Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nothing is Impossible

To extend yesterday's metaphor, now that my head and feet are fully aligned, I'm not sure I even understand the terrain on which I had previously been attempting to walk.

Which means what, exactly?

It essentially means that I was attempting to speak as a traditionalist while ambulating in the manner of a process philosopher. Sort of a distant cousin of hypocrisy, which is when one's actions don't conform to one's values.

This book by David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, presents a timely summation of the traditional view, so as to provide a vivid contrast with my old New Truth.

Of course, suffice it to say, no one is under any pressure to agree with me. This is not that kind of cult. I realize this is a contentious area, and I still sometimes wonder if I am falling into some sort of ontological trap. I mean, one doesn't lightly disagree with 2000 years worth of people who are wiser or smarter or holier than thee. However, there is no question that they were laboring under an extremely misleading but nevertheless presumptive picture of reality.

Reader Van plucked the following passage from bobscurity, adding that he was on pins and needles waiting to hear about the many implications! Okay, I added that last part, but here's the passage:

"There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have explicitly agreed with Hart, even while implicitly agreeing with Hartshorne. And that's a problem, i.e., when what one explicitly thinks doesn't jibe with what one implicitly feels, experiences, or 'knows' in a direct and unmediated manner. Call it cosmic dissonance"

In many ways, The Experience of God is structured just like One Cosmos, except that, instead of Matter (or material existence), Mind (or psyche), and Spirit (nous, pneuma), Hart -- whom I believe is an Orthodox Christian -- uses the Hindu triad of Sat (Being), Chit (Consciousness), and Ananda (Bliss). However, he covers much of the same ground, albeit coming at it from a more purely logical and metaphysical perspective, whereas I begin with the world as we experience it and as disclosed by science.

If you were going to be uncharitable, you would say that he begins with a priori concepts, whereas I begin with reality. However, if you were going to be uncharitable to me, you would probably say that one cannot derive metaphysics from empirical reality.

Which is a little ironic -- I think -- because, if I am not mistaken, Thomas Aquinas begins with the proposition that there is a real world external to us, and that, in order to know it, the knower must conform himself to it.

But more generally, where can we begin but with experience? And there is no experience that is not "of" something. So it seems to me that it is rather critical to understand the "experience of experience." In other words, we cannot just take experience for granted, but must try to get beneath it and understand just what it is.

Now, here's the rub -- or at least a rub: experience is intrinsically temporal. Indeed, I would say that it is impossible to conceive of "nontemporal experience" -- that it is an oxymoron. And just as there is no experience without time, there is no time without experience.

If you have difficulty wrapping your tail around the latter statement, you need only examine your own experience of time, which is intrinsically bound up with memory of the past. Without this memory -- this conservation of the immediate past -- there would only be an atemporal now; being, but no becoming.

To jump ahead a bit, in the process view of Whitehead/Hartshorne, this examination of our own experience reveals how all of reality is structured. Clearly, just as in our own mental experience, nature exhibits continuity with, and conservation of, the past. And yet, nature ceaselessly flows forward, always manifesting novel configurations. Therefore, just as in our own minds, nature is a combination of conservation and change, memory and creativity, sameness and novelty, boundary conditions and adventure.

This further leads to the view that creativity is woven into the very fabric of being. But oops! That word being: it no longer makes sense in this new context. In the traditional view, becoming is just a persistent illusion (there is no other way to put it), completely parasitic on changeless Being.

But in the process view the terms are reversed: Being is just an abstraction from Becoming -- and an empty abstraction to boot. It is either literally unthinkable or only thinkable, for it is not anything we can actually experience, experience once again requiring duration.

Now, my point about feet and heads is that no one (or do they?) really treats God or relates to God in this abstract manner. Indeed, from my perspective, perhaps the most earth-shattering implication of the Incarnation is that it should be an inoculation against the Greek ideal of the immutable, unmoved mover.

This is probably going to rattle some cages, but Hartshorne dismisses the notion of "nothing" being a meaningful concept, as in "creation from nothing." There is frankly nothing in the Bible that mandates such an interpretation.

But for Hartshore, nothing is impossible -- that is, it's just another human abstraction. Nothing is the negation of something, and therefore something.

For my part, I have never really wondered "why there is something rather than nothing." Rather, there's gotta be something, right? Might as well be this. Nothing isn't even thinkable unless we have something with which to compare it. I'm still in awe of this particular something -- just not in comparison to nothing, but rather, compared to all the other possible somethings.

(This is not to be confused with the big Nothing that opens and closes the Coonifesto, because that Nothing is intrinsically at play with Something; you might say that it is part of the rhythm of eternity, like diastole and systole, inhalation and exhalation, catabolism and anabolism, etc. It is ultimately how creativity happens. Don't get me wrong -- I still believe in nothing. I just think it is eternally in relation to something -- not either/or, but both/and. Or as old Heraclitus put it, The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls.)

Hart fundamentally disagrees, affirming that "the 'distance' between being and nonbeing is qualitatively infinite..." True, but is nonbeing real, or only a mental abstraction? For me, the important distance is not between an absolute nothing and a fulsome something per se, but rather, between reality as it is and reality as it could be: in other words, creativity. Creativity is what links nothing to something, but that link is everything. It's not as if you can start with nothing and then get all creative with it, because where did the creativity come from?

Excuse me, but are we getting into angels dancing on pinheads territory? Is anyone else on board, or just bored?

Well, we've come this far. At least allow me to complete the trip and drop you off at the station.

In the traditional view, of course, God is "the infinite to which nothing can add and from which nothing can subtract..." Therefore, in order to properly think about God, we can really only unthink about him -- that is, if you hold to the traditional view.

Thus, we arrive at a "deductive negation of all the obvious conditions of finitude," which basically leaves us with nothing. I mean, right? Again, experience is temporal and time is finite, ergo, no experience of God is possible. Yes, you can certainly have spiritual experiences, but God is "beyond change" and "cannot be affected... by anything outside himself." Frankly, he's really not that into you.

Okay, I get that. In theory, anyway. But does anyone actually live as if God couldn't care less, which must be the case if he is completely immune to any form of change whatsoever? Is change really so intrinsically bad a thing that it must not contaminate God? It seems to me that there is literally no way to relate to such a being, not even by way of analogy. Is that really the way It Is? Just asking.

42 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

It seems to me that there is literally no way to relate to such a being, not even by way of analogy.

Indeed; it seems to me as though, if that's the case, the atheists would actually be right.

10/29/2013 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

Can't we use both/and instead of either/or to solve this "problem"?


10/29/2013 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hartshorne certainly thinks so. He believes that ultimate antinomies -- say, the necessary and contingent -- are resolved in the more inclusive of the two. Thus, although the one always implies the other, no contingency is possible within necessity, but the converse is not true: one can indeed have necessity within contingency. Ironically, contingent being -- i.e., creative becoming -- is more inclusive than necessary being.

10/29/2013 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And I must say, such a clean and lucid argument appeals to me much more than the verbal contortions the traditionalist must go through in order to reconcile love and changelessness.

10/29/2013 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Thus, although the one always implies the other, no contingency is possible within necessity, but the converse is not true: one can indeed have necessity within contingency. Ironically, contingent being -- i.e., creative becoming -- is more inclusive than necessary being."

I think that the real point is that there's still necessity.

We need another word than contingency, perhaps.

It's not really contingent because it still relates to the necessary.

Meaning that it's bound contingency.

So, we need a word for bound contingency.

Otherwise, we enter Process Theologian incoherent-land where nothing is apparently necessary or fixed.

10/29/2013 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Well, it is necessary that there be contingency. But also necessary that there be necessity.

10/29/2013 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Lance Cummins said...

Well, thanks? for clearing that up.

10/29/2013 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That was unnecessary.

10/29/2013 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Boy, I can feel the cosmic dissonance today :).

BTW Bob, there is timeless experience with those that have had an "enlightened" experience.

But the I do like the idea of a becoming informed by a being. Perhaps, a moving Absolute (or ordered liberty) or something of the sorts.

Also, I recommend Joseph Bracken's recent book. He touches on this using ideas from both traditionalists and the process guys.

10/29/2013 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"True, but is nonbeing real?"

That's JUST what the nonbeing wants you to think.
I mean, doubt.

10/29/2013 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ted -- I forgot about Bracken. I knew there was a Catholic Process guy out there somewhere. I even read one of his books, The One in the Many, but don't remember a thing about it. I'd better dig it out and figure out why he fell off the radar...

10/29/2013 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hmm. For some reason I stopped reading about midway through. But here's the weird part: on the page I stopped reading, there is a lengthy discussion of nothingness. He concludes that the Buddhist experience of "Absolute Nothingness" can only coexist in the context of a dynamic interdependence with determinate reality and form. Which is pretty much what I'm saying.

10/29/2013 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

You're the one that introduced me to him, as you mentioned him in a past blog. But as I recall, you found his language a bit technical and full of tenure-speak. I think his recent book is a bit more accessible. Although, he could bring more life into his prose.

10/29/2013 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yeah, that's what it was. A little too stiff. Needs to lighten up. Which can also be said of Hart -- although the section on chit/consciousness is quite good, better than the one on sat/being.

10/29/2013 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger James Sheives said...

I've often thought that God does not care about life per say, or consider it as precious as we would like to believe. It's just another line of code in the cosmological program. What he cares about is the life fulfilled.. realized... what's the word I'm searching for here?... the life that has achieved (or at least heading in the right direction) it's potential. It's worthiness to be loved.

10/29/2013 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Just finished Hart's chapter on consciousness, and it is a tour de force. Very powerful. Although he needs to stop stealing my ideas.

10/29/2013 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

James:

I don't know that I want to cross that line. Hartshorne certainly does cross it, essentially using your argument to maintain that abortion is completely unproblematic morally.

While God does care about "the life fulfilled," I wouldn't use this to argue that he's not into children!

10/29/2013 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger James Sheives said...

I think children would occupy a neutral, innocent until proven guilty zone, with animal life below that zone in the go ahead and eat each other category. Children, even at conception, have the potential. I think of it like a farmer who plants a field of corn. He cares for the seedlings and wants every stalk to fulfill its potential. But some get eaten by insects, some too much water, some to much sun,some are not planted in fertile ground... the bad ones are simply tossed aside with no more thought.
As a side note,and this has contributed to my above belief,I was taught many years ago that Jesus' word for hell referred to a literal, actual burning garbage dump that large cities at that time used to dispose of garbage.
And eternity meant "forever", not "perpetual". So being thrown into hell meant into the garbage never to live again, not some sort of never-ending punishment.

10/29/2013 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

It makes me uncomfortable the kind of speech which places the speakers qualities above God's qualities.
There's much we can know of Him, but much we can't.
Where were we when He laid the foundations, and so on..

10/29/2013 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Rick -- what you say reminds me of an aphorism I heard somewhere to the effect that "we don't help others because they are necessarily deserving, but because we are Catholic."

10/29/2013 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I am sorry if I was unkind.

10/29/2013 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick, I thought that was rather gracious. For what it's worth, I was thinking much the same thing.

10/29/2013 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think the view expressed above is a pretty typical example of Bad Gnosis.

10/29/2013 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I did think the definition of "hell" as a garbage dump was interesting, though. I don't think I've ever heard it translated that way, but if accurate it does make a lot of sense.

10/29/2013 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I might add that Jesus' many statements in praise of the poor, the weak, the infirm, etc., where intended as a kind of shocking rebuke to just such a Gnostic view, which would have fit perfectly in a pagan world that worshipped strength, power, wealth, etc.

10/29/2013 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes -- the word is "gehenna," I think. But like all words, the later meaning isn't necessarily tied down to the original, literal meaning.

10/29/2013 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...but rather, between reality as it is and reality as it could be: in other words, creativity.

Evolution I can believe in.

I kind of agree about Nothing. Something has to have a place to happen, polarity and boundaries.

10/29/2013 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Of course, though it certainly serves as a good illustration. Kind of reminds me of what happens when a tire pile catches on fire...

10/29/2013 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Oops - that was in re. Bob's latest comment.

Hiya Mush :)

10/29/2013 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. the poor, meek, etc., I'm still slowly making my way through the Psalms, and was surprised to find this in 37:11:

"But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

I shouldn't have been, of course, but had long been under the impression that the Sermon on the Mount was something quite new and revolutionary. This was a reminder that I still don't know what I don't know...

10/29/2013 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Hi, yes, the valley of Hinnom with smouldering junk, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.

10/29/2013 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Julie, it's worth a lot. Thank you.

There is an undercurrent running through the entire Bible, end to end, which says "Life!"
Even the ugly parts seem to just emphasize this point. Or they would not seem ugly to us.

10/29/2013 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

What Mushroom said reminded me of the parallel credo of the left: seeing reality as it isn't in order to change it into something it can never be (Obamacare being just the latest example).

10/29/2013 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Funny they call that progress...

10/29/2013 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

When it was said, "the poor in spirit", is it meant not poor literally but in ones heart? In other words, to be detached from material things, to not worry about tomorrow (so much) is to be rich, like George Bailey of Bedford Falls.

10/29/2013 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I take it as humility, or imitation of God's self-emptying kenosis, but there are obviously multiple connotations. Once again Jesus seems to be emphasizing the forgotten partner in an ultimate antinomy, i.e., empty-full. One must first be empty in order to be filled. Ignorance precedes knowledge. Faith precedes vision.

10/29/2013 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yes, it seems one could write a book about what Jesus says when He says "poor".
Of all things, a rich subject.

10/29/2013 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I have found myself wanting to be in agreement with Creativity after reading these last few essays. To participate with the Creator. To find out what He and I might make together. I'm much more encouraged to pray and to seek to be part of, as Flip Wilson called it, "The First Church of What's Happening" now.

10/29/2013 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Like Vatican II, I think process just got hijacked by leftists in sheep's clothing.

10/29/2013 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I've just stumbled across a line by Schuon that seems fitting:

"Sanctity is a tree that grows between the impossible and the miracle."

10/29/2013 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Hatin' Android.

10/30/2013 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Whenever the conversation turns to the "Necessary vs. Contingent", I get... wary. The Necessary vs. Contingent was one of Kant's most effective tools, and that of every two-bit philosophy prof ever since, to import their subjective preferences into reality, on the same apparent footing as reality. The effect of which, is to legitimize the arbitrary and eliminate the barrier between what actually Is and what you reeeally wish it were.

Beginning with pap like "You can't imagine a square circle, so that's necessary, but you can imagine purple grass, so that's contingent" and the like, which, step by step, skulls of mush are led to accept the elimination of the constraints of reality & human nature and defenseless against the proposing of one 'ideal' political proposal or system after another, free of all 'contingent' restraints.

There is only the Metaphysically Given, and that is Reality. It IS. It is not optional or open for debate, speculation about its origin affects nothing about it, it simply IS.

Then there's the 'chance' arrangements of what is; whether a mountain range or how the leaf fell from the tree, either of which only comes to be in strict accordance with the real requirements of reality - physics, chemistry, etc.

And then there is that which chanced to be because of Man's actions; everything from a lake being formed from the damming of a river, to how the dice rolled on the craps table, all of which only comes to be because of man's volitional choices acting upon what is. That volition operates only by choice, active or passive, there is no formal Determined cause for it, our Volition IS, every bit as much as the entire Cosmos IS.

It's not optional, it can't be discussed away, it is as Metaphysically given of a fact about our nature as human beings as that we have craniums.

How, and how well, we use our volition, depends upon how True our understanding is of What Is, without and within, and abide by it.

The Rules aren't written down for us, but we can read their existence from paying attention to what IS. The Law of Gravity isn't written in the falling apple, but by paying attention to it, we can understand that the nature of all matter has this property, this Law of Gravity, in common. Our understanding of Gravity may change, becoming more accurate, or less, depending upon how carefully we continue to learn about what is - but we can see that there is a law, and we can only do so by using our powers of volition, observation, and creative reasoning.

We can see all of What IS, and suppose how it came to be, realize that it must have been brought into being by ___... but we have to do that ourselves. If we are correct and there is a God, then it seems to me He has made it plain that he writes his messages to us through inference, and they can only be 'read' in one way, and we are a vital component of that 'writing' - our judgment, our commitment to what is True, our willingness and ability to choose, are vital components of our ability to infer the Truth of what is.

We can come no closer to the Truth, than our understanding of it, and only through our choice to, and our commitment to abide by it.

And I suspect he likes it that way.

10/30/2013 10:57:00 AM  

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