Taking Reality Personally while Championing the Bobvious
I've now completed volume one of The Nature of Order, and there are several places where Alexander essentially expresses the same idea, although not in any Christian context. Rather, his approach is entirely empirical and phenomenological: he's just observing and describing how things truly and objectively appear in our subjective experience. His metaphysics is posterior to the experience.
The first half of the book shows how and why "degrees of life" are present in space (i.e., space itself is inseparable from life), and how we are able to objectively perceive these levels of intensity. In the second half he shows how the presence of life is inseparable from the question of personhood. Indeed, chapter seven is called The Personal Nature of Order.
Thus, as it turns out -- and again, this is based first on observation, not any kind of apriorism -- "living structure is at once both structural and personal."
As applied to philosophy and metaphysics, this is his key idea, as it furnishes the means to "bridge the gap that Whitehead called 'the bifurcation of nature.' It unites the objective and the subjective," and ultimately, science and person, physics and poetry, thinking and feeling. Yes, instead of mythopoetic you might call it mathopoetic.
Jumping ahead a bit, the first thought that occurred to me in reading this chapter is that this is all foretold in scripture. In particular, I'm thinking of Proverbs 8, where it suggests that reality is ultimately composed of -- not just by or with -- "God's wisdom," so to speak:
The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman.
All of this establishes the personal nature of the divine wisdom that infuses the cosmos, lighting it from within. This light can be seen scientifically or aesthetically, for it is the same Light. To paraphrase Schuon, truth is analogous to the light, while beauty is analogous to the warmth that naturally radiates from it.
In this next passage we see how "blessings" flow from human perception of this wisdom:
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
“Now therefore, listen to me, my children,
For blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
And do not disdain it.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the Lord;
But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul;
All those who hate me love death.”
Whoever sees this wisdom finds life. Others find death, which isn't surprising, for if you begin with the premise that the world is fundamentally dead, then any life you happen to find will just be an anomalous accident. It won't tell you anything important or fundamental about the cosmos, much less about the nature of man -- despite the fact that man is uniquely able to perceive the degrees of life implicit in the cosmos.
Speaking of "implicit," it's interesting how we spend our lives rediscovering the same thing over and over. I suppose I first made this discovery back in 1985, and I've been making it ever since, although expressing it in different languages, e.g., the languages of physics, psychoanalysis, anthropology, metaphysics, theology, music, etc.
Gnote: I regard diverse disciplines as "languages," fundamentally no different than the various languages of human groups. Thus, just as one can express the identical truth in French, English, or German, one can express the same truth in physics, psychology, and religion.
And indeed, in order to express the fullness of truth, one must see it from all of these angles; it is as if truth is the white light that passes through the human prism, and comes out the other side in the form of different colors, i.e., disciplines.
A long time ago, I decided that what we call a "genius" is a person who uses this or that discipline or idiom to express a primordial truth. Depending upon his gift, the genius can accomplish it with a pen or pun or piano or paintbrush.
My personal discovery involved seeing a spontaneous connection between the metaphysics implicit in modern physics and the metapsychology implicit in modern psychoanalysis. This discovery suggested that either the cosmos is built like a person, or persons are built like the cosmos. Or that both of these statements are true.
So now you know why my dissertation had the ponderous title of Psychoanalysis, Postmodern Physics, and the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution: Toward a Rapprochement of Mind and Nature. Today I wouldn't use the loaded word "postmodern," but I didn't intend it in the obnoxious sense. "Post-Newtonian" or "post-Cartesian" would be more accurate. But the "rapprochement of mind and nature" is precisely what Alexander is up to.
And my use of the term rapprochement had a double meaning, intended in both the colloquial and psychoanalytic senses. Ultimately, what I meant is that, just as the baby must separate from the mother in order to relate in a more mature manner, it seems that human beings had to first separate from Mother Nature -- this being the scientific revolution -- in order to relate to her in a more mature manner -- this being the "new physics" of Alexander (or of anyone else who sees the underlying truth from whatever discipline).
I know! Too much me. Nevertheless, tucked away in my dissertation is a little speech I had to deliver upon receiving an award for the thing in 1988 (I've mentioned it before, but that was Long Ago). The speech could have been written by Alexander:
"This dissertation is really a reflection of my own personal obsession, which happens to be the relationship between the mind -- that is, the subjective internal world -- and the objective physical universe.... In the three hundred years since the onset of the scientific revolution, science has gradually come to regard everything in the universe -- including ourselves -- as mere machines....
Blah blah yada yada, "What is so interesting is that these patterns of process seem to be woven into the very fabric of the universe, cutting across and repeating at all the various levels we study -- including human mental development."
I mean seriously folks, this sounds like straight up Alexander, although it's only me again: "The appearance of life itself forces us to reconsider all of the reductionistic schemes and artificial boundaries we have invented to divide various domains such as mind and matter, animate and inanimate, physics and psychology.
"The great physicist Werner Heisenberg said that The same forces that have created nature in all her forms, are responsible for the structure of our soul, and likewise for our capacity to think.... With our new understanding, we can truly say that the development of the cosmos culminates in an unbroken fashion with the thought of man."
So, to say "One Cosmos" or "One Cosmos Under God" is just the same old sane old, from Proverbs to bobswords.
For Alexander -- and I agree with him entirely -- it means that we are at "the threshold of a new kind of objectivity," i.e., a higher synthesis of objectivity with what we usually consign to subjectivity in order to dismiss it, and thereby save the scientistic appearances.
But in dismissing the latter we are 1) devaluing the human knower, thereby undercutting the basis of all our knowledge, 2) chucking the most interesting and even astonishing fact in all of creation, and 3) ignoring an impossibly rich source of data about reality, not just in terms of content, but vis-a-vis the human form as such (in other words, the human form itself -- before we have even thought anything -- reveals important truths about the nature of reality).
Getting late. Gotta get some work done....