Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Post is Only Knowable to the Extent that it Isn't

Some or perhaps all readers say or think to themselves, "why the made up words? It just makes it more difficult to understand what you're going on about."

Well, let's take an example: orthoparadoxical. Do you know of an existing word for something that is entirely orthodox and yet weirdly paradoxical? I can't think of one.

Here are some examples of orthoparadoxical statements. Each one is 100% true, and cannot be expressed in any less paradoxical way. After listing them, I will explain how and why they are true:

--There is only a Way because we cannot get there. If we could, there would be no Way to get there.
--Things are only knowable to the extent that they aren't.
--It is only possible to affirm the non-existence of God in a cosmos which he created.
--If we could completely know God, then he couldn't exist, but if God didn't completely know us, then we couldn't.
--We can know things because they exist, but they can only exist because they are known.

Each of these was inspired by Josef Pieper's The Silence of St. Thomas, which I read a few months ago and have been meaning to discuss.

Pieper begins with the subtle point that "what is self-evident is not discussed." Why should it be, when it is taken for granted? In the past, we have poked fun at atheists for naively harboring implicit assumptions that undermine their whole argument -- for example, the intelligibility of the world and man's ability to comprehend its truth. First they need to explain how these properties are possible before they can say anything else. You can't just assume such monumental principles and then forget about them, on pain of explaining away precisely what is most in need of explanation.

All arguments are either to or from first principles. As I've said before, if you want to trip up an atheist, leftist, or radical secularist, just ask them to explain their first principles. You'll usually find that they are either absurd or impossible to take seriously.

As Pieper says, our task is "to grasp those basic assumptions which, remaining unexpressed, nevertheless permeate all that is actually stated; to discover, so to speak, the hidden keynote that dominates whatever has been explicitly said."

The major way liberals get around this problem is by making their hidden assumptions sacred, inviolable and even "un-examineable" through the mechanism political correctness. As you know, you can never make a liberal squeal more loudly than when you have pulled the veil away from one of these squalid assumptions and shown it in the light of day.

For example, Glenn Beck recently violated one of these implicit assumptions by suggesting that liberals do not own black Americans. To even assemble where Martin Luther King once did was worse -- much worse -- than Muslims building a giant mosque for the purpose of exploiting 9-11.

There are two reasons why this is such a threat to liberals, one personal, the other political. First, it undermines their sanctimonious self-image of being the noble patrons of black Americans who would be helpless without them. And second, if they fail to garner some 90% of the black vote, liberals would be unelectable in most states. Obviously, they pretend that blacks need them in order to conceal the deeper truth that liberals desperately need blacks (just not the independent and successful ones).

We're getting a little sidetracked. Here is the paradox: "that the doctrine of a thinker is precisely the unexpressed in what is expressed." If we limit ourselves to understanding only what is explicitly expressed, we will very likely miss the whole point.

For example, there would be no way to understand what I'm writing about by reading only a few essays. Rather, by constant exposure to them, I'm guessing that another reality begins to come into view -- the reality from which the essays flow, i.e., O. Obviously I don't want people to be like dogs, and sniff my finger instead of looking at the moonbat to which it is pointing.

Note therefore a paradox: that is it quite possible to completely understand what is said at the cost of misunderstanding what is unsaid.

Conversely, it is quite possible to understand what is unsaid by ignoring the superficialities of what is said. The former is the position of our trolls, who never understand what I'm talking about, even when they do. The latter is the meat and potatoes of my racket, in which the therapist tries to discern the unconscious meaning -- and even author -- of what is said in the session.

This is all prelude to Peiper's examination of what is left unsaid in virtually everything said by Thomas, without which the rest won't make sense -- or, more problematically, will only make sense.

This fundamental idea, or master key, is creation -- "or more precisely, the notion that nothing exists which is not creatura, except the Creator Himself, and in addition, that this createdness determines entirely and all-pervasively the inner structure of the creature."

In my opinion, this is actually a two-way proposition, so that one could equally affirm that because existence both is and is intelligible, there must be a Creator, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Suffice it to say that there is a principial division between Creator and created, and which literally illuminates everything (for it is the only Light that is).

For Thomas, existence and truth are synonymous terms. Thus, only what is real may be known, but also, only what is known (or knowable) is real. This is a somewhat subtle point, but once you get it, it should become obvious and then impossible to not know: "Only what is thought can be called in the strict sense 'true,' but real things are something thought.... Further, because things are themselves thoughts and have the 'character of a word,' they may be called 'true,'" in the same way as one would call a thought "true."

It comes down to this: is reality true? Of course! What is truth if not reality, and vice versa? But what are the conditions that permit us to say that reality is intelligible and that we may know it?

It is because "a natural thing is placed between two knowing subjects." If we were to trace it schematically, it would be something like O --> Existence <--> Intellect. This is the minimum condition for real knowledge, or knowledge that is both real and true, or conforms to reality.

How is it possible for things to be true? How is it that there is truth in them, and that we are able to unpack it? In both cases we are dealing with truth, but from different ends. That is to say, we can know the truth of things because truth is known by someOne. Thus, "Do not think that it is possible to do both," to dispense with "the idea that things have been creatively thought by God," and then insist that they can still be known by the human intellect. We know because God knows (or, God is that which knows reality).

This is where much of the paradox enters the picture. First, as Thomas said, "Knowledge is a certain effect of truth." Thus, because things are real they are true, and we can have valid knowledge of them.

However, there is no possibility of us exhausting the truth of reality, "for it is part of the very nature of things that their knowability cannot be wholly exhausted by any finite intellect because these things are creatures, which means that the very same element which makes them capable of being known must necessarily be at the same time the reason why things are unfathomable" (emphasis mine).

Now you understand one of the orthoparadoxical statements at the top of this post, that "Things are only knowable to the extent that they are not." It is simply a truism that man cannot fully comprehend the essence of single fly, and yet, there is no end -- literally -- to what we may know about one.

And this cannot mean that the fly has no essence, or we wouldn't be able to know so much about them. Indeed, we couldn't even recognize or name them, again, because what is real is true, and vice versa. Anything that exists is knowable, and what is fundamentally unknowable cannot exist.

We might say that knowledge therefore begins and ends in God, from infinity to finitude and back. But can we ever arrive at the final deustination? Of course not! Thus the orthoparadox that "There is only a way because we cannot get there. If we could get there, there would be no way."

Indeed, "It is only possible to affirm the non-existence of God in a cosmos which he created," since we couldn't know anything of a non-created one, not even error (for error presupposes truth). And "If we could completely know God, then he couldn't exist, but if God didn't completely know us, then we couldn't." By now that can pretty much be left unsaid, and silence goes without saying.

22 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"This Post is Only Knowable to the Extent that it Isn't"

I knew that.

(sorry, couldn't resist)

wv:hawliti
yes, only a little bit funny

9/21/2010 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"what is self-evident is not discussed."

Similar to Polanyi's "tacit knowledge." Perhaps that should be tacet knowledge...

9/21/2010 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Polanyi -- yes, exactly.

9/21/2010 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, you sound as giddy as an Eckhart again today.
Giddy-UP!

9/21/2010 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Is it true to say that a paradox only exists as one to the paradoxed?

...because the more I hang around them, the less they seem so.

9/21/2010 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"...the [creature] has no essence, or we wouldn't be able to know so much about them. Indeed, we couldn't even recognize or name them.."

This reminds of Genesis 2.

9/21/2010 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm glad you wrote this one Bob. Well, all of them, but this one especially. Was able to look at some things from, well, angles I didn't know existed.
One being a way to look at God as a creation. Which you can't. Otherwise he would not be God and be a creation. He must be "where creation or created things (creatures) are not necessary". Otherways, he would require a creator to create him.
Now I knew the last part. It was the "not-possible" concept of God being one among the creatures that I hadn't considered and appropriately rejected. Sort of similar to your expression that God is everything but everything is not God.

9/21/2010 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

God is everything but everything is not God.

A good horizontal analogy here is that "The sun is everything, but everything is not the Sun."

By which I mean, there is no reason to think that we are distinct from and external to it. We aren't close to the core, but we are still contained well within its rays, and we are most assuredly of it, materially speaking. Even if the base material for this planet came from elsewhere (I'm a bit fuzzy on how exactly our planet was initially formed), it has been infused for so long with Solar radiation that there's no reason to consider it as truly apart. And yet, just as obviously we are apart, and could not possibly be otherwise on pain of being completely consumed and made indistinct from that which is the source of our material being.

9/21/2010 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Hi Bob:

You wrote an intricate and beautiful post. I agree with all of your orthoparadoxical statements across the board.

What is unsaid in your post, or what is the keynote of it and other posts, is motive: a fundamental drive to provide an intellectual framework for faith in God seems to animate your work.

Proof, if you will.

While I respect this motive I question the utility of it. I doubt if you or your readers require more proof of God. What I think you need/want is more direct contact with a personal God who will talk to you (in the vein of Walsh's "Conversations with God).

As smarmy as his materail can seem, Walsh certainly does go for the jugular, accepting God's existence as settled and then moving on to direct contact and the unpacking of personal revelation.

It is a tactic that deserves some consideration, I respectfully submit.

How else can we individually and collectively push forward, if we don't leave the arena of the orthoparadoxical and go to the starkly defined heart of the matter, which is to know God directly, not tangentially.

9/21/2010 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Quite simply, Grant, you just do it.

No amount of explanation, explication nor description can possibly substitute for giving yourself into God's hands and thus having the experience. In expecting Bob to somehow verbally provide that for you, you are simply making excuses not to just dive in. The water is there, ready and waiting. Are you going to keep asking how warm or deep or wet it is? Jump in and find out.

9/21/2010 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Wow, that's good stuff. Beautifully unsaid.

9/21/2010 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"All arguments are either to or from first principles. As I've said before, if you want to trip up an atheist, leftist, or radical secularist, just ask them to explain their first principles. You'll usually find that they are either absurd or impossible to take seriously."

Been my fav for some while. Truly remarkable how quickly they begin to splutter, dissemble, evade... just generally come apart at the 'seems' - there is no there there.

And boy O boy do they ever tend to hate you for that....

9/21/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"As Pieper says, our task is "to grasp those basic assumptions which, remaining unexpressed, nevertheless permeate all that is actually stated; to discover, so to speak, the hidden keynote that dominates whatever has been explicitly said."
...For example, there would be no way to understand what I'm writing about by reading only a few essays. Rather, by constant exposure to them, I'm guessing that another reality begins to come into view -- the reality from which the essays flow, i.e., O.
...Note therefore a paradox: that is it quite possible to completely understand what is said at the cost of misunderstanding what is unsaid."

One reason why experience is always so important, is because the substance is always what it is that is silently agreed that a word refers to... it's something you know it refers to, but if you aren't already able to know it, in a position to come to know it, then the word cannot convey what you don't already have the means to grasp. You may completely understand the parts, and be clueless about the One.

In any new concept, to mistake the parts you already know, for what it is your are trying to come to know... will keep you from knowing what you still only wish you knew. You have to let go, look around, and complete the picture yourself through the inwardly outward Braille method.

The referents can eventually lead you the point of "Oh, that's what he's talking about!", but they only nudged you into the direction by way of those steps you already knew to, and finally did, take.

You can learn by way of "This is a 'square'" (points to a square), or you can learn "I'm going to teach you about a 'Square'. This is a straight line. Take four of these same lines, lay them end to end in such a way that the far end connects back around to the beginning", and you can get to the point that you 'see' the square - but you didn't see it in the lines, only in what the lines led you to conceive, and ?!, you now know what a 'square' is.

It's a dangerous concept to get only halfway though, Kant tell you how much mayhem it can cause.

9/21/2010 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic but interesting, canine domestication. Lots of interesting implications there.

9/21/2010 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic again,

Joseph - if you're still around -

Thank you, very much, for the book recommendation. While on the one hand, I was right in saying that I'm familiar with most of the ideas therein and do try to live that way, Sertillanges has an excellent way of revealing the truth that clears away the dullness of long familiarity and once again awakens the reader to the shine of real insight.

Excellent book. Thank you.

9/21/2010 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Some or perhaps all readers say or think to themselves, "why the made up words? It just makes it more difficult to understand what you're going on about.""

Personally, I like the gnu words. Not only do they help explain stuff we don't have words for, but they get me to coontemplate more and ginyouflect.
Plus, you can't beat the hewmore factor. Not to mention (so I will) the creativity involved.

These words help make OCUG an art form (now with even more substance!).
Even when I grok more than I grope (for the grog, er..., I mean grope for the grok) and versa vica, I see your gnu words and they make sense in a more vague yet also quite clear sense.

Another good thing about gnu words is that they ain't saturated. Language killers, primarily of the neo-marxist persuasion haven't had a chance to mess them up, ergo: real communication man! without all the hangups of the hippydowners that always makes for such a bad coroad trip.

Afterall, we don't need all that acid coroading our trip when we can have a supernatural trip that really does enlighten without all the non-essential (and damaging) idleizing the chem-warfare whoremongers (like Deep-ack!Ack!)are always tryin' to push.

Great post, Bob! Thanks!

9/22/2010 01:06:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Even when I grok more than I grope (for the grog, er..., I mean grope for the grok) and versa vica, I see your gnu words and they make sense in a more vague yet also quite clear sense."

Okay, what I was tryin' to say here is this:
Often, it's like you read my mind (including parts
I haven't depsyphered yet) and put it into words.
Which leads to many revelations and revealations from which I prophet from.

Of course, there's many times I can't even touch the bottom of the surface but I'm encouraged that I gno it's there and ready when I Am...so to speak. :^)

9/22/2010 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

GM says:

"You wrote an intricate and beautiful post. I agree with all of your orthoparadoxical statements across the board.

What is unsaid in your post, or what is the keynote of it and other posts, is motive: a fundamental drive to provide an intellectual framework for faith in God seems to animate your work."

Bob's just being Bob.

He writes what he wants to write when he wants to write it.

He can't be not-Bob and you can't really ask Bob to be not-Bob.

9/22/2010 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

JP quoted grunt maker:"...t is unsaid in your post, or what is the keynote of it and other posts, is motive: a f..."

The literal translation of grunt maker's text is "...sss...", but the implicit meaning is
"go down the path towards proving that the self-evident, isn't. Please show the deterministic proof that I don't have choice, no free will... please free meee!!!"

'fraid that's up to you.

9/22/2010 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

BTW, my earlier comment has been bugging me, where I said

" You have to let go, look around, and complete the picture yourself through the inwardly outward Braille method."

, I didn't mean with the 'let go' to emphasize anything 'zenny' (though that is in there a little), but that the necessary step is to stop clinging to the particulars you already know, and use your imagination to complete the picture which those particulars have given you a rough sketch of.

It's Induction, inference, 'Aha?!", and when you insist on clinging to only the bones you've been given, and demand that they breathe on their own... that they give you knowledge so you don't have to go through the effort of reasoning & understanding which is the only thing that knowledge results from... it ain't gonna work.

Logic chopping ain't Reasoning.

It's like the old saw about the freezing dude huddled before the wood stacked up in the Pot belly stove saying "Give me heat, then I'll strike a match and light you."

Solly Charlie... gonna be a cold day in

9/22/2010 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Rebuttal to JP and Van:

I contended Bob's unsaid motive was fair game for analysis in a post that discusses the very thing.

In response JP writes "You got to let Bob be Bob." How does this follow? I am not saying he shouldn't be what he is. I was just describing a motive.

Van writes that I am asking Bob for some kind of absolution. Not so.

What unsaid assumptions does Bob embody? That is the question on the table. If you won't answer it, fine. Be a pack of wussies.

9/22/2010 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

grunt maker said "Van writes that I am asking Bob for some kind of absolution. Not so."

Not so. I said that the meaning behind what you said, is that you seek (as you continually do through all the various socks that you wear) a prop for determinism, a chain of cause & effect that will leave you out of it, a way out of being responsible for your own thoughts and actions.

That's not absolution, it's just being a metaphysical wussie.

9/22/2010 09:05:00 AM  

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