Science, Original Syntax, and Anti-Semantic Bastards
No doubt logic has limits, but it is the first to support this observation, otherwise it would not be logical, precisely. --F. Schuon
Which only emphasizes that humans are not limited to reason, and that reason must be grounded in an intuitive, transrational source of Truth. So it's not exactly correct to say that humans are the animal that can reason. Even more importantly, we are the creature that knows the limits of reason -- or that our reason is embedded in Reason, AKA, the logos that infuses being.
If the world were only logical and linear, it could never have escaped its own absurcularity and produced transnatural and suprarational humans who transcend this material circularity.
As I mentioned in the Woolly Coonifesto, in order for progress to occur -- or for our Sacred Slack to exist -- 2 + 2 must occasionally add up to 5. But this has been well understood for the past couple of decades, what with the emergence of chaos and complexity theories, which describe the physics of non-linear systems. Being that very few things in the cosmos are truly linear, it is as if we have been using the wrong physics to try to comprehend the cosmos. D'oh!
Rather, as the brilliant theoretical biologist Robert Rosen wrote, "in order to be in a position to say what life is, we must spend a great deal of time in understanding what life is not..., because for the past three centuries, ideas of mechanism and machine have constituted the very essence of the adjective 'scientific'; a rejection of them thus seems like a rejection of science itself.
"But this turns out to be only a prejudice, and like all prejudices, it has disastrous consequences. In the present case, it makes the question 'What is life?' unanswerable; the initial presupposition that we are dealing with mechanism already excludes most of what we need to arrive at an answer. No amount of refinement or subtlety within the world of mechanism can avail; once we are in that world, what we need is already gone."
I cannot possibly do justice to the richness of Rosen's arguments, and neither can he, since he died prematurely (I might add that his books are quite dense and technical). Nevertheless, their consequences "are indeed radical. In a sense, physics shrinks and biology expands. Physics as we know it today is, almost entirely, the science of mechanism, and mechanisms, as I argue, are very special as material systems. Biology involves a class of systems more general than mechanisms. In fact, the relative positions of physics and biology become interchanged; rather than physics being general and biology special, it becomes the other way around."
I well remember first reading that liberating passage about a decade ago. It was one of the keys in the writing of my own book, as it gave concrete expression to a nagging intuition about how the cosmos must be in order for it to be at all. It is a fine example of a translogically logical statement about reality that was so full of implications that it sent my head spinning.
For in the final unalysis, it means that the cosmos is much more like a holographic organism than a linear machine. And in looking at it this way, the otherwise inexplicable existence of organisms is no longer problematic. In other words, it is impossible to explain -- except in a primitive, childlike, and faux-religious way -- how a dead and mechanical cosmos became alive and conscious. But if we apply the appropriate physics, the existence of Life and Mind suddenly makes much more sense.
Rosen quotes the physicist Ernest Rutherford, who summarized the prevailing scientistic view with the statement, Qualitative is nothing but poor quantitative. This encrapsulates the idea that everything important -- every quality -- may be expressed in terms of numerical magnitude, which in turn is implicitly rooted in the fanciful notion that every material system is a simple system. At once we can see that this violates the Schuon quote at the top, for it fails utterly to recognize the translogical limits of logic.
Another way of saying it is that, in Rosen's pithy phrase, semantics cannot be reduced to syntax. In other words, meaning is not merely reducible to a purely syntactic system, or to a finite set of meaningless symbols with finite rules for combining them. Here again, in order to believe such a thing, one must abandon logic and enter the realm of scientistic faith. It is "an expression of the belief that all mathematical truth can be reduced to, or expressed in terms of, word processing or symbol manipulation" and that "the universe of discourse needs to consist of nothing more than meaningless symbols pushed around by definite rules of manipulation" (Rosen).
What kind of belief is it that all beliefs may be pulled inside a purely syntactical system? A highly illogical one, Captain.
For, thanks to Petey's drinking buddy Gödel, we know that "no matter how one tries to formalize a particular part of mathematics, syntactic truth in the formulization does not coincide with the set of truths about numbers."
Which reminds me of an unintentionally humorous eulogy to a great mathematician: "His contribution to the field of mathematics was incalculable." Who could argue with that? "No it wasn't. It was 3.27 to the -22nd power, divided by pi."
And if you try reduce the great archetypal Truths of the principial domain to what is calculable, you do great damage to the human spirit, the ground of which is within the transnatural. In so doing, you convert the rational to the infrarational, human to subhuman. For Gödel is ultimately saying that Truth is far more subtle -- and real -- than the gross formalizations we use to try to capture it. Looked at in this way, biology only appears "soft" to the physicist because there are far more qualities in it than can be accommodated in terms of "hard" syntax.
Another way to say it is that science (or, properly speaking scientism) does not explain human beings; rather, human beings explain science, both literally (i.e., in books and papers) and ontologically. Go ahead, ask an atheist: does materialistic science explain you? Or do you explain it? If the latter, then you have transcended your own explanation of yourself, just as you have transcended natural selection. And if you haven't transcended them, then there is no reason on earth to listen to your blathering on about truth, for you have abdicated your wild humanness for the security of living as predictable machine behind bars of quantity.
Cue William Shatner speaking to the atheist nerds convention: "You know, before I answer any more questions there's something I wanted to say. Having read all your comments over the years, and I've spoken to many of you, and some of you have traveled... y'know... hundreds of miles to be here, I'd just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people? There's a whole world out there! When I was your age, I didn't sit around reading books by Dawkins and Harris! I LIVED! So... move out of your parent's basements! And get your own apartments and GROW THE HELL UP!"
We conclude with another observation by Schuon: "The limitlessness of space and time seems absurd in that logic cannot express it in a concrete and exhaustive fashion; it is perfectly logical, however, to notice that this double limitlessness exists....
"Unquestionably the Sacred Scriptures contain contradictions; the traditional commentaries take them into account, not by contesting the right of logic to notice them and to satisfy our needs for logical explanations, but by seeking out the underlying link which abolishes the apparent absurdity."
Or, you might say that with regard to Revelation, semantics determines syntax and therefore shatters our puny linguistic containers. This would of course include the revelations of Life and of Mind, which represent a sort of "localized transcendence" of their constituent parts, i.e., weird made flesh and flesh made weird, respectively.