Friday, April 30, 2010

I AM, Therefore I Think

A few more random thoughts on ontic and epistemic closure. I say "random" because in arriving at them, I am attempting to abandon ego-control -- handing off the ball to Bob's Unconscious, as it were -- but there is usually another hidden order beneath the randomness, organizing the search party. Indeed, I'm counting on it -- on there being another neural net somewhere above me when I work without one.

Which reminds me. On a purely psychological level, the final net is the Mother, or M-Other (see comments beginning about halfway down for further belaboration of the point). In order to understand and appreciate this, you must go much deeper than the usual associations of the word "mother." Rather, you have to think like an infant, which is of course difficult to do, since, in order to do it, you must abandon speech, logic, memory, and boundaries. Yes, sort of like Howard Dean.

But what's left, you ask, when one does that? That's a good question, and one that people such as Melanie Klein, W.R. Bion, and D.W. Winnicott set out to answer. Freud took psychological investigation back to the oedipal stage (ages 3 to 5), but regarded the period prior to that as a sort of dark and impenetrable jungle. In order to go there, it required a kind of inspired visionary lunacy, which is where Melanie Klein comes in. For in order to see into that dark world, one must be "broken" -- either willingly or unwillingly -- along one of its fault lines, so to speak, permitting one to either enter into it, or, more likely, to be flooded by its primitive material. Then it's a case of sink or swim.

I won't go into all of the details, which would be impossible anyway. The point is that human beings are ontologically open at both ends, the "above" and the "below." Only the most naive sort of rationalist could believe that his ego is a thing unto itself, unconnected to any other realities and requiring no further explanation. But a rationalist begins with reason, which is his whole problem.

The more someone is identified with his empirical ego, the more closed off he will be to the unconscious on the one hand, but the transcendent on the other. Either way, once you get over (or under) yourself and realize that your ego is a kind of floating condensation on a roiling sea of consciousness, then it's not any kind of stretch to believe in the thing called God, but which I prefer to call O, in order to avoid tainting God with egoic associations. We want to know O as it is, not as the ego thinks it is.

In a discussion of the differences between philosophy, theology, and gnosis (or intellection, if that word makes you uncomfortable), Schuon correctly points out that in one sense, the differences are relative, but in another sense, absolute. In the contemporary world, the differences tend to be quite stark, since philosophy is usually reduced to some variety of rationalism, while theology is reduced to dogmatic pneumababble about things no one can prove, but which must be taken on faith (the same way the rationalist must take his egoic reason on faith).

And intellection doesn't even enter the picture -- and not only for the profane thinker, which goes without saying, but for the "religious thinker" as well. Which is why he is not really a thinker; either that, or only a thinker. In other words, when the ego thinks about spiritual realities, it tends to generate stupidity, since the ego is of a "worldly substance" and not well adapted to celestial realities that have their source above the world.

But as Schuon points out, the differences between these modes are "only relative when one understands by 'philosophy' the fact of thinking, by 'theology' the fact of speaking dogmatically about God and religious things, and by gnosis the fact of presenting pure metaphysics..."

I think I would modify -- or expand upon -- this slightly, in that I would define theology as speaking "about God," whereas gnosis is speaking in God (or the Holy Spirit), so to speak.

Better yet, in order to avoid any misleading associations (and as fully explained in my book), I would designate theology O-->(k), and gnosis O-->(n), for we're really talking about two very different types of knowledge, and two very different means of accessing them. For example, anyone can acquire dogmatic (k) about O. This is not to put it down, only to draw a distinction between it and (n), which must be "undergone" as opposed to "acquired."

We've talked about theology and gnosis. Where does this leave garden-variety philosophy? That depends. If it comes from the ontically closed ego, then it amounts to what I call in my book (k)-->ø. That is, instead of beginning with "reality" -- a reality that clearly transcends, even dwarfs, the ego, it begins with the empirical ego and its little reasoning faculty. It then applies its reason to "the world," but it's not really the world -- i.e., O -- just a little egoic representation of it.

This is why the ego necessarily reduces O to ø, irrespective of how intelligent the person is. If one imagines that one can map reality with reason, one has rendered oneself stupid, for one is simply engaging in one of the numberless varieties of (k)-->ø. Get in line.

Schuon makes another critical point about the difference between profane philosophy, or (k)-->ø, and gnosis, or O-->(n). That is, -- ironically -- the former can't really know anything with certainty. Except for one thing: that it doesn't know, or is not sure.

In this regard, Descartes was absolutely correct. If we limit ourselves to the ego, we can only begin with the radical skepticism of doubting that we even exist. But since we can doubt, then we exist. As a result, the rationalist is always fighting against nagging doubts about his own real existence, and certainly about his significance. This is what happens when you put Descartes before the Force.

So rationalism is founded upon the principle of doubting that we exist, which is a pretty paltry thing to hold onto. In contrast, theology is founded upon the a priori certainty of dogma, which for many people is enough: God said it, I believe it, that settles it. Nothing wrong with skiing between the lines as opposed to extreme seeking in the ungroomed areas of the Sacred Mountain.

But gnosis or intellection begins with another kind of certainty, the certainty of metaphysical truths that cannot not be, but which must again be "undergone" and assimilated. Indeed, Truth must be suffered, or as Petey prefers to say, sophered. Why is that? Because to know a truth -- i.e., genuine objectivity -- is death to the ego. But once the ego is out of the way, it doesn't hurt at all. In fact, it kind of tickles.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Epistemic Closure and Ontic Collapse (5.16.11)

I guess I found a topic we haven't discussed. Have you been keeping up with the debate about whether the conservative movement has descended into epistemic closure? Ironically, it's been a big topic of discussion in the hermetically sealed intellectual world of the left, including in such shriveled organs as the Washington Post, New York Times, and New Republic.

Pot kettle black!

PowerLine discusses the matter here, and to a certain extent, all that remains is to laugh at the leftist who imagines that his ideology is not only the essence of epistemic, but of ontological, closure. For it is not just that the leftist lives in a closed intellectual world, but that he closes himself to whole worlds, i.e., the vertical world, or every ontologically real degree of being that transcends matter.

Many of my readers are former liberals who left the left precisely because of its narrow, closed, and cramped worldview, histrionically enforced by the femailed fist of political correctness.

One could list the many issues which are not debatable on the left -- e.g., that the Constitution is both a malleable document and unambiguous in its upholding of the sanctity of abortion -- but that is not the point of this post. For one thing, mocking the left in this conventional way is too easy. Rather, we wish to mock them in a more revelated and laughty manner.

In order to do this, we must begin at the very beginning, for again, if one's anthropology is wrong, then so too will one's political philosophy -- and everything else, for that matter -- be wrong.

For example, if it is true that man is just another animal selected by the environment through random mutations, he is by definition epistemologically closed, for he is limited by what his selfish genes want him to know (and we would have no way of knowing otherwise).

On the other hand, if man is created in the image of God, this places no limit on what he may know, since he partakes of the very substance of the Absolute.

Schuon notes that true -- or traditional -- philosophy involves "knowledge of the stellar world and all that is situated above us." But this is precisely where knowledge shades off into wisdom, the latter having to do with immutable ideas and archetypes, i.e., our Cosmic Clueprint. It is "knowledge of first causes and principles, together with the sciences derived from them."

This knowledge is both essential and true, hence, liberating: it is the truth that sets one free, but only so long as one both knows it and lives in conformity with it (for the latter implies that truth has mingled with one's own substance).

It is here that truth touches on intrinsic morality -- or where knowledge has its limits and responsibilities. For all normal men know that truth may be defined as that which we must know and are obligated to defend. Only an already lost soul believes that truth doesn't exist or that it carries no moral obligation with it.

But for the secular leftist -- or any profane thinker -- there can be no philosophy as such, only various parodies of it, such scientism, rationalism, Darwinism, existentialism, etc. Since the world of transcendence is a priori closed to him, the profane thinker (or infertile egghead) is reduced to "reasoning" about phenomena, or secondary causes (i.e., diddling around ønanistically with cosmic maya). Thus, his philosophy becomes the dry dream within a dream that Lao Tse warned us about.

Do you see the problem? Logic itself is a closed system -- for its conclusions arise necessarily from its premises -- but becomes doubly closed when one applies it only to the shifting empirical world of secondary causes.

Not only does the profane thinker try to reason in the absence of truth, but he seriously attempts to arrive at truth through reason, which no serious person would ever attempt to do. Such individuals imagine "that the norm for the mind is reasoning pure and simple, in the absence not only of intellection but of indispensable objective data" (Schuon). The problem, of course, is not logic, but knowing the purposes and the limits of logic.

Now, as a kind of compensatory mechanism, the secular thinker exchanges vertical openness toward the transcendent with a kind of faux horizontal freedom -- for nothing pleases the leftist more than to believe that he is a fearlessly "free thinker" who has thrown off the shackles of convention and tradition. He is the very opposite of those religious yahoos who believe in ontological realities transcending matter -- little things like truth, love, virtue, beauty, or Slack.

But how could freedom exist in any meaningful sense in the absence of truth? If there is no truth, then there is no freedom, only random or arbitrary movement. And if there is Truth, then by freedom the leftist merely means freedom from it. But you knew that already.

Again, the profane thinker is reduced to "observing causations in the outer world and drawing from his observations the conclusions that impose themselves on his sense of logic" (Schuon). This does not deserve the name "philosophy" any more than Keith Olbermann deserves the name "journalist." But the leftist cannot exclude what his impoverished philosophy tries to deny, so he necessarily lives in a world of ghostly demonic presences that he projects into the conservative.

In other words, for the true leftist, the transcendent is collapsed into the immanent and located in the malevolent other, who becomes the essence of everything he denies in himself. Only in this way could a doctrinaire leftist flatter himself by imagining that he lives in an epistemologically open world. Whereas a normal person vertically "brings his troubles to God," so to speak, the leftist projects them horizontally into demon teabaggers, anti-immigrant nazis, Obama-hating racists, and other malign figments of his ontologically closed imagination.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Hiatus

While I determine whether anything remains unsaid.