Friday, October 08, 2010

What is Life? Life is What?!

Just as today's armies are equipped only to win yesterday's wars, we cannot expect contemporary physics to successfully cope with problems other than those with which it has already coped. --Robert Rosen, Life Itself

As we were discussing yesterday, it is very unlikely -- impossible, really -- that the cosmos could be a machine. Rather, it is much more like an organism -- or even a mind -- than it is a machine. And once we understand this, it makes the so-called "emergence" of life and mind much less problematic, based upon the Principle of principles, as above, so below.

Conversely, if we begin with the scientistic quaxiom "as below, so above," we really can't ever leave the bottom floor, or barking structure, of the cosmic telovator. It is a world intrinsically devoid of values, progress, hierarchy, or even evolution (as opposed to mere change).

Based upon a proper meta-understanding of reason, it is the work of a moment to arrive at the logical necessity of God. To put it another way, I have never heard any version of atheism that isn't shot through with unjustified premises, illogical conclusions, and metaphysical nul-de-slacks.

However, to merely posit the existence of a creator tells us nothing about what this creator is like, for example, whether he is even good or worthy of worship. Indeed, how did this idea of "worship" slip in, anyway? Suppose physicists eventually discover a mathematical "theory of everything." It is highly unlikely that they will spontaneously bow down and worship it, even if it is their ultimate icon of scientistic gnosis. So why should we worship our Ultimate Principle? We'll get to that later.

If the Creator exists, it necessarily follows that he is "like us," without being limited to being like us. This is true of any level in the cosmic hierarchy. For example, life is "like matter," without being limited to it. Likewise, human beings are "like primates" without being limited to that. Or, to put it another way, if we turn the cosmos right side up, and begin at the top, we can see that each level of reality is a diminution, until we reach the realm of dense matter.

And in fact, all esoteric cosmologies continue down beyond matter, which makes perfect sense, since the "ray of creation" proceeds from the cosmic center (or top, if you like), and continues on "forever," so to speak, to the threshold of nihilism, or blind nothingness. In this regard, we can see that matter is actually superior and has more nobility than, say, the nihilists of dailykos, even though we must never treat them as such, out of respect for their still human potential.

I realize that some readers think Schuon is difficult or obscure, but really, the following cannot be said with any more adamantine precision. The difficulty probably results from trying to read what he is saying while sitting upside down. Basically you're out of your tree. Once you properly orient yourself to reality, feet firmly in the air -- roots aloft, branches down below -- it makes perfect sense:

"The diverse manifestations of the Good in the world clearly have their source in a principial and archetypal diversity, whose root is situated in the Supreme Principle itself, and which pertains not only to the Divine Qualities, from which our virtues are derived, but also -- in another respect -- to aspects of the Divine Personality, from which our faculties are derived" (emphasis mine).

Recall Jesus' ironic and extraordinarily soph-aware remark, "Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." What this means is that if we begin "at the top" -- which is to say, with the Absolute -- then we must conclude that only it is absolutely good: "He alone possesses, for example, the quality of beauty; compared to the divine Beauty, the beauty of a creature is nothing, just as existence itself is nothing next to the Divine Being" (Schuon).

But God, being absolute, is necessarily infinite. As such, his absolute transcendence is matched by his infinite immanence which extends everywhere and into every thing -- and which ultimately is another form of transcendence! It is why, for example, God is intuited in the very large -- e.g., Mount Everest or the Grand Canyon -- and the very small -- e.g., an infantile or even infinitesimal quantum of life or energy.

Because of the immanence of the Absolute, it can be said that "the beauty of a creature -- being beauty and not its contrary -- is necessarily that of God, since there is no other; and the same is true for all the other qualities, without forgetting, at their basis, the miracle of existence" (ibid).

Yesterday we were discussing how these principles may be applied to life, not just biological life, but to Life as such, of which biological organisms are a trans-lucent revelation and reflection. For clearly, as I mentioned in the Coonifesto, God is obviously alive; but just as obviously, not a biological organism. In fact, if animals could speak to biologists, they might say something like, "Why do you call me alive? There is none alive but one, that is, God." Then again, animals say this all the time. But in order to gnosis it, you must be an animal lover, for love is the "link" or "channel" for such pneumatic information. That or beauty.

Rosen -- who was a "hard" scientist, and, to my knowledge, not a religious man -- wanted to know "what it is about organisms that confers upon them their magical characteristics, what it is that sets life apart from all other material phenomena in the universe. That is indeed the question of questions: What is life? What is it that enables living things, apparently so moist, fragile, and evanescent, to persist while towering mountains dissolve into dust, and the very continents and oceans dance into oblivion and back?"

Of course, he looked for (and found) a scientific answer, but it is an answer that ultimately "must be," for the very same reason that the Creator must be. Rosen foreshadows this Reason in the Prolegomena of the book, where he observes that, "Ironically, the idea that life requires an explanation is a relatively new one. To the ancients, life simply was; it was a given; a first principle, in terms of which other things were explained."

But life "vanished as an explanatory principle with the rise of mechanics," even though machines -- which are created for a purpose -- are much more "like life" than life is "like a machine." It is as if scientists abstracted some quality from life, and then re-projected the abstraction onto the concrete reality, thus conflating the two. Frankly, scientists do this all the time, which is why one must make a conscious effort to escape the influence of the cramped and banal models of reality proffered to us by scientism.

One thing atheists and other materialists habitually do is to naively take their abstractions for real reality. However, the cosmos is not a machine, the genome is not a map, the brain is not a computer, mountains are not triangles, and love is not a baseball game. But I am a Raccoon, a foolblooded schlepson of Toots Mondello, a mystery for you to ponder until I continue this thread later.

Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. --John 15:4

42 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

What a great post. And to think you might not have written it.

George would have liked the title too. Or does.

10/08/2010 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger SippicanCottage said...

A man, who is just a bag of guts according to some, plays chess with a computer the size of a railcar. They play for a week. The man beats the computer, fairly regularly. Eventually, what is essentially a totally knowable thing,(if you have the computational ability)all the possible moves and variations, is mapped out by the machine instantly and the man is bested.

Then the man gets up, drives home, watches TV, fixes dinner, writes a poem, and contemplates the moon with his arm around his lover.

Another sort of man dusts the machine, and worships it.

10/08/2010 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

what it is about organisms that confers upon them their magical characteristics, what it is that sets life apart from all other material phenomena in the universe. That is indeed the question of questions: What is life? What is it that enables living things, apparently so moist, fragile, and evanescent, to persist while towering mountains dissolve into dust, and the very continents and oceans dance into oblivion and back?

He looks at things the right way up. Most people would compare life to mountains and say that the mountains, continents and oceans are near to everlasting in contrast to puny life. But he's right, life is magical.

It is as if scientists abstracted some quality from life, and then re-projected the abstraction onto the concrete reality, thus conflating the two.

Or looked at another way, it's as though scientists see life and matter through a kind of dualistic lens, assuming that because they are one (inasmuch as life is grounded in matter) they are equal, and extrapolation between the two can go both ways. Thus it is believed that machines, if only we make them complex enough, can somehow be equal to the simplest virus or the most complex human mind. But since matter is in fact an emanation of life, you simply can't bring that frankenstone to think for itsoph, no matter how many volts go vooming through it. Only Life can beget life.

Or, in much more eloquent terms, what Sippi just said.

Completely tangentially, what is it about the word "moist" that seems vaguely distasteful except when it describes food? Maybe that's just me...

10/08/2010 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of things that can't be brought to life, the dead won't rise, no matter how much stimulus they receive.

*sigh*

10/08/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

They might not rise, but many will vote.

10/08/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The idea that life precedes is like the thought that God knows the end from the beginning, because, as a wise man said in a book, the end is the beginning.

10/08/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh - that's the real zombie apocalypse people should be worried about.

10/08/2010 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Completely tangentially, what is it about the word "moist" that seems vaguely distasteful except when it describes food? Maybe that's just me..."

Julie, it's not just you. Whenever I hear the word I think of:

The night was moist?

10/08/2010 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

So I don't leave that matzo ball hanging there...the rest of the joke.

10/08/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

I haven't seen that movie since I was a kid. I'll have to watch it again sometime, now with Added Perspective™

10/08/2010 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"As we were discussing yesterday, it is very unlikely -- impossible, really -- that the cosmos could be a machine. Rather, it is much more like an organism -- or even a mind -- than it is a machine. And once we understand this, it makes the so-called "emergence" of life and mind much less problematic, based upon the Principle of principles, as above, so below. "

Pardon a random, burned out from the week, sci-fi'ish sort of (?!) comment, having read no further in the post yet, but I wonder what a microscopic scientismistic inhabitant of... say... the frontal lobe of a brain, would say about the apparent mechanical structures built up all around them, about the continual electrical storms, the tidal flows of blood & oxygen and the interesting nature of the cells... maybe he'd remark on how interesting it is that these obviously separate structures nevertheless came together to, quite by hapenstance, form a habitable environment for them to study. And of course, no, there was no plan or purpose to life, it just occured there by chance.

More caffiene. Too much? Nyahhh....

10/08/2010 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

You and your readers might be interested in the Canadian Thomist Charles De Koninck's essay on "The Lifeless World of Biology," which is available online.

It is curious that scientists seek to explain life using models that are themselves entirely lifeless. Ultimately, they are describing not living organisms, but lifeless automata or simulacra of living organisms, dead bodies that perform the observable functions of living organisms, but without being alive. That is, zombies.

A real science of life would begin with understanding what is living, not from the bizarre outliers such as viruses, but with understanding the usual and typical living beings we encounter every day.

Anotehr interesting thinker in this regard is the ornithologist Alexander Skutch.

With many thanks for your continuing presence here, and wishing you a Gut Shabbos,

Gandalin

10/08/2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Gandalin. "The Lifeless World of Biology," can be found here (scroll down a couple of essays).

10/08/2010 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger anon said...

As we were discussing yesterday, it is very unlikely -- impossible, really -- that the cosmos could be a machine. Rather, it is much more like an organism -- or even a mind -- than it is a machine.

How do you know? What does "machine" mean to you? The cosmos is obviously not a machine in the sense of being designed for a particular purpose, and it just as obviously is a machine in that it operates according to the laws of physics. So "machine" has a metaphorical relationship to "cosmos", and whether it's a good or bad metaphor dependse on what you are trying to do and what your understanding of "machine" is. Whatever the limitations of that metaphor, it seems a lot better than "organism", since the cosmos displays bascially none of the characteristics of an organism -- no reproduction, no interchange with the environment (there is no environment), no metabolism.

Conversely, if we begin with the scientistic quaxiom "as below, so above," we really can't ever leave the bottom floor...

I always thought that "as above, so below" was a symmetrical relationship.

the brain is not a computer

Computers aren't computers either -- that is, there is a difference between the physical machine on which you are reading this and the abstract model of computation it implements. But so what? The idea of computation is a powerful idea for explaining the brain, and unless you have a better one -- and you clearly don't -- you should probably shut up about it.

10/08/2010 06:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Touched a nerve.

10/08/2010 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Wow, no kidding. I'm guessing his father was a Vulcan and his mother was a circuit board...

10/08/2010 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger anon said...

Can't you guys can't even go one round without resorting to ad hominem? I guess not. Oh well, go back to your self-satisified contemplation of your beautiful souls.

10/08/2010 07:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Must suck to be a victim of this blog.

10/08/2010 08:18:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

No kidding. Look at this guy's torment - not only does he disagree, he demands that you shut up. And also argue with him. How dare anyone express an opinion that contradicts his world view! And yet, he's powerless to turn away and find something more agreeable to read.

I could almost feel sorry for him. But not quite.

10/08/2010 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Julie said: "Completely tangentially, what is it about the word "moist" that seems vaguely distasteful except when it describes food? Maybe that's just me..."

I have heard this very same complaint from a good number of women. Personally it still seems to be a usable, if slightly humdrum word. If anything it has been rendered slightly ridiculous due to its overuse in commercials for baked goods, etc.

A while back I had sent a poem to a love interest--one not written by me--that included in it the word "moist". I was quite proud of my choice, overall. But upon showing the poem to some male co-workers, I was promptly told that while the poem was basically a good one, my selection was irreparably damaging to me because women hate the word "moist".

This was the first I had been told of this aversion...so, now I know.

10/08/2010 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

Yes, I can see where it would be a largely female sort of aversion. The first person I ever heard to note the distaste was a college roommate, and on reflection I had to agree with her.

10/08/2010 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Reminds me of something Letterman said many years ago: 'My volume of poetry was rejected by another publisher. It's always the same reason: "Excessive use of the word throbbing."

10/09/2010 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Wait...throbbing shouldn't have been in the poem, either!??! Now you tell me!

No wonder that relationship didn't work out.

Live and learn...

10/09/2010 08:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

It's not your fault. There just aren't enough words that rhyme with knob.

10/09/2010 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

so true...

10/09/2010 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/09/2010 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/fashion/10coulter.html

oh see how the libs hate lady Ann!

10/09/2010 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Uh oh. Good thing that only refers to Brits. If I lived there, I'd lose my sense of humor pretty quickly, too.

That might explain why we don't appear to have any British raccoons...

10/09/2010 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Col. J. C. Beaglehole said...

Excuse me?

10/09/2010 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D
Let me rephrase that. It might explain why British Raccoons are underrepresented...

10/09/2010 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

did i share this one of elizabeth cotten?
SHAKE SUGAREE

10/09/2010 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Well... I asked "...I wonder what a microscopic scientismistic inhabitant of... say... the frontal lobe of a brain, would say ..."

, and anunce answered "...unless you have a better one -- and you clearly don't -- you should probably shut up about it."

Careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

10/09/2010 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

SUNDAY MUSICAL FUNDAY QUIZ!
[difficulty level~ stellar]
this long necked creature had a famous musical brother....
.
.
.
don't peek
=
WHO

10/10/2010 06:49:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Anon says:

"The cosmos is obviously not a machine in the sense of being designed for a particular purpose, and it just as obviously is a machine in that it operates according to the laws of physics."

That is precisely wrong.

Note: This is not an ad hominem attack.

10/10/2010 06:55:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

The cosmos is not a machine in several ways. For one, only a man could make a machine (having made the word itself). I think it's obvious that man did not make the cosmos since he shows up rather late in it. I think the word cosmos properly includes all things in the universe and those "things" which transcend it (including God). That's how I understand the word (otherwise I need a word for when talking about both at the same time, or at least "everything known".) The cosmos is more properly called a creation of God (when at the same time not including God..you get the picture, hopefully.) What we call a machine, is like as Bob says, a misplaced projection of an abstraction (in this case of what is learned from the creation) or a misplacing of the projected with its source.
The cosmos is not -- nor even the universe -- like a machine. That's at best backwards. Properly, a person "recognizes" certain qualities projected out from the cosmos that is in a sense the parent of them, and recognizes similar ones in what he can only later call a machine which adopts them. And there is much more to this cosmos than its so-called machine-like qualities. To think that a cosmos is only a machine is the error.
So in other words, a cosmos is not like a machine. A machine is like a cosmos.

10/10/2010 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think the point is, what are we saying when we say "cosmos?" Not only is the cosmos the totality of every existing thing, but it is clearly an integrated system, both vertically and horizontally, interiorly and exteriorly. None of this can be empirically "observed." Rather, it's something we just know and implicitly assume, at least in the Judeo-Christian west. But neither our science nor our religion would be possible in the absence of this implicit framework.

10/10/2010 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger anon said...

JP: That is precisely wrong

That isn't an argument, it's just contradiction.

10/10/2010 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

RIP Solomon Burke, Cosmo-American artist.

10/10/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Interesting, though probably everyone has seen it already. What stands out for me (aside from the obvious issues re. the AGW scam) is this bit at the beginning, a note on the transition from science (and the lives of scientists, not unlike those of monastics, which makes sense since seekers of truth must not be concerned overly much with seeking lavish lifestyles) to scientism:

"When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago). Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence---it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d'être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs."

10/10/2010 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Thanks, Julie. I had only read the clip of it on Ace. I thought he grabbed the best of it. Not even close.
This is great:

" I don't believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist."

10/10/2010 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's the same with my racket. It's all victim-group grievance-centered now. The left has totally succeeded in transforming psychology into a joke.

10/10/2010 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Any chance we can fix it before my boy gets there?

10/10/2010 12:10:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home