Promissory Gnosis in the Cosmic Treasury
I was moving some stuff around my office and found an old post-it on the floor, under the desk. On it was written the marvelous sentence, I was beginning to sense that the night had written a check that the daylight couldn't cash. Those aren't my words. I lifted them from Lileks, who was quoting another writer whose name I can't recall. I found the sentence arresting enough to file away for future abuse.
In a way, that's the big question, isn't it? We're only alive and in the light for a brief period of time between two dark vaults of eternity. In that brief span of time, can we shed sufficient light on our murky past to comprehend it? Even scientists who are otherwise blinded by the literal daylight recognize that our origins are obscured in a figurative mystery that the worst of them only abuse in order to simplify.
After all, anyone can make a mystery go away by imagining what's in it. In this regard, scientistic fantasies are really no different -- and serve the identical function -- as the most primitive tribal stories of cosmic and human origins. We forget that "Big Bang" was originally a term of ridicule. Which it should be, if it is taken to be a sufficient explanation of creation in all its dimensions and modes, vertical and horizontal, exterior and interior.
So the question is, in being inexplicably conceived and burped out of the cosmic voidgin, has time written us a bad check that eternity cannot cash?
Looked at strictly temporally, our lives are a culmination, the detritus left by 13.7 billion years of meandering evolution, just the cosmic effluvia deposited along the banks at the terminal moraine of the now. If our existence were truly limited to this temporal line of credit, it would be nigh impossible to account for the miracle of the human subject -- not just that it is, but what it knows, for radical contingency could never know absolute necessity.
For really, all adolescent scientistic kidding aside, how, while drifting along in the stream of mere material shuffling, did the cosmic current somehow raise itself above the plane of matter, and awaken to a non-empirical dimension of immaterial space? That’s some evolutionary currency. The question is, is it backed by the full faith and credit of the Divine Treasury, or is it only a rubber check issued by the Bank of Darwin located in Fort Hard Knocks?
Some 3.85 billion years ago, the evolutionary stream defiantly wrapped around itself and created a tiny loophole amidst the greater whole. Up to that point, the cosmos was truly “one.” But it was a purely material one whose circumference was everywhere and center nowhere. With the emergence of Life as such, the cosmos now had a center, a center with branches in every living thing. In having a center, it now had a here and a now, whereas before, it only had a featureless everywhere.
For Life itself is not a spatial center but a hierarchical and therefore vertical center. Whatever else Life is, it manifests something that mere matter does not. To paraphrase E.F. Schumacher, it is more fruitful to think of matter as “life minus x” than it is to think of life as “matter plus x.”
This is why it is hopeless to defer to biology as to the nature of Life as such. As I mentioned in the book, a biologist knows no more about the nature of life than a watchmaker does about the nature of time. As I have noted before, although it is obvious to me that the cosmos manifests intelligent design, I do not rely on this to inductively leap the conclusion that God therefore exists. This is like proving the existence of time by studying watches.
Etymologically, the word evolution is linked to the word for “unroll,” as in the way an ancient manuscript was unfurled. On the one hand, we see that the unrolling tide of evolution has been accompanied by increasing novelty and complexity which is tucked away in that evolutionary data bank known as the genome. But where does the compound interest come from?
In other words, accompanying the horizontal course of evolution has been a vertical liftoff as well. As human beings, this is the only horizon we are really interested in. This vertical horizon is an area of increasing centration, following in the wake of that first declaration of vertical independence represented by Life. Life is that narrow slot we have all leapt through in order to have our precarious subjective existence, like a little eddy formed in the stream of time.
But instead of being swallowed up by the tide, that little primordial eddy grew in strength, widened, and gained increasing vertical centration. Still surfing atop the precarious flow of matter and information -- a little whirling dance on the knife edge between immaterial being and material non-being (paraphrasing Hans Jonas) -- mere animals eventually awakened to humanness.
And that is not all, for the centration and widening of vertical evolution did not end with that first proto-human primate looking around and thinking to himself, “Hmm. I’m alive. I am screwed.” Rather, it seems that, immediately upon awakening to his humanness some 35 to 40,000 years, our distinguished furbear pledged allegiance to the vertical order that had sponsored him. Admittedly, he sometimes did this in awkward and gruesome ways, such as human sacrifice, self-mutilation, and suicide bombing. But he also did it in some preternaturally beautiful ways, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux and Alta Mira.
Which raises an interesting question. Just what was this new subjective dimension that human beings had stumbled upon? Most mysteriously, why was it not an empty vault? In other words, why did it contain such riches as aesthetic standards? What’s the point of beauty? For that matter, why is the world that we awakened to so beautiful? Is it really beautiful? Or do we just see it that way? If the latter, why?
So human beings erected an altar. The purpose of the altar was to further “widen” that same little slot that was initially opened up by life. By widening that slot, human beings obtained increasing awareness of other inexplicable vertical characteristics, forces, and luxury capaxities: a sense of the sacred, the penumbra of holiness, love of truth, understanding of good and evil, refinement of the heart. Each of these represented a subjectively objective reality that was discovered, not invented.
For proto-man to become mankind proper, it was a matter of assimilating more and more of what was discovered in the vertical, all of these traits and capacities that have no Darwinian utility at all. For vertical evolution does not involve becoming a better animal, but a better human. And the standard of humanness is not found in the horizontal world bequeathed to us by Darwin, nor by naive scientism in general. Mankind owes nothing to Darwin for those things that lift us above the tide of animal evolution.
For there are only two absolutes; or a relative absolute and an absolute Absolute. Everything else is a matter of degree and scale. At one end -- call it the lower vertical -- is pure insentient matter. The secularist Sons of the Earth have pledged their allegiance to Omnipotent Matter, Mother of All Mamafestation. This is Horizontal Man. He is indeed made in the image of that which he reveres and idealizes. He is king of the lowerarchy, a prince in hell.
At the other end of the spectrum, at the toppermost of the poppermost of the cosmic hierarchy, is the true Absolute, the Sovereign Good, the Alpha and Omega that radiates its All-Possibility down into the herebelow. This is the transcendent peak toward which Sons of the Light fix their gaze. For we are neither dirt nor divinity, but somewhere and someone in between.
And that is not all. For in a hierarchical cosmos, each created thing is superior to something below it and inferior to something above. As such, "ye shall be godless" is logically equivalent to the primordial lie, “ye shall be as gods." Thus, secular man is his own god, albeit the petty flatland god of an ontologically diminished horizontality. In his relativism he pretends to feel no better than anyone else, but in elevating his relativism to an absolute, he secretly knows that he is superior to everyone, especially God. He has no way of knowing his place in the cosmic scheme, his proper caste.
This represents a small triumph for darkness, the primordial darkness accompanied by belief in the serpent’s promise of horizontal self-sufficiency in the closed circle of animal existence. You may have noticed that the serpent has insufficient funds to back that check written in the cosmic dark. As such, there's no way to amortize your lifeloan.