Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Once Was Blind. And Deaf. And Stupid.

We left off yesterday with a quote from Ratzinger, to the effect that freedom, love, and reason are the genuine cosmic powers and necessary conditions for the existence of progress, AKA evolution.

It is quite important to understand -- I suppose for both religious and irreligious persons alike -- that this is not intended in any romantic or sentimental or fruity way, but quite literally.

I used to be one of those people who would hear something like this and just tune it out: "right, all is love, blah blah blah." Oddly, I didn't have the same reservations when uttered by John Lennon. Maybe because he expressed it in such a romantic, sentimental, and fruity manner.

Now that I think about it, the Beatles became my religion right around the same time I declared my atheism at age nine or ten. I remember one of the PowerLine guys saying that he first learned politics at the knee of John Lennon. I did too, but also my theology, sociology, and economics.

Of course, I mean this in a more general way, in the sense that I simply absorbed the sensibilities of 1960s at a very impressionable age. I think it explains why to this day I am such an improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditional retrofuturistic freevangelical conservative hippie gentleman slacker. I'm still as weird as ever. It's the others who got all normal and surrendered to the Conspiracy. ge know what I'm talkin' 'bout.

That being the case, something like Catholicism or institutional religion in general would have been at antipodes to my rebellious and free-spirited podes. Naturally I was drawn toward cool nonwestern spiritual traditions that promised low-cost liberation from all problems.

If someone were to ask how I left that world behind and below, I would cite three little factors: 1) empirical reality, 2) common sense, and 3) spiritual discernment. Take away those three, and I'd no doubt be as lost and confused as Obama's mama.

Back to baseball. How, philosophically speaking, do we get to first base? Again, there are no freebies in baseball, nor can one steal first base. Rather, one has to earn one's way there.

There's no hiding in baseball either, no team to anonymously blend into so as to conceal your deficiencies. Rather, it's just you and the pitcher, and he's trying to prevent you from getting to first, so again, no one is going to give it to you. You are naked unto the world, with barely more than the tools God and nature gave you -- just you and a stick. (That reminds me of a tweet by Iowahawk: that figure skating might be interesting if there were more defense.)

But you can do a lot with a stick. I am immediately reminded of Polanyi's analogy of how the blind person uses his stick to probe the space around him. At first he is aware only of sensations in the hand. But eventually the hand-sensations become subsidiary to his focal awareness of the space around him; or, you could say a dialectical and expanding space opens up between unconscious/conscious, implicit/explicit, latent/manifest, etc.

The point is that a three-dimensional sensorium has been opened up via one-dimensional taps on the surface of the skin. The blind man has succeeded in getting to first base with no cheating at all, and certainly no affirmative discrimination to simply plop him on first and pretend he hit a line drive into the gap.

An even better example would be Helen Keller, who could neither see nor hear. How did she ever get on base? How did she transcend a one- or two-dimensional animal or vegetable existence?

It doesn't matter if it's apocryphal -- for it is the story Man -- but there is a moment in the 1962 film when Helen discovers transcendence and thus enters the human Gap. It is also when she discovers the Word, in this case the word for water. Before this, there are a multitude of unconnected experiences of water, but a sudden unity emerges that ties all these experiences together. Ah ha! Water!

(My wife, by the way, plays Helen's baby sister in the film; this must be her:

Me? My only film appearance was in the 1973 made-for-TV classic, The Man Who Could Talk to Kids. I was slacking off with a couple of friends in Malibu, having skipped school, and the director gave us five dollars each to be extras. To get paid for ditching pretty much makes it the Best Day Ever.)

Back into our cold and bracing stream of thought. It turns out that everything is just a variation of the stick in the dark: microscopes, telescopes, language, philosophy, science, scripture, blogging, whatever. Everything takes place in the Gap and widens and deepens the Gap. To discover universals is to have discovered the universe. The deeper person simply has the more encompassing Gap, both in terms of unified content and dimensionality.

Regarding the latter, it is not as if there is only one transcendent dimension we enter when we discover the existence of universals. Rather, the discovery of universals sends us hither and yon, into a wider world of freedom, truth, beauty, virtue.

And yes, love, of all things.

Whoever does not see here is blind. Whoever does not hear here is deaf. And whoever does not begin to adore here and to praise the creating Intelligence is dumb. --Saint Bonaventure


Blogger julie said...

Love the title; the only downside is, I'll still be saying that in the future about the person I am today...

2/12/2014 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think life in the gap makes one a perpetual unknow-it-all.

2/12/2014 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Hah. True; as you said yesterday, the challenge is to live happily within those dimensions. Easier some days than others.

2/12/2014 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

By the way, thanks for the mention of Ratzinger's book this week. My copy just arrived; I've been needing something to read. This one's small enough that my kids might even let me finish.

2/12/2014 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's not exactly his natural idiom, for he's trying to convey deep truths to a lay audience. It's why he wasn't a natural for the job of Pope, since his theological writings are aimed more at the one percent.

2/12/2014 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I mean the mode of "homily" is pretty basic for him -- like Schuon teaching Sunday school.

2/12/2014 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...


Interesting, though. I hadn't realized the Church (in general) had backed so far away from any discussion about the creation. Obviously, literalism is a non-starter but to ignore it completely is to cede all ground to the materialists. I should think that would be a non-starter, too.

For that matter, I think we've discussed it more here than he seems to say anybody does in catechism.

2/12/2014 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Creation is THE key principle. Pieper gets into this in his excellent little book, The Silence of St. Thomas.

2/12/2014 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

A reviewer mentions the wonderful orthoparadox that things are both intelligible and incomprehensible only because they are created.

2/12/2014 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks. Now that's on the way, too...

2/12/2014 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Apropos Creation, I was just reading somewhere this morning (I thought it was David Warren, but now can't find it, so who knows) an observation about how the Greeks and Romans had so perverted their view of the heavens and the earth that they could not even enjoy a flower in a garden without seeing it as something with a sexualized significance (the writer was presumably referencing Pan or something similar, but did not specify), and so they needed the innocence of the Christian concept of Creation to even begin to appreciate the truth of nature and of the heavens. Which reminded me that, if memory serves, Genesis is one of the few (if not the only, but maybe there are others I don't know about) accounts of Creation that does not explain existence as the result of a sexual act.

2/12/2014 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Prager talks about how Genesis is the first cosmogony to desexualize the deity. It is also important that the Creator be a He, since men would inevitably sexualize a female God, as in the case of the fertility cults from which the ancient Israelites were trying to distance themselves.

2/12/2014 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

Fascinating comments. Maybe the desexualization had to do with St. Paul and his philia for abstract Greek philosophy. At any rate, it was salutary and necessary. Otherwise, God and irrationality get bound up together (as in Islam and other distorted visions), which is rather a complete disaster. And yet Genesis is hardly asexual with all that beautiful harmony and nakedness. Sex is associated with pain only after the Fall. No kiddin'!

2/12/2014 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Peyton said...

Father Stephen has been working through Creation recently:

2/12/2014 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Peyton, you beat me to it - I was just now reading that :)

I haven't thought to listen to Prager in ages (I never remember to just turn the radio on at home), but he's probably where I got that idea from.

And yes, the necessity of a male God makes perfect sense. Speaking of women and the Fall, it's been morbidly fascinating seeing the insane feminists linked over at McCain's. They argue that all women are actually homosexual, and only participate in coitus because men force them to. If only there were no men, they could achieve their full power! Although they seem to be rather vague about what that would entail, exactly...

2/12/2014 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

There's no hiding in baseball either, no team to anonymously blend into so as to conceal your deficiencies.

The AL needs to read that.

2/12/2014 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said... observation about how the Greeks and Romans had so perverted their view of the heavens and the earth that they could not even enjoy a flower in a garden without seeing it as something with a sexualized significance ...

I read that, too, and I can't remember where it was either.

2/12/2014 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

They argue that all women are actually homosexual ...

All the women they know probably are, or might as well be.

2/12/2014 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Not to be a picking nitwit, but doesn't a dropped third strike essentially give the batter the chance of "stealing" an empty first base? He has to make it there without being thrown out.

There IS a lot one can do with a stick...or a flaming sword:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:22ff)

How now to get back in?

2/12/2014 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Agree about the dropped third strike -- or any error, for that matter. You could say an error occurs when you hit the ball to a teacher, but he boots it, allowing you to take first. In fact, that's pretty much how you get tenure.

Tenure might be interesting if there were more defense.

2/12/2014 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Back into our cold and bracing stream of thought. It turns out that everything is just a variation of the stick in the dark: microscopes, telescopes, language, philosophy, science, scripture, blogging, whatever. Everything takes place in the Gap and widens and deepens the Gap. To discover universals is to have discovered the universe. The deeper person simply has the more encompassing Gap, both in terms of unified content and dimensionality."

Walk softly and carry a big stick. And if you have to, run.
But run forward not backwards. You can also hike if you need to. But don't look down.

2/12/2014 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Tenure might be interesting if there was more defense."

Aye. And if the tenured was fitted with shock collars that went off every time they said something stupid that would be entertaining.

2/12/2014 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

O! Speaking of microscopes, it is possible to turn your smartphone into one for about $10, assuming you already have a drill and the right attachments.

Cool project. It would be easy to get creative with light sources with a setup like that.

2/12/2014 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Julie, so if I did that would that make my phone a microphone? :)

2/12/2014 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I would call it an IScope.

2/12/2014 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Or IScone.

2/12/2014 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...


2/12/2014 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

If it was just me I wouldn't have a smartphone but Patti insisted I take her old ayephone so I didn't really have a choice.
That hill just wasn't worth fight in' for. :)

2/12/2014 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Stupid auto-correct! I hafta find a way to turn that blasted thing off.

2/12/2014 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

It's possible, but I forget exactly how.

2/12/2014 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Guess I'm not as smart as the phone.

2/12/2014 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aha! Found it! Die auto-correct, die! Bwahahaha....ha!

2/12/2014 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It's in the settings. If you have an IPhone that is.

2/12/2014 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

If I knew it was that easy I woulda kilt it long ago.

2/12/2014 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In reading this book on Plato and Aristotle, I see that one of the best ways to steal first is via Plato's a priori ideas. Conversely, Aristotle insists that you have to earn your way to first through experience.

2/12/2014 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Boy Howdy, wink wink--that's some great string of things you do be GB, and you didnt even get into paternity or psych. [public service] or coaching.

I can just claim to be an esoteric christian dzogchen post-mod post-rocker
post-toastie rasta dittohead OT raccoontangmeister general eccentric

2/12/2014 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Bob, IMO it's better to earn first first for the experience before trying to steal it. That way one could do both, depending on the situation.
So, essentially, both are acceptable.

2/12/2014 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"immediately reminded of Polanyi's analogy of how the blind person uses his stick to probe the space around him. At first he is aware only of sensations in the hand."

Actually, the hand is not much different than the stick in this sense -- something we take quite for granted: that our mind is transported to our fingertips in a way very similar I think to what a blind person "does" with his stick. So with him there is a double-transport of the mind going on.

2/12/2014 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

"In reading this book on Plato and Aristotle..."

Might I inquire as to the title? Is it "The Cave and the Light"?

What say you so far?

2/12/2014 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

So far meh, but a man's gotta read. There are only so many books that pierce the unknown.

2/12/2014 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Rick: as Toots used to say, reality is just reaching into a dark closet, trying to find your shoes.

2/12/2014 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I agree on The Cave and the Light. A fine enough read to gather anecdotes, but I think he way overstates his case.

Or rather, in my view, he proceeds in an overly schematic thesis i.e. that Plato and Aristotle are opposites, then proceeds to cram all of history into two camps to meet that thesis. I found it fairly unconvincing.

It wasn't Plato v. Aristotle so much as the Realists (be they rationalist or empiricist) v. the Sophists/Antirealists/Leftists.

Plato and Aristotle certainly disagree on many things, but this seems to be a squabble between allies rather than that of a fundamental divide between the two. Certainly the lineage of both philosophers could, and certainly did, coexist within Christianity, for example.

But neither can coexist comfortably with Sophism--or its heirs, the left.


2/12/2014 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it's giving an awful lot of credit to philosophers to imagine that people who just do what comes naturally are only doing so because of some philosopher they've never heard of. That's a very tenured/pinheaded view of the world. In reality, Aristotle and Plato simply articulated two sides of the intrinsic complementarity of the cosmos.

2/12/2014 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I'd never heard of that one. It does make for some wonderful imagery.

2/13/2014 05:16:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

Speaking of Plato, I'm about 2/3 done with Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences (1948), which means I just finished the chapter on media ("The Stereopticon"). The cave looms large. He ends with a really nice passage:

What humane spirit, after reading a newspaper or attending a popular motion picture or listening to the farrago of nonsense on a radio program, has not found relief in fixing his gaze upon some characteristic bit of nature? It is escape from the sickly metaphysical dream. Out of the surfeit of falsity born of technology and commercialism we rejoice in returning to primary data and to assurance that the world is a world of enduring forms which in themselves are neither brutal nor sentimental.

For every thud in the book (like his remarks on jazz), there are a hundred or more clear dings where he hits the nail fully on the head. He takes a pretty dim view of things, but it's a really enjoyable read.

2/13/2014 05:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, he tosses in a few clams, but is otherwise very much en fuego. I do think, however, that he is ultimately committing a fallacy similar to The Cave and the Light. That is, his diagnosis is quite accurate, but his etiology is probably a little too linear.

2/13/2014 07:06:00 AM  

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