Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seize the Principle and Let the Dead Bury the Tenured

We left off yesterday discussing the interior space of freedom we all inhabit, only to a greater or lesser degree. It is within this space that the self is able to exert its will as a "first cause."

Obviously, if there is no first cause, then each cause is nothing but an effect, extending to infinity. And if that is the case, then nature is a causally closed system with no possibility of genuine selfhood and all it implies.

But if the cosmos is causally closed, then there are actually no causes and no effects, just the illusion thereof. Nor could there be time, since it would really be nothing more than chronologically extended space. In a monistic system, nothing is separate from the system, so no novelty is possible. This is discussed on p. 72 of the book, where it states that

"the necessary cannot come into existence, because coming into existence is a transition from not existing to existing. The purely necessary in fact cannot essentially change, because it is always itself. In other words, novelty is truly creative and therefore contingent and unnecessary. Conversely, if something is strictly determined, it cannot be novel or creative, for the same reason you cannot compose a symphony by merely applying a predetermined rule for the combination of notes."

Rather, reality is comprised of nature and adventure; the adventure is possible because nature, while "stable," is infused with a spiritual element that is able to steer it in the same way we rely upon the unchanging laws of physics and chemistry to build a car. If both the automobile and its inventor are equally constrained by the laws of nature, then neither could ever have come into existence.

We are able to slip those surly bonds of physics every time we so much as smile at a friend, let alone think a new thought. To even suggest that thought is determined in the same way nature is... well, first of all, if that were true, one could never know it, because one would be indistinguishable from the very nature one is attempting to understand.

But more absurdly, it is to take the metaphor of science wayyyyy too far. Metaphors are tools, not the toolmaker, the big queer Homo, not the dandy little faber.

As we have said a number of times, the progress of science involves the reduction of multiplicity to unity. A good scientific explanation organizes a range of diverse phenomena under a deeper principle. The deeper principle is not "caused" in the same way the phenomena are -- say, the principles of higher math.

As Bolton explains, real knowledge -- which is to say, knowledge of principles -- "is what pertains to first causes." Thus, extending a horizontal sequence "to infinity would extinguish knowledge as well as causality."

Here again, ironically, both scientism and religious fundamentalism end in the identical nul de slack which eliminates the self, creativity, free will, real knowledge, and most everything else we care about.

Thus, our first principle is the Uncaused Cause (O), which entails within itself a number of other principles which we will discuss as we grow along.

A second principle -- well, to be perfectly accurate, we cannot call this a principle, for it would imply that the Creator was compelled to give it, which takes us back to determinism. We are referring, of course, to the gift of our deiformity, which we subsequently elevate to an explanatory principle.

Again, we believe that human beings are in the image of the Creator, which is why we have that palpable spark of the Uncaused Cause within us.

This interior spark is obviously not -- and could not be -- self-generated. Rather, it's like the pilot light in your furnace. I don't know about you, but I turn mine off from around April to November, and re-light it around Thanksgiving, when the weather gets cold.

The point is, the pilot is always there, but it is up to us to ignite it and become the conscious co-pilot of our lives. This is a more than adequate metaphor of the Uncaused Cause within us. It is a gift of grace, always there. But we must recognize, accept, and ignite it in order to benefit from its light and its warmth, or Truth and Love, respectively. And we have to watch over it just in case it is blown out by a stiff breeze or some other exigency.

Once we have established the principle of an Uncaused Cause, then, as Bolton explains, there is "no reason why there may not be many other, lesser kinds of uncaused causes."

In this regard, on the basis of pure metaphysics, I think it is infinitely more challenging -- well, impossible -- to try to imagine a cosmos with no uncaused cause. Again, this merely generates the "bad infinite" discussed by Hegel -- the dark night in which all cows are black. Nothing can be known in such a cosmos. You might say that knowledge itself proves the Uncaused Cause, again, since real knowledge is knowledge of principles.

Think of it this way. If we live in a universe of pure horizontal causation, then we are in the absurd situation of inhabiting (exhabiting is more like it) a cosmos that is simultaneously purely necessary, and yet, purely accidental. In other words, everything would happen for a reason, but for no reason at all!

This is why Aquinas was correct in equating the real with the knowable, and the knowable with the created, thus ending the temptation to ontological, existential, and epistemological absurdity with one swell whoop. So, whoopeeeeeeeee!

Reality is truth, and vice versa. In affirming the createdness of being, we are able to get on, in, and up with our lives, and let the dead bury the tenured.

Now, another, more subtle principle is that being must be posterior to non-being. Most religious folks don't bother with this principle, as it's not strictly necessary for non-metaphysicians. But the truth of the matter is that being is the first fruit of something surpassing it, which we call "non-being," only because it is beyond all human category, the broadest of which is being.

Being is the most general category we can conceive, so all we can say of this principle is that it is beyond being. Some people just call it nothing, while others call it O, or the Tao, or the Godhead (Eckhart), or shunyata, or the Ground, or the ain sof (Kabbala).

Now, here is the subtle part: the uncaused must partake of non-being, which is to say, total "non-specification." Again, it is the "empty space" out of which free will operates.

Some of the most straightforward and orthoparadoxical explanations of this principle are found in the Tao Te Ching, e.g. the idea that We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable. We work with being but non-being is what we use.

It is no different with regard to the space of mind. You might say that knowledge is what we use to build this mansion, but that the resultant inner space is what makes it livable.

I'm sure that as my readers have grown spiritually -- which is to say, expanded the nonlocal space in which they live -- they find it more and more difficult to be around people who live in their cramped little spaces of scientism, or materialism, or secularism, or feminism, or leftism, or any other spiritual straitjacket. Man is the microcosm, not the micro-ism.

The point is that non-being is a kind of pure space. It is quite literally the origin of our cosmic slack, which is to say, the "place" where we are free from any determination except for what God has willed us to be, which is to say, a unique spark in the dark in that park before time. You know, paradise.

This spark at the center of non-being is symbolized ʘ.

To be discontinuously continued....

14 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

I prefer "Uncreated Creator" or "Uncreated Creating" to "Uncaused Cause".

Uncaused Cause makes O sound like an indestructible piston engine rather than an immortal composer.

Also, I would like to point out that civilization is contingent. It always helps to keep that in mind.

1/19/2011 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

the spark
a breath
pilot light is ignited
a sun within
a star from afar

1/19/2011 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

We work with joke
So that humor
Might have a place
To get jiggy with it
~St. Seinfeld

1/19/2011 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Thus, our first principle is the Uncaused Cause (O)

Why is?

Because I AM. The buck starts here...

1/19/2011 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

I'm with JP re: terms.

Reading "Paradise Lost" at the moment, and except for the parts that prompt an ungenerous "Oh, bite me, Prot!" am enjoying it very much. The creativity employed in taking an ancient and widely known story (it's only 2 or so chapters in Genesis) and turning it into an epic- that's what makes us human. It's so unnecessary, but we can't help it.
What I'm loving is Milton's use of classical, geographical, and historical similes that, in chronology, haven't happened yet to describe everything.

Extra good ones, lately, Bob.

1/19/2011 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

In defense of cause vs. creator, I think it is more useful/ utilitarian when discussing matters of free will. The term is not chosen by mere semantic preference. In a sense, for the created to come to a point where it may know of creation and its creator, many processes first had to be set in motion. Seeds were sown, so to speak, but first the soil had to be prepared. Necessarily, all of these things can only be talked about and understood in abstractions; in tracing things back to the ultimate source of how and why, to simply say Creator is perhaps less effective and evocative than to say Cause, inasmuch as a cause necessarily emanates effects and things happen, whereas a creator may make any number of things, which may or may not be static or kinetic. It could even be understood as recreating the universe entire at each moment according to its whim. Cause implies certain boundary conditions, whereas Creator is a little more loosey goosey.

Just my unresearched and unsourced opinion, of course, but given that metaphysicians and theologians have been using the terminology for a while, there has to be a reason why this descriptor and not that.

1/19/2011 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

That small deiformity in humanity is the greatest controverse in the universe, I think.

Even unabashed Christians tend to explain it away to the best of their ability, rather than face the frightening implications. I can certainly understand that. Finding an uncaused cause inside is kind of like waving goodbye to the world you thought you lived in.

1/19/2011 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Now, here is the subtle part: the uncaused must partake of non-being, which is to say, total "non-specification." Again, it is the "empty space" out of which free will operates. "

The inner door leading inwardly outwards... 1st step is a doozy.

1/19/2011 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"It is no different with regard to the space of mind. You might say that knowledge is what we use to build this mansion, but that the resultant inner space is what makes it livable."

I like that... kinda turns quantifiable data into wallpaper for the principles office.

1/19/2011 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I believe it was an issue of Donald Duck, back when I was a little boy, that first introduced me to the concept of a house that was much larger on the inside than the outside.

1/19/2011 02:41:00 PM  
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1/19/2011 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Matteo said...

"I think it is infinitely more challenging -- well, impossible -- to try to imagine a cosmos with no uncaused cause."

P.Z. Myers does it all the time.

But it just goes to show that people who find it possible to do this are philosophically autistic barbarians.

1/19/2011 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"I'm sure that as my readers have grown spiritually -- which is to say, expanded the nonlocal space in which they live -- they find it more and more difficult to be around people who live in their cramped little spaces of scientism, or materialism, or secularism, or feminism, or leftism, or any other spiritual straitjacket. Man is the microcosm, not the micro-ism."

Damn straight. I am actually repulsed by the straitjacket wearing ism-ers.
I suppose they are repulsed by me too, but for an entirely different reason.
One big difference between ism-ers and me is I don't hate them, I hate the isms they embrace, whereas they sure hate me and liberty lovin' folks like me and our beliefs.
They take the pain reality causes them personally and any messengers the same way.

"The point is that non-being is a kind of pure space. It is quite literally the origin of our cosmic slack, which is to say, the "place" where we are free from any determination except for what God has willed us to be, which is to say, a unique spark in the dark in that park before time. You know, paradise."

Well said, Bob! It is a sacred "place" and timelessness. Holy.

1/19/2011 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Van said...
"I like that... kinda turns quantifiable data into wallpaper for the principles office."

As opposed to the ugly, leftist stucko job in the vice principles office. :^)

1/19/2011 09:47:00 PM  

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