nousy Raccoon wants to know why and how.

Metaphysics is the science of the Absolute and of the true nature of things. You might say that it is the science of the ultimate Subject, whereas science is the religion of the ultimate object. The purpose of metaphysics is to discriminate between the Real and the apparent, in order to align our will with reality, in a divine-human partnership .

Let us begin with two trippy stipulations, treating them not as religious statements per se but pregnant metaphysical ones:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,


In the beginning was the the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

What does it mean, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"? As I have mentioned before, I believe that it has to do with the creation of the most fundamental duality of the cosmos. This duality can be viewed from many angles, but it can be summarized by saying that "in the beginning God created the vertical and the horizontal," for this duality subsumes the irreducible (irreducible in terms that can be thought about) categories of absolute and infinite, quality and quantity, interior and exterior, eternity and time, whole and part, implicate and explicate, subject and object. In each instance we are dealing with a "limit case" beyond which thought cannot traverse. In fact, the one side of the dualism necessitates the other and represents the conditions of existence and thought. Nothing "mental" can be made without the vertical/horizontal duality as a precondition.

Another way of saying it is that existence comprises two necessary and irreducible poles: existence and intelligence, which ultimately flow from the same Absolute source. This is why both “things” and “subjects” open out to the infinite. In the case of things, they radiate the divine presence in any number of ways (for example, beauty), while in the case of subjects, it is their very nature for the divine presence to inhere in them. It is why the world is intelligible to intelligence; to say one is to say the other, for if the world is not inherently intelligible, there can be no intelligence, and vice versa.

This is in accord with the second Omendment above: In the beginning was the Word, or Logos. Moreover, this Word was with God, or the Absolute, implying that it was there "before the beginning," before the great dualistic creative activity of the first statement. Indeed, if the Word is God, this can be the only logical conclusion.

This then apparently raises language -- that most human of capacities -- to a most exalted status. But clearly not if we merely look at it in the usual way. It's so easy to take language for grunted, when in reality we are dealing with something that is frankly magic, even divine. In fact, the very same Biblical passage cautions us about this, pointing out that the light of the Word "shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it." Or, to put it in more coontemporary terms expressed in the Book of Petey, the weird light shines in the dark, but the dorks don't comprehend it. For truly, the weirdness was spread all through the world, and yet, the world basically kept behaving as if this were just your ordinary, standard-issue cosmos.

One additional point would appear relevant. From Genesis 1:26 and 27 we read "Then God said 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'.... So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them." We are particularly interested in how our capacity for creativity might mirror the primordial creative activity of the Divine Mind.

What is language, anyway? What is a word? As a matter of fact, a word is a very special thing, because only it has the capacity to bridge the dualistic worlds introduced by primordial creation. Apparently words can do this because they are somehow prior to the great duality and therefore partake of both heaven and earth, above and below, vertical and horizontal.

The literal meaning of the word "symbol" is to "throw together" or across, as if words are exterior agents that join together two disparate things. But the Biblical view would suggest that language actually has this "throwing together" capacity because it somehow subtends the world on an interior level: language is what the world is made of, so it shouldn't surprise us that with it we can see all kinds of deep unities in the cosmos. The unities are there just waiting to be discovered, and language is our tool for doing so.

For man possesses two types of intelligence, a horizontal, analytical, “dividing” mind, and a unifying, synthesizing mind. However, the latter takes priority, for the ultimate purpose of analysis is to synthesize. For example, to paraphrase Aldous Huxley, science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity. And what is the final unity? Why, the same unity we started with, only transformed by the spiraling journey back to its unchanging self.

To summarise: if reality is nothing else, it is One. It is One prior to our bifurcation of it into subject and object, and it will always be One. We can throw out the Oneness with a pitchfork, but it will always rush back in through the walls, up through the floorboards, and down from the ceiling. The wholeness of the cosmos is ontologically prior to anything else we can say about it, and it is precisely because of its wholeness that we can say anything about it at all. In the miracle of knowing, subject and object become one, but the oneness of matter and mind undergirds this process. In reality there is just the one world that miraculously knows itself in the act of knowledge, as "the circle which opens in truth closes in beauty."

In the deep there is a greater deep, in the heights a greater height. Sooner shall man arrive at the borders of infinity than at the fulness of his own being. For that being is infinity, is God. --Sri Aurobindo


walt said...

Bob wrote:
In reality there is just the one world that miraculously knows itself in the act of knowledge, as "the circle which opens in truth closes in beauty."

Been pondering this human function of "connecting all the dots" (your world that knows itself in the act of knowledge) and what part of our being -- specifically -- does the doing of it. I get inklings, but not yet real clarity; my interior vision is not yet strong enough.

Meantime, it's my turn to link, to illustrate your phrase "the circle of truth closes in beauty" with this: now that's beauty!

And of the Monkey (me) in the Middle, as a bridge linking/knowing all levels, at least in potential -- it seems proper to me to call it a bridging, for it surely must be an action, a kind of gesture, even if not an outward one.

Great post, Bob!

christopher said...


The stories I tell,
Only I really listen.

I see you spin yarns
Like me. We are small spiders
With long silver silken threads.

We line the blue sky.
We line the wide horizon.
Yes! We line ourselves.

anonymouse said...

I was trimming out the eaves of my house with cedar strips. Hard on the knees going up and down up and down the long ladder. Hard on my perfectionist’s stomach the aggravation of not getting the measuring and cutting perfectly right the first time. So my mind wanders to the political, the spiritual, the fantastical – to the point where my body is going thru the motions but I’m mentally “not all there”. In an absentminded haze I grab a piece straight off the pile with my reloaded nail gun but without my pencil and go up the long ladder. The piece fits perfectly. What? I wake up to focus, and think for a second “Is that how this metaphysical interdimensional relationship works? The one-way mirror opens via some spiritual connection, but closes when the materialistic takes over” But then “reason” set in. Naw, that’s crazy...

But I never forgot that little event through all the years since.

Robin Starfish said...

...if reality is nothing else, it is One.

I said, oh, common one, my illuminated one.
Oh my high in the art of sufferin' one.
Take a walk with me
Take a walk with me down by Avalon
Oh, my common one with the coat so old
And the light in her head
And the sufferin' so fine
Take a walk with me down by Avalon
And I will show you
It ain't why, why, why
It just is

-Van Morrison (Common One, Summertime In England)

Anonymous said...

"Religion embodies specifically human knowledge aimed at the human world."

Quidquid recipietur secundum modum recipientis recipietur.


Anonymous said...

Well, er, this theory of yours appears to have hit the nail on the head.

The Drive-by Poet said...

Who is that staring at me through all the stars in heaven and all the creatures on earth?

Cover your eyes, stars and creatures; do not look upon my nakedness. Shame torments me enough through my own eyes.

What is there for you to see? A tree of life that has been reduced to a thorn on the road, that pricks both itself and others. What else-except a heavenly flame immersed in mud, a flame that neither gives light nor goes out?

Plowmen, it is not your plowing that matters but the Lord who watches.

Singers, it is not your singing that matters but the Lord who listens.

Sleepers, it is not your sleeping that matters but the Lord who wakens.

It is not the pools of water in the rocks around the lake that matter but the lake itself.

What is all human time but a wave that moistens the burning sand on the shore, and then regrets that it left the lake, because it has dried up?

O stars and creatures, do not look at me with your eyes but at the Lord. He alone sees. Look at Him and you will see yourselves in your homeland.

What do you see when you look at me? A picture of your exile? A mirror of your fleeting transitoriness?

O Lord, my beautiful veil, embroidered with golden seraphim, drape over my face like a veil over the face of a widow, and collect my tears, in which the sorrow of all Your creatures seethes.

O Lord, my beauty, come and visit me, lest I be ashamed of my nakedness—lest the many thirsty glances that are falling upon me return home thirsty.

-- Prayers by the Lake (No.1) by St. Nikolai of Ochrid

christopher said...


So I stood glaring,
Staring him down if I could.

Square in the wide eyes
I sent my steely cold gaze.

I found no end to him, none.
I could not quite breathe.

He touched me then. It pierced me.

His unblinking eyes.

austracoon said...

"...embedded in any religious tradition are all sorts of exquisite metaphysical insights that are expressed in an obscure, ambiguous, symbolic, or mythological way. Thus, they have to be unpacked and understood. Well, not necessarily. They do their deepest work on a resonant unconscious (or supraconscious) level,..."

Deu 30:11-14

For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

ge said...

“In the Vedas and Upanishads, we find the ‘world tree’, inverted sometimes so as to suggest to origin of its powers in ‘the heights’ in the ‘heavens’. Here we discover a welcome convergence of many elements and ideas. From this tree drips the nectar of immortality [soma or amrita] and whoever sips it is inspired with a vision beyond the reaches of time, a vision that awakens the momory of all the infinite forms of existence. In the foliage of the tree hides Yama, the god of beyond the grave, whom we also know as the king of the primordial state.. .”

Could this tree [also] be the lungs?
this struck me rereading the passage

Gagdad Bob said...

As my son would say, "I like that good idea." The idea of breath, spiritus, pneuma, or ruah is central to early Christian thought. Also, it is interesting that the tree represents an inverted symbol in another sense, in that it inhales CO2 and exhales oxygen.

julie said...

I forget which of the two books the idea was in, but there was a description of trees as being exoteric or radiant, in that their lungs - their leaves - were on the outside, where animals are esoteric or enfolded because the organs are on the inside, enclosed.

Quin Finnegan said...

Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science will explain. ~ Kierkegaard, Concept of Anxiety

Brazentide said...

the inverted tree/lung is one of those profundities that keeps bringing me back to this site. I couldn't resist making a quick image of it.
found here
. (perhaps its been done already, but I haven't see it)

Ray Ingles said...

one of the major conceptual problems in physics is that even physicists don’t know what to do about the bizarre micro-world they have discovered, as it [has not yet been] reconciled with the macro-world of relativity

Fixed that for you. :->

that science does not disclose the real world, but various abstract models of the world that humans -- and only humans -- may access, and only because of their humanness.

The question, of course, is if religion is also a model, a map, and not the territory?

Petey said...


julie said...

Brazentide, that's very cool.

ge said...

Cheers, fellow-breathers!
If I find the O.M. Aivanhov quote and drawing of this principle, I'll post a scan here [where I first encountered it]
It is a nice 'Aha!' to find the anatomical component in the most salient symbols, they are usually--some might claim always--there

Ray Ingles said...

Petey - You keep saying that name. I do not think it means what you think it means.