Friday, June 29, 2012

It is Not Good that Man Should be Allone

Let's think through this notion of "person," which is so central to Christian metaphysics -- at least to the metaphysics of thinkers such as Ratzinger, Balthasar, and Wojtyla, plus some others I've read recently, such as Norris Clarke and Henri de Lubac. Each, in his own way, would say that Person is the ultimate category.

In purely abstract terms, person is covariant with centration. De Lubac illuminates this aspect of the problem:

"[W]e find that the higher a living thing rises in the scale of being, the more internal unity does it acquire." In contrast, "the undifferentiated, entirely homogeneous being is as little one as it is possible to be." Rather, the latter "is only a nameless agglomeration."

Therefore, the first thing we need to understand is that one -- or oneness, rather -- is located at the top of of the scale, not the bottom.

The infant, for example, when he is fed, dry, and comforted, is presumably "at one" with the cosmos. But this represents a very simple, or shallow, degree of oneness. As human beings grow and acquire more "parts," it becomes increasingly difficult to pull off oneness while retaining the achievement of identity.

De Lubac notes that in certain plants, "unity is so weak that every piece cut from the stalk produces a new plant." Each part is its own potential whole, so to speak.

The inverse obtains in something as complex as a human being, where each part supports the unity of the whole. A tooth is quite different from a toe, but each has its specific role to play.

Likewise, unlike earthworms, you can't cut someone in half and expect each half to grow into a separate person (unless the division happens during the very early and undifferentiated blastocyst stage).

Transposed to the psychic level, "True union does not tend to dissolve into one another the beings that it brings together, but to bring them to completion by means of one another. The Whole, therefore, is not the antipodes, but the very pole of personality" (ibid).

Thus, two errors need to be dispensed with. The human being is not an idealized individual -- as believed, say, by libertarians and objectivists -- but nor is he subordinate to a collective blob, as believed by leftists.

Rather, to be a person is "fundamentally to enter upon a relationship with others so as to converge upon a Whole." The chronically rebellious individual is just the other side of the slavishly conformist liberal, because both are equally repelled by real intimacy and communion.

This process of differentiation and union can only occur in time, hence the centrality of history to Christian metaphysics: "since the flow of time is irreversible nothing occurs in it more than once, so that every action takes on a special dignity and an awful gravity; and it is because the world is a history, a single history, that each individual life is a drama" (emphasis mine).

Again, this single drama is the drama of awakening to the cosmic person. Or, in the words of the title of another book we've been discussing, the cosmic movement runs from big bang to big mystery.

Thus, the person is ultimate, but with an important caveat: that there can be no person in the absence of other persons. Personhood is always, and can only be, a result of ex-change with other persons.

Therefore, just as there is a total biosphere, and beneath that a total system of physics and astrocosmology -- there is a single system of personhood. Call it the "psychosphere," or "pneumasphere" if you like. But we like to call it the cOʘnosphere.

At the center, or bottom, or ground, each person is simultaneously centripetal and centrifugal, within which we may "discern the stamp of the creating Trinity," like so:

"There is no solitary person: each one in his very being must give back to all.... It is like a two-way method of exchange, a twofold mode of presence." And "a person is a whole world," except that "this 'world' presupposes others with which it makes up one world only" (ibid).

De Lubac quotes Augustine, who asked, What is more yours than you? Yet what is less yours than you if what you are is from another?

Good question. I'm running out of time, so I'll just get to the upshot of it all, except that I'm going to take the extreme liberty of replacing certain words with empty pneumaticons, so as to not alienate non-Christian readers:

"By revealing O and by being revealed by him, ʘ completes the revelation of man to himself. By taking possession of man, by seizing hold of him and penetrating to the very depths of his being (↓) makes man go deep down within himself, there to discover in a flash regions hitherto unsuspected. It is through (↑) that the person reaches maturity, that man emerges definitively from the universe, and becomes conscious of his own being."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Open Thread

And barely enough time for that.

Question: does this mean we can check illegals for insurance documentation?

Otherwise, I don't see a big change. Anyone who's ever been audited knows that the IRS was already in the colonoscopy business.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't No Happy, Period

I'm just thumbing through this book on Vision and Separation Between Mother and Baby, trawling for any further in-sights into our subject.

Which is what again? I forgot.

I believe this all started with a discussion of the (temporal) cosmic journey, as outlined in Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery. This journey ends in the Person, but this latter term is full of implications. For starters, the journey from infant proto-person to adult person is teeming with hazards, many of which fall under the heading of "mom" and "dad."

For example, Wright describes how the mother's face is the child's first "emotional mirror" through which he "is able to come to understand his own emotions."

Of course, it goes much deeper than the word "understanding" implies, because this is not a question of epistemology. Rather, it reaches all the way down to ontology, to the level of being.

In this regard, it seems that "I AM" is posterior to "YOU ARE" (or at least they "eternally co-arise," so to speak).

But this is consistent with biblical metaphysics, where man's being is wholly dependent upon Being-as-such; and this Being-as-such just so happens to be person-as-such. Otherwise, I just don't see how it is possible to shoehorn personhood into the cosmos, unless one simply has blind faith in blind chance.

A brief point of order: whenever I use the word "mother" in this developmental context, I am not only referring to the exterior mother.

Rather, human beings are born with a stock of archetypal preconceptions -- or preconceptual archetypes, if you like -- through which we organize primordial experience. As such, there is an "interior mother," an empty category awaiting experience in order to assimilate content.

Again, the mother's face is the child's first emotional mirror, but experiences in this modality come to "fill out" one's interior mother.

For example, if the maternal mirror "is unreflecting, damage is done to the child, who becomes walled off from his own emotional self by a similarly rigid and impervious wall" (Wright).

Do you see how that works? It is very much as if the psyche is now inhabited by this dialectic of an unreflective mother and a rejected -- because unrecognized -- self.

This is why, as Wright explains, body-image issues are so common in psychotherapy. For example, "someone who is troubled by a negative identity or discongruent self-image may, in an almost delusional way, experience his face as disfigured."

I'm thinking of, say, Michael Jackson, whose bizarre face was the outward image of an even more bizarre internal world. He spent his life searching in vain for the right face.

But even if he had succeeded he would have failed, for the true face has to belong to someone else, and be mediated by love. You might say that Jackson attempted to transform his own face into both lover and beloved, which renders growth impossible. Thus the pathetic spectacle of a 50 year-old child.

Just last week I was talking to a neighbor -- an old-timer who knows where all the bodies are buried -- who mentioned that someone I went to high school with had died of anorexia (probably a couple of decades ago). Anorexia is the sine qua non of a delusional body image.

I haven't studied the subject for a while, but back when I was in graduate school, it was thought to be related to deep ambivalence around primitive images of the mother, who is completely entangled with food, mouth, nourishment and digestion.

In other words, "primitive mother" and "food" are essentially indistinguishable at that level, hence the "oral stage" of development, which lasts from birth to... well, until it kills you, if you're not careful.

Actually, it does last to the end of one's life, only in a mature person it doesn't predominate. We all retain a healthy, primitive emotional attachment to food. But if you end up being reduced to a "foodie" whose life revolves around putting novel things into your mouth, you've probably got issues. But you're also harmless, so no biggie.

By the way, this whole subject has fascinating implications for theophagy, i.e., communion. "This is my body." "I am the bread and the life." "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven." Etc. Turning the cosmos right-side-up, we see that the primitive maternal relationship is our initiation into the life of the Trinity.

Again, I don't see how it would be possible to arrive at humanness -- or personhood, to be exact -- in the absence of this ontological communion, in which we interpenetrate and share being with another.

Wright calls this communion a "positively amplifying circuit mutually affirming both partners." The smiling infant fills the mother with joy, and the joyous mother presumably fills the infant with unspeakably juicy goodness. The mother's happy face is the deepest hint that the world is a good place, and doggonit, I'm good too.

For you gents out there, have you ever noticed the relationship between Happy Wife and Happy Life? It is quite true that When Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.

But a bright and happy mama is like the sun shining indoors. Indeed, men have a deep need to make mama happy, in the absence of which we feel quite powerless, or puzzled, or despairing. Or maybe I just have issues.

Anybody got a doughnut?

Babies hold a secret about the human mind that has been hidden for millennia. They are our double. They have a primordial drive to understand us that advances their development; we have a desire to understand them that propels social science and philosophy. By examining the minds and hearts of children, we illuminate ourselves. --Andrew Meltzoff (in Garrels)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Face Time With God and Man

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Whatever else it means, this statement by Paul shows a high degree of psychospiritual sophistication and introspection, as it gets to the heart of what it means to be seen and re-cognized, and therefore to have one's being -- one's humanness -- validated.

In the book I referenced yesterday, Vision and Separation, the author writes that "The 'space' of self-consciousness is a secondary development within the field of consciousness. It arises when the subject (the child) becomes aware of the looking of the object. It is the space within which the person looks at himself through the eyes of the other.

"I often speak of consciousness as interface, or inter-face. This is to emphasize that both consciousness and self-consciousness, and the symbols that mediate these experiences, only arise between faces, in other words, in an interpersonal setting, within which relations between persons... are formative."

In fact, infant observation studies have been conducted in which mothers maintain a deadpan expression, but otherwise respond normally to their infant in every way. As you might imagine, the infants quickly become visibly distressed. They are literally dis-oriented, since the mother's face is not only the center of their universe, but their primary means to manage their own internal states. In other words, they look to the mother to "know what's going on," both outside and "inside," in the emotional world. Without the M(O)ther, the child is quickly drowned in O.

I suppose any normal parent is implicitly aware of this, but since we were consciously aware of it, Mrs. G. and I always provided Tristan with lots of animated face time. Have you ever noticed how, when children fall down or have some kind of sudden accident, they first look to the parent, as if to ask, "Am I okay, or is it time to shriek like a Democrat in November?"

In these situations, we always gave him an enthusiastic, or reassuring, or amused expression (unless he was doing something truly dangerous). Also, whenever he fell down, I'd put my arms out like a baseball umpire, and yell SAFE!

In contrast, when I'm at the park, I notice that a lot of mothers in particular are constantly transmitting anxiety to their children, with pursed lips and worried or disapproving expressions. This has the effect of reining in the child's natural exuberance and exploratory impulses.

As it so happens, Tristan has turned out to be unusually daring and fearless. Of course, there's no way of knowing if our parenting style has played a role in this, because there's no way to conduct a controlled study, plus he has other personality traits and quirks that clearly have nothing to do with us.

In any event, just last week his first grade teacher conducted a sort of mock graduation ceremony, in which she gave a diploma to each child, citing their most prominent characteristic. Tristan's was for "always being the fearless, active, and brave one all year!"

Like any other system, this facial recognition system -- in which we feel the need to be recognized by other faces -- can go awry. For example, pathological narcissism essentially revolves around an exaggerated need for human mirroring in order to fill a deficit inside.

The problem here is that the narcissistic mirroring doesn't reach to the level of being, but only touches a superficial "false self" unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) constructed by the narcissist. This means that the narcissist is actually in control of the process, and isn't truly "giving" or exposing his true self to the other. That would be too risky.

One can understand why so many narcissists gravitate toward entertainment and media (and now "reality TV" and other similar sops to the craving for recognition), since these are an ideal way to submit a false self to a bunch of anonymous faces for their slack-jawed but wide-eyed approval.

But deep down the narcissist has a well-founded contempt for such losers, so he knows as well as anyone that he is just addicted to psychic junk food. It's never enough, which is why, on top of it all, these types have to hand out so many awards to each other for being such successful and accomplished phonies.

I recently read a book called Mimesis and Science, which goes into some of the latest research on the centrality of the Face in human development. One author, Jean-Michel Oughourlian, compares it to a force of attraction, like gravity, except displaced to the subjective horizon:

"That natural force of cohesion, which alone grants access to the social, to language, to culture, and indeed to humanness itself, is simultaneously mysterious and obvious, hidden in and of itself, but dazzling in its effects -- like gravity and the attraction of corporeal masses in Newtonian space.

"If gravity did not exist, life on earth would be impossible. Similarly, if this remarkable force that attracts human beings to one another, that unites them... -- if this force did not exist, there would be no humanity."

This means, among other things, that "from the very start, psychological actuality is found between individuals.... The self and the other are thus bound together in a fundamental way at the point of origin by a tie that is ontological and existential.... The genesis of the self cannot take place except by the mediation of the other and simultaneously with the other in a process of differentiation that is gradual and reciprocal."

In all my studies, I never came across a psychoanalyst who was also an orthodox Christian, or at least made the effort to unify metapsychology and theological metaphysics. I have, however, stumbled upon a handful of theologians who are aware of developments in attachment theory, and of their implications for theology.

But I guess I haven't yet found anyone who is as startled as I am at the psycho-developmental implications of the Trinity, through which one is two, two are one, one is three, two are three, etc.

But all of this bears directly on infant development, to such an extent that it is impossible to assume anything other than a trinitarian metaphysic and still permit humanness to exist. To put it another way, if the cosmos weren't trinitarian right down to the ground, then we wouldn't be here. Nor would you understand a word of what I just wrote.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cosmic Evolution: It's Just a Going Through a Face

We left off last Friday discussing the always-increasing complexification of the cosmos, a process which ends -- as far as we can determine -- in the human person. We say this because we cannot imagine something "beyond a person" except for God.

This is an example of one of those things I should think everyone can agree upon, believer and infidel alike.

In other words, if we survey the 14 billion year history of the cosmos, the whole thing is clearly getting more complex with the passage of time, for there is literally nothing as complex as the human brain-and-nervous-system, what with its 10 billion neurons and 10 to the 14th power synaptic connections.

I'm better at myth than math, but if I understand rightly, this means that in this social network, each neuron can apparently friend up to 14 others.

That's a lot of synapses, so many that if you were to attempt to compute their possible combinations, it would take longer than this cosmos is going to last. Which is just another way of saying that we'll never run out of melodies, poems, or jokes.

Now, this cosmoplexification revolves around a center, and that's what makes it so interesting (or any other adjective, for that matter). Think of all that computing power in the human brain, and yet, it all resolves into this simple, unitary experience of an "I" at the center of the neural storm.

This "I" not only manages to resolve all that micro-neural activity, but it also unifies various macro-brain structures such as left and right cerebral hemispheres, limbic system, language area, etc., plus subjective/vertical structures from the primitive unconscious to the transhuman supraconscious -- all spontaneously and without effort. Rather, it "just happens."

You could say that this is similar to other infinitely complex systems, say, the US economy. For example, at the end of the day, you can hear on the news that the stock market gained or lost this or that amount of wealth.

This latter is presented as a unitary quantity, but of course it's just an abstraction, plus it has no actual center. There is no "I" in the middle of all that economic activity saying to itself "I cleaned up today," or "today I really lost my shirt, and it's all Bush's fault!"

As I've mentioned before, one reason I am skeptical of finding "intelligent life" on other planets is because of the extreme unlikelihood that we would ever find persons. A person is the apex of cosmic intelligence, but it turns out -- or so we have heard from the wise -- that the "center" represented by the person actually extends all the way down.

In other words, it is not as if the cosmos evolves to a certain point, and then there appears this inexplicable thing called a person, like the frosting on a cake. Rather, there is a kind of "centration" that is present everywhere and everywhen, only in more or less attenuated forms.

For example, when Jesus says "Before Abraham was, I am," he's expressing our point, albeit more enigmatically. This needs to be understood in the context of other biblical statements such as "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," "I AM WHO I AM," "When He prepared the heavens I was there," and "When He drew a circle on the face of the deep... I was beside him."

Also, in the extra-biblical but orthoparadoxical Gospel of Thomas, Jesus asks, "Have you found the beginning that you look to the end? Where the end is, is where the beginning is. Blessed is the one who stands at the beginning, for the one who stands at the beginning will know the end"; and even more to the point, "Blessed is the one who comes into being before he came into being."

All of these statements go to the idea of the person being anterior to all phenomena.

This may not be something you've ever considered before, but just as there can be no mind in the absence of a person, there can be no person in the absence of the face. Human beings are of course "social animals," but it is possible to be social without being completely interior to, or inside, one another.

For example, bees and ants exchange information with each other and act as a group, but they don't think about it. You might say that the "center" of a bee hive is dispersed throughout the colony, rather than being present in its totality in each bee.

But in the case of humans -- and liberals hate to hear this -- the center is in the individual.

In fact, liberals attempt to subvert this individual centration by forcing people to identify with race, class, ethnicity, gender, and what have you, but this is the very essence of "regressivism," as it recalls a time in human history prior to the emergence of the free and autonomous person.

As we can see, Obama's whole campaign revolves around the attempt to cobble together a plurality by pandering to various groups via the re-definition of marriage, amnesty for illegal Democrats, a war on men, and so on. Conversely, conservatism embodies arguments that can only be made by persons to persons, irrespective of such accidents as race, class, and gender.

Looking back on it, I must have first been alerted to the centrality of the Face after reading a book called Vision and Separation Between Mother and Baby. This would have been back down in the early '90s, way before I would have been able to draw out the metaphysical and theological implications. Nor have I picked up the book since then.

Just look at the cover photo, and notice the vibrant, joyous, and resonant space between mother and baby:

And when I say "notice the space," think about what that implies. Only another person is capable of noticing this space. Anything less than a person will see only two, three, or four dimensions in such an exchange, but the interior dimension will be inaccessible -- like a person who can hear the notes but not the melody of which they are a part.

I'm just flipping through the book to see what sorts of things I highlighted: "This book is the seen form of that which was previously felt but not clearly formed. Seeing is forming, and the idea that the self, as a conceivable entity, is formed -- or de-formed, or re-formed -- at that place where the Other's view meets with the felt substance of the person is an important part of my thesis."

"The central structure around which the book coheres is thus the space or gap that develops between subject and object through their separation. It is this gap that, according to my thesis, becomes the gap or 'space' of consciousness."

Yes, space is the place. Reminds me of Bowie's Moonage Daydream:

Press your space face close to mine, love / Freak out in a moonage daydream

To be continued...