Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Spiritual Conspirators and Atheistic Lone Nuts

If we're going to try to understand free will and its limits, then we had better try to understand the nature of causality, especially as it applies to realms above matter.

The horizontal and linear causation of natural science (at least above the quantum level) is fairly well understood, if not in essence, at least for practical purposes.

In the last two or three decades, science has also developed a greater appreciation of chaos and complexity, i.e., dynamic systems that are intrinsically unpredictable. Because of the multitude of variable causal inputs -- not to mention random noise -- there is no way to predict the behavior of the system in a deterministic way (for example, the weather, or the human brain).

The situation only becomes more challenging when we toss vertical causation into the mix, since science has no idea how the mind can affect the body in a top-down manner (let alone how the soul affects the mind), nor how the material body interacts with the immaterial mind. (And this is leaving aside the impossibility of natural processes ever being the "cause" of infinitely higher realities such as truth; nothing can be the cause of what transcends it.)

In fact, because of its own self-imposed limitations, this is an area that science as presently conceived will never understand. As it stands, science mostly deals with the problem by treating mind as an epiphenomenon of genetic and electrochemical processes.

In short, researchers apply what they think they understand to what they clearly don't, which ends in a mythological pseudo-science more primitive than phrenology. One thinks of the tenured mechanics who attempt to identify the "god part" of the brain. Why not the "bogus science part" of the brain?

Not only does the brain qualify as a quintessential dynamic system, but it contains so many billions of causal links that only a fool would suggest that it can be understood deterministically. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter remains that my immaterial self can conceive the idea of making a fist, and it happens. Somehow the idea is translated to will, which somehow enlists billions of nerve cells to get organized and instantaneously do its bidding.

In contrast, if I notice that my hand is in the shape of a fist, this does not send a signal to my brain that I should punch someone. Human beings are not causally closed systems. Nevertheless, there is clearly a two-way channel between psyche and soma. In fact, at birth -- and for a couple of years thereafter -- we do not have a clear concept of self. Rather, we start with a "body ego" that is more or less merged with the (m)other (or maternal environment).

Only gradually, through the slow process of separation and individuation, do we (some of us) develop an autonomous and unique self (note also that human uniqueness is absolutely inconsistent with any kind of reductionistic causality). But even then, the conscious self forever remains in a dialectical relationship to its unconscious -- or supraconscious -- ground. It's not as if we can ever leave the orbit of that wi(l)der world.

In his Keys of Gnosis, Bolton describes another dimension of causality, the cosmic law of "action and reaction," and how this relates to providence and fate.

Until modern times, religion often had more to do with the attempt to magically control external circumstances, an idea which became increasingly untenable with the rise of science. As a result, religion became more of an interior pursuit for extreme seekers, dealing less with material than spiritual reality.

Bolton provides a useful way to think through this dualism, and to steer a course between what amounts to deism -- that is, an impersonal God of the philosophers and mathematicians who merely got the universe underway, but has a hands-off policy thereafter; and the "cosmic bellhop" of popular mythology, i.e., a God who magically fulfills our every infantile wish like a liberal politician.

As Bolton points out, one cannot deny the fact that scripture makes numerous references to the law of action and reaction (henceforth, "the Law") -- that is, the idea that we reap what we sow, that those who live by the sword shall die by it, "forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors," etc. In a word, karma. The Bible is filled with references to karma -- that what goes around comes around, and that evil will be punished and good rewarded.

Obviously we all want this to be true, but is it true in fact? It seems that most people conclude that it can't possibly be true -- that everywhere the wicked flourish and the decent are punished. Therefore, in order to maintain the belief in a just cosmos, reward and punishment must take place on some post-mortem plane.

More generally, if the very nature of the universe proves to us that it must have been created, and that its creator must be good, then goodness must somehow prevail "in the end." Thus, the cosmos must be moral through and through, even if it's often in a very obscure way due to the hierarchical complexity of manifest existence, both spatially and temporally.

Furthermore, the cosmos is obviously not a machine and man is clearly free. If the cosmos were a machine, then we would see an immediate relationship between cause and effect on the moral plane. You'd do something bad, and a lightning bolt would come down and strike you from the sky.

But if morality operated in this instantaneous manner, then we wouldn't actually be morally free in any meaningful way. Rather, we'd just be good to avoid the punishment. We would not inhabit a moral space in which we are free to choose between good and evil, and no one would be good for goodness' sake, so there would be no Christmas presence.

It is interesting that materialists naturally accept the existence of cause and effect on the material plane. And yet, they deny the possibility of anything similar on the moral plane, which is one more reason why their metaphysic is so feeble.

But if we turn the cosmos upside down -- which is to say, right side up -- then we can see that material cause and effect is simply the "residue" of the first cause, which must be above, not below. One cannot derive free will from materialism, but one can derive matter from a freely willed universe. And as Bob mentioned yesterday, humans can only exercise freedom in a universe that has a stable foundation, so to speak, i.e., predictable boundary conditions (which include moral laws).

I think most senior Raccoons will have noticed that as one comes into closer proximity to O (so to speak), one also "shortens" the distance between cause and effect on the moral plane.

As one is drawn more deeply into the Great Attractor beam, the web of synchronicities becomes more dense, and the Law becomes more apparent. Something happens to time, whereby it "thickens," and we begin to intuit all sorts of causal connections operating along different, immaterial timelines. Eventually it begins to look as if our life were more of an airy-tale conSpiracy (↓↑) than the breathless workings of a lone nut (•).

To be continued....

35 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Leave a quip? Oh, dear; I might be fresh out of funny just now. Will you take a rain check?

As Bolton points out, one cannot deny the fact that scripture makes numerous references to the law of action and reaction (henceforth, "the Law") -- that is, the idea that we reap what we sow, that those who live by the sword shall die by it, "forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors," etc.

Also, by their fruitcakes shall ye know them. A lot of people get confused about how - or if - the Law works, citing examples of good things happening to bad people and vice versa. But to anyone paying attention, more often than not the opposite is true, particularly in a free culture. People who allow their lives to be guided by good morals generally seem to do quite well, from what I've seen, while those who don't tend to spend their lives in circumstances any normal person would consider hellish. Or on a bigger scale, one need only compare California with Texas.

1/04/2011 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, one of the great things about America is that poverty is mostly a result of bad behavior.

Especially Obama's

1/04/2011 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

On the other hand, if one is living in an unfree culture, the price of living a moral life is often that the moral becomes a scapegoat for the tribulations of the immoral:

In a recent article, Khaled Abu Toameh, the Palestinian journalist who moved from the Palestinian press to the Jerusalem Post so that he could practice his profession with integrity, recalled that “Mahmoud Abbas’s official news agency, Wafa, reported that Israel had released poison-resistant rats to drive Arab residents of Jerusalem out of their homes.” The Wafa report claimed that “settlers flood the Old City of Jerusalem with rats.” Abu Toameh added sardonically: “It is not clear how these rats were taught to stay away from Jews, who also happen to live in the Old City.”

Of course, still by their fruits are they known. The Jews are hated because they are successful pretty much everywhere they go, while the cultures surrounding them tend to be rather obviously less so. If they would simply emulate the Jews, they'd likely find themselves similarly flourishing, but apparently it's easier to make accusations than to take an active role in changing their own lives for the better.

1/04/2011 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's the same with unions -- if you work hard, you're ostracized by the other slackers.

1/04/2011 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"As Bolton points out, one cannot deny the fact that scripture makes numerous references to the law of action and reaction (henceforth, "the Law") -- that is, the idea that we reap what we sow, that those who live by the sword shall die by it, "forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors," etc. In a word, karma. The Bible is filled with references to karma -- that what goes around comes around, and that evil will be punished and good rewarded."

I don't know if this counts as synchronicity, fruitcakery or just plain bad cabbage, but while reating that paragraph I just received a Bolt on my noodle that The Prodigal Son is a reversal, or a mirror (or rather, fulfillment) of the Cain and Abel story.

1/04/2011 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"One thinks of the tenured mechanics who attempt to identify the "god part" of the brain. Why not the "bogus science part" of the brain?"

LOL.

1/04/2011 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"It's not as if we can ever leave the orbit of that wi(l)der world."

In leiu of a quip, allow me to offer something completely anecdotal, and maybe even OT, but two of our nephews have been staying with us, and last night we were all playing XBox Kinnect (where there are no controllers at all, other than your body - it see's you, scans you, recognizes you, tracks your movements and your onscreen avatar moves within the game as you do). We were playing the track 'n field portion of it, and the runner's on screen get their speed by how high and quickly you (the real you) lift your knees, which means for each 100yrd dash, you are doing some serious wheezing at the end of it. Anyway, they were goofing around, trying to get their avatars to shove each other, and run away or off the field, etc. So they themselves are exerting themselves, getting winded, sweaty and pooped, but standing mostly in place the entire time, while their avatars are travelling seemingly huge distances on screen.

Anyway, aside from giving me an opportunity to rave about Kinnect (it is pretty awesome, I've yet to try out it's video chat system, but if as advertised, it'll make Skype look like Morse code. Game? This thing is SO going to expand beyond gaming, it's ridiculous - I can't wait for the programming end to be opened up to us Visual Studio geeks), this just made me think of how while we may exert great effort, and our body/avatar may seem to travel great distances, even if we run for days, that avatar isn't going to get one centimeter out of that little 10" x 3" XBox box sitting on my table next to the TV.

To the avatar, it may seem like it's crossed the entire continent, and you might collapse into a perspiring lump on the floor with no more energy left to lift even a finger, but the game is fixed, and while playing it you can never leave the orbit of that wi(I)der world, in many more ways than One.

1/04/2011 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Rick said "I just received a Bolt on my noodle that The Prodigal Son is a reversal, or a mirror (or rather, fulfillment) of the Cain and Abel story."

Hmmm... interesting thought.

1/04/2011 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger katzxy said...

Rick at 10:17

I second Van's comment, and would love to read an elaboration, if you have the time.

1/04/2011 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Vivid DreamScape said...

As for reward and punishment, we can see it has utility on a low level as an aid to discipline, but higher up it is no longer operant.

Bad, punishing happenstance is often the most helpful for soul development--we've all noted that.

Therefore, God may in fact reward us by giving a sharp blow to the back of the head.

We might call it bad, but its really not. We learn something of soul-value, an eternal acquisition and the reason we are here.

We are not here for the babes and the blow. We must earn things we can take with us when we depart.

1/04/2011 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yep, by their fruitcakes...

Rick, I'll third Van & Katzxy. Seems to me that you're on(to) something inneresting, there.

1/04/2011 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That could be. A jealous older brother who does the right thing (in his own eyes) feels that his younger brother is being favored inappropriately.

Cain and Abel, in a way, typify the conflict between Christ and the "elder brother" religion which eventually puts Him to death -- which is also reflected in the Prodigal story. Then you have the younger brother from the other mother, Joseph, who is one of the most complete types of Christ in Scripture. Ishmael/Isaac. Esau/Jacob.

God might be trying to tell us something. Take it away, Rick.

1/04/2011 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

In short, researchers apply what they think they understand to what they clearly don't, which ends in a mythological pseudo-science more primitive than phrenology.

Right, at least phrenology had a sort of low, folksy logic to it -- like homeopathy. When the grant money starts flowing, voodoo starts looking sophisticated.

1/04/2011 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Short on time but...

I couldn't help noticing that I had never noticed before that there are 3 persons in each story. A Father and two sons. In the first story (Old Testament) one son stays with the Father (you could say "automatically returns" to heaven) while the other leaves (cast out). In the second story (New Testament) the Father lets the bad son go who you could say must reach hell before he can reach understanding, and then returns to the Father for good. The good son who stayed does not understand but the Father explains it to him.

I believe it keeps going... as Mushroom further shows. The intuit of the "keeps going" really is the "bolt".

1/04/2011 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm not sure that's as clear as I'd like. Let me try this:

In the Prodigal Son story, Cain is the son who leaves. Abel is the one who stays. The father is God.

Cain finally returns after entering hell. Abel remains angry from the murder but his Father shows him how Cain begs for forgiveness, receives it, and has allowed Cain into heaven.
The end.

1/04/2011 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic, perhaps, this is an interesting observation:

"What is it about English? I do not have an answer, but I note the fact that there seems to be some deep connection between the English language and that most uncommon virtue, common sense.

...

English, Bishop Sprat thought, is conspicuously the friend of empirical truth. It is also conspicuously the friend of liberty."

1/04/2011 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

English, Bishop Sprat thought, is conspicuously the friend of empirical truth. It is also conspicuously the friend of liberty

Indeed. Contrast America which is largely an extension of (and reaction to) English culture, with South America which extends and reacts to Spanish/Portuguese culture, or Haiti which is a product of the French.

1/04/2011 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

If English was good enough for Jesus, it ought to be good enough for us.

1/04/2011 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Bud Wiser said...

From the Post:

:...science mostly deals with the problem by treating mind as an epiphenomenon of genetic and electrochemical processes."

this explanation seems kind of sensible 2 me.

I'm not really understanding what further explanation is needed or why.

I thought it was common knowledge that our minds were a product of our brains. I could be wrong.

1/04/2011 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Science said...

Not even wrong. I doesn't exist.

1/04/2011 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Science, you say?

CNN, ABC et al now reporting that "97% of scientists accept climate change theory".

This is where that figure came from.

And they have the nerve to insist that conservatives and Christians are "anti-science".

1/04/2011 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger katzxy said...

Rick,

Thanks for pointing the way.

1/04/2011 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Michelle Alvarez said...

The lady who leads my bible study group gets mad if i try to talk about dinosaurs its kind of awkward because i have a hard time not believing in them.

She thinks they did not exist. But in school they said they did and they showed the bones.

i don't know. i want to believe the right thing. its confusing.

1/04/2011 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Tell your Bible study teacher that Keynesians exist and to get over it.

1/04/2011 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

What does the lady do who leads your dinosaur study group when you keep bringing up the Bible?

1/04/2011 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Katzxy,
It's a good exercise, but I've no idea if there's much to it or not. The personalities in the stories seemed similar to me all of a sudden. I defer to the experts on this sort of thing. Or check back in 100 years. Your mileage may vary, etc.

wv: cormas gonna getchu

1/04/2011 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

As it stands, science mostly deals with the problem by treating mind as an epiphenomenon of genetic and electrochemical processes.

In a similar manner, nobody ever noticed because they were always trying to look the wrong way. Who knew the little uglies had anything pretty about them? It's like a cosmic Easter egg, hidden in plain sight in the most drab of places.

1/04/2011 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger katzxy said...

Rick,

Scripture has layers and layers of meaning. You may have indeed shown us one of those layers that we'd not seen before.

wv: cheatur

1/04/2011 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I don't know, but I noticed that God had a lot more patience with Cain than I would have had. (Not that this says much, especially at the time I originally read the story.)

1/05/2011 12:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gagdad Bob, I love your blog. I came upon it by googling Schuon a couple weeks ago and ever since I've been hooked.

I'm also Muslim. We have more in common with you Raccoons than you'd think.

1/05/2011 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No doubt. Schuon made a sharp distinction between his understanding of Sufism and what he called "average Sufism," let alone average Islam. He had little use for the latter.

1/05/2011 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

One might say that Schuon regarded "average Sufism" as analogous to deepakin' the Chopra, and average Islam as something like Pat Robertson on steroids.

1/05/2011 07:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply. Interesting. Ibn Arabi's has a similar position when it comes to so-called exoteric scholars "who know an outward significance of the present life, but of the next world they are heedless..." (Quran, 30:7) and in their denial, "they think they are working good deeds." (Quran, 18:104).

I'll keep reading :) Very grateful for the connection...

Salwa

1/05/2011 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, please understand that I have the utmost respect for Schuon, and that he has been one of the most influential people in my life. There are many versions of Christianity that I find stupid and occasionally appalling -- e.g. Fred Phelps -- but I don't let it spoil my fun.

1/05/2011 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

If mainstream Islam were practiced the way Schuon understood it, what a force for good it would be in the world!

1/05/2011 07:46:00 AM  

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