Friday, March 16, 2012

The All-or-Nothing Cosmos

One of the perverse characteristics of our age is that the world is simultaneously regarded as exquisitely intelligible and yet completely absurd. Which is itself absurd, because it is impossible to understand how the two can be reconciled -- not in this or that aspect, but vis-a-vis the totality. In other words, we can all have a bad day. But does this mean our life is a total waste?

When I say that the world is seen as exquisitely intelligible, what I mean is that we've gotten to the point that we just assume -- correctly so -- that whatever or wherever we investigate in the cosmos, it will make sense, if not immediately, then if we put our minds to it.

This is science's unacknowledged legacy to stand on, of a Judeo-Christian tradition that insists upon the rationality of a world brought into being by a rational Creator. Faith in the rationality and intelligibility of the cosmos is faith in God once removed (non-Judeo-Christian cultures have no such faith, unless it has been imported from outside).

In this regard, as it bears upon ultimate issues, or limit cases, science is every bit as "faith based"as religion (except in a naive and uncritical way). What I mean is that, for example, science actually has no idea -- nor will it ever, on its own terms -- how a supposedly dead universe suddenly sprang to life 3.85 billion years ago. But most scientists seem to have a serene confidence that this ultimate discontinuity is unproblematic. Which is why I felt so fortunate to encounter the brilliant Robert Rosen during the years I spent puzzling over the problem of Life Itself (can't really recommend him to laypeople; he didn't live long enough to maybe dumb it down for us).

Likewise the transition -- or leap -- from (mere) animal to man. You will have noticed that in facing this question, science doesn't really work inductively from the actual evidence. Rather, it begins with a Darwinian conclusion -- for them, an axiomatic truth -- and deduces how this or that human trait must have come about via random copying errors naturally selected.

Yes, the results are comical -- for one thing, any overeducated fool can play the game -- but no more so than a religious person who, say, begins with the axiomatic truth that the world is 6,000 years old, and then tries to cram all the empirical evidence into that hypothesis.

We had a barmy twiteration of this the other day, in reader William's appeal to cosmic ignorance in support of his negative omniscience (similar to how scientism marshals intelligibility in support of absurdity). That is, in response to our belief that the universe must in principle be finite, he commented that he is

"limited in [my] perception of the observable universe by the space time coninuum in which [I] exist, and that [I am] able to perceive and theorize"; and that "The particle horizon -- the maximum distance from which particles can or have traveled in the age of the universe -- represents the boundary between the observable and the unobservable universe."

Well, that's certainly one way of looking at it. The intrinsically absurd way. For example, is it even remotely true that man's perception is limited to the laws of physics, or to what is empirically present? If this were true, then we couldn't even know the laws of physics. More to the point, man is capable of pondering universal truths that operate in the realm of being as such, in any conceivable cosmos. To exist is to be in very particular ways.

In other words, in order for something to be intelligible at all, it must share certain characteristics (which I will discuss in a subsequent post). Therefore, to the extent that there are things outside our "space-time continuum," if they are intelligible, then we can understand them. If they are absurd, then we can't. Simple as. But there is every reason to conclude that "existence" and "intelligibility" are intimately related, and that to exist is to be intelligible. To put it the other way around, it is obviously impossible for us to conceive of something that "exists" in an unintelligible way. Such is analogous to the "impossible-possible," or simultaneously "this particular thing" and "no-thing at all."

We can go so far as to say that the cosmos is "fulfilled" in knowledge of itself -- which is simultaneously man's fulfillment, at least on the natural plane.

But even then, there can be no contradiction between Reason and Revelation, since both are "written by the same Author." Thus, in the face of apparent contradiction, we must re-examine and rethink the matter through. Atheists and other trolls never tire of raising these contradictions, precisely because they haven't thought them through.

While it is no doubt true that in premodern times epistemology was subordinated to metaphysics, in our day it is the converse, so that metaphysics is subordinated to positivistic science, a strangely oedipal scenario in which the child murders its parent (and yet similar in form to how the left wishes to place the Constitution in an old-folks home and euthanize western civilization in order to seize their priceless inheritance; to paraphrase Don Colacho, leftists are simply "impatient heirs" -- so impatient that they are now feverishly stealing from their descendants too, but that's the subject of a different post).

Clarke writes that man innately possesses an "unrestricted drive" to know "all that there is to know about all that there is."

Good credo for the masthead: All There is to Know about All There Is.

As such, our mind is by its nature "oriented toward the totality of being as knowable, as its final goal which alone can satisfy its desire to know." Further, this is a kind of "natural hope" -- to go along with our natural faith -- "in the radical intelligibility in principle of all real being."

In short, Mind is ordered to Being. Or haven't you gnosissed?

Blah blah blah yada yada, if you pursue this line of thought to its inevitable end, you are faced with a choice: "Either the universe is unintelligible," in which case you are dismissed, and are free -- or compelled -- to wallow in your own absurdity.

If not, then "there must exist one and only one Infinite Source of all other beings, both of their actual existence and all the perfections (goodness) within them.... Our journey of the intellect, in search of the full intelligibility of what it means to be, has now finally arrived at the single Infinite Source of all beings, of the whole community of real existents."


The original desire for the good takes its energy from the ever-pulsating momentum of that Origin in which man, answering the creative call of God, flew across the abyss which parts nothingness from existence. It is the moment with which the possible bursts forth with a roar into the radiant dawn of its first realization: the swift current of a stream that originating in the bright darkness of mere Nature and steadily fed by its source, crosses by the dictates of innate conscience into the realm of freedom. --Josef Pieper

I don't care what Kant says. Half a cosmos just doesn't appeal to me:


Blogger julie said...

Yes, the results are comical -- for one thing, any overeducated fool can play the game -- but no more so than a religious person who, say, begins with the axiomatic truth that the world is 6,000 years old, and then tries to cram all the empirical evidence into that hypothesis.

Continuing with an observation tacked on to yesterday's post, it appears that for at least one atheist, there can be no reconciliation between faith and science. If one is a believer, one must be a Biblical literalist, incapable of accepting that the cosmos is not 6,000 years old but rather something like 14 billion.

Of course, it is "all or nothing" - but not even remotely the way he thinks.

3/16/2012 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Tennessee is apparently afflicted with both types. Oh well. At least they deserve each other.

3/16/2012 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I like it:

All There is to Know about All There Is.

Except what the heck your wife is thinking.

3/16/2012 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Some mysteries are are not for us to understand, only obey.

3/16/2012 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Although it is interesting how the pursuit of knowledge is such a male-female thing. Schuon reduces it to the play of Absolute (male) and Infinite (female).

3/16/2012 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...the abyss which parts nothingness from existence...

That reminds me of the story Jesus tells of the rich man in hell as Abraham points out that there is between paradise and hell a great, uncrossable gulf. We got your new Infinity right here.

3/16/2012 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

OK, just so we are clear here, I did not see Bob's 11:40, and I had changed subjects. Link them at your own risk.

3/16/2012 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

"For example, is it even remotely true that man's perception is limited to the laws of physics"

Answer - In the real and theoretical worlds, yes. But one must make the distinction between the two. Theoretical principles are always shades of gray, some very close to black and white, others, notsomuch. Our understanding of the science determines our value judgements on the validity of theories. Theories are not facts. They are always open to refinement and more nuance and precision. In real science, 'Faith' places no part in this process. Quite the contrary.

We can all have a badday, but I had a great day today, not even Bob can piss me off.

3/16/2012 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Van is going to be overjoyed that William is within sniffing distance of a first principle. For as was said in yesterday's post, "intelligence is the ability to discern the Real from the unreal, or from the 'less real.'"

3/17/2012 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Never fear - the closer he comes to a solid foundation, the more likely he is to sabotage it somehow. First principles are for building, after all, which cannot help but take one out of the merely horizontal...

3/17/2012 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Weird that he expresses agreement in the form of argument, unless he just doesn't understand one of them

3/17/2012 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yeah. I think he doesn't allow himself to know that he agrees. If he knew it consciously, he might have to acknowledge that you made a good point, something he can never do on pain of admitting to himself that he isn't the smartest man in the room.

3/17/2012 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No room is that small.

3/17/2012 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...


3/17/2012 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Perhaps a triple digit IQ stands out in Murfreesboro.

3/17/2012 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Heh - I'm suddenly reminded of a study that came out recently where people of average qualities perceived themselves as being much better in any particular quality than they actually are - and tend to behave accordingly. Can't find a link at the moment, though.

3/17/2012 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, that's an example of the bad kind of faith.

3/17/2012 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger son of a preacher man said...


The Dunning Kruger effect is what you may be referring to.

3/17/2012 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes, that's the one. Thanks!

3/17/2012 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

A great day! I feel totally like shit and I'm a tad pissed and irritable.

3/17/2012 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

@ Julie:

Would that be the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

(via Gerard Van Der Luen - of course...)

3/17/2012 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

@ Bob - Wow. Now that's weird: why come here to say how awesome his day was, when he's posted otherwise? Is it in the hopes that people will go look, and then feel sorry for him?

@ Cond - yes, that's the one. I knew I saw it at Vanderleun's recently.

3/17/2012 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Cond0010 said...

You got there before I did, SonOfAPreacherMan.

I should refresh my browser more often. :)

3/17/2012 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Cond - If you have a smartphone, you can still subscribe to the comments. In fact, the way they have it set up you don't even have to comment to subscribe. Why they haven't made it available any other way is still a mystery, though...

3/17/2012 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

It's really annoying being late to a post... everyone's already said most of what I was thinking.

Kinda cool seeing others thinking it too though.


3/17/2012 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad said "Van is going to be overjoyed that William is within sniffing distance of a first principle."

Is it just my suspicious nature, or did his comment not quite ring true in style with what willian usually blurbs?

I suspect his copy&pasteitis is in action... it'd be nice to be wrong though.

3/17/2012 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Quite true. If it's William it's not original, and if it's original it's not William. The British spelling of "judgement" is a giveaway.

3/17/2012 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The reason a moth will circle an artificial light source is because it is disoriented. Night-flying bugs -- and maybe day-flying bugs apparently orient by light and dark. Lighter, in nature is generally, above. The moth, like a good trucker, keeps the shiny side up and the dirty side down.

So when it comes to an actual light source, it does the same thing. Except now it makes it go in a crazy, senseless circle.

William is our moth.

3/17/2012 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger mgh said...

Of interest to coons:

3/17/2012 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Free Dharun Ravi!

3/18/2012 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of education, in Canada, even Catholic schoolgirls aren't safe from the progressive agenda. Apparently, coming up with a program that takes any lessons from Theology of the Body or Humanae Vitae into account is right out.

As to the pamphlet, while I'm unsure whether it or anything similar is passed out in the classroom here in the states, I know that PP has them available for kids through various other programs, as well as some enlightening videos online.

Kids like sex; it's scientifically proven, and after all humans have evolved to procreate. Now they can practice, and if they accidentally succeed, well, science is there to help with that, too...

3/18/2012 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

When you think about it, this otherwise typically unedifying exchange with the clueless one does at least bear on the cutting edge of contemporary liberal thought, which insists that human beings have no right to life, but that -- if they manage to survive to the post-uterine state -- they are somehow obligated to be indoctrinated by the state with the view that they are nothing more than random and meaningless accidents of nature. Which makes sense, since the latter scientistic doctrine legitimizes the former misosophic attitude.

3/18/2012 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...



It's revealing how the word "wisdom" now strikes most people as antique, as if it lacked a referent. "Intelligence" is the word of the age, which means something like "CPU speed," or "knowing what to do when you don't know what to do" (Wm. James?).

The *image* of Wisdom, however, is useful to the Left, since they simply illustrate its value with their own particular stooge, e.g., the "wise Latina." This is critically important to their aristocratic socialism. They must find a way to cement their power by managing the economy of images to their benefit only.

There are counter-trends, but raccoons are natural hermeticists.

3/19/2012 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Verdiales - agreed. Wisdom is right out; according to today's bioethicists, the earth doesn't have time for wisdom, only drastic measures will do...

3/19/2012 08:50:00 AM  

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