Saturday, August 21, 2010

Van Morrison and the Technique of How to Live

Whenever I read I highlight, but in a peculiar way. I don't highlight for facts or ideas. Rather, I only highlight things that, for whatever reason, resonate with me on some deeper level.

When I finish a book, I go back and re-read what I have highlighed, which reinforces that Resonant Thing inside of me. My posts often consist of articulating and amplifying this resonance, so that hopefully it will resonate in you as well. (In my book this is symbolized ≈. That with which ≈ resonates is ¶.)

I finally finished this book on Van Morrison that I started reading at least a couple of months ago. This morning I've decided to review the scattered passages I highlighted. In what follows, you may see that a kind of narrative emerges, one that is certainly relevant to me, but perhaps to you as well.

"I don't want to just sing a song... anyone can do that... something else has got to happen" (VM).

America exists as an emotional idea, both within its own people and the wider world.

The BBC depended upon imported American records during the Second World War.

Port cities throughout the UK emerged as centres of Britain's growing popular music scene.

... jazz, blues, country records, all saturated with the spirit of America, the sound of a far-off new world dream, where even songs of poverty, hard work and harder luck seemed magical.

"Blues isn't to do with black or white; blues is about the truth, and blues is the truth" (VM).

... if 'having the blues' is a cultural shorthand for feeling down, then 'singing the blues' is surely something else -- suggestive of resistance and endurance.

Sun's going down, nightfall gonna catch me here. --Robert Johnson

... the blues can sound like anything -- it is in performance that they become "truth."

"I wanted to make my own blues, my own soul music, to do something of my own with it. That's where I'm coming from" (VM).

So he wanted to take the tradition, and innovate within and beyond it.

... these songs were not necessarily born to be sold, to be "listened" to for pleasure or "consumed" by others; other imperatives came to bear upon their coming into being.

Morrison was perhaps at the deepest point of his interest in the metaphysical power of music -- music as healing force.

"Jazz is not a kind of music, it is an approach, and it applies to how one goes about finding their voice, relating to a tradition, stepping into the unknown and swinging" (Ben Sidran).

... Morrison has called it "the sense of wonder," the unconscious living in the now, that seems to fall from us as we make the transition from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience.

Paul McCartney once described the riff of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" as "the riff of the universe... that just keeps going forever."

[Gloria] is simplicity of a near-primal kind... the feel -- that which cannot be transcribed -- is everything.

[Gloria is] so pure, that if no other hint of it but this record existed, there would still be such a thing as rock and roll.

"How can a 51-year old sing that? I can't relate to it. Why am I expected to, anyway, at 51? I wrote it when I was 20. I was never paid for Brown Eyed Girl" (VM).

The memory of it [the Garden] is both a thorn in the side, a reminder of the Fall, but also a spur on to working towards some kind of return.

So there is this literal use of the term [healing] to consider, and it is certainly part of Morrison's deeper interest in music, in its nature and its "secret power."

"Any kind of art or music is involved in healing, whether it's rock 'n' roll or classical music, it's all healing.... All this is just the foreground, but the background is something else."

... the ancient roads are under our feet, criss-crossing what appear to be our fixed navigational material realities, hidden but perceptible.

This is the role of the ancient highway, to provide a link between the "forgotten" reality and the present material circumstances...

"He's after the musical technique of how to live" (Patrick Kavanagh).

Samuel Becket said that the most he could dare to hope for was to make or leave "a stain on the silence".... [His] ambition was to create what he called "a literature of the unword."

"The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express" (George Duthiut).

Distrust the artist who tells you they know exactly what their work is "about."

In Morrison's art, silence is at the centre, and sometimes when he approaches that centre on a good night onstage -- when something is about to happen -- the conditions need to be absolutely right or it won't happen.... [It is] where the commonplace can become the marvellous.

... silence is a positive presence, rather than a vacuum, or an absence. It is an aspect of being, rather than non-being.

Q: ... [Y]ou seem to sing somewhere between your throat and your heart.... [I]s that the zone you want to both come from and resonate in other people, the heart?

VM: Eventually it'll get into the heart. That's what the eventual goal is -- Exactly.

Why was I writing this kind of material when my contemporaries weren't? So I wanted to find out where I stood and which tradition I came from. Well eventually I found out that the tradition I belonged to was actually my own tradition. It was like being hit over the head with a baseball bat. You find out that what you've been searching for you already are. --VM


Friday, August 20, 2010

Cosmic Evolution and the Third Bang

Again, the emergence of man was either the ultimate Black Swan -- meaning the most inconceivable thing one can possible conceive -- or there is something else going on here besides natural selection. At the very dawn of the cultural explosion, "there was no hint of what was to come, no clue" that this unimpressive specimen was anything more than a "precariously successful predatory ape" (Ridley). For how could there be a clue, with no one capable of getting one?

Sometimes I re-imagine the old covenant as an allegory for a more universal story -- in other words, not just about the people of Israel, but about man as such. Thus, what if God happened to choose this particular "precariously successful predatory ape" for his people? He certainly didn't choose Neanderthals, or Home erectus, or a number of other big-brained hominids.

And where was that garden, and what was the Law that was violated? Reader Mikal provided a hint with his comment yesterday about the new rules that applied to the human dimension, over and above the biological. Man is in biology but striving for the human (or divine-human synthesis, to be precise). The Ten Commandments codify certain vertical and horizontal rules that make this journey possible.

As we have discussed in the past, the first five are vertical, and have to do with our relationship to the Absolute. But the second five are horizontal, and have to do with our relationship to our fellow man, i.e., murdering, lying, stealing, envying, and cheating. These are the minimal rules necessary to maintain a functioning collective, and without the collective, man is nothing.

Note that this is Ridley's central point: that somehow, man was lifted out of his solitary existence to a communal one, and not just physically. After all, ants and communists live in physical communion, and what has it done for them? Rather, what was required was emotional, spiritual, and intellectual communion, or the exchange of ideas, emotions, and other mental states, modes, and dimensions.

Being an exiled-from-the-garden variety intellectual, Ridley focuses on the intellectual and economic, but there are deeper currents that unite human beings, and without which there would be no "medium" for the transfer of ideas. He touches on one of the critical ones -- trust, and especially its gradual widening -- but isn't able to say much about it with the crude tools available to the materialist.

Back to the Bible for a moment. I've always had the suspicion that the story of Cain and Abel is actually a collective memory about the genocide of our nearest genetic neighbor, Neanderthal man. They were a separate line of Homo sapiens, with language, tools, and a larger brain than ours. But the last of them died out some 25,000 years ago. Given that we had a lot of contact with them, and given how human beings treat the Other, it wouldn't surprise me if we wiped them out. The only surprise is that we didn't make them slaves, like a Star Trek episode.

Note that just after we leave Eden, the scene changes to the story of the primordial brothers. Surely it is significant that the first crime recorded in the Bible is murder, calculated, cold-blooded and remorseless. This is one of the reasons why the Bible is so much more unflinchingly accurate and realistic than most other philosophies in describing what man is and what he is capable of. Knowing this, nothing about man's countless future crimes should come as a surprise. But how do we stop this endless man-on-man, brother-on-brother violence?

We'll get to that later. We're getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Ridley and that unimpressive predatory ape that suddenly found itself publishing books about itself.

Again, Ridley fully concedes the problems of a Darwinian explanation, in that genetic change could never keep up with the suddenness and speed of the cultural explosion, let alone explain it. The genes are a lagging indicator, not a leading one. Something else is providing the evolutionary pressure. But whatever it is, "it must be something that gathers pace by feeding upon itself, something that is auto-catalytic."

Now, it just so happens that this is right up my alley, as the second paper I published back in 1994 -- yes, in a real scientific, peer-reviewed journal -- was on this very topic. It was titled Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. But the paper was based on a part of my dissertation, which I must have begun writing in the spring of 1986, so that shows you how long these ideas have been percolating and evolving in my melon.

In turn, some of these ideas found their way into chapter 3.2 of my book, The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby. That's really the point, because if scientists are correct, then a baby of today is genetically no different (or not significantly different) from a baby of 100,000 years ago, which means that all the stuff that's happened since then can in no way be reduced to genetics and natural selection. I am happy to concede that genes are a necessary, but clearly not a sufficient, condition for our humanness (let alone a final one).

So I don't think I'll rehearse my whole argument here. Most readers are familiar with it anyway.

Well, maybe just a little. That word "auto-catalytic" is particularly important. It has to do with the product of a chemical reaction that is itself the catalyst for another reaction. Open systems -- otherwise known as dissipative structures -- take in energy or information, and then sustain themselves through auto-catalysis. Some people believe that auto-catalysis is the irreducible component of life, e.g., Ilya Prigogine.

Whatever the case may be, it is certainly the irreducible component of mental life, along with openness and disequilibrium. In the paper, I describe how, through psychic auto-catalysis, there is a spiraling ascent into meaning and truth, which in turn accelerate their own synthesis. This is the underlying mechanism that permits what we call "the colonization of the subjective horizon."

Ridley reduces this all down to economic exchange, which for me is placing the cart before the horse. Rather, human beings must again be open systems at their very foundation. Exchange is not something that is only added later, as if it is contrary to our nature. But here is how Ridley describes it:

"Exchange needed to be invented. It does not come naturally to most animals. There is strikingly little use of barter in other animal species." He's talking about something much more profound than mere reciprocity, or, say, giving food for sexual favors. Rather, he's talking about abstract exchange, which eventually leads to the total abstraction of money. This new kind of exchange is "a thing of explosive possibility, a thing that breeds, explodes, grows, auto-catalyzes."

Indeed, as I tried to explain in my book, it is really the third Bang, after existence and life. And obviously, we've gotten a lot of bucks from this bang.

To be continued....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Darwinian Tower of Monkey Babble

We left off with Ridley's observation that "there appeared on earth a new kind of hominid, one that refused to play by the rules. Without any change in its body, without any succession of species, it just kept changing its habits. For the first time, its technology changed faster than its anatomy. There was an evolutionary novelty, and you are it."

Some of you anyway.

Now, this is not supposed to happen under the iron hand of natural selection. But as Ridley properly notes, our species was born in rebellion. It simply "refused to play by the rules," rules that are only invented a posteriori anyway by scientists looking through the rearview mirror with 20/20 hindsight.

Again, this is the ultimate Black Swan, since not only could no one have predicted it beforehand, but they would have said with absolute certainty that it is impossible, not in this cosmos, and not under the rules we play by -- just as they insist that it is impossible for the Son of Man to evolve out of man. In their religion, only one miracle is permitted. Thus, the vast testimony of the saints and sages -- not to mention the legacy of true artists of Space and Time -- is just noise.

But why do scientists believe the only rules governing the cosmos are those that are accessible to their modified ape brain seen through the window of the last 300 years? This is just one of the implicit meta-rules they play by, but once you examine the rule, it is absurd if not childish, especially in the context of their own theory of what man is.

In other words, if man is what they say he is, what is the source of their arrogance and narrow-minded certainty? Why the preposterous confidence about what an ape can know of reality?

Either man's intellect is a potential adequation to reality, or it is not. And if it is, then Darwin is wrong, period. It surely doesn't mean that there is no truth to natural selection, because there obviously is. It is just that it cannot be the only rule life plays by, for there is nothing in natural selection that permits pneumacognitive adequation to nonlocal reality and truth.

Or, look at it this way. Usually, when a great person breaks a rule, it is because he is obeying a higher one. For example, a jazzologically untutored person might listen to Thelonious Monk and remark, "sounds okay, but why does he keep hitting the wrong notes? Why isn't he obeying the rules of music?"

The answer is that he is obeying a higher musical law, one in which notes that may sound wrong from below are right from above. Likewise the paintings of Kandinsky we discussed the other day. He's not just breaking rules, but discovering new ones.

Note that rules are the boundary conditions that govern a game. Let's say we're playing baseball. Nature could not evolve a superior ballplayer by making one that "refused to play by the rules."

For example, this ballplayer might insist that a home run is now a home run regardless of whether the ball is fair or foul; or that he may henceforth tackle the runner to impede his progress. If this were to happen, there would be no game. In other words, there is no possible game outside the rules of the game. Rather, there's just chaos. The game is over when someone refuses to play by the rules.

At some point some fifty-thousand years ago, human beings flatly refused any longer to play by the rules of natural selection. But just as with baseball, when someone refuses to play by the rules, that should be the end of the game.

In fact, man is hardly the only animal that tried to outwit nature and play outside her rules. But before man, their batting average was .000. In other words, like Pete Rose, the price they paid for violating the rules was extinction.

But when man stepped outside or above the rules of natural selection -- when the Spirit of Life was breathed into him -- he didn't just step out into chaos, into a jungle with no higher law governing it.

To the contrary, he now found himself playing under a new set of rules, very similar to what occurred when matter refused to play by the old rules of physics and suddenly came to life. Thereafter it played under a novel set of rules which fall under the rubric of biology. And one of those rules is surely natural selection, but only one.

There are clearly other rules -- including rules that transcend natural selection -- but not all of the monkeys are able to discern or understand them yet. Give them a break. And a banana.

Again, these human monkeys have only recently come down from the trees, so it is understandable that some of the slower ones would have some peculiar ideas about themselves. Some lament that they have no free will, others that the cosmos that gave birth to them is meaningless. What can one say? Life evolves. And some get left behind. Way it is.

Timelessness takes time. You can't just tell a snake to get some legs, nor can you tell a troll to get a clue. Some men crawl on their bellies and others walk upright.

But make no mistake: man was made to stand upright, for this corresponds to his deiformity, and is an analogue of his intrinsic dignity and nobility. An undignified and ignoble man is less than a man. He is not measuring up to what he ought to be (and note that the human Ought -- which is rooted in his celestial archetype -- is completely extra-Darwinian).

This is an example of a nonlocal rule human beings play under, and which may be intuited by the awakened intellect. Conversely, to suggest that our nobility, our love of truth, our boundless creativity, our knowledge of good and evil, may be reduced to natural selection is pure monkey babble.

This is not to suggest that some human monkeys aren't stuck playing under those old rules, and cannot fly past the neuralnet of their genetic program. But they're missing out on the game of a lifetime.

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creation Myths of the Tenured

Without a doubt, the ultimate Black Swan is whatever it was that permitted merely genetic human beings to emerge into full humanness just yesterday (cosmically speaking), some 50,000 years ago.

Prior to this there was existence, but so what? There was life, but who cares? With no one to consciously experience it, what was the point? Without self-conscious observers, the whole cosmos could bang into being and contract into nothingness, and it would be no different than the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.

One of the reasons why this is such a lonely and unpopular blog is that it takes both science and religion seriously. Most science and religion are unserious, but especially -- one might say intrinsically -- when they exclude each other.

A religion that cannot encompass science is not worthy the name, while a science that cannot be reconciled with religion is not fit for human beings. And I mean this literally, in that it will be a science that applies to a different species, not the one that is made to know love, truth, beauty, existence, and the Absolute. Science must begin and end in this principle -- which is to say, the Principle -- or it is just a diversion. Nevertheless, Stupidity appropriates what science invents with diabolical facility (Aphorisms of Don Colacho).

In taking science seriously, we must obviously take "evolution" seriously. I place the word in quotation marks not because I don't believe in it, but for reasons we have discussed at length in the past (cf. here or there). Evolution was around long prior to Darwin, and the word didn't even appear in the first five editions of The Origin of Species. It was only inserted later, after which time evolution and Darwinism (natural selection) became conflated, even though they are in many ways at antipodes. In other words, evolution disproves Darwinism, and vice versa, despite the semantic and metaphysical games materialists deploy to try to reconcile the two.

In our effort to demonstrate the essential unity of religion and science, we specifically want to avoid the superficial and metaphysically incoherent approach of the materialists, which essentially reduces to magic -- no different than the young earth creationist who sees God as a kind of magician. But creation is not magic; rather, it is thoroughly rooted in, and infused with, order and Reason. Yes, there are myths that describe creation as if it were a giant magic act, but the purpose of myth is to awaken Truth within, not to force consent from without.

This is something that used to be taken for granted by theologians, but as they have become increasingly intimidated by the findings of modern science, it seems that they have retreated further into a protective bubble of faith in the incredible -- or faith in things that are not worthy of the intrinsic dignity and nobility of man's seeking Intellect. The Intellect is noble precisely because it may know truth, so that anything short of an integral and total truth undercuts man at the root. It's an insult, really.

In The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Ridley tries to account for the evolution of man in wholly naturalistic terms. In one sense, he recognizes a fatal problem with the Darwinian account, in that there is an insurmountable gap between our finite genes and our infinite capabilities.

In other words, we know that human beings were genetically "complete" (which itself is an absurd word to apply to natural selection, since nothing can be complete or incomplete) long before the appearance of what we would call humanness.

Furthermore, the suddenness (especially in Darwinian terms) of man's psychospiritual transformation also surpasses anything natural selection can explain. It can try, but to say that a random genetic mutation accounts for the human capacity to know truth and beauty makes no sense whatsoever.

Anyway, at least Ridley is honest in acknowledging the problem, although he doesn't exactly name it or draw out its full implications. But the problem is this: that there is a literally infinite gap between man and animal (even though there is an obvious continuity as well), just as there is an infinite gap between nothing and existence or matter and life.

One can say that this gap is infinite because man intuits the Absolute, or one can say that man intuits the Absolute because of this infinite gap. Either way, once man consciously enters the sensorium of time and space, he is implicitly aware of both Absolute and Infinite, and therefore Love, Truth, Justice, Beauty, Virtue, and Eternity. These are the things that define man, not his genome.

Ridley notes an important fact that I discussed in my book, which is that early hominids remained trapped in their niche for "more than a thousand millennia." They basically produced a single tool, the stone hand axe.

Clearly, "the creatures that made this thing were very content with it," in that it changed very little during the course of a million years, across three continents. As I mentioned in the book, it's almost as if this tool were analogous to a bird's nest or a spider's web, i.e., something we were genetically programmed to produce.

As long as 600,000 ago, there were hominids with brains nearly as large as ours, and yet, with no discernible payoff: "they did not experience anything remotely resembling cultural progress. They just did what they did very well. They did not change."

But again, this is normative for Darwinism. Once a creature successfully adapts to its environmental niche, there is no pressure to change. As we mentioned yesterday, "natural selection is a conservative force. It spends more of its time keeping species the same than changing them" (Ridley).

And just what kind of "pressure" could force an ape to suddenly become Buddha, or Beethoven, or Shakespeare, anyway? What, is evolution the mother of all Jewish mothers? (Hmm, before you dismiss that outright....) Yes, there was a pressure, but as we shall see, it was from above, not below. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

So quite suddenly "there appeared on earth a new kind of hominid, one that refused to play by the rules. Without any change in its body, without any succession of species, it just kept changing its habits. For the first time, its technology changed faster than its anatomy. There was an evolutionary novelty, and you are it" (Ridley).

Yes, we are without a doubt an evolutionary novelty. But are we a Darwinian novelty, which is to say, a random accident? I don't think so. In fact, a wholly contingent being could never know truth anyway, let alone its own truth.

To be continued....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Post-Biological Evolution and the Colonization of Subjective Space

In Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, he posits a theory for why things are always getting so much better. While the arrow of progress goes up and down over the short term, if you take a longer view -- decades instead of years, centuries instead of decades -- the differences are dramatic; they are not just linear, but exponential.

At least if you begin with the proper boundary conditions. It took mankind thousands of years to discover these boundary conditions, which is why it took until three hundred years ago for things to really take off. World GDP per capita was essentially stagnant for 1700 years before there was a sudden breakthrough several hundred years ago.

But all along, there have been forces opposed to the very conditions that make progress possible. We see those atavistic and conservative (in the negative sense) forces today in the form of Islamist and progressive statists (and the unholy alliance between them).

Take virtually any variable and compare it with the past, and you will see that we are vastly better off today, whether it is violence, murder, disease, hunger, housing, infant mortality, whatever. Ridley provides many eye-opening statistics.

For example, the average Mexican today lives longer than the average Briton did in 1955. In South Korea, the average person not only earns fifteen times as much, but lives twenty-six years longer than in 1955. Even the UN "estimates that poverty was reduced more in the last fifty years than in the previous 500." Indeed, "it is hard to find any region [of the world] that was worse off in 2005 than it was in 1955."

Statistics on murder and violence are especially illuminating. I mentioned these in my book, but they are worth recalling. Among hunter-gatherers about 30 percent of adult males die from homicide, which would equate to two billion war-related deaths in the twentieth century instead of the mere 100 million. (And note that the vast majority of these deaths were caused by illiberal fascist/leftist/communist states that directly oppose the very mechanisms and institutions that unleash progress and undermine the causes of war.)

I tried to tackle the same subject in my book, except that I took for granted the factors that Ridley puts forth as conclusions. His premise and his conclusion are quite simple: that progress is a function of exchange, not just physical trade and barter, but the exchange and "mating" of ideas. This is what lifts man above biology in a way that no other animal has achieved. Biology has transcended itself in man, but only through very specific conditions.

Beyond this assertion, Ridley is essentially reduced to saying that it must have happened "somehow." As he properly notes, it cannot simply have been because human beings have a bigger brain than most other animals, for no matter how large the brain, it will come up against an evolutionary wall if it isn't an open system that exchanges information and emotion with others.

Nor can it have been a result of language, which was surely a necessary but not sufficient condition for our post-biological evolution (i.e., even Islamists and trolls have language).

As Ridley writes, "It was not something that that happened within a brain. It was something that happened between brains" (emphasis mine). But what does it mean to say that things can happen "between" brains? What is the nature of this "between," and how did it get here?

As I also noted in my book, human beings were genetically complete long before the "cultural explosion" took place, so there must be a non-genetic explanation (or again, genes are necessary but not sufficient causes for our humanness).

Note also that it is not simply a matter of saying that "man has culture," for that is begging the question. After all, culture cuts both ways -- and usually the wrong way. Most cultures stagnate because they simply self-replicate. It is similar to what would happen if a family only reproduced within itself, or universities only hired ideologically identical faculty members (not that that could ever happen in America).

Indeed, Ridley notes that "Exchange is to cultural evolution as sex is to biological evolution." But cultures resist change, in the same way that any adaptation does: "in evolutionary terms it is quite normal," as "most species do not change their habits during their few million years on earth or alter their lifestyle much..." Natural selection "spends more of its time keeping species the same than changing them."

But I believe that Ridley too ultimately begs the question of where all the Slack comes from, largely due to his blind anti-religious bigotry. For it is entirely correct that the blessing of widespread human leisure "comes from exchange and specialization and from the resulting division of labor."

But Ridley is curiously incurious when it comes to discussing the ontological status of this newly discovered post-biological space that human beings began to inhabit. Well, actually it's not curious at all, because for any variety of materialist, it must be just a freak accident, a weird side effect of physical processes.

For the implication of Ridley's view would be that human beings have no nature, no essence, no reason for being. And if this is the case, then liberty cannot be our sacred birthright, and there is no reason why the state or collective cannot appropriate us for its ends, just as it has done through most of history.

Our ultimate protection from this fate is that we are grounded in something more real than biology and physics. And once some particularly wise men adopted this as their founding principle some 235 years ago, things really took off. In the end, reality prevails, but it's always a struggle.

Monday, August 16, 2010

When Narratives Attack

Everybody's got one.

A narrative, that is. For reasons we will get into later, human beings are narrative-producing machines. Narratives are how we understand time -- how we link together experiences into a coherent and meaningful stream.

In order to do this, we must ignore the vast majority of "reality," sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. Just like the historian, we must select from the infinite pool of facts those we consider relevant. Thus, there can be no objective history outside the narrative, for it is the narrative that tells us what is relevant and historical.

As I've mentioned before, everyone comes into therapy with a narrative of their life. In fact, to a large extent, they come in because the narrative is "broken," so to speak. Either it's no longer making sense, or has run aground, or is unfulfilling, whatever.

The problem is, one's true narrative is never linear but multidimensional, both vertically and horizontally. For example, we have a conscious and an unconscious mind, a right and left cerebral hemisphere, an emotional nature and an intellect, spirit and psyche. Each of these can have different agendas and be at cross-purposes with other dimensions.

Freud focused on the conflicts between instinct, conscience, and ego, but there are also potential conflicts between, say, intellect and self-image, archetype and culture, self and ego, conscience and desire, biology and economics, spirit and tenure.

We call someone "insane" when their narrative has completely broken down into fragments, or when a part has hijacked the whole. But most people are more or less insane -- or perhaps unsane -- in the sense alluded to above. The opposite of this state is what we would call integration, in which all the parts are harmoniously participating in the narrative (a narrative which is meta-cosmic in nature).

In my experience, most people have to amputate certain parts of the self in order to keep their narrative functioning. When the pain of this amputation becomes too intense, that's when they come in for therapy (or experience a "breakdown" of some kind).

But most people do not seek therapy. Rather, they may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, or distract themselves in work, sex, or power games, or act out in some other manner. The list of ways in which people may pull the wool over their own eyes is endless.

What we call the "news" is nothing but a narrative. But most importantly, it is just like the narrative of a neurotic person, who is neurotic precisely because of his defective narrative. Thus, when things happen outside the narrative, he doesn't notice them. Or, if he can't do that, he might aggressively attack or devalue them.

From a psychological perspective, this is perfectly understandable. For example, if your self-image is invested in the idea that the world is catastrophically warming, you will be threatened by evidence that it is not.

The other day, Taranto made the point that "for white liberals of a certain age (read baby boomers), an important part of their self-image lies in the assumption that conservatives are racist."

The point of this self-serving narrative is obviously not to describe reality, but rather, to feel good about oneself. It is auto-therapy, as is so much of the liberal narrative. For the liberal, everyone who disagrees with him is racist, misogynist, "homophobic," "Islamophobic," "anti-science," contemptuous of the poor, etc. In each case, the characterization is simply a transparent projection deployed for the purpose of maintaining the self-flattering narrative.

If you want to know why the culture has become so "divisive," this is why. Liberal elites are so threatened by the collapse of their narrative on every level, that they cannot help lashing out in a primitive manner.

Thus William Kristol writes of "the Agenda Project," a major progressive group which "has launched the 'Fuck Tea' project," the purpose of which is to "to dismiss the Tea Party and promote the progressive cause."

"The 'Fuck Tea' movement -- that's what the left has come to. They can't defend the results of Obama's policies or the validity of Krugman's arguments. They know it's hard to sustain an anti-democratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they've degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents."

That's about as primitive as one can get and still remain in the realm of language. The only thing left after "fuck you" is violent action. But it is critical to bear in mind that state violence is different from personal violence. The state is a giant bully that has a kind of infinite reservoir of violence behind it, so it needn't necessarily behave with overt violence, since merely the threat is usually sufficient.

Change can be progressive, or it can be violent. Organic growth is a kind of change, but so too is a bullet to the head. Our Constitution is supposed to protect us from the violent predation of government, which is why it is Job One for the left to transform it from a document that protects us from the state to one which defines what the state can do to you.

Thus, "If a judge (or ultimately the Supreme Court) says the Constitution allows the government to force you to buy health insurance, then it’s a done deal, regardless of whether the Constitution says so or not. Under such a scenario, the Constitution thus becomes a tool for social engineering rather than a protection against government excess, as it was originally intended."

And "as the ruling class has more and more isolated to themselves the power to dictate what is and is not an appropriate use of the blessings of liberty, we have seen a corresponding decrease in the actual liberty we enjoy."

So in Arizona, a judge says that the people have no right to protect themselves from illegal aliens, while in California another judge decides that henceforth marriage will means something it has never meant and cannot mean. It is not so much that marriage between two men is "illegal." Rather, it is impossible, like being the father of your mother. But what is the left but violent insistence on the possibility of the impossible?

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Whatever happens in November, it certainly won't be a cause for joy. Transient relief, maybe, but not joy, because when narratives break down, people are truly capable of anything.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Painting With Sound, Playing With Color

It's Music/Open Thread Saturday, but no particular topic or direction comes to mind. I was flipping through a few books, and found this little nugget of Schuon. He points out that some forms of art are static and objective, others dynamic and subjective.

For example, painting, architecture, and sculpture are both static and objective: "these are above all forms; their universality is an objective symbolism of of these forms."

I don't remember much of the art classes I took in college, but I do remember analyzing various masterpieces for the balance and harmony of elemental forms beneath the image. If I'm not mistaken, abstract expressionists such as Kandinsky were aiming at revealing the "form of form," or pure form, so to speak.

Better look it up: Kandinsky "developed an intricate theory of geometric figures and their relationships, claiming, for example, that the circle is the most peaceful shape and represents the human soul" (wiki).

But in Kandinsky's case -- and contrary to Schuon -- he was specifically aiming at an art that was dynamic, subjective, and musical. According to the wiki article, he related the act of painting to creating music, writing that "Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." Indeed, "music is the ultimate teacher."

The article goes on to say that the influence of music was very important to "the birth of abstract art, as [music] is abstract by nature -- it does not try to represent the exterior world but rather to express in an immediate way the inner feelings of the human soul. Kandinsky sometimes used musical terms to designate his works; he called many of his most spontaneous paintings 'improvisations,' while he entitled more elaborated works 'compositions.'"

If there are visual artists who compose music, are there musicians who paint in sound? Miles Davis comes to mind. He really uses the trumpet like a paintbrush.

Now, this is interesting: "Kandinsky felt that an authentic artist creating art from 'an internal necessity' inhabits the tip of an upwards moving triangle. This progressing triangle is penetrating and proceeding into tomorrow." Or, one might say, into the vertical.

The artist/prophet "stands lonely at the tip of this triangle making new discoveries and ushering in tomorrow's reality. Kandinsky had become aware of recent developments in sciences, as well as the advances of modern artists who had contributed to radically new ways of seeing and experiencing the world."

More generally, Kandinsky "compares the spiritual life of humanity to a large triangle.... The point of the triangle is constituted only by some individuals who bring the sublime bread to other people. It is a spiritual triangle which moves forward and rises slowly, even if it sometimes remains immobile. During decadent periods, souls fall to the bottom of the Triangle and men only search for external success and ignore purely spiritual force."

Sounds to me like what we call (↑), which is the spiritual aspiration that penetrates O and is met by (↓). In fact, I used a quote from Kandinsky on p. 94, which was just perfect for what I was trying to say about genetically human animals evolving into the transcendent and nonlocal space of true humanness. He is talking about the development of his art:

"I was like a monkey in a net.... only with great pain, effort, and struggle [↑] did I break through these 'walls around art,' which like that of nature, science, political forms, etc., is a realm unto itself, is governed by its own laws proper to it alone, and which together with the other realms ultimately forms the great realm [O] which we can only dimly divine."

This (↑) is the "inner necessity" of the striving artist. It is is for Kandinsky the principle which facilitates "contact of the form with the human soul." "This inner necessity is the right of the artist to an unlimited freedom, but this freedom becomes a crime if it is not founded on such a necessity. The artwork is born from the inner necessity of the artist in a mysterious, enigmatic and mystic way, and then it acquires an autonomous life; it becomes an independent subject animated by a spiritual breath." It is the fruit of what we call (↑↓) or O→(¶).

Recursive Cosmic Fractal or Great Attractor? O generating ʘ reflecting O attracting ʘ:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Survival of the Luckiest

Well, I finished The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Although it started off fresh and compelling, it flamed out about two thirds of the way through, which is often the case. Writers usually just submit their first chapter to a potential publisher. Not only does it contain the essence of the book, but it is always the most polished, because the author is trying to make a powerful impression. But rarely do I read a book that is good from beginning to end and leaves you wanting more.

In fact, this guy leaves you wanting a little less. He's such an unpleasant personality -- something noted by many amazon reviewers -- that you wish he'd just get to the point and leave out the personal details. He comes across as pompous, self-important, juvenile, and probably clinically narcissistic. But his worst offense is that he violates Godwin's Law throughout the book: that those who aren't funny shouldn't try to be. He's aggressively and repetitively unfunny.

As to the theory itself -- well, it's not so much a theory as an observation: that we are constantly surprised by events because of limitations of our knowledge. The title of the book comes from the idea that it takes the sighting of only a single black swan to disprove the theory that all swans are white, regardless of the millions of white swans that have been observed.

And this speaks to the problem of induction, which we use to guide our lives. We're always generalizing from what happened, and what happens is what usually happens. Thus, we're always surprised by what doesn't usually happen.

Hmm. When you put it that way, it sounds pretty banal, doesn't it? A number of reviewers said that the book could have been condensed into a magazine article, and perhaps they're right.

But as is often the case, I found that I can use a lot of his ideas for my own purposes, in a more encompassing theory of which the author would no doubt disapprove. Again, he gives no indication of being a believer, and indeed, in my experience, most believers would have difficulty accepting his thesis of randomness.

But I would turn this around and say that if not for randomness, evolution, progress, free will, and ultimately spiritual growth would be quite impossible. In other words, if we were wholly constrained by physical law in a deterministic manner, there would be no possibility of the emergence of true novelty. In my view, randomness and uncertainty are where the final causation -- or destiny -- gets in. We do not create our destiny. Rather, it draws us toward it, ultimately into the Great Attractor.

For Taleb, a Black Swan is defined by three properties: rarity, high impact, and retrospective predictability. He uses the example of World War I, and "how little of your understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next."

Or, one might cite the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the British Invasion of 1964, or the rise of self-publishing from one's home computer. No one saw these things coming. They are only explained in hindsight. But even then, the explanations tend to be arbitrary or ideological, with this or that scholar "connecting the dots" in a way that comports with their own world view.

But again, thank God for the possibility of Black Swans, for as Taleb points out, "Literally, just about everything of significance around you might qualify." Indeed, all you have to do is examine your own life for the chance encounters that "changed everything."

But this also applies to science, which is hardly the linear and continuous enterprise it's made out to be. To the contrary, more often than not, the researcher "discovers" something he wasn't even looking for, anything from penicillin to the background radiation that proves the big bang.

This was something discussed by Michael Polanyi, one of our foundational Raccoon thinkers. He observed that science could never be controlled from the top down, but could only emerge from the bottom up, as a spontaneous order. He noticed that leftist governments didn't allow the freedom and spontaneity for true science to emerge.

The left wing abuse of science continues today with everything from "climate change" to "green energy" to their self-defeating economic theories. Most recently, we saw a judge in California using left-wing activists pseudo-science to prove that gender is irrelevant to marriage.

Taleb affirms a principle with which the psychoanalyst would certainly agree, that "what you don't know" is "more relevant than what you do know."

First of all, what we know is just a tiny fraction of what there is to know. But more problematically, so much of what we know just isn't so, which is why Taleb makes the wise crack that reading the New York Times actually decreases one's knowledge of the world. As he points out, what we know can become inconsequential just by virtue of knowing it, especially if competitors and enemies know you know it.

For example, consider those con-men on TV who sell their secret to getting rich. The secret only works because it is one, not because of its intrinsic merits. In a way, this is what caused the recent real estate bubble. Once everyone takes advantage of the "secret" that houses are appreciating, the bubble collapses. The whole thing was generated by people not seeing the illusion at the basis of it.

Since Black Swans are inevitable, how do we take advantage of them? For me, this was the most interesting part, because my whole life has been just one Black Swan after another. Why? Because I've never had a plan. I never know what I'm going to do today, let alone tomorrow, which permits randomness to enter one's life. For some reason, I've always been this way. But if I had consciously set out to invent my life, I'm quite sure I would have blown it. You might say that the Higher Power takes advantage of chaos.

Taleb says that "you can set yourself up to collect serendipitous Black Swans (of the positive kind) by maximizing your exposure to them.... [C]ontrary to social-science wisdom, almost no discovery, no technologies of note, came from design and planning -- they were just Black Swans."

This leads to the important corollary that one of the reasons the free market is so superior to its alternatives is not that it rewards merit, but that it rewards luck. Only in hindsight do we invent stories of how the successful deserved their success, but more often than not, it's just a matter of luck.

While this might seem unfair -- which it is, but that's life -- the left's misguided attempt to force the system to have outcomes it considers "fair" drains it of the very luck that facilitates so much success and prosperity for all. The reason why the United States is the wealthiest nation is because it is the freest. The more government, the less luck, and with it, the less prosperity.

To be continued....

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's a Mixed Up Muddled Up Shook Up World

Are animals free? From our point of view they aren't, but compared to rocks and trees they are -- which is to say that they manifest a divine archetype and participate in the Divine freedom, or the drama of creation.

Likewise, human beings are obviously free on their own plane, but one assumes that this freedom looks very different from the perspective of God -- perhaps analogous to how animal freedom appears to us.

Elsewhere I remember Schuon saying something to the effect that for animals instinct is their intellect, while for human beings the intellect is our instinct. I agree with this, in the sense that the intellect is not radically free, but simply has a larger domain of freedom. Or, one might say that it partakes of additional dimensions, not the least of which being the cosmic interior that discloses truth, beauty, virtue, being, essence, and unity.

Animals obviously don't have access to any of these dimensions. They can touch beauty -- for example, through the eyes and ears -- but that is all. They cannot "enter" it, let alone inhabit it.

One wonders if there is something analogous going on in certain humans who can touch truth or God, but not enter. For example, atheists who argue against the existence of the thing they call "god" must be "touching" it, so to speak. But to enter it would be to know it, precisely. Conversely, to remain exterior to it is to not know it, just as a blind man must forever be exterior to painting.

The purpose of human existence is to realize the Absolute. Either this is the purpose, or there is no purpose at all. Again: it is either theism or nihilism, with nothing in between. But this "nothing" is not a zero. Rather, it is very much a "something," but this something is the great realm of illusion.

Now, the theist also lives in this realm of illusion, but it makes all the difference in the world if one regards this illusion from the bottom-up or the top-down. If the world inhabited by human beings -- especially the subjective world -- is simply a prolongation of physics and biology (the latter of which being a prolongation of the former), then we know full well that the world is just an illusion resting on another illusion. It's illusions all the way down.

Since we live in an illusion, we can't even be sure that physics isn't an illusion, right? I mean, let's be honest. As J.B.S. Haldane put it, "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

Everything changes if we invert the cosmos and set it back right side-up. Again, we still live in "illusion" -- for anything that is not God is less than real -- but now we see this realm of mayaplicity as an extension or prolongation of the One. Now we have solid ground over our heads and a cloud under our feet -- for example, Heisenberg's quantum cloud of blessed uncertainty, or Gödel's holy incompleteness, or Bohr's divine complementarity, or Matte Blanco's sacred bi-logic. That is the real world, which eludes any reductionistic explanation (except for technological purposes).

In short, our Reason -- and therefore reason -- is from above, not below. That being the case, creation is a hierarchical prolongation of divine energies. The central evil of the left lies in denying this reality, which leaves man orphaned in illusion and exiled from himself. It robs him of his sufficient reason -- his reason for being -- replacing it with what amounts to sensation without joy and rationality without truth. We become nothing but an animal, except with the disadvantage of knowing we are one.

In this scheme, we are quite literally a freak of nature with an accidental recursivity of consciousness that permits us to know with certainty that we don't know, but that is all. We know we are alive, but we don't know why. No reason for our existence can be located below -- at least no reason equal to what man is. In other words, in a wholly naturalistic view, all of the explanations for man are far less than man: truth is explained by illusion, the illusion that there is anything other than physics going on.

The difference between a proper humanist and a secular "humanist" is that the former seeks explanations that don't destroy humanness as a result of entertaining them. For in truth, nothing less than a human explanation can explain human beings -- just as nothing less than a biological explanation can explain Life. In other words, it's one thing to say that a living body is just a rare agglomeration of matter, but one doesn't go to a physicist when one is ill. Nor does one go to a biologist for human wisdom.

And yet, some people do, e.g., evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists. To call this "psychology" is an abuse of the term, being that psyche means soul. No psychologist understands how mind affects matter, let alone how soul affects mind or God affects soul. These are subtle causes that will forever elude any scientific explanation.

When we talk about faith, we are talking about being faithful to one's sufficient reason -- the reason for one's being, both in a general and particular sense. In other words, there is a reason for man's being, as well as a reason for one's own being. Again, man's sufficient reason is to realize God, which is predicated on the understanding that man is a bridge that spans the cosmos from top to bottom.

But the reason for your existence is that you are a unique "problem of God," so to speak. Look at your children, each one unique, and each one requiring a different approach to actualize his being. To parent each child in the identical way is to treat them as an object, not a subject.

Now the left, in abolishing hierarchy, also wages war on individuality. By definition, the state treats all people identically, profound differences notwithstanding. This is not a problem in the negative sense; indeed, it is a blessing -- the idea that we are all equal before the law.

Mischief arises when leftists begin creating positive rights, through which uniformity is imposed upon us by the state.

For example, most recently a judge in my state has declared that there are no essential differences between the sexes. This is a spiritually and morally insane cosmic egalitarianism by judicial fiat. It is the declaration that there is no heaven and earth, no celestial and terrestrial, no archetypal and phenotypal. Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, it's a mixed up muddled up shook up world. Especially for Judge Walker, who wishes to impose his own gender confusion on the rest of us in order to pretend it's clarity.

Thus materialism amounts to reducing man to the animal, and even to the lowest, since the lowest is the most collective; this explains the materialists' hatred for all that is supra-terrestrial, transcendent, spiritual, for it is precisely the spiritual by which man is not an animal. To deny the spiritual is to deny the human: the moral and legal distinction between man and animal then becomes purely arbitrary, like any other tyranny... --F. Schuon

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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Give Us This Day Our Daily Slack, As We Cut Some Slack to Others

Reviewing where we left off: "there are different levels 'within' God. It is not just God and World, although this can be a useful shorthand for people so long as they don't abuse the concept. But in reality, there is a vertical scale, with the Good at the top. In between the top and bottom is the murky world inhabited by the maninfestation of human beings -- a world that is deliberately made murkier by the sizable class of humans in whose interest it is to work under cover of darkness."

Probably critical to point out that this class of people doesn't just include the disorganized irreligiosity of the tenured and the organized anti-religion of the left, but much of organized and disorganized religion as well.

Oddly, denominations that tend to be looked upon as more authoritarian -- e.g., the Catholic Church -- actually both posit and mimic the cosmic hierarchy in structure. Love or hate the idea, but there is a Pope at the head because there is God at the top, but with lots of degrees in between.

The very opposite of this pattern is found in the radical split of Islam, where there is God and world, period. And Mohammed is his messenger, full stop. The existence of certain exceptional Sufis proves that this needn't be the case, but until that becomes the norm, we're going to have problems. Please note how the culture and the political structure follow the metaphysic of the religion.

Another idea occurred to me, which is that some Christians make a distinction between the economic and ontological Trinity, which might be a useful way to conceptualize and think about the Within and Without of God, or the Being/Beyond Being divide.

The economic Trinity of the without "refers to the acts of the triune God with respect to the creation, history, salvation, etc.," while the ontological Trinity of the within "speaks of the interior life of the Trinity... without reference to God's relationship with creation."

Now that I think about it, this is probably the reason why the cosmos has a within at all. The exterior of the cosmos isn't as much of a mystery. Rather, it's the presence of an interior that freaks one out. But without an interior, there could be no exterior, certainly not one that could ever be known or freaked out about. The point is that the exterior is posterior and dependent upon the interior, for the converse could never be true.

Sure, this makes no sense to scientistic metaphysics, but scientism makes no sense to reality. Either way, "from the viewpoint of metaphysical intellection, the world has far less obviousness and intelligibility about it than the Transcendent Unseen" (Schuon). The interior is our true home; the exterior is a kind of exile, familiar and yet alien.

To say interior is to say subject and subjectivity. You will have noticed that human beings are inhabited by multiple subjectivities, both horizontally (i.e., mind parasites) and vertically (i.e., the ego/self or •/¶ distinction). In reality, we have only one subjectivity, of course, but it is refracted through the prismhouse of manifestation, similar to how God "becomes what he is not" (in a manner of speaking) by manifesting himself.

As it pertains to God, Schuon notes that we are "in the presence of two divine Subjectivities, the one belonging to the Absolute and the other already determined by Relativity..." And here is the key point: "while being intrinsically identical, they apply extrinsically at different levels, whence the possible appearance of a contradiction" (emphasis mine).

This can even take on the extreme form of a rebellion against God, for the world of relativity is necessarily a world of contrasts, mixtures, imperfections, and complementarities. In the end, it seems that all possibilities must be exhausted, even the most absurd (hence the truism that there is no idea so stupid that it isn't taught in some university).

Reader Verdiales anticipated this line of thought, supplying another passage by Schuon to the effect that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we must remember (literally re-member, vertically speaking) that Creation is ultimately "made of goodness," which is to say "the existential unfolding of the Divine Qualities, hence too of all the goods that we know and can conceive, around us and within us."

Verdiales adds his own helpful wise crack, noting that "the basic idea in life/relativity/contingency is to hang out on a Raft of the unfolding Good as much as possible. Helping others aboard is good, too."

Precisely. This is to align our will with the Divine will ("on earth as it is in Heaven") and to arrest our fall into the "necessary but impermissible" shadows of mayaplicity ("deliver us from evil").

Speaking of prayer, this leads to questions of its purpose and efficacy, and the extent to which God directly intervenes in the herebelow to counter contingency, excess, willfulness, and just plain gravity.

This is getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but I think Robert Bolton -- I forget in which book at the moment -- shows how alignment with the Divine will gradually exhausts the karma of one's past misdeeds, which allows the Divine energies (↓) to operate more directly in one's life.

And yes, as Bolton demonstrates with numerous passages, there are plenty of references to karma in both the Old and New Testaments, which you might say is nothing but cause and effect on the interior plane, prolonged into the horizontal.

These karmic seeds operate along different timelines, so that even after one is vertically reborn, this doesn't mean that bad things will stop happening all at once. Rather, some of the old seeds will still come to fruition in their season. And of course, no amount of personal divinization will remove every weed from your garden and transform earth into heaven.

Rather, we live in an orthoparadoxical world which, "taken as a whole is good because it manifests God," but "involves a partial and contingent aspect of badness because, not being God while existing nonetheless, it sets itself against God [the left] or tends to be the equal of God [the tenured]" (Schuon).

So give us this day our daily vertical sustenance to continue the journey, and please go easy on our karmic debts, as we cut some slack to others.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Within and Without the Godhead

In recent days, we have been discussing the principial distinction between Being and Beyond-Being, as a prelude to mapping the vertical reality in which man has his being.

Why does any of this matter, you might ask? First of all, we've only just begun lifting and deveiloping our pneumagraphy of the vertical.

But the short answer is that it is the only metaphysic that not only makes sense, but makes total sense. Not only is it true, but all truth -- both religious and scientific -- is grounded in it. If you have a better one, I'd be happy to hear about it. But most alternatives are ridiculously shallow, inconsistent, or incomplete, at least when they aren't refuting themselves (e.g., scientism, Darwinian fundamentalism, or any other purely horizontal metaphysic).

As nine out of ten whollymen agree, only the Good is ontologically real, while evil is a deprivation; likewise truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness, freedom and slavery, liberty and leftism. In each case, the latter term is only a cosmic possibility because it is parasitic on the former.

Schuon reminds us of Augustine's self-evident dictum that it is in the nature of the Good to "communicate itself." Here we touch on an aspect of the Trinitarian Godhead, for what is the Trinity but eternal communion?

But at this point we would like to discuss this in more general and universal terms. Plus, we are talking about the "descent" of the Good, so to speak, as opposed to the Good that abides within the Absolute. In other words, it is one thing to say that "God is good." But how does so much good end up down here, of all places?

For unlike some of our competitors, we don't engage in the theidiocy of wondering how all the evil got here. Rather, we wonder about how all the virtue, love, truth, freedom, dignity, nobility, objectivity, and beauty got here, and how to obtain some peace of that action.

In speaking of "God's will," Schuon suggests that it matters whether we are talking about Being or Beyond-Being. One might say that Beyond-Being "wills" Being, and that Being wills creation. Perhaps a preluminary schematic would be of assistance:

Creation (or manifestation)

A key point, in the words of Schuon, is that "this manifestation by definition implies remoteness from its Source, so that in 'willing' manifestation, the Essence wills implicitly and indirectly that ransom which we call evil, on pain of not wishing to radiate or 'diffuse' Itself, precisely."

Again, if creation is to be -- a creation that is truly semi-autonomous and not just God -- then evil must be, even while being "impermissible." There is a reason why even in paradise there is a serpent -- who symbolizes the whole possibility of "falling vertically" further and further from the Source, even into the blind nothingness of pure evil and falsehood, i.e., hell. Here again: one might say that because God is, hell must be.

Schuon raises a subtle, but nevertheless critical point; not everyone will be comfortable with it, but I see no way around it: "[T]he Divine Will which wills moral good and for this reason forbids sin, is not the same as that which wills the world: the Will of Beyond-Being... wills the world itself, whereas the Will of Being... presupposes the world and exerts itself only within the world."

Sophists throughout the ages have tried to disprove the existence of God by saying that he is either omnipotent or good, but that he cannot be both, for if he can eliminate evil but doesn't, then he isn't good, and if he cannot eliminate evil, then he isn't omnipotent.

Here again, this is an illusory problem rooted in a false metaphysic, in which there is only God and World, which is then covertly reduced to just God. In short, it presupposes a kind of single-level pantheism, so that God is personally responsible for everything that happens.

But that is not how the cosmos works. And it is especially not how man works, since he has free will and is able to make the conscious choice between good and evil. Our free will is a legitimate gift, not some illusory side effect of God's iron will. Rather, we may obviously go against God's will, which is the only reason why we may align ourselves with it.

The cosmos is shot through with "degrees of freedom" which are the "residue" of the Divine freedom, so to speak. Thus, we see its traces to the very periphery of creation, for example, in the quantum indeterminacy, or in the upward thrust of the genome.

But the higher up the vertical scale, the more freedom. This, of course, presupposes that there is a virtually infinite range of freedom within the human being as well. Being that the human being is the microcosm -- a cosmos within the Cosmos -- he may be as enslaved to an extrinsic program as an ant, or as free as the saint or sage who has conquered illusion and aligned himself with the Real.

Schuon expresses the same point in another way: "Beyond-Being desires good as radiation, manifestation or world, whereas Being desires good as the participation of things in the Divine Good."

Yes, God is good, but in different ways, depending on one's perspective. Note that after the creation, God blesses it as good. This refers to Being itself, which is essentially good, in spite of all the mischief that will ensue as the result of a quasi-autonomous creation that is relatively separate from God. It is surely a core truth the mischief is ineveateapple.

Elsewhere I read of a good analogy. That is, I willed my son into existence. But I do not will the badness he does, even while knowing full well that he will inevitably do naughty things. Now you know why God weeps, especially now that we are going through this rebellious adolescent phase.

This also speaks to the critical distinction between guilt and innocence. Civilization cannot exist in the absence of a system of justice, even though it can never be absolutely just (rather, only God can). There are always "extenuating circumstances" if you look hard enough, especially with the development of modern pseudo-psychology, which can provide an alibi for anything.

Which is why the Christian is enjoined to love the sinner but not the sin. In other words, he is to judge acts and not souls.

You will note the cultural mayhem that ensues (and that did ensue) when this principle is ignored, and we engage in the impossible task of trying to judge souls, as the left has been doing for the past fifty years or more. We must understand criminals (except people of pallor, or white collar criminals), empathize with them, get to the "root causes" of their sociopathy and criminality.

Or, we must understand why the Palestinians and Islamists are such monsters. No, actually we mustn't. Rather, we must kill them, insofar as they insist on behaving like monsters, just it was necessary to kill Nazis and Japanese supremacists.

The left would like us to displace God and judge souls, which is strictly impossible for man. It is well above our paygrade, which is why it is preferable to stick with acts that we know to be wrong.

So, there are different levels "within" God. It is not just God and World, although this can be a useful shorthand for people so long as they don't abuse the concept.

But in reality, there is a vertical scale, with Good at the top. In between the top and bottom is the murky world inhabited by human beings -- a world that is deliberately made murkier by the sizable class of humans in whose interest it is to work under cover of darkness.

And the worst offenders are those whose job it is to radiate this truth, but instead propagate sterile relativism, malignant skepticism, and that pseudo-sophisticated god-of-the-saps known as blind chance.

To be continued....

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Space and Time, Harmony and Melody

This is music Saturday, which means that it's really more of an open thread, so you are free to ignore what follows, which is just a purely unpremeditated and improvised free association for the purpose of finding out where it leads.

I've mentioned before that in the course of writing my book, I had to race through so many other books that there are many I hardly remember reading. Actually, I remember reading them. I just don't remember much of what's in them. If they weren't useful for the purpose of mapping out the cosmic adventure, it was necessary to flush them down the forgettery, at risk of hopelessly cluttering my mind. Unlike a proper scholar, I only remember the things I need, and forget the rest.

A case in point is the book before me, Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics. For Music Saturday, no particular topic popped into my melon, so I snatched this book from the shelf in the hope that perhaps it might cough up a worthy thought or two. I notice that the book is in my bibliography, but when you look up the author in the index (Rothstein), the name is there, but there are no page numbers afterwards. However, I used a quote of his on page 45.

All I remember is that the book, for some reason, did not address my immediate needs, which had more to do with the spiritual nature of music, and how the existence of music is sufficient to undermine any form of materialism for those with ears to see.

Hmm. Perhaps this is the problem: "Rothstein, who is both a mathematician and a musician, is currently the chief music critic for the New York Times." That's a pretty tough hurdle to get over.

As for the book's purpose, "In moving back and forth between the worlds of music and mathematics, he has frequently encountered the generally accepted notion that there are many connections between the two. This book attempts to explain why these connections are far from accidental or incidental and why they reveal something profound about the nature of each activity."

However, "for all his clarity, Rothstein does not ever really succeed in drawing them together." D'oh!

Let's see what some of the amazon reviewers say. You never know. Perhaps there's a Raccoon among them. This is helpful: "In all honestly, I have not read this book HOWEVER, let me tell you why I just purchased my copy!"

What kind of person.... never mind.

Here's another: "One way of defining music is that it's a... language for a lot of different things that people do with patterns of sound and silence. And one way of defining mathematics is that it's [a language] for a lot of different things that people do with pattern. By exploring the ways in which music and mathematics handle pattern, one is naturally pointed in other directions (weaving, art, science) that demonstrate how valuable it is to recognize and explore the inter-connectedness of apparently 'different' fields."

I don't like that way of putting it, because it's far too simplistic, even a kind of meaningless horizontal tautology: language = pattern recognition. So what? This pseudo-explanation must ignore the most shocking property of music, which is its ability to convey spiritual content through the medium of vibrating air molecules. In what kind of cosmos is such a thing even possible?


"It might be poorly written, but what can one expect from a mathematician?" Ouch. Important point, however, for there is no way one can write about the spiritual content of music unless one's prose is also able to directly convey a bit of that musicality and spirituality. In writing about such lofty matters, one's prose must literally "rise to the occasion," or else be "about" something much less than it purports to be.

Let's look at some of the passages I highlighted in the book. Here is a quote from the mathematician Marston Morse: "Mathematics are the result of mysterious powers which no one understands, and in which the unconscious recognition of beauty must play an important part. Out of an infinity of designs a mathematician chooses one pattern for beauty's sake and pulls it down to earth."

One could say the same of jazz improvisation, in which a there is a range of virtually infinite choice before one, and one must choose which path to follow, not just once, but on a moment to moment basis. Thus, it is more like "math in motion."

But to say that the process is "guided by beauty" is to take one well outside any realm reducible to mathematical mapping. Beauty is either spirit or it is illusion, just as the cosmos is either ultimately meaningful or it is absolutely meaningless. For the intellectually honest, there is no in between.

Music conveys things that mathematics never could. No one can use numbers to provoke a subtle spiritual state in another, or even a purely emotional state. There are no "sad mathematics," although I suppose one could argue that my tax returns qualify.

So right away the analogy between math and music is strained, because music uses math for the purpose of communicating things that are not math. No one is interested in purely mathematical music.

The materialized mind can touch the world of spirit, but cannot penetrate its own thick layer of ice. Of Beethoven, Rothstein observes that "in his late years, like a Newton," he was "voyaging in strange seas of thought, alone." Quite true, but what can this mean? What is this "strange sea of thought," and how is it possible for human beings to set sail for uncharted lands on it, to colonize new and unmapped areas which lesser humans can later inhabit?

No, that was not a rhetorical question, for the Raccoon takes it quite literally: the worlds of truth, beauty, and virtue are real worlds. They are discovered, not invented. Or, to be precise, they are simultaneously created and discovered, much in the paradoxical manner that God creates.

Here's a useful passage. In reading music, it is not a "purely linear" exercise; rather, "it involves the vertical dimension along with the horizontal, the first presenting a form of musical space, the second the progression of musical time."

The author doesn't pursue this where it leads, but it is actually quite useful to think of the vertical in terms of harmony and of space, and the horizontal in terms of melody and of time. Our lives necessarily partake of both; that is, our life is the warp and weft of horizontal and vertical influences (which is why one's "area rug of life" comes apart at the seams -- or never pulls things together -- without both).

Note that the vertical is pure harmony, thus, situated outside time. It is "static," like a single chord, but with an infinite number of instruments with different timbres and tones. Time is the drawing out of the implications of the chord in time, again, very similar to jazz improvisation.

It is not at all straining this metaphor to say that this complex horizontal chord consists of the archetypes, angelic powers, transcendentals, and other perennial realities which guide man, and toward which he is drawn. In other words, they are both origin and destiny.

But each person is a unique melody played with this timeless chord (a spacetime harmelody). We revere artists who are most successful at combining the two, say, Shakespeare, who "uniquely" expresses truths that are anything but unique. In other words, like all great artists, he expresses timeless truth, only in a uniquely creative manner.

Out of timelessness.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Myth of the Airy Godmother

To review where we stand in our full account and description of the cosmos: "we begin our metaphysical adventure before the beginning, with the necessary distinction between Being and Beyond-Being, or 'between the ontological and existentiating Principle and the supra-ontological essence' (Schuon). And the reason we begin here is because the Absolute is beyond name and form, untied by any tongue and untainted by anytroll."

So our first principle can't even really be Beyond-Being, since by definition it must also be "beyond principle" (or "the principle's orifice"). Thus, the first principle doesn't appear until Being, which one might say is the "first fruit" of Beyond Being (and don't think in temporal terms; this is all "taking place" in eternity, not unlike the relationship between Father and Son, in which the former is "prior," but not in time).

Not to immediately get all soph-referential on you, but you will note in the Cosmonaught section of your local Coonifesto, that in order to leave something to the imagination, the author takes a muddled position between respecting the veils of decency provided by mythological symbolism, vs. just "letting it all hang out." In other words, he presents it all in the form of a divine cosmedy, or Holy Joke, in which one is guided to truth by the higher knowing of the Guffaw-ha! experience.

This was also the playful approach of Meister Eckhart, although certain authorities obviously didn't get the joke. But not for nothing does the first black page of Cosmonaught: Before the Beginning not begin with a page full of nothing, and with Eckhart's orthoparadoxical wise crack about how "there is something in the soul which is above the soul, divine, simple, an absolute nothing; rather unnamed than named; unknown than known.... higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace, for in all these there is still a distinction."

I think that last line about no distinction is where certain unimaginative types can miss the point, and, for example, conflate this teaching with, on the one end, vulgar pantheism, or on the other, complete merger with God. I don't believe that that is what Eckhart is saying.

Rather, I think he's just making the sane point we are, and trying to reconcile the fact that we can both know God and not possibly know him. In one sense, everything that is not God is nothing, but in another, anything that is not nothing is God. Paradox. Deal with it.

Revelation is an explosive transmission from the heart of O, addressed to man (the eros shot into his cardiac center). Being that it is addressed to man, we shouldn't get carried away with certain formal properties that must be veiled in such a way that man can comprehend the inner message.

For as Schuon writes, "To be shocked by the anthropomorphic character of the Biblical God is logically equivalent to being surprised by the very existence of man [boo!], for the Reality we call 'God' necessarily assumes a human character on contact with the human being, though of course this cannot be taken to imply that it is human in its own aseity."

Elsewhere he writes of the potential confusion "brought about by the fact that on the one hand theology envisages God anthropomorphically, as if He were a human subject and that on the other, it claims to take the whole of the Divine Nature into account, which is incompatible with the preceding viewpoint."

So here again, in scriptural exegesis we must respect the distinction between Being and Beyond-Being, or what is traditionally regarded as the husk and the kernel, respectively. To take revelation only literally is to literally deny God, for one is isolating oneself on the human side of the distinction.

But again: Word becomes flesh so that flesh might become Word. This is the ultimate purpose of revelation, which is to say, salvolution -- which is nothing less than crossing the ascending bridge of darkness between natural and supernatural man.

And which is why it is written: Before caterpultering your buddhafly, lotus pray: last rung in's a written gag, so your seenill grammar and gravidad may not be malapropriate for my laughty revelation. If you can unpack that sentence, it truly contains within it everything we are discussing in today's post. See footnotes for assistance.

Also, note that a lotus is the beautiful flower that incongruously grows out of the filthy mud below, like wisdom from tenure (yes, I agree, but we exaggerate for didactic purposes).

Schuon points out that the Scholastics drew a distinction between an Infinitum absolutum and an Infinitum secondum quid, identical to our point, and similar to the distinction in Vedanta between Nirguna and Saguna Brahman, also the Kabbalistic distinction between the Ain Sof (the limitless Godhead) and the more distinct "God of Israel," so to speak.

Now, when we speak of "divine will," it very much matters whether we are speaking of Being or Beyond-Being. Looked at in a certain way, Beyond-Being is feminine, while Being is masculine; also, Beyond Being can be identified with the Infinite or the Divine Substance, while Being can be identified with the Absolute and with Essence (all in a manner of speaking, of course).

Therefore, following this ombilical line of thought, it is as if Beyond-Being -- the Divine Mother, the cosmic womb with a pew -- gives birth to Being, the Father, i.e., the Voidgin Boyth. Is this possible? Well, Eckhart certainly thought so. But even to this deity, people still don't get the yolk.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Silence About God Goes Without Saying

In order to understand the nature of the divine and human will -- and the distinction between the two -- it is absolutely necessary to get one's metaphysics right.

Indeed, if one does that, then in many ways the matter (and mind) clarifies itself, as certain consequences inevitably flow from one's first principles. Conversely, as Thomas wrote, "An error concerning the Creation ends as false thinking about God." Garbage in, tenure out.

These first principles are, of course, embodied in those tidings from the father shore known as revelation. In fact, this is one of the two central purposes of revelation, i.e., doctrine and method for the purpose of upward salvolution. In other words, revelation provides 1) an adequate representation of the cosmos in its vertical aspect, and 2) a means for ascending it back to the sOurce.

There was a time when it was unnecessary to spell it out in such a cutandry and wideawake manner, because man lived in an almost inconceivably different soul-environment (e.g., ancient or medieval times). Unlike Schuon, however, I do not necessarily believe that this premodern environment was "normative," partly because no terrestrial environment is going to be completely normative for man, who always bears within him traces -- or recollections, or memoirs of the future -- of paradise, i.e., Raccoon Central, or Toots' Tavern in the Sky.

This is why one can say without fear of cliché that it is always the best and worst of times. For example, while I deplore the backdoor judicial redefinition of marriage, I wouldn't even be here to see this fellatious judge's blow to the foundation of western civilization in the absence of modern medicine. It is always Even Steven.

My point is that there was a time -- just yesterday in world-historical terms -- that man was a qualitative being living in a qualitative world. Quantity doesn't really come into the picture in any appreciable way until the conclusion of the Middle Ages and the rediscovery of Aristotle. Again, Thomas's project in many ways involved trying to keep these two worlds -- empirical and spiritual -- from flying apart, but fly apart they did. As a result, man found himself living in an increasingly quantified -- which is to say, abstract -- world.

Thomas "emphatically accepted" the reality of this new, external world, and bent all of his intellect toward the articulation of a synthetic vision in which it could be harmoniously integrated with the vertical world, or the Great Indoor.

For it is not healthy for man to live in an analogical world of only symbols; but nor is it healthy for him to live in a barren world of pure quantity, stripped of its symbolic character. Rather, it is healthy for man to live in reality, which always includes both. After all, there is a reason why we have two very different cerebral hemispheres that resolve themselves into a Higher Third (or third I).

It cannot be overemphasized that this quantitative world is not the real world, nor is it man's proper world. Remember what we said above about doctrine and method vis-a-vis revelation. The quantification that ends in the misosophy of scientism or metaphysical Darwinism begins in method, but then reifies the results of that method.

These human abstractions are then seen to be concrete, when they are anything but. Just because this or that scientific theory can explain the phenomena under its aspect is no proof of its truth. There are countless false theories that adequately explain some aspect of the phenomenal world. In fact, the progress of science involves the successive discarding of false theories. No real scientist would ever conflate this method with "truth." To paraphrase Thomas, the clarity of one's terms should not blind one to the inexhaustible mystery of stuff.

This grave subject is covered in my book, so I don't want to undertake a re-hearse of that corpse here, dig? The point is that man's true home is the imagination. But this imagination must be furnished with the proper materials in order to function as it should, just as our innate reason cannot function in the absence of material provided from the extra-rational world. In other words, the choice of what to reason about cannot be reduced to reason.

Now, it should go without saying that revelation speaks to man's divine imagination. Which is why, if the Real Estate of one's mythopoetic imagination is enfeebled or foreclosed, one will be barred from the nonlocal world disclosed by revelation.

Remember, revelation is a means, not an end. Religion is always about something that is not religion. What we call a "religionist" is just the flip side of scientism. One might call it "religiolatry," since it turns one's religion into God, when religion is the means to God. See "Islam."

As Pieper writes, "we simply cannot succeed in living" in a world "wholly divorced from all supramundane calls. It is likewise impossible for us to live, without uneasiness, in terms of a 'religionistic' religiousness wholly divorced from all obligations to the world." Man lives under the auspices of two great principles -- or a Principle and its existential prolongation -- i.e., God and world.

But again, because man -- at least postmodern western man -- finds himself in this alien quantitative world, he needs to have things spelled out for him.

Thus, we begin our metaphysical adventure before the beginning, with the necessary distinction between Being and Beyond-Being, or "between the ontological and existentiating Principle and the supra-ontological essence" (Schuon). And the reason we begin here is because the Absolute is beyond name and form, untied by any tongue and untainted by anytroll.

You may think that this deustinction is unnecessary, but Thomas himself drew a bright cloud between the God we may know vs. God as he is in himsoph, and he was entirely correct to do so: "This is what is ultimate in the human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know God." God is mirrored in the herebelow, most especially in man, but an image is not the thing itself. We are only dusty mirrorcles of the Absolute.


To be continued....