Friday, October 07, 2011

Let's Get Real!

Let's talk about reality. First of all, humans routinely throw out this word, but do we know what it refers to?

And even if we do, is there any reason to believe we could actually "know" it? Isn't "reality" similar to "God" -- in effect a signifier with no signified (or which signifies everything, which amounts to the same (no)thing)? In other words, just because we have a word for God, it hardly means that we understand what or who God is.

We could say the same of the word "universe." As Stanley Jaki has written, it obviously isn't a result of any kind of empirical observation, for who has ever seen the universe? Indeed, the only person who could conceivably see it would be God, which raises an interesting point, for is it possible for there to be an intelligible unit in the absence of an intelligence that knows it?

I like to think that, while human beings have every right to assume and affirm the existence of a cosmos -- an ordered totality of interacting objects and principles -- we are also warranted to posit a kind of universal subject in conformity to this entity, i.e., God.

Since we can know that ultimate reality exists even while we cannot know it in its totality, this requires a different sort of symbolic reference, hence the system of pneumaticons, e.g., O. O stands for "ultimate reality." It is analogous to an algebraic variable.

Now, for man there are three main sources of revelation. There is the empirical world of sensation. There is the rational world of logical principles. And there is (capital R) Revelation, i.e., communications from O tailored to human sensibilities. (One could add emotional and aesthetic realities, but let's leave those to the side for now.)

Science may exclude the latter from its arsenal, but it hardly makes the other two less problematic. In fact, it clearly makes them more problematic, for what right do humans have to claim knowledge of truth if they are but an accidental and transient result of impersonal forces?

One cannot implicitly claim transcendence while explicitly undercutting its very ground and possibility. This is as absurd as the political philosophers of the Confederate south affirming the universal right to property without affirming the natural right not to be someone's property.

Rather, the right to own the fruit of one's labor flows from the right to own oneself. Just so, the "right to truth" flows from the ability to know it, otherwise it's a meaningless phrase.

This is no small matter, since the left always violently sunders these primordial realities in various ways. For example, thanks to relativism, multiculturalism, and political correctness, man has a right to truth, but no longer a natural right. Rather, only a positive right to certain truths determined by the political needs of the left.

Thus, if my six year old were unfortunate enough to attend a public school in California, he would have the "right" to learn all about homosexuality. But only what homosexual activists want him to learn, which is no right at all. Besides, no morally sane person would expose a child to such inappropriate material, which tells us a great deal about the broken moral compass of homosexual activists.

Back to the subject. I'm not sure where to begin a discussion of cosmic reality, because it seems that we can literally start anywhere and eventually arrive at the same place and know it for the first time. However, I don't have all day, so I think I'll begin with chapter 6 of Oldmeadow's Frithjof Schuon and the Perennial Philosophy, Metaphysics: Science of the Real, and take it from there.

Again, the affirmation of "reality" obviously implies the ability to know it, which in turn implies a great deal more. For it means that, in the words of Schuon, "In principle the Intellect knows everything because all possible knowledge is inscribed in its very substance."

In other words, the Intellect may know anything that is knowable, and there is no reality that is not knowable, since these are two sides of the same coin. Or better yet, truth and reality are synonymous terms. In the more obvious sense, the former is subjective, the latter objective.

But looked at another way, truth is the ultimate in objectivity, whereas reality is always taking on different appearances. This is no less true of science than metaphysics, since the progress of science may be measured in terms of its increasing explanatory power. A good theory encompasses and accounts for more reality, and more adequately reduces multiplicity to unity.

However, science begins at one end of the cosmos, metaphysics the other. That is to say, science deals with phenomena (from the periphery in, so to speak), metaphyiscs with principles (from the center out). And importantly, metaphysics cannot be derived from science; rather, the converse. Science must be one of the possibilities entailed in the universal metaphysic.

For example, as indicated above, if knowledge is possible, it is only because we live in a very specific type of cosmos in which real knowledge is possible. The latter is not explained by science, but rather, is a necessary condition of science.

I can't help weaving in whatever I've been thinking about lately, in this case, Jaffa's truly magisterial A New Birth of Freedom. This may seem far-flung, but it is anything but.

To cite just one example, we might say that our Constitution is analogous to science, in the sense that it is the crystalization of an immense amount of deep and sustained thought on political philosophy. But in order for the philosophy to be efficacious, it must be founded upon human nature and on "nature's God" -- which is just another way of saying "The Way. Things. Are." Get the latter wrong, and it hardly matters what sort of beautiful political system one comes up with, for it won't work.

The point is, this human reality is both prior to, and the reason for, politics. As the Founders say, the purpose of politics is to secure this prior reality, which mainly consists of life, liberty and the freedom to pursue our own proper end -- an end no one else can discover for, much less impose upon, us.

Furthermore, to the extent that a government denies this prior reality, it triggers the natural right of revolution, because said government is no longer legitimate -- legitimacy not being rooted in democracy or majority rule, but in the preservation and protection of our natural rights.

The Founders were specifically frightened about the tendency of the democratic mob to run roughshod over the very rights and moral order that confer legitimacy upon democracy. Consider another contemporary example. Marriage is a natural right that is obviously prior to the state. But "homosexual marriage" is not and could never be a natural right, only a positive right invented by the state. Therefore, whatever one chooses to call it, it shouldn't be called "marriage," unless we also start calling women Chaz.

The heading of chapter 6 has another observation by Schuon: "There can be no effective metaphysics without heaven's help." We'll get more into what this means later, but we could again say something analogous of science, since it is grounded in certain realities that can never be explained by science, but without which science is inconceivable, for example, free will. Both on the micro and macro level, science is a spontaneous order based upon a free exchange of ideas and information. It is not analogous to a "logic machine."

For Schuon, metaphysics has "two great dimensions, one 'ascending' and dealing with universal principles," and "the other 'descending' and dealing... with the divine life in creaturely situations...." One might say that one applies to O, the other to its incarnation in wee little mirrorcles of the Absolute, i.e., what I symbolize (¶).

The ascending metaphysic has to do with discernment between reality and appearances, noumenon and phenomenon, truth and illusion, while the descending metaphysic has to do with....

Put it this way: it is similar to the Ten Commandments, the first five of which are "vertical" and have to do with O <---> (¶) relations, the latter being horizontal and governing (¶)<--->(¶) relations. O has an I-ambassy in man's heart, just as we have one in O, which is also what makes neighborly love possible.

For what is this latter relation ultimately founded upon? Yes, upon the recognition of divinity in the other. The second five commandments do not "add up" to divinity, but are entailed in its prior reality. But it took human beings thousands of years of practicing the commandments to recognize the underlying reality, the movement from law to love and from obedience to faith, so to speak. Indeed, we are still learning.

To be continued....

20 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Speaking of the Ten Commandments, there's another subject worth a re-visit at some point...

10/07/2011 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Indeed indeed.

And I second Julie in that, not for nothing shall the first Commandment be first:

"Isn't "reality" similar to "God""

10/07/2011 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Therefore, whatever one chooses to call it, it shouldn't be called "marriage,"

Yes.
I was having a conversation with a young man about the word "person". He could not use it. Instead he kept saying "embryo" which is a word of science and our discussion you could say, as you say in this post, was about metaphysics. Long story short, I said, listen. Everyone knows what "person" means. Same for marriage. If you don't care what it means, you shouldn't mind selecting any ol' word.
I have a hunch as to why he (they) don't.

10/07/2011 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...for what right do humans have to claim knowledge of truth if they are but an accidental and transient result of impersonal forces?

The counter is simple pragmaticism. Because a method "works", it can make the claim of truth.

Come to think of it, Ptolemy's geocentric astronomy "worked" -- until we got better instruments.

Good old "objective" reality is getting harder and harder, apparently. I have seen similar assertions around recently, but this seems to be a reasonable source. retractions of scientific papers are up percentage-wise since the '70s. It is still a fairly small absolute number, but I think I in another piece that 28% of retractions are due to fraud.

10/07/2011 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

"But it took human beings thousands of years of practicing the commandments to recognize the underlying reality, the movement from law to love and from obedience to faith, so to speak. Indeed, we are still learning."

Yes, excellent point. I wonder if the old, Levitical laws, with so many death penalties, was a way to select towards a higher form of human. Sounds cruel, but maybe humans 4000 years ago were a bit cruder. Just something to ponder.

10/07/2011 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

"Indeed, we are still learning."
Maybe true for y'all as for me I'm so far behind, sometimes I think I am going backwards. But I do keep on trying to ketch up (or is that ketchup, damned English language)

10/07/2011 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Let's talk about reality."

Cool.

10/08/2011 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"One cannot implicitly claim transcendence while explicitly undercutting its very ground and possibility. This is as absurd as the political philosophers of the Confederate south affirming the universal right to property without affirming the natural right not to be someone's property."

Exactly so. And fundamental to the thought of the left... or as one of our 'occupy wall street' wiz kids so aptly expresses it on a sign for all to see:

"Who Needs Oil? I Ride The Bus"

Obviously an economics major. Seriously. Very also likely complaining about the unfair cost of his student loan.

10/08/2011 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Again, the affirmation of "reality" obviously implies the ability to know it, which in turn implies a great deal more. "

It literally says it all. To say that reality exists, is to also say that it exists as something, and that you are able to know it. Every thing of existence exists through its identity, and your identity is identifiable by your ability to know it, through its particulars, and that all the particulars are simply parts of the One Whole.

Truly everything bursts into being with one word, all is implied at once, almost like someOne said 'Let there be light!'

10/08/2011 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"To cite just one example, we might say that our Constitution is analogous to science, in the sense that it is the crystalization of an immense amount of deep and sustained thought on political philosophy. But in order for the philosophy to be efficacious, it must be founded upon human nature and on "nature's God" -- which is just another way of saying "The Way. Things. Are." Get the latter wrong, and it hardly matters what sort of beautiful political system one comes up with, for it won't work."


Yep. True Liberty, is metaphysics done right.

Anything less, and all is undone.

10/08/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"For what is this latter relation ultimately founded upon? Yes, upon the recognition of divinity in the other. The second five commandments do not "add up" to divinity, but are entailed in its prior reality. But it took human beings thousands of years of practicing the commandments to recognize the underlying reality, the movement from law to love and from obedience to faith, so to speak. Indeed, we are still learning."

Well some of us are having a bit of trouble with that... and they wonder why things are coming undone.


"To be continued...."

Cool.

10/08/2011 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

Reality?

Haha! Yea, good luck getting people to agree on the fine points on what it really is.

Reminds me of a cartoon that talks about Gods' view on reality:

http://www.redmeat.com/redmeat/1997-09-22/index.html

@Mushroom

"retractions of scientific papers are up percentage-wise since the '70s."

Western Civ's grip on 'Truth' is loosening.

Skewing data and statisitcs so that someones department gets a grant or so that a political movement gets some laws passed is becoming more and more frequent.

Whats ironic is that as Western Civ strays further away fro mits Christian Roots, this diseased and rotten phenomenon called 'Junk Science' gets more traction.

Religion used to be the lasting refuge of the scoundrel, but now it is Science.

What a shame that the crowning achievement of Chrisitanity and its search for truth is being so badly corrupted.

10/08/2011 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/10/2011 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

...Is there a point you are trying to make, William?

Or is this more of your graffitti slathered on Bob's wall?

10/10/2011 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

The Sun is the Eye Of God

Christ/Micha-el/Holy Sun Of God, no problemo that chain

whereas Libbies worship at the church of windowless pensioned bureaucrat/statist-filled rooms

10/10/2011 04:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

This was mostly excellent, but I can't help feeling some discomfort with how the word "know" is used here, and this "right to truth" idea. All science is contingent, but in this life metaphysics are not something you can "know" either, unless you are blessed with a personal revelation, which you really have no hope of communicating to anyone. Faith is also a blessing, but it should not be confused with knowledge. A life lived in accordance with faith, a life of integrity, can be a convergence between faith and revelation. Emotional and aesthetic knowledge complement this process, and give the one peace.

I sometimes think that many Christians think taking the bully pulpit back from science should be priority number one, and so politics becomes very important to them. This usually leads to passionate support for the Elephant, which strikes me as a classic looking for your keys under a lamp post solution. but this is a digression from meaningful topics, and probably not a productive one. Please note: this is not a note of support the the Donkey in any way, merely a suggestion that the best way to thwart the left would be to not support them in either guise they wear.

10/10/2011 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

Cond, I've never heard religion called the last refuge of the scoundrel before. Not sure what is meant by that.

10/10/2011 06:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

God knows what tempts our troll to imagine Christianity could be more than a solar myth.

10/10/2011 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Gabe, I have a right to know that to know is to love, yada, yada...

10/10/2011 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"Cond, I've never heard religion called the last refuge of the scoundrel before."

Though I have heard it at times when I was young, I've googled it and found that an official quote is associated with Samuel Johnson and his quote on patriotism and not religion (a quote by a maker of "Dictionary of the English Language").

Searching further with other search engines that term appears to be bandied about using words such as religion, nationalism, patriotism, & history.

Perhaps the religion term is a pre-internet urban legend that is local to the people I associated with as a kid, I do not know. It does appear - at first glance - that the patriotism quote is the first quote, however.

10/10/2011 09:53:00 PM  

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