Friday, April 04, 2014

Faithlessness Renders All Things Impossible

No sooner do I suggest that IT'S ALL SOMEHOW TRUE than, through a series of synchronicities, a fellow I'd never heard of with similar gnotions crosses my peripatetic readar. Looks like he calls it the Believing Game.

We all know about the Doubting Game, AKA critical thinking, but this must be supplemented by the Believing Game. Each is "needed in order to examine and accept an idea as true."

I infer from Professor Wiki's brief explanation that Elbow believes that in the West we are disproportionately devoted to the Doubting Game. Like everything else, that's true as far as it goes, but we need to bear in mind how the most critical thinkers are often the most credulous wankers.

For example, it takes an offal lot of rancid meatheadedness to arrive at something as dubious as scientism, or leftism, or catastrophic manmade global warming. Which is just the instantiation of a more general principle, that certain ideas are so foolish that only a person with a great deal of formal education could believe them.

(Look at the heroically tortuous reasoning laid out yesterday in Justice Breyer's dissent. In it he goes to great lengths to reveal everything we detest about lawyerly thinking -- the "lawyer game" -- which abuses reason to arrive at the desired result. There are now four idiots on the Supreme Court who have convinced themselves

"that speech is a sort of public good held in a collective trust, to be limited or banned whenever the majority feels that the speech in question might not be being used in furtherance of the proper ends."

Or in other words, that we have the right to free speech so long as it pleases the state. Bottom lyin': the founders were way ahead of their time, in that they created a totalitarian state before Marx, Hitler, and Stalin were even born.)

Anyway, it looks to me as if Elbow is proposing a kind of methodological orthoparadoxy that will be familiar to Raccoons. "Skeptical doubting" looks for "flaws in thinking that might look good." But "really good thinking also calls on a complementary methodology: conditionally trying to believe all ideas in order to find virtues in thinking that looks wrong."

That's not the clearest of explanations, but it strikes me as similar to what we've discussed before under the rubric of mental metabolism and assimilation. In short, there are catabolic (tearing down) and anabolic (building up) components to productive thinking.

Or, one might consider the Believing Game to be thinking in the mode of faith. The irony is that the excessively critical thinker doesn't even realize he's playing the Believing Game, because he has covertly elevated doubt to the axis of his belief system.

For example, this is precisely what Descartes is driving at in the cogito: not I think, therefore I am, but really, I doubt that I exist, therefore I must exist (as the doubter).

But how could we possibly define ourselves in wholly negative terms? This is the problem with Popper's principle of falsification, which is true as far as it goes. That is, he maintains that a statement can only qualify as scientific if it is falsifiable, i.e., if conditions can be specified in which the statement would not be true.

Again, that's a wholly negative way of defining truth, so it leaves us with no leg to stand on except for our own corrosive doubt. Which then starts eating through the floor.

The problem is, how do we prevent doubt from being omniscient? After all, there is nothing essential to the human condition that we cannot subject to our ruthless doubt, including love, language, God, beauty, natural rights, free will, meaning, and the very possibility of knowing truth.

It's not so much that all things are possible with faith, but that faith makes all things possible. Monomaniacal doubt only renders all things impossible.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

It's All True!

If religious predestination or secular determinism are the case, then becoming is pointless -- because we are already there -- and freedom is nothing -- since it is only the illusion of choice.

And to say there is no becoming and no freedom is another way of saying there is no time, only eternity.

Or -- stick with me here -- time is reduced to space. Thus, any so-called "choice" one makes in the present is actually just the backward extension of a future which has already happened. What looks like a photograph to us is just part of a giant flip book, in which the next picture is already in place, giving the illusion of motion (motion being synonymous with change).

Weird, I know. But plenty of people believe the cartoon, both religious and secular. In fact, speaking of animation, this would mean that Life Itself is also a kind of illusion of movement.

Which is precisely why physics is powerless to deal with Life, because there is no principle in physics that can distinguish between living and nonliving matter. It's all just the same atoms in a different pattern, that's all.

As we've said before, this profoundly unbiblical idea is a Greek import. One reason why science never developed in ancient Greece was that time and change were considered existential defects, so to speak -- like rust, or corrosion, or dandruff. Everything available to the senses is just a more or less imperfect copy of something from the timeless world of pure form. There is appearance and there is reality, and never shall the twain meet on the same twack.

In fact, when Paul makes that cwack about the gospel representing foolishness to the Greeks, this is what he is referring to. The Greek mind could never wrap itself around the idea of the timeless world getting mixed up in the temporal, or of the loftiest principle taking the form of a filthy, screaming infant, no matter how breathtaking the baby.

Yes, there is an absolute and there is a contingent. But for the excessively Platonized mind, the absolute is not "in" the contingent, any more than you are really in a photo of yourself. Just as it would be absurd to suggest that you could jump into a photograph of yourself, God by definition cannot enter the contingent, i.e., that which only exists because it is a distant reflection of, or accidental emanation from, the One.

Note that in the Greek view, God is wholly abstract, a point to which we will later return. Unlike in the Christian view, the Greek One is definitely not a concrete person. Which is why neoplatonism involves ascending up and out of the body and extinguishing all traces of one's accidental self.

I read somewhere that Augustine was once a neoplatonist and that he never quite shook its acute somaphobia. The greatest neoplatonist of them all, Plotinus, was said to be absolutely ashamed of the mere fact of having a body.

I'm thinking maybe he was just embarrassed about the nose:

I say that predestinistas and other fatalists are tossing out the most essential and shocking news in the good news -- or even the news that makes it good. Indeed, what does make the news good? That everything that has ever happened and will ever happen to you is preordained, so you might as well give up now?

That would be a tough sell, in my opinion. You think the Jehovah's Witnesses have a rough time of it? Imagine Paul going door to door and announcing,

"Hello. I have some good news for you. I am here because I am predestined to be here, as are you. I am compelled to tell you about a vision I had about this Jesus fellow, which you will either accept or not accept, depending upon how God has programmed you...

"And if I refuse?"

"Doesn't matter. God already knows who's saved and who's damned, so I wouldn't worry about it."

Now, it would be a mistake to minimize the appeal of this metaphysic to certain spiritual types. As we've said before, all valid big-box religions are all full-service operations that cater to the individual. This is more explicitly expressed in the East, in particular, with the various paths of yoga, e.g., karma yoga, hatha yoga, jnana yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, etc. Different yokes for different folks.

I would suggest that the innocent fideism of the simple predestinista is an example of bhakti yoga, in which there is an absolute trust that whatever happens happens for the best. Naturally this helps to cultivate spiritual peace in the face of all these damn cosmic fluctuations, oscillations, enigmas, and annoyances. It's an easy yoke, but not everyone gets it -- specifically, those with a different makeup and different spiritual needs.

You could say that it is a transparently childlike approach, and not necessarily with any pejorative connotation. Bhakti yoga is "efficacious for fostering love of, faith in, and surrender to God. It is a means to realize God, and is the easiest way for the common person because it doesn't involve extensive yogic practices."

And as a matter of fact -- and I've been thinking about this lately -- just as all philosophies are "true," there is a little bhakti in everyone, right?

Wait -- all philosophies are true? Yes, I've been noticing lately how virtually every philosophy has an element of truth to it. It's just that the philosopher gets all carried away with his little piece if the puzzle, and elevates it to the whole existentialida.

You name the philosopher, and I'll show where he was right, even Nietzsche, or Hegel, or Kant, or Derrida. (Was that distant thunder, or was that Van's head exploding?)

To come full circle, I would even say that the predestinistas are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. As far as they go.

I wanted to get into an allied subject, to wit: what is necessary in order for existence to be possible? Or in other words, what are the necessary conditions of existence, or conditions without which existence cannot exist? I think that by answering these questions, we might be able to understand how it is possible for it All to be True, i.e., how all these halfwits can be half right.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

God is a Mathmagician

It seems to me that if existence is to exist, there are certain things that even God cannot know about it. This would necessarily follow from his own infinitude.

In short, if God is infinite, then he cannot be known, even by himself, because to know something is to render it finite, and God cannot be something other than God, i.e., infinite.

Take for example, number. Does God know the last number? Of course not. Numbers go on forever. There is no end and therefore no boundary in which to enclose them.

To exist requires boundaries, which is why it is proper to say that God doesn't "exist" to begin with. Creatures exist. The Creator does not. "Existence" is a property of, or analogy to, something else.

Schuon defines matter as "the sensible manifestation of existence as such." This implies that there are insensible manifestations of existence, which indeed there are. That is to say, all matter in existence is suffused with boundaries which are the effect of ideas.

Or in other words, as Schuon writes, "form is the manifestation of an 'idea,'" or "of a particular possibility." Thus, both form and substance, idea and matter, are limitations on possibility, rendering the infinite finite.

Even so, there is always nonlocal unity beneath the local diversity, which one might say is a shadow of the Absolute.

For example, although number goes on forever, there is no conceivable number that could be so far out as to become "detached" from the rest. Underneath the diversity of mathematics is always a continuum of unity; math is just multiples of one, or the endless variety of One-ness: unity prolonged. Even a fraction -- i.e., less than one -- must still partake of oneness, or it couldn't be defined.

Ah, but what about irrational numbers such as pi? Pi has "no solution." It has no end and therefore no boundary. As such, even God cannot know it, since it trails off into infinity, just as he does. So, does pi exist?

I don't know. I've never thought about it before. I would say that this only goes to show that there exist truths that cannot be proved with strict logic. In other words, we know that there must be a constant ratio between the diameter and circumference of a circle, even if it cannot be reduced to a fully rational expression.

Maybe the problem is that circles don't actually exist, any more than points or lines do. Rather, these are mental abstractions, pure forms that are never seen in matter. Or to plagiaphrase Benoit Mandelbrot, clouds aren't spheres, mountains aren't cones, coastlines aren't circles, and bark isn't smooth.

Speaking of Mandelbrot, one of his bestest ideas is that -- and I'm expressing this in my own way -- the immanent is just as infinite as the transcendent. For example, a coastline is not actually a finite boundary, but rather, is infinite. Thus, Tonga, for instance, is actually "enclosed in infinity."

How can that be, since infinity by definition cannot be closed? Well, let's say you are tasked to measure the coastline(s) of Tonga. Now, we all know that Tonga consists of 176 islands. Forget about that. We just want you to measure one of them. How would you begin? With a big tape measure? What about all the little nooks and crannies along the coastline, all the individual grains of sand, not to mention the molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles?

It turns out that nature is such a rough place that even the toughest Tongan couldn't possibly measure it, because

"the measured length of a stretch of coastline depends on the scale of measurement. Empirical evidence suggests that the smaller the increment of measurement, the longer the measured length becomes. If one were to measure a stretch of coastline with a yardstick, one would get a shorter result than if the same stretch were measured with a one-foot (30cm) ruler.

"This is because one would be laying the ruler along a more curvilinear route than that followed by the yardstick. The empirical evidence suggests a rule which, if extrapolated, shows that the measured length increases without limit as the measurement scale decreases towards zero" (Professor Wiki, emphasis Professor Wacky).

Wo. Let's pause here for a moment so as to allow you to assimilate this wonderful orthoparadox: the more accurately we measure something, the longer it is, to the point that perfect measurement equates to infinity?

CIBSPFY! (Can I buy some pot from you?)

This truth can be depicted visually via fractals. Magnify the itsiest bitsy of a fractal and you will see another beautiful fractal. There is no "last fractal," any more than one could find the last snowflake before they start repeating themselves. Or write the last poem. Or compose the last melody. Or bleat the last blog post.

(Which reminds me a line from the Wake that sez When a part so ptee does duty for the holos we soon grow to use of an allforabit.)

Again: the infinitude proceeds both up, into transcendence, and down, into immanence. And I would suggest that the same principle can assist us in thinking about God, who overflows and spills into and out of everything, just as Meister Eckhart claimed.

What exactly did he claim? Oh, for example, "Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature -- even a caterpillar -- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature."

Or "Earth cannot escape heaven. Flee it by going up, or flee it by going down, heaven still invades the earth..."

Or "God forever creates and forever begins to create, and creatures are always being created and in the process of beginning to be created."

I guess that's the "end," even if no such thing is possible...

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Where Reason is Going, Religion is Already Gone

The wife has become fascinated by the figure of Saint Paul. His story exemplifies many of the issues we've been discussing, because if everything he accomplished was foreordained, then what's the point?

Again, that kind of vulgarized omniscience reduces to absolute nihilism. I don't see any way around that conclusion. If someone can explain otherwise, feel free. But a cosmos without freedom is a cosmos without even the possibility of meaning.

It's not just the risks Paul took in traveling to strange places and preaching to usually hostile crowds. Think about the fact that he would only spend a week or two, but apparently leave with a handful of converts.

But what did it mean to "convert" back then? It certainly had nothing to do with sola scriptura, since the Gospels were decades away and the New Testament wouldn't be canonized for centuries.

Even more astonishing is how the message "stuck," and how the newly converted didn't simply revert to what they had previously believed before the excitement of the apostle's visit. To insist that it was all simply predetermined is to drain it of all majesty, mystery, and heroism. Nothing to see here. Literally -- any more than there is anything to learn by interrogating a cog in a machine. The cog simply does what it does because it has been preprogrammed to do it.

Now, was there an element of divine causation here? Obviously. It's called the Holy Spirit, AKA God. But how does the HS operate? Via material or efficient causation, again, like a linear machine in a Newtonian cosmos?

I don't think so. Rather, it seems to me that the HS is the quintessential case of formal and final causation: it doesn't so much push from behind as pull from ahead or above. But we are always free to resist the attraction.

I mean, c'mon. Is there really a human being who hasn't passively ignored or actively resisted this attraction? What is sanctity if there is no resistance to the sanctifying energies? Does it really make sense to insist that Charles Manson and Pope John Paul II simply followed the path of least resistance? For there is no conceivable path with less resistance than predestination, since there is nothing to resist and no one to resist it.

I feel like I'm championing the obvious, but there are obviously many people who believe the absurdity of predestination, and not just Muslims and Jansenists.

Rather, it is an implicit secular dogma, the reason being that there is no scientistic principle -- and no possibility of one -- that can account for our free will, which mysteriously dangles from above like an invisible thread of possibility. Therefore, it "must" be impossible and illusory.

Which immediately begs the question of how one could possibly know this if one has no choice in the matter. It's not even incoherent, because being incoherent requires the possibility of coherence.

As alluded to yesterday, the very first thing we learn about God is that he creates. God has many names, but the first one -- before redeemer, before judge, before math wiz -- is Creator. Does this word have any real meaning, or is it just poetic, not to be taken literally? Because to literally create must involve freedom, which is why machines, Marxists, and Muslims (collectively speaking) do not create.

How did we reach this point of madness? By losing our mind. Topping writes that because "modernity pretends to offer a creed more universal than the Church's," the West needs a "renewal and recovery of its own mind."

The western mind has a source, a ground, a purpose and a destiny, but now the tenured spend their days tediously sawing off the diseased branch they sit upon, and then pretending it's a new and better tree.

"When religion is gone," writes Topping, "reason is going." Or in other words, where reason is crumbling, God has already left the building, since God is the principle that renders reason more than an absurcular tautology. And an enclosed world without reason or freedom has a name: hell.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Torn Between Two Nothings

Let's try to summarize, which we rarely do, since we don't look back as often as we should in order to make sure previously colonized ground hasn't reverted to unsettled bewilderness and repopulated with native parasites.

We started down this cosmic artery -- well, to be honest, I think it all started sometime last fall, with Hartshorne and then Berdyaev, and has ramified into various iterations since then, never quite getting back to the point, which is what now?

Near as I can tell, it all began last October, with the shocking annunciation of my cosmic orientation, and we've been circling that strange attractor ever since: freedom, necessity, process, creativity, contingency, predetermination; in short, the universally necessary truths of existence.

Or, more specifically, I suppose you could say we've been trying to play Tradition in the key of process, or to weave an area rug out of God's facticity and human freedom -- a freedom which is pure nothingness in the absence of God's facticity, but another kind of bupkis if it is totally predetermined and foreknown by God. I say man is torn -- and (re)born -- between two tempting nothings: existentialism and predeterminism.

As I've said all along, in order to make this work, I think we need to tweak what we mean when we refer to divine omniscience. With the usual understanding, we render the term more banal than it actually is, basically turning God into the ultimate human know-it-all. But I think we need to dig beneath the surface of human thought in order to seek a better analogy.

Speaking of thought, I came across a provocative but self-evidently true statement in Topping, to the effect that "No other institution has been thinking about thinking as long as the church has." One of my problems with protestantism is that it doesn't adequately think about thinking, but rather, assumes a lot of thinks that end up predetermining how scripture will be interpreted, so that its conclusions are often metaphysical assumptions in disguise.

To cite one prominent example: if predeterminism is impossible in principle -- if it simply cannot be the case without rendering everything else we know incomprehensible -- then if our theology ends there, we need to rethink our assumptions.

To put it the other way around, if predeterminism is the case, then neither truth nor thinking are human possibilities. They are absolutely foreclosed, for the same reason freedom is nullified. Thus, truth and thinking are entirely bound up with freedom. This is a true ontological trinity: freedom/truth/thinking, or, in a word, creativity.

I have devoted many posts to thinking² (thinking about thinking), and one recurrent theme is that it involves not one but two distinct processes, one more developed than the other. Anyone can think. But thinking about thinking is an open system -- a dissipative structure -- on a higher level.

If we borrow an analogy from biology, you could say that the body as a whole "thinks about cells," so to speak. Each cell is alive, or like an independent thought. The organism is a higher thought that organizes all the subordinate cellular-thoughtlings.

Now let's abruptly shift gears and see how this applies to theology. Topping writes that faith "impart[s] to our freedom a distinct form." Oh? How could that be, if faith is simply assent to closed and settled "truths"? Isn't that the opposite of freedom?

Yes, in the same sense that if one of your cells decides to go rogue and metastasize into cancer, it is finally freeeeeeee! While it lasts. It seems to me that that sort of cancerous freedom is analogous to the absolute nothingness of existential freedom.

Perhaps we need to posit a Thinking³, which is God thinking about us. For there is revelation, and there is our response to it. This is clearly different in principle from thinking about our own thoughts. Revelation is "about God," but it is really more "about man," in that we obviously cannot comprehend God -- again, in principle -- but it is possible for God to provide a way for men to think about him. Thus, we could say that revelation is "God in the mode of man."

I might add that this would be the Whole Point of the Incarnation, wouldn't it? Prior to that there is incargnosis and there are incarnotions, but this is something entirely apart: Word made flesh, and therefore flesh made Word -- a text, a narrative, an intelligible corpus.

For Topping, "faith makes you truly human." It "defines and so limits thought through its dogmas, its institutions, its traditions," but that is hardly the end of it. Rather, only the Beginning, for faith "also liberates": "By imposing limits faith frees thought and action from futility and can render them divine."

I think this is perfectly analogous to Polanyi's distinction between tacit and focal (or from-->to) knowledge. That is, revelation provides God-given boundary conditions that allow thinking to vault to a higher sphere. This is the quintessential expression of human freedom, just as the fixed rules of spelling and grammar allow us with virtually every utterance to say something we've never said before in the same way.

Which is why, if you follow me, postmodernism is a terminal cancer of the mind. Or in other words, it consigns us to mere freedom, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.