Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth, About Everything

In what kind of cosmos is self-consciousness possible? Truth? Beauty? Love? Just any old cosmos? Or a very particular kind -- indeed, one "designed" (so to speak) toward that end?

For example, if we begin with a cosmic wishlist that includes, say, the desire to let there be persons in our image and according to our likeness, this presupposes a multitude of variables and conditions. Again, not just any old cosmos can house man, let alone end in this particular Bob, i.e., the unique individual, each of whom is a "species unto himself," so to speak.

But the scientist does not and cannot begin with the cosmos as he finds it. Rather, he begins at the end or periphery of being, with pure effects such as matter and force, not with a priori principles such as intelligence, truth, and unity, even though he could never even get underway in the absence the latter. Ironically, the materialist pronounces from the center of the world that he (i.e., man) is not the center of the intelligible world.

In this regard, (mere) science is a little like liberalism, which presupposes the existence of wealth. For the left, it's just a matter of dividing it up. Where it came from, or how to generate more, they couldn't care less. Likewise, science presupposes the wealth of truth that is buried in matter, but never bothers with figuring out how it got there. Which is fine, because that's not their job.

In Theo-Drama I, Balthasar goes into a lengthy explanation of dizzying range and depth, which turns out to be surprisingly in accord with our own little mythunderstanding. I say "surprisingly" only because there is this cliche among the media and the tenured that somehow Christianity is at odds with an evolutionary cosmos, when the truth could hardly be more divergent.

There are, of course, modern, deviant forms of Christianity that reject evolution, but these turn out to be much more similar to materialistic science, not in terms of content, of course, but in the form of thought. We are not a participant in this battle, since it is really between two forms of flatland literalism which can only account for creation with recourse to magic -- the magic of "it just happened" vs. the magic of "God made it all happen."

The latter is, of course, closer to ultimate truth, but this is little consolation once we remember that it is also what the Mohammedans believe -- that God is responsible for everylittlething that happens, with no mediation by anything else, from physical law to human free will. So in either case -- the false religion of scientism or the bogus science of religionism -- we end up with man stripped of his innate dignity, and a man without intrinsic dignity is not a man.

Balthasar begins with the phenomenological truism that "The actualization of truth is no mere natural process but a spiritual event, which takes place only in the lightning-like encounter and fusion of two words -- the word of the subject and the word of the object."

Now, one can pretend this statement isn't true, but doing so is analogous to pretending the eyes don't see. What could be more obvious than that the experience of the simplest truth takes place in the mysterious "space" between subject and object?

For "outside of this event, there is no truth" (ibid). I mean, right? Objects do not know truth. Oddly enough they have truth, but this is not known until there is a subject to know it. In other words, the truth of the object may only be known in the subject who encounters it in the act of knowing.

So, could there exist a purely "objective" cosmos? No, of course not, because there is no object in the absence of a subject. Otherwise, who is it that is positing this object? Another object?

And yet, man is quite obviously not "pure subject." Right now I can look at my hands scurrying over the keyboard and know that I am an object; or that I am somehow in an object, or that there is an object in my am.

People seem to gravitate toward one pole or the other in their metaphysic -- i.e., spirit or matter -- but the plain fact is that we never experience a strict separation of the two. The most ethereal spirit is still "embodied" (in something, otherwise it could not communicate to us), while the most concrete fact discloses to us -- even if nothing else -- its bare existence.

If we assume a full employment, hierarchical cosmos, then we might say that the Object is at one end, the Subject at the other. Only the Absolute would be "pure subject" unencumbered by any specificity or limitation on freedom. But man, who is "in between," has his feet in a "subspiritual" world below, i.e., nature, but his head in the clouds of unknowing above.

And we use the word "unknowing" advisedly, because the only reason the cosmos is intelligible at all is because it is not intelligible in its totality. In other words, "ultimate" ignorance is the guarantor and seal of any particular knowledge. No particular knowledge can be complete and still be knowledge, because it would efface the distinction of subject and object, making you either the Godhead or a rockhead.

So for humans, while the actualization of truth is predicated on the freedom of the subject to know it, there is still an irreducible element of "unfreedom" in any human act of knowing.

This is because "subject and object find themselves by nature in a position of having to rely on each other in order to express their own intimate word" (ibid). The human subject requires the other in order to attain to his own truth, and is inevitably "constrained to actualize itself in something other than itself."

From the moment we come into the world, we are thoroughly entangled with objects that will only gradually reveal themselves as subjects. We ourselves enter the human drama "more object than subject," so to speak, and must be immersed in a milieu of subjectivity in order to actualize and deepen our own subjective space (or, one might just say "space").

Human evolution is nothing less than the ongoing exploration and colonization of this subjective horizon, but at every step along the way it must be attained in dialectic with objects, bearing in mind that all objects have, by definition, an interior capable of disclosing itself to us, whether it is the interior of a stone, an animal, or a beatle.

Therefore, as Balthasar writes, "There was never a time when the subject was not already disclosed to the world and the world to it." In other words, since existence is presumably "one," if nothing else, then there is no line we can arbitrarily draw that says "objects on this side, subjects on the other."

Rather, existence as such is a union of these complements, which is why, as Petey once said, "complements will get you everywhere." A world of pure objects would be "nowhere," because, for starters, it couldn't exist.

Can we say that there is any "ontological direction" in the world, some kind of sign pointing which way is up? Gosh, I think so.

For example, man, everywhere we find him, wants "knowledge," no matter how stupid the knowledge might be. Can we also therefore say that the world "wants to be known?" Let's not go there just yet. Let's just say that if man's earthly mission is to know, it would be a mission impossible in the absence of a willing partner. The partner may play hard to get, but deep down she wants to be known.

Getting back to the very nature of this weird cosmos, Balthasar notes that "It is of no insignificant question for an entity whether or not it is the object of someone else's knowledge."

With what we have discussed above, I believe we are in a better position to appreciate this significance. For it is not just that objects may be known by subjects, but even more strangely, that subjects may be known by subjects.

But obviously not in the same way. This is because -- reductionistic scientism notwithstanding -- in order to know a subject, the subject must disclose itself.

True, we can know a great deal about the subject by studying the object it is housed in, but there will nevertheless be a kind of ontic wall beyond which we cannot proceed. It is here that man's innate freedom and dignity lie, for this is a sacred space accessible only to God and ourselves, unless we choose to disclose it in intimacy.

This is why man can never be treated "quantitatively," as a mere object or means to an end, for to do this is to deny his freedom, his dignity, his unique individuality, and the intimate space where all these are disclosed and preserved.

"If each and every thing were nothing more than an 'instance of...' or a kind of algebraic 'x' that could be exchanged for other entities without loss, then things would possess absolutely no intrinsic value of their own as individuals" (Balthasar).

Rather, to know this man would be to know all men, with the result that "no individual could present [us] with any further mystery" (ibid).

But guess what? Each man is a mystery, for if he weren't, God couldn't have created him. In other words, just like the cosmos, we may only know man at all because we may not know him completely or exhaustively. Rather, there is always more to know and love.

To be continued....

Humans don't have a monopoly on the subject. Beneath the mask of every supposedly blankrupt object lies concealed a wealth of subjectivity just waiting to be unpacked and known:

29 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

And yet again, so much to think about, one hardly knows where to begin responding. Most of the things that come to mind half-formed toward the beginning of the post are expressed far better than I could manage by the end.

For this ongoing series of love-letters to the Cosmos, though, this little subject is eternally grateful.

7/12/2011 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"For this ongoing series of love-letters to the Cosmos, though, this little subject is eternally grateful."

What a lovely way to put it, Julie.
And yes, include me in the grateful bunch as well.

7/12/2011 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"The partner may play hard to get, but deep down she wants to be known."

Bob, This reminds me of the self/mind parasite problem. I remember asking you once if while under psychoanalysis the self at some level is aware of the parasite, or maybe the parasite itself is trying to tell you essentially that it exists in order to "solve it". As if it asks, "please solve me."

7/12/2011 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"We ourselves enter the human drama "more object than subject..."

And never completely object.

Speaking of science, human life and dignity, was reading this yesterday on Aquinas and human ensoulment.

I think this was expressed as best I've ever seen it:

"This teaching remains valid and is further confirmed, if confirmation were needed, by recent findings of human biological science which recognize that in the zygote resulting from fertilisation the biological identity of a new human individual is already constituted."

7/12/2011 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You might say that the mind parasite is a portion of the self that is held "in escrow" in order to be worked out later -- either in oneself or one's children -- since it cannot be resolved during childhood. In a sense, it's a way to keep this portion of subjectivity "alive," so to speak. The other option would be to "kill" the self outright, and this occurs more frequently than one might imagine. Lots of zombies out there.

7/12/2011 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Re abortion -- yes, the only way around this is to invent one's own abstract criteria for what is a human being, e.g., "brainwaves" or something. This commits exactly the ontological error discussed in today's post.

7/12/2011 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Masked Monopoly - it certainly looks like an improvement on the regular version!

In this regard, (mere) science is a little like liberalism, which presupposes the existence of wealth. For the left, it's just a matter of dividing it up. Where it came from, or how to generate more, they couldn't care less.

Along those lines, no good deed goes unpunished...

7/12/2011 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This is why man can never be treated "quantitatively,"...

Without being at all able to articulate it at the time, this is why I gave up on experimental psychology. You could not really find out much, and it was all trivial, or at least of no interest to me.

7/12/2011 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, one figures that out pretty quickly unless one is a trollish sort of rockhead, of which there are many.

7/12/2011 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

"True, we can know a great deal about the subject by studying the object it is housed in, but there will nevertheless be a kind of ontic wall beyond which we cannot proceed. It is here that man's innate freedom and dignity lie, for this is a sacred space accessible only to God and ourselves, unless we choose to disclose it in intimacy. "

I wonder if this is why, at some level, it feels wrong to spy on someone? Granted, spying is at the material level but still you are attempting to go, uninvited, to a sacred space. Maybe I'm reading too much in to this.

7/12/2011 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No, that is correct. It's one of the reasons why communism and national socialism were such a horror. Imagine children informing on their parents! There is always a "totalitarian temptation" at the heart of any form of leftism, which violates the sanctity of the individual. It can be done in a multitude of ways, both "hard" and "soft" -- for example, by denying that there is a real self to begin with. The latter is a kind of passive aggressiveness, but aggressive nonetheless.

7/12/2011 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

This remind too of the "Fools in Christ", who look insane on the outside but their mission is only known (so they seem to say) in that intimate relationship between the fool and God.

7/12/2011 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

John - indeed. To me that's true even of a lot of online snooping. I don't even feel comfortable googling people without a good reason; it seems too much like virtually staring in a window or following someone home.

7/12/2011 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

@julie.

Agreed!

Bob sez:
"Humans don't have a monopoly on the subject. Beneath the mask of every supposedly blankrupt object lies concealed a wealth of subjectivity just waiting to be unpacked and known:"

You mentioned in your book something about experiments showing photons being correlated (in some manner) regardless of time and distance. They "know" about each other.

Consciousness on a continuum?

I'm only half joking when I say that my machines know I love them and treat me well because of that.

7/12/2011 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Skorpion said...

Don't know if any of you 'Coons have been following the Richard Dawkins-centered meltdown in the Professional Atheist-Materialist community, but this piece is the funniest and most insightful one yet written about the whole affair.

7/12/2011 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I've gotten a few laughs out of that one. For once, Dawkins had a point, even if it was poorly made. Too bad he let the harridans beat him into submission. Being listed as persona non grata amongst her ilk ought to be a compliment...

7/12/2011 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

"This is why man can never be treated "quantitatively," as a mere object or means to an end, for to do this is to deny his freedom, his dignity, his unique individuality, and the intimate space where all these are disclosed and preserved."

Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro

7/13/2011 05:07:00 AM  
Blogger medial equipment said...

you are doing great

7/13/2011 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"...the truth of the object may only be known in the subject who encounters it in the act of knowing."

What an infinitely deep line that is! All we seek to know, and even to avoid knowing, is contained by this.

The "act of knowing", drama indeed.

7/13/2011 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other words, "ultimate" ignorance is the guarantor and seal of any particular knowledge. No particular knowledge can be complete and still be knowledge, because it would efface the distinction of subject and object, making you either the Godhead or a rockhead."

Yep, it would exclude the knower.

The funny thing about those who deny free will, is that if they were right, we would all either vanish entirely into the matter of the matter, or wholly seize the dei ourselves.

It's in such simple distinctions that all that can be known and all who can know it, can choose to know what they can, or no it all instead.

7/13/2011 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Regarding Dawkins... or at least the gene machine posing as an entity whose illusory consciousness is known as Richard Dawkins to other entities, who are also illusions, who are so quick to be offended by other illusions... I'm getting sidetracked here.

What I meant to say was that it's always so much fun to watch people who not only believe that words have no meaning, but also (somewhat mysteriously) believe that consciousness is an illusion which is incapable of choosing (er... not because it is an illusion and it would be illusory to suggest that illusions could do anything at all, including make a choice, but... simply that since free will and choices are illusions, which illusory consciousnesses are incapable of choosing because choice is itself an illusion...not that the illusions are illusions of the illusioned... or... oh my... all this dealing with the doings of things which don't exist is complicated stuff), somehow still manage to choose to use words in such a way as to offend the consciousness of all of their fellow illusions... I mean consciousness... which are all illusions... though they are quite properly offended by the insensitive words that the first person chose to use... not that he actually chose his words, of course, being that free will is an illusion and he is incapable of actually making choices, but... they were offensive ones to choose to make towards fellow illusions... er... or crap. That's just too much nothing to track.

Suffice to say it's an absolute delight to watch such self impressed ignorant materialists dick about with their contradictions.

7/13/2011 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger tillurdizzy said...

If God good, and is all-powerful, why does he allow evil?

I think this question is easily answered, and it has to do with your cosmic wishlist:

"if we begin with a cosmic wishlist that includes, say, the desire to let there be persons in our image and according to our likeness, this presupposes a multitude of variables and conditions."

To the variables and conditions, I would add "consequences". For example, if I create a computer program that displays 10 balls on the screen, and I desire them to move around on completely random paths, a consequence is going to be that they sometimes bump into each other. But if randomness is my most desired condition, I have to put up with bumbing. The only way to prevent it would be to interfere with the program, thus performing a "miracle".

Take weather for instance. God has all these living plants and organisms that need water. So he creates this amazing system in which clouds absord moisture, wind blows the clouds over land and releases the water. Wow! How cool is that? But a consequence of this amazing and extremely complicated system is that the possibility of hurricanes and tornadoes exists. Unless God decides to intervene with a miracle to circumvent the consequences of his weather program, all kinds of havok and destruction may occur.

But imagine if God did constantly intervene. Man could never learn anything about the world because nothing would be predictable! We would not be able to depend on anything acting in a consistent manner. Science would never exist. Empiracle obsevation would be worthless. Facts would be meaningless. We would all be leftists! (or Muslims).

7/14/2011 05:53:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I don't believe you can "create" "random".
One can allow freewill however. But not in computer programming. Or it wouldn't be "programming".
I don't know why but analogies to "things computer" in these kinds of discussions always irk me. Because they are reversed I think. For example, God or Creation is not "like a computer this or that". It is the other way around if at all.

7/14/2011 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Freewill is the word you are looking for, is what I mean.
And you can't have it (or create it) without the creation of consciousness, which is why there are no good analogs to "consciousness".

7/14/2011 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

And not just any consciousness; that of Man.

7/14/2011 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Tillurdizzy said "If God good, and is all-powerful, why does he allow evil?"

Frankly, to ask the question is to misunderstand the nature of the issue all around.

First, and least, tornados, tsunamis and earthquakes, etc, are not examples of evil. They are extremely unfortunate events with the potential of creating tremendously bad consequences of course, but they are simply events that are consequences of (to go to the heart of the matter) the nature of subatomic particles, or whatever fundamental stuff it is that the universe is made up of.

But to ask 'why does he allow evil?' is to completely ignore the fundamental nature at the heart of what human beings are, which is, as Rick said, Free Will. To ask if men should be 'allowed' to do evil is to suggest that they can be denied the possibility of choosing to do anything at all, which would be to deny him free will all together, which would be to eliminate Man from the universe entirely.

You have free will, or you don't, if you do, then good and evil are both potential in your choices which you choose to make, or attempt to avoid making.

The question is pointless, but if you wanted to reword it, it would be a little better as
"God is good, and as such, created Man as a creature capable of choosing its thoughts and actions and knowing what is true. So with that example in mind, why does man choose evil over good?"

... or to put it another way,
"Why does man choose to avoid reality? Why does he seek to remake the reality he isn't capable of fathoming, into what he wishes it would be... despite his utter inability to foresee the consequences of even his simplest choices?"

And the answer is: There is no cause behind it, none, other than men choose to choose it. Sorry, no determinism involved, nothing to offload responsibility onto. Men choose. Consequences follow.

7/14/2011 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The more simple answer is that for man's "Yes" to mean anything, he must be meaningfully permitted to say "No."

7/14/2011 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "...for man's "Yes" to mean anything, he must be meaningfully permitted to say "No.""


One sentence?! You... you... y... briefest!


;-)

7/14/2011 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

:)

7/14/2011 09:35:00 AM  

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