Friday, February 07, 2014

Pictures of God, Man, and Everything

Very often, like yesterday, I start off writing a post, and it takes me down a completely unintended path. I never have any real idea what's going to come out, but I usually at least start with the seed of an idea. But then it's as if the seed grows into a different plant.

Which again makes me think that the mind must conform to some sort of higher organizing principle, so long as we abandon ourselves to it. In a certain sense this is a banality, but I don't think I mean it in the banal sense.

In other words, we're not just talking about familiar concepts such as "human nature," or "archetypes," or the old idea of "humours." Those are all too static and repetitive, whereas this is a creative process that ceaselessly generates patterned novelty. Who or what exerts the pattern on our random vertical walk? What makes it all cohere around a center?

These patterns aren't like those, say, of a cherished rug that pulls the room together, or the logocentric designs cranked out by the Mohammedans. Check some of those out; many could be stunning representations of O, such as:

The other day I yoinked a bunch of arresting fractal could-be images of O for future use, such as the one below:

I feel like the Richard Dreyfus character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Except this would be close encounters with a kind of threeness, i.e., the Center, the Periphery, and the crackling Radius, AKA Father-Son-Holy Spirit chasing itsoph. The radius is where the (⇅) occurs. You can see how God writes straight with those crooked lines converging on the center.

But of all the images I swiped, my favorite -- the one to which I am most attracted -- might be the one depicted below:

I don't mean aesthetically attracted, but intellectually attracted, for it looks to me like a representation of the human situation.

There are the vertical spaces above and below, with us situated in the middle. Or, you could say heaven above and hell below, with Middle Earth in between. Whatever the case may be, there is a supra-conscious and an un- or infraconscious. Or better, infrahuman.

Except it's not static but dynamic and flowing. The center area is the place of metabolism, with energies flowing up and down. We're always receiving promptings from the unconscious. But we're also always receiving murmurandoms from above. It is for us to weave these together for a full and fruitful incarnation.

Some have suggested that this is the esoteric meaning of space voyager Genesis 1, where the great imagineer divides the waters above from the waters below. If he hadn't done this, then the water would simply seek its own level, and there would be no vertical flow, just the absurcular dog-paddling of the tenured.

Below is another suitable image of what I like to call the Great Attractor, O, drawing us up into its ether orbit:

Or how about the oversized one below, which might be the view from within the attractor beam -- perhaps of the Dark Night of the Soul and the Light at the end of the funnel of love:

I think Wanda is actually referring to that other centripetal funnel -- you know, the funnel of lust:

Well, I'd better complete some work-work before the day is truncated by the birthday party for Grandma.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Credulity and Faith in God and Man

So, if we are on the right track, a properly exercised faith is not any kind of denial of reality, but rather, the opposite: the quintessential acceptance of the Real and all it entails. Nor is it necessarily any kind of superficial joyrood, for we cannot know ahead of time what we are consenting to.

This is like most anything else. For example, when one says Yes to marriage in the presence of God and man, one cannot possibly know what one is signing up for. Rather, faith, both horizontal and vertical, spouse and vow, is an intrinsic part of the deal. I suppose that's why they call it being faithful.

It is the same with regard to choosing a career or pursuing a discipline. More generally, there would be no reason to get out of bed in the morning in the absence of faith.

In this regard, it seems that faith is phenomenologically related to hope. Therefore, faithlessness would apparently correspond to a kind of total cynicism: nothing to trust and no reason to trust it. Except, of course, for a total faith in the power of one's own corrosive cynicism.

As we have said before, the typical leftist somehow combines a childlike credulousness with an omniscient cynicism. It is specifically this combination of traits that made possible President Malevolent Cipher. The same ruthless cynicism that couldn't stop itself from preposterous attacks on George Bush turned into its seeming opposite, an innocent and childish faith in his successor.

As I wrote once upon a post, "contemporary philosophy does not begin with a sense of wonder, nor does it attempt to cultivate it. Rather, it begins with the capacity to doubt, and then aggravates it, eventually turning a good servant into a tyrannical master, for there is nothing that cannot be doubted by doubt. It takes no wisdom or skill at all. Any buffoon with a capacity to doubt is already pre-approved for tenure."

Josef Pieper writes of the orthoparadox that "Man is true to himself only when he is stretching forth -- in hope -- toward a fulfillment that cannot be reached in his bodily existence.” This paradox essentially revolves around the complementarity of being and becoming: or of Is and Ought, potential and fulfillment, time and eternity.

Life Itself is an audacious act of hope in the teeth of cosmic hopelessness. We might have well asked that first bit of matter that wrapped around itself and decided to go on being: just what are you hoping to accomplish here?

It seems that we have no right to horizontal hope -- or hope in history -- in the absence of a vertical hope for real fulfillment and genuine wholeness. Indeed, a purely horizontal hope is the very basis of the world-historical nightmares of the previous enlightened century. I don't think it is possible to place more hope in history than did the communist or national socialist, nor is it possible to bring about more radical change than they did.

Why hope? On what basis? Again, returning to the idea of life-as-hope, what is it hoping to accomplish? Is there an end game, an exist strategy, or is it just making things up as it grows along?

So long as one limits oneself to the horizontal perspective, there can be no purpose whatsoever in life. Someone like Jacques Monod was ruthlessly but refreshingly candid about this. "His thesis," writes Ratzinger, "is that the entire ensemble of nature has arisen out of errors and dissonances." Except that one.

Here is the purest possible example of the impossible doctrine of absolute relativity, i.e., the random error called Jacques Monod somehow having the ability to know ultimate truth. How it is possible for absolute contingency to pronounce on absolute necessity is wisely left unsaid. But if Monod's belief were true, it couldn't be known.

Interestingly, Monod (according to Ratzinger) rejects a priori any question to which the answer would be "God." Turning it around, this would also mean that the very idea of God can answer no legitimate questions. If it does, then there is something wrong with the question or questioner.

I don't know. That's an awful lot of faith to place in a meaningless cosmic accident. Could man really live in this kind of negative faith? Not if Life Itself is a hope for something transcending it, for how much more is the soul intrinsically oriented to that which surpasses it?

Among other arbitrary metaphysical errors, Monod is committed a priori to a monadic view of reality. But reality is not fundamentally a monad, Monod. Rather, it is fundamentally a relationship. There is nothing beyond, nothing more elemental, than Relation.

Our verticality makes this especially clear, since verticality is intrinsically oriented to the Great Beyond, O. Thus, man is man because he has an intrinsic relation to O. Yes, we are also oriented to the empirical world, but no man stays down there, except someone with severe autism or some tragic graduate school degree.

To quote Ratzinger, "God means, first of all, that human beings cannot be closed in on themselves." However, I believe this can be turned around to say: because human beings are not closed in on themselves, therefore God. In other words, God is the very possibility of our self-evident transcendence, both its origin and it destiny.

"God implies relationality," says Ratzinger. "It is the dynamic that sets the human being in motion toward the totally Other. Hence it means the capacity for relationship.... Human beings are, as a consequence, most profoundly human when they step out of themselves..."

To put in another why, God is indeed the only possible answer to the question, "how is it that human beings live in this vertical space of transcendent truth?"

Contrary to Monod, there is no serious question of this nature to which the answer could possibly be "natural selection," or "physics," or "biology." And in any event, the vertical questioner always transcends the horizontal answer.

This means that in him alone appears the complete answer to the question about what the human being is.... human persons are beings en route, beings characterized by transition. They are not yet themselves; they must ultimately become themselves.... They are oriented toward their future, and only it permits who they really are to appear completely. --Josef (then) Cardinal Ratzinger

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Common Corpus or Common Corpse

We've been exploring the controversial notion that "knowledge exists and that it is a real and efficacious adequation" to reality -- i.e., that man may know the truth of existence.

There are any number of alternatives to this soph-evident truth, but they all necessarily redound to the elevation of cosmic stupidity to first principle. It would mean that the only thing man may know with certainty is that he doesn't truly know anything at all. This stance could be encrapsulated in a kind of inverse (Cartesian) cogito: I cannot know, therefore nothing is.

And this "nothing," of course, includes the self who is putting forth the cogito, for as any tenured neurologist can tell you, there is no such thing as a self.

Speaking of which, a couple of days ago the WSJ had a review of a book called Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. Now, right away I see problems with that title, because there can be no "science" of the "self," and because science deals only with the How, not the Why. A better title might be something like "Why Science Cannot Tell Us Anything Important About the Self," but it would be a blank book.

The author evidently searches for herself in all the wrong places, including her genes, brainscans, personality tests, and more. But as the reviewer correctly points out, "even if we could measure every atom in a brain, we would need creativity and ingenuity to add a layer of interpretation to the data, and complete comprehension would still remain beyond us."

Thus, even the most complete possible science is infinitely distant from the "object" it is attempting to comprehend. (Recall what we said yesterday about jettisoning subjectivity at the outset, and never being able to recover it.)

This isn't at all surprising, because a scientific approach to the self is like counting the digital bits in a CD to try to understand the performance it encodes. The performance by definition not only transcends the bits, but is their sufficient reason. In other words, the bits exist for the sake of the performance, not vice versa.

In her final chapter, the author suggests that self-perception may be a fiction -- a conclusion that will shock anyone who is completely bereft of personal insight. But self-deception only exists because there is a self to be deceived.

The author confesses that, in her quest for a scientific explanation of the self, she veered "dangerously close at times to the precipice of philosophy."

Oh dear! Speaking of people who are bereft of insight, how can someone fail to understand that science becomes a philosophy -- a naive philosophy called scientism -- when it tries to transform a method into a doctrine?

The self partakes of both universality and particularity. In other words, we are all unique individuals, and yet, there exist self-evident truths available to all functioning adults. Much of this has to do with our embodied-ness, that is, our common corpus. We all have the same five senses, the same brain structure, the same developmental sequence.

Which raises some interesting questions about the possibility of a "common core." This subject has become controversial, because the left wants to impose its common crap on the nation's children, even while insisting there is no common human nature. Therefore, when they say "common core," what they really mean is indoctrination -- not what all humans can know, but what all humans must know in order to be compliant subjects of the State (the one Great Body we really have in common).

A recent Hillsdale Imprimus touches on this subject. In it, Larry Arnn writes that a "true core" would have a "unifying principle, such as the idea that there is a right way to live that one can come to know."

But the leftist common core has precisely the opposite purpose: multiculturalism, for example, is founded upon the principle that all cultures are equally beautiful except ours, which is uniquely racist, misogynistic, imperialist, and homophobic.

Aren't you being a little polemical, Bob? Well, Arnn cites a passage from the Teacher's Guide for Advanced Placement, which tells us that such antiquated terms as "objectivity" and "factuality" have "lost their preeminence." Rather, instruction is "less a matter of transmittal of an objective and culturally sanctioned body of knowledge, and more a matter of helping individuals learn to construct their own realities."

Oh. Who knew we had to be taught how to live in our own realities? And who knew, for that matter, that reality had a plural? Indeed, if it has a plural form, doesn't that violate its own definition? In short, if "perception is reality," then neither of these terms exist, because in equating them they lose all meaning. In other words, perception must be of reality, and reality is what is perceived.

So, if we are going to have a "common core," I propose that it shouldn't exclude reality. Rather, I suspect that this thing called "reality" is what human beings have most in common.

This is because man is a kind of membrain between intelligence and reality. Ultimately, man is the point of contact between two spheres or dimensions.

In reading this short book on the apostle Paul, we are reminded that -- speaking of our cultural heritage -- "the lid covering the Ark of the Covenant... was considered the point of contact between God and man." Later, a sect of deviant Jews would come to regard Jesus as this point of contact, in whom we could participate in the Absolute reality. Interestingly, this is truly a "common corpus," AKA Corpus Christi.

This point of contact is actually a kind of abyss. In the absence of God, then it is the abyss of nothingness, with no possibility of a common core.

But in reality, this is an "abyss of divine goodness," and by plunging into it we are drawn up into the Great Attractor which we all share in common. In this sense, faith is a kind of conformity to reality, a cosmic Yes, whereas the faithlessness of the left is a cosmic NO! to God, to Man, and to the fertile reality in between.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Half a Truth is No Better than None

We ended yesterday's post wondering about That to which intelligence must be an adequation. The only adequate answer can be to truth, to reality, to being. Otherwise, what we call intelligence is an inexplicable cosmic indulgence of no significance at all, maybe even a dirty genetic trick. Whitehead had a good line about that... let's see if I can find it.

By the way, for a guy who wrote the unwieldy Process and Reality, Whitehead sure came up with a lot of memorable wisecracks. Would it really have been asking too much for him to write his magnum opus in the same pithy manner?

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge.

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.

The misconception which has haunted philosophic literature throughout the centuries is the notion of 'independent existence.' There is no such mode of existence; every entity is to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the universe.

We think in generalities, but we live in details.

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.

Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.

Philosophy begins in wonder. And at the end when philosophic thought has done its best the wonder remains.

The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.

Nobody has a right to speak more clearly than he thinks.

There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

The man was an Aphorism Machine. Any one of these pungent specimens could be expanded into a fully bloviated post... which I guess would defeat their purpose. That last crack is especially near 'n dear to my heart, as failure to adhere to it is responsible for virtually every philosophical, religious, and political nul de slack.

Most thinkers start by tossing out one side of an irreducible complementarity, and then taking it from there. But once they make that initial error, they can never recover the half they threw out. The idealist can never recover the empirical, and the empiricist can never account for the ideal. To pretend to transcend the subject-object complementarity is to... to pretend, that's what.

In fact, most of those aphorisms convey a hint of complementarity, for example, the need to preserve order amidst change and change amidst order; likewise generalities/details, philosophy/wonder, time/eternity, ignorance/knowledge, obvious/subtle, independence/dependence, conscious/unconscious, etc. Toss out one side of these and you have excused yourself from reality.

What about the aphorism I was looking for? Something about the world being reduced to an absurdity at one end and a dream at the other. In other words, if there is no knowledge of reality, then what we call reality is just an impenetrable cloud of absurdity, and what we call knowledge is just the idle dreaming of a featherless biped.

Clearly, most heresies arise from the sundering of an orthoparadox, e.g., faith/works, human/divine, omnipotence/freedom, creativity/determinacy, scripture/tradition, slack/duty, etc.

No other animal can rebel against its nature. Indeed, it is its nature. Man too has a nature, but he is uniquely free to violate it.

This itself is another orthopardox, in the sense that man is the creature whose nature includes the freedom to go against his own nature. But the postmodernist interprets the same phenomena to mean that man has no nature. In other words, man's failure to comport to his own nature is interpreted to mean he doesn't have one, and then gravity takes care of the rest.

I think Genesis attempts to convey this orthoparadox via the parable of the Fall. For clearly, if man is created, then he must have a nature. But because this nature includes freedom -- a freedom which is simply inexplicable if he is not created -- he is free to rebel against it, and then the Supreme Court takes care of the rest.

This question of "human nature" is an important one, because if we get that wrong, then there is little chance that we'll get anything else right. For to say that man has no nature is precisely equivalent to nihilism and therefore absurdity. If one is honest, there is simply no other possible conclusion.

However, if there are, for example, "self-evident truths," then this is because man has a nature, and this nature is a mode of the universal. It is universal because truth is always true, and thus a reflection of absoluteness.

This, I think, is where the infinite can play havoc, because there is always the Many, and it is possible to isolate one strand of the many to the exclusion of the One.

Or, to reiterate what Whitehead says above, we forget that we think in generalities but live in details; and that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence.

That is all. A little chaotic around here, with mother-in-law arriving tomorrow and other deviations from my sacred rutine.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Simpleminded Complexity as a Defense Against Simple Truth

Things can get complicated....

Which is precisely what they -- the Conspiracy -- want you to think. Because if things are complicated, then there are always Mitigating Circumstances. At worst, you are Guilty With Explanation, the explanation being it's complicated, or things aren't that simple, or hey, the modern world 'n stuff.

Complexity leads directly to the possibility of rationalization. It also leads directly to the left, since our problems are obviously too complex for us to solve or even understand. We need experts for that, experts like Obama or Pelosi, who have devoted their lives to understanding us and our problems.

Look at Obama, or Clinton. Those guys could have become personally wealthy, but instead are just lowly public servants, which is just a notch above slave, which shows you how humble they are.

Well, not everything is complex. For example, if you are a woman, then there is a war on you, so your personal failings are completely understandable and even inevitable, therefore forgivable.

Likewise if you're black, all your problems are a result of white conservatives, even if the latter have no power over you, as here in California.

But not everyone's problems are susceptible to a simple evasion. Consider, for example, homosexuals. They are more prone to mental illness, suicide, promiscuity, venereal disease, hepatitis, anal cancer, drug abuse, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, serial murder. And why are a third of molested children boys, if homosexual men are only a tiny fraction of the population?

Hey, what are you, a homophobe? It's complicated!

Except when it's simple, e.g., "homosexuality is a genetic condition."

Okay. What about rape? What, haven't you been to college? Simple: patriarchy. Misogyny. Gendered oppression.

But isn't maleness genetic too? So, aren't patriarchy and rape and female oppression just in the nature of things?

No, simpleton. It's complicated.

Hmmm... I'm starting to think this "appeal to complexity" is a new logical fallacy, just an expedient. One can well understand its appeal, since, with a little education, one can make the most simple thing in the world -- say, marriage -- fraught with ambiguity.

More generally, through the use of this fallacy, one's own positions are shielded behind a veil of bogus complexity, while countervailing opinions are too simple to even take seriously, say, "abstinence," or the plain meaning of the Constitution, or reducing the size and scope of government in order to stimulate the economy. Who ever heard of such crazy-simple ideas?!

Anyway, to return to our main subject, is it possible that the truth of man is actually quite simple, and that we have lost this truth behind a fog of modern and postmodern complexity?

For example, Schuon writes that "we believe that knowledge exists and that it is a real and efficacious adequation." Here, two simple claims are being put forth: that there is a reality and that man may know this reality.

The alternatives to this stance are all very complicated, but no amount of complexity can get one back to the simple truth one has abandoned at the outset. It is as if complexity is put forth as a substitute for truth, which it can never be. It reminds me of an incident yesterday, when I was questioning my son about an evident misdemeanor which he was obscuring behind a fog of mystamumblery. First came the complicated explanations before he gave up and said, "okay, here's what happened."

Why is there human intelligence? I mean, we know why there is animal intelligence, in the sense that the intelligence of this or that beast is an adequation to its external environment for the purposes of personal survival and genetic propagation. Simple, really.

Okay, let's apply that same simple principle to man. To what is his intelligence an adequation?

In order to be intellectually consistent, the strict Darwinian would have to provide the same answer, and at least a Richard Dawkins does just that. There is no special exemption for human intelligence, which is just a side effect of selfish genes.

But we suspect that it is both more simple and complex than that. And when I say "we," I mean Schuon and I. He speaks for me when he says that what distinguishes human from animal intelligence is "its objectivity and its totality."

This is a simple statement, in the sense that it is obvious, even self-evident. These categories -- objectivity and totality -- are not present in any other species, so we need to inquire as to how they got here.

First, perhaps we should define these two. "Objectivity" means the capacity for detachment and disinterest. It means the ability to stand apart from one's own subjectivity, and not just see things through the lens of self-interest. Our whole capacity for morality is predicated on this ability, as is our access to truth -- for if truth and morality are just varieties of self-interest, then they are not worthy of the names.

"Totality" means the capacity to see beyond one's narrow experiential horizon, to the universal, the eternal, the transcendent. Man, upon becoming man, theorizes about the whole, first in mythopoetic, eventually in scientific, terms. But man always has an implicit map of the totality in order to situate himself in a deeper or higher reality.

For Schuon, "objectivity" is a mode of the Absolute, while "totality" is a mode of the Infinite. Please think about that one for a moment, because it is another example of a simple, foundational human truth. Truth always partakes of the Absolute, because it Is what it Is, and there is -- fortunately! -- not a damn thing we can do about it. Thus, the truth is as "disinterested" as we must be in order to conform to it.

Totality is more complicated, since it is not absolutely specified, but rather, is... how to put it... a kind of radiation or prolongation of absoluteness, as if from the Center out. I believe Schuon would say it is a reflection of "all possibility," or of the infinitude implicit in absoluteness.

This would explain why, despite the fact that we live in this relative world, the relative is everywhere imbued with absoluteness. Or in other words, no matter where we look, there is always intelligibility and therefore truth. Thus, within the infinite creativity of the creation, we find the stamp of the Creator.

Which brings us back to the question of that to which man's intelligence is an adequation. "The reason for the existence of intelligence," writes Schuon, "is its adequation to the real."

And the Real is what now?

That's a little too simple to answer in the remaining time. To be continued.