Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Limitlessness of Human Intelligence

Hmm, why am I posting on the weekend when I promised not to? Well, for one thing, it's so peace & quietful right now, that it just comes supernaturally. I guess what I want to get away from is the feeling of having to post.

I'm still combing through the arkive, although not very diligently. The main thing I'm trying to do is delete reposts, since the later version are the more definitive. I've also been reposting things that had few comments at the time in order to give them a "second chance." As I mentioned last week, the absence of comments may be the most important comment. Who knows. Anyway, here's one from several years back. As always, it is edited and rethought from the ground up and then back down again.

*****

There are several ways to end up being what I call an obligatory atheist. Like every other human capacity -- from math to music to hitting a baseball -- the ability to intuit the divine runs along a spectrum. Frankly, there are a few people for whom the realm of the sacred really seems to be a closed book. You can’t do much for them, but then, they don't tend to be the militant sort of atheist. They just let it go.

On the other hand, a larger percentage of atheists seem to have been traumatized by exposure to a dysfunctional version of religion as a child. They are the ones who can get more angry, obnoxious and militant.

The third and largest segment of the atheist population consists of the “not smart enough” who are nevertheless extremely proud of their intellect. This in itself is a contradiction, for they have great faith in the intellect’s ability to know reality, and yet, place an arbitrary limit on what it may know -- even what "reality" consists of. The placement of this limit is obviously not a result of logic or reason. It is actually more of a religions inclination brought in through the back doors of perception, for it is an absolute statement about what the human mind may or may not know.

And once you are in the realm of the absolute, you are reflecting one of the inevitable attributes of the Divine. Obviously, no relative being can know anything of the absolute. But man is defined by being "condemned to the absolute," so to speak. In the absence of the absolute, he could not think, reason, exert free will, or make moral choices. Therefore, to deny the transcendent absolute is first and foremost an act of great moral and intellectual cowardice -- and usually narcissistic duplicity as well, for such individuals covertly worship their own personal version of the absolute, which reduces to their own corrupt and worthless ego.

The effectiveness of one’s “thinking in" (not about) God -- that is, thinking metaphysically -- always depends upon two factors, neither of which falls strictly within the realm of profane rationalism. First, there is the profundity of the intelligence involved. Obviously there are plenty of smart people walking around. College campuses are full of clever folkers. But they are hardly profound or deep thinkers.

For example, there are presumably thousands of musicologists with Ph.D.s, but who would pretend that their words are remotely as deep or profound as one of Beethoven’s late string quartets, or could approach the transcendent funkmanship of one of James Jamerson's bass runs ?

How do we even recognize depth -- or funkmanship -- and what is it? It clearly exists, and yet, it is well beyond the ability of any rational system to define it in any operational terms or to capture its meaning.

This is why I don’t enjoy debating or arguing with people who disagree with me, for it ultimately comes down to the fact that I perceive something and they don’t. To argue over this is analogous to telling someone that what they see with their own eyes cannot be trusted, because vision is just light waves transformed into an image in the brain. For me to argue with a troll is to pretend that blindness is just another variety of vision. In fact, I agree with them: God does not exist. For them.

This is hardly any kind of self-glorification, for I would not presume to get into an argument with Van Gogh about what he saw with his eyes or Albert Pujols over how large the baseball looks as it's approaching the plate. I’d rather just enjoy the depth of the former's vision and artistry of the latter's hitting. But if you don’t believe in depth of artistic vision, then a Van Gogh is no better than a Thomas Kinkade purchased on QVC. And it goes without saying that Albert Pujols has the supernatural ability to slow down time and increase the size of the baseball, even if we don't.

The second thing that limits the mere rationalist is an arbitrary restriction on what is taken as evidence. The rationalist limits himself to empirical phenomena (or something reducible to it). But this limitation is not something that can be justified by reason. Rather, it is a prelogical, a priori assumption.

The religious metaphysician is not hindered in this manner. He does not arbitrarily stop at the external senses, but considers other sources of information, most notably, divine revelation, the testimony of the saints and sages, and one’s own personal experience. The rationalist merely defines these realms out of existence, and as a result, is unable to reason about God at all.

Or we can say that his reasoning will be limited to mundane facts of common experience, not to that which transcends them. He will simply project onto God his own distorted and highly limited understanding, like a two-dimensional circle pronouncing on the nonexistence of spheres. Of course spheres do not exist for such a person. They can prove it with ironclad logic -- thus proving only the closed circularity of their logic.

This is what happens when reason (ratio) detaches itself from the intellect (nous), which is the realm of pure, unencumbered intelligence. Properly understood, reason is a tool of the intellect, not vice versa. One of the defining lies of our dork age is that our intelligence is inherently limited, so that the realm of ultimate issues must be left to faith alone. Who said that intelligence is limited? If so, how do we know that that statement is not equally relative and limited? Who said that human beings are intelligent enough to pronounce on the limitations of intelligence?

Either intelligence is in principle unlimited, or else it is arbitrary, relative, and illusory, incapable of saying anything with certitude. But the shallow contemporary thinker wants it both ways: the omnipotent ability to know where to place an absolute line between what is knowable and what is not.

The realm of religion is not so much “thought” as it is seen, heard, and touched. Therefore, it is as absurd to argue against these sensory modalities as it is to argue in court that an eye witnesses testimony is not to be trusted until we can first prove that vision exists.

Have you ever been “touched” by the depth of a musical performance? What can the rationalist say about such an experience? He can listen to the performance. Nothing happens. There! Proved it! Music cannot convey spiritual truth! The crude rationalist merely confuses truth with method.

But reason is not autonomous, and cannot reason without data being supplied from elsewhere. As Schuon writes, “Just as it is impossible to reason about a country of which one has no knowledge, so also it is impossible to reason about suprasensory realities without drawing upon the data which pertain to them, and which are supplied, on the one hand, by Revelation and traditional symbolism, and, on the other, by intellective contemplation, when the latter is within reach of the intelligence. The chief reproach to be leveled against modern philosophy and science is that they venture directly or indirectly on to planes which are beyond their compass, and that they operate without regard to indispensable data...”

Rationalists believe that, unlike the theist, they start from "zero,” without any dogma or metaphysics at all. The Catholic philosopher Stanley Jaki compares it to baseball. Secular philosophers always begin at first base, but offer nothing in their philosophy that can justify how they have arrived there.

But we all know that even Albert Pujols cannot steal first base. Rather, you must earn your way there (although Pujols is sometimes given the gift of first base in order to prevent him from taking four). Thus, the rationalist or materialist begins at first base with the gratuitous dogma that nothing exists except our perceptions filtered through our preconceptual logical categories. But from where did this premise arrive? It is not a sensory perception filtered through a logical category. Rather, it is metaphysical dogma.

I had this very conversation with an eminent historian a few years back, an absolute relativist through marriage. In order to communicate at all, we speak across a truly cavernous divide. I actually enjoy it, although he seems to quickly become exasperated. He insists that there is no such thing as metaphysics, and that knowledge (he would never say “truth”) is merely a property of sentences. Either a sentence can be justified or it cannot. I insisted that it was impossible to make a nontrivial statement about the world without an implicit metaphysic, usually a bad one. He impatiently said, “Okay,” pointing to the remnants of our dinner. “The lasagna was good. Where’s the metaphysics in that?”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Are you dividing the world into a realm of objects and subjects that can obtain truthful information about them?”

That was the first time someone ever called me “vulgar” without my having uttered a profanity. But what could he say? The lasagna existed. And it was good. Far be it from me to try to talk someone out of their religious beliefs.

24 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

Several years ago, when I still lived in California, I heard an interview with Tony LaRussa during the off-season (he has a home in the Bay Area). The conversation got around to who he thought was the best player in Baseball.

He replied, "A kid named Albert Pujols. Best I've ever seen."

He saw then what seemingly everyone sees now.

Thanks for the Sunday fare!

7/19/2009 08:32:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . a larger percentage of atheists seem to have been traumatized by exposure to a dysfunctional version of religion as a child. They are the ones who can get more angry, obnoxious and militant<<

I think just such a traumatizing can often lead to a mature spiritual understanding, providing one grows out of the rebellious phase of young adulthood. And of course providing the dysfunctional version of religion wasn't too grotesque - no whippings, self-flagellations, family beheadings, and the like. I mean the most common, most visible religious dysfunction - religious hypocrisy. Easy and fun to mock, surely, but considering that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, as one matures, one (ideally) begins to sense that there really is a real virtue to be had in religion.

But, as we all know, the Boomers stayed locked into their early rebellious phase, their now perennial "challenge authority" stance. Thus for them all authority is hypocritical - only relativism is genuine.

7/19/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh, you're baiting for an argument. Or trolling for trolls.

But let's ignore your tendencies towards any kind of attention. In my personal experiences, it never seems as though people who are about spreading ideas are really ever critical of others, as much as persuasive. If you're so correct and what you believe is so obvious, it should be easy to show other people the correct way, which would in turn make them realize for themselves the errors of their own beliefs.

The most obvious problem with you, Bob, is that instead of thinking perhaps you're not on the right track, you assume everybody else is on the wrong one. You act as if it takes intellect to talk shit, and somehow have convinced yourself that you really are smarter, without having made a genuine argument for your beliefs.

It's easy to make stuff up about people and say they can't change. But the reality of the situation is, you've been doing this for several years, your crowd has only marginally grown.

What amuses me most is you seem to have a hatred of those in college, and you knock education as if it were some form of propaganda or as if kids aren't really getting an education. But the least you can say is those people actually take effort to go through college.

I think that secretly your problem is your dissatisfaction with the political representation of those who attend college. It's as if it's a defense of the religious right who are under-represented at the college graduate level, when college is available to everybody. You can knock the kids who attend college all you want, but by all means you can't expect every one of them to make it through college without some degree of intelligence or effort. Especially those who graduate with technical degrees.

To an extent there are degrees and courses where it is easier to get by, there's no doubt about that. But honestly, college for the most part isn't a free pass. The thing that bothers me most about the argument against colleges and schooling is the negative attitude towards the liberal leanings of the educated, while the conservatives who are critical of that tend to be conservative, who wholly have the same opportunity to attend.

And perhaps additionally there may be some resentment from your rejection from your initial choice of college.

I'm not certain, but you definitely don't have much of a strong case when you seem so certain of the ignorance of many of these liberal brainwashed students, who turn out to be successful surgeons, engineers, competent lawyers, and so on. I suppose I only take issue with your attempt to paint it as if college is a negative, when in reality the issue is the people themselves. In the least college provides them education, it's up to them to make use of it. Just because a majority of them are liberal and a majority of college staff leans progressive does not mean that colleges are brainwashing students.

Its funny that many or most of our biggest advancements in most fields come from colleges and college studies, and from college students and graduates. And yet, the claim is that most of those people don't have a deep understanding of what they're being taught. I think that some of them have to. Just an unusual discrepancy from what you're saying and what's going on.

7/19/2009 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

Anon at 11:02. If it was any shorter it wouldn't be as funny. You have to be in college, where word count matters more then content.

7/19/2009 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"He insists that there is no such thing as metaphysics, and that knowledge (he would never say “truth”) is merely a property of sentences. Either a sentence can be justified or it cannot. I insisted that it was impossible to make a nontrivial statement about the world without an implicit metaphysic, usually a bad one. He impatiently said, “Okay,” pointing to the remnants of our dinner. “The lasagna was good. Where’s the metaphysics in that?”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Are you dividing the world into a realm of objects and subjects that can obtain truthful information about them?”"

OMG! I would have soOo loved being there and choking on and laughing my food all across the table! (I suppose the feeling may not have been mutual... still ...)

7/19/2009 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Rationalists believe that, unlike the theist, they start from "zero,” without any dogma or metaphysics at all."

Which is completely preposterous. And speaking of Descartes, finally posted Unknown Conspiracies – You don’t think, therefore, they are.

7/19/2009 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "If you're so correct and what you believe is so obvious, it should be easy to show other people the correct way, which would in turn make them realize for themselves the errors of their own beliefs."

Guess you missed this,

"He impatiently said, “Okay,” pointing to the remnants of our dinner. “The lasagna was good. Where’s the metaphysics in that?”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Are you dividing the world into a realm of objects and subjects that can obtain truthful information about them?”"

Why don't see if you can master that one first, then try again.

wv:isbor
Certainly is.

7/19/2009 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "In the least college provides them education, it's up to them to make use of it."

In fact, it is because they don't provide an Education, that the rest of the issues exist.

Lance that boil first, and simple, legitimate disagreements about how to apply principles, can remain and flourish. Show me the college poly-sci student, for instance, who not only understands what people such as Hume, Rousseau, Mill, Marx, etc, said, let alone the objections to them, and I'll show you someone who either learned it on their own, or went to a college more along the lines of Hilsdale, than (insert your city, state here) U. I'd go on to mention Aristotle, Locke, etc, but too much laughter isn't always a good thing.

Gotta love it - wv:spingo

7/19/2009 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Matteo said...

"The most obvious problem with you, Bob, is that instead of thinking perhaps you're not on the right track, you assume everybody else is on the wrong one. You act as if it takes intellect to talk shit, and somehow have convinced yourself that you really are smarter, without having made a genuine argument for your beliefs."

It sounds like anonymous assumes Bob is on the wrong track, and that anonymous has a smarter way of dealing with things.

"It's easy to make stuff up about people and say they can't change. But the reality of the situation is, you've been doing this for several years, your crowd has only marginally grown."

It sounds like anonymous is saying that Bob is stuck in some kind of "can't-change" rut. Interestingly, since anonymous is commenting here, he counts as part of the marginal growth of Bob's readership. Well, one person at a time, anonymous! Bob is a patient man!

"I'm not certain, but you definitely don't have much of a strong case when you seem so certain of the ignorance of many of these liberal brainwashed students, who turn out to be successful surgeons, engineers, competent lawyers, and so on."

It sounds like anonymous seems pretty certain of the ignorance of Bob. Even though he's "not certain", he knows what is "definitely" the case.

So, what I take away from all this, is that, when it comes to Bob's arrogant blog, everyone is entitled to anonymous's opinion.

7/19/2009 03:18:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

It's pile-on Sunday! Okay, I don't have anything better to do, so let me add my bit . . .

Anonymous says:

>>If you're so correct and what you believe is so obvious, it should be easy to show other people the correct way, which would in turn make them realize for themselves the errors of their own beliefs<<

To which Bob pre-replied:

>> . . it ultimately comes down to the fact that I perceive something and they don’t<<

That's it, bingo. You cannot easily show people the "correct way" (re: meta matters) if they are bereft of higher perception, in fact, is it freakin' impossible.

7/19/2009 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger katzxy said...

'“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Are you dividing the world ...'

Thank you. I can't even count the number of times I wished I'd had so elegant a response.

It'll take me 20 minutes to wipe the smile off my face.

7/19/2009 06:17:00 PM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

I am thankful, in at least one respect, that I didn't get a "humanities"-related degree. As Van noted, I am one who has learned about human thought e.g. on the Absolute, by/for myself (for better or worse)

But it is amazing that so many of the college educated, unless they had some way to be pre-inoculated, have ended up doctrinaire relativists. There hasn't been anyone to ever say differently, so it all just seems "obvious" to them.

I studied music, and postmodernism etc wasn't part of the deal--it was a "conserv-atory" education after all. The Lit majors, on the other hand, got it by the shovelful. I'm not sure they will ever recover...and am thankful I was spared.

7/19/2009 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Along those lines, I would again remind readers that The Book of Absolutes, by William Gairdner (see sidebar), is a gem. Cuts through centuries of bullshit, and shows why a college education is so very harmful to the soul. And he's not even coming from a religious perspective....

7/19/2009 06:35:00 PM  
Anonymous goddinpotty said...

Frankly, there are a few people for whom the realm of the sacred really seems to be a closed book....This is why I don’t enjoy debating or arguing with people who disagree with me, for it ultimately comes down to the fact that I perceive something and they don’t.

I know the sacred, I serve the sacred, the sacred is a friend of mine. And you, sir, have your head so far up your ass you mistake your own brainfarts for the holy pneuma.

7/19/2009 09:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

He who smelt it...

7/19/2009 09:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing more sacred than the holy name, Goddinpotty...

7/19/2009 10:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What color was God this morning?

7/19/2009 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'll pile on with the other anonymoous and say Bob does have a deficit. He seems to lack respect.

There are four main qualities that must be observed to be a real spiritual writer:

Equality: The abilty to drop judgement of things or people, or the abiltiy to refrain to put a spin on them, as right or wrong.

Bob doesn't have it here.

Sincerity: A total dedication to state the truth as well as can be percieved. I do think Bob is sincere.

Unity: A sense of coeval paity with people and things. This Bob lacks. He does not care to lump himself in with people who are not God people. But he should.


Surrender: The sense of duty to God alone as percieved by the best lights a person a capable of. Bob I believe is surrendered.

Therefore Bob's deficits are in the fields of unity and equality. Therein lies his work. I don't judge him. He is at a cetain stage.

I will say Petey is not helping Bob adequately. From what I've read of his sayings, he is a second rate or low level guide.

My advice is to augment Petey with some other, and higher, guide source.

Yadda yadda yadda

7/20/2009 12:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>it ultimately comes down to the fact that I perceive something and they don’t<<


Schizophrenics often use exactly the same argument. Should we be giving them more credence?

7/20/2009 07:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Sounds like you already have.

7/20/2009 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, yes, I did read the post, after all. ;)

7/20/2009 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Therefore, to deny the transcendent absolute is first and foremost an act of great moral and intellectual cowardice -- and usually narcissistic duplicity as well, for such individuals covertly worship their own personal version of the absolute, which reduces to their own corrupt and worthless ego."

Well said, Bob!
Not surprisingly, GIP and Anniny demonstrated this, along with an immense lack of basic reading comprehension.

7/20/2009 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"What amuses me most is you seem to have a hatred of those in college,"

Hmm, your perception of a hatred that doesn't exist amuses you?
Ever wonder why?

"and you knock education as if it were some form of propaganda or as if kids aren't really getting an education."

Bob don't knock education, he knocks indoctrination of propaganda (dressed up and presented as education), deceit and lies commonly used by leftist perfessers of the profane.

"But the least you can say is those people actually take effort to go through college."

Yes, how nice that those kids put out so much effort to learn propaganda, and I'm sure their professors also made an effort to brainwash those kids in the most efficient way they know how.
Because, you know, it's all about the effort...

7/20/2009 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"your perception of a hatred that doesn't exist amuses you?"

You might recall that the post abandons the idea of questioning the reality of other people's perceptions.

"To argue over this is analogous to telling someone that what they see with their own eyes cannot be trusted, because vision is just light waves transformed into an image in the brain. "

Ummm, yes. It does have an element of that.

7/22/2009 07:11:00 AM  

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