Friday, March 28, 2014

The Accidentally on Purpose Driven Life

This post is either a leisurely ramble through hyperspace or a self-indulgent burden on loyal readers. Either way, you might need to read it slowly in order to digest it, assuming it is digestible.

To say that we are free is to say that things are possible. To say they are possible is to say they aren't absolutely necessary. Necessity is a prolongation of the absolute, while possibility partakes of the infinite. So there.

But there are two kinds of possible, one of which being necessary. To paraphrase Schuon, since the past happened, it was obviously possible. But now that it has happened, it has transitioned to necessity, although it can bring about new possibilities in the present.

Is man possible or necessary? Or what? The contemporary view is that man was (obviously) possible but completely unnecessary. I think Gould said something to the effect that if (hypothetically speaking) a mudslide had wiped out one of those freakish organisms in the Burgess Shale half a billion years ago, it might have resulted in a nul de slack in the road that leads directly to us. We are so tenuous as to have one foot on a banana peel and the other on a mudslide.

Can it all really be that contingent? After all, it isn't just that one mudslide. Rather, the chemical, geological, geographical, biological, and meteorological accidents leading to the emergence of man would have to be infinite, literally incalculable. That's not a very satisfying explanation. Doesn't mean it isn't true. But it does mean that there can be no possible ontological foundation for our existence -- nothing whatsoever on which to stand, nothing to hold, nothing necessary. Nothing but a somehow generative matrix of nothing.

No wonder man has always wondered about the Great Changeless Being behind, beneath, or beyond the world of appearance and contingency. We intuitively realize that there can be no change in the absence of the changeless, or the world would be pure chaos. Therefore, it is easy enough to prove the existence of "God" with our natural reason, but that doesn't get us very far, does it?

"Which, among all the innumerable possibilities of a world," asks Schuon, "are the ones that will actually be manifested?"

Or in other words, is there some kind of restraint on possibility, some type of boundary condition that channels possibility in certain directions? Modern thought has eliminated this way of thinking, even if it is impossible to think without it. Being that it is one side of a complementarity, it will simply return through the side door in deusguised form.

In response to the question posed above, Schuon suggests that there is indeed a divine constraint, so to speak, on the realm of infinite possibility, in that the latter will manifest as "those which by their nature are most in conformity, or are alone in conformity, with the realization of a divine plan."

Thus, the "divine plan" causes certain possibilities to undergo the formality of becoming. If the world consists of flowing water, then the divine plan is the banks of the river. If not for the banks, then history would be just a... a chaotic flood.

One is reminded of Genesis, where the spirit of God is hovering over the primordial ocean and proceeds to divide the upper from the lower waters.

The primordial ocean is nothing, since it is without boundary or distinction. Thus, that first boundary is the mother of all fruitful boundaries, say, between self and other, man and woman, subject and object, etc. Existence is a tapestry of these fruitful complementarities, but not a directionless one. Rather, they seem to be guided by the longing or gnostalgia for a return to wholeness and unity, back to their undivided principle

If the intellect is not a mirror of God, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to explain how it got here. I say this because intelligence deals in necessity. Indeed, the true and the necessary are somewhat synonymous, as in mathematical and logical truths.

As such, how can a purely accidental being know anything of the necessary? Recall also what was said above about man's perennial search for the necessary behind the contingent. How does man even posit such a thing, let alone know it?

Apropos of nothing or maybe something: is a church God's embassy on earth, or is it our embassy in heaven?

In any event, it seems to me that it is the quintessential meeting place of accident and necessity, or where we consciously set up diplomatic relations with the land of necessity, and hope to assimilate some of the latter into our accidental substance.

Where we differ from God is that he knows all the principles with all of their possibilities (and the facts that crystalize out of infinite possibility), whereas our intellect is limited to an excellent grasp of abstract and necessary principles, limited knowledge of possibilities, and just a tiny fraction of the facts.

It seems to me that the best things in life are free of pure order and pure chaos. Hartshorne suggests that the most interesting -- and beautiful -- things are composed of "unity-in-variety, or variety-in-unity; if the variety overbalances, we have chaos or discord; if the unity, we have monotony or triviality"; and "infinite triviality would be as bad as infinite chaos, since neither would have any value whatsoever."

So, could it be that God wants an interesting, beautiful, and valuable cosmos? If so, he has succeeded. I'm thinking that's what he means when he calls it "good."

8 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Apropos of nothing or maybe something: is a church God's embassy on earth, or is it our embassy in heaven?

Yes.

3/28/2014 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The I-AMbassy.

3/28/2014 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Which makes us all I-AMbassadors. Although people take their duties as such in very differing ways. Unfortunately, there are a great many who seem to think that the best way to represent the embassy here on earth is to pummel everyone around them with their copy of the Book. They are so afraid for everyone else's salvation, they chase away the very ones they hope to bring closer.

3/28/2014 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Thus, that first boundary is the mother of all fruitful boundaries, say, between self and other, man and woman, subject and object, etc.

This brings to mind the image of a fertilized egg - initially, one whole, undivided, undifferentiated being (though it exists itself as the result of two very differentiated parts coming together); then it is divided, again and again and again...

3/28/2014 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Multiples of One.

3/28/2014 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Like I said: interesting.

3/28/2014 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thus, the "divine plan" causes certain possibilities to undergo the formality of becoming. If the world consists of flowing water, then the divine plan is the banks of the river. If not for the banks, then history would be just a... a chaotic flood."

And you can bank on that. Also: beaches, which are a bit different from banks but still a divine.

A mixture of the two would produce beach bank bingo!


3/29/2014 02:35:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

The "two kinds of possible" is intrigueing, and it hit the sail on the head.
The more I think about it the more sense it makes.

3/29/2014 10:17:00 PM  

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