Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Persons and Other Absolute Miracles

There can be no science of the utterly unique, which is why science can only pretend to understand such things and events.

In other words, it is not possible to do a controlled study of the one-of-a-kind, since there are not two of them to subject to variable conditions.

Science can only deal with aggregates and statistics, but it cannot disclose the secret of the individual for the same reason it can't reveal the nature of the One.

Science must assume the existence of this One, for all science is predicated on the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

At once this reveals a possible totalitarian temptation, since there are some things that simply cannot be reduced to anything less than themselves. But the state never stops trying.

Science divorced from theology leads toward an incomprehensible one -- incomprehensible because it has no other to comprehend it -- no genuine partner in the climb.

What is unique in the world? First and foremost, persons. I assume that even the most jaded materialist -- if only for the sake of propriety -- will concede that each and every person is a unique and unrepeatable cosmic event.

One can always speculate about how things "might have been different" if one had made this or that choice, but it is impossible to subject oneself to a controlled experiment in order to examine the alternate outcomes.

But just because it is what it is, this doesn't mean that you am what you am, with no I in the matter.

This metaphysic can also lead to the stubborn illusion of an absence of free will, since there aren't two of you to prove the case scientifically.

And even then, the two of you couldn't have identical circumstances, so there would still be no way to prove that the differences weren't a result of free will.

What else is unique? I just said "first and foremost," persons. But that can't be correct -- at least without a qualification.

That is, First and Foremost must be God -- or what we should probably call O, since "God" can be compared to other gods. We can always assign a name to the unique, but that hardly means that we understand it. Rather, to the extent that something is truly unique, there is no possibility of complete understanding.

This shouldn't be confused with the necessary existential barrier that forbids complete understanding of anything whatsoever. In other words, we can all gain sufficient understanding of, say, rocks or gravity, without knowing what either is in its essence.

But in the case of a human being, we can keep knowing more and more without ever getting to the bottom. The unique individual is a kind of inexhaustible fount of his own uniqueness.

As we have said before, the world is only relatively intelligible because it is absolutely unintelligible. In other words, it is only because the world is created that we can understand it at all.

But for the same reason, we can never completely understand it, since we can never be the Creator. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, the cosmos too pours out its own inexhaustible stream of truth and beauty.

In a cosmos that could be completely "contained" by science, science would be impossible, for the same reason that a person who could be completely understood wouldn't be a real person, but more like a machine.

This is not to say that many, if not most, persons end up living like machines, but that is a different story. It is difficult being unique, and in the absence of a unique God who cherishes uniqueness, there is a tendency toward conformism or rebellion, blandness or eccentricity, dependence or pseudo-independence, group identity or faux individualism. Two sides of the same worthless coin.

Science necessarily deals with a world of accident and necessity, but then covertly assimilates the view that all reality is governed by them.

Thus, if necessity rules, then free will is an illusion. But if accident does, then identity is an absurd and pointless iteration of material shuffling. There would be no point to self understanding, since there would be no self to understand (although, curiously, there would still be an impoverished "scientific self" to understand this banality).

What else is unique? For the faithful, the Incarnation is unique, for the same reason God is. The one follows from the other, if not strictly "necessarily," then certainly logically.

But more generally, one could say that any miracle is unique. To put it the other way around, anything that is scientifically repeatable is not a miracle.

Wait a minute, SlackMeister. You just said that human persons are not repeatable. Does this mean that each person is a miracle?

It most certainly does. How could it be otherwise, and still be? As Bob has said in his uniquely annoying way, human persons are "mirrorcles of the Absolute." What does this even mean?

It means that each human person is somehow a unique image of the singular uniqueness at the bottom -- or top -- of it all.

But... wouldn't that make us all the same?

Yes, precisely! This is the common source of our cosmic brotherhood. But the Absolute is absolute, whereas we can only be his middling relativities who are here for a brief visit, so we can mirror without ever completely exhausting the One we reflect.

In Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger is asked how many ways there are to God. His answer may surprise you: "As many as there are people."

For otherwise we wouldn't be persons, nor could God be One.

24 Comments:

Anonymous George Bailey said...

"One can always speculate about how things "might have been different" if one had made this or that choice, but it is impossible to subject oneself to a controlled experiment in order to examine the alternate outcomes."

I.. I might have to disagree with you on that one.

6/01/2011 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Does this mean that each person is a miracle?

Yes. In fact, science is really about classification and is always asking the question: how are these things alike?

It groups to give us genus and higher, then divides to give us species, subspecies, etc. But it can never get to the individual. Individuality is dismissed as randomness -- usually attributed to unknown factors.

The Random Ranger and his Unknown Friend would make a pretty good graphic novel.

6/01/2011 09:11:00 AM  
Anonymous son of a preacher man said...

George are you trying to take credit for Clarence's work?

6/01/2011 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of cosmic uniqueness, only four percent of the galaxies in the universe are like ours. Though I would go out on a limb and say that, in fact, our galaxy is completely unique.

Seems to me this also points to the unlikelihood that there are other worlds fostering intelligent life; the circumstances on both the macro and micro levels are so specific and singular that it is highly unlikely they've been duplicated anywhere. It takes just the right sort of planet with the right composition, the right amount of spin, the right distance from its star, the right sort of star in the right place in its galaxy in the right sort of galaxy, which itself must fit all manner of preconditions such that its composition and cosmic radiation fosters life on that specific planet without destroying it, for long enough that it can grow from an excitable cluster of atoms to multicellular self- (and Other) aware beings, without which the cosmos in all its inexhaustible vastness may as well not exist at all, since there would be nothing to know it.

Mirrorcles, indeed...

6/01/2011 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Thus, if necessity rules, then free will is an illusion. But if accident does, then identity is an absurd and pointless iteration of material shuffling. There would be no point to self understanding, since there would be no self to understand..."

Yep.

But...
" (although, curiously, there would still be an impoverished "scientific self" to understand this banality)."

... not sure about this, unless you mean a zombiefied bio-machine, but I don't know how it could be thought of as having a self, how would it differ from a twig floating down a stream and bouncing off obstructions along the bank, etc?

It happens, something moves, something results, but... I'm not seeing a self there to see it.

6/01/2011 01:18:00 PM  
Anonymous On a Red Divan said...

I'm on a plush red Divan painting my nails wearing...well, not wearing actually.

The next intelligent species will be manufactured by us.

Climate change is real.

I like Obama.

The following people I like: Oprah, Deepak, Wayne, and Tolle.

If you like who I like you can come sit with me on my Divan. Would you like that?

6/01/2011 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous flunky said...

Post a pic first.

6/01/2011 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous flunky said...

What if at some time in the future, a nation or collection of nations, makes it trendy or mandatory that its citizens wear computer chip implants which makes the wearer ten times smarter? Ever think of that?

Do we Americans simply let freedom reign? Do we match up manditorially with our own implants to keep up?

What if a full blown Islamic Borg society happened? Do we counter with Christian Borg? And who gets to be the Queen?

You guys better get crackin educating people about morality and freedom and all, lest this place be crawling with mindless human robots.

6/01/2011 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I don't worry too much about AI fantasies. Though, as a software person, I'm far more impressed with the machine that won Jeopardy than a chess-playing machine.

Implantation would not, in my opinion, make anyone smarter. The problem for most people is not a lack of capacity or speed, but under-utilization of existing capacity.

So you got a wireless connection to the internet in your head. Want to bet that half the bandwidth won't be eaten by boobs in 3D?

6/01/2011 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Only half? I think you're vastly underestimating...

6/01/2011 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Mushroom said "Want to bet that half the bandwidth won't be eaten by boobs in 3D?"

Half by boobs in 3D... and the other half, by the other half... in 3D.

6/01/2011 08:02:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

I don't doubt that at some point a brain/pc interface will be made, and we will be able to utilize that to offload and process some tasks with incredible speed with something very like the sensation that we thought it. Really, not much different than sitting down to Google with your keyboard.

We can already plug crude visual input into the visual nerve so that those who have lost sight can have some semblance of visual sensation... just as we're starting to be able to connect the nerve endings of severed limbs with increasingly sophisticated mechanical limbs.
The rest, from obvious prosthetics to seamless replacements which will be nearly undetectable, is just refinement and progress.

Aside from the amazing possibilities, it shouldn't be that remarkable.

And besides the wizbanery of the issue, what the AI people miss, is that... it really won't be much different than sitting down to Google with your keyboard... without the clunky interface.

Won't make a difference to you, in your liveand the issues of your having to live your life either well, or poorly.

Neither books, travel, technology or anything else will ever free you from you.

Best to deal with it.

(It's kinda the point)

6/01/2011 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Wait a minute, SlackMeister. You just said that human persons are not repeatable. Does this mean that each person is a miracle?"

Aye! And thank God for that!
It's a shame I wasted so much time tryin' to be "unique" (and yet, like pieces of other folks I liked) when I already Am.

Thankfully, some tragedy (the stuff the blues is made of) helped me to see the mirrorcle first hand (or second hand in light of the Absolute. :^)

Don't forget 2D irt bandwith, lol.

6/02/2011 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I don't know, Van.
If I had not sat down to Google with my keyboard, I would never have met you folks, nor indeed known much of the literature of timeless wisdom not yet available around here. I can't help but think that my non-cybernetic me would have been worse off in virtually every way that counts.

I do however believe that the difference from a high-resolution Android phone to an actual neural implant is merely incremental.

6/02/2011 02:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I do however believe that the difference from a high-resolution Android phone to an actual neural implant is merely incremental."

I suspect you're either understating what you mean by incremental (after all, the model T to the cars of today are just incremental changes), or failing to realize what a direct neural implant could imply for society.

6/02/2011 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

A neural implant means we would be able to do more work faster, which means we would be required to do more work faster.

6/02/2011 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Magnus, that reminds me of a story I read recently about Chinese prisoners being forced to play computer games on top of their other hard labors.

6/02/2011 07:55:00 AM  
Anonymous flunky said...

I’d like to think the neural implant will multiply knowledge, and also wisdom. But Van suggests that it will also multiply malice and folly? In free societies, will the former always counteract the other regardless of speed of thought and action?

6/02/2011 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I’d like to think the neural implant will multiply knowledge, and also wisdom.

Knowledge, maybe. For most people, though, it will increase the quantity, not the quality, and odds are they still won't know what to do with the information they have. Per today's post, the most likely effect will be a further reduction of sacred slack.

Wisdom, very unlikely. Real wisdom comes from a combination of experience and grace; no computer chip can provide the latter, and that which it gives of the former would be questionable at best.

No matter how many bells and whistles are added, people will still just be people. Giving them the tools to allow them to be people "faster" or "smarter" won't make them better. It will simply make them more of what they already are.

6/02/2011 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6/02/2011 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

flunky said “I’d like to think the neural implant will multiply knowledge, and also wisdom.”

Neural implants, or any technology, can do nothing themselves other than multiply our access to facts – they can and will do nothing in regards to knowledge or wisdom. Obviously if a person uses them properly, they have the potential of deriving greater knowledge from the access to so much factual info, and if prudent, they have the potential of becoming wiser.

“But Van suggests that it will also multiply malice and folly?”

Technology, whether a stone ax or an iPad, is simply a tool, it is up to the tool maker and tool user to decide whether they will use it for good and useful purposes, or allow it to enable their weaknesses.

Always has been that way, and it always will be that way, nothing about whether you have to access the tool by hand, or by thought, will change the nature of that.

Magnus, I agree, but just as Google brought you here, it also brought our trolls here, tools are good or bad depending upon the tool user.

6/02/2011 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

(What Julie said)

6/02/2011 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous flunky said...

I was looking up Carl Sagan. And now I'm here pondering higher cosmological dimensional possibilities, which Carl might not approve of. Funny thing that Google.

6/02/2011 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosary.Devotee said...

Science is a study of all that exists around us, how we live and die. It merely needs proof. But it is not far from miracles as these also require some evidence so people can aacept it as the truth.

6/04/2011 09:27:00 AM  

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