It Takes a Cosmos to Raise a Smile
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?