Living in the Penumbra Between Time and History
Now, if we have a right to freedom, then we have a right to truth, since the one is inconceivable in the absence of the other. No wonder the two covary everywhere and everywhen, e.g., the self-evident TRUTH that human beings are created in LIBERTY. Freedom without truth is nihilism, while truth without the freedom to discover it is academia.
Note also the term linking the two: created. This speaks to an unbreakable metaphysical triangle, because both truth and liberty imply creation, being that they can have no natural explanation; each is the very essence of transcendence. Conversely, if freedom and truth are real, then we are created -- whatever that means -- and not a random accident.
This is exactly -- even if implicitly -- what the Church was worried about in the Galileo affair: scientific theories come and go, but the truth to which man is entitled does not and cannot change, unless one redefines truth to mean mere scientific truth, which is then no truth at all (because it is subject to continuous addition, subtraction, extension, and revision).
Something must transcend science, or there's not even the possibility of science. Either man has science or science has man. If the latter, then scientific objectivity is impossible, because man cannot observe the phenomena from an external and disinterested perspective.
I mean, look at this: physicists discover a new particle, and now they have to tear down the whole damn edifice and begin again from the ground up; yesterday the science was settled, today we realize that, er, "we still don't *fully* understand our universe." No. Really?
And physics is easy compared to the complexity and nonlinearity of the earth's climate.
So, what does this mean for all those physicists from the 1930s on who imagined they were living in reality? Turns out they were just living in an imaginary cosmos. But that will always be the case so long as one confuses scientific abstractions with reality, or placeholders with principles, variables with constants.
I was thinking about this yesterday on the drive to work, specifically, about the difference between abstract and concrete historical time. Every educated person has a rough chronograph to organize historical time, e.g., neolithic, paleolithic, ancient, medieval, renaissance, etc. But the more history I read, the more I realize that these abstractions are completely misleading, and basically a cover for ignorance.
Even something as proximate as "World War II" looks quite different if we magnify a small slice of historical time and examine the details. You think you understand something, only to discover that you have simply superimposed a cloud labeled "World War II" over an infinite space.
It seems that many approaches to history resemble the infamous hockey stick of of global warming: examine the details and the stick turns out to be pure fiction; it leads the mind by misleading the mind.
This is one of the recurring themes of Narrative and Freedom, which has basically blown my mind in terms of being able to formulate all of its implications, or reduce them to a manageable swarm. Where to even begin?
Headline you won't be reading, but is nevertheless as true as the one about physics: Obscure Slavic Scholar Proves We Don't Fully Understand History.
I suppose he begins with a trivial truth that nevertheless explodes like a depth charge: that time is open, not closed. But history, in contrast to time, is closed: what happened happened, and that's all there is to it. However, when we write history, we cannot help doing so from the closed perspective, which is fundamentally misleading.
Morson is a literary scholar, not a scientist or historian. Thus, he demonstrates how certain novelists have attempted to depict a more realistic view of time -- much more realistic than any historian can accomplish. In order to do this, the novelist must depict the present as present, not as a mere point inhabiting a closed and linear narrative in the novelist's head. Only in hindsight can we see the narrative, but in the present the future is radically open.
Many times I have watched a movie with the boy, and he will ask why this character had to make that stupid decision, or why this unlikely event happened. The answer is that without the stupid decision or unlikely event, there would be no movie. However, I doubt that any human being, faced with personal calamity, wonders why it happened and thinks to himself, "in order to make the narrative of my life more interesting."
Going back to those vast swaths of time that we cover with names to conceal our ignorance. If this is true of history, how much more true must it be of prehistory -- say, of the 4 billion or so years of prehuman life, or the 9 billion years of prebiological cosmology?
It seems to me, the larger the expanse, the more room for ignorance. If we don't understand World War II, what makes us think we understand something as remote as the "big bang," the emergence of life, or the appearance of human beings? Science can only approach these thingularities in the most abstract manner imaginable, so abstract that they are essentially devoid of content except what the imagination fills in.
Which means that they are essentially myth by another name. And not even good myths. For what is myth, really? I would say that myth operates in the penumbra between prehistory and history, or the known and the unknowable; William Irwin Thompson said something to the effect that at the horizon of history is myth.
Consider Genesis, which addresses all of our most conspicuous existential and ontological edges; it works at the edge of cosmogony, of history, of anthropology, of sexuality, of freedom and responsibility, etc. Please bear in mind that these edges are necessary and inevitable. We will never be rid of them, nor can one be human without thinking about them.
For example, even if physicists totally understood the big bang, it would nevertheless give rise to obvious questions such as "what caused the big bang?" Likewise, even if we knew the precise point that man "entered" history, the period prior to that would still be an ultrabeastly infrahuman dreamspace we'd have to fill with imagination and myth.
So, no matter how long we try to defer it, we eventually confront myth, which is one of the Big Things religion knows but secularism doesn't. As such, the latter thrashes around in those infertile manmade myths instead of floating upstream in the very pregnant God-given ones.
To be continued...