Friday, June 07, 2013

On Being Alive

Time enough only for a dashed-off, stream-of-consciousness metaphysical bleat...

Being Alive: that's the title of our next chapter, which reflects on the question of What is life? It begins with Goethe's aphoristic attempt at an answer: "Where subject and object touch, there is life."

I would agree. Except this just kicks the definition down -- or up? -- the semantic road, since we then have to inquire into the meaning of "subject" and "object." I define the former as the cosmic interior, the latter as the cosmic exterior; or, one might say "vertical" and "horizontal."

Only living things have both an interior and an exterior, and the evolution of life charts the progressive exploration and expansion of the interior horizon. The human interior is much wider, higher, and deeper than that of any animal. And in the competition between human philosophies, the most expansive wins.

Now, having said that, Whitehead believed -- and science confirms -- that everything has an interior, however attenuated, otherwise it wouldn't be a thing.

In other words, everything is form + substance, else it couldn't exist. There can be no form without substance, nor any substance without form. It's just that the human form is both conscious of itself and capable of virtually infinite expansion.

Conversely a rock or a reptile or a Reverend Sharpton simply is what it is. (Although humans, and humans alone, can also be what they are not, which is a-hole nether slobject.)

I've been looking at this new Portrait of Aquinas, and he makes the same point vis-a-vis the human soul.

Note the predicate "human." For Aquinas, everything has a soul (i.e., form), for reasons alluded to above. Human beings are pure animal from top to bottom, except they have a very different sort of soul-interior, i.e., a rational one (and rational here implies much more -- and less -- than just logic).

Caldecott reviews some of the scientific explanations of Life. For example, life represents a "local reversal of entropy," which reduces us to mere fugitives from the second law of thermodynamics. And like the Mounties, entropy always gets its man.

A living thing resists entropy by maintaining an open system, exchanging matter, energy, or information with the environment. As it so happens, my doctoral dissertation was on just this subject (among others), applying insights from the study of dissipative structures to the mind. Little did I know that 25 years later I'd be blah-blah-blogging about it.

So, life is, in one sense, entropy-resistance, and as one wise revtile once put it, resist we much!

Caldecott poses a coonundrum for us: "Of what is death the absence?" "For someone facing the prospect of his own extinction, the answer must be more than a simple description of what happens when his body turns into a corpse."

For one thing, that's not death, that's after death. Can we even experience our own death? Apparently not, because only life can experience anything; in a sense life is experience.

For Aquinas, "a dead body is only a 'body' in a manner of speaking.... A dead person is not a person in the unfortunate condition of being dead. A dead person is what was once a person, but now is not.... Likewise, an animal body is what the corpse was before it died" (Turner).

So the corpse, really, is neither human body nor human soul, since those two always appear together.

So... what happened to Jesus on the cross? Did he experience death? This is discussed in chapter IX of this fascinating (and challenging) little book I'm reading, Jesus Purusha (which is later referenced in Caldecott's book). In it, the author asks how there can "be continuity of consciousness, if Jesus really died? Are we not demanding the logically impossible?"

No. Davie resolves this question by noting that the essence of Jesus's consciousness revolves around "surrender to the Father," so that "continuity of consciousness is preserved in the Other to whom the surrender is made."

It very much reminds me of Hindu and Buddhist doctrines to the effect that if we die before we die, then we do not die. What Davie is suggesting is that Jesus represents the real historical embodiment of the mythological dream. Much more on Davie's book later.

Way out of time. To be continued....

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Horizontally Warped and the Vertically Weft Behind

Chapter 3 of The Radiance of Being is called Vertical Evolution, a title I will steal if I ever get around to to a cirquel.

Then again, maybe I don't need to steal it. Let's see... a quick search of vertical evolution yields ten wordy posts, which I suppose is nearly enough for a book. Out of curiosity, I counted the wordys: 17,199. Enough for a children's booky. Hmmm. A Young Person's Guide to Vertical Evolution....

Although there can be no conflict between true religion and real science, the materialists don't see it that way because they can't -- or refuse to -- see it that way. Caldecott:

"The tendency in the evolutionist camp is always to turn the theory of evolution into something more than it is, indeed to transform it into a religion..." (He cites a book by that title which I'd never heard of.)

My only quibble is that the problem isn't with the fact of evolution but with the theory of evolution by natural selection alone. Why limit onesoph in such a way, when there can be nothing in the theory itself that excludes other factors. It's analogous to, say, promulgating a theory of human development via nature alone or nurture alone, when there is obviously an interplay of the two.

Caldecott makes the point that for a certain type of mind, the theory "has to be true, for no other type of explanation would be acceptable..."

In other words, as we have said many times, it's really an a priori conclusion pretending to be a theory -- like the frog (pardon my French) that says "I have a theory that all insects are alive," when dead insects simply don't register in the frog's perceptual field. Or, a child might say, "I have a theory that when I walk down the street at night, the moon follows me." The supposedly neutral perception is really a subjective projection -- or a projection of subjectivity.

And even leaving aside the theory -- or the subjective projection -- that all biological diversity may be reduced to random copying errors, it vastly exceeds any rightful claim -- and any sense of proportion -- by insisting that "all life on earth can be traced back to one primitive organism, developing spontaneously and by chance, probably from a primordial soup of electrified chemicals" (Caldecott).

How is this different from any other degenerate creation myth? It is what I call the "godlessness of the gaps" approach, whereby, when confronted with an irreducible mystery, the person banishes it by fleeing into the comforting delusion of either scientistic necessity or blind fortuity. Both "solutions" simply eliminate the problem by a kind of special pleading.

Paradigms matter. For example, can we understand more about the cosmos by employing a machine metaphor or an organism metaphor? The Raccoon says: why limit ourselves to one or the other? Complementarity, baby. Almost always, when one reaches a metaphysical paradox, it is simply an orthoparadox -- for example, form vs. substance, or wave vs. particle, or time vs. eternity, or boxers vs. briefs.

Why pretend we know what consciousness is, when it is strictly impossible to do so? I say this for the same reason that it is strictly impossible for the eye to know what vision is like. Caldecott quotes the philosopher Jerry Fodor, who correctly points out that "Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious."

I mean, right? And not only:

"Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious." I, however, do have a slight idea of what it would be like to have the slightest idea of what it would be like to have such an idea. Problem is, I haven't the slightest idea how to express it.

Speaking of which, Caldecott suggests that "God speaks to us not in human words but through whatever happens to us, moment by moment."

To be clear, this doesn't exclude words, it just places them in the total context of one's life. We may regard the statement "as a reference to another kind of causality, at right angles to the kind investigated by science but not in contradiction to it" (ibid.).

Exactly -- like contextual and relational right brain vs. linear and particulate left brain. Thus, the events of our lives "have their normal (efficient, material) causes, the kind studied by science, but they also have a higher explanation..." The vertically aware simply recognize "a higher level of order or meaning, supervening upon and assuming the lower-level of material cause and effect" (ibid).

Material science is (or pretends to be) entirely time-bound, using material and efficient causes to predict in the direction past-to-future, or to deduce the past from the present. Conversely -- no, complementarily -- religion uses formal and final causes in order to intuit top-down explanations and to apprehend future-to-present causation.

Bottom line? "Horizontal and vertical causality are like the warp and weft making up a single fabric" (ibid), the very fabric we use to weave the cosmic area rug that ones to pull twogather the threeds in this vast womb of souls.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Science is Unscientific and the Constitution is Against the Law

In chapter 2 of The Radiance of Being, called A Science of the Real, Caldecott makes the point that --

Well, first of all, consider those two words, "science" and "real." In our post-Kantian world, science cannot be "of the real," since there is an unbridgeable gulf between what is -- whatever that is -- and what we may know about it. The world is bifurcated into two domains, with science essentially reduced to what we can say about what our neurology says about a rumored "world" out there. To paraphrase Whitehead, the world is reduced to a dream at one end and conjecture at the other.

Yes, it sounds more than a little psychotic, but people will go to any length to avoid certain avenues of thought that lead to certain unwanted conclusions -- in this case, that no science of the real can exclude the Creator, or reality as such.

Anyway, Caldecott says that "In order for anything like modern science" -- I would just say "science" -- "to arise, it was necessary to believe in both the intelligibility of the cosmos and its contingency -- both the fact that it made sense, and the fact that it might not have existed."

So we see that science involves an element of absoluteness, which derives from the necessity of truth; but also of contingency, which derives from the infinite plenitude of the Creator. Thus, the world IS; but this IS cannot be self-sufficient, else it wouldn't be contingent (i.e., the world would be God).

Therefore, we see that the Isness of the world must be a kind of borrowed being, i.e., dependency on a higher principle.

Caldecott goes on to say that "Intelligibility alone would lead to the priority of deduction over induction, as in the ancient philosophies of nature where an observed reality... had to be conformed to a priori structures..."

This is why I do not call such an approach "science" per se, because it actually renders science impossible. Modern science is really something quite new, not traceable to ancient Greece.

In fact, I recall Rodney Stark making just this point in his For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. You hafta sorta not know what science is in order to believe the Greeks had it.

Note also that merely learning from the world empirically -- as helpful as that is -- isn't science either. Rather, real science -- or a science of the real -- must involve both: empirical observation of the world (of particulars) dynamically interacting with a more general logico-deductive system. This did not exist until the scientific revolution, which in turn only occurred in one place and at one time: in the Christian west.

Retrograde postmodernism is actually a rebellion -- or reactionary counter-revolution -- against the scientific world. Caldecott writes that "By separating real from rational entities, science from faith and God from nature, the via moderna of the nominalist philosophers from the 14th century onwards undermined natural philosophy and metaphysics."

In other words, the world is reduced to the world, so to speak, which has the perverse effect of elevating appearances to reality. But in the words of Davila, "The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality." If the world is the reality, then it is nothing.

Here is the key point: "By arguing that nothing can exist but individual objects," the postmodern approach "effectively eliminated the 'vertical' or 'interior' dimension of reality -- the dimension of metaphysical form, final causality, and divine providence..." (Caldecott).

I would emphasize that the vertical IS the interior, and vice versa, so that to exclude one is to make nonsense of the other. Indeed, everything science can say about the world is rendered absurd by its own dim lights.

Truly, it is intellectual, or psychopneumatic, suicide -- except that it then leads to homicide and genocide. This is because the intellectual Zombies of Death convert their flatlandian superstitions into a religion, and persecute those who fail to recognize their strange gods.

Seriously, what is the IRS scandal but the leftist state-god systematically persecuting that half of the population which doesn't worship at that altar? This is why it is easily the worst scandal in the history of this country, because never before has this government -- which derives its just powers from the consent of the governed -- declared war on that half of the country which has the audacity to still believe such insolent nonsense.

Thus, for example, to teach the Constitution makes one an enemy of the state. But this is merely making fully explicit what has been implicit since Woodrow Wilson.

Aaaaaaaand, we're out of time.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

God is a Geometer. If Geometry is Frozen Music.

One more point about chapter one of The Radiance of Being. In the course of a discussion on the meaning of infinity, Caldecott quotes the mathematician Georg Cantor, who said that "the essential nature of the infinite is one of an inherent passing-beyond itself, while the infinite is also a primal reality whose nature is participated in by all forms of being as much as they participate in the finite."

This reminds me of several hOMe truths -- or of several ways of uttering the same primordial Truth. First, it is very much reminiscent of Meister Eckhart's notion of the Godhead-ground, which ceaselessly "boils over" into creation.

McGinn describes this big boomerang as "the dynamic reciprocity of the 'flowing forth' of all things from the hidden ground of God, and the 'flowing back,' or 'breaking through,' of the universe into essential identity with this divine source."

Elsewhere Caldecott writes of how "Creation is not a change; it is a more radical beginning than that. It takes place 'outside time,' because time itself is a creature, or a dimension of created things..."

This helps to make sense of some of Eckhart's typically orthoparadoxical statements such as "Now the moment I flowed out from the Creator, all creatures stood up and shouted: 'Behold, here is God!'"

And where Cantor says that every finite participates in, or is infused with, the infinite, this reminds me of Eckhart's cracks that "Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God," and "heaven invades the earth, energizes it, makes it sacred." For "God is a great underground river that no one can dam up and no one can stop."

Furthermore, creation is not a once-upon-a-time event, but a One's-upin-his-timeless reality. Eckhart: "Now God creates all things but does not stop creating."

Rather, "God forever creates and forever begins to create." Because God's creation is necessarily fractal and holographic, the creation itself never stops creating: exploring, discovering, playing, improvising.

Speaking of which, one of the most accomplished analogues of God's creativity was surely J.S. Bach. I'm reading a fascinating book about him, and the dimensions of his creativity are, I think, literally impossible to comprehend in human terms.

You could say he was an "idiot savant" minus the idiocy, but that's just a name, not an explanation. Elie calls him "a technician of the sacred," which is a good start, if understood in light of Eckhart's above description of how heaven "invades the earth" and "makes it sacred." It certainly invaded Bach and made his music -- which is otherwise just horizontal air vibrations -- sacred.

Elie: "The music of Bach, it seems to me, is the most persuasive rendering of transcendence there is; and its irreducible otherworldliness, its impress of eternity... are there for us to encounter in our lives if we are open to them."

Elsewhere Elie quotes Albert Schweitzer, who wrote that "what speaks through [Bach's] work is pure religious emotion.... It is the emotion of the infinite and exalted, for which words are always an inadequate expression..." His are "sermons in sound" and "visions of eternity."

I think you could say that it's like music, only more so, in the sense that Bach is only capitalizing on an intrinsic capacity of music and an innate capacity of man.

In The Music of Creation, the authors write that music itself affords "a rich reservoir of models and metaphors for explicating God's continuous creative activity and presence." They attempt to develop an "image of God as the supreme Creator-Composer, the incomparable Improvisor" (you might say I-AMprovisor).

The book includes a CD with vivid examples of music-as-revelation. A couple of selections -- one by Haydyn, another by Wagner -- aurally depict not so much the Big Bang, but cosmogenesis itself, i.e., vertical creation from nothing.

This is exactly what I attempted to do, only with hyperlinguistic metalanguage, on pp. 6-17 of the book; and when writing it, I even considered providing musical recommendations to convey the same ideas.

Been awhile, so I don't recall the details, but I remember considering Steve Roach's Magnificent Void for pp. 6-7, and parts of Wayne Shorter's All Seeing Eye for pp. 12-14. And parts of Robert Rich's Rain Forest for Biogenesis.

Yeah, I'm a cretin compared a Bach appreciator, but we're not elitists here.

Gotta sign off. Have to finish some work before a dental appointment.