Thursday, March 04, 2010

Life Goes On Within You and Without You

Wow, March Fourth really snuck up on me this year... this month... this week... actually just this moment. For the benefit of recent initiates, I could republish a post on the metacosmic significance of the date, but, in the spirit of conservation, why not save some valuable space and just link to it?

I notice that the coffee is not working its usual magic on my delicate norepinephrine receptors, which must mean that I am jetlagged. Therefore, I am in no condition to come up with a new post. But perhaps I can weave some new thoughts into a previous one.

My father-in-law was perhaps the most cultured person I've ever known, and yet, there was almost no intersection between his and my idea of culture (this is not a criticism, mind you, just an observation). Or, if there was an intersection, we interpreted it in diametrically opposed ways. He knew a little bit about virtually everything, and I would estimate that his IQ was in the 150 range. Plus he had a phenomenal memory, almost like a computer that could draw up raw data in an automatic fashion. But the computer naturally doesn't "understand" the significance of the data it draws up; it merely does so at the command of another, and for purposes it knows nothing about.

In my father-in-law's case, his head seemed like a vast museum with no organizing principle -- or perhaps after an earthquake. Thus, a dinosaur skeleton might be next to the Picasso, which was adjacent to some illuminated manuscripts (which might be nice to look at, but are of course devoid of meaning), which were next to a controversial film about World War I, which was next to a conspiracy-theory book of non-fiction about how Jesus didn't actually die on the cross.

From my perspective, it all seemed like a jumble. But the jumble would come to life for the purpose of argument.

It always seemed to me that argument was not a means to an end for him -- the end being truth -- but an end in itself. I shouldn't say "always," because it took me quite a while to grasp this. For example, when we first met, I was still in graduate school and very much under the influence of the left. When I would give him the naive but earnest talking points of the left, he'd easily shoot them down with conservative arguments. But as I matured and became more conservative, we'd still get into arguments (again, it was his primary mode of social intercourse), only now he'd come at me with those stale leftwing talking points that I had long ago discarded.

So I eventually realized that for him, argument was very much analogous to sport, or play -- the way boys roughhouse with eachother. There was no ultimate meaning to it, and certainly nothing personal, any more than there is ultimate meaning to the Stanley Cup (unless you're Canadian). It was like lawyers who are at each other's throats in the courtroom, but cheerfully go out to dinner afterwards. It's all forgotten. Literally. Tomorrow's arguments would have no connection to today's. Which is quite the opposite of how my mind works, in that I always look for the interior connection of everything.

Anyway, I brought along a book to read on the plane, but it turned out to be so dreary and depressing (it was a straight history of the Reformation) that I put it aside. So I looked through my FIL's huge library for something to read on the trip back. With the exception of the classics (which would be too difficult to read on a plane), I couldn't find a single book that caught my interest, until I found a lone conservative volume, Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe, by Jeffrey Hart. I don't know how it got in there. Maybe it was a gift, or else the New York Times must have had something positive to say about it.

I'm guessing that some marketing genius came up with the title, because it's very misleading. Actually, the book is about a topic we frequently discuss here, which is the higher unity of science/philosophy and theology/mysticism, or what Hart refers to as the Athens-Jerusalem dialectic that has always been at the root of western civilization. Eliminate either side of the dialectic, and that is where the cultural catastrophe comes in.

But now I'm running out of time. The following post is from a year ago, and discusses some of the ideas of Charles DeKoninck, a neo-Thomist philosopher who had a subtle grasp of the science<-->religion or Athens<-->Jerusalem dialectic.

Of all the vicious circles one could imagine, that in which the materialist encloses himself is the most primitive, restrictive, and binding. --Charles DeKoninck, The Cosmos

How does a cosmos that is supposedly purely exterior, become interior to itself? Or again, how does mere existence become experience? How does a primordial nuclear conflagration become conscious of its own truth? It seems that to even ask such questions takes us to the threshold of the unglishable, beyond which lies... what?

But pretending that the question permits of no answer is hardly the same as having answered it. This is an example of how an intrinsic deficit of the scientistic approach is converted to a metaphysical dogma -- a minus is covertly turned into a positive, as it were.

DeKoninck illustrates the problem with the example of a simple electron. One could hypothetically follow its trail "from the water of a spring through the grass eaten by a cow and the cow in turn eaten by this gentleman," but it's the same electron. The electron will have remained identical as it passes from water to cow to gentleman -- even perhaps participating in his thoughts of how yummy the cow tasted. So how does an electron that is part of the pure exteriority of water become part of the pure interiority of a man's psychic life? How does the yummy become the yumminess?

In tracing this electron, there is no conceivable experiment -- nor could there ever be one -- that could disclose the ontological significance of the electron's activities, which simply "are what they are." Only up here, on the macro level of human experience, can we appreciate the infinite gulf between the electrons of a rock and those of a human subject.

But the same can obviously be said of our genetic endowment. Biologists tell us that the DNA of chimps and humans is 99% identical, or whatever it is. Does this mean that a chimp has 99% of the capabilities or ontological value of a human being? Only a moral idiot would suggest such a thing. For whatever else DNA is, it cannot account for the infinite gap between humans and animals. When it comes to electrons or genes, context is everything.

Coincidentally, I see that James has touched on this same issue this morning. The absurcular materialist philosopher asks "how can the intellect be immaterial when no one can imagine how the immaterial can interact with the material?" But "It’s odd that people view this as an objection. I look at the same facts and view it as a proof. Of course you can’t imagine the interaction. That’s the whole point! Did you think we were kidding when we said 'immaterial'? If I could imagine the interaction, then I’d be wrong! Don’t you see that I’m insisting that you can’t imagine any interaction?"

Again, the scientistic bonehead essentially says, "Duh, I don't see anything immaterial. So it must not exist." Which is about as sophisticated as a child putting a blanket over his head and asking "who turned off the lights?!"

The point is, any attempt at an even minimally adequate ontology or epistemology breaks down if we fail to admit the reality of the immaterial. But once you admit the immaterial, then you are on a path that inevitably leads straight to God -- or O, if you like. Therefore, the contemporary materialist would prefer to promulgate a hopelessly incoherent worldview to ceding an inch of ground to any form of theism. I am quite sure this explains the spluttering hysteria and anti-intellectualism of a Queeg and his rabble of howling clones.

Raccoon metaphysics looks at the same mysteries as science, but regards them as doors or windows instead of walls. We begin with the idea that the interior of the cosmos is not something that is magically and unaccountably added later on in a wholly inexplicable manner. Rather, we say that there cannot not be an interior, for the simple reason that any outside by definition has an inside. We can only know of the without from the standpoint of the within.

For example, when Jesus says that his Kingdom is "within," this is what he means. In the Gospel of Thomas, he says the kingdom of heaven is spread out across the earth, only people do not see it. Even if you question the authenticity of that book, I'm sure this is a sentiment Jesus would endorse. (One might even say that the kingdom is withinness as such, with certain qualifications.)

So, in Raccoon metaphysics we begin with interiority as an irreducible cosmic category. Indeed, if you try to reduce interiority to anything else, you are what we call a "moron." Nor will we bother debating you, for you are in essence affirming the thoroughly self-refuting position that neither truth nor the intellect that knows it actually exist in any real way. Go away and think some more. Preferably on your knees.

The notion of cosmic interiority is a key that opens many locks, and is the unifying concept that helps us to fruitfully approach most of the other mysteries in which we seem to be plunged. These would include wholeness, intelligibility, beauty, morality, love, individuality, creativity -- pretty much everything that defines the human world. In contrast, the bonehead materialist must reduce these interior realities to meaningless side effects of the more fundamental exterior, again destroying that which he presumes to explain. This is nothing less than intellectual and spiritual genocide.

I came across an all too typical example yesterday, which was breathtaking in its breezy confidence and abject stupidity -- you know, in the way that members of the MSM always combine those qualities. Let's see if I can track down the link... Here it is: Why Dreams Mean Less Than We Think. In short, move along, nothing to see here. A couple of scientific experts have "proved" that dreams are just a "complex but observable interaction of proteins and neurons and other mostly uncontrolled cellular activity." In a statement of unsurpassable naiveté, the author assures us that "After all, brain activity isn't mystical but — for the most part — highly predictable."

What's with the qualifier he slips in there, "for the most part"? What, is brain activity 51% uncontrolled cellular activity and 49% mystical? The tenured ape. If my dreams are nothing more than "uncontrolled cellular activity," why have they gradually transformed in tone and content as I have grown spiritually? Even on the face of it, the scientistic position is absurd. When you are granted one of those epic transformational dreams that are so pregnant with meaning, you know that you could no more have produced it than you could have made Citizen Kane in your sleep.

Here again, this is a classic case of scientistic bait-and-switch, of "(implicit) materialism in, (explicit) materialism out" -- of a metaphysical assumption dressed up as a scientific conclusion. In one therapy session, I could prove to these scientists that they are not even wrong about dreams. Or maybe not, depending upon their level of defensiveness and denial.

O, endarkened trolls, remember the sacred guffah-ha! experience, for we are not laughing with you, but at you and the inrisible yolk you can never crack!

But it is with the philosophical sense as it is with the sense of humor. All the arguments in the world aiming at showing the humor of a farce cannot make a person without a sense of humor laugh. A farce has lost its savor when one has demonstrated its risible qualities. The man without humor will follow our dialectic, but he will not laugh.... [And] we will laugh all the more at the spectacle infinitely more comic of the man without a sense of humor's grotesque disdain for that which he cannot apreciate. --DeKoninck

15 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

Glad you had a safe trip!

Speaking of your FIL, you wrote:
"...I eventually realized that for him, argument was very much analogous to sport, or play.... There was no ultimate meaning to it, and certainly nothing personal...."

I worked for a time with a very talented man who displayed this trait. We planned business ventures together, and generally schemed on the future -- but he would forever contradict yesterday's plan. When I finally confronted him about it, he said, "What's the problem? It's all just words!"

Ouch!
Words without connections. Ouch!

(BTW, isn't jet-lag a type of motion sickness? Get some rest!)

3/04/2010 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

More on topic than you might at first think. Imagine yourself in Athens and "listen" carefully to this...we're not that different from them.

3/04/2010 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Nomo:

Hart goes into that very passage in great detail. I'm pretty sure I'll be discussing it in a later post.

3/04/2010 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous DAS Philosoph. said...

Bob wrote:

"...I eventually realized that for him, argument was very much analogous to sport, or play -- the way boys roughhouse with eachother. There was no ultimate meaning to it..."

The mindset you describe above, I believe, is not a bad one to maintain.

The spiritual rationale, we note, is the Cosmos must be seen in just such a fashion by its Creator, if we are to believe in Monotheism.

It is inevitable that the reason for all existence is, in fact, play. It is, by an imperative inference, the play of God.

So why not reproduce this down to our level? Play hard, and then rest well. No need to get seriously hung up on it.

3/04/2010 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

Bob is so able to bottomline what it's like relating to my dad. I wish I knew him when I was growing up with the guy!
Here is a link to where he went to high school. I think his IQ was at least 150, but I would guess closer to 160.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronx_High_School_of_Science

He always said that he was smart enough to get into this school, but was so afraid to fail that he underachieved. He went on to what was not a very prestigious college at the time: Adelphi on Long Island. It's now Adelphi University. He met my mom there and ran into her again 7 years later.

In between, he went to Germany as an MP during the Korean War (and almost got killed in a bar while on duty, I think trying to break up a fight?)

Then went to Los Angeles for a while to work for his dad, but ended up at the beach more often than at work (according to him.)

He went back to New York, and ran into my mom at an Adelphi lacrosse game he went to with a friend on a whim. My mom was there with someone else, but had always hoped she'd see my dad again (as did my dad's mom, who liked my mom better than the other girls he was running around with.) And there you have it!

By the way, I would ask that you not talk about Lord Stanley's Cup that way. To some of us, it's the Holy Grail (I'd like to start a rumor right here that it once contained some of Gretzky's blood obtained after a high sticking major to the eyebrow.)

3/04/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Observer X said...

Well, in this post, you convince us mind is probably interior and immaterial.

Although there may be a small chance mind is the energetic sequelae of sputtering synapses burning ATP, let's hope not. That would be banal. Besides, immateriality is the more likely explanation.

Although your explanation of why a purely materialist explanation of mind cannot be possible, oddly enough, doesn't seem intelligle to me, I don't have to buy it since I already think interiority is immaterial for other reasons, namely, the observation there are mulitple layers to interiority.

The interiority we now know is that of mind, but via the faculty of intuition we can peek through an apeture at something even larger and more spacious. Probably other and higher levels exist after that.

The trail does inevitably lead to some final level. At this level one might find something/one irreducible.

This picture explains the experience of interiority better than materialist theory. But you already knew that.

Anyhow, carry on, chip chip cheerio.

3/04/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

Quite OT: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527506.100-where-do-atheists-come-from.html

Welcome home, Bob.

3/04/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

In short, move along, nothing to see here. A couple of scientific experts have "proved" that dreams are just a "complex but observable interaction of proteins and neurons and other mostly uncontrolled cellular activity." In a statement of unsurpassable naiveté, the author assures us that "After all, brain activity isn't mystical but — for the most part — highly predictable."

I had a similar reaction watching a program on Steven Hawking and how the universe was created. I was anticipating some real comment on how matter was created from nothing but got nothing more than matter was once really dense then exploded creating our universe. Oh yea, there is a universal vacuum cleaner that patiently sucks up matter (black hole) until it becomes really dense and then it explodes again. Once I realized the source of my disappointment was definitional; what I and they mean by creation, I was okay with it. Physicists have only a few tools to measure with and can only state and theorize what they can measure. They are limited by their tools (same with dream guy). The old saying, if all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.

I found myself very interested in their explanation of String Theory. Two things popped into mind: 1) God might be a guitar player, and 2) that the theory posits 11 dimensions to explain the weakness of gravity relative to the other 3 energies released during the bang in our 3 dimensions. When the physicist start talking of other dimensions, things get real interesting. I am not sure how they deduce 11 dimensions, nor what the dimensions are like, but I have for sometime wondered about the connectedness of our world to other dimensions within the universe and how they interrelate. I know this is mind candy, but it does beg for imaginative thought. I like to imagine things - it has a God like quality to it - ditto dreams.

3/04/2010 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

String theory... so far all just math. It does have a wonderful elegance though.

3/04/2010 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Hey, Van. In case you don't normally watch Glenn Beck, I recommend watching tomorrow - all about what is happening in our schools (like you dont' already know).

3/04/2010 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous NickyB said...

Bob

The primacy of consciousness or Mind is something we may not escape, even the bonhead materialist. You don't have to accept Berkleyan idealism here. It simply means that without mind there would be not be any matter to speak of. In other words, if it were possible to abstact mind totally out of matter, then what would be left? Anything at all? How do we know that there is anything of 'objective reality' to speak of unless it appears in Mind. To me it seems there is no way out of this position and so all talk of neurons generating mind is secondary. That is, it is a concept that appears in Mind. Run whichever way you like, there doesn't seem any escaping Mind as our primary experience or indeed only experience of the metaphysical hypothesis of matter.

3/05/2010 02:22:00 AM  
Blogger Retriever said...

Belatedly, my condolences to your family and especially your wife, on the death of her father.

Really enjoyed your description of arguments with him, reminded me of many lively discussions with my late father in law. Tho, with him, it was not so much play as him being a lawyer, who could shift from one point of view to another rather rapidly. Winning the goal.

Nudged my husband and chuckled at the point in the film "A Beautiful Mind" where he describes his theory about how all the males can get a girl by not all trying to win the hottest one...

3/05/2010 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"From my perspective, it all seemed like a jumble. But the jumble would come to life for the purpose of argument.

It always seemed to me that argument was not a means to an end for him -- the end being truth -- but an end in itself."

And you pretty much always find that sport tied to ,

""Duh, I don't see anything immaterial. So it must not exist.""

And of course,

"So, in Raccoon metaphysics we begin with interiority as an irreducible cosmic category. Indeed, if you try to reduce interiority to anything else, you are what we call a "moron." Nor will we bother debating you, for you are in essence affirming the thoroughly self-refuting position that neither truth nor the intellect that knows it actually exist in any real way. Go away and think some more. Preferably on your knees. "

It's really more like a kid pulling a blanket over their head and asking where they went.

Ass-tounding.

3/05/2010 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Nomo said "...I recommend watching tomorrow - all about what is happening in our schools (like you dont' already know)."

Yep. It's been fun watching Beck discover and drill further into progressivism, I used to flip the dial or over to CD's when he came on, but he's become a rare example of someone in that sort of position actually learning something new. Looks like he's also getting beyond Wilson & TR (although I made actual hoops and hollers when he began mentioning them as villians rather than heroes - I think he was pretty much the first nat'l person to do so), and actually mentioned William Godwin a week or two ago as the entry point of determinism into mainstream English thought.

The next shoe to drop will be when he realizes that the '"The Coming Insurrection" booklet by The Invisible Committee' that he's been warning about, is little more than re-fried Rousseau... when he gets to that point, then I believe we really will see blood come shooting out of his eyes as all the pieces click together!

3/05/2010 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Tigtog said:
"I had a similar reaction watching a program on Steven Hawking and how the universe was created. I was anticipating some real comment on how matter was created from nothing but got nothing more than matter was once really dense then exploded creating our universe. Oh yea, there is a universal vacuum cleaner that patiently sucks up matter (black hole) until it becomes really dense and then it explodes again. Once I realized the source of my disappointment was definitional.."

Don't watch the recent movie, "Knowing" which I did last night. An athiest must have written it. What an immature "explanation" of the Biblical literature.

3/05/2010 11:36:00 AM  

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