Life Goes On Within You and Without You
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