Friday, October 01, 2010

Reality and Other Figures of Speech

No burning absence of desire to post anything, so I grabbed this one from three years ago and rethunk it:

Metaphor is "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in the place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them" (Webster's). In short, it is figurative language, which is to say, language, for all language is ultimately a "figure of speech," is it not?

How then does the B'ob differ from deconstructionists, who also believe that reality is made of language? Fair question.

Human beings communicate through symbols, and all symbols are ultimately metaphors. Language as such is nothing but an endlessly interlocking series of metaphors, but where I differ with naughty deconstructionists is in affirming that human language is woven out of the universal Logos that necessarily subtends it.

In other words, for the deconstructionist, there truly is no there there, no ultimate ground or referent for language. But I am quite certain there is a therethere, which we call the Logos. Without it, all language really would be about "nothing," and life would be a long and tedious Seinfeld episode.

There is nothing you can say about anything that isn't laden with implicit or explicit metaphors, which is one of the reasons why it is so absurd for the materialist to object to religion, since the idea of solid matter is itself a sort of airy metaphor, just a fanciful concept based upon the illusions of our nervous system, illusions like "solidity" or unambiguous "place."

Scientists often conflate the abstract and the concrete, and essentially extend the concretions of the nervous system into an abstract worldview. Which is fine, so long as you don't confuse them with metaphysical truth, or with the Ultimate Real.

For their part, so-called fundamentalist religionists often do the opposite, which is to say, concretize the abstract. But only God can really do that, since the cosmos itself is nothing but a concretion or coagulation in a small corner of the Divine Mind.

As mentioned a couple of days ago, one of the purposes of scripture -- which employs countless metaphors and other seemingly concrete images -- is to follow it back upstream to its hidden source, the "place" from which revelation perpetually flows like a spring from the ground; indeed, the place from which language itself flows.

It's not that scientists don't use metaphor in most every statement they make about reality, just that the metaphor has generally become dead, or saturated in Bion's terminology. Often, advances in science cannot be made until a new metaphor is deployed.

For example, the so-called Newtonian worldview regarded the universe as a giant mechanism. Seeing it as such is undoubtedly useful, and applying it to our experience discloses a range of additional "facts" to ponder. But pushed too far, the metaphor is eventually confronted with facts it cannot explain.

That happened with the development of quantum and relativity theories, way back in the 20th century. There is simply no way to understand the quantum world with the machine metaphor. Rather, it is much more like an ocean, a roiling cauldron of ceaselessly flowing energy that tosses up explicate forms from the implicate order.

Or better yet, it's like the infinitely complex global weather system. We see things like distinct clouds, but we cannot see (with our eyes) that the cloud is simply an outwardly visible residue of an inconceivably complex global weather system. Only Al Gore and his co-religionists think they can see the latter, but of course their heads are up their assumptions. As Michael Crichton has written, Gore's linear paradigm is so last millennium.

This is one of the things Joyce was up to in Finnegans Wake, which is a veritable sea of metaphor constructed out of dozens of languages. It is as if the usual solidity of language has "melted" and we are left with only the quantum realm, so to speak, from which it emerges. Throughout the book, various intrinsic complementarities clothe themselves in time and space with the dream logic of the night -- just like the thing we call "history." You might say that Joyce shows us the complementarity of his & herstory, or Myth & Myster E.

Indeed, one of the central philosophical ideas to emerge from quantum theory is that of complementarity. That is, we can never affirm one thing about the quantum realm without "para-doxically" (which literally means "beyond speech") affirming its complementary opposite. Therefore, is the world made of particles? Yes. Is it made of waves? Yes. But these are opposites. Of course. Well, not really. They are complementary, co-arising simultaneously.

Other important irreducible complementarities in the manifest world include mind/matter, subject/object, unity/diversity, form/substance, individual/group, time/eternity, space/time, male/female, and Lennon McCartney.

Incidentally, one might be tempted to think that Democrat/Republican (or liberalism/leftism) represents a true complementarity, but it doesn't. The true complementarity is within conservatism itself (as always, I am speaking of the classical liberalism of our founders, the closest we have to a "perfect" political philosophy).

Among others, the latter embodies the dynamic complementarity between liberty and order, permanence and change, static truth and catabolic capitalism. Leftism is not complementary to liberalism, any more than disease is complementary to health. Leftism explicitly denies many of the most important human complementarities that drive change and progress; for example, the complementarities between male and female, child and adult, sacred and profane, equality and liberty.

Furthermore, leftism imposes false complementarities such as good/evil. Only in this way can the left maintain that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Evil is not a complement of the Good, but its deprivation.

Nor are freedom and property complementary, the former being rooted in the latter; which in turn is rooted in the 2nd Amendment, which is to say, "don't steal my stuff or I'll squeeze this trigger, because when you steal property you are undermining liberty, and therefore the ground and basis of human life and dignity."

Perfection/imperfection aren't complementary, either. Rather, imperfection is again a deprivation, a declension from the Absolute, as the celestial rays proceed from the vertical cosmic center to the periphery, which, as Schuon has written, "tends" toward a nothing that can never actually be realized. But the hardcore leftist feels a sort of frisson in riding the winds of the ray of creation all the way into the darkness of nihilism. The thrill of the fall, so to speak.

If you don't realize that imperfection is a necessary deprivation, you may be tempted to try to impose perfection from the herebelow, which is one the left's specialties. But as Russell Kirk wrote, conservatives well understand that human nature "suffers irremediably from certain grave faults":

"Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent -- or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: 'the ceremony of innocence is drowned.' The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell."

A leftist-integralist blogger was impressed by the following quote from Ken Wilber, which is about as good an example of the need for buddhaflaw correcting as I could imagine:

"Spirit is not the good half of the opposites, but the ground of all the opposites, and our 'salvation,' as it were, is not to find the good half of the dualism but to find the Source of both halves of the dualism, for that is what we are in truth. We are both sides in the great Game of Life, because we -- you and I, in the deepest recesses of our very Self -- have created both of these opposites in order to have a grand game of cosmic checkers."

Please. This attitude, if applied to real life, would end in leftist horror. It is another false complementarity based upon partial understanding. For as Schuon writes,

"Assuredly it can be said that the Divinity is 'beyond good and evil,' but on condition of adding that this 'beyond' is in its turn a 'good' in the sense that it testifies to an Essence in which there could be no shadow of limitation or privation, and which consequently cannot but be the absolute Good, or absolute Plenitude."

The idea that conservatives "don't want change" is also preposterous. We do, and desperately. But we don't want to accomplice it by renaming evil good. And we want to evolve toward the Good, not have it imposed by leftist elites with their own peculiar ideas about how we should live. The conservative, according to Kirk, feels

"affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism [read: denial of complementarity] of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality."

The so-called "progressive" fails to consider one of the truly enduring complementarities in governance, which is that whenever government does something for you, it does something to you. Which is why, according to Kirk,

"When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces..., its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate."

In other words, progress and permanence are complementary, not opposites: "the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression. He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old."

Clearly, "Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism" (Kirk).

Which is why I say that leftism is truly a death cult. Hey, don't believe me. Just judge it by its fruits. And nuts. And flakes. Speaking literally.


Rick said...

Haven't read the post yet, but have to say that book "On Deck" looks mighty good.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I especially like the idea that it actually starts out "before the beginning," as does another book of my acquaintance....

Rick said...

That was the part I liked too. Saw something in the second comment of the Amazon page that I saw echoed some place else recently, maybe the SA book or Fr. Stephen's blog, which basically states that there is no New Testament without the Old.

And of course your wisecrack that Christianity is the world's oldest religion and we just call it Christianity now.

Rick said...

Forgive me if that was an "inside" joke.

JP said...

Bob says:

"Other important irreducible complementarities in the manifest world include mind/matter, subject/object, unity/diversity, form/substance, individual/group, time/eternity, space/time, male/female, and Lennon McCartney."

And this is why I really want English to have a dual tense.

That's another one of my irritations with language.

Rick said...

Don't make me use my "too tense" joke.
Because I will.

Gagdad Bob said...

The Past Sure is Tense.

Mizz E said...

Fruits of the death cult.

Rick said...

Mizz E, caught that on Ace. Have to say, did not expect that.

From your link, a good exchange in the comments:

“I don't know what you're bleating on about.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

300,000 people are now dying every year* from the effects of climate change - and we need to wake people up to the seriousness of this situation.

It's not the fault of 10:10 if climate deniers have no sense of humour, or feign moral outrage.”

A response:

“Yeah, that's some real quality humor right there. Maybe you could write us an essay about why that's so funny.

Perhaps if I made a film showing mock executions of climate researchers, you could write a second essay about how you fell over laughing at such provocative humor.

No, seriously, I think you have serious psychological problems if you thought it was funny and that we are feigning moral outrage.”

mushroom said...

I see the greenies have Osama onboard. His carbon footprint is very small, certainly. In fact, I think he's been dead since 2002. (Note to OBL: Feel free to drop by the house any time and prove me wrong. Call ahead if you can so I can tidy things up. Don't worry about bringing anything, except ice.)

Scientists often conflate the abstract and the concrete ...

I get this feeling when they start talking about dark matter and dark energy, and similar concepts that "have to exist to get around the paradox".

That's like Noah having dinosaurs on the Ark.

julie said...

Also from the comments at the eco video article,

Jamie Glover, the child-actor who plays the part of Philip and gets blown up, said: "I was very happy to get blown up to save the world."

Wow. How long until schoolkids are singing songs about the joy of blowing themselves up at Walmart in order to destroy the enemies of Allah, er, Gaia, because they love death and people have to die in order to save the planet?

Mizz E said...

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"

Van said...

A MetaforWIW: I HATE C++!!!

Sorry... had to come out somewhere, and better in html than at the top of my lungs here at work.

julie said...

I don't know how you computer guys can handle looking at code all day. Just a couple of glances tend to make my brain hurt.

That said, I'm really glad there are people who can think that way, without whom little things like blogging would be impossible.

JP said...

I've done customer service programming and I've done legal writing. Both for actual pay.

Computer programming strikes me as less like eating dirt than does legal writing.

But that's probably because I've done more legal writing than computer programming.

Plus, when I was doing the customer service programming, I got to sit inside police departments and listen to some of the calls. That was always amusing, at least.

JP said...

I was thinking about the U.S. Capitol buidling the other night.

I'll bet I'm one of the few people who has 1) debated on the floor of the House of Representatives AND 2) been in the Capitol Police security room fiddling with the cameras.

The company didn't get that software contract. Which was a good thing because the company could have never handled that contract.

Northern Bandit said...


Ever see the satirical essay attributed to Bjarne Stroustrup? He "reveals" that C++ was the result of a plot to create a language so horrendously over-complicated that it would guarantee high salaries for the programmers who would be required to slog through it. It was hoax/satire, but lots of people say it might as well be true.

Can't find a link to it right now...

mushroom said...

There's an old one like that in C, too. Almost every language has some absolute gibberish string that will compile. AWK is my favorite -- not only does it compile, it actually does something.

Northern Bandit said...

Language with most bang for buck: APL

Most powerful: FORTH

Worst modern lang: PHP

IMO, of course.

Northern Bandit said...

Some day it would be nice to see Van take a crack at linking some of the concepts used in advanced computer science with concepts presented here. (Obviously, I mean in a metaphorical sense).

There are numerous intriguing approaches and techniques used in creating models of reality inside a machine which are useful. Some of these may serve to illuminate discussion here. Maybe...

What do you think, Van?

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re: Complementarity

I am told that it is illegal to put mustard on a hamburger in NYC. They only accept ketchup. I have also heard that putting ketchup on a hot dog will create a riot in NYC as well. Does NYC represent some special exclusion to the rules of complementarity?

Van said...

NB said "There are numerous intriguing approaches and techniques used in creating models of reality inside a machine which are useful. Some of these may serve to illuminate discussion here. Maybe...
What do you think, Van? "

Only all the time! It was what helped everything to click for me - relational database design, Object Oriented Programming, especially classes & interfaces... I think it has huge bearing on philosophy, psychology & religion. That and two stories have been slowly gaining wordcount on my hard drives... slowly... too many darn interests & they keep cluing me that there are new things to be learned & worked in... slowly but surely... getting there.

I tell you what is really causing me to eat my insides out right now, is the eBook reader market!

I've had an mobile application in mind for 10 years, waiting for the hardware to develop to the point it could handle it. eBook reader, linked in with lesson plans, comments, etc, networked, I.M. & vid chat for friends & teachers, tying it all in with parents & ability to see what's been learned, what hasn't, etc... I think it'd be big with homeschooler groups & private schools.... Anyway, the last 2 yrs ate the savings I'd been setting aside for a 6 mo mad money 'sabbatical' when the time was right... and of course the Tea Party activities eat the rest of spare time away....

God most certainly has a very keen sense of humor!

julie said...

Van, have you seen these?

black hole said...

The Wilbur quote which alludes to life being a grand game of checkers, has some element of truth.

Gaming, entertainment, amusement, storytelling, etc. are all "of the essence" and can be considered analoguous to what God gets out of this whole thing--namely, adventure, surprise, the delight of the unexpected, etc.

It IS a game, friends. That doesn't cheapen life. Rather, it enriches the meaning of sport. Football is of the essence.

Game on! Its what we are for.

JP said...

Black Hole says:

"The Wilbur quote which alludes to life being a grand game of checkers, has some element of truth."

I think this first came from C.S. Lewis. Wasn't it he who said that perhaps we are all immortals and time is the board upon which we play?

I can't remember which book.

JP said...

Bob says:

"No burning absence of desire to post anything, so I grabbed this one from three years ago and rethunk it:"

You know that you really need to do this with your book.

One of your talents is iterative rewriting.

julie said...

JP, I'm curious. How is it that you can express the desire to remain bitter, angry and hating life for the next fifty years, and yet still find something here that appeals to you? I'm not being facetious, and I don't mean this as an attack or anything, I'm genuinely curious.

You loathe meditation, but meditation in some form - ie, prayer without ceasing - is probably the key to moving past your present state. You had a bad experience once, so it must be totally bad, right?

Isn't it possible that the bad experience came from internal resistance and mind parasites rather than any external influence? I ask because a few years ago, I had a series of really disturbing dreams that were actually more an expression of internal resistance to moving closer to O. I stuck to my path, and the dreams resolved to a better understanding, then subsided. Or put another way, if you start a series of exercises and it turns out to be tougher than you thought, do you just quit outright, claim that exercise is bad, and tell all your friends they should stay away, or do you stick it out and try to work past it, knowing that your body will adjust and your health will improve, even though you feel wiped out at first?

Really, I just wonder how it is that you benefit from being here, because some days you sound like 90% of the male commenters over at Dr. Helen's. Clearly you do benefit, and you seem like a decent guy. However, if you haven't gathered from the posts that being so angry all the time is no way to spend a life - is, in fact, an outright repudiation of life and all that is good - then what have you learned?

wv, rather appropriately is "hater"...

black hole said...


Julie (one of the major raccoons here) has judged you unfit to be one of the club.

Therefore, I invite you to join the resistance. You and I and a very few others are the troll squad here.

What say? You want to join up?

Our Platform:

Leftism: not so bad

Environment: Green is good

Clmate Change: Is real

Wicca: Bad

Christianity: Fair, but flawed

Budhism: Same

Raccoonism: Good but flawed. The flaw is that they hate ________.

Us: Plastic, versatile, adaptive, and very argumentative.

Like it? Come aboard. Anyone else? Van?

julie said...

Julie (one of the major raccoons here) has judged you unfit to be one of the club.


Please. I wonder what he gets out of it, but mainly because he does seem to get at least some of it, and like I said he seems a decent guy. You, on the other hand, are simply a troll. I trust JP is smart enough to know the distinction.

Additionally, I'm giving him the same respect I'd hope to receive if our roles were reversed. Sometimes, we all need a metaphorical kick in the pants. I don't bother with you anymore because you just get a thrill out of it, so it's time and energy wasted.

ge said...

ge, one of the maje OTers here
guaranteed laff riot:

gloriously useless talent

wv: cowigne
Latin for barbecue

julie said...

For the sake of clarity, lest it seem I'm speaking out of callous disregard, I know and know of too many men who, for whatever reason, have decided that the mistakes they've made mean they have no choice but to spend the rest of their lives miserable. They're wrong, and if you really plan on doing that, JP, then you're wrong, too.

The last time I talked to my father, a couple weeks ago, he essentially told me he's expecting to drop dead any time now. The hell of it is, he might even be right, though if it happens it won't be because his health is all that bad. He's miserable and he wants to die. Like you, he made some bad choices in life, and he's been beating himself up for them and wallowing in them ever since. He hates the circumstances he's put himself in, but he's too terrified of the unknown to make any changes, and he can't let go of the past. Trouble is, just like with suicide when you decide to live in misery you aren't miserable alone. You radiate it like a poisonous miasma, decreasing the joy in life of everyone who cares about your sorry ass.

My dad doesn't have to be miserable, he just gave up too easily when it was hard to be happy. I love him, and I'd like nothing more than to see him stand up for himself. I don't let it slip past unremarked when he says he doesn't think he'll be around much longer. By the same token, I'm not likely to just say nothing when someone here says he plans on hating the rest of his life.

It's a tragedy. I really hope you change your mind.

Jack said...


Forgive my running obsession with electric era Miles Davis-- but I think there is something very useful in that era that I am now getting clued in on. I woke up this morning with some vague insights into what he was up to--or at least what I am getting from Miles.

Until recently I have taken a much more Coltrane-centric view of Jazz. I saw him as the culmination of the Jazz Tradition (of innovation). Coltrane seemed intent on embracing it all in a towering edifice of Promethean creation and destruction (and creation).

I've always liked Miles, but I never saw him on par with Coltrane. I have been for while radically reassessing Miles and his contribution not only to Jazz but to human expression in general. I tend to think it was far more influential and far-reaching than I had imagined. Of course I may very well be prone to overstatement.

For some reason the connection between Miles and James Joyce entered my head. Particularly the movement towards "Finnegans Wake" and the telling of the Unconscious history of humanity (if I can put it thus).

Like, Joyce, Miles sought to embrace and integrate pretty much *everything*. So my half-formed thought is to see Miles moving into the musical unconscious and improvising from there. But he did so differently than most in the "free" wing of Jazz--which is often a more direct expression of irrationality and chaos, speaking very broadly.

Miles took that and integrated it more deeply--both in the freebop/2nd quintet phase and the electric phase--as an expression of the conscious and unconscious...waking reality and dream reality.

Just a thought.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, but I often ask myself what direction Coltrane would have gone had he not been cut down at 40. I think he would have left the free jazz thing, since there was no place further to take it, and then embraced various world musics, beginning with Indian and African. To a certain extent, Pharoah Sanders picked up the latter trend, while McLaughlin was attracted to the former.

I haven't yet heard it, but there is a relatively new collection called Miles From India, which is reimagineering of some of his mostly electric era music with Indian musicians. The samples sound pretty interesting.

Jack said...

Agreed 100% on Coltrane. I have to believe that we'd be living in a markedly different musical world had he lived.

I just ordered "Miles from India"--couldn't pass that up!

I suppose any creative endeavor requires *some* form of conscious/unconscious integration if it is going to have ANY resonance...I guess I am hearing Miles (and in music--not *only* him, of course) as on par with the greats of the 20th century in that he furthered one of the great themes...the "discovery" and further exploration of the Unconscious.

ge said...

Dylan: Gemini Jewish Genius on Columbia, very personal harmonica style
flaunting many conventions--unpolished, slightly sloppy
Miles: Gemini black Genius on Columbia, oft w/ a distinctive frail lonely lost sound to his trumpet


ge said...

Limbaugh on whole Family Guy tonite

Van said...

Julie said "Van, have you seen these?"

Yep, one of the guys I work with has one... pretty nifty gadgets. I don't think they'd work well with what I've got in mind though.

I want eBook, notes, assignments, tracking and reporting all integrated into one unit that could be used on a larger Phone (just a touch bigger than an iPhone, which the new ones coming by Nov promise to be), tablet, laptop or desktop PC.

Even... (cough, groan)... a Mac.

Now if nObama can just work his magic some more and get me downsized again, I might have a chance to build this thing.

(...there may be a bug in that line of though... )

Van said...

I said "(...there may be a bug in that line of though... )"

Ah! Yep, - (...there may be a bug in that line of thought... )

Fixed it!

Wha...? still a problem? Sorry, code meets requirements, take it up with the project manager, my work here is done.

(And THAT is a clue to why most software projects bloat and fail.)