Friday, January 18, 2013

At Play in the Fields of the Real

Again, realism begins with the world and with the object. Conversely, all forms of idealism begin with the subject, but we can never "extract an ontology from an epistemology" (Gilson), only more thoughts. Hence the adage "publish or perish," since idealist thought perishes if it fails to keep one step ahead of reality by making new forays into absurdity.

There is no middle ground between these two positions. It is reminiscent of Jesus' statements about swords, goats, and sheep. As Gilson puts it, the Cogito -- I think therefore I am -- "is manifestly disastrous as a foundation for philosophy," as it leads -- and ends -- precisely nowhere (or nowhere real, which amounts to the same thing).

Gilson quotes Whitehead, who properly observed that "When you find your theory of knowledge won't work, it's because there is something wrong with your metaphysics." And in the case of idealism, writes Gilson, "nothing works." It "can only be overcome by dispensing with its very existence." Perish, then publish.

Here are some florid but typical examples of idealist pneumapathology, via some imbecilic tweets by Deepak. They are all completely jassackwords: "Your senses send electrical information to your brain. Your consciousness converts it into a material universe." "Your world reflects your brain, which reflects your mind, which reflects your soul." "You create your past & future now."

None of these silly poses can be sustained in any consistent way, as they will eventually reveal insurmountable contradictions. Again, as Gilson says, "The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist," the second "to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to."

In short, get over your infantile omniscience and realize that there is a real world beyond the control of your thoughts. But no one ever went broke selling infantile omniscience to new age dupes and religious illiterates.

I might add that -- Deepak's nauseating self-righteousness to the contrary -- no ethic is possible in the absence of a prior reality. That is to say, all ethical behavior is founded upon accurate perception of reality. We can only do the right thing if we first see rightly. But if reality is just a function of our perceptions, then so too is morality.

For example, if I insist in the teeth of all evidence to the contrary that there is no fundamental distinction between animals and human beings, this has ethical implications that are devastating in their consequences.

Naturally there are different levels of reality disclosed by the mind, but this hardly means they are a function of mind. At first glance, writes Gilson, reality "is immediately given to us in a kind of block form." But perhaps the most astonishing thing about this "block" is its endless intelligibility, no matter how deeply we dig into it.

One critical point to bear in mind -- and one which prevents all manner of metaphysical mischief -- is that we are clearly contingent, and yet, we participate in absoluteness. How is this possible? It is only possible because we are created in the image of God. Absent that creative nexus, then metaphysics falls apart, because there is no way for the contingent to know the necessary.

Here is a clear example of the left and right brain differences we've been discussing. For Thomas, writes, Gilson, the singular is apprehended while things are being sensed, while "the universal is grasped while things are being understood."

Only the singular is concretely real, and it is precisely this concrete reality that is experienced by the right brain -- say, a particular tree. But the left brain seems to specialize in extracting the essence from the experience, and coming up with the abstract category of "treeness."

Gilson suggests that "in a sense, all of modern thought goes back to that winter's night in 1619, when, shut up inside a stove in Germany, Descartes conceived the idea of a universal mathematics." While some believe it was just a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning, Descartes' method nevertheless spread like a kitchen fire, soon enough resulting in "the substitution of a limited number of clear ideas, conceived as the true reality, for the concrete complexity of things." In short, the left brain had muscled aside the right.

Whitehead is all over this fallacy in his Science and the Modern World. The fallacy results in a world drained of qualities -- or of qualities being reduced to the secondary phenomena of a purely quantitative world.

No such simplification is possible with a realist view. Again, since we start with the object as it is, it clearly manifests all sorts of features and levels that cannot be reduced to mere quantity, such that "several concepts are are required to express the essence of a single thing, according to the the number of points of view it studies it from."

And even then, the simplest thing we will ever encounter can never be known in its totality, as if we are God.

Rather, everything is inexhaustible in its richness and depth. There is an important orthoparadox at work here, in that the same factor that makes things intelligible at all -- God -- makes them not intelligible in their totality. Remove our Divine Sponsor from the equation and we literally end in a kind of omniscient stupidity, a la Deepak, for if we create reality with our mind, there is no such thing as reality.

In short, for the realist "every substance as such is unknown, because it is something other than the sum of the concepts we extract from it." You could call it the potent ignorance which grounds the fertile egghead.

All of this, of course, has deadly political consequences, so it is certainly no coincidence that Deepak is such a hate-drenched leftist. Specifically, once we detach ourselves from reality, it follows that we no longer know what the individual is or what he is for.

The result is a monadic individual who exists only for himself -- this is the selfish and amoral side of leftism -- and the need for a leviathan state to control all these selfish and amoral monads. This ends in a combustible mixture of moral anarchy and tyrannical collectivism, each reflecting and aggravating the other.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You Can't Maintain Metaphysical Fitness by Wrestling with Shadows

This is a post where you may have to read it all the way through in order to know what it is about. Or, it may require additional posts....

Bahhhh... It's on the tip of my tongue... No, not sheep. What do you call it, Jeeves? That's it: Baadar-Meinhof phenomenon. It's when something is brought to our attention, and then we start seeing it everywhere.

It's happening now with left and right brain differences. Ever since I picked up The Master and His Emissary, they're turning up everywhere I look, for example, in this book by Etienne Gilson called Methodical Realism.

I should point out that nowhere does Gilson, of course, make reference to split brain research. Nevertheless, his description of the proper working of the mind is uncannily reminiscent of what we've been saying about experience starting in the right brain and then being processed in a more abstract way by the left.

If we start with the left, and confuse the abstraction with the reality, we're headed for the metaphysical ditch. And yet, this is the fundamental Error of the West over these past few centuries, essentially since the innovations of Descartes took hold in the collective western psyche. In fact, instead of "western psyche," we might as well say "left psyche," as I will proceed to demonstrate.

Let's fast forward to the last chapter of the book, A Handbook for Beginning Realists. It consists of 30 insultaining postulates and principles one would do well to read and internalize before setting foot onto university soil, because most everything you are exposed to in the university will violate these principles, and therefore, the Real. Certainly no one there will ever chide you for being a simple-minded relativist or naive liberal. Or sick idealist.

Here is Gilson's #1: "The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one's conversion is all but complete."

What this means is that people who are not realists are just posing, like the proud and brave anti-gun activists seen in James O'Keefe's hilarious new video.

Or think of Al Gore, who is happy to impose his abstract fantasy on the entire world, but not to the point that it troubles his conscience to take 100 million real dollars from Big Oil. He may be crazy, but he's not stupid. Or is it the other way around? Same with Obama. He's happy to grab your weapons, but he's not unrealistic enough to declare the White House a gun-free zone.

More generally, almost all of the liberals I personally know live conspicuously conservative lives. So why don't they preach with the left brain what they practice with the right? It's a weird form of inverted hypocrisy.

Before proceeding any further we probably need to nail down some definitions, since realism is a philosophical term of art. Everyone thinks he is a "realist," but we are obviously not using the word in the colloquial sense.

Quite simply, the realist starts with the external world as the source of knowledge. Ever since Descartes, and especially Kant, this seemingly common sense view has been dismissed by the tenured as hopelessly naive and pre-critical. Which, of course, it can be. But to imagine that Thomas Aquinas was a naive and uncritical thinker is itself a breathtaking example of uncritical naiveté.

There are really only two places to begin our lifetome adventure of consciousness: with being, or with thought. Quite simply, the scholastics begin with being, while any form of critical philosophy begins with thought, as in I think, therefore I am.

Really? Really?

Again, as alluded to above, people inevitably vote with their feet, and it is strictly impossible to maintain a consistent idealism: "The idealist method is the suicide of philosophy," writes Gilson, "because it engages philosophy in an inextricable series of internal contradictions that ultimately draw it into skepticism," or "self-liberation through suicide" (what we call cluelesside).

Here is Gilson's second point:

"We must begin by distrusting the term 'thought'; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows.

"For the realist, thinking simply means organizing knowledge or reflecting on its content. It would never occur to him to make thought the starting point of his reflections, because for him a thought is only possible where there is first of all knowledge. The idealist, however, because he goes from thought to things, cannot know whether what he starts from corresponds to an object or not."

The inevitable result is that there is simply no way to reunite thought and reality. "You can't get there from here," as the joke goes. In terms of left and right brain differences, it seems that knowledge must begin in the right brain, because it is precisely where world and psyche meet in a thoroughly holistic and entangled sort of way. Gilson says as much:

"The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality." The left brain can then help us reflect on that reality, but cannot be its source.

But when we sunder thought and reality, the latter is "ceaselessly fragmented into imaginary entities which are so much false coin.... everything splits into a couple of antinomical terms which the ingenuity of philosophers will never succeed in reuniting" (e.g., body and soul, life and matter, mind and animal, subject and object, individual and collective, freedom and determinism, etc.). It is "a field of battle where irreconcilable shadows are locked in a struggle without end..."

In other words, the left brain cannot generate its own content, with certain exceptions, most especially, logical or mathematical entailment. Interestingly, Gilson points out that Descartes used mathematics as the touchstone of his system, which is precisely what helped displace Aristotelean science, which had been erroneously rooted in biology. (Probably not saying that as clearly as I should, but you get the point.)

Once it was seen that scientific advance was only possible by adopting a quantitative view of the world, the realist baby was thrown out with the Aristotelean bathwater, and here we are: the patently un-real worlds of scientism, Darwinism, neo-Marxism, and various other abstract left brain pathologies. Each of these pseudo-philosophies generates absurdities and paradoxes which it is powerless to resolve within itself.

Note that there is nothing fundamentally illogical about such ideologies. As Gilson explains, "Idealism derives its whole strength from the consistency with which it develops the consequences of its initial error. One is, therefore, mistaken in trying to refute it by accusing it of not being logical enough." Paul Krugman is of course crazy, but not illogical.

Indeed, ideologues "live by logic," because in them "the order of connections of ideas replaces the order and connection between things." Thus, Marxism, for example, makes perfect sense, so long as it follows on the initial error of superimposing the Hegelian dialectic on reality. Likewise, Darwinism is a total explanation so long as we ignore our lived human experience.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wandering the Desert Bewilderness Without Two Brains to Rub Together

It's beginning to dawn on me that everything about religion means one thing to the left brain, another to the right. And this is because everything about everything does.

Nor does it matter whether the difference is truly rooted in neurology or just a useful metaphor, because it's the difference that makes the difference, not the neurology. In other words, neurology makes no difference unless the difference is meaningful, and meaning transcends neurology.

A brief procedural matter. In the last month or so I've read an unusual number of hefty tomes, and am having some uncharacteristic difficulty assimilating them all, i.e., coonecting the dots.

It started with the Giussani trio, and went from there to Bernard McGinn's new doorstop on renaissance mysticism, then a giant history of the Catholic Church, on to the Master and the Partnership, with half a dozen others in between. Normally I blog in order to help my psychic digestion, but I'm afraid I overindulged during the holidays. Nonblogging gave me more time to read, but also seems to have resulted in a psychopneumatic backup.

Normally I blog from the "center-out," but now I find myself trying to do so from the periphery in, which is simply impossible for this type of thingy. In a way, it parallels our discussion of right and left brain differences. Perhaps the immoderate reading overstimulated the left brain -- which takes things apart -- and the absence of creative expression put the right brain -- which reassembles them -- to sleep.

What's the solution to a brain imbalance? Good question. Another book I read during the hiatus was The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living. It provides some helpful tips on what to do during a period of spiritual dryness, which, it seems to me, must almost by definition involve a loss of right brain integration and depth.

The bottom line -- at least according to St. Ignat -- is that we should change nothing during such a period. That is to say, resist the temptation to overreact and change things around, but rather, keep doing the same things you were doing during the period of spiritual consolation, before the dryness hit.

Gallagher describes spiritual desolation as being "trapped in confusion, unable to comprehend what is occurring spiritually. Mingled with this inability to understand is the affectively heavy sense that things are going badly and will continue to worsen."

Interestingly, there is a kind of "disquietude" which I think of as spiritual anxiety, while the "heaviness" sounds more like a spiritual analogue of depression. In such a state, it can take all day just to get nothing done.

Of the heaviness, Gallagher writes of a downward attraction toward earthly things, whereas in periods of consolation, the movement and the attractor are in the opposite direction: up and in as opposed to down and out, or flying in the light instead of crawling in the dark.

It is important to bear in mind that we are being lied to during the period of desolation (assuming that is what it is). The essential lie is the "false equation between what the person feels in desolation and what the person is spiritually."

Which is why Ignat's rule for dealing with it is to never make a change, because the change will be in response to a transient feeling that is based on a lie anyway. If you're going to make a change, wait until the consolation returns, and you'll probably feel very different about it.

I'm not sure if this goes to left and right brain differences, but Gallagher writes of how the "present spiritual desolation attempts to define the spiritual past and future" with various categorical universal negatives. Such abstract universality seems to be a function of the left, but I don't know if that really adds anything.

Back when I was writing the book, I would almost always respond to drysolation by ceasing to write, which is apparently the exact wrong thing to do, and undoubtedly perpetuated the disconnect. Rather, it seems that the correct approach is to firmly say FU to the desolation, and calmly carry on.

Now, where were we? I want to focus in on what Sacks has to say about meaning, because the meaning of meaning is crucial to understanding our cosmic situation, and the kind of meaning we're talking about is without question a right-brain specialty.

There is knowledge and there is meaning; there are the countless facts to select from, and then there is what they mean, and the latter is literally outside the province of left brain science.

Indeed, scientistic believers only fool themselves when they imagine they are dealing with facts in a perfectly dispassionate manner, because there can be no fact in the absence of a more overarching paradigm that tells us what to look for, i.e., what is important. And facts don't come labeled with signs saying "hey, look at me, I'm significant. That other fact over there is just trivial, so you can ignore it."

Now, "the meaning of a system," writes Sacks, "lies outside the system. Therefore, the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe."

This is axiomatic. If there is no meaning then the universe is a closed system, and if it is a closed system there can be no possible meaning. If this is the case, then one's only recourse is to a naked Nietzschean nihilism, a will to power and to pleasure. There can be no absolutes, no truth, no morality, no better or worse way to live.

I've always been intrigued by the meaning of meaning, ever since I was lucky enough to stumble upon Polanyi. This is just an intuition, but I do feel it quite strongly. That is to say -- to quote Wittgenstein -- "To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning."

Again, axiomatic. However, I've always sensed that the opposite holds equally true: that if meaning exists, then so too does God. God is disclosed via meaning, and the deeper and more comprehensive the meaning, the more God sort of "pops out" at you.

And the kind of meaning I'm talking about is again a quintessentially right-brained one, as it involves the synthesis of... of everything, from religion to science to history to anthropology to metaphysics, you name it. The whole existentialada.

Indeed, even the fact that it is possible to apprehend the inner coherence of these diverse perspectives speaks to me implicitly of God. I imagine that these things are "held together" in the divine mind as unproblematically as a human being holds together such diverse planes and modes as matter, mind, emotion, love, truth, beauty, animal nature, etc. Each of these is present in a man, and yet, we are still "one." Nor do we understand how we keep them together -- e.g., body and soul. We just do.

Unless we suffer left brain existential shrinkage, and end up puffing up one of the dots instead of synthesizing all of them. For example, scientism or metaphysical Darwinism or leftism all result from inflating a single dot to the exclusion of the whole. This is what the Blakester was referring to when he spoke of the dangers of "single vision" and "Newton's sleep."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Have You Heard the One About the Snake & the Lass?

In our previous post we suggested that, for the right cerebral hemisphere, "understanding music is perceived as similar to knowing a person."

Turns out to be the same vis-à-vis language, which "is an extension of life" (whatever that is). Like most of the factoids emerging from split-brain research, it doesn't really require the research to understand the principle.

For example, McGilchrist quotes Wittgenstein, who said that "to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life" (whatever that is).

Yes, "whatever that is." This is a critical unThought to bear in mind, because "life" and "language" are absolutely coterminous. In other worlds, no pre-linguistic animal "knows" it is alive, or has any way of abstracting the thing we call "life" from the totality of its experience.

Nor is it likely that human beings would have the concept of life in the absence of the experience of its absence. We've discussed this in the past, but it was Hans Jonas who first brought this to our attention.

In his The Phenomenon of Life, Jonas writes that "When man first began to interpret the nature of things -- and this he did when he began to be man -- life was to him everywhere, and being the same as being alive" (emphasis mine).

Thus, "Animism was the widespread expression of this stage.... Soul flooded the whole of existence and encountered itself in all things. Bare matter -- that is, truly inanimate, 'dead' matter, was yet to be discovered -- as indeed its concept, so familiar to us, is anything but obvious."

Now, in the absence of a vascular catastrophe, it is very hard for us to put the developmental truthpaste back into the tube, and revert to a wholly right-brained view of the world.

However, as we shall hear, I think Genesis 3 must have something to do with this epic transition -- arguably the biggest bang in the cosmos -- from the untroubled holism of right-brain living into the dualistic world of the left, i.e., the tree of bifurcated knowledge of good and evil.

While we're on the subject, I should mention another book we've discussed in the past, The Symmetry of God, by Rodney Bomford. I don't have time to review his ideas at the moment, but if you search his name on the blog, you will see that his application of symmetrical logic toward understanding the divine realm is completely compatible with the idea that this realm is mediated via the right brain.

Indeed, Matte Blanco's analysis of symmetrical and asymmetrical logic essentially defines the left and right brain views of the world.

Back to the orthoparadox that Life is prior to nonlife. Clearly, this is a quintessentially right-brained view of the world, which doesn't perceive the sharp outlines and abstractions of the left. It sees holistically, and who's to say its interpretation is wrong?

For example, modern science places a sharp temporal division in the cosmos, and tells us that on one side is dead matter, the other side "life" (whatever that is). Life wasn't present for the first five billion years or so of cosmic evolution, and then it suddenly pops up out of nowhere (BOO!).

But as we suggested in the Bʘʘ!k, who are we to assume this cosmos is fundamentally dead, or that biology isn't just the mature fruit of a sufficiently ripe old cosmic tree?

Speaking of trees, back to Eden. One of the lessons of Genesis 3 is that with the dominance of the left brain, Death is introduced to the cosmos.


But that's just the way it is. Once we enter the dualistic world of the left, "the riddle confronting man is death: it is the contradiction to the one intelligible, self-explaining, 'natural' condition.... To the extent that life is accepted as the primary state of things, death looms as the disturbing mystery" (Jonas).

Just so: the price of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is indeed death, just as God says.

Note that he says we will die if we eat from it, which is to say, assimilate it. Also, when the Torah uses the word "knowledge," it is not in the abstract way we understand the term. It has much more to do with intimate familiarity, as we've discussed in the past (e.g., Adam knew Eve, ooh la la!).

Now, Rabbi Sacks has an interesting take on this subject, in his highly raccoomended The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. Alert to the whole left-right brain tissue, he notices some details in Genesis that had escaped me.

First of all, for prelapsarian man, God "speaks" in an unproblematic manner. In short, he is "heard" intuitively, which is much more of a right brain phenomenon.

But in Genesis 3:6, Eve can't help noticing that the forbidden tree is easy on the eyes, meaning that she has transitioned from ear to eye and right to left. Indeed, immediately thereafter we read that the eyes of both of them were opened. Adam and Eve suddenly see that they are naked, and -- just as in the developing child -- feel shame.

Then it's back to the ear: they once again hear God, only now, for the first time, Adam is frightened of him. Which reminds me of a Buddhist crack to the effect that where there are two, there is fear. (I'm also thinking of "no one sees my face and lives. But hears my voice? No problemo.")

But who is this serpent fellow, this snake in the lass? Hmm, maybe the corpus callosum that links the two hemispheres: