Sunday, November 01, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Here and Now: Local Branches of the Infinite & Eternal
I'm still slowly working my way through the implications of some of Bomford's ideas. Now it's time to contemplate placelessness, which is another one of the modalities of the unconscious mind. It is also said to be one of the characteristics of the Divine, Who Am simultaneously everywhere (immanent) because nowhere (transcendent).
In other words, as Schuon has written, the first principle of metaphysics is that the Supreme Reality is Absolute; that being the case, it is necessarily Infinite as a kind of first consequence: "The Infinite is, so to speak, the intrinsic dimension of plenitude proper to the Absolute; to say Absolute is to say Infinite, the one being inconceivable without the other." Therefore, with regard to space, "the absolute is the point, and the infinite is extension," i.e., little and big mon.
Just last night, while walking the dog, it occurred to me that perhaps we're asking the wrong questions about the wrong problems. That is, if you turn the cosmos back right side up, the difficulty isn't explaining eternity; rather, the problem is how to explain time, and most especially, the now. The existence of the now was something that also puzzled Einstein, who didn't see how any of the laws of physics could account for it. But it makes much more sense if we think of the now as just a dimple on the aseity of eternity. It's like the last vestige of eternity, and yet, the only way "in" to it.
Likewise, how is it possible for there to be a "here" instead of just "everywhere"? In fact, it's the identical problem, only looked at from the standpoint of the Absolute instead of the Eternal. Before the appearance of Life, there was no "here" here, nor any there there. But once the cosmos has a here! in the form of life, it has a pathway back into the Absolute, just as the now is the gateway back to eternity. This is just one more reflection of the idea that man is the image and likeness of the Creator, for we surely partake of his Infinity and Absoluteness. Even the staunchest atheist must acknowledge this on pain of forsaking his very humanness.
Anyway, with our briefs aside, the Absolute is masculine, or "essentiality," while the Infinite is feminine, or "potentiality"; and their baby is the phenomenal world of middling relativities. I don't mean to give away the whole game to those who prefer Petey's dreamy mystagoguery to my wideawackery, but if I am not mistaken, this is what we were trying to convey on p. 16 of the Coonifesto:
A little metyaphysical diddling
between a cabbala opposites, and
baby makes Trinity,
so all the world's an allusion.
Viveka la revelation!
Or, in more mythematical terms:
The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things. (Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu)
A Christian whistling the same Laosy tzune would sound something like this:
♬ The One enters into movement because of his fullness. The Two is transcended because the godhead [i.e., Absolute] is beyond all opposition. Perfection is achieved in the Three, who is the first to overcome the compositeness of the Two. Thus the godhead does not remain confined, nor does it spread out indefinitely. ♬ Therefore, in themthree therebe undivided division and differentiated unity (Gregory Nanziazen).
Olivier elaborates, which I'll bet you can't say fast three times at Beer O'Clock: "Thus the Trinity constitutes the inexhaustible fruitfulness of the Unity. From the Trinity comes all unification and all differentiation.... The Father is God beyond all, the origin of all that is. The incarnate Son is God with us.... The Spirit is God in us, the Breath, the Pneuma, who gives life to all...."
Which is what Petey no doubt meant by
And his name & number shall be Immanulent,
which, trancelighted, means "Godwithinus." (see Matt: 1:23)
One more relevant quote from Olivier: "A solitary God would not be 'Love without limits.' A God who made himself twofold... would make himself the root of an evil multiplicity to which he could only put a stop by re-absorbing it into himself. The Three-in-One denotes the perfection of Unity -- of 'Super-unity,' according to Dionysius the Areopagite.... It suggests the perpetual surmounting of contradiction, and of solitude as well, in the bosom of an infinite Unity."
Now, one of the reasons I rejected religion for much of my life was because it was presented to me as if it made unambigious sense to the conscious mind, i.e., the rationalinear ego. For example, if you simply say that "God is omnipresent," there's really no way for the ego to get its little mind around the word "omnipresent," which is both bigger than big and smaller than small -- you know, ♬ It's far, beyond the stars / it's near, beyond the moon ♬ (Professor Darin). It doesn't compute, because there's nothing in our rational or sensory experience to match it. It's just an empty concept, like "infinity" or "nothingness" or "Cubs win the Series."
Again, the trick is to use language in such a way as to provoke and suggest -- as a sort of probe to reach into the supraconscious mind, where eternity and omnipresence are not at all problematic, but the norm. As I mentioned in the Vandalized title of a previous post, this is The Secret Sign of Artists Who Have Known True Gods of Sound and Time, or where Poetic Champions Compose.
But it is also where noetic champions compose, i.e., prophets, seers, visionaries, extreme seekers, pneumagraphers, encentrics, and various adopted sons & daughters of the Creator. They are able to speak in this way because of the simple fact that our souls are proportioned to the Divine Nature. You two can become a three-time noetic champion by embracing the idea that "the life of spirit is the fountain from which our scriptures have come to us, and to take seriously that we too can become explorers, trace the scriptures upstream, drink from the same waters and understand their meaning firsthand through the very source that inspired" them (Hanson [forward]). Woo hoo!
I'm pretty sure this is what Petey was driving at in a careening vehicle such as
Here, prior to thought,
by the headwaters of the eternal,
the fountain of innocence,
the mind shoreless vast and still,
absolved & absorbed in what is always the case,
face to face in a sacred space.
Into the blisstic mystic,
no you or I, nor reason wise,
a boundless sea of flaming light,
bright blazing fire and ecstatic cinder,
Shiva, me tinders,
count the stars in your eyes!
So, what have we learned today? I guess that God, Eternity, and Spacelessness account for Man, the Now, and the Here, but that the converse could never be true.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Dilating Time while Remurmuring Eternity
a formless void without mind or life,
a shadow spinning before the beginning
over a silent static sea,
unlit altar of eternity,
fathomless vortex of the Infinite Zero.
Some readers will no doubt call this omschooled doggerel "repetition with tedium," or "artlessness with sincerity." But if I had any time at all this morning, it wouldn't be difficult to provide additional examples of this technique from genuine licensed poets such as Blake, Yeats, Donne, or Suzanne Sommers.
Another interesting way to express the symmetry of eternity, according to Bomford, is through what is called antithetic parallelism. This is a literary device in which a statement is made and then repeated with the terms in reverse order. He cites the spontaneous utterance of a person on trial whose case was close to reaching a verdict: "I was about to lose my liberty.... My freedom was about to go."
Interestingly, Bomford points out that "the richest source of such antithetic parallelism familiar to the English-speaking reader is in the Book of Common Prayer," for example,
O God, thou knowest my folly:
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.
I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
The following examples may not be exact antithetic parallelisms, but at least I can now see what Petey was driving at:
Nothing is real.
NOTHING is realized.
That's it in a knotshall.
The nature of reality,
the rapture of nihility....
A drop embraced by the sea
held within the drop.
Know you're nought
you naughty boy.
In fact, I can also see that the Cosmobliteration section of the Coonifesto has a number of examples of the "unchanging cry," i.e., exclamations used to express eternity, such as
Om, now I remurmur!
Finn again, we rejoyce: salvolution, evelation, ululu-woo-hoo-aluation!
Whoops, where'd ego?!
So long. So short! Whoosh! there went your life.
Holy creation, shabbatman, time to rejewvenate (oy!).
Wu, full frontal nullity!
I am? That! O me ga!
You know, I feel a little self-conscious analyzing Petey's text, but I realize that no one else is ever going to ever do it, so it might as well be me.
Anyway, Bomford then cites the excellent example of Eliot's Four Quartets, which reflects upon how words may be used in the struggle to express the still silence of eternity:
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach....
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place...
I actually cited this very passage on page 5, as a preface to the cracked and broken punnish antics of Cosmogenesis. How to reach up into the silence with blustering and unruly words? Hell, I don't know. Ask Petey, who, like Eliot, is not above occasionally lifting a line from elsewhom. Here this literary kleptomaniac holographically playgiarizes with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Finn, James Joyce, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, and Joe Strummer, all at once:
Relax and float downstream.
A hole in the river.
Only drowning men can see it.
Slipping away, softly now.
Beneath the waves, ocean of being.
So quiet in here.
Don't touch that dial!
In reference to Eliot, Bomford notes that "A reversal of beginning and end is needed to make the expression of eternity more complete: the combination of two penultimate forms together more strongly points to the ultimate."
The combination of two penultimate forms together. Hmm, once again I can see what Petey was up to with many of his puzzling paradoxables, since he was attempting to convey an unbleatable state of mind that is technically unglishable to our wordly whys:
nobodaddy, no mamafestation,
nothing but neti.
Darkness visible the boundless all....
unborn thus undying,
beginning and end of all impossibility,
empty plenum and inexhaustible void.
Who is? I AM.
A wake. Alone.
Likewise, there are numinous examples of the conjunction of contrasting penultimates in Cosmobliteration:
all-negating Void Supreme
darkness within darkness,
benighting the way brightly.
The body, an ephemeral harmelody of adams
forged from within stars,
our life, a fugitive dream
within the deathless, sleeping
Too old, older than Abraham,
too young, young as a babe's I AM.
We'll meet again.
Up ahead, 'round the bend.
The circle unbroken, by and by.
A Divine Child,
a touch of infanity,
a bloomin' yes.
In this last passage, the ultimate purpose of the cosmos (the ancient God's-end) is conjoined with the boundless joy of the brand new infant (godsend) -- that most precious and fleeting of flowers, which, like all flowers, always says Yes! to the gift of existence. What do they not know that we do, and how can we forget it?
To be continued....
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
.... To Be Continued. But Only Forever....
A case in point is Chapter 4, The Modalities of Language. Here Bomford puts forth some novel ideas about how language may be used to express things that are beyond its reach, and to say what cannot be said about the modalities of the unconscious mind, including eternity, placelessness, non-contradiction, and the fusion (or non-separation) of reality and imagination.
What made this chapter especially interesting for me, is that I realized that I had employed many of these techniques in my own book (in particular, in the Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration sections) without being consciously aware of it. Rather, I was simply focussed on the reality I was attempting to contact and disclose, and the language came to me. You know, adequation, just like in any other science.
You might say that what I was trying to express had to invent the means -- and even the person! -- to express itself. But it turns out that the invention already existed, at least in its deep structure. (Speaking of blogging, which no one was, it also reminds me of how I first had to create an audience for my writing, or will all of you folks into being, which makes it difficult to sell books, since you can only create one Raccoon at a time.)
The one objection I have to Bomford's conception is that he regards the unconscious in a unitary manner, whereas I conceptualize it on a vertical scale, with an unconscious below and a supraconscious above. Both are "un" conscious, but in different ways. And again, it's not as if they lack consciousness -- obviously -- only that they lay (and often lie) outside conscious, egoic awareness.
The point is, Bomford sometimes falls into what Wilber calls the "pre-trans fallacy," that is, conflating the pre-personal and the transpersonal (Jung often did this as well). Nevertheless, he is correct that the same modalities generally apply to both, i.e, timelessness, placelessness, etc.
Let's begin with eternity, or timelessness. With symmetrical logic, if event B comes after event A, then event A also comes after event B. Again, we routinely see this logic play out in dreams, in which events from different times can be co-present. Ultimately, if this logic is taken to its extreme (up toward point 10, 10 in the upper right), it means that in the unconscious, all time is simultaneously present -- which is one of the defining characteristics of eternity.
I immediately think of Jesus' paradoxical statement that before Abraham was, I AM. This makes no sense from the standpoint of asymmetrical logic, but perfect nonsense from the standpoint of symmetrical logic. Likewise, that Jesus is "alpha and omega," or first and last.
As Bomford writes, "The most primitive and perhaps deepest expression of the eternity of the Unconscious that could be imagined is an unchanging cry of joy or scream of pain, something everlastingly the same. Such would express the dominance of a single extreme emotion pouring out in its most raw form from its unconscious root. The well-known painting by Edvard Munch entitled The Scream may serve as an icon of a state of this kind."
Alternatively, we might imagine my infinite despair when the Phillies scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Dodgers last Monday. It's like a never ending D'ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!, echoing into the cold and desolate Philadelphia night.
Now that I'm thinking of it, I have treated many cases of trauma, and this seems to be how post-traumatic stress operates. When a person endures a trauma -- say, a bank robbery, with a gun pointed directly at their head -- they are temporarily lifted out of time, partly as a sort of primitive defense mechanism. Often there is a sense of time standing still accompanied by depersonalization and derealization. In short, the body is there but the person is someplace else, either "dissolved" or dispersed. Their nervous system is still registering the event, but not "to" or "for" someone. The theatre is empty. Lights on, nobody home.
But as their person gradually reconstitutes and the lights come back on, they can expect to experience a number of characteristic symptoms such as nightmares and repeated flashbacks of the trauma. These are unbidden memories over which the person has no conscious control. I have always understood this as a way for the mind to try to "metabolize" an event that was too overwhelming at the time.
In other words, you might think of the flashbacks as a way to convert the eternal terror into mere garden variety fear, bit by bit, one piece at a time. I always tell patients that their symptoms are actually their mind's way of assimilating and coming to terms with what happened to them. When they start treatment, the trauma is remembering them, but with the passage of time, they will eventually be able to remember it. It will simply be a bad memory, instead of something that is grabbing them by the throat, so to speak. They will contain it, rather than vice versa.
This would also explain why the most catastrophic traumas are those that occur during childhood. Since a young child -- say, before the age of 5 -- is largely in eternity and not time, when a trauma occurs, it can be internalized in such a way that it lives on "forever."
(This reminds me of what happened to our cat after the 1994 earthquake. She just "vanished," and we didn't see a trace of her for several days. She was presumably hiding somewhere, but we checked every possible hideout. It was as if she were hibernating in an alternate dimension. She eventually reappeared out of nowhere, as if nothing had happened.)
(Come to think of it, Grotstein has hypothesized that primitive psychological defense mechanisms may be analogues to what animals do when in extreme danger, for example, "playing dead." Many children from abusive homes deal with the trauma by psychologically "playing dead," but if it goes on for too long, the defense gradually displaces the core of the personality, so the person becomes emotionally dead.)
I was about to say that I wouldn't be surprised if the painter of the Icon of Eternal Terror hadn't been traumatized himself as a child. A quick wikipedia search reveals that Munch was not a Dodger fan, he did lose his mother to tuberculosis when he was just four years old, "and his older and favorite sister Sophie to the same disease in 1877.... After their mother's death, the Munch siblings were raised by their father, who instilled in his children a deep-rooted fear by repeatedly telling them that if they sinned in any way, they would be doomed to hell without chance of pardon. One of Munch's younger sisters was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Munch himself was also often ill.... He would later say, 'Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle and they have followed me throughout my life.'"
That is about as good a description as you will find of "eternal trauma" living on in the unconscious mind. "Angels of insanity" is a good way of saying "mind parasites."
Getting back to language, Freud discovered that certain speech patterns revealed the characteristics of eternity, including repetition. As Bomford explains, "Repetition expresses eternity by everlastingly returning to the same point." He notes that people in a state of severe depression will often repeat the same words again and again, "words expressive of everlasting defeat or failure."
Conversely, people who have achieved some great goal, such as athletes, might be reduced to repeating phrases such as "We did it... I can't believe we did it..." In fact, you will notice that at the end of the World Series, or Superbowl, or Stanley Cup, the players are often speechless, just as in a trauma. One or more of the players is sure to say something like, "I can't absorb this right now. It's too much. It'll take a few weeks to sink in."
I remember my first encounter with severe depression as a child, although I had no idea what it was at the time. My maternal grandmother came to live with us for a while, and she was obviously profoundly depressed. She would shuffle around the house all day, holding her face and muttering "Oh God.... Dear God.... Oh God...." Very spooky. In fact, as Bomford writes, the simplest way to convey eternity is to simply repeat the same words over and over. Or sometimes just one word:
If you've seen Citizen Kane, you know that that word is like a holographic container representing all of Kane's childhood issues of abandonment and loss, which he spent his life trying to fill with power and possessions. But it is a bottomless pit because it is an eternal nothing. Might as well try to fill a hole on the beach with water.
Interestingly, it was Orson Welles who dubbed Jackie Gleason "the great one." The most exalted Raccoon of them all would often express eternal shock or befuddlement through the repetition of our sacred mantra, homina homina homina!
Other times, a person may "make the same point repeatedly, but in different words. He or she seems to be groping for something unchanging that no one set of words will adequately express: it could be described as revolving round and round a central point." Bomford calls this "repetition with variation."
Here again, I found that this is instinctively what I did in the Coonifesto, especially in the Cosmobliteration section, where language begins to fail and we ascend up the orthobola past 10, 10 and crank language up to 11:
Words fail. But one clings. Still. You don't say. Emptiness! drowning the soul in its everlasting peace, an eternal zero, a spaceless and placeless infinite, supremely real and solely real, our common source without center or circumference, no place, no body, no thing, or not two things, anyway....
To be continued. But only forever.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Navelgazing Your Way Between a Crock and a Hardhead
Even if this will be a review for some -- including me -- that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because of the way we're built, it is possible -- perhaps even likely -- to "overrun" the truth once we've stumbled upon it. That is, our epistemophilic instinct causes us to so frantically search after truth, that we can just keep right on going once we've found it. But truth -- especially spiritual truth -- must be chewed, swallowed and assimilated into our substance in order to have a transformative effect. If it is merely on the level of profane knowledge (k), it can essentially convert a profound truth into something shallow and superficial. We will contain it rather than vice versa. And that's how you kill a spiritual truth.
Bomford is an Anglican priest who is a student of the psychoanalyst Ignacio Matte Blanco, who himself is not well known but had some brilliant ideas about the logic of the unconscious mind. Bomford has applied Matte Blanco's ideas to the relationship between God and consciousness, and how we may meaningfully communicate about something that vastly exceeds the limits of language. (Here is an intro to Matte Blanco that is cheaper more accessible than his own books, but still, it may not be appropriate for the non-specialist; you can always search a few pages and judge for yourself.)
One of the purposes of the book is to resolve the issue of literalism vs. reductionism, or to navigate between the rockheads fundamentalism and the softheads of liberalism. It is aimed at the reader who "neither clings rigidly to the literal truth of every word of the Bible, nor on the other hand reduces the faith by rejecting most of what the past has believed to be central."
With regard to the potential dangers of mixing psychoanalytic metapsychology and religion, Bomford makes the important point that "from the beginning the church has borrowed philosophies from the world as handmaids to faith, and has expressed its faith through them. This has not only been to communicate with those outside, but also so that faith may understand itself."
This interdisciplinary and playgiarizing spirit allows one to be a believer and still engage with the same world as those outside the faith. In fact, without this engagement, one will inevitably create a sort of intellectual ghetto. But there is no reason whatsoever that one cannot build sturdy and robust bridges between religion and any other discipline, which was obviously the whole point of my own book. There should be no barrier between religion and the most up-to-date science. Indeed, the people who have the most difficulty reconciling religion and science are those who either cling to an outmoded scientism or to an overly literal view of scripture. But if we know how to float our boat, we should be able to steer a course between the crock and the hardheads, respectively.
As mankind has evolved, we have become increasingly aware of the internal world of consciousness itself. Religion has followed this trend, which is why the further back in history you travel, the more religion is dominated by an externalizing tendency, ultimately ending (or beginning) in the inside-out and upside-down orientation of pantheism and nature worship.
Today, if you ask the average person where God is encountered, they will likely respond "within myself." In other words, they do not believe that they are literally going to visit God in the church or temple -- although our consciousness of God is surely "focussed," so to speak, in certain proscribed areas and rituals. But when we attend a service, engage in a ritual, meditate, pray, or purchase an indulgence from Petey, we are obviously attempting to heighten our consciousness of God.
But what do we know about consciousness? What is it? Or, to put it another way, what can consciousness know of itself?
Bomford begins with what amounts to a truism, that our conscious self -- or ego -- is situated in a much larger area of consciousness as such, much of which goes by the name "unconscious." This is a misleading term, since the unconscious is not unconscious, just not available to the conscious ego. The unconscious is obviously quite active and aware, only "below," "behind," or "above" the ego.
Traditionally, psychoanlaysts have imagined a sort of horizontal line, with the ego above and the unconscious below. But I believe a more accurate mental image would be an island surrounded by water on all sides, like a point within a sphere (which is itself multidimensional).
I would also argue that consciousness is not linear but holographically structured, so that the unconscious is not spatially above or below, but within consciousness (somewhat analogous to God, who is both immanent and transcendent, the deepest within and the furthest beyond of any "thing" that partakes of Being).
Furthermore, we must abandon the idea that the unconscious is merely an uncivilized repository of repressed mind parasites and other mischievous devils. That is surely part of the picture, but only part. Grotstein writes of the unconscious as a sort of alter-ego with whom we go through life -- the “stranger within” that shadows our existence in a most intimate, creative, and mysterious way. Far from being “primitive and impersonal” (although it surely includes primitive, lower vertical elements as well), it is “subjective and ultra-personal,” a “mystical, preternatural, numinous second self” characterized by “a loftiness, sophistication, versatility, profundity, virtuosity, and brilliance that utterly dwarf the conscious aspects of the ego.”
The production of a dream, for example, "is a unique and mysterious event, an undertaking that requires an ability to think and to create that is beyond the capacity of conscious human beings.... [D]reams are, at the very least, complex cinematographic productions requiring consummate artistry, technology, and aesthetic decision making.... [D]reams are dramatic plays that are written, cast, plotted, directed, and produced and require the help of scenic designers and location scouts, along with other experts.... I am really proposing the existence of a profound preturnatural presence whose other name is the Ineffable Subject of Being, which itself is a part of a larger holographic entity, the Supraordinate Subject of Being and Agency."
So in what follows, I will be using the term "unconscious" in this larger and more expansive sense. In fact, let's dispense with that saturated word altogether, since it deceives us into believing we know what it is, merely because we have a name for it. Instead, let's stick with O, the ultimate unKnowable reality within which the ego operates.
Again, most postpostmodern people -- you know, regular folks -- believe that God is in some sense found "within." The mystic -- the extreme seeker and off-road spiritual aspirant -- is simply someone who follows the inner path all the way down.... or up... or in... or over... and out.
In fact, as we shall see, this ambiguous use of language -- spirit is somehow simultaneously "down," "up", and "in" -- provides a key insight into its very nature, which is to say, its symmetry. With everyday aristotelian logic, if something is in it can't be out; or if it is up, it can't be down. But if God is up, he must be down, and if he is out, he must be in. And verce visa. For God, it is not a problem to be two "places" at once, since there are no places to begin with.
Is this way of talking merely nonsense? Undoubtedly. But it is perfect nonsense, or what I would call patterned transrationality. It describes something that is surely real, but not in the same limited sense as material reality and its interior cousin, the empirical ego.
The difficulty arises in attempting to express the infinite through the finite, or the transcendent through the immanent, which can only be accomplished with paradox, myth, symbolism, and a number of other literary deivoices we will discuss in more detail below, when we get above. Religious language -- whatever else it is -- is without question a way to memorialize, extend, deepen, and meditate upon that which transcends ordinary language experience.
How do we describe this unusual "relationship" between these two necessary aspects of the Real? You might say that, just as the ego floats "atop" or within an essentially infinite sea of (un)Consciousness, or O, the explicate world disclosed to our senses represents the "condensation," or visible waves, of an implicate reservoir of roiling energy.
We may extend this to say that God too has an outer aspect, which we call being, and an interior aspect that is beyond being. In Orthodox Christianity, the difference is conceptualized in terms of God's energies (which may be known by us) and his essence, which I would argue -- perhaps heretically -- is not even fully com-prehended by him. If this were not true, than God could not truly create, or surprise and delight himself with his productions.
This is why I think jazz discloses something about God, in the way that it parallels the relationship between the implicate and explicate orders of the cosmos. If you think of the rhythm and chords as the explicate structure, the improvisation -- which is to say, spontaneous composition -- of the soloist represents the ceaseless flow of implicate to explicate. A great soloist plays with a seemingly endless inventiveness that parallels the birth of a new world each moment. Also, if you unlisten to the manner in which the individual players spontaneously react to each other in an organismic way, you are hearing nothing less than the implicit structure of Life Itself. For it is the Sound of Surprise.
Anyway, Bomford noticed that the unconscious, as described by Freud, shares many fundamental characteristics attributed to God. The unconscious mind does not operate by the same logical categories as the conscious mind. Rather, it is characterized by 1) eternity (or timelessness), 2) spacelessness, 3) symbolism, 4) non-contradiction, and 5) non-distinction between imagination and reality.
Let's take an example that comes readily to mind. Last night my Dreamer presented me with a dream in which my wife and father were simultaneously present, even though they never actually met. In addition, I was wearing a pair of glasses that I ordered by mail, and won't be receiving until next week. The dream shows how the past (my father), present (my wife), and future (my glasses) are all co-present and interpenetrating, defying any Newtonian idea of linear time.
Now, it is not actually possible for us to experience or know the eternal. Or, to be precise, we can only experience it if we no longer exist, because to identify with it would be to disappear from time, and thought and existence require time ("no one sees my face and lives"). As Boethius wrote, "An unchanging thing displays no before and after, nor does it begin or end" (which is one reason why my book neither begins nor ends). Rather, eternity is "the instantaneously whole and complete possession of endless life."
But there are a number of ways we can conceptualize the eternal and think the otherwise unthinkable in the herebelow. As Bomford explains, "among temporal things, the everlasting most nearly expresses the eternal. It provides the closest image of the timeless within time." This is why our souls are stirred in the presence of the very old and ancient -- the Pyramids, Yosemite Valley, a European cathedral, Barbara Walters, etc.
But interestingly, another penultimate form of eternity -- the symmetrical opposite of the everlasting, so to speak -- is the momentary, for such a thing is also "instantaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change. It is not there -- it is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again" -- like a shooting star, or giving your daughter's hand in marriage, or one of Obama's campaign promises.
In contrast to the everlasting and the momentary, what least expresses eternity is -- unfortunately -- that which comes into existence, lasts for a while, and then passes away. That would be, oh, I don't know, like a Dodger lead in a playoff game, or maybe even YOUR WHOLE FREAKING LIFE!, unless you do something about that unfortunate state of unfairs. Seven games or life stages may be a short series, but you're vying for the ultimate prize.
To be continued....
Monday, October 19, 2009
Shedding a Little Obscurity on the Cold Light of Reason
It also very much reminds me of what Joyce was attempting to accomplish in Finnegans Wake, i.e., trying to come as close as humanly possible to capturing and expressing the darkly lit space of 10, 10. About the book, Joyce said that it was "conceived as obscurity, it was executed as obscurity, it is about obscurity" (in Bishop). Furthermore, there is nothing that can render the book not obscure, any more than one could make a dream perfectly concrete and logical. If one could do that, it would no longer be a dream.
The point is, our consciousness is like the hologram that is produced by the interference pattern of two beams of light. Again, think of the analogy of left brain and right brain, and how their interaction produces the "higher third" of human consciousness. But that third can be localized along a wide continuum, from the 0, 0 of wideawake and cutandry (Joyce) logic, to the hʘ¿ʘgraphic dream logic that gently rules the night. And for humans, it's always night; or, it is like the symbol of the Tao, in which the darkest night has a bit O' light and the brightest deity is unilluminated by a beam of darkness.
Of his pissy diurinal critics who bladdered on and on about the book's obscurity, Joyce leaked in a letter that "They compare it, of course, with Ulysses. But the action of Ulysses was chiefly in the daytime, and the action of my new work takes place chiefly at night. It's natural that things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?" To another person, he wrote that "It is night. It is dark. You can hardly see. You sense rather."
I am not necessarily recommending to readers that they attempt to tackle Finnegans Wake. But I think you can appreciate or at least excuse the inspiration for the opening and closing and reopening passages of my book. I wasn't only trying to be funny, but attempting to nudge language up the continuum toward the nightlight of 10, 10. Nor did I want to be completely obscure, like Joyce. He obviously crossed a certain line -- you might say that he went over the horizon into near-total darkness, whereas I wanted to hover around the twilight of evening and dawn. And the footnotes are like little flashlights or flares.
Anyway, what about the upper left-hand corner, 0, 10? This would represent "absolute unconsciousness combined with total rationality."
As Bomford says, at least for humans, this would appear to be empty territory, with "none of the paradigmatic instances of unconscious influence -- the lover, the madman, or the poet -- nor dreams, jokes or slips of tongue..." I suppose one could think of the realm of Platonic ideas, or the impersonal logos, the uncreated Reason that permeates every corner of existence, but this is not a human category.
Then there is 10, 0, the lower right-hand corner: total symmetric logic and complete consciousness, without any unconscious influence. Since total symmetry means that nothing can be distinguished from anything else, this would appear to be a true absurdity, perhaps analogous to hell. Nothing would make any logical sense, but you would be perpetually conscious of it. The closest we can come to imagining this hellish dimension would be living with Rosie O'Donnell or Keith Olbermann.
As I have written before, the terms "conscious" and "unconscious" are just words we use to try to describe something that is otherwise inexplicable, almost like trying to imagine what's going on inside of a watch without being able to look behind the face. We can see the hands moving, but we can only hypothesize about what's making them do so. The watch is in reality a single entity, but with an "outer" and an "inner" aspect. But in reality, everything has an inner and outer aspect, since the one is a complementary function of the other, like "top" and "bottom."
The same is true of our minds. There is an outer aspect and an inner aspect, but we can actually only separate them conceptually, not in reality. In reality, every conscious act has an unconscious dimension, and vice versa. We might say that every thought is "more or less" conscious, never absolutely so.
Therefore, every human mental state is somewhere close to the diagonal line (the orthobola) that extends from 0, 0 to 10, 10.
Bomford summarizes the situation thus far: "At the origin [0, 0]: unemotional rationality. On moving up the Orthobola: increasing emotion and growing unconscious influence accompanied by increasing use of symmetric logic.... Way up the Orthobola may be placed the dreamer, though dreams may also stray from the line; not far from the dreamer may be found the lover and the poet, for these three, as Shakespeare declared, are 'of imagination all compact.'"
Of particular interest to RaccOOns is "the area where the Unconscious breaks into consciousness, for it is from this area that any direct knowledge of the Unconscious must be obtained." Bomford calls this the "transitional space," an area that might roughly correspond to, say, 5, 5 up to 9, 9. Below that, the area is too bleached out by the bright light of the conscious mind, whereas above 9, 9 would be the can't-nobody-see-in Divine Darkness, like the secretive presidential tints on the windows of Cousin Dupree's Buick Skylark. What's he doing in there? The police want to know.
It is in the transitional space that everything happens for humans, where "we encounter not only dreams, declarations of love, and lyric poetry, but also the great myths of humankind. It is in this region that the Unconscious emerges into Consciousness and it is also from this region that conscious material submerges into the unconscious."
The transitional space is no doubt the realm of interplanetary funkmanship.
To cite one obvious example, obligatory atheists and other grooveless materialists, since they live down in, say, 3, 3, try to comprehend religion as if it were susceptible to the cold and funkless reasoning of the conscious mind, which is absurd. There is no musical chart one may read in order to sound like James Brown. And all of the musical virtuosity in the world will be of no help to you if you can't feel your way into the groove and know that it's a mutha'.
Similarly, if we were to try to locate Bush Derangement Syndrome on the graph, it would be around, say, 6, 9, where there is a kind of fixed asymmetry dominated by unconscious thinking. In psychiatric parlance, it is called a "frozen psychosis," in which the mind is suspended in one fixed, irrational state. Dailykos and Huffington post -- and the left in general -- operate out of this timeless land of frozen psychosis, where the hate never thaws for the tundrapunditry. It's why they are perpetually angry and even hateful.
And because the transitional space is not just where unconscious material emerges into consciousness, but where conscious material reaches down into the unconscious, it would help to explain the efficacy of religious ritual and of doctrine in general -- much of which may not make a lot of sense to the conscious mind. As I mentioned a few days ago, revelation speaks to us on a much deeper level than, say, Time Magazine, because it is specifically capable of reaching down deep into the unconscious in away that the mundane and the profane never can.
Think, for example, of the rite of Communion. What's going on in the unconscious (or supraconscious) mind when you actually ingest God? I would suggest something rather profound but hidden; something analogous to metabolism, except on a deeply spiritual level rather than a physical one. It makes much more sense to the unconscious mind than to the conscious mind. Indeed, the whole point is to bypass the sharp limitations of the conscious mind.
When microscopes were discovered, there where some clergymen who thought that with sufficient magnification, it would be possible to see a little Jesus in the host -- which is hardly less silly than the hyper-rational atheist who rejects religion, in effect, because he can't see God with the tools of empirical science.
But the transitional space is the area where real magic occurs. It is, as Bomford explains, where experiences of profound emotion and of great beauty take place: "The great stories of humankind have a particular place [here].... In so far as they stir up deep imaginative feeling, they are working on unconscious levels of the mind, as well as conscious. To do this their logic has to be, in considerable degree, symmetric logic."
To be continued...
Sunday, October 18, 2009
A Graphic Account of God and Man
Bomford has a useful graph that I wish I could reproduce, but I'll have to just describe. It's really rather simple. It shouldn't be taken too literally though, as it is more of a heuristic device.
Imagine two axes, horizontal and vertical, each running from 0 to 10. The vertical axis is on a continuum from total consciousness to absolute unconsciousness, while the horizontal axis goes from the cold asymmetric logic of the conscious mind to the fluid symmetric logic of the unconscious mind. All mental states will exist at some hypothetical point on the graph.
Consider point 0, 0, which would be at the lower left hand side of the graph. It corresponds with absolute consciousness and completely asymmetric logic. Therefore, it would be characterized by an absence of emotional thought (for emotion is a very sophisticated form of rapid thought) and by pure articulated rationality. Computers exist there, but are there people who live in that dry and dusty place? Not really, but there are plenty of people who pretend to, especially leftists with their "unconstrained visions" of rational understanding and control of things that are far too complex to be understood by anyone.
If there were someone who more or less lives at 0, 0 (or at least fantasizes that he does, an interesting paradox) it would be the naive atheist or Queeg-like materialist who imagines that his rigid and repetitive little ego exhausts the Real, or that the conscious mind somehow maps reality in a transparent, unambiguous way, a point of view that is too silly to even bother refuting.
Thus, what the atheist is really doing is superimposing his own cramped little 0, 0 onto every other point on the graph, which is absurd. This is who Shakespeare was talking about when he made that wise crack about there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt up in man's philosophy. When it comes to romancing Sophia, an 0, 0 is what you might call a confirmed old bachelor wedded to his computer screen and obsessing about VILE RACISTS and other BAD CRAZINESS. In short, if you fail to acknowledge the unconscious, it may come back and bite you in ways that are an endless source of amusement to your former readers.
Let's take the other extreme, point 10, 10, which would be in the upper right hand corner: complete symmetrical logic and complete unconsciousness. Is such a state of mind actually attainable? Yes, a-parently so. It would correspond to what in Vedanta is called "the fourth state," or Turiya. It is the pure consciousness of the Atman, which transcends the three states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, and is indistinguishable from Brahman.
Sri Aurobindo described turiya as "the consciousness of our pure self-existence or our absolute being with which we have no direct relations at all." It is "a trance in which one has gone completely out of the body. In more scientific parlance it is a trance in which there is no formation or movement of the consciousness and one gets lost in a state from which one can bring back no report except that one was in bliss."
I'm not sure if it can literally be experienced, or it wouldn't be remembered. Or, to put it another way, if you experienced it -- or if there was someone there to do so -- it wasn't turiya, or truly 10, 10. Instead, you might have been at, say, point 9, 10, allowing for a smidgin of asymmetrical consciousness instead of total unconsciousness. Or maybe you're just remembering the 1960s.
Back to Bomford's pneumagraph. Recall that the vertical axis runs from conscious --> unconscious, while the horizontal axis runs from asymmetrical logic --> symmetrical logic. We have already established that the 0, 0 point on the graph corresponds to the atheist, the computer, the rationalist, the Vulcan, the Queeg; while the 10, 10 point is the non-dual mystic who is plunged into the formless realm of pure being, perhaps best exemplified in modern times by a Ramana Maharshi, who seems to have been in a 10, 10 trance most of the time. Other famous 10, 10s such as Plotinus only visited there from time to timelessness, as it was occasionally necessary to take out the garbage or wash his toga.
Speaking of Plotinus, according to the Orthodox Christian Andrew Louth, Plotinus' philosophy "represents man's inherent desire to return to heaven at its purest and most ineffable." It would have to be ineffable, because there is not an effin' thing you can say about 10, 10 except that it doesn't ex-ist.
Or, if it does exist, only God doesn't know it. It is the eternal om of the apophatic God, the ainsoferable deity who thinks he's a big nobody, the ground, or Grunt, as Eckhart called it while trying to lift up his congregation.
This hints at the tantralizing idea that 10, 10 is actually the ultimate source of the rest of the graph, a point we will return to later, when we're dead.
You could also say that 0, 0 corresponds to the many, while 10, 10 is the One, or even "beyond One," which I suppose would be the Zero, the big fat Nothing that just so happens to bracket my absurcular book.
Plotinus speaks of three main principles, the One, the nous (or intellect properly so-called), and the Soul (or psyche -- what we today would call the ego). In his his use of the term, Soul would be closer to the discursive, exterior knowledge of 0, 0. It can never know the One (only of the One), but necessarily exists in a state of fragmentation and doubt.
The Intellect, on the other hand, knows directly, in the same manner which our senses know the external world directly. You might say that the nous is our sensory organ for the super-sensory realm. It's what allows most of you to understand exactly what I'm more or less talking about, give or take. Conversely, for those of you who don't comprehend my laughty bobservations, it's because somenone from your past gave you a broken nous.
For Plotinus, the One -- or what we are calling the 10, 10 -- "is absolutely simple, beyond any duality whatsoever, and of which, therefore nothing can be said. It is the One because beyond duality; it is the Good, because it has no need of anything else. It is the source of all, beyond being. Nothing can be affirmed truly of the One."
Plotinus' metaphysics reflects the perennial philosophy of cosmic involution and evolution, or emanation and return: the One becomes many so that the many might become One. Intelligence emanates from the One, just as the psyche emanates from the intellect, beyond which there is the further multiplicity of the material world:
"[T]he potent simplicity of the One 'overflows' into Intelligence, and Intelligence overflows into the Soul. Emanation is met by Return. Emanation is the One's unfolding its simplicity: Return is the Good's drawing everything to itself." The realm of intelligence points beyond itself, always to the One, which is both its ground and goal.
Although there are some critical distinctions that I won't get into here, this is not too dissimilar to the kenosis of Christianity, which refers to "the self-emptying or self-surrender of the Godhead whereby he both creates the world and becomes incarnate in the Son of Man" (Coonifesto, p. 9, f. 13). It is also in accord with Vedanta; as Radhakrishnan writes, "The act of creation... is the spontaneous overflow of God's nature.... Out of the fullness of his joy, God scatters abroad life and power.... The original unity is pregnant with the whole course of the world, which contains the past, the present, and the future in a supreme now."
Thus, the Biggest Bang of them all is the one that takes place every moment, as the heavenly papurusha plunges into the terrestrial mamamaya -- if that's not too graphic -- which in turn gives birth to this manifestivus for the rest of us, as baby makes trinity.
Or, as Petey put it in the Coonifesto, "The molten infinite pours forth a blazon torrent of incandescent finitude, as light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow (oops! a dirty world!) and
in love with the productions of time, hurtling higgledy piggledy into jivass godlings & samskara monsters (Boo!) all the way down to atoms & evolution.
We have heard from the wise, from Petey, the Mirthiful, the Unreliable, that the cosmos is created by God's whirling ec-stasy, as he is literally beside himsoph with d'light immaculate: "The dancer's inside turns into the outsideness of the dance when the dancer dances. This turning inside out is ecstasy.... This is God's relation to the cosmos. The cosmos is a kind of offspring of God. It is a kind of speech of God.... God creates the world as an act of agape-ecstasy" (Bruteau).
Yes, Free your mind and your aseity will follow.
"Intelligence is the circle with the One as its centre" (Louth). Or, you could say that the One is an infinite point that throws off sparks of divine light from the center to the periphery, which creates the sphere of reality, the dome-like firmament above and the infinite interior of human consciousness below. For Plotinus, "the higher is not the more remote; the higher is the more inward: one climbs up by climbing in, as it were." The only way out is in, and no one gets out of here alive. How to make amends meet in the muddle of the mount? How to blest off from the errport? I don't know, let's ask Plotinus:
"Let us flee then to the beloved Fatherland: this is the soundest counsel. But what is this flight? How are we to gain the open sea?
"You must call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birth-right of all, which few turn to use."
Here Plotinus describes his own flight from the alone to the Allone: "lifted out of the body into myself; becoming external to all other things and self-encentered; beholding a marvellous beauty; then, more than ever, assured of community with the loftiest order.... acquiring identity with the divine.... yet there comes the moment of descent from intellection to reasoning," back down toward consciousness and asymmetry. Back to my Saturday chores, like washing my toga and vacuuming my dusty coonskin cap and getting it ready for winter use.
I think we should recalibrate the graph, so that the lower left corner is 10, 10, the upper right O, O: that would be ʘ and O, the bi-cosmic double vision of the Cosmic RaccOOn Esoteric Dancing Troup, humble heirs to the great nothing-everything.
There's much more, but I'll have to continue this later....
Saturday, October 17, 2009
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.
Friday, October 16, 2009
I Am Darwin Man, Destroyer of Worlds!
I'm not talking about empirical reality, which is an entirely different matter. No future discovery of science will obviate the need to get out of the way of that hurtling bus. There is no machine that will ever reverse the flow of time, since time is irreversible by ontological necessity.
In contrast to science, if you adapt your mind to religion, you are adapting it to the timeless, the unchanging and the eternally true. Indeed, that is the whole point. I can commune with, say, Denys from the 6th century or Eckhart from the 14th, and both of them speak to me in a way that most 19th century science -- which was the pinnacle of material reductionism and mechanical determinism -- does not. The Ten Commandments still apply over 3000 years later, while countless scientific theories have come and gone.
This is why in my book, I tried to rely more on philosophy of science than science per se -- e.g., people such as Whitehead, Polanyi, and Robert Rosen. Or, if I did rely on more specific findings, I tried to do so in such a way that the overall vision would not stand or fall based upon them.
For example, in my account of human evolution, I endeavored to use the most up-to-date findings, knowing in advance that they were subject to change. One of the most helpful books was Steven Stanley's Children of the Ice Age, which was published just eleven years ago. But now the latest discovery of that old broad in Africa completely overturns Stanley's narrative.
But it really doesn't matter to me, any more than it matters whether human infants spend 9 or 9.5 months in the womb. The main point is that we come out neurologically incomplete, which is the evolutionary prerequisite for the acquisition of humanness. Nor will any finding of science ever alter my view that natural selection alone cannot account for the human station. For if it does, then we really know that everything we believe is wrong, and that there is no reason whatsoever to believe it except for pure pragmatism.
This actually goes back to the previous book we were discussing, Living Constitution, Dying Faith. In it, Watson points out that what we know of today as "progressivism" is grounded in a combination of Darwinism and philosophical pragmatism, which render the whole notion of timeless truth null and void. The elimination of timeless truth is both the origin and goal of progressive thought, just as timeless truth is the origin and goal of our liberal Founders (and which again makes genuine evolution possible).
As mentioned yesterday, we are not in any way trying to be polemical. In fact, Watson cites abundant sources in support of his assertions, and Sowell dispassionately covers some of the same ground in A Conflict of Visions. As Watson explains, "Social Darwinism began to dominate American thinking just as transcendentalism was on the wane" in the late 19th century. And if you want to know what "social Darwinism" is, it is simply Darwinism drawn out to its inevitable ontological, epistemological, and ethical implications. It is Darwinism with no apologies, and no recourse to Judeo-Christian principles and other so-called "eternal truths." Among other things, it is the tyranny of the ephemeral.
For the herd of self-appointed elites of the time, "natural selection was seen as an all-purpose explanatory tool that could put the human sciences, especially politics and jurisprudence, on a parallel track with modern natural science" (Watson).
Thus, with a single stroke, these anti-intellectual mediocrities such as John Dewey and Charles Sanders Pierce were able to elevate themselves above the Founders, and affirm that "there are no fixed or eternal principles that govern, or ought to govern, the politics of a decent regime." Rather, all truth was situated in a strict historicism, meaning that "truth" was simply what was believed to be true at the time, and nothing more. With the passage of time, we'll arrive at better truths, just as natural selection has produced better eyes and more clever apes. But there is no truth that is true for all time -- no annoying natural rights to interfere with the prerogatives of the state.
Again, this view begins and ends in change as opposed to permanence. But anyone who has studied a bit about dissipative structures knows that organisms change in order to remain the same, and remain the same in order to change. Well, forget about that. Under the new Darwinian regime, there is only change. Yes, it's absurd, since change can only occur in relation to the unchanging, but no one ever accused Darwinists of being philosophically coherent.
Armed with this new philosophy of eternal stupidity, the goal "is no longer to search after absolute origins or ends," only the reduction of everything, both subject and object, to ceaseless change. Thus, "in the absence of fixity, morals, politics, and religion are subject to radical renegotiation and transformation."
From this false premise the left pulled off the ultimate fraud, by identifying the liberating belief in absolutes with authoritarianism, and the acceptance of radical relativism with "liberation." Yes, it is a sort of liberation -- into nihilism on the one hand, and the omnipotent state on the other. For if there is nothing but change -- "permanent change" -- this is just another way of saying "absolute relativism" and pure subjectivity, which is a self-refuting metaphysic that elevates Will over Truth. Truth becomes a function of raw power and eventually pure, unredeemed tenure.
Under Darwinism, there can be nothing special about human beings, no vertical intersection with the eternal. Rather, all is horizontal. The ontological divide that separates human and animal is completely effaced, as is the bright line between matter and life. Ultimately this reduces to Atoms in the Void, just as Whitehead said some eighty years ago. Or Adams in the Void, as Petey said just a few seconds ago.
The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man has come to regard all these beliefs as superstitions and refuses to accept or submit to anything which he does not rationally understand. The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the power of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would thus become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them. --Hayek
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The Deep Structure of Political Deep Structure
Of course I've thought about it before, and probably posted on it as well, but reading Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles has got me thinking about it all over again. Many on the left especially object to "labels," but what is it that makes it so easy to divide the majority of people into two ideological camps, with so many seemingly unrelated issues falling into line?
What is the relationship, say, between global warming hysteria, belief in government imposed racial discrimination, and support of the judicial redefinition of marriage? What do these things have in common, if anything?
Or, on the other hand, what is the common thread between limited government, a strong military defense, and freedom of school choice? Why are people who want vouchers also less likely to favor state imposition of "homosexual marriage," while the same folks who believe in catastrophic global warming don't see global jihad as a big problem? Why is Obama much harder on Fox News than Iran? And what's his real problem with the First Amendment?
By the way, this is definitely a thinking-out-loud, Bob's-Unconscious-behind-the-wheel kind of post, in which we try to work out the answers in real time. Therefore, this post may be unusually desultory, since its point will only emerge -- if at all -- gradually. We won't know if we are being guided by an attractor until we get there.
I might add that I really want to be fair to the left. Of course we like to kid, but it really is a curiosity. Why do so many issues hang together in the way they do? For most liberals, the answer is easy: it's because conservatives are evil, greedy, racist-sexist-homophobes. And for most conservatives, it's because liberals are wrong and misguided. But why are we evil or they wrong in such systematic ways? Why does one person imagine that Rush Limbaugh is a "hatemonger," but not see that Keith Olbermann is the real deal? And why are right wing televangelists and left wing tenurevangelists both so tediously predictable?
As I've mentioned before, I don't actually like to get into psychologizing about the motives of my ideological adversaries, except as a last resort or a festive occasion for insultainment. The other day Spengler wrote a piece on Obama's supposed narcissism, which I thought was off the mark for a number of reasons. For one thing, I would guess that most politicians of whatever ideological stripe have issues of narcissism. And narcissism itself is neither here nor there. My endocrinologist strikes me as a narcissist, but he's still a good doctor -- just as someone who is perfectly well adjusted emotionally can have good intentions that result in horribly bad outcomes. Truth is truth, even if a crazy person believes it. Gödel was off his umlaut, but so what? It doesn't render his principles any less timelessly true.
Furthermore, I think it's sufficient to attribute Obama's beliefs to the fact that he's just not that bright or curious. I'm not one of those people who has ever been impressed by his intellect. Without the TOTUS, he appears to be a pompous airhead who says nothing with great authority -- or who makes equivocation and weak-mindedness simulate thoughtfulness. If anything, he seems unusually callow and intellectually immature, arrested at the bong-fueled college bull session stage. He strikes me as profoundly unworldly, a fact that is apparently obscured merely because of his biracial and multicultural background.
But the idea that "travel broadens" must be one of the hoariest cliches imaginable. I have relatives who have traveled much more than I ever want to, but who are morons. In contrast, Jesus never left Israel and Aurobindo never left his room. Yes, it's an obvious point, but it has a deeper dimension as well, for as Schuon was at pains to emphasize, every man at all times has potential access to total truth in the form of the metaphysical principles embodied in orthodox tradition. To say that this truth can be improved upon by going from here to there is to not know what truth or religion are. It is for us to adequate ourselves to truth, not to imagine that it's sitting over there in Kenya or Indonesia.
The problem is, wherever you go, you go there too and spoil everything. As Bertrand Russell -- of all people! -- said, "Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day" (quoted in CoV). It is this swarm of flies that we want to try to understand. And "flies" is an apt metaphor, since the real problem, as we shall see, is the gaggle of mind parasites that have lives of their own, and which determine both what we perceive and what we conclude based upon that.
In other words, concept is anterior to percept, so we had better be careful about the organizing principles that rule our psyche. Some of these can be articulated, while others -- often the most important ones -- cannot (see especially Polanyi). One of the problems with the garden-variety intellectual -- and Sowell touches on this -- is that he imagines that all of his preconceptions are susceptible to articulation, when this is naive in the extreme. Thus, he will ridicule the mote in the theist's brain while being clueless about the beam in his own.
Churles Fasberger Queeg is a fine example of this kind of pseudo-thinking, as he is relentless in his simple-minded ridicule of religious believers, while having no insight whatsoever into his own preposterous scientism, nor his ironically un-Darwinian attractions. Since he is plainly not motivated by truth, what is his motivation? To suggest that one may arrive at truth through logic alone is a conviction so childlike that it hardly bears refuting. If that were the case, the progress of science would not require great leaps of creative imagination and synthesis -- of genius and vision. Rather, a computer -- or computer programmer -- could do it. Or, in Churles' case, cut, paste, repeat for nine years. (Images courtesy BabbaZee.)
Back to mind parasites. Sowell uses the analogy of ideas as "chips" one uses to play a sort of game. We may think that we are using the chips, but more often than not, it is the chips that are using us. Individuals may be "carriers of ideas, much as bees inadvertently carry pollen." The bee imagines -- if it could imagine -- that it is consciously doing one thing, when it is really unconsciously doing something far more profound.
We are all carrying around sacks of pollen -- or crocks of other substances -- with which we fertilize our world. We do it in raising our children, in relationships, in various cultural transactions. And one of the critical points is how much pollen we start out with because of our specific cultural heritage.
Again, secular extremists tend to be exceedingly naive about this, hence their attacks on the Judeo-Christian principles that undergird our civilization. They may imagine that they would prefer a culture of pure articulated logic, but this would not only be dangerous, but monstrous. We have thousands of years of cultural capital stored in our psyches, including things that were settled long ago. To reopen everything for negotiation is truly to open a pandora's box. You will never get what is released from the unconscious depths back into any kind of container. You just have no idea what is down there, nor the fine line that exists between civilization and barbarism.
This relates to Sowell's main thesis of the "unconstrained vision" of the left and the "constrained vision" of the right. The French revolution is the quintessential example of the unconstrained vision in action -- the idea that we can eliminate all of man's tacit cultural assumptions and "superstitions," and replace them with the cold light of logic.
As I have mentioned before, traditional religion for the typical believer involves metaphysics without knowledge. In other words, the metaphysics are embedded in the symbolic forms of the religion, which resonate on a deep unconscious (actually, supraconscious) level. In contrast, secularism involves articulated rationality with no wisdom. Again, this is what makes it so very dangerous, as it is not only devoid of wisdom, but systematically attacks the very wisdom tradition that resulted in our uniquely wonderful civilization.
To be continued....
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Dude, Where's My Future?
But first, a list of top ten reasons why I felt that Obama's election would be a good thing:
10. Booming business for cult deprogrammers.
9. Big blow to racial grievance hustlers; Al Sharpton will have to go back to mugging individuals instead of corporations.
8. Terrorists won't hate us as much when they kill us. Plus, we can fight them here rather than way over in Iraq, thus saving gas money.
7. Everything is Obama's fault.
6. AM radio will go back to playing music instead of abusing free speech with conservative talk.
5. People will be more serious about preventative health instead of relying on "doctors."
4. Jews will no longer run the world.
3. We can play the race card in international relations.
2. We can blame the young for their own future problems, since they supported Obama by a 2-1 margin. Who cares if they want to spend their inheritance on their selfish grandparents?
1. Conservatives get the #1 draft pick in '09.
Letter XI, The Force, is a timely symbol for the events of the day, as the force of the left ascends on the political wheel of fortune. However, we can draw consolation from the fact that, being that leftism is a closed intellectual and spiritual system, it is already "on the way down," outward appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. In short, its end is in its beginning, as the poet said. The higher it ascends in its intoxicated reach for power, the further it will fall. The concrete fact of Obama shall soon enough kill the empty idea of Obama. Nature hates a vacuum, while the left requires one, into which they can project their dreams and fantasies. But soon enough they will discover that Obama is not the man of their dreams.
The following passage by UF is perfectly apt today: "Plato has never had success as a revolutionary and never will do so. But Plato himself will always live throughout the centuries of human history... and will be in each century the companion of the young and old who love pure thought, seeking only the light which it comprises." In other words, you can never really have a "revolution" of people oriented to the white point of wisdom discussed in yesterday's post. Rather, you can only have evolution.
For one thing, it is an individual endeavor, not the sort of thing that could ever occur on a mass scale. And the left is a mass movement, which automatically condemns it to mediocrity and banality. It is led by a herd of elites who imagine themselves superior, but nothing could be more mundane -- and self-contradictory -- than the idea of "mass excellence."
In contrast to Plato, Karl Marx has enjoyed over a century "of astonishing success and has revolutionized the world. He has swept away millions -- those who went to the barricades and trenches in civil wars, and those who went to the prisons, either as jailers or as prisoners."
Really, can you name another philosopher who has enjoyed such a literally smashing success in such a short span of time? But you -- yes, you there, "as a solitary human soul, a soul of depth and sobriety, what do you owe Karl Marx?"
I don't know yet. Ask me next April 15th.
The point is, "Plato illumines, whilst Marx sweeps away." Obviously, it is impossible to imagine a person of any spiritual stature getting caught up in the Obama hysteria, what with his preposterous rhetoric about "fundamentally transforming" the nation. But it is equally impossible to imagine such a person being caught up in any kind of political hysteria. It is one of the reasons we can never match the diabolical energy of the left. Since the leftist is condemned to the horizontal world, he channels his spiritual energy into politics. As I wrote a couple of years ago,
"Regardless of what happens Tuesday, it shouldn’t greatly affect the spiritual equilibrium of the Superior Man, whose invisible combat will continue as usual. Indeed, this is what distinguishes us from the agitated multitude of horizontal men who locate their salvation in politics. Whatever the outcome, our lives will continue to center around our own perfection and salvation, not for narcissistic reasons, but for the simple reason that it is not possible to save others unless we have first saved ourselves. Needless to say, horizontal Republicans will not save us from horizontal Democrats.
"The project of the left is to make us all useful to the collective, when the only possible justification for the collective can lie in its usefulness to the individual -- again, not in a horizontal, egotistical sense, but in a vertical sense. Assuming that life has a transcendent purpose -- and you cannot be human and not make this assumption -- then the purpose of society should be to help human beings achieve this purpose -- i.e., to be useful to the Creator."
Hmm, I see that Bob foretold the cult of Obama:
"Horizontal man, in denying the vertical, necessarily replaces it with a counterfeit version that substitutes the collective for the One and human will for the Divine authority. Taken to its logical extreme, this manifests as the demagogue, the cult of personality, or the dictator-god who expresses the vitalistic will of the people. But all forms of leftism lie on this continuum. So much of the pandering of the left is merely totalitarianism in disguise -- a false absolute and a counterfeit vertical."
And there is no one so inflated with narcissistic hubris as the leftist social engineer who will save mankind from its own self-inflicted wounds. The leftist can give man everything but what he most needs, and in so doing, destroys the possibility of man. As Eliot said, the leftist dreams of a system in which it will be unnecessary for anyone to be good. But man is the being who can -- and must -- choose between good and evil.
Likewise, "the moment we talk about 'social conscience,' and forget about conscience, we are in moral danger" (Eliot). Eliminate the idea of moral struggle, and "you must expect human beings to become more and more vaporous." Since man is placed at the crossroads where he is free to choose between good and evil, this again eliminates man. You might say that for the leftist dreamer, man is strictly unnecessary. In fact, he just gets in the way of the Dream. Humanity is reduced to "a manageable herd rather than a community of souls" -- a comm-unity which naturally includes the dead and unborn (Lockerd).
For horizontality goes hand in hand with exteriority and outwardness, which is the initial direction of the fall: first out, then down. Gravity takes care of the rest. Horizontal man is down and out, whereas our salvolution lies up and in. Animals are almost entirely exterior. Like the leftist, they do not actually live in the world, but in the closed system of their own neurology and instincts. Only man -- inexplicably and miraculously on any scientistic grounds -- can exit the closed system of his own neuro-ideology and enter higher worlds, worlds of truth, beauty, and virtue.
To be in contact with these higher worlds is to be Man. To neglect or deny these anterior worlds is to destroy man, precisely. It is to starve and suffocate man’s spirit by laying waste to his proper environment, the only environment in which he can actually grow into full manhood. You cannot replace the holy grail of Spirit with the lowly gruel of flatland materialism and expect it to feed the multitudes. Human beings do not draw their spiritual nourishment from outside but from above -- which in turn “spiritualizes” and sacralizes the horizontal.
Being what he is -- and isn’t -- horizontal man externalizes concerns about his self-inflicted soul murder, and obsesses over the future of "the planet" -- over speculative and fanciful weather reports one hundred years hence.
But right now there is a hell and there is a handbasket, because we can clearly see both with our own third eyes. Furthermore, we can see exactly who is running with baskets in both hands. Look, it's Nancy Pelosi! Harry Reid! Barney Frank!
Again, vertical man never obsesses, let alone enters the state of perpetual hysteria of leftist man. As Eliot wrote, "we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph." Nevertheless, vertical man naturally frets about the deteriorating conditions of the interior of the human world, and its seemingly unimpeded slide into barbarism, spiritual exhaustion, scientistic magic, neo-paganism, self-worship, the cult of the body, abstract materialism, and a vapid and rudderless subjectivism.
Such lost souls cannot discern the signs of the times, much less the direction of history. For them, history can be nothing more than a meaningless tale told by a tenured idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying a nice paycheck and adoring coeds. Horizontal man scoffs at spiritual reality on the peculiar grounds that it cannot exist, denying its presence with that which affirms it by virtue of its self-evident existence.
It is a truism that vertical man paradoxically lives very close to the ground, as he has internalized the cautionary tales of Eden, of Icarus, of Babel, and of various episodes of the Honeymooners. In contrast, horizontal man seizes what does not properly belong to him, not just recapitulating the fall but enshrining it in his ideology. It's no longer a bug but a feature.
But when you cast your vote for horizontal man, you are unwittingly chipping away at the foundation of the very tower in which horizontal man is privileged to sit despite his metaphysical ignorance. For in reality, we only have the luxury of superfluous and slumbering horizontal men because of the vertical men -- real men -- who came before and built the tower brick by brick (except for the cornerstone, which was not made by human hands).
Thus we can see our own possible future by casting our gaze at Europe, which is too high and top-heavy for its own long-forgotten foundations, and is well into the process of toppling into dust. For when horizontal man falls, he doesn’t actually fall far, only back down to the ground where vertical man awaits him.
Yes, we are exiled in time, but for vertical man, time does not alter the basic existential situation which religion is here to address. It is believed by our intellectually sterile and spiritually shallow elites that religion is no longer relevant. In so believing, they underscore their own irrelevance, for to paraphrase Schuon, they blame Truth for their own lack of qualification to understand and accept it. Suffice it to say that to be eternally young is to forever grow -- only inward and upward, toward the primordial light that has already defeated horizontal darkness, today and forever.
So render unto the horizontal the things that belong to the horizontal, but do not store your treasures there, where myths corrupt and chickens doth come home to roost. As always, be as wise as the horizontal serpents who stand on their bellies, but innocent as vertical doves who kneel on wings.
A secularist culture can only exist, so to speak, in the dark. It is a prison in which the human spirit confines itself when it is shut out of the wider world of reality. But as soon as the light comes, all the elaborate mechanism that has been constructed for living in the dark becomes useless. The recovery of spiritual vision gives man back his spiritual freedom. --Russell Kirk