Friday, March 05, 2010

Coming Face to Face With Reality

I'm waaaay behind in my workwork, so we may be reduced to stale bobservations for awhile. I'll try to select ones that seem to have been little-noted nor long remembered, having generated few comments at the time.... As always, it is edited and fortified with essential and existential vertimins.

Beauty is a crystallization of a certain aspect of universal joy; it is a limitlessness expressed by a limit. --F. Schuon

Ever since the scientific revolution, we have tended to divide the world into a public sphere of objective, measurable reality and a private sphere of ephemeral, subjective perceptions. In this view, the external world is considered the fundamental reality, while consciousness is reduced to an epiphenomenon, so that all our perceptions of the world -- its vivid colors, sounds, tastes, and textures -- are rendered meaningless, revealing nothing intrinsic to the cosmos. All subjective qualities are reduced to quantities -- for example, our perception of the redness of an apple is reduced to a particular frequency of light, or music is reduced to vibrating air molecules striking against our ear drums.

As we wrote in our book of the sane gnome, "science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (where else could it begin?), but quickly saws off that familiar limb by 'excluding everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,' consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description -- the very world it started with -- to 'an ontological limbo.'"

Only this second, abstract world is considered to disclose valid information about the universe, whereas all of our initial impressions of color, sound, texture, beauty, and meaning supposedly reveal nothing "really real" about the universe, only about our own peculiar neurology.

But one of the fundamental tenets of esoterism is that the universe not only has a within that is uniquely accessible to humans, but that the very cosmos is the "exteriorization" or crystallization of this same within. In other words, the universe is not simply an exterior made up of discrete parts that are external to one another. Rather, by looking at the parts in a certain way, we may intuit a wholeness in the world that in turn reveals its interior dimension. Parts show us only the exterior of the cosmos, while wholeness lures us toward the Great Within.

Here is how St. Augustine characterized this Great Within: "Men go to gape at mountain peaks, at the bottomless tides of the seas, the broad sweep of rivers, the encircling ocean and the motion of the stars; and yet, they leave themselves unnoticed; they do not marvel at themselves."

It seems that we originally gain access to the Great Within through the human face. As infants, our whole world is oriented toward the mother's face. Obviously, in looking at a face, we don't first attend to a nose here, an eye there, a mouth there, and then inductively leap to the conclusion that faces exist. Rather, without even knowing it, we spontaneously attend to the face as a whole, and can instantaneously distinguish one face from another and one expression from another. (Thus, we are all born disciples of Polanyi, in that facial features are "subsidiary knowledge" on the way to the "focal knowledge" of the face.)

In attending to the mother's face, the baby gradually discovers that the mother has a living interior, and through her changing expressions -- or, specifically, through a dance of reciprocity between faces -- he begins to discover his own interior space. In other words, a space opens up between the two faces. This space is everything, for it is the opening of the "transitional space" where thought takes root. Thought begins with the simultaneous affirmation and negation of the sensory realm.

Severely autistic children, for example, do not see whole "faces," but only a collection of parts, so that they are never fully ushered into the intersubjective Withinness of the cosmos. Instead, they can be left isolated in the bizarre and frightening existence of a living death -- immersed in a sea of things that move and have independent existence, but reveal no intrinsic meaning. Adhering to the strict scientistic view -- which regards the "within" as mere subjective "noise" -- one would have to say that people with autism are more in touch with reality than anyone else, which is absurd.

Just as the face allows us to see the within of the person "behind" it, the wholeness of the cosmos invites us to see beyond its surface. (One of the central points of my book is that modern physics reveals the cosmos to be an internally related whole, not just a collection of exterior parts.)

Paradoxically, -- but not really -- we can know the interior only by focusing on the exterior. Just as the face is the meaning of its features, the meaning of existence can be discovered by dwelling in its features. Poets, for example, have always understood that by indwelling nature we can intuit what dwells within nature -- we are floating atop a sea of subsidiary clues that focally point beyond themselves to a hidden reality, which in turn throws out in-sights like sparks from a central fire. By attending to things and events in a certain "actively passive" way, we allow them to "speak" to us, and this in turn in-forms us about their nature.

Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the term "inscape" to refer to this more intense experience of observing things in such a way that their intrinsic qualities emerge. He believed that by allowing one's attention to be drawn to a bird in flight, a tree, a landscape, we allow their character to act upon us through a union of the inner and outer worlds. Similarly, Goethe argued that we discover the true nature of things through a contemplative kind of looking which he called "seeing with exactitude." By doing this, we can open ourselves to what the cosmos is telling us about itself (and by extension, ourselves).

This being so, we can also see that exploration of the Great Within will yield valid insights about the cosmos. As Schuon writes, certain gifted metaphysical or mystical poets such as Dante are able to express "spiritual realities with the help of the beauty of their souls." In this regard, "it is a matter of endowment far more than of method, for not every man has the gift of sincerely expressing truths that go beyond ordinary humanity." One secret denied the materialist is that the world is as beautiful -- or as meaningless -- as the soul's capacity to see it.

This has obvious theological implications. For example, what is scripture but an exterior narrative that tells us of the within of God? Just as it is a mistake to view nature as an object, one makes the same mistake in viewing scripture only as a historical narrative of external events. Rather, those events have a within which is their truest teaching. As Meister Eckhart wrote, "If you would have the kernel, you must break the shell."

It can also be argued that the figure of Jesus answers the deepest human longing to "see the face of God," and thereby know his Within most intimately. Again, the whole point of the gospels, if you are a Christian, is that their external narrative reveals the interior God. You cannot dismantle or deconstruct the gospel stories, for this would be like disassembling a human face to try to understand its expression. We see by a sort of interior light when we dwell in faith, for faith is actually foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths -- knowledge of approaching discoveries over the interior horizon of things.

As the poet Novalis put it, "The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet." If you are feeling boxed in by the materialistic paradigm of modernity, know that you may escape it any time through any of the infinite inscapes that both surround and abide within us. For being mirrorcles of the Absolute, we may penetrate nature only because it penetrates us in a higher realm of transcendent union.

The sacred mountain, seat of the Gods, is not to be found in space even though it is visible and tangible.... For the man of the golden age to climb a mountain was in truth to approach the Principle; to watch a stream was to see universal Possibility at the same time as the flow of forms.

In our day to climb a mountain -- and there is no longer a mountain that is the "center of the world" -- is to "conquer" its summit; the ascent is no longer a spiritual act but a profanation. Man, in his aspect of human animal, makes himself God. The gates of Heaven, mysteriously present in nature, close before him
. --F. Schuon, Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts

27 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

""... science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (where else could it begin?)"

Exactly!

", but quickly saws off that familiar limb by 'excluding everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,'"

"AHHHhhhhh... falllllllling...downnnnnnnnnn"

"... consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description -- the very world it started with -- to 'an ontological limbo.'
Only this second, abstract world is considered to disclose valid information about the universe, whereas all of our initial impressions of color, sound, texture, beauty, and meaning supposedly reveal nothing "really real" about the universe, only about our own peculiar neurology."

It's very much like people creating and joining something like "Second World", and then denying the existence of anything outside of it unless it can be demonstrated to exist from within 'Second World'.

Crazy.

3/05/2010 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

... while they are sitting there playing the game!

3/05/2010 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Good words:
...we are floating atop a sea of subsidiary clues that focally point beyond themselves to a hidden reality, which in turn throws out in-sights like sparks from a central fire. By attending to things and events in a certain "actively passive" way, we allow them to "speak" to us, and this in turn in-forms us about their nature.

"Attending to things...in a certain actively passive way" might sound vague to some, but I think it is quite precise. As an example, in the case of "stress" theories about the human organism, it is described as "intentional inhibition of automatic reaction, in stillness."

Of course, the words aren't the trick. The trick is in doing it.

3/05/2010 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

In the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox, the face is regarded as 'cruciform' - revealing of the Cross. Therein we see the suffering of the person, perhaps, along with the cross-shaped brow/nose... but I guess as you have said that a face reveals the entire interior of the one who bears it, the thought is that in this way the Cross itself represents the face of the Cosmos; for it is the tree of life.

By the way, I found this book (on google books you can get some of it) which opens a link between Yeat's poetry and a lot of the sort of esoteric stuff we have come to consider here.

Both he and Charles Williams seem to lack a traditional backbone strong enough to digest stuff like what you would find in the Kabbalah, but nonetheless, he taps into real points of the symbolic interior of the man.

3/05/2010 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Das philosoph said...

Bob, another reason external reality is popularly given more weight than the internal is its more precise and vivid intersubjectivity.

A material phenomenon like the 'El Capitan' massif in Yosemite has precise and predictable properties; All who view it agree it is very high and when measured it measures the same height each time. And so forth.

People largely can agree about El Capitan.

When it comes to interiority, the matchup is not so precise and for some reason this makes people think interior objects are less real. This is a judgment call that is very persistent and pervasive.

What they mean to say is that interiority is not as precisely intersubjective.

The experienceof anger, for example, can be assigned an intensity based on subjective experience, but it is unmeasurable by instrumentation and therefore cannot be calibrated. There is no contact with the organs of external sense.

People don't trust things that are not filtered through the regular sense organs; perhaps it is a survival adaptation. But to call them unreal or less important is a gross error, of course.

The fix for the problem is mind reading or shared mind. If I could read your mind, and so could anyone else, and then all agreed on what we were reading, then the problem of calling interiority unreal or invalid would vanish under the crush of intersubjectivity.

3/05/2010 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

You cannot dismantle or deconstruct the gospel stories, for this would be like disassembling a human face to try to understand its expression.

This of course doesn't stop professional middlebrow alcoholic harlequin Chris Hitchens from re-writing the 10 Commandments.

I don't think Hitch is actively possessed by demons like Maher, but he really does sometimes seem beyond hope--like a truly spiritually autistic man.

3/05/2010 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

consciousness is reduced to an epiphenomenon, so that all our perceptions of the world -- its vivid colors, sounds, tastes, and textures -- are rendered meaningless, revealing nothing intrinsic to the cosmos. All subjective qualities are reduced to quantities -- for example, our perception of the redness of an apple is reduced to a particular frequency of light, or music is reduced to vibrating air molecules striking against our ear drums

You are quite wrong about the relation of mind and body posited by science.

Whatever the nature of consciousness, it is obviously not "meaningless" or "revealing nothing", rather, it is linked to the outside world via sensation. And quite a bit is known about how the brain processes sensory signals, and it is roughly opposite to what you say. The redness of an apple is not only a function of the frequency of light, but a function of the brain's interaction with frequency of light, which is why an apple appears red under a variety of different kinds of illumination (see Edwin Land's retinex theory for an early theory of how this works).

I don't know if this affects the rest of your post, except that it seems to me a big mistake to define spirituality in opposition to materialism, especially if you have to caricature materialism to do it.

3/05/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Anonymous: While what you say is true, what exactly does the Redness of an apple *mean*? What *is* red? Materially we can often talk about material cause, efficient cause, but to a limited extent (only) touch on the notion of the formal cause or final cause. When it comes to a given apple, say, we can say for certain what the material cause is, and the efficient cause we've gotten pretty far on (we know a lot more about biology now.) Formal cause is something that we can answer kind of emptily: because the result of the growth takes a form which re-emits light to us in a way that we see it red... and final cause? Our best explanation is that the tree adapts itself - even though it has no will of course - to be a particular color for perhaps this or another reason.

I don't think he is arguing against material understandings per se but rather against them as a sole means of knowledge.

We might even say that such knowledge is itself secondary; divine slack is far more important than knowing how an apple grows.

3/05/2010 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The scientific method ends up dealing with a very restricted set of consensus truths, those things that can be agreed to, based on independent and almost stylized verification. As the verification process is more and more walled up and controlled, the consensus is more easily manipulated. This was certainly the case with “climate science” regarding AGW. I read The Language of God by Dr. Francis Collins recently. He seems like a nice person and a bright guy for a bureaucrat, and, of course, I agree with his view on theistic evolution. He clearly, though, needs to read OCUG (as does everybody).

By the way, you were talking about the chimp genome versus the human genome the other day. It seems that the chances of finding a protein-building gene sequence that is common to both the chimp and the human is 100%. However, 2% of the time the “random” or “junk DNA” gene sequences will be unique to one species or the other. I would recommend the book as a good source for learning about genetics and DNA on the pop science level. It also gave me an understanding of the issue science has with Intelligent Design – I always thought ID was just a cute name for theistic evolution. I was wrong.

That ended up being OT. Sorry.

3/05/2010 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> possessed by demons like Maher

Are there demons that stupid?

3/05/2010 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> You are quite wrong about the relation of mind and body posited by science.

There is no such thing as a "relation of mind and body posited by science". Science does not posit a relationship between mind and body - in fact, it has nothing to say on the subject whatsoever, by definition.

Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

The moment you start talking about the relationship between mind and body, you have instantly jumped out of the realm of science, and into the realm of philosophy. This is one of the standard modern confusions, and is why atheist types often make the amusing assumption that they can "disprove" religious doctrines by means of science.

3/05/2010 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"it seems to me a big mistake to define spirituality in opposition to materialism, especially if you have to caricature materialism to do it."

Not that he's capable of learning, but

materialism n 1: a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter

3/05/2010 01:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Observer X said...

Bob and Warren:

You may have called the erudite anon on the matter of mind and science.

However, the anon brings up a valid point.

Why employ terms like "meaningless" or "revealing nothing?" You toss them into your essay where they are experienced as spices that don't belong in the mix.

That is because they are seemingly unconnected to the matter at hand. "Meaningless" in connection to what exactly? And how can something reveal nothing? More likely, they don't reveal what you want them to.

Your entire blog is directed towards forcing the reader to concede the primacy of the immaterial.

But, you're not going to get it, Sir.

That is not your fault, but rather the fault of the peculiarly divided nature of minds. We are literally walled off from one another by vaults of bone.

No amount of writing will suffice to cross this divide.

The only thing to do is to live your own truth. No amount of materialist evidence will get you to abandon your experiences of "0" which you know to be true.

The materialist will not come to your side unless they have some similar experience. That's how it is.

3/05/2010 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"Your entire blog is directed towards forcing the reader to concede the primacy of the immaterial."

Not sure which of your bodily orifices you pulled this idea out of, but I write for the benefit of those who understand me, -- especially me -- not for those who don't.

3/05/2010 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Observer X:

One small problem: the world view of the strict materialist is incoherent. This blog has made that abundantly clear. As for "materialist evidence" that would cause anyone to disown their most fundamental experiences of the world -- this too is prima facie absurd. The one kind of evidence that is no evidence at all to the person contemplating spiritual reality is material evidence.

Re: "walled off" and "no amount of writing" etc. How, Sir, are you then able to make your ideas known to me? What you are getting at is true in some trivial sense, but what matters -- what is astonishing -- is the fact that we are NOT completely walled off from each other, and certainly not from God.

3/05/2010 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> We are literally walled off from one another by vaults of bone.

Beg the question much?

I suppose that if you start with materialist assumptions - which are utterly refuted by every moment of your actual experience - then yes, you are very likely to reach materialist conclusions.

Duh.

3/05/2010 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Warren: you don't know what you are talking about. There are entire fields of science devoted to understanding how the mind is grounded in material processes (psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, cybernetics). It is true that these fields tend to impinge on philosophy due to the nature of their subject. You said "you have instantly jumped out of the realm of science, and into the realm of philosophy." The border between these realms is blurry and getting blurrier every day.

RC: Why should science be required to answer formless questions like "what exactly does the Redness of an apple *mean*? What *is* red?" You could ask a poet the same questions and he would laugh at you too.

GB: Oh, dictionary definitions. I thought you had better ammunition than that.

Try this thought on: I assume from the title of your book you acknowledge that there is, in fact, one universe. The material basis of the mental functioning is becoming better understood every day. Does this mean there is no spirituality, no poetry, no mind, no subjectivity? Of course not. The material description of reality and mind is not the only one, but there is only one reality. Given the strength of science, any sort of spirituality better not pick a fight with science, because it will lose. Look at the fundamentalists for example, they have staked their reputation on the falsity of evolution, so they look more and more ridiculous to anyone with a functioning brain.


Any spirituality that hopes to survive in the modern world had better figure out how to coexist with science.

3/05/2010 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> There are entire fields of science devoted to understanding how the mind is grounded in material processes

No kidding! Well, what won't they think of next?

>> The border between these realms is blurry and getting blurrier every day.

I'm sure it must look blurry if you have no idea what "philosophy" and "science" mean, while assuming that you do. No disgrace there - plenty of philosophers and scientists seem to be in the same boat (which is all that your comments actually show).

3/05/2010 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

A dictionary of all things! Only a leftist could criticize words for actually meaning what they mean.

3/05/2010 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Warren: thank goodness all those scientists and philosophers have you, a random blog commenter, to tell them their business.

GB: I notice you like to play stupid when cornered.

BTW, I know you like to talk about "mind parasites", but check out this real one. Weird!

3/05/2010 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

While reading "International Transdimensional Raccoon Day" I was reminded that Petey sells indulgences; I think I am in need of one. Seems my dog likes to scavenge most any morsel his very sensitive nose can find, this in turn occasionally results in poop with odorosity on an industrial scale. I don't pick that super stinky crap up from my neighbors yard.
Since this is a reoccurring shortcoming on my part and not likely to end, I thought that a six pack of Fat Tire or Steel Head Pale Ale would be appropriate.

3/05/2010 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

"The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean […] When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak openly, nor let us answer. Till that need can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"

----C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

3/05/2010 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

I notice that Anonymous likes to call the other guy stupid when cornered by his dictionary.

3/05/2010 09:48:00 PM  
Anonymous spanky said...

Erudite Anon or Moronanon?

3/05/2010 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

This of course doesn't stop professional middlebrow alcoholic harlequin Chris Hitchens from re-writing the 10 Commandments.

I don't think Hitch is actively possessed by demons like Maher, but he really does sometimes seem beyond hope--like a truly spiritually autistic man.

Northern Bandit, ran into Chris Hitchens two weeks ago in Heathrow. He was a very personable guy. I have danced with his opinions over the years, but generally discount his visceral hatred of religion and church, because it seems it is base anger supported by a veneer of intellect. I cannot tell whether his anger is caused by his innate class view of life (a lot of Europeans share this) or whether he was refused some basic love as a child. Regardless, generally I find him to be an entertaining intellect, and generally honest in his opinions. He serves his purpose, which is to make people think. He is honest in that his thoughts are controlled by him and not the salon. This I find refreshing.

3/06/2010 06:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Observer X said...

Bob, I don't think you write for the benefit of your friends or yourself. Or, you would disable the anonymous function.

Why do you keep it?

3/06/2010 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In the hope that an anonymous commenter is just a Raccoon I've never met instead of an ill-educated loser who can't stay away.

3/06/2010 10:11:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home