Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Playing Dice with the Cosmos and Taking a Chance on God

In our ongoing discussion of divine and human freedom, we left off with the orthoparadoxical idea that we live in a world which is good in the sense that it manifests the Divine and its reflected qualities.

Nevertheless, it "involves a partial and contingent aspect of badness because, not being God while existing nonetheless, it sets itself against God or tends to be the equal of God" (Schuon). The left rebels against God, while the tenured think they are God. Which is why the tenured radical is such a destructive demon.

This correlates with the principial (vertical) distinction between Being and Beyond-Being, which is the basis of theodicy, through which the problem of evil is explained and God's goodness is vindicated.

In case you've forgotten, this whole discussion started last week, with a post about fate, luck, and free will. Human freedom is derived from the Divine freedom. Again, our free will could never be explained from "the bottom up." Nor could we know good and evil, truth and illusion, beauty and ugliness, and choose between them. If we didn't have free will, we could never know it (just as, if we couldn't know truth, we wouldn't be able to know it).

Having said that, although there are analogies between divine and human freedom, the differences are even greater. Human beings live their lives along this ambiguous vertical bridge, with God at the top and biology, physics, and other principalities down below (sort of like the sewer pipes under the city).

As Schuon writes, "creation implies imperfection by metaphysical necessity." And the fact that we have the freedom to choose badly makes matters even worse!

One problem we encounter right away is that freedom implies change, whereas we are told that God is immutable. Perhaps we need to distinguish between the freedom that applies to Beyond-Being, vs. that which applies to Being.

In Beyond-Being, freedom is in a way meaningless, because there is nothing from which to be free. Freedom only comes into play in the context of restraint, of other, of world -- of subject over and against object.

And the highest purpose of freedom is "the possibility of choosing between the Substance and accident, or between the Real and the illusory" (Schuon). Since there can be no accident "within" God, our freedom is obviously quite different, being that our world is a tapestry of chance and necessity.

Speaking of which, the chance aspect of the world is insufficiently appreciated, both by the tenured and the wider population. I'm currently reading a very interesting book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and would like to work some of Taleb's contrarian and counter-intuitive ideas into the mix.

It seems that people hate the idea of pure luck holding so much sway over their lives, which is why both the tenured and the religious invent various ex post facto mythological narratives to explain the past. In this regard, Darwinians are no better than any other fundamentalists.

I should hasten to add that Taleb shows no signs of being in any way religious (I'm only halfway through the book), so that he seems to be trapped in his own narrative that chance is all -- and more importantly, that chance is only chance.

But in my view, the cosmic purpose of chance is to create a non-deterministic space in which the higher can operate on the lower -- or through which final causes can influence souls and events.

If the world were a deterministic machine that functions only from the bottom up, there would be no freedom and no chance. But being wholly determined from the top would make us no more free than being determined from the bottom.

Thus, freedom and chance go together like matter and law. It is largely because of freedom that the future is completely unpredictable. But because we are aware of the past, we superimpose narratives on it that make it seem as if the future will be similar. Thus, we are always surprised by the "black swans" that no one predicted, and yet, have the most impact on history.

For example, to the very eve of World War I, no one saw it coming. But in hindsight, historians invent narratives that make it appear inevitable. Likewise other large-scale and highly impactful events such as 9-11, the recent real estate bubble, or the Great Depression.

One thing that eludes historians -- by definition -- is all of the evidence of things that didn't happen. Obviously, we cannot know what we don't know (the unknown unknown), which is probably the majority of (potential) knowledge.

It seems that history is always on a knife-edge, and can easily be tipped one way or the other by sometimes trivial causes. This is true of any complex system with an infinite number of variables.

But we'll have to get back to black swans later. I just wanted to introduce the idea that randomness is both our friend and our enemy, like water or electricity. Without it we couldn't be free, but with it we're always in for an adventure.

There is no accident in Beyond-Being. But the creation, in order to be separate from God, must involve relativity and therefore contingency.

Thus, one of the purposes of a spiritual practice is to distinguish between those things that must be versus those things that may be.

Again, the world is a tapestry of vertical and horizontal causes, of the real and the contingent, so we always see the one in the other. This is why, for example, matter, which is otherwise so "distant" from God, has the metaphysical transparency through which beauty and truth nevertheless radiate.

And it is certainly why man may use his freedom to turn toward truth or illusion, atma or maya, O or Ø. The ego is a bipolar, janus-faced entity, which it must be if we are to be free.

As Schuon describes it, being that we are the "handiwork" and not "the Principle which alone is good," man "is a good inasmuch as he manifests the Principle, but he is not good inasmuch as he is separated from it."

Evil and falsehood remind us both that the world is not God and that there is no one good but the One.

23 Comments:

Blogger Northern Bandit said...

This post is exactly what I was looking for when I asked my (larded with flattery) question about the "problem of evil" a few days ago.

And indeed it does seem self-evident when laid out explicitly like that.

8/11/2010 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Not that evil is equivalent to chance -- my query concerned those events which appear to be evil but are in fact merely bad luck (the flip side of freedom).

8/11/2010 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Mongoose said...

I have to "object" a tad: The "good" is ontologically pure in both the moral and the existential senses. It is innately and intrinsically "good". It need not be qualified using either utilitarian or religious qualification. It need not have any meaning beyond its innate "goodness". It cannot or need not be "reduced" or "understood" beyond the mystery of its existence (and the equally mysterious ability to recognize it).


This is why the "good" is sensed by the whole of one's being and not just the mind. In fact, the good often eludes the clever mind: arriving at the point identifying, valuing and accommodating the good (and never disturbing or slandering it), particularly as a "thing in itself" is one of the great milestones in spiritual struggle and advancement. Even the love of a man for his child is a good even if that man is deeply evil and sinful and the expression of that love is evil and damaging. I

The good is often not grandiose or spectacular. It is the mother's love for a child, the care of a well loved animal, the simple husbandry of a farmer in the field. It is an end in itself. It is as irreducible as God himself

To us who know of God, certainly it reflects his nature, but this is tautological. It cannot but reflect this just as evil cannot reflect anything but his absence (or distance). The point is that to know good, truth and beauty and to stand with them we must see that the good is ontologically separate. It just so happens that there is truth in the good, and great beauty too for that matter, but the good exists independent of either--it may in fact precede them.

Perhaps you do not intend to make such characterization. Perhaps when you put forward the qualification that the "world is good in the sense that it reflects God" in this manner you just mean to defend against pantheism or the stale arguments of the militant atheists. Perhaps we are saying the same thing.

If any of these are the case then forgive me.

8/11/2010 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"Thus, freedom and chance go together like matter and law. It is largely because of freedom that the future is completely unpredictable. But because we are aware of the past, we superimpose narratives on it that make it seem as if the future will be similar. Thus, we are always surprised by the "black swans" that no one predicted, and yet, have the most impact on history."

The future isn't completely unpredictable. It's acually very predicible at very short time frames and only become less predictible as you move your projections further out in time.

Acts that involve the use of free will create "distortions" that then change future events. However, the totality of the future impact of actions taken in the everpresent now cannot be determined with 100% certainty when a future now arrives later.

8/11/2010 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

NB says:

"Not that evil is equivalent to chance -- my query concerned those events which appear to be evil but are in fact merely bad luck (the flip side of freedom)."

Actually, there is "evil" that is essentially built into human systems.

For example, the automobile and highway system will generally cause a certain number of fatalities and injuries each year.

There is no way around this.

We trade the ability to get around easily with the certain knoweldge that a number of people will be killed or maimed each year because of the system itself.

8/11/2010 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Mongoose says:

"Even the love of a man for his child is a good even if that man is deeply evil and sinful and the expression of that love is evil and damaging."

I think this sentence is self-refuting.

It's kind of like saying:

"This sentence is a lie."

8/11/2010 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

JP:

My example a few posts ago had to do with a school bus crash, so I hear you.

Is it really "evil" though? It's a trade-off for sure, but I don't think most people would consider it to be a compromise with evil in the way that, say, negotiating with terrorists might be.

8/11/2010 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

JP:


To say that the future is predictable in any way is to say it is lawful. Clearly, there are laws that apply to the lower dimensions in a pretty linear manner, as in predicting where the stars will be.

But history proper -- human history -- is in no way predictable, again, because there is no law that predicts it. Rather, it's just induction. For example, if you say that tomorrow will be similar to today, you'll probably be right. But a black swan can still happen at any time.

Taleb uses the example of a Turkey who has been fed every day by humans. Thus, he arrives at the law that human beings are these benign servants who bring food.

Until the day before Thanksgiving.

8/11/2010 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Mongoose said...

JP: well then you are not thinking very deeply. An purely logically or linguistically it is not self-refuting at all. Perhaps you mean something else, but that sentence is not "self-refuting".

Go back and parse the sentence.

8/11/2010 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Mongoose:

Do not concur. I am in metaphysical agreement with Jesus that there is no one good but the One.

8/11/2010 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

NB says:

"Is it really "evil" though? It's a trade-off for sure, but I don't think most people would consider it to be a compromise with evil in the way that, say, negotiating with terrorists might be."

Well, it's a trade off between convenience and death/dismembermnet. So, to the extent that we are trading the opportunity to be lazy for death...

You would have to be able to calculate how many lives are saved because of the use of the transportation network to get food and medicine delivered if you want to weigh the good and the evil, I suppose.

8/11/2010 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Bob says:

"But history proper -- human history -- is in no way predictable, again, because there is no law that predicts it. Rather, it's just induction. For example, if you say that tomorrow will be similar to today, you'll probably be right"

There is a nearly 100% probability that the next second will be extremely similiar to this instant of human history

There is a nearly 0% probability that the year 3000 will be extremely similiar to this instant of human history.

Why? The cumulative exercise of free will in 7 billion individuals (and subsequent generations) over the next 1000 years.

That's my point.

8/11/2010 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger greyniffler said...

Bob,
The left rebels against God, while the tenured think they are God. Which is why the tenured radical is such a destructive demon.

To be fair, one needn't be on the Left or tenured to do these things. They have no monopoly on them, however fashionalbe and effective they may be.

Northern Bandit,
Actually, there is "evil" that is essentially built into human systems.

For example, the automobile and highway system will generally cause a certain number of fatalities and injuries each year.


And the use of the automobile saves a large number of lives transporting people to the hospital or the doctor. It saves lives by avoiding the megatons of horse dung that would otherwise become a public health menace.

The use of fire results in a certain number of deaths; is that evil? (If so, then the use of candles in a church service is also evil.)

If you argue that accidental death is evil, I think you must admit that its possibility is so woven through our existence that it belongs to existence, not to a specific, otherwise prudential, choice of action.

8/11/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Thus, one of the purposes of a spiritual practice is to distinguish between those things that must be versus those things that may be."

And one of the purposes of an anti-spiritual practice is to cause confusion between what must me, and those that only chance to be. Insert my Rant against against prof's peddling their 'necessary vs. contingent' slop on young skulls turned to mush (""2+2 equals Four is a necessary truth, and that there can not be round squares - because we cannot imagine it otherwise. But Ice sinking in water, is merely a contingent truth, because we can easily imagine ice sinking to the bottom of a glass of water" - which is absolute B.S., there is absolutely nothing contingent about the properties of ice floating in water...").

But if you can cause someone to believe that the metaphysically given, is merely random chance, or even better, due to the unconscious expectations of the collective... then it's mere wackedemics play to cause them to believe that there is no truth, no choice and no virtue.

And of course for a view of the practices that follow from spirits who think the metaphysical is contingent... look around.

8/11/2010 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

greyniffler says:

"If you argue that accidental death is evil, I think you must admit that its possibility is so woven through our existence that it belongs to existence, not to a specific, otherwise prudential, choice of action."

How many deaths/injuries does the automobile/truck/motorcycle system cause vs. how many deaths does it prevent/how many injuries does it help?

It's a utilitarian cost/benefit analysis.

And it "belongs" to whoever comes up with the system and it's safety parameters.

For example, the healthcare system causes a certain number of deaths every year. Why? Systemic problems that could be solved by people.

Don't confuse human-created evil with so-called "natural" evil.

"Natural" evil can generally be avoided if you understand nature. Just don't do something that is guaranteed to fail.

For example, California.

I've pulled this from an old Fox News:

"In the test scenario, deep-rolling seismic waves move nearly 200 miles across the Southern California landscape, leaving a wake of devastation. Predictions are over 2,000 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $200 billion in damage to the Los Angeles area. There would also be 4,000 or so fires, and making matters worse, the water supply would be out for six months, thanks to contamination from nearby sewage pipes."

We know that an eartquake is going to hit CA and cause this damage.

This "problem" is "owned" by anyone who lives in the area of California that is expected to be hit by a major earthquake and knows this.

There is a very easy solution to this problem.

Don't live in earthquake prone areas.

8/11/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/11/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Van says:

"2+2 equals Four is a necessary truth, and that there can not be round squares - because we cannot imagine it otherwise. But Ice sinking in water, is merely a contingent truth, because we can easily imagine ice sinking to the bottom of a glass of water"

I see your point Van, but there does seem to be some sliver of truth to that, Van.

Namely, that 2+2=4 must be true across all possible universes, since it is contained within abstract mathematics itself, wheras the properties of ice and water are contingent upon the specific physics (boundaries) of this universe.

8/11/2010 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

JP said "Actually, there is "evil" that is essentially built into human systems.
For example, the automobile and highway system will generally cause a certain number of fatalities and injuries each year.
There is no way around this.
We trade the ability to get around easily with the certain knoweldge that a number of people will be killed or maimed each year because of the system itself."

As Col. Potter might say: Buffallo Cookies! There's no 'this' there to need to bother getting around.

1st, 'evil' is not the equivelent of chance or of bad, and 'evil' is not built into either.
2nd, neither automobiles or highway systems cause any number of fatalities or injuries in any years.
3rd, No people are going to be "killed or maimed each year because of the system itself"

People, individuals driving their cars upon highways, through their careful, careless or chance usage of them, cause individual accidents, which when tallied up at the end of the year, number into the thousands. There's a huge difference between the two... consult ralph nader or algore for some tips on how to make money from skillfully confusing the two.

We don't deal with the "automobile and highway system" as a single entity which we must power up our benthamite calculators to get a 'greater good' or greater evil' reading on; attempting to deal with it as if it were is a false composition, and nothing good can follow from that.

Both highways and automobiles are goods, which involve our free will in making use of as well as chance occurances, and which in comparison to my other options for getting to work, etc, are unquestionable goods. Period.

You might think I'm being overly picky... I don't.

wv:asesify
It said it, not me

8/11/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

JP said "Namely, that 2+2=4 must be true across all possible universes, since it is contained within abstract mathematics itself, wheras the properties of ice and water are contingent upon the specific physics (boundaries) of this universe."

Nope, the properties of H20, which under different conditions produce different characteristics (which may be contingent upon whether or not I put a cup of it into the freezer or the microwave), are a direct result of the nature of the entire universe and are no more separable from even a jot of it, than are it's other properties which we've conceptually developed into perceiving as the laws of mathematics.

It's not proper to say that any physical properties are "contingent upon specific physics" as if the two were separable, physics IS only a techne, a mental tool, for perceiving the properties of the cosmos, which gave rise to it, er, both.

Ice floating in water is as inseparable from all of reality as are the Sun's rays ability to burn skin and bikini's to look good (with a few contingent qualifications thrown in, of course), and that applies equally to this universe or any other someone may dream up (which, I suspect, are only dreamt up, but that's another thread altogether).

There is not a single, metaphysically given property of the Cosmos that is contingent, and if somehow Dr. Evil managed to create a contingency ray and altered a single one, no matter how seemingly small - 'Poof!' would the result that would universaly result.

8/11/2010 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Van says:

"It's not proper to say that any physical properties are "contingent upon specific physics" as if the two were separable, physics IS only a techne, a mental tool, for perceiving the properties of the cosmos, which gave rise to it, er, both."

I think you are confusing this particular universe with the entire cosmos, which I presume to contain multiple universes.

My assertion is that mathematics is essentially a transcendent property of mind (for lack of a better phrase). Where mind exists, mathematics exists.

When I say "physics" I could rather say the specific mathematical manifold that forms the boundary conditions for this universe. In fact, that's what gives this particular univers it's "personality" so to speak.

The specific properties of water and ice are dependent on this universe.

You and I are making different metaphysical assumptions.

8/11/2010 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Not to belabor my previous point, but someone here just made the comment 'Well, that's how ice behaves here on earth in our atmosphere and gravity... it's imaginable that differences in gravity or something could cause ice to sink."

Well... perhaps. I suspect it still wouldn't happen, but not being a chemist or physicist, I won't say - but even so, that would prove my point, not the wackedemic's.

If conditions on another planet, Jupiter say, causes ice to sink, that's just another set of circumstances to which H2O responds to, as a result of the properties of it's molecular nature, which in other circumstances would result in it's freezing, flowing, turning to water vapor, or perhaps in extraordinary circumstances, sinking.

But that's not the point of the prof's 'necessary vs. contingent' meme.

Their point is that '2+2=4' is somehow floating about uni-universally in some platonic form, dis-integrated from the universe(s) which give rise to them, but the question of whether ice floats or sinks, is nothing but a chance result the customs and cultural behavior of 'Physics' in this universe, and that is pure bunk.

Ice floating in water, is as much a result of the nature of H20 when frozen, as it is of when it's water (and of any contaminants in it), and as it is of gravity, and as it is of atmospheric pressure, and as it is of any other property we are able to perceive thru physics, all operating together, inseparably and at once.

It is One Cosmos... one, massively and thoroughly integrated structure, which due to the nature and properties of our minds, we (thankfully) are able to perceive and analyze it into discrete segments, tree's, rocks, stars, bikini tops (ok, enough of the bikini ref's already), etc, but there is no 'particular' portion of any part of this cosmos, this wooden flower on my desk for instance, that is actually, truly, separated from some portion of dust floating about on the other side of cygnus x-1.

As chance would have it, it's all One, and because it is, we are able to perceive it... and that's freedom baby! Yeah!

8/11/2010 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

JP said "You and I are making different metaphysical assumptions."

Correct. However, mine are right, and yours are wrong.

;-)

"My assertion is that mathematics is essentially a transcendent property of mind (for lack of a better phrase). Where mind exists, mathematics exists."

Mathematics cannot exist without minds able to perceptually perceive and conceptually understand reality. If the reality of this, or any other universe, is not one, inseparable whole, nothing will be able to be perceived, no truth could be known, and no principles for knowing any of it such as mathematics, or physics, could be discovered.

All of that is interrelated and inseparable, and none of it is contingent.

"When I say "physics" I could rather say the specific mathematical manifold that forms the boundary conditions for this universe. In fact, that's what gives this particular univers it's "personality" so to speak."

Were you talking to Frank too? No. Or rather, you could be saying that, but you would not be speaking of Physics. Or of mathematics. Or of Truth.

Physics forms nothing. Physics is formed by our ability to understand the Universe as it is.

or isn't, as in the case of multiple universes (no, not an assertion, just a taunt).

"The specific properties of water and ice are dependent on this universe."

No more so than this universe is dependent upon the specific properties of water and ice.

8/11/2010 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I found "The Black Swan" very useful in clarifying many things for me. I look forward to this topic.

My ears are ringing from playing with a serious heavy-hitting rock drummer. Loud...but fun.

Good night to all.

8/11/2010 10:33:00 PM  

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