Friday, April 06, 2012

Tinkling into the Void

As I was saying yesterday before the conspiracy snatched the pencil out of my hand, "Same here. In my case, I -- " was puzzled by the most basic ontological distinction in the cosmos between subject and object -- specifically, how the I AM of the former relates to the IT IS of the latter. In no way could I understand how one could ever derive the I from the IT, unless it -- meaning I -- were somehow there with IT to begin with.

A casual and eventually thoroughgoing acquaintance with science and philosophy establishes the fact that most thinkers don't actually deal with the issue, but rather, simply stop asking questions at some point, thus violating the principle of sufficient reason, which says that any effect requires a cause adequate to account for it; which is a fancy way of saying that you can't get blood out of a turnip.

Another way of looking at this question is to say that before we look for an explanation, we have to first decide what would constitute one. Therefore, if you're following me, one not only has to have an idea of what would constitute truth, but this idea must lie outside or "above" the explanation itself.

This is where evolutionists and materialists in general run into so much trouble, eg: man is just another animal, animals are just the expression of selfish genes, and that's the truth. One of these statements is not like the others!

Bryan Magee has a good analysis of the problem in his fine biography of Schopenhauer:

"It is possible for us to pose some sort of Why? question with regard to anything. As Schopenhauer puts it: 'The validity of the principle of sufficient reason is so much involved in the form of consciousness that we simply cannot imagine anything objectively of which no 'why?' could be further demanded."

Now, the core of any discipline, whether science, philosophy, history, or law, revolves around this question of sufficient reason, of which there are different kinds. For example, physical causation is not the same as moral causation. If Al Gore defenestrates Keith Olbermann, and Olbermann falls on and kills a pedestrian below, we do not hold Olbermann responsible for the death. Yes, he is the direct material cause, but that is not a satisfactory moral account.

For Schopenhauer there are four main kinds of sufficient reason: the type of direct physical causation that occurs, say, between billiard balls; mathematical determination; logical entailment; and the sort of "motivated action" that can only arise from a free subject, or mind.

In each case, philosophical questions arise, but the first three categories are not nearly as problematic as the fourth. But even then, if you really want to be a noodge, you can ask a physicist, for example, "but what exactly is energy?", or "what is the cause of mathematics?" "[T]he scientist gestures in the direction of the philosopher," who then pretends to answer the question. The metaphysical theologian raises his hand and says "I know I know I know," but they refuse to pick him.

The bottom line is that "science is, in a serious sense of the term, occult, in that it explains everything else without itself being explained" (ibid). Ironically, this is one of the definitions of God, i.e., the uncaused cause.

Equally ironic is that, at the end of the day, after all the science has been, er, settled, "the mystery of the world as such would be as great at the end of the process as it had been at the beginning" (ibid). Why? That's why: because we can still ask why?

In lieu of the above, we could probably save a lot of time with a one word, all purpose protest: Gödel!, proving once again that you can't crack the cosmic egg without breaking out the umlaut.

For "the laws of logic, like the basic concepts of science, and the axioms and the rules of mathematics... must involve circularity, since they themselves generate the justification procedures in their universe of discourse" (ibid).

But interestingly, we all recognize the flaw in this approach when it comes to moral justification. Our whole legal system is -- or was, before liberals hijacked it -- built around the idea that we do not allow people to get away with crimes just because they felt morally justified in doing so.

This whole discussion hits rather close to home, because, as a forensic psychologist, I am routinely asked to give a precise opinion as to what "caused" a patient's "psychiatric injury."

The problem here is that there is an utter conflation between the kind of causation that applies to matter with the kind of causation that is adequate to explain mental events. In no way am I permitted to provide fully comprehensive explanations appropriate to the subject -- for example, the percentage of causation that may be attributed to man's fallen nature, or just the fact that life is hard, so deal with it. Rather, I must pretend that the all mental causes are as discrete and proximate as those in a game of billiards.

In any event, as Magee explains, "there is a point where natural science, and indeed every branch of knowledge, leaves things as they are" and "does not go beyond this point."

Looked at this way, the belief that the "big bang" ends the discussion of our origins is no better than the belief that the cosmos was caused by the god Witoto taking a leak into the void. Neither one satisfies me. I mean, I certainly prefer the former, but it's not as if it's a self-sufficent explanation.

For example, where do all those elegant equations governing the big bang come from? Who knows, maybe Witoto tinkles them into the void.

Or maybe, just maybe, as reveiled in the Encirclopedia Raccoonica, it was not good that this Godhead, the Most High, should be allone, so He expired with a big bong and said "let there be higher physics," and it was zo.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

How Did I -- Of All Things -- Get Here?

I have exactly 35 minutes to my nameless. Maybe I can manage this time-squeeze I'm under if I just speed-type my spontaneous bobservations without pausing to reflect.

Let's do this thing. Go!

About that comment yesterday to the effect that there is more difference between a man and a monkey than between a monkey and an inanimate object. I would go even further and say that there is sometimes more difference between men than between men and animals.

One needs to be cautious here, because by no means does it imply that every person isn't of infinite value. But I was thinking of JWN Sullivan's remark to the effect that -- musically speaking, of course -- there is a greater distance between Beethoven and the average man than between the average man and a dog.

There are indeed a handful of men who tower above the rest, whether saints, or scientists, or novelists, poets and painters. Why is this?

I believe that it is essentially a necessary consequence of the ontological category of "man," who contains within himself all the hierarchical degrees of being, and spans the entire cosmos in both space and time, vertically and horizontally.

That being the case... Put it this way: it is analogous to the biosphere, in which there are no gaps whatsoever.

In other words, wherever one goes on the planet, from the deepest depths of the ocean, to the north pole, to the hottest desert, to the wastelands of MSNBC, there is some form of primitive life that has found a way to adapt itself to environmental conditions. It has found its niche.

But there is also a vertical space uniquely inhabited by man. This space too is populated wherever one travels within it. Indeed, one can go to hell and back -- Dante proved this -- but one will always find footprints of our predecessors and/or contemporaries (and occasionally descendants from the "future").

Even if one regards "hell" as a metaphor of the Freudian unconscious, this dimension was well-traveled even before Freud came along. It's just that he demythologized it and attempted to fit it into a scientific/mechanistic paradigm. But that is impossible, for the same reason religion cannot be so contained.

In fact, religion as such bears upon the ultimate container, not the contained. To imagine that one could ever be the former is to 1) misunderstand religion, and 2) create a narcissistic monster. Science becomes scientism -- and evolution evolutionism and politics religion -- when it presumes to be a self-sufficient explanation.

Back to the Beethoven-man-dog thingy, the point is that vertical space is densely populated, with some people near the top, others closer to the bottom.

But man possesses such protean gifts, that almost everyone has something that places him near the top, even if it is only -- only! -- kindness, or mothering, or decency, or sincerity. For example, although Beethoven was in the stratosphere musically, his interpersonal skills were evidently closer to a junkyard dog.

More generally, saints are not usually sages, scientists are not philosophers, celebrities are not political scientists, community organizers are not statesmen, etc.

Interesting, however, that someone like Thomas Aquinas was indeed both saint and sage, and at the highest levels. In his case, this convergence was necessary, because there is a kind of personal purity needed to disclose the realities he touches upon.

I think I have mentioned in the past that the ultimate question motivating my book was: how is it that I am possible? And I don't necessarily mean that in any special way, rather, just the naked fact of the most unexpected thing one could possibly imagine in a cosmos.

It turns out that in order to answer the question, you can't just say, for example, "my parents just happened to stumble upon one another, and you know the rest."

Yes there's that, but there's also cosmology, history, anthropology, linguistics, etc., etc., etc. It turns out that Purcell is motivated by that same question -- the very Question that defines man:

"What led me back to philosophy from psychology was a sense that, as a human being, I myself wasn't really, at least not exclusively, 'an object,' the kind of a thing a science could wholly encompass [read: contain] and explain."

Rather, "I realized I'm something other than a world-immanent thing -- a subject -- and that there's an inexhaustibility to the within-ness that marks me out as a human being as distinct from a galaxy, an ecosystem, or an animal."

Same here. In my case, I-

STOP! Please lay down your pencil, return to time, and prepare for work.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Man and His Endless Jnani Quest

No, that's not just a strained pun. Look it up: knowledge, specifically, knowledge that is "inseparable from the total experience of reality, especially a total reality or supreme being." (A jnani is on a quest for jnana.)

You see, occasionally English lacks the mot juste -- mot juste being another -- to describe certain things, including spiritual realities. And even if we did have such a word, it would probably be saturated by now, which is where our sacred wordplay, or punnishantics, come in, so as to remystify the language. In short, it helps us keep the good news new and our nous to the groundstone.

According to Purcell, there is a universal Quest "that summons all true human beings to the heart of the human mystery." Are "quest" and "question" etymologically related? I don't know, but Purcell says that we are not the answers, nor is "the source of the summons even... clear to us." In short, there is no self-sufficient explanation for the mystery of man and his wonderlust about the Mystery.

To back up a bit, if you don't recognize that man -- i.e., your existence -- is a mystery, then you are dismissed. You are way beyond -- or before -- my capacity to help you aggravate the mystery or shed any further obscurity on matters.

In a letter, Dostoyevsky wrote that "Man is a mystery. One must solve it.... I occupy myself with this mystery because I want to be a man" (in Purcell).

Isn't that a bit t-t-tautologous? Man is a mystery, but the pursuit of this mystery is somehow intrinsic to what it means to be a man. You're a mystery, Mister O! And the worst thing you can do is perform a mysterectomy on yourself. Rather, leave it to the experts: the tenured.

Now, you might suppose that a standard autobiography is a kind of transparent plunge into the mystery, but that approach usually leads nowhere if it fails to link up with the Source. In other words, the individual self is literally a kind of inexhaustible mystery, but this "inexhaustibility" provides a clue to the Big Mystery, since man is a kind of "finite infinitude" which mirrors the infinite infinitude of O.

Therefore, if you imagine that your bullshit will ever run dry, you're only fooling yourself. You'll never find God that way, because you're already in the ocean searching for water.

Now that it is understood that man is embedded in a cosmic drama extending back no less than 13.85 billion years -- that History is much longer than anyone ever supposed -- it is frankly impossible to write a comprehensive autobiography without taking into consideration, say, the big bang, the evolution of life, and the emergence of human consciousness; and on a more micro level, one's prelinguistic development (before the age of five), which is itself a vast undiscovered country, an infinite ground in its own way.

By which I mean that if we are deprived of certain ground-floor experiences during this sensitive period, our quest for the Ground will be compromised later in life. The psychoanalyst Michael Balint wrote of the "basic fault" (as in "fault line"), which can even be seen as one way in which man perpetuates his ancestral Fall from generation to generation. A person haunted by the Basic Fault often spends his life in pursuit of what might be called "dark mysteries," or thrilling perversions and secret compulsions of various kinds.

Pardon the abrupt transition, but I am glad to see another writer tackling the "discontinuity problem" of human beings. In fact, Purcell makes a useful distinction between the fact of evolution and the ideology of "evolutionism," which is analogous to the critical distinction between science and scientism, of which every educated person should be aware.

The dogma of evolutionism maintains that there is no ontological distinction between man and animal, an absurd metaphysic that immediately runs aground for reasons Darwin himself intuited:

"With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

The answer is no, of course not. That being the case, where is the line in nature at which point monkey convictions become reliable and trustworthy? The ideology answers -- and disproves -- itself if one is honest.

Recall that in the Encirclopedia Raccoonica, the individual chapters are so arranged as to be both discontinuous -- i.e., discrete and numbered, just like any other book -- but also continuous and flowing, apparently unlike any other book. This complementarity signifies a number of things, including the ontological discontinuity -- the evolutionary leap, which evolution supposedly cannot do -- of man.

Yes, we are aware of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, but that is merely another attempt at a natural explanation to "save the appearances" of what is clearly a transnatural phenomenon.

One of the themes that runs through From Big Bang to Big Mystery is that human beings "are both continuous with the evolutionary process and discontinuous with it." I for one know exactly what he means when he references Walker Percy's observation that there is "more difference between a human and an animal -- let's say an orangutan -- than between the animal and the planet Saturn."

Everything thus far has been introductory. Details will be filled in as we proceed down this mysterious rabbit hole.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Scoping the Cosmic Competition

First of all, take a look at the cover:

Look familiar? We're obviously describing the same object:

His is just a little more sloppy, or impressionistic, or sloppy drunk, that's all. Same bang, same torus-shaped object emanating outward from a central point of infinitude, which is both source and destiny, alpha and omega. Both are renditions of O. Truly, we have been drawn into the same attractor, right down to transformations of the same invisible visual image to convey it.

We are of course talking about Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, which, like our One Cosmos, attempts to pack the whole existentialida -- the whole cosmic drama -- into a combo-plate in the head of about 300 pages. It is the only other recent book of which I am aware that synthesizes everything from physics to anthropology to paleontology to biology to history to mysticism to theology to mind parasites into one convenient narrative -- but in a non-stupid manner, since anyone can do it the other way.

There are differences, however. I would estimate that his bibliography is about twice the size of mine. Hard to tell because of the different sized fonts, but his runs to over 20 pages, whereas mine is only 11. However, this quantitative difference reveals a qualitative difference, in that mine has much more of a "top-down," synthetic approach, whereas his is much more of a bottom-up endeavor.

In my case, I was guided by a clear and distinct vision and narrative that organized the material below, whereas his relies more on an overwhelming amount of scientific data, from which an attempt is made to discern the overarching pattern stretching from 13.7 billion years ago to the present moment. Perhaps that's why his cover art is so much more sloppy. You might say that mine suggests the supernatural order of Dante's realism, whereas his is more postmodern.

Who is this Brendan Purcell? According to Professor Backflap, he is an ordained priest who is currently adjunct professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. His previous book was called The Drama of Humanity: Towards a Philosophy of Humanity in History, while he also co-edited Voegelin's classic Hitler and the Germans. In fact, he is hugely influenced by Voegelin, whom he knew personally. In his bibliography there is more Voegelin than anyone else, essentially the complete works, which would probably take about five years to get through, assuming one has other responsibilities and a slight streak of masochism.

Speaking of whom, our bibliographies contain many of the same names. This is not an academic observation, since it reveals the "clues" we both regard as significant. In other words, faced with the infinite mass of data before us, we both honed in on particular sources.

At the same time, we had some mutually exclusive influences, including some who are quite central to my approach, thus accounting for differences in sensibility and emphasis.

For example, I don't expect that too many other people -- well, none actually -- will share my enthusiasm for W.R. Bion, Allan Schore, Robert Rosen, Valentin Tomberg, James Joyce, and Fritjhof Schuon, especially in combination. You'd think the combination would make for one weird stew, and perhaps it does. Yes, that would explain a lot. The elusive "royalty check," for starters.

I think it's safe to say that Purcell's approach is much more mainstream, both scientifically and religiously. Obviously we are burdened -- or liberated, depending upon your EQ (eccentricity quotient) -- by the whole Raccoon thing, from which we could not escape even if we wanted. I think Purcell would say that he wants to "engage" the other side, not wage a polemical and unproductive battle with them.

But from our more bobnoxious perspective, this has as much chance of success as attempting to reason with a liberal, which we all know is as productive -- and perverse, frankly -- as milking a bull. As we say, liberalism cannot be argued out of, only awakened from.

That being the case, it is only more true of Spirit, to which we must also awaken, not be argued into. Arguing helps, of course, but only if one is dealing with an intellectually honest and uncorrupted spirit who is inclined to accept the evidence and willing to humble himself before Truth.

This is just a very short intro, since I'm already pressed for time, so let's start with the big picture, and get into details later. This Big Picture is the idea that all human beings -- even the wrongheaded ones we don't like -- are motivated by the same Quest, which is none other than the Cosmic Adventure, the search for the Eternal Ground.

Although their metaphysic will not allow them to admit it to theirproudselves, even -- or perhaps especially -- Marxists, leftists, metaphysical Darwinists, doctrinaire atheists, secular fundamentalists, and positivists of various kinds are all seeking the same ultimate Truth, except in a self-defeating way that assures failure. However, this hardly means that we can't benefit from this or that genuine relative truth they discover, since all truth is of the Holy Spirit.

Damn, I think I'll just stop now, because it will be too frustrating to stop once I get started. Gotta wake the boy in five minutes, and then drive him to school. To be continued....

But first, another snapshot of the cosmos, just because: