Friday, June 22, 2012

Taking Existence Personally

We are seriously toying -- or child laboring -- with this equation of A + C = M² (i.e., Son of Man). As things stand -- which is to say, divided -- anthropology and cosmology have no necessary relationship, and the immanent-transcendence of these via the metacosmic spiral of Incarnation-Resurrection is a non-starter.

I can appreciate the latter sentiment -- after all, while science operates with certain assumptions borrowed from revelation, once in place they needn't be explicitly thought about again in order for workaday science to proceed. Bees can make honey without knowing how they do it.

Paradigmatic leaps, however, are a different matter, for reasons both cosmological and anthropological. But we'll leave that to the side for now. If you are one of those scientistic worker bees, don't worry, no need to look up. Carry on.

The first point to emphasize is that anthropology and cosmology are entangled in surprising ways. Recall that the nasty reign of dualism supposedly got underway with Descartes' division of mind and matter. Everyone forgets that even he saw the absurdity of this, for which reason the whole system falls apart without God. The reasoning goes something like this:

"I think, therefore I am."

"Yes, but how do you know that's really true?"

"Er... because God wouldn't deceive us."

So Descartes sneaks in a -- or The -- first principle at the end, which is pre-posterous (which literally means putting the post- before the pre-). For there is no doubt that the cosmos is intelligible and that man may know it; and these are only true because the universe is created.

In short, the createdness of things and knowers is their only seal of intelligibility and intelligence, respectively. In turn, this reveals the intimate relationship between cosmology and anthropology, which are unified in knowledge, or Truth.

I'm afraid I'm really running short on time, so I'll have to make this brief. So brief that I'll turn the wheel of the cosmic bus over to Ratzinger. Please treat him as you would your regular driver (or not, depending on the case):

"[O]ur history is advancing to an 'omega' point, at which it will become finally and unmistakably clear that the element of stability that seems to us to be the supporting ground of reality, so to speak, is not mere unconscious matter; that, on the contrary, the real, firm ground is mind.

"Mind holds being together, gives it reality, indeed is reality; it is not from below but from above that being receives its capacity to subsist."

There exists a "process of 'complexification' of material being through spirit," through which emerges "a new kind of unity." (I would say "unities," for that is what time -- and evolution -- do: create new and higher -- which is to say, more "dense" and "deep" -- unities.)

Note that this evolution, or complexification, cannot be a result of mind being drawn down into matter; rather, the opposite: mind eventually baptizes and sanctifies everything in its wake. Can it also baptize and redeem Death? That is the question, isn't it?

Ratzinger: "We said before that nature and mind form one single history, which advances in such a way that mind emerges more clearly as the all-embracing element and, thus, anthropology and cosmology finally in actual fact coalesce."


"this assertion of the increasing 'complexification' of the world through mind necessarily implies its unification around a personal center, for the mind is not just an undefined something or other; where it exists in its own specific nature, it subsists individually, as a person."

I am beyond out of time. To be continued....

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spoiler Alert: Anthropology + Cosmology = Christology

We left off yesterday with the question, "What -- or who -- is this point of existence?"

First of all, we can all agree that existence either has or doesn't have a Point. However, this does't necessarily imply that we could know -- or not know -- it.

In other words, existence might have a Point we can never know. Conversely, we could mistakenly believe that it has no Point when it actually has one.

But if you have the intuition that it does have a Point, that intuition may ultimately be traced back to God -- or let's just say O to keep everybody honest.

In fact, human reason is powerless to determine whether or not there is a Point, first, because reason can only work with the premises it has been provided from elsewhere, and second, because it cannot adopt a stance from outside the total cosmic system, and render judgment on the totality of which it is only a part.

More generally, people will deploy reason to prove the truth of this or that intuition, the latter of which can emanate from spheres above and below the realm of reason per se.

The latter is called "rationalization," and is only a caricature of proper reason. The former is called various things, including intellection, infused contemplation, and riding the currents of the slackstream.

This just highlights the fact that we have various sources of information, interior and exterior, subjective and objective, empirical and suprasensible, that we draw upon to toss into the cognitive hopper and come up with the Answer.

Revelation is one such source we may draw upon. In fact, it is the only source that is presupposed to emanate from outside the total cosmic system, and therefore the only information that can truly bear upon our opening question about the Point of existence.

Now, if this point is truly the Point, it won't just appear at the "end" of the cosmic process. By way of analogy, the point of a novel doesn't just abruptly appear on the last page, disconnected from everything that has preceded it.

Rather, in hindsight it will be seen that the end was there all along, shaping the narrative and infusing it with drive, coherence, and purpose. Again, there are hints along the way, but only at the end do we acquire the area rug that pulls the whole room together.

Think, for example, of the first generation of Christians who were shocked to discover the abundance of meaning in the "Old Testament" which had eluded them before. In this way, the novel events of those three days in particular had the effect of utterly transforming the past, so to speak.

But this is only an extreme case of what history always does. Since the present is always changing, this changes the meaning of the events leading up to it. One can only understand the meaning of something by allowing its effects to play out.

In the margin of Credo for Today "I" wrote a note to "myself" -- or was it the other way around? -- that Anthropology + Cosmology = Christology. Colloquially speaking, this is the equation of our cosmic birth (see p. 15 of the Encirclopedia).

This inburst of data is an example of what was stated above about the different sources of information. For what is the ultimate source of this "fact," if that's what it is?

Yes, it's from "me" -- with a big assist to the Cardinal -- but that just begs the question, because it isn't anything I thought out ahead of time.

Rather, the reverse: the moment it entered my head -- or broke into my sphere of conscious awareness -- it was accompanied by the thought that this was something I needed to think about.

These types of thoughts occur all the time, but I only began noticing them when I began paying attention to them. Now they occur so frequently that I must write them down, as in the case of the above. I compare it to seeds falling from the sky. First you have to catch them. But then you need to plant them. Yes, occasionally one will randomly fall into fertile soil and flower on its own, but why waste the bounty?

One question we need to address is whether any musings about the totality of the cosmos are just forms of anthropology dressed up as cosmology. For any discipline short of traditional religion, this must be the case, because for the secular atheist it is quite impossible for man to know anything outside his own neurology and cognitive categories -- including that!

Ratzinger notes that for Christianity, the convergence of person and cosmos, of anthropology and cosmology, is the end of "the world." The revelation of the unity of the two reveals that this unity has been the goal all along, precisely:

"Cosmos and man, which already belong to each other even though they so often stand opposed to one another, become one through their 'complexification' in the larger entity of the love that... goes beyond and encompasses bios."

That was already more than a mythful, but allow Ratzinger to continue before we add our own commentary:

"Thus it becomes evident here once again how very much end-eschatology and the breakthrough represented by Jesus' Resurrection are in reality one and the same thing; it becomes clear once again that the New Testament rightly depicts the Resurrection as the eschatological happening."

In other words: the Resurrection is the unsurpassable end and meaning of existence. It certainly meets the criteria mentioned above, in that it is not something we could ever accomplish on our own, and it is indeed an ingression from outside the total cosmic system, and one that has the effect of transforming the cosmos, in the same way that the passage of time always reveals the purpose of what went before.

We're not through here. But that's probably enough to think about for one morning, and besides, I don't want to saturate the space or flood the field right away. To be continued.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Folks, You are History!

This guy Benedict -- the former Cardinal Ratzinger -- was once quite the daring metaphysician and theologian. Clearly he's had to dial it back since becoming Pope, being that he is now responsible for making things crystal clear to the 99% who don't have the time, inclination, or capacity to think these things all the way through to the ground and back up again.

But back in the day, he was publishing opinions that just a generation before might have landed him in the soup (despite their intrinsic orthoparadoxy).

Personally I would find this quite frustrating. I just couldn't do it. Not that anyone has asked me to be Pope. I mean, I put in my application and they said they'd get back to me, but you know how that goes. Turns out they also discriminate against non-Catholics, but let's just move on.

Besides, blogging is the ideal medium for me, because it allows me to utterly be myself, with no compromises. I can say what I want, when I want, in the way I want, with only Petey as my infallible guide and no readership to get in the way.

I just finished a book of Ratzinger's called Credo for Today. Its subtitle is What Christians Believe, but I'm pretty sure that this is not what most Christians believe. If they did, then the information here would be superfluous.

I'll just speak for myself, and say that the cosmology Ratzinger lays out is much closer to the Raccoon metaphysic than it is to the worldview of most Christians of my acquaintance.

He begins with the observation that in the Bible, "the cosmos and man are not two clearly separable quantities, with the cosmos forming the fortuitous scene of human existence, which in itself could be parted from the cosmos and allowed to accomplish itself without a world."

This may look like a banal consideration, but it goes directly to the philosophical problem of dualism that infects most all science (that is, when it attempts to be more than a method that is rightly predicated on this instrumental dualism).

Ratzinger's view is obviously in accord with modern physics, which reveals the deep "oneness" and inseparability of all reality. Whitehead was perhaps the first philosopher to understand the metaphysical implications of modern physics. I am reminded of a comment from Science and the Modern World, to the effect that,

"each volume of space, or each lapse of time, includes in its essence aspects of all volumes of space, or all lapses of time," so "in a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus, every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world."

I am also reminded of a circular comment rolled out by the physicist John Wheeler, that "It is not only that man is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man."

And this is true in more ways than one, for example, the manner in which the deep mathematical structure of the cosmos is mirrored in the psyche.

Finally, I am reminded of another misleading dualism that affects our ability to "think about thinking." I'm not going to have time to rehearse the whole argument here, but if you search the blog for the name "Matte Blanco," you will see that this is a topic we have discussed on numerous occasions in the past.

In particular, I was thinking of the implicit, folk-psychological notion that the mind is something like a "bag full of stuff," or in other words, a kind of empty space that harbors thoughts and such.

But in reality, the space -- the container, or (♀) -- cannot be separated from the thoughts -- i.e., the contained (♂). Yes, thoughts are from Mars and the thinker is from Venus, and their relationship in many ways determines the quality, depth, and fruitfulness of mental activity.

Being that "all is one," what we call "history" can only be separated from cosmology in the abstract. The fact is, thanks to modern (post-Einsteinian) physics, we now understand that everything has a history, and that everything is situated in the larger cosmodrama, i.e., the whole existentialada.

Here is how Ratzinger describes it:

The cosmos is "not just an outward framework of human history, not a static mold -- a kind of container holding all kinds of living creatures that could as well be poured into a different container."

Rather, "the cosmos is movement... it is not just a case of history existing in it," because "the cosmos is itself history."

Another critical point: thanks to the tenured boobs of multiculturalism, we now have multiple histories -- feminist history, black history, queer history, Chicano history, etc.

But in truth, "there is only one single all-encompassing world history, which for all the ups and downs, all the advances and setbacks that it exhibits, nevertheless has a general direction and goes 'forward.'"

But this direction can only be seen from a higher perspective, just as a person struggling in the rapids can't see the mountainous source and oceanic destination of the river.

And if we do manage to float our boat above the currents of time, we see that "spirit is not just some chance by-product of development, of no importance to the whole; on the contrary..., in this movement or process, matter and its evolution form the prehistory of spirit or mind" (Ratzinger).

For any transrational person, this metacosmic march forth -- for which reason March 4th is the Oliest and most slackful day of the Raccoon calendar -- is undeniable. Nor is it intelligible in the absence of a "point" -- an Omega point, if you will.

What -- or who -- is this point of existence?

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You Have to be Nobody Before You Can be Somebody

About those useless grace notes in the human sonata we were about to discuss yesterday. Purcell counts seven principal ones, beginning with "our culture-oriented body plan" and "our meaning-oriented brain and vocal tract."

Now, "orientation" has to do with that part of the firmament where the sun rises, the sun being the visible symbol of centrality and radiation.

To be oriented to culture is to be oriented to meaning, so these two are actually one. Human beings are oriented to meaning, period, and are epistemophilic to the core. Which is why deep down we are depthless.

And this orientation is indeed incarnated in our "body plan," as explained in book three of the encirclopedia.

That is to say, culture and meaning would be impossible -- literally inthunkable -- in the absence of a biological mainframe that is both malleable and intersubjective. Hence our neurological incompleteness at birth and our permanent neoteny thereafter.

No other organism remains "incomplete" for life. Rather, all other organisms are "completed" by the actualization of their genetic program. But a merely genetic human being wouldn't be one.

Purcell is clearly oriented to the same attractor and occupying the same phase space I am. I wonder if he also wants to be a cage fighter?

As he writes, "Unlike animals who are fairly well provided by instinct..., the most important things we need for existing as humans take a long time to learn. So we have both a long childhood and a long period of post-reproductive survival..."

Purcell cites similar evidence to mine (see p. 127), noting that "Neanderthal children grew up at a faster rate than those of modern human beings," which meant that they had a shorter amount of time to imprint culture before the neurodevelopmental window slammed shut. Which is why the evolutionary door also closed on them.

Yes, definitely the same phase space: "the extremely unspecialized human infant body" allows it "unlimited adaptability in relation to... the 'social womb' of its human environment..."

Purcell's next two grace notes are language and symbolization, but here again, it seems to me that these too fall under the rubric of "meaning."

Meaning per se is the whole dimension of post-genetic and post-biological truth and subjectivity:

"Homo sapiens represents the last known stage of hominid evolution, and also the first in which the constraints of zoological evolution had been overcome and left immeasurably far behind" (Leroi-Gourhan, in Purcell).

Indeed, one might say infinitely behind, because there is an infinite and unbridgeable abyss between absolute and relative from the latter up, so to speak.

In other words, the Absolute not only implies, but necessitates, the relative.

But the relative could never become absolute of its own powers, any more than darkness could become light or Obama could get into Harvard.

The deeper principle here seems to be the "separation of form from matter," both individually and as a species. In other words, for the individual, to "think" means to distinguish appearance from reality, or principle from manifestation.

Likewise, post-biological human evolution involves the potentiation of what is only implicit in the DNA. DNA is necessary but insufficient for humanness to emerge and develop. That requires other humans, or let us say exemplars and models of humanness.

This is why most human artifacts have no connection to genetic interests, or again, why so much of what we do is so wonderfully useless.

Now, in order to discover "reality," man must obviously be liberated from Darwinism, otherwise what he imagines he is discovering is just a predictable consequence of his genetic programming.

Again, in order for this to happen, man must be ordered to the infinite, not just bound to the finite.

How to create such a species? Noam Chomsky, of all nim chimpskys, once mused that "if a divine architect were faced with the problem of designing something to satisfy these conditions, would actual human language be one of the candidates, or close to it?"

In a word, yes. For in the beginning -- and end -- is the Word.

Monday, June 18, 2012

There is Nothing More Useless Than a Human Being

In part four of Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery, he discusses what he calls "grace notes in the human sonata."

In music, grace notes are "nonessential ornamentations" added to the written score. The term isn't entirely apt, because in the case of human beings, it seems that the grace notes are paradoxically essential.

That is to say, much of what is "necessary" in man is inessential and even inconsequential. In other words, who cares if we have two legs, or six arms, or twelve toes, or a belly button on top of our head?

Conversely, everything that is completely unnecessary from an evolutionary standpoint is precisely what defines us as human: music, poetry, painting, humor, philosophy, religion, love, etc.

Indeed, one could even go so far as to say that it is man's uselessness that is so useful. For example, can you think of anything more useless than a baby? Babies are literally useless, in that they are born at least eight months premature and are therefore neurologically incomplete, just retarded apes. The only thing a baby is good for is for growing into another useless human being.

This notion of uselessness is quite central to our humanness. For example, consider beauty. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Human beings can survive without it, which is proved by the existence of __________ [insert cheap shot here].

In his How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism, Scruton writes that "To look on a thing as beautiful is to value it for what it is, not for what it does or for the purposes it serves. On the contrary, it is the intrinsic value of beautiful things that renders them useful" (emphasis mine).

Not only are "value" and "usefulness" not synonymous, but the most precious things are generally without economic value or practical utility, for example, my son's smile, or the Stanley Cup, or the wonderfully retro styling of my Luxman Amp.

Scruton continues: "The case may be compared to that of friendship. Your friend is valuable to you as the thing that he is. To treat him as a means -- to use him for your purposes -- is to undo the friendship. And yet friends are useful: they provide help in times of need, and they amplify the joys of daily living. Friendship is supremely useful, so long as we do not think of it as useful."

Think about that. There are degrees of sociopathy, the essence of which involves treating human beings as means, not ends. A mass-murdering psychopath such as the one depicted in The Devil in the White City quite literally sees human beings as objects to be used and discarded, of no more intrinsic value than a paper napkin.

What is especially frightening about these types is that they are adept at mimicking humanness, and may even appear to be unusually empathic and caring. But their empathy is just a tool of manipulation. They can't actually put themselves "inside" the other and "feel their pain," to quote another (less pernicious) sociopath.

The environment -- man's context -- is another thing that most people do not and cannot treat "as having only instrumental worth" (Scruton). Here again, what could be more useless than, say, the beauty of Yosemite, or of the Grand Canyon? Why not pave over the former and build condos in the latter? But what would the world -- or the cosmos -- be without its breathtakingly useless beauty?

Indeed, this beauty appears to be fractally organized, in that it is present in every realm, from the extreme macro to the micro, and from the exterior and objective to the interior and subjective. It is seen in every scientific discipline from astrophysics to molecular biology, and in every human endeavor from playing music to laying bricks.

Thus, what is true of Truth is equally true of beauty. Just as we encounter intelligible truth everywhere we look in the cosmos, so too do we witness beauty. And truth is also "useless" in its own way, which we refer to as "disinterestedness."

Science, of course, requires a great deal of passion in its practitioners. But this passion cannot dominate. It must be a means, not an end, the end being truth for its own sake. "Intellectual honesty" means accepting any and all facts, even if they threaten a cherished theory or belief. Don't worry, there is a higher beauty, and truth is its penumbra. Or, we could say that beauty is the fragrance of truth.

For "true beauty is equally a form of self-denial" (Scruton). Think of all the self-denial involved in becoming a great musician, writer, or artist.

In fact, we can measure the value of so much modern art by its self-indulgence, which is the opposite of self-denial. For most people there is a kind of immediate feedback that lets them know they're on the wrong track: when they are -- or think they are -- "original." Originality is permissible, so long as it is simply an effect of something else. If it is elevated to an end, it becomes more useless than uselessness.

Right. Back to Purcell. On the first page of this section, he relates a compelling vignette from a film called The Lives of Others. It takes place in East Germany, and its central character is a Stasi agent (Captain Wiesler) who spies on innocent citizens.

Now that I think about it, he's a bit like St. Paul, persecuting those who pose the greatest threat to the state, AKA the Living.

In this case, Wiesler has been spying on an artistic couple, a playwright and his actress girlfriend. Gradually he finds himself "attracted by the beauty, meaning and love present in their life but absent from his own. Various scenes show Wiesler's gradual transformation from remorseless defender of the GDR to one who's prepared to risk his life for those he's spying on."

What a powerful allegory. Purcell quotes a reviewer who wrote that it "demonstrates that the human soul is mysterious and hard to obliterate. Even the coldest heart can thaw. Even the most technocratic imagination can respond to a sudden whisper, an implicit grace note."

Which shows that man is only human when he realizes that there are things more valuable than life, and that these are utterly useless.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


I hate to sound like an old crank, but the truth of the matter is I can't stand all the made-up holidays. Just give me the real ones, starting with Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, and maybe Memorial and Labor Days, just to frame the summer.

But assuming you're more than a sperm donor, you're supposed to father. What's the alternative, abandon your child? Sets the bar pretty low, IMO.

Besides, you can hardly call yourself a father without a son around to hit and bite the water balloons. I'd look pretty silly standing up there by myself dropping them off the house.