Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Vertical Church of What It Is

"The doctrine of divine relativity," writes Hartshorne, "is not entirely unconnected with the great drive toward a synthesis of freedom and order which... is our political goal."

It seems that how we understand God will shape our conception of politics, and vice versa. And for Hartshorne, God "is not a supreme autocrat," but rather, "a universal agent of 'persuasion,' whose 'power is the worship he inspires.'"

This is in contrast to, say, Islam or leftism, where Allah (or the State) is the supreme autocrat and universal agent of coercion, whose worship flows from the terror he (or it) inspires.

Now, what is mind, he asked out of the blue? It seems to me that the mind is relationship, or at least there can be no unrelated essence beneath this. For example, in knowing a thing -- anything -- the mind forms a relation to the known. Thus, knowledge is a kind of relation. I, as a knower, can relate to this keyboard. It, as an object, cannot relate to me in the same way.

However, according to modern physics -- and this was one of Whitehead's key ideas -- everything in our cosmos is actually related to everything else. The principle of nonlocality means that distant atoms share a kind of instantaneous "knowledge," or at least perception, of one another.

As I argued in the book -- well, not really argued, just threw out there -- I think physics is the way it is because God is the way he is, which is to say, a dynamic and internally related process. Thus, what we see in quantum physics is simply a residue, or distant shadow, of that. We will never discover an "ultimate reality" except insofar as we can all discover an ultimate relationship, or better, a living relationship with the ultimate. There is nothing "beyond" this; or beyond this lies nothing but lies about nothing.

"Thus all roads lead to the conclusion that mind or awareness is the most relational or relative of all things" (Hartshorne). A monadic absolute without relations, whatever else it is, cannot be mind, because "nothing is so variously relative... as the knower."

Note how, for example, in Buddhism or neoplatonism, this knower is the problem that (or who) must be eliminated. In so doing, one is attempting to somehow overcome relationship to the ultimate -- ultimate relationship -- in favor of a more intimate union of one -- a contradiction in terms.

A wise man once said that if there is no alternative, then there is no problem. I don't see any alternative to God-as-relationship. Metaphysical monists, it seems, turn the answer into the problem. It's just that God has "perfect relations," whereas ours are imperfect. Thus, for example, where our knowledge is partial, God's knowledge is total. In both cases there is a relation to the known, only one is vastly superior.

Even so, our knowing is an analogue of God's knowing (just as atoms "perceive" in their own extremely attenuated way). In the absence of this analogue, no knowledge of any kind would be possible. Again, it is possible because we are genuinely internally related to things -- or to both objects and subjects. And this applies both horizontally and vertically, hence the possibility of relations with planes above matter, e.g., math, logic, beauty, virtue, angels, etc.

To the extent that our knowledge falls short, it is not because it is incomplete, or partial, or phenomenal per se, but rather, because it is not relative enough. In other words, "perfect" relationship would confer perfect knowledge. Unlike God, we are only imperfectly related to things, so the advance of knowledge is predicated on a deepening of relations.

This would naturally imply that God is perfectly related to us, whereas we are only imperfectly -- and more or less so -- related to him. This is another implicit teaching of the Trinity, in that we are told that Jesus' relationship to the Father is perfect. Note that it is the relationship that is perfect. It cannot be an idea, or a concept, or anything static, only a living process.

This also goes to the philosophical question of appearances vs. reality. In the Thomistic tradition, we may know reality through its appearances. But for the post-Kantians, appearances ultimately tell us only about our own cognitive categories. But while it is true that appearances can and do deceive, this is only because there is truth beneath the deception.

More to the point, our knowledge is again a distant analogue of God's. Now, "divine knowledge" is precisely that "which cannot believe in the existence of what is not existent," nor "fail to believe... in what does exist." In other words, there can be no "illusion" in God, no misunderstanding, no false appearances, again, because he is perfectly attuned to What Is:

"God is the measure of truth, as we are not, because he and only he is able to establish a perfect correspondence between his knowing and what he knows it to be and what it is" (ibid.). Or, what he cannot know perfectly cannot be -- or be known -- at all.

8 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

To the extent that our knowledge falls short, it is not because it is incomplete, or partial, or phenomenal per se, but rather, because it is not relative enough. In other words, "perfect" relationship would confer perfect knowledge. Unlike God, we are only imperfectly related to things, so the advance of knowledge is predicated on a deepening of relations.

Along those lines, Sowell today:

"Everyone seems to have an opinion about the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. But, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Soon after the shooting death of Michael Brown, this 285-pound young man was depicted as a “gentle giant.” But, after a video was leaked, showing him bullying the owner of a store from which he had stolen some merchandise, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed displeasure that the video was leaked. In other words, to Holder the truth was offensive, but the lie it exposed was not."

12/02/2014 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

We tend to think of mass as a fixed quantity, but this is not necessarily so. We certainly know that mass is convertible into energy, as this happens on a daily basis in fission reactors. The general theory of relativity also describes an increase in mass that occurs with velocity, although the effect is negligible in everyday life.

More to the point, according to the late Ernst Mach (1838-1916), inertial mass depends on an interrelationship with other objects in the universe.

Mach was an Austrian physicist whose name is used as a measurement of speed, as in "Mach 1," the speed of sound at sea level. He was a contemporary of Einstein, to whom he suggested a thought experiment: What if there was only one object in the universe? Mach argued that it could not have a velocity, because according to the theory of relativity, you need at least two objects before you can measure their velocity relative to each other.

Taking this thought experiment a step further, if an object was alone in the universe, and it had no velocity, it could not have a measurable mass, because mass varies with velocity.

Mach concluded that inertial mass only exists because the universe contains multiple objects.

http://boingboing.net/2014/11/24/the-quest-for-a-reactionless-s.html

12/02/2014 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous neal said...

I think that thought experiment assumes that there is one object, not three. You see, when there is a neutral, or neural, and a positive, and a negative, then the relationship of velocity is self referential. Try Maxwell.

Now, just because that is mythical and builds many worlds, is no cause for alarm. Free Will just floats there, and orders the mechanics.

Of course, if everything is made of that, optically, then the really small stuff and the really big stuff would be a matter of transitory scale, not subject to anything but the desires of the part that is neutral.

Angels dancing on the pinheads, and such.

12/02/2014 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This is a fully loaded post.

... in favor of a more intimate union of one ...

Completely off the subject but that reminds me of Orson Welles' quip that his doctor told him he needed to stop having intimate dinners for four, unless he invited three other people.

This would naturally imply that God is perfectly related to us, whereas we are only imperfectly -- and more or less so -- related to him.

"Now I know in part. Then I will know fully even as I am fully known" (somewhere near the end of 1 Cor. 13).

12/02/2014 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

What's funny is that because of you, I understand the Bible better than I used to. Or maybe it's not as funny as it is frightening. But in any case, Thank you.

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

I'll second that, Mush.

12/02/2014 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Michael Marinacci said...

@mushroom That Orson Welles story, in turn, reminded me of something a NYC restauranteur said when he heard that the spectacularly gluttonous gourmand "Diamond Jim" Brady had passed on:
"He was the best twenty-five customers we ever had!"

12/02/2014 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Good stuff!

But while it is true that appearances can and do deceive, this is only because there is truth beneath the deception.

That was very helpful.

Oh, and nice Bobian/Pauline connection there Mush.

12/02/2014 08:44:00 PM  

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