Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Organ Failure and Spiritual Death

The supralogical is superior to the logical, the logical to the illogical. --Ananda Coomaraswamy

While one should never base a belief in God on the inevitable gaps in our knowledge -- except perhaps as a jumping-in point -- it is nevertheless a point of great significance that we are immersed in a universe of irreducible mystery, and that this mystery includes several fundamental conundrums that will never be beaten by science.

The mysteries to which I refer represent limits to our cognition, as opposed to its content; or, one might say that they are our containers (♀), but can never be the contained (♂). While we can think about them rationally, we can never arrive at any satisfactory intellectual (in the lower, profane sense) answer as to what they actually are, any more than the hand can grasp itself, for they are the very conditions of our being and knowing.

To cite one obvious example, one must be alive in order to know, which is why explicit or articulated knowledge cannot contain Life. (True enough, Life is obviously a kind of hyper-sophisticated unarticulated knowledge, but we'll get to that later.) We all act as if we know what Life is, but it would be much more accurate to say that we know what lifelessness is, and that Life seems to be a bizarre and unexpected violation of this general rule (when it is actually the reverse, since the higher can never be fully explained by the lower).

Likewise, it is absurd to suggest that science could ever comprehend the mystery of existence -- that is, why there is an ordered something instead of a chaotic nothing. Science simply assumes this a priori order, for without it, science (and scientists) would be impossible. The mystery of existence is so much a part of our cognitive background that we generally stop even asking about it after childhood. Science actually provides no sensible answers to this question at all, nor was it intended to. Only esoteric religious metaphysics even begins to touch this dimension, for the latter provides intellectual forms adequate to the majesty and mystery -- not to mention, sanctity -- of the subject.

Even more bizarre and problematic is the existence of consciousness. We have this astounding gift of an inwardness that is both unique and universal, and yet, what is it for? Why would the universe evolve into a subjective horizon containing love, beauty, truth, justice, poetry, music?

We can know so much, and yet, we cannot know anything about these fundamental mysteries of existence, life and consciousness -- at least not with reason alone. As the Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace observes, "Despite centuries of modern philosophical and scientific research into the nature of the mind, at present there is no technology that can detect the presence or absence of any kind of consciousness, for scientists to even know what exactly is to be measured. Strictly speaking, at present there is no scientific evidence even for the existence of consciousness." Another way of saying it is that, if consciousness did not exist, science would have no trouble whatsoever explaining the fact.

That is, the only evidence we have of consciousness consists of direct, first person accounts of being conscious. And yet, not everyone is conscious in the same way or of the same things. Although we don’t know what consciousness is, we do know that there are degrees of it. Every psychologist navigates over the subjective horizon through the use of a developmental model of some kind, in which consciousness unfolds and develops through time. But why? Other animals don’t have degrees of consciousness within their own species, but the gulf between human beings at the top and bottom is as great as the gulf between a dog and Beethoven, or between Petey and Keith Olbermann.

This is why one can easily prove the existence of God. But not to you, jackass. Anyone with a sufficiently awakened intellect can read Meister Eckhart or Frithjof Schuon, and know that they are resonating on entirely different planes of consciousnes than, say, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Again, it is a physical sensation, albeit a subtle one -- and one which it is the purpose of a spiritual practice to identify, develop, and amplify, as with any other "skill."

As such, one can well imagine how it would be possible for the trollish rabble to arrive at the misosophical or sophophobic nul de slack of atheism, since they are blunted to the subtle vertical transactions that constantly flow between the planes of consciousness -- or between the Subject and the subject, i.e., (↓↑).

In my view consciousness is an organ, just like any other organ in the body -- heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. But those are material organs that exist in three-dimensional space. Consciousness, however, is an immaterial organ that operates in multidimensional space and time. In short, the conscious self is the first hyper-dimensional organ of the cosmos.

What is an organ? Two things, mainly. First of all, it is a differentiated structure. In other words, it is not just a blob or an aggregation, but a definable form that has an identifiable structure. A while back, during my nuclear treadmill, I got a good look at my heart. Even with a material organ such as the heart, no one can draw a sharp line and say "this is where the heart ends and the vascular system begins." And yet, the heart is an obvious structure with valves, chambers, arteries, etc.

The second characteristic of an organ is that it has a purpose; it performs a function through cooperative activity. The heart pumps blood. The lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The kidneys filter the blood.

By implication, organs have a third characteristic, that is, pathology. If an organ is defined by a function it is supposed to accomplish, then pathology means failure to accomplish that mission.

Although no one has ever seen consciousness, it nevertheless has a differentiated structure and a function. Part of its structure is a reflection of the structure of our brains, but not all of it. For example, the brain has an obvious horizontal structure in the form of left and right hemispheres with very different orientations that, in a healthy individual, will harmonize in a higher dimension, a manifold unity or "higher third" (and this higher third is a constant work in progress, what I call a "rolling catastrophe in hyperspace").

Likewise, the brain has a clear vertical structure, in the sense that we have what might be called a reptilian brain, over which there is a mammalian brain, and on top of which is the neocortex: our "human brain."

But this three-dimensional physical structure does not come close to exhausting the structure (much less content) of consciousness, which is hyper-dimensional, meaning that it exists in a space of more than three (or four) dimensions.

This is a thorny problem, because our normal thinking -- especially scientific thinking, which you might say is linear "common sense" taken to the extreme -- takes place in three dimensions. We cannot think scientifically or (merely) rationally in higher dimensional space. Take, for example, causation. In the three dimensional world, causation is relatively easy to conceptualize: A causes B, B causes, C, C causes D, etc. D cannot cause A, nor can A and D occupy the same space at the same time.

So how does one "think" in higher dimensional space? As a matter of fact, we do it all the time. For example, dreaming is a form of hyper-dimensional thinking freed from the limitations of the outer, three-dimensional world. This is also how we might understand the Wise Crack that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." The genuine poet uses language to express what cannot be said with words.

Think of it this way: the mystery of the dream is that it is the brain’s attempt to represent in three dimensions a space that actually far exceeds three dimensions -- like trying to represent a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional plane. Imagine, for example, people living on a two dimensional plane -- a sheet of typing paper. They know nothing at all about the three dimensional world.

Now imagine if you could pass your three-dimensional hand through the sheet of paper. What would it look like to the flatlanders in 2D? First they would see five separate points grow into circles, as the fingers touch the paper and move through it. But then the five circles would disappear and become one larger circle -- the wrist. Let's say that these people in 2D are very careful scientific observers of empirical phenomena. No matter how much they study the data, they would have no idea that the disparate phenomena are all actually aspects of a higher dimensional object they cannot see. This would require a "leap of faith" into the higher imagination.

This is how dream consciousness operates. A dream might be thought of as analogous to that hand passing through the sheet of paper. In dreams, various elements are connected in a hyper-dense manner that violates all notions of linear logic. Time is abolished, in the sense that you can be in two different times in your life, or your adult self can be side by side or "within" your child self (or vice versa). But if you don’t know how to read the dream, you will see merely a linear, if somewhat crazy, narrative. You won’t know how to unpack all of the different dimensions. And as a matter of fact, as Joyce well knew, human history is just such a "crazy dream," but with a dense network of subterranean connections that go undetected by the secularized mind.

In order to understand reality objectively, we cannot arbitrarily limit ourselves to its illusory three or four dimensions. Rather, we must somehow learn to think in a hyper-dimensional manner analogous to the dream, because the higher dimensional things above are seen as in a three-dimensional mirror down below.

Authentic scripture must be understood in this manner. There is no language known to man that is more hyperdense and dreamlike than scripture (some parts of scripture much more so than others). And we might also understand, say, Jesus, in the same way. If we limit ourselves to a naive scientific or "rational" view in trying to understand Jesus, we will simply generate fundamentalist banality or logical absurdity. But if we assume that Jesus is analogous to that multidimensional hand passing through four-dimensional history, now we’re getting somewhere. For where is the “body of Christ?” Hint: the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, but the flatlanders don't see it.

The madness that comes of God is superior to the sanity which is of human origin. --Plato

15 Comments:

Blogger ge said...

escaping the grubby grasp of science also & always is
Sat-Chit-Ananda:
usually translated as Being-Consciousness-Bliss
but one authority translates as:
"If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

5/19/2010 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Was just reading yesterday of how Schuon regards Beyond Being - Being - Existence as the supreme vertical ternary, and sat - chit - ananda or Being - Wisdom - Will as horizontal trinities. Depending on how you look at it, the Christian Trinity is compatible with each of these.

5/19/2010 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

It is a height of folly to think that Wisdom would undress for those who do not love her, or who still wear their own armor.

5/19/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

...the gulf between human beings at the top and bottom is as great as the gulf between a dog and Beethoven, or between Petey and Keith Olbermann.

Heh - or Keillor. (Via Vanderleun's Sidelines)

Magnus, the observation about armor is an important one, I think. Too many people seem to have the delusion that they deserve to receive without giving anything up (cf. our trolls), or that such is even possible. Before the container can be filled, it must be emptied. And it's pretty tough to empty if it's hermetically sealed...

5/19/2010 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

The mystery of existence is so much a part of our cognitive background that we generally stop even asking about it after childhood.

I must be reverting.

5/19/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

"Strictly speaking, at present there is no scientific evidence even for the existence of consciousness."

A lot of what is called science is research driven by dollars in search of marketable products. Without a promise of payoff, what would be the motivation? So a lot (obviously, not all) that gets studied or developed has some sort of economic "reason."

Consciousness is useful as a "concept," and can be exploited and sold as such pretty easily, since we all think we have some and want to have "more" of everything. But being intangible, unmeasurable, unagreedupon, not easily packaged, and very slippery -- not to mention that people who seem to have "more" of it often become radical and subversive -- means that the much-desired funding for scientific research into it is problematic. So screw it. Back to stuff that can "benefit the people."

Ha-ha, to say that science is not adequate to the majesty and mystery is apt, I'd say.

Good post, Bob!

5/19/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, you say,

“To cite one obvious example, one must be alive in order to know...”

And then later..

“Authentic scripture must be understood in this manner. There is no language known to man that is more hyperdense and dreamlike than scripture (some parts of scripture much more so than others). And we might also understand, say, Jesus, in the same way…”

You also talk about the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of the brain – where, hopefully, a higher third is created. I’ve been thinking about the word “know” lately. Isn’t it interesting that in Genesis, Adam, it is said, “knew” Eve. Interesting choice of words.

Jesus later says, “Man can not leave by bread alone.” In the context of what is taking place at the time, it seems a rather unusual thing to say. Hopefully, at some point you understand it in that particular context. But the statement runs deeper. It is multi-dimensional. But how do you know it is more than merely “wisdom” which of course any ol wise man can discover and put into his own words? You can know it, by knowing Jesus. By listening to everything else he has said and applying all of it to the one statement – which tells you more than words can ever say, yet all of it adds more depth and understanding to the statement, “Man can not leave by bread alone.” I’m certain this can or must be done with any one thing He has said.

5/19/2010 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm sorry, I meant "live" by bread alone, of course. But it is not that particular statement that matters. Pick any one, and you will understand it better, the better you know the Person of Jesus.

5/19/2010 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

The wide range in human beings regarding their level of consciousness is a curious phenomenon.

This finding supports the hypothesis of reincarnation of souls. It stands to reason that a soul with more life experience as a human being would have a more developed human consciousness.

Otherwise the discrepancy would have to be attributed to a biogenetic basis, and that basis is already groaning under the load it has been surcharged with.

So, standing Petey and Olberman side by side, you would have to ask, where did they diverge, and why?

We presuppose that, like animals, the basic organism comes into being more or less equal to all others of its kind. Then something happened. What?

Or did it happen before birth? Is tjos an artifact of life before life?

Speculate, my friends, speculate. Not a dirty word in this laboratory.

5/19/2010 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

ever read
The Temptation of St. Antony
or A Revelation of the Soul
?

i say it's jolly good

5/19/2010 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Even more bizarre and problematic is the existence of consciousness. We have this astounding gift of an inwardness that is both unique and universal, and yet, what is it for? Why would the universe evolve into a subjective horizon containing love, beauty, truth, justice, poetry, music?"

Inwardness being the keyword there... it's always asstounding when the dennett's & dawkin's go on about how not only that life is purely mechanistic, but that consciousness is merely an illusion... ! ... to who?!

Sheesh.

5/19/2010 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Think of it this way: the mystery of the dream is that it is the brain’s attempt to represent in three dimensions a space that actually far exceeds three dimensions -- like trying to represent a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional plane."

Now that's an interesting perspective....

5/19/2010 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

samfie man by the Pioneers

in case ya missed it

5/20/2010 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Thought I'd pass this One along. I was reading some James V. Schall this morning, an essay "Intellectual Resources", and came across this which goes well with the last few posts,

"The perfection of our mind is really to know what is not ourselves. Socrates talked about “knowing ourselves.” But we ourselves are not direct objects of our own knowing powers. What we know and want to know are things not ourselves, all that is. Each human mind has this potential capacity to know all that is not itself, including, evidently, the causes of things. And even there, we want to know the cause of things as it is in itself. This seeking to know is what, in its own way, defines us in the highest sense. We are the beings who seek to know all that is not ourselves. We do think that we will not really know ourselves unless we come at ourselves through what is not ourselves. This is why the best definition of truth is simply the conformity of mind and reality."

I like that a lot, and as a good flogger, I'll humbly assert (!) that IMHO 'confomr' in this sense is closser to the truth than 'reflect' in the mirroring sense.

One more,

"We are in principle not confined to ourselves. Nor do we want to be. We are beings who want to be related to all that is not ourselves. If we look at this fact about ourselves, we come to realize that we are related not only to all things that are but also to those beings which are likewise related to all that is."

One Cosmos.

5/20/2010 05:38:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

'confomr' ... 'closser'... my typing is not conforming....

5/20/2010 05:43:00 AM  

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