Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Singing the Song Supreme

God or no God, Absolute or absolutely relative, O or ø -- either way, man is uniquely privileged to speak of the highest things, because that is what it comes down to. The only question is: how high can One go?

Or, more to the point: how Lo goes O? For it makes no sense to affirm that God doesn't exist. Rather, a more honest statement would be that if God doesn't exist, humans could never know it, because man would have no reason to believe in any absolute, including absolute negation. With no Absolute, all is relative. Period.

By definition there can be only one Absolute, which, in my opinion, is the "sponsor," so to speak, of all the "relative absolutes" we use to negotiate our way through life.

It is similar to the idea that all numbers are simply multiples of one. Until one has the idea of "oneness" -- and note that it is a quality before it is a quantity -- one cannot proceed mathematically. Bion felt that the "discovery" of oneness was the single greatest leap of mankind, i.e., the idea that, for example, five rocks and five sticks share the abstract principle of fiveness.

But because there is only one Absolute it is not possible to map it, because as soon as one tries, one has created two. It is analogous to attempting to map, say, "music." On the one hand we have an abstract system of musical notation, and yet, all of the millions of melodies added together don't come close to exhausting the realm of music, which might as well be infinite. At best, we can dip into this realm of musical potential and channel its infinite possibilities in ways that are deep, interesting, and beautiful.

Might we say the same of God -- or, let us just say O, for to say "God" is already to project a lot of implicit preconceptions? In other words, what if religion, like music, is a way to translate what is otherwise unthinkable into something deep, interesting, and beautiful? Here is how Schuon describes it:

"Metaphysical Truth is both expressible and inexpressible." In fact, I would say that this is what distinguishes the exoterist from the esoterist, or the normotic from the Raccoon: the implicit belief on the part of the former that his particular expression expresses the inexpressible -- that his relativity is somehow absolute (which, of course, makes him God).

I thought of this when I heard of that jackass pastor at the "value voters summit" who suggested that America's founders intended religious freedom to apply only to Christians. This is exactly the same argument Democrats used to deny freedom to blacks: that the founders did not intend for liberty to be a universal principle.

But "truth" and "liberty" in the abstract are much closer to God than any specific formulation. For one thing, truth is only possible if it is freely discovered, so it must be prior to doctrine. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Co 3:17). (I might add that freedom is only possible if it converges upon truth, otherwise it is just meaningless horizontal drifting, AKA the Left.)

Now, just because the Absolute is not (exhaustively) expressible, it doesn't mean it isn't knowable; indeed, we cannot not know it and still think, since all thinking is rooted in it.

One of the fundamental errors of modernity -- perhaps the fundamental error -- is to turn the cosmos upside-down, and imagine that consciousness is somehow built from bricks of inconscience -- that mind is actually mindless, that the secret of life is lifelessness, and that Spirit is just instinct or random error on a grand scale.

But if we properly view the cosmos right-side up, then things like truth, freedom, life, light, and love are at the top; truly, it is a tree with roots aloft and branches down below.

That being the case, everything is a kind of fractal of the whole, which goes back to the idea that all numbers are multiples of one. For to perceive any "one thing" is again to discern the transcendent principle of oneness in the herebelow.

Thus, to say that man is "in the image of the Creator" is both shocking, and yet, a truism. After all, man creates. He knows truth. He loves. He surpasses himself, meaning that he cannot be "contained" or treated as an object. And he is one, or at least tries to evolve toward dynamic wholeness and unity (or diversity-in-oneness).

Schuon notes that the Intellect "opens into the Divine Order and therefore encompasses all that is." The image comes to mind of an ocean current, which is not other than the ocean, and yet, is distinct from it. But as soon as one attempts to define the boundary with precision, one sees that it is impossible, for it is just "water within water."

One might say that man is "self within Self," or (¶) within O, or let us just say "within." Only man can know that his mind is "within" something larger, more vast and expansive, something both containing and grounding it.

I would suggest that to say "God" is to say "man," and vice versa, just as to say "relative" is to say "Absolute," and vice versa. Therefore, especially when we are saying something deep or meaningful, we cannot not speak of God, any more than we can sing of music-lessness. (Although I suppose Phillip Glass tried.)

The Absolute, or O, is expressible, in the sense that "it becomes crystallized in formulations which are all they ought to be since they communicate all that is necessary or useful to our mind. Forms are doors to the essences, in thought and in language as well as in other symbolisms" (Schuon).

So to preserve the mystery of God with a discrete silence is not to cop out or go wobbly just at the critical moment. Rather, this inexpressible essence is precisely that which provokes the forms we use to express it. Do such forms "prove" the existence of God? Yes and no. Does a song prove the existence of music? Or are there only songs, but no such abstract universal as music?

For Schuon, "The aim of metaphysics is not to prove anything whatsoever but to make doctrines intelligible" and "to provide symbols for spiritual assimilation and realization" (Oldmeadow). Thus, we might say that one cannot prove the existence of God, but one can prove his realization in man. And that is enough.

18 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

So high, so low, so wide...

10/12/2011 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

On the one hand we have an abstract system of musical notation, and yet, all of the millions of melodies added together don't come close to exhausting the realm of music, which might as well be infinite. At best, we can dip into this realm of musical potential and channel its infinite possibilities in ways that are deep, interesting, and beautiful.

And just as with music, so it is with persons, only moreso.

10/12/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger swiftone said...

Sing it in notes mathemusical, I'll try and hum along.

10/12/2011 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger swiftone said...

dummy comment.... I always forget to click the "email follow-up" box.

10/12/2011 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

I have a question for my fellow Coons. It relates more to a post a couple of days old but is sort of on topic.

When you are arguing with a materialist that there is more in the cosmos than the material world, is part of this argument taking place in a space outside the material world?

I say "part" because the neurons sparking and muscles twitching are taking place in the material world.

10/12/2011 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Hi John,
in a stroke of serendipity, I finally cracked open chapter 2 in MOTT just now (even this time, I'm running behind :) to find the following highlighted, from my first go-round:

"The pure act in itself cannot be grasped; it is only its reflection which renders it perceptible, comparable or understandable or, in other words, it is by virtue of the reflection that we become conscious of it. The reflection of the pure act produces an inner representation, which becomes retained by the memory; memory becomes the source of communication by means of the spoken word; and the communicated word becomes fixed by means of writing, by producing the 'book'."

This of course is not an answer to your question, but more a relevant observation by the Unknown Amigo.

Personally, I find it absolutely astounding that words typed into a computer somewhere in Upper Tonga can have a genuinely material effect upon the brain of a reader, wherever he may be and whenever he may chance to read them. Or more generally, that abstract information becomes chemical.

But as to a conversation between you and the materialist, it exists in several places: the mind of each participant, the physical memory storage of your computers and the networks via which you communicate, and of course in the immaterial "space" between and within each of you where the con-verse-ation takes place. I suspect very little of that has a genuine physical existence.

10/12/2011 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

julie sez "..in the immaterial "space" between and within each of you where the con-verse-ation takes place."

Thanks julie!
(reaches through cyberspace and does the secret Racoon handshake)

Yes, it's that space. What are we calling it? (A lot of terms get presented here). I'm looking for a quick, cut-to-the-chase argument just in case I run across a real materialist some day and engage them in such a conversation.

10/12/2011 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I think psychologists have a name for that; Bob would have to weigh in, as I don't think I know it even in a tip-of-the-tongue sort of way.

You could call it the space between the notes, I suppose, or "dialog" or "relationship;" after all, what is the material nature of the connection between two individuals? One might boil it down to chemistry (that is, the chemistry involved in physical or even only visual proximity), but how can that explain an affinity for the writing and the person of someone whose physical presence became a non-issue years, decades or even centuries ago?

Evolutionarily, materially speaking, what purpose could it possibly serve to study the writings of Shakespeare (unless you're trying to score with an English major)? Outside a couple nuggets of practical wisdom, it should be a complete waste of time. Monkeys could do what he did!* In point of fact, if the materialists are right, a monkey did. A smart monkey, but don't let the big words fool you, it still amounts to screeching and occasionally flinging poo.

But I digress. All I know for certain is that every person is greater than the sum of his parts, but that nobody is anybody in the absence of some other person, even if that Other is only the Absolute.

10/12/2011 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

@Jim Lien

"I say "part" because the neurons sparking and muscles twitching are taking place in the material world."

A materialist. Yes.

The bio-computer/robot issue.

The term 'Why' is incomprehensible to a Computer/Robot. It would never occur to a robot as a robot does not have thoughts - only algorithms (recipes _thought_ out by the programmer) WE are a ghost in our machine, I suppose.

As said by Bob earlier: Sentience is uncreatable.

Here's something that should give you amusement since it touches on this topic:

http://www.wetherobots.com/2007/10/01/intro-ch-001/

10/12/2011 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

@Jim Lien

It really gets interesting when an proclaimed Atheist complains that life/existence is meaningless.

Response: If you are a robot, 'why' should you care? 'Why' would you care? 'Why' would it even occur to even ask 'why'?

heh. Just wait. It happens to all of them eventually...

Sentience craves meaning. Perhaps thats us reaching out to the One. This is what it means to climb the vertical.

10/13/2011 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

"For Schuon, "The aim of metaphysics is not to prove anything whatsoever but to make doctrines intelligible" and "to provide symbols for spiritual assimilation and realization""

To see the forest for the trees.

Science is a tool for proving things, thus a bad tool for... meaning.

" Thus, we might say that one cannot prove the existence of God, but one can prove his realization in man. And that is enough. "

Yes. To believe in G-d really is an article of Faith. You may not perceive God, but you definately are aware of his absence in others.

The best a mature Atheist can ever do about his disbelief in G-d (without being dishonest) is to say "I don't know". Agnositicism is the closest any thoughtful person can ever get to the religion of Atheism. I am amused that lately a couple standard bearers of Atheism have been touting the term 'I don't know' (Jillette and Dawkins). By doing that, they have broken with the purity of non-god of the Religion of Atheism and have finally taken their first steps back into the light.

It'll be a looooong journey for them.

10/13/2011 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

(Psst - Cond - it's John, not Jim ;)

10/13/2011 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Cond0010 sez:

"It would never occur to a robot as a robot does not have thoughts - only algorithms (recipes _thought_ out by the programmer)"

Yeah, I was going to go down that mental path about running software being the same as thinking but you are right, running software is completely deterministic. It is a very complex eletronic machine. You need a human to develop the code. You need a human to have a need to develop the code.

10/13/2011 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

Thanks Julie.

I knew a Jim Lien many years ago. I realized my error too late.

10/13/2011 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

Regarding the fundamental error or modernity, I think it is fairer to say that the error is not their having imagined this possibility, but that having imagined it, and due to fallen nature preferred it, they think that it is proven.

"Now, just because the Absolute is not (exhaustively) expressible, it doesn't mean it isn't knowable; indeed, we cannot not know it and still think, since all thinking is rooted in it."

This is our faith, but I still struggle with seeing that this is self-evident. Are you saying that it is (self-evident)? I guess I mean more precisely, are you saying that the physical world cannot be the Absolute, and we can know this?

10/17/2011 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Gabe --

Perhaps you can grasp it if you turn it around and posit the idea that all is relative. But in a world of absolute relativity, no truth could be known. So to affirm a belief that truth exists is to intuitively grasp the absolute, because to deny the absolute is logically self-refuting. Recommended reading: The Book of Absolutes: A Critique of Relativism and a Defence of Universals.

10/18/2011 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gabe Ruth said...

The self-refuting nature of absolute relativism is clear to me. It's more the last part that I quoted above that I struggle with. It puts alot of weight on the spiritual nature of the mind. This seems pretty evident to me, but what if one day man learns how to simulate consciousness well enough that the man-made mind could not be distinguished from the real thing? This type of thing has happened before, and it was a body blow to many of the faithful. The Church had made assertions about the physical world that turned out to be at best mythical. I guess what I'm saying is faith is always the starting point. Science starts with the assumption that it can completely explain the physical world. We hang our hat on things it hasn't cracked at the peril of the souls of those with a simple faith, who can be misled by someone telling them they have demonstrated that free will is an illusion with an fMRI, or some non-sense.

On a different note, an Amazon reviewer of MOTT said the author is "the Cornell West of metaphysics." Perhaps I shouldn't snicker, since I only know of him by reputation (and it's not all bad) but I did.

10/18/2011 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This seems pretty evident to me, but what if one day man learns how to simulate consciousness well enough that the man-made mind could not be distinguished from the real thing?

If technology should become so advanced, even so the Absolute can't not be. If one's metaphysic cannot account for reality - even, say, a reality where AI is so advanced that it is indistinguishable from human intelligence (and I can't help wondering quite what the point of that would be; isn't it being put forth as some sort of solution to problems of mere human intelligence? But I digress) - then one's metaphysic is false.

Or put another way, if your map doesn't adequately fit the geographic features in which you find yourself, then your map is either wrong or not based on your territory.

In either case, however, the ultimate truth behind metaphysics or maps is not flawed just because this particular version doesn't fit.

Thus far, I have never yet seen any truth-based science that contradicts what I know of metaphysics; however, I have seen plenty of junk science that true metaphysics can "see through" with no difficulty at all.

Even if technology becomes so powerful that it can convincingly duplicate life with physics, this does not mean that true life is not a miracle, nor does it mean the human person is a soulless meat puppet. All it means is that the creative human mind is truly formed in the image of the Absolute, and quite often would pay homage to it by trying to create in a similar way.

10/18/2011 07:14:00 AM  

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