Is Freedom Built into the Cosmos?
"Being is the Slack in existence; Life is the Slack in matter; Psyche is the Slack in the biosphere; and Pneuma, or Spirit, is the Slack in Psyche."
In response to such a fascinnoying gnostrum, the napoleonic reader may find himself thinking: like anyone could know that!
This word "slack" -- often capitalized -- seems to come up frequently in Bob's daily dose of diaryhea entries, but to my knowledge, he's never actually exspelled out what he's talking about. Rather, he seems to assume that we all grasp it already, or that perhaps the context renders it less murky. Or maybe he's just deepaking the chopra.
I am here to explain it all out for you, for while no one has ever seen the "face of slack," I did once steal a glimpse of its backside, so I think I know a thing or two about a thing or two.
In fact, this is where we must begin our discussion, with "things" and with "twoness."
It is not immediately evident why either should exist. Why should the cosmos be anything other than One? Well, as it so happens, it is one. This is proved by our unconscious use of the word "cosmos," which assumes a prior or transcendent oneness behind or above all phenomena. Clearly, to say "cosmos" is to say "one." We always know that any this and any that are related on some level.
But why should "things" -- this and that -- exist? While animal perception can apprehend boundaries of various kinds, are these boundaries really real? Or are they just superimposed upon phenomena?
For example, is there really a difference between an animal and its environment? For all we know, the flower could be an external organ of the bee. In our minds we separate them, but the one couldn't survive without the other.
In the book Laws of Form, G. Spencer-Brown (SB) explicates an indicative calculus with which to think about such fundamentals. We will not pretend to understand the calculus, so we'll just assume the letters add up. We are more interested in his conclusions, which are true regardless.
In the book, SB attempts to bring together "the investigations of the inner structure of our knowledge of the universe" with "investigations of its outer structure." As we all know, these two weren't divided until Kant, and the tenured haven't been able to put them back together ever since. In truth they were never separate -- for again, nature knows no such rigid boundaries -- but it's nice to be able to prove it.
SB affirms that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart. For example "the skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside." Thus, inside and outside coarise with the drawing of a boundary.
This leads to the somewhat eery conclusion that prior to the appearance of life, the physical cosmos not only had no inside, but no outside either.
Frankly, this is not something we can imagine; or, we can only imagine it, as if consciousness were there prior to 4 billion years ago, when life emerged.
(At this point we are speaking only of consciousness associated with biological life, not in terms of a transcendent or meta-cosmic intelligence; for surely, prior to the emergence of life the cosmic lights were on, even if nobody was home.)
SB goes on to say that this primordial severance is always present in our own experience; indeed, "experience" would not be possible in its absence, for there would be no distinction between experience and the thing experienced -- like a person in a coma, who (we are told) is having no experience.
Now, a line is also a form of closure. In drawing a distinction, it creates boundaries around two things, thus "enclosing" them, so to speak. And "Once a distinction is drawn, the spaces, states, or contents on each side of the boundary, being distinct, can be indicated."
This is obvious in the case of lower planes of existence, say, the perception of a "rock." In order to see the rock, we must separate it from its surroundings. (Note also that a professional geologist will look at a rock in an entirely different way than we do, seeing all sorts of interesting things.)
But this is also true of higher and more subtle planes and modes, for example, the distinction between conscious and unconscious minds, or between God and man. To even think about God, one must first draw a line between man and God, the one and the many, time and eternity, essence and existence. But this line is not as unambiguous as the distinct line between, say, journalism and MSNBC.
So to think about God, we must draw a line. But as it so happens, God himself is responsible for "lines as such," with the result that we can draw the line anywhere we choose, but the mere fact that we have drawn one reveals another kind of line, i.e., the clearobscure boundary between Spirt and matter, or intelligence and intelligibility, or form and substance, or knower and known, etc. This mysterious line is everything, at least in potential.
As Bob wrote in the book, Life as such -- which marks the distinction between the great outdoors and the grand inside -- is "a luminous fissure" that suddenly appears "in this heretofore dark, impenetrable circle." It is "the unimaginable opening of a window on the world."
This is what is meant by the statement "Life is the Slack in matter." Perhaps slack is better grasped by thinking of its antonyms, which would include such things as necessity, predetermination, compulsion, inevitability, etc. On the human plane we recognize it as "fate," or perhaps just the "human condition," i.e., those conditions that give us little or no wiggle room. No wiggle room = no slack.
Animals surely have more slack than inanimate objects, but they still float very close to the surface of matter. Not until the emergence of mind -- i.e., the mental space occupied and colonized by humans -- is there this new dimension that seems to exist at a right angle to matter and life.
Here is where the true freedom exists (at least in potential) and could only exist. At the other end, one must wonder about a man who uses his God-given slack to try to prove it doesn't exist -- e.g., people who do not "believe" in free will. Which of course they are free to believe.
Let's consider two extremes, beginning with a wealthy man who is so driven by a compulsion to acquire more stuff, that he actually has no slack. Conversely, think of a man in prison who has an experience of the divine freedom. Though behind bars, he has infinitely more slack than the rich man. Examples of each are too numerous to mention.
I believe this is what Jesus was driving at with his wise cracks about the challenge of the wealthy person to enter the kingdom of slack on earth. It can be done, of course, but it is often the case that the attributes responsible for the acquisition of great wealth are precisely those that exile him from the slack he supposedly craves.
Only when such a person slows down and attempts to enjoy the slack, do they realize too late that they have lived a mirthless life of grim slacklessness. They were not truly free to do what they did, but were compelled to do so. It is a tragedy to realize this too late.
Unless you are like C. Montgomery Burns, who, believing his life was at an end, whispered, "I only wish I'd spent more time at the office."
I will conclude this episode with a passage by SB: the physicist is "made of a conglomeration of the very particulars he describes, no more, no less, bound together by and obeying such general laws as he himself has managed to find and to record.
"Thus he cannot escape the fact that the world as we know is constructed in order (and thus in such a way as to be able) to see itself.
"This is indeed amazing.
"Not so much in view of what it sees, although this can appear fantastic enough, but in respect of the fact that it can see at all.
"But in order to do so, evidently it must first cut itself up into at least one state which sees, and at least one other state that is seen....
"In this sense..., the universe must expand to escape the telescopes through which we, who are it, are trying to capture it, which is us."
This interior expansion, or bigger bang, is where the slack is. Please also note that if we could prove all of this with the inevitability of ironyclad logic, it would only prove that our slack is an illusion. Likewise, if we could logically prove the existence of God, he couldn't exist (nor could we).