Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mental Masturbation and the Fertile Marriage of Faith and Science

Let's pick up where we left off last Friday, with the distinction between the solar, lunar, and celestial sources of light (and therefore truth). Solar corresponds to creative light, lunar to reflected light, and celestial to revealed light (as outlined in chapter XVIII of MOTT).

Note that these are not three "different lights," but the one light present in three modes. In turn, this is why there cannot be any ultimate conflict between religion and science, because truth is truth, whatever the medium. If you think there is a conflict, this only means you need to think again -- more deeply, more broadly, and more integrally. If the One Light didn't exist, man would go mad, for he would be permanently riven by thoughts, impulses, and desires from all the planes of being, with no possibility of deep interior unity. Frankly, he wouldn't know whether to sh*t or wind his wristwatch.

That there is "one light" has its analogue in the realm of physics, where it is understood as a deeply interconnected wavelike field. Likewise, the human mind shares this feature of field-like oneness. While we use terms to describe mental functioning which make it sound as if one part can be isolated from another (e.g., projection, splitting, compartmentalization, repression), these are just ways to think about something that otherwise cannot be thought about.

For example, when we use the term "projection," what we really mean is "projective identification." The former implies that we may rid our minds of painful and unwanted content by placing it elsewhere -- in other people, in the environment, in conservatives, whatever.

But in fact, whenever we project, it is from one part of our mind into another part of our mind, or from one subject (or sub-self) to another. To take a common example, let's say Mr. X has developmental issues with a chronically intrusive and controlling mother. As a result, he doesn't just internalize an object, but a dipolar relationship -- let us call it the aggressive intruder linked to a violated intrudee. Should Mrs. X begin nagging Mr. X, it is likely that his mind will switch into this earlier object relation. Either he will feel intensely persecuted in a way that goes beyond what the situation calls for; or, he will identify with the other pole of the object relationship, and lash out in an aggressive and intrusive manner.

Have you ever seen Fawlty Towers? You will have noticed that Basil basically has two interpersonal modes: in short, as Winston Churchill said of the Hun, he is either at your feet or at your throat. He devalues half the world with contempt and scorn, but when in the presence of a social superior, he "switches" and identifies with the contemptible object. Thus we see that contempt and fawning or groveling are really two sides of the same coin (or, think of the Cowardly Lion, who is just the other side of the Bullying Lion).

I don't want to get sidetracked, but I couldn't help noticing a conspicuous version of this in Christopher Hitchens, who was so brimming with anger, narcissism, contempt, and (intellectual) class consciousness. I fully agree that it was quite bracing to see him bully someone who deserved it, e.g., Saddam, Khomeini, Milošević, Clinton. But he could just as easily flip -- and flip out -- by training his rage and contempt on obviously decent and good people such as Pope John Paul or Mother Teresa.

I looked up an example and found this, when he "erupted into a drunken rage at a recent promotional event for his book. Hitchens reportedly descended from the stage, visibly inebriated, approached a Roman Catholic priest (Rev. George Rutler) in the audience, and began shouting at him, only inches from his face. Hitchens’ manner appeared so physically menacing, witnesses say, that a plainclothes bodyguard on duty at the event rushed in and escorted the drunken scribe from the room."

Then, “At the end of the event as he staggered, sweating and red faced, out of the room, he [Hitchens] advanced on Father Rutler in a threatening and physical manner, screaming that [he] was `a child molester and a lazy layabout who never did a day’s work in his life’.... Several of the event organizers then escorted Hitchens to the men’s room and when he emerged he continued his psychotic rant, repeating the same calumnious and baseless screed (sic) as before."

Now, a normal person -- once he sobers up -- would regard such an incident as a serious wake up call. He would be filled with shame, remorse, and self-loathing, and understand that he needs help. But the alcoholic essentially disables the idiot lights on his dashboard, and doubles down on his dysfunctional lifestyle. I've known several people with the identical dynamic.

Because of this cold, I can see that I am rambling. Let's get back to the "three lights" discussed above. As unKnown Friend explains, science is essentially lunar, in that it seeks to "reflect" the natural world. Which is as it should be. Scientific knowledge is always reflected knowledge (although, at the same time, it is always rooted in a tacit metaphysic that borrows from the other two sources, for example, the imaginative "solar" creativity that fuels scientific advance, or the abiding celestial faith in the rationality of reality).

The lunar mode can only comprehend that which is discontinuous, never that which is continuous. One persistent fallacy that results from this is the attempt to treat continuous and wave-like systems in a discontinuous and atomistic manner. But just because we can dissect an animal, it doesn't mean we understand the phenomenon of Life, which is the quintessence of wholeness and deep interior relation.

The celestial knowledge embodied in the Gospel of John reveals to us the creative Word, "which is the light and life of men." Here, intelligence "has the task of understanding the whole world as the organisatory act of the Word and Jesus Christ as the cosmic Word made flesh."

Whereas lunar intelligence seeks to understand "that which is," this logocentric mode seeks to participate "in the becoming of that which is to be." It is not just to be "born again," but to give birth -- which is to participate in the intrinsic and eternal creativity of the Word. (Note the dipolarity of giving and receiving birth, which is very much emphasized by Eckhart. It's easy to misunderstand -- and how! -- the subtle point he is making, when he says words to the effect that in giving birth to the living God, he gives birth to us.)

Real solar creativity is a kind of higher life that is continuous with, or a mirror of, the divine activity. The point is, on the intellectual plane, approaching God doesn't just require a leap of faith, but a leap of imagination or of creative activity -- which is also its seal of authenticity. It is one of the things implied by the symbol O--> (n), which is a continuous flow, "or river of water of life," not something fixed and dead.

UF writes that the latter involves the true union of intelligence with the intuition of faith. If these two are alienated or estranged, they need to be reconciled in true marriage and become "one flesh." It is not simply one mode added to the other, but a real harmonious -- and creative -- union. (There is much more on this union in the following letter, The Sun, which we'll no doubt get to soon.)

UF singles out several thinkers whom he believes approached or achieved this fusion of faith and intelligence, including Origen, Denys, Aquinas, Jacob Boehme, Berdayev, and Teilhard de Chardin. He contrasts this with the circularity of lunar logic, and the need to break out of its closed world, citing a passage by Bergson:

"If we had never seen a man swim, we might say that swimming is an impossible thing, in as much as, to learn to swim, we must begin by holding ourselves up in water and, consequently, already know how to swim. Reasoning, in fact, always nails us down to the solid ground."

This type of earthbound intelligence is in servitude to that which is infinitely beneath its scope and station: "It looks to the least developed and the most primitive for the cause and the explanation of what is most developed and the most advanced in the process of evolution.... it retreats into matter. It does something with regard to the world which would be absurd with regard to a work of art.... Intelligence which prefers retreating to flying must inevitably arrive at the impasse of absurdity.... And the absurd... this is suicide for intelligence" (MOTT).

Bergson continues: "But if, quite simply, I throw myself into the water without fear, I may keep myself up well enough at first by merely struggling, and gradually adapt myself to the new environment: I shall learn to swim.... if the risk be accepted, action will perhaps cut the knot that reasoning has tied and will not unloose."

So our intelligence must take the plunge in order to leave the prison of materialism: "[L]eap it must, that is, leave its own environment. Reason, reasoning on its powers, will never succeed in extending them, though the extension would not appear at all unreasonable once it were accomplished." For example, one could publish thousands of studies on the nature of walking on solid ground, but they "will never yield a rule for swimming: come, enter the water, and when you know how to swim, you will understand how the mechanism of swimming is connected with that of walking. Swimming is an extension of walking, but walking would never have pushed you on to swimming."

That is a critical point, for from the perspective of walking, the leap to swimming looks "discontinuous." But from the perspective of swimming, one can appreciate the continuity, which is none other than "the God of the gaplessness" of reality. Science sees "gaps" that it imagines the religious believer fills in with "God." But it is actually the other way around. Once one leaps into the Word, one sees how there cannot be any radical gaps at all.

This, in case you didn't know, is the reason why I arranged my book so that the chapters are both continuous and discontinuous, from nothing (or beyond-being) to being, matter to life, life to mind, and mind to spirit (in other words, there are distinct "chapters," even though the sentences that link them run together). Only from the point of view of the first half of each pair does the second look discontinuous. But from the point of view of the second, one doesn't just "see," but one unproblematically lives the continuity. One swims.

After all, doesn't your body easily unify matter and life without you having to think about it? And doesn't your mind easily unify -- well, most of the time -- intelligence, emotion, will, and desire? And doesn't the Raccoon naturally live the unity of matter, life, mind and Spirit, or O? Of course. And there is no "technique" for doing so, accept for aspiring (↑) and submitting to the nonlocal Grace (↓) that meets us more than halfway. This is not something any mere animal could do, not in 13.7 billion years.

The unity comes from the top, not the bottom, of the cosmic hierarchy. Which is why it is indeed One Cosmos Under God.

The harmonious union of higher and lower:

22 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"Note that these are not three "different lights," but the one light present in three modes. In turn, this is why there cannot be any ultimate conflict between religion and science, because truth is truth, whatever the medium."

One of the things that gets me the most exasperated, is when people 'Oh, I don't care about lit, or history or ___, I'm only interested in practical matters..." - how can they possibly be practical if they aren't true, or know that they are true if you look at everything in isolation? But there again, you've got the fundamental presumption of modern schools... and modernity.

12/20/2011 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"But in fact, whenever we project, it is from one part of our mind into another part of our mind, or from one subject (or sub-self) to another. To take a common example, let's say Mr. X has developmental issues with a chronically intrusive and controlling mother. As a result, he doesn't just internalize an object, but a dipolar relationship"

You know, by this point, I really thought you thinking of the movie "Psycho".

12/20/2011 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

But the alcoholic essentially disables the idiot lights on his dashboard, and doubles down on his dysfunctional lifestyle.

Rambling is all right among the roses.

...it retreats into matter. It does something with regard to the world which would be absurd with regard to a work of art...

Because you can obviously understand Van Gogh by knowing about paint, brushes and canvas, and you can understand perfectly one of Robin's photographs by knowing about pixels or film, and you can know all there is to know about Finnegan's Wake by studying the alphabet.

Makes perfect sense to me.

12/20/2011 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

You are right about the venom and bile that Hitchens's formidable intelligence turned into graceful turns of phrase. Caroline Glick also had some sensible things to say, balancing the adulation spread over most of the intarweb.

12/20/2011 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes -- he had a vicious streak of Jew hatred. Who cares how "brilliant" someone supposedly is, if his moral compass is so fundamentally disoriented?

12/20/2011 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

With respect to the major subjects of your discussion today, perhaps it is not so much that he had a fawlty moral compass. Perhaps we ought to consider the source of his light, and whether his expressions of the light represented a distorted, funhouse-mirror reflection of a true light, or on the other hand, a bright glow from another source altogether.

12/20/2011 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Van, re. practicality, like all things it is perfectly good in moderation.

Mushroom, re. works of art, it occurs to me that much of the crap people put out these days stems from the belief that since the works of the old masters were just blobs of paint on canvas, any paint on canvas will do. So not just the idea that knowledge of the tools equals knowledge of the masterpiece, but that knowing what the masterpiece is made of means that anything made of the same material things is just as good.

Re. Hitchens, sure he was a brilliant writer, but speaking shit in such a way as to make it shine does not transform it into Shinola. I rather liked Vanderleun's take the other day, as well.

12/20/2011 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Gandalin - good point. Perhaps he was following a swamp light, instead...

12/20/2011 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

G. -- yes, I think anytime someone is that taken with their own brilliance, things go awry, because it exalts the effect rather then the cause -- it makes man into a god, who in turn becomes his own standard. I do believe that traditional religion ideally serves as a kind of inoculation against this, as it provides both appropriate limits and a proper object for thinking, in the absence of which the mind unravels in one way or another....

12/20/2011 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's also important to highlight the fact that narcissism can express itself via a brilliant intellect just as easily as beautiful appearance. And you would be amazed how often the narcissist confuses milk and feces. It sounds crazy until you encounter it again and again.

12/20/2011 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "Van, re. practicality, like all things it is perfectly good in moderation."

I'm thinking about the people who typically turn to that to avoid considering anything else... they very rarely have anything resembling moderation in mind.

12/20/2011 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

:)

True. Many people have a very shaky grasp of the difference between moderation and excess, and will call the excesses they find agreeable "moderate," while excessively "moderating" that which they didn't like anyway.

In terms of practicality, as you pointed out what some call "practical" is anything but. Per the post, though, there are many points where what is reasonably practical prevents one from taking risks; conversely, it is often the willingness to take risks that generates real progress.

12/20/2011 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Julie, technology does not equal talent. That's for sure. You can give me all of your art stuff and your iPad, and I would still end up drawing crude (if not obscene) stick figures. Whereas you could probably do amazing art with charred wood and a rock.

12/20/2011 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It works the other way around, too. The Professor on Gilligan's island could make a transistor radio out of coconut husks and dried banana leaves.

12/20/2011 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

It's often occurred to me that if one doesn't know what to do with the simplest stuff - even just charred wood and a rock (or perhaps a set of chunky crayons with which to color in the cosmos) - then adding technology is very unlikely to be of much help. Conversely, if one grasps the underlying truth of creativity, then literally anything can serve to express it. Even just a finger trailing in the dust.

(Dang it, Bob, you're too quick!)

12/20/2011 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger tater said...

That was a nice little 'pop' for me your fleshing out projective identification three dimensionally. Thx

12/20/2011 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Damn. Just when you think the left can't sink any lower, this tool comes along.

12/20/2011 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Holy cow. The positive achievements of communism? Isn't that like praising Ted Bundy's winning smile and success with the ladies?

12/20/2011 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Interesting psychological profile of OWS losers.

12/20/2011 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Isn't that like praising Ted Bundy's winning smile and success with the ladies?

Perfect.

12/20/2011 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

"I fully agree that it was quite bracing to see him bully someone who deserved it, e.g., Saddam, Khomeini, Milošević, Clinton. But he could just as easily flip -- and flip out -- by training his rage and contempt on obviously decent and good people such as Pope John Paul or Mother Teresa. "

Mark Shea remarked that any of the virtues- in Hitchen's case, courage- in isolation from the others results in the above.

As Van said about various fields of knowledge.

12/21/2011 03:21:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Absolutely. Courage isolated from prudence just become recklessness, or vainglory, or self-destructiveness, etc.

12/21/2011 07:31:00 AM  

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