Monday, March 25, 2013

Putting the Cosmos on the Couch

Is the world crazy? Or is it just you?

And if it is crazy, how could we ever know?

I'm just thinking of this essay by Roger Kimball, What Philistinism Looks Like.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Ironic? No, not ironic. Predictable, rather. For it is written: when religion dies, it is simply replaced by something that is not religion. As a result, it doesn't really die at all, but simply takes a new and perverse form. In our day and age, the most common forms are leftism, AGW, and scientism.

Please bear in mind that these human foibles do not actually become religions, which is to say, become religions, any more than, say, a transexual actually becomes an opposite member of the contradictory gender. Rather, it is only in make believe that a man can become a woman, two men can marry, or science (and political) fiction can become a religion.

This is not to say that a real religion cannot become pathological. But a false religion is intrinsically pathological, with none of the benefits of true religion.

A case in point is this very naughty witch Thomas Nagel, who, in the words of Kimball, is the recipient of "we-now-cast-you-into-outer-darkness treatment" by his inquisitorial peers.

Yes, "the orthodox high priests of the neo-Darwinian consensus -- chaps like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins -- have read Nagel out of the fraternity of OK people for daring to question the tenets of their faith" (ibid.). You will have noticed that this is not even a parody of the Catholic faith.

Which is unfortunate, because baptized pagans such as John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Matthews, and the entire Kennedy gang should be excommunicated for their open contempt of Church doctrine. To paraphrase Taranto, there's a very easy way to protest the Church. It's called becoming a Protestant.

Kimball highlights E.O. Wilson's unwise crack to the effect that "an organism is only DNA’s way of making more DNA." Really? I dare him -- and the rest of the Darwinist faithful -- to have the courage of his convictions, and act on that belief. Come to think of it, that would be a very efficient way for all Darwinists to receive Darwin awards. Problem solved.

But wait a minute. Why would DNA have any convictions at all, and why should we care?

I know. The whole thing's crazy. But so is Islamism. Just because something is a fantasy, it hardly means it has no real world consequences. Hitler, for example, had some fantasies about Jews. Obama has some fantasies about economics. (I am Godwin, so I'm exempt.)

Kimball cites another wisecrock by Francis "rhymes with" Crick -- you may recall that DNA discovered him about 60 years ago, hanging around the lab -- who claimed that "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons."

Excuse me, but how the fuck do you know that? I mean, if we're just a meaningless side effect of buzzing nerve cells, then isn't it true that we couldn't even know we don't know shit?

I don't get it. Why this hatred of our humanness? It very much reminds me of the pathology of liberalism, whereby the liberal is too broadminded to take his own side in a dispute. Muslims want to murder our children? Why, they must have done something to deserve it. Oh, but don't smoke cigarettes in the same zip code as a child. Might harm them.

I'm going to assume you've read the whole piece by Kimball, but there's one more passage I need to highlight:

"The idea the Cricks and Dennetts and Dawkinses of the world wish us to take on board is that really, at bottom, our experience of ourselves and the world counts for nothing. That flowering crab apple outside your window, for example, is not really a beautiful celebration of spring, but merely an agglomeration of biological processes."

This is indeed key. I just finished reading 1,000 or so pages of text that directly refutes this crazy view of the world. I'm speaking, of course, of Alexander, who certainly has no religious agenda -- or at least, like me, didn't start out with one. Rather, he was ineluctably led in that direction by the facts of existence.

What facts are those?

That's an entirely fair question: what is a fact? It is a fact that my body is a flittering pattern of subatomic activity.

Okay.

It is a fact that the sky is blue.

Wrong.

There is no such thing as blue. What we experience as this thing you call blue is just an illusion produced by light striking the retina at a certain frequency.

Again, if you actually attempt to live in this bizarre way, you are either crazy or will soon be certifiably tenured.

I need to switch gears for a moment, but I'll try to be brief. Psychoanalysis is my racket. I mean, it's what I was actually trained in, for what it's worth. As we all know, this discipline was discovered -- or invented, if you prefer -- by Freud back in 1899. This was at the height of 19th century positivism, at a time when aberrations like determinism, reductionism, and atheism -- in short, naive materialism -- actually seemed philosophically plausible.

Being that Freud was very much a geist of that particular zeit, he conceptualized the mind in wholly mechanistic / deterministic / reductionist terms. The mind was treated as an object, which is again not even ironic, because the one thing in the world that is most certainly not an object is the subject, but whatever. Science!

These pseudo-scientific assumptions prevailed until the 1940s, when a few psychoanalytic heretics made a startling discovery: the mind is not an object, and cannot be treated as one. Rather, the mind is intersubjective, which means that we are subjectively entangled with one another. No man is an island, and all that.

But it turns out that the cosmos too is intersubjective, which is why it speaks to us of so many realities on so many levels, not just of scientific truths but aesthetic beauties and ethical values (not to mention scientific beauties, aesthetic values, and ethical truths).

I'm running short on time, and I probably shouldn't rush this along too quickly. To be continued...

15 Comments:

Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Found this in my site meter. Looks related.

3/25/2013 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Now THIS is a fire hose!

3/25/2013 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"I don't get it. Why this hatred of our humanness? It very much reminds me of the pathology..."

..of when we were kids and would rather escape to spend all day building forts in the woods rather than cutting the grass or painting the house.
ANYTHING to get otta a couple of unpleasant "rules".

and

"So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."

~ Marge Gunderson in "Fargo"

3/25/2013 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Everything in a nutshell right here:

"This is not to say that a real religion cannot become pathological. But a false religion is intrinsically pathological, with none of the benefits of true religion."

3/25/2013 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

"But it turns out that the cosmos too is intersubjective, which is why it speaks to us of so many realities on so many levels, not just of scientific truths but aesthetic beauties and ethical values (not to mention scientific beauties, aesthetic values, and ethical truths) I just found this yesterday, and liked it too...
"Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty. Like the late Mr. Wilde, “I live in terror of not being misunderstood."

— H. P. Lovecraft

3/25/2013 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or as Don Colacho sez,

--When things appear to us to be only what they appear to be, soon they appear to be even less.

--To be stupid is to believe that it is possible to take a photograph of the place about which a poet sang.

--With the categories admitted by the modern mind we do not succeed in understanding anything but trifles.

--There are no ideas that expand the intelligence, but there are ideas that shrink it.

--Everything is trivial if the universe is not committed to a metaphysical adventure.

--If we could demonstrate the existence of God, everything would eventually be subjected to the sovereignty of man.

--Without a certain religious childishness, a certain intellectual profundity is unattainable.

--Thinking is often reduced to inventing reasons to doubt the obvious.

And a few thousand others...



3/25/2013 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Lovecraft is turning up on me everywhere these days. I really hope this is not a sign.

Oh, but don't smoke cigarettes in the same zip code as a child. Might harm them.

Save the children from secondhand smoke. Abort!

3/25/2013 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Again, if you actually attempt to live in this bizarre way, you are either crazy or will soon be certifiably tenured.

And all the DC aphorisms as well.

An immediate prior cause can be found for most everything. It's nice to know, even helpful, but it is neither an explanation nor a reason.

I wonder if Crick ever told anyone that he flew to London because he got on a plane in New York.

3/25/2013 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

It seems to me that an atheistic "thinker", if he is consistent, must embrace the position of eliminative materialism. And when that happens, the "conversation" effectively ends.

Andrew Ferguson wrote a pretty good article on this Nagel "defection" entitled, "The Heretic" (beautiful).

weeklystandard.com/articles/heretic_707692

3/25/2013 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Always behind- the Kimball article has the link to Ferguson piece.

3/25/2013 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

a pretty classic '60s psych album [my cuppa tea dont you know] is by a band named
HP Lovecraft

3/25/2013 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The "Spin" cut sounds good. I liked that a lot. "Mobius Trip" isn't too bad either.

I kind of remember the name of the band, but I none of the cuts sounded familiar. Though at about 0:20 on "Mobius Trip", those licks (without that high synth tweeter sound) make me think of something considerably better known. But I can't place it.

3/25/2013 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

BLUE & SO MUCH MORE

It is clear the sky is blue...
It is sky the clear and transparently blue...
Unharmable unsulliable unclosable
una thingless cosa no muchas
allowing-accepting all but never becoming other than itself
Perfection
Pure emptiness
God
Self
Mind
= that
as far as metaphors go

3/25/2013 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Mushroom,
I wonder if Crick ever told anyone that he flew to London because he got on a plane in New York.

:D
Exactly.

3/25/2013 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Hitler, for example, had some fantasies about Jews. Obama has some fantasies about economics. (I am Godwin, so I'm exempt.)"

;-)

Made my morning.

3/26/2013 06:12:00 AM  

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