Friday, April 11, 2014

How Wide is Your Spiritual Aperture and What is it Like to be Dead?

It seems to me that the forthcoming post is radically undetermined, and that if I don't write it, it will never be written. It's not as if it will write itself.

Then again, I suppose it will write itself, but not without my participation. It's more like I'll organize what is presented to me, or something.

Yes, but what do you mean by "it"? Is "it" there all at once -- in which case you just transcribe it -- or does it appear serially, partly conditioned by what you've already written?

Yes, it has to be that way, otherwise it would make no sense. There would be no continuity, as each new word would be disconnected from what has just come. So each word has to be connected to the past, and yet, must also converge upon a future which is not yet known.

How do we pull this off? What is the nature of language such that this is even possible?

It seems to me that this nondoodling process must be a microcosm of our-moment-to-moment existence, which is indeed always conditioned by the past and transforming into the future, and yet, only experienceable in this infinitesimal, immeasurable moment of choice, of freedom, in which we can, as it were, tilt the past toward one of many possible futures.

We cannot experience the past, which is gone, nor the future, which isn't yet here, only this momentary moment, which is also never here, since it has already vanished by the time we even notice it.

My wife has seriously taken to her new hobby of photography, and one might think that photography is the quintessential art form for capturing "moments."

For example, she'll take a rapid fire burst of photos of the boy in action in a baseball game, but this captures images so fleeting that they weren't actually experienced -- any more than we experience things at the quantum level, even though they are obviously occurring.

The photo slices up the temporal continuum in such a way that it reminds me of what we said the other day about the length of a coastline being infinite. Analogously, you could say that the faster the lens, the the slower the time. If I understand the concept.

Morson describes a similar literary device used by Dostoyevsky in The Idiot, something he calls "vortex time." Have you ever been in a temporal vortex? When you are, it is as if you are in the gravitational field of a dreadful attractor. As you are drawn closer to it, freedom narrows until there is no choice left except to submit to the attractor. One imagines that death must be like this, even the essence of it. (There are also blissful attractors, but that is the subject of a slightly different post.)

In fact, The Idiot contains "repeated descriptions of the last moments of a person condemned to death." Now, we are all condemned to death, but most of us put off thinking about it until it is visible or palpable.

It is as if we have been dropped from the top of a building. No one knows how tall the building is or was until he hits the ground. The condemned man is in a somewhat unique position, since he has full conscious awareness of exactly how tall his building is: tall enough to reach the SPLAT.

Thus, Dostoyevsky "dwells upon the speeding up of time experienced by the prisoner as executions nears" (ibid).

This is all a bit abstract and theoretical, isn't it Bob? Er, no. In 1849 Dostyevsky was arrested and condemned to death, "but at the last moment a note from Tsar Nicholas I was delivered to the scene of the firing squad, commuting the sentence to four years' hard labour in Siberia."

So the man knows of what he speaks. On the way to the execution "it seems to the prisoner as if he has plenty of time. He imagines that his last half hour has room for an immense number of sensations and thoughts, for his mind now works at an extraordinary rate in order to concentrate the energy of a lifetime into those last moments" (Morson).

So the aperture is wide open, allowing a lifetime of light -- even the dimmest -- to be perceived. Remember: the faster the aperture, the slower the time: "As the time remaining diminishes, the mind speeds up still more, so that ten minutes, and then five, and then one, and then a fraction of one, contain the energy of a lifetime" (ibid).

Like Zeno's paradox, it is as if the distance to the street below is divided and subdivided endlessly: "The agony of knowing that the absolute end is near... increases geometrically, and with ever-increasing rapidity it transforms all thoughts, all stray impressions... into reminders of the imminent horror."

The Attractor is now in full view: "There is one point that can never be forgotten, and one can't faint, and everything moves and turns about it, about that point" (Dostoyevsky). Then, as the prisoner's head is right on the chopping block, "parts of a second shrink, [and] the mind speeds up virtually to infinity" (Morson).

"[T]ime itself has been deformed, intensified, sped up more and more as it is sucked into the vortex. The lifetime's worth of agony that has been concentrated into a tenth and then a hundredth of a second must now be lived through a hundred times if that severed head can remain aware for an entire second" (ibid).

Now, the first thing I think about is Christ's Passion, and how his execution is elevated to nothing less than the cosmic vortex around which all of creation is oriented and into which it is drawn -- as if all of human history is pulled into that vast and inconceivable white hole.

Then I think of Revelation, for example, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen."

Then, oddly enough, I think of the Cosmobliteration section of the book, in which I try to demonstrate what happens to language as we approach the singularity. Not saying I succeeded, since I'm still alive.

Lost my aperture. Just apophatic nonentity. Cut me down to sighs. Too old, older than Abraham, too young, young as a babe's I AM...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Closing Time in the West

People are always trying to close time. It seems to me that a singular cosmic achievement of man was to enter time, but as soon as he did so, he began searching for ways out.

This is understandable. Indeed, I've plotted a graph into the next 100 years, and if present trends continue, it looks like we'll all be dead by then. Unless we can somehow arrest time.

What is Marxism but a quite literal attempt to close down time? For Marx, "history" is just the side effect of ironclad laws, and the sooner it ends, the better.

One reason the Marxist has no qualms about stealing your slack is that you don't actually have any slack to begin with -- similar to how you didn't know how substandard your health insurance was until Obama took it away.

Morson writes of the fall of the Soviet Union, a nation we might think of as a kind of parentheses within TI(ussr)ME.

In other words, the Soviet Union came into being with the idea that the end of history -- or the beginning of the end -- had been reached. But then, in the blink of an eye, it was all over, and history came crashing back in: "Statues of the man [Lenin] who established the final system," which was "destined to survive forever, were overthrown in a kind of ritual return to 'history'" (Morson).

Of course, history had been taking place all along, just as Michael Jackson was still aging despite the decades-long attempt to freeze his development at age 12.

So, who goofed? Who caused this obnoxious return of history? Ironically, one thing you can't have in Marxism is "responsibility," since responsibility is a consequence of freedom. To affirm that consciousness and behavior are determined by class is to exonerate one of all responsibility. And yet, the Moscow Times reports that Marxist and leftist lawmakers in Russia want to investigate Mikhail Gorbachev "for his role in the 1991 collapse of the USSR."

Indeed, what is a Marxist "lawmaker" anyway? If everything is determined by the laws of scientific materialism, isn't this analogous to investigating the head of the biology department because some animals are so damn ugly?

Ho! "We are still reaping the consequences of the events of 1991.... People in Kiev are dying and will continue to die at the fault of those who many years ago at the Kremlin made a decision to break up the country."

If this is true, then Marxism is untrue. But there is no cognitive dissonance, any more than an American liberal has cognitive dissonance in believing increased energy costs will reduce demand while increasing the minimum wage won't reduce the demand for labor.

Ironically, the Clinton years were called a "holiday from history," when they were quite the opposite. Rather, the fall of the USSR "was a kind of metahistorical act, in this case asserting the openness of time" (Morson) and of history -- just as the murder of the Tsar had been a kind of blood sacrifice to the god Chronos, initiating a system of sacrifice for keeping history at bay.

Mmmm, bourgeois long pig:

So, with the implosion of the USSR, "for good or ill, the future was no longer guaranteed. After decades of certainty, the possibility of possibility was reborn..."

However, the Marxist parasite is embedded deep in the human soul. It is a retrovirus, always waiting for favorable conditions to attack the host. We will never be rid of it, because it is an expression of human nature -- that part of our nature with which it is our task to do battle, this battle being the primary drama of life.

Once one forecloses vertical space -- as do all secular fundamentalists, by definition -- then this battle is over. You might say that eliminating the vertical is to individual development what Marxism is to history. In short order, maturity becomes history, a thing of the past, gone with the tradition that nurtured it.

Our Ten Commandments provide a summary of how we are supposed to carry on the battle with our(lower)selves, especially the latter five that govern human-to-humam relations; in short, honor tradition, and don't lie, steal, envy, and fornicate. Liberalism turns each of these on its head and celebrates the mirror image.

Obamacare, for example -- probably the most steaming pile of liberal legexcretion ever -- is built on a foundation of envy, theft, and the obliteration of tradition, and at this very moment the Supreme Court is deciding whether businesses can be compelled by the state to subsidize sexual license. And if the whole catastrophe works as it is supposed to, then the death panels are coming, AKA rationing of services to eliminate the unworthy.

So the progressive succeeds in stunting history and therefore progress. For the ones who have been waiting for themselves, the wait is over, and closing time -- and therefore freedom -- may proceed apace for the rest of us.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

In the Beginning, Now & Forever, Worlds without End

This is the best I could do under the oppressive workumstances. Straight off the top of my head in a very short span of time. Consider it a brief pause or lateral sidetrip in our ongoing discussion...

It all comes down to time, doesn't it? If we could just figure out that one enigma, then the rest might fall like dominoes.

You can understand why no real progress has been made on the subject since Aristotle or Augustine or Aquinas. If you want to get a sense of how little we really know about time, just ask a childlike question such as, is the past real? Where is it then? Does the present emerge from the past or does it come into being from the future? Either way, how can choice exist?

When we arrive at a fruitless paradox, it's probably a sign that we're going about things the wrong way. It's not that the questions are wrong, but that our whole paradigm is off. We need to examine our assumptions at the very foundation of things.

Existence "takes place" in space and time. Or, one could say that we are "contained" in these two. But being contained in space is very different from being contained in time. Schuon writes that space is "static and conserving" while time is "dynamic and transforming."

That's helpful, for it suggests that classical liberal conservatism is woven into the very fabric of existence, i.e., change within conservation.

Must you politicize everything, God?!

YES and NO.

We are subjectively at the center of space, otherwise we could never conceive it. Objectively -- or abstractly -- we can see that space has the three dimensions of height, width, and depth, but subjectively (or concretely) we experience things from our center to the periphery, the latter extending up and down, forward and back, left and right (paraphrasing Schuon).

Likewise, time has subjective and objective modes. Concretely, time is "the changing of phenomena," whereas abstractly it is simply the "duration" or measurement of the change.

Now, just as abstract space has the three dimensions of height, width, and depth, abstract time has the three dimensions of past, present, and future.

Is time nested in another kind of time -- divine time, say? Think of how the rotation of the earth measures our days. But this takes place in the more expansive time it takes for the earth to circle the sun. And the sun too orbits the center of the Milky Way, one cosmic year taking around 225-250 million years, give or take.

But that's objective time. What about subjective time? Does our time have something analogous to the cycles within cycles? Yes, in the obvious sense that we celebrate birthdays, or the sabbath, or the new year, or bar mitzvahs, or anniversaries, or beer o'clock, etc. Thus, there is the "ordinary time" of mere duration, nested in more concrete markers of slackramental time.

Yes, but are there only these manmode markers, or are there objective, which is to say, God-given ones?

Hmm. Schuon suggests that time is not just abstract duration, but that it has four phases. We may think that our experience of the seasons gives rise to the idea of temporal phases, but Schuon says it is the other way 'round, so that time unfolds as spring, summer, fall, and winter; or morning, day, evening, and night; or childhood, youth, maturity, and old age; etc.

Is it just me, or is it getting a little chilly in here?

What about all of history? This is where I would tremulously disagree with Schuon, for he regards it as essentially cyclical, whereas I can't help seeing it as spiroidal.

In short, we both believe time necessarily has an "origin" or source. But Schuon believes that history is essentially a departure from the source, and therefore a privative and degenerative phenomenon. However, the whole idea of Resurrection seems to me like the hope of an eternal spring coiled inside that last cold winter we endark upon

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

God's Troubles with the Cosmic Rollout

As I mentioned in a comment the other day, this book on the nature of time, Narrative and Freedom, is quite provocative, so much so that it's provoking more ideas than I can assimilate. It's like each idea is a seed for its own tree. Although not difficult, it is thick, or rich, or dense. Just the kind of book I like.

That is, most books -- even from the nontenured -- contain one or two ideas swathed in reams of self-indulgent verbiage. Cognitively speaking, such books are totally saturated and therefore dead.

The good book is the opposite: it is alive with ideas that are efficiently expressed with a minimum of fuss and pretension. Instead of being self-important, the writing is soph-important, in service to the idea that is its attractor and leading edge. Or in other words, it is transparent, in Polanyi's from-->to sense.

I suppose the problem is that the postmodern rabble doesn't understand that ideas are real, and instead pretends that words are just about other words.

Therefore, not only are we sealed into a closed cosmos (as per scientistic dogma) with no possibility of escape or inscape, but we are equally -- and for the same reason -- enclosed in language. Because transcendence is a priori impossible, throwing out words is no more (but no less) effective than tossing bricks in the sky.

Which all goes to the central theme of this book, which is: is the universe closed, or open? There are two main ways to live as a shut-in within a closed universe, one religious, the other scientistic.

As we've been discussing in recent weeks, if predestination is the case, then this is another way of saying that time is closed. From our standpoint in the now, it certainly looks as if there are any number of potential paths into the future, each path in turn branching off into additional choices.

In other words, from where we stand phenomenologically, the future looks like a tree, with its trunk planted in the now, and its branches and leaves representing possible futures. But then, a new tree extends forward out of each branch and leaf. We can never embrace or embody the tree, which is always up ahead. (One of the difficulties of writing history is appreciating the unknown future -- the tree -- from the perspective of the past; or in other words, we know the future but they don't.)

But now that I'm thinking about this for the first time, it looks to me as if the tree very much has a fractal structure. Which is to say, it has similarity across scale. Examine any point in time, and we see the self-similar tree structure. The question is, is the tree only similar in form, or also similar in content?

It seems to me that both must be true, or the cosmos would degenerate into chaos. This is another way of saying that there exist attractors within the structure of the tree, i.e., forms, archetypes, ideas, what have you.

To cite one obvious example, we are told that "random evolution" has "discovered" the eye on many separate occasions. Or in other words, it is as if so-called "independent" evolutionary branches are guided by the strange attractor of the eye-idea.

This would also apply to personal development. For the existentialist, in each now we are radically free; there is no past that compels us, nor any future that limits us.

But of course, this is not what it feels like, at least in the absence of chemical fortification. Rather, we are always shaped by our past and constrained by both virtues and mind parasites. Both are attractors in vertical space, the former located above and ahead, the latter behind and below. No one is radically free, least of all Jean Paul Sartre!

(Interestingly, a perversion subjectively feels "free" to the pervert; or the pervert feels existentially liberated while engaging in the perversion, which is why movements that celebrate various perversions -- whether sexual, political, or genderoid -- usually have the word "liberation" in their self-designation, just as one can be sure that a country with the word "Democratic" in its name is a tyranny.)

Anyway, the other way to enclose oneself in time is via scientism, but we've debunked that bunk so many times that I don't want to rub it in. Not sporting.

Among the Big Ideas -- or let's say Big Questions -- that have struck me while reading this book is, How far to take this view? I am all for taking it all the way to God, which I know upsets some readers, but I think the converse is much more upsetting if you really think about it. In short, do you really want to live in closed time, in which choice is an illusion, responsibility a mirage, and meaning impossible?

Let's go All the Way Down and Back, to the free launch of Genesis 1. If you approach the text without preconceptions, you will notice something striking. That is, God does not create the universe all at once, in one big abba-kabbalah, but rather, in stages. But if he already knows what's going to come out, what is the point of this?

The way the narrative is structured, it is as if God is surprised -- for why would he be pleased? -- by what is produced. For example, he begins by creating the heavens and earth, but the latter comes out a mess -- a dark and formless void -- so he tweaks it by shedding some light on the situation and dividing light from darkness.

But even then there are some problems with the rollout. No need to reprise the whole thing, but you get the picture: it is very much as if God creates and then stands back to judge what he has created before taking the next step. And this would be completely superfluous if God knows everything ahead of time.

It's just another way of emphasizing that God is really and truly Creator, and that his very own existence is the quintessence of openness and choice. There are always a multitude of possibilities, even -- or especially! -- in God. To me that's a comfort, not a conceit.

Indeed, I would say that the only reason we are open is that God is. Otherwise, an open mind in an open creation is completely inexplicable. It makes no sense at all.

However, I might add that, just as we are constrained and attracted by various transcendentals, e.g., love, truth, beauty, justice, unity, etc., so too is God constrained by his own nature, so to speak.

Which is why prophecy is indeed possible. Prophecy, which is a memoir of the future, is clearly distinct from history. History deals with the past, which is closed; but prophecy is a foreshadowing of the open future, therefore it cannot be as "exact" as history. Rather, it can provide general outlines and shapes of things to come, since it is apparently a vision of various attractors up above and ahead. But it's about the Big Picture, not the infinite and unknowable details.