Friday, February 22, 2013

It Takes a Cosmos to Raise a Smile

While on the subject of I, AM, and the link between the two, I'd like to discuss Scruton's The Face of God. It's a short book, containing the published version of his Gifford Lectures of 2010.

If you're not familiar with them, the Gifford Lectures were the deathwish brainchild of the Scottish Lord Gifford (1820-1887), established and endowed for the purpose of promoting and propagating "the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term -- in other words, the knowledge of God." The quality of these lectures is often quite high, and draws big brains from many disciplines, and thus comports well with our own multi-undisciplinary approach.

Among others, I've read those by Royce, Gilson, James, Eddington, Heisenberg, Dawson, Toynbee, Barbour, Dyson, Eccles, Polkinghorne, Rolston, Taylor, and, of course Jaki, Polanyi and Whitehead, all of whom are recurring characters on the One Cosmos blog. Again, these are folks who are attempting to think across disciplines, so many of them are pione'er-do-well Raccoons.

I haven't read a lot of the more recent ones, but one can't help thinking the quality has declined in recent years, what with dubious choices such as Said, Chomsky, Dawkins, and Carl Sagan. I mean, Edward Said? Makes one wonder what you have to do to not be invited.

Anyway, Scruton's meditation on the human face touches on a number of our pet bobsessions, including how the I comes to BE. In Psychogenesis we put forth an anthropological fairy tale that attempts to account for the sudden and unexpected ingression of the I AM into our biosphere -- i.e., how Mind emerges from Life -- and in my opinion, it must have occurred the same way then (say, 100,000 years ago) that it does today.

That is to say, we cannot begin with the fully formed adult, because by then it's too late. Rather, self-conscious subjectivity must be teased from the Stone Age infant in the intersubjective space between an incomplete, plastic, and "open" neurology and its loving caretakers. We are only individuals because we are members of one another. There is no other way. We are trinitarian right down to the Ground.

When we speak of the "knowability" of the cosmos, we must begin with the Face, for it is the first thing we know (and which knows us, for the one perspective depends upon its complementary other). Upon leaving the cozy confines of the womb, we are greeted by "one great blooming, buzzing confusion," in William James' famous description. The mother's face truly stands out like a lighthouse amidst the confusion, and we come into the world ready to be oriented to it.

Now, there was a time, not too long ago, when the world was regarded by philosophers as an orderly cosmos overseen by God. By way of analogy, we are all infants in this blooming, buzzing confusion we call life. But man could make sense of it with reference to a transcendent and benevolent Face looking down on -- and from within -- the proceedings.

Although nothing has occurred with the scientific revolution to cause us to doubt the deep order of being, it has nevertheless been accompanied by a kind of adolescent rebellion against the Orderer. This occurs at predictable points in human development, in particular, during the separation-individuation of early childhood, and then again with adolescence. But in reality, it is a recurring motif -- and temptation -- that shadows us as long as we live, because of our irreducible intersubjectivity. No one is ever alone and human, but some people want to be.

Now, what is a face? The key point is that it is a whole -- an integration of particulars that discloses an interior/subjective horizon. There are actually two important principles at work here, wholeness and interiority, but I believe these are necessary consequences of each other.

For example, no one "assembles" a face from its parts -- eyes, nose, lips, etc. -- and concludes that this is indeed a face we're dealing with. Rather, we always first see the whole.

Moreover, this whole always has something "behind" or "inside" it: the animating subject. The expressions of the face have a transcendent cause, and "science cannot, in the nature of things, trace an empirical event to a transcendent cause" (Scruton).

Thus, when we say we look "into" a face, this is precisely what we mean. The face is our first clue that the world does not consist of appearances only, but that there is a mysterious depth beneath the surface of things.

Autism, in whatever form it takes (e.g., intellectual, emotional, religious, moral, or aesthetic) is precisely the inability to apprehend the subjective depth in things. Just as there are people who are colorblind or tone deaf, there are prosopagnosiacs who cannot see faces. And yet, they obviously see the exact same thing anyone else is seeing. Rather, they just can't put it all together and see the inside.

Now, what is more real, the face or the parts that compose it? Or, who is more "in touch" with reality, the person who is able to see faces, or the prosopagnosiac?

Scruton asks what he calls a "strange question," but it is precisely this question that has motivated our blogplay these past eight years: just "what kind of world contains a thing like me -- a thing with freedom and self-knowledge?"

It turns out that it is impossible to answer this question without recourse to everything. In other words, it cannot be reduced to personal psychology, but touches on everything from cosmology to neurology to anthropology. For truly, it takes a cosmos to raise a person (and vice versa, bearing in mind what was said last Tuesday about the I and the One).

If you scan a face looking for the person, you will not find him. The person is "in" the face, but obviously cannot be reduced to the face. The person is not identical with his face, just as the meaning of a text is not identical to its letters, or a melody to the notes of which it is composed.

Scruton suggests that it is the same with God: look for God on the surface, and you will find nothing, for that is not where he is to be found. Rather, "He is present in our world in the same sense that we are: as a subject."

So anyway, blah blah yada yada, in this context, the idea that the metacosmic I AM should decide to reveil itself by putting on a face is quite understandable, for what better way could there be?

15 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

The person is not identical with his face, just as the meaning of a text is not identical to its letters, or a melody to the notes of which it is composed.

Indeed, and thank goodness for that. If you all will permit a bit of the personal stealing in, my mom will be undergoing a pretty major facial reconstruction within the next couple of weeks, to deal with a tumor that has overtaken most of her lower jaw. They'll be replacing it with a bone from her lower leg. There was a family member who worried because her face will never be the same again. Far better that than the alternatives, and of course it doesn't change who she is.

Still personal, but much more lighthearted...

2/22/2013 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Oops - spoke too soon; as of today, now that they have all the test results it looks like a much less invasive problem than they initially thought. She still needs some work, but not a jaw replacement. All the more reason to smile :)

2/22/2013 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That's good news about your mom.


Although nothing has occurred with the scientific revolution to cause us to doubt the deep order of being, it has nevertheless been accompanied by a kind of adolescent rebellion against the Orderer.


They do seem a lot like adolescents. They know everything, and nothing.

2/22/2013 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

They no everything, and nothing. (There, fixed it ;)

2/22/2013 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That is better. :)

2/22/2013 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

The face is our first clue that the world does not consist of appearances only, but that there is a mysterious depth beneath the surface of things.

Interesting point. After awhile, especially for loved ones, you don't really see somebody's face when you look at them.

Wait a sec. Um, Beauty and the Beast, oh right. Pretty obvious I suppose. But it's still an important point.

Scruton suggests that it is the same with God: look for God on the surface, and you will find nothing, for that is not where he is to be found

I like that. Analogy analogy analogy.


julie, sorry/glad to hear about your Mum.

2/22/2013 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks John. In truth, I'm not worried - just glad she's finally getting it taken care of, as she's known about this for years. As it happens, as so often happens (in my experience), what seemed like a frightening event turned into a bit of serendipitous fortune instead; after believing there was no help near her to be had, nor any way to afford it, she found probably the one doctor who knows exactly how to help her and it isn't going to break the bank.

My mom is like a cat - occasionally falls, but always lands with her feet under her, one way or another :)

2/22/2013 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Back to the post, and in reference to the previous post, the Muslim practice of putting women in bags to the point of covering even their faces seems like a good way of preventing one from participating fully in the cosmos. I wonder what it does to developing children to be prevented from regularly being exposed to female faces out in public?

2/22/2013 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Imprinted by a garbage bag. No wonder they dispose of themselves like trash.

2/22/2013 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

Julie, I'm glad to hear your update re. your mom. I hope it goes well.

2/22/2013 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

stupid populace--complicit media--evil govt:
http://watchdog.org/62420/co-secret-energy-lab-spawns-million-dollar-govt-employee/

2/23/2013 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger JWM said...

Hi folks
Just thought I'd drop a line here rather than let my entire connection to the coonosphere dangle like a disconnected phone call. This site changed my life. I came here with a moonbat spirituality shocked and shattered after the dark epiphany of 9/11. You eased my way to the Christ. I thought that impossible.
And for the last eight or nine years I've been a junkie to politics and the global jihad. I feel like I've been locked into being a tiny part in some frantic life and death struggle to pull civilization away from the abyss.

And then they re-elected the Dark One. I remember sitting up late with my gut dropping. I tuned in to iotw. Someone posted, "We're going to lose this thing."
And I knew it was over.
It was an odd sort of gut shot. Rather than rage, I just felt my connection to all of it just die.
Remember the movie "A Clockwork Orange"? What happened to me is just like what they did to the evil kid, Alex. I try to look at politics, environment, jihad, the mass media,in general, and I just get sick. It's like sticking my head in a porta-potty.
Western Civilization may well have peaked, and is now headed into its inevitable decline. I can't stop it by posting on the internet. You see, I've realized that what I've been doing is waging war on The Nothing. And that is just what the Beast would have us do- waste our happiness howling at the Dark.
I can't do it anymore.
I've disengaged. I've cut the bookmarks to all the news sites. I'll keep OC, John C Wright, and a few other Roman Catholics. They are the only voices I can stand to hear.
So what am I doing, now?
I've founded an outlaw bicycle club. You can find the RatRod Riders B/C on Facebook.
I'm 60 years old. I have time for one last blast before I'm too old to raise any more hell. The web of coincidence has spun events out in such a way that I've become the catalyst and leader of a small group. I'm going to milk the Outlaw Bicycle Club game for every ounce of pop-culture craziness I can. And Mary and I are having a blast. I pray hard all the time, and one day my feral path may find me at the Church door. But for now I want to get to a place where I'm asking someone if that ridiculous negro is still president.
To Bob, Ben, Julie, Mushroom, Joan, Van, Rick- I love you.
God bless.

JWM

2/24/2013 09:42:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Hi Leslie,

Thanks! I didn't mean to hijack the thread with personal stuff, it's just that the talk of faces had a very specific resonance for me just now. On the plus side, with all the testing they did she now knows she's in pretty good health aside from the jaw problem.

Hi, JWM!

I've noticed your Rat Rod updates on Facebook. Sounds like fun - If I lived anywhere near LA, I'd probably give it a try. Also, cool logo :)

It's good to hear from you, and good to know that you & Mary are doing well.

Re. howling at the nothing, agreed. Sometimes the best that can be done is to enjoy your life, right here and now, no matter how close the beast is to your door.

2/25/2013 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

JWM!

I hear ya.

May the ultimate monkey bars be yours!

2/25/2013 05:41:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That's the spirit, JW -- don't go quietly into the totalitarian night. The least we can do is go obnoxiously.

2/25/2013 07:12:00 AM  

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