Friday, April 18, 2014

Strange Lifeforms

With our expanded definition of Life Itself, a lot of unsuspected things join us in the club, while many formerly living things -- books, people, ideas -- fall on the inanimate side. I suppose Aristotle is the one who first defined the discipline of biology, and it hasn't changed much since then. Or has it?

We are told that untutored children come equipped with the ability to distinguish animate from inanimate -- just as they are able to distinguish between human and nonhuman or mother and all nonmothers, who are second place or lower.

Which is interesting, because it seems to me that biology must be rooted in this unstated and implicit assumption that we already know what Life is without ever consciously thinking about it. I mentioned in the book that no biologist works inductively or additively, examining the particulars and then concluding that the thing is alive. Rather, it's something we are born knowing.

Which is a shaky foundation for a science if this preconception is not examined, or if it is subtly altered. In other words, you can't start with a preconception that needs no justification, and then arbitrarily change it. I'm trying to think of an analogy. Imagine I have the unexamined preconception that Jews are inferior. I then build an ideology around what to do about them, without ever examining the initial assumption. Not a very good example, but let's move on.

Aristotle, like the human child, has a much more general and expansive definition of Life. He maintains that "From the biological perspective, soul demarcates three sorts of living things: plants, animals, and human beings. In this way soul acts as the [formal and final] cause of a body’s being alive. This amalgamation (soul and body) exhibits itself through the presentation of a particular power that characterizes what it means to be alive for that sort of living thing."

But even this is begging the question, because he begins with an intuitive preconception of life, and then tries to account for it, i.e., it is something with soul (or better, anima, to distinguish it from its purely human connotations):

"The [anima] is the form of a living body thus constituting its first actuality. Together the body and soul form an amalgamation. This is because when we analyze the whole into its component parts the particular power of the amalgamation is lost."

I remember reading in The Phenomenon of Life -- my books are still stored away, so I can't get to it -- that for early man (man in his childhood?), Life was the rule, not the exception. For us it is the other way around; we might say that physics is the rule, life the infinitesimally rare exception, and mind an impossibility.

The secular world would call this "progress," but is it necessarily so? Have we lost anything in coming to regard the cosmos as fundamentally dead as a doornail?

I can't help thinking that this is what motivates those extra-terrestriologists to hope beyond hope that there must be life somewhere else, please!!! For to fulfill this hope would be a roundabout way of reverting to the primordial notion that life must be much more general, not just an inconceivably rare exception. If it pops up everywhere, why then it must be built into the nature of things.

Which I believe it is and must be, regardless. Remember a few posts back, about our right to Truth? I think this is one of those rights: you have the right to know that this is a fundamentally living and breathing cosmos with throbbing arteries running hither & yon and up & down, not just an iron mathcage or oneway physics machine.

In the past -- who knows, maybe even in this context -- I have mentioned the crack that it must not have been difficult for Shakespeare to produce his works, for if it were difficult, it would have been impossible. Get it? No one could have struggled to achieve such transcendent excellence, because no amount of mere struggling would cut it. There had to be something else going on, even if we have no idea what it was.

Well, I would say the same of Life. If Life is completely reducible to physics without remainder, then no amount of material shuffling, whether random or determined, could have resulted in Life: you can't get here from there.

Lifewise, if the mind is reducible to neurology, then it couldn't have happened and is not happening now. Rather, it is ultimately just atoms flying about in a statistically rare manner, nothing more, nothing less.

Yesterday I mentioned how certain texts are more alive than others. How can this be? Is there some mysterious force, an elan vital, animating the living text from the outside? No, I don't think so. It's much weirder, and yet, more plausible than that. Again, if Life is everywhere, in this case it would be a matter of arranging words in such a way that they render latent Life present. Hello, noumenon!

Er, how does one go about doing that? Well, for starters, if it were a struggle, it couldn't be done! Let's examine that quintessentially living text, Genesis. It's been with us for a few thousand years, and yet, folks never tire of it. What's going on?

One of the virtues of this translation is that it tries to answer that question by attempting to approximate the original Hebrew much more closely, as the sound itself -- the rhythms, alliterations, wordplay, echoes and reverberations -- conveys the experience of Life before we even undertake an analysis of its meaning. Much of this is lost in, for example, the stately language of the King James version. The latter conveys, say, majesty, but is often stilted where it should sing or scat.

According to Alter, various translations "have placed readers at a grotesque disadvantage from the distinctive literary experience of the Bible in its original language." He notes that translators have generally been preoccupied with conceptual clarity at the expense of this more direct transmission of meaning. Furthermore, the clarity or closure is often superimposed on what is intended to be mysterious, open, and unsaturated. The Bible

"cultivates certain profound and haunting enigmas, delights in leaving its audience guessing about motives and connections, and above all, loves to set ambiguities of word choice and image against one another in an endless interplay that resists neat resolution." I've mentioned before that if in the beginning is the Word, then Wordplay comes right after.

In short, some things are better lifed nonexplained, which is not to say unexplained, but rather, explained in a more nonlinear, or right-brained, or imagistic, or playful, or musical fashion. The language is not necessarily wideawake and cutandry, but rather, provokes vertical remesmering, or maybe facilitates a trancelight of its preverberation.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Tell Your Friends from the Zombies

A little sidetrip from the main road, being that I don't have that much time anyway. Still, a critically important topic, especially if one wants to be happy and adjusted to cosmic reality.

Reader Magister commented that "Feminists seem to be perpetually at war with their own bodies." However, this resentment is projected into men and into babies, as if it's our fault that their bodies are so sexually alluring, or the baby's fault that they have a such nice cozy womb just perfect for perpetuating the species. It's almost as if the female body has a purpose or something.

However, feminists reject the sufficient reason of their body -- for readers living in Rio Linda or laboring under the delusions of gender theory, that means the reason why your body exists. I mean, everything has a reason, right? Can we at least agree on that? Or do feminists now regard logic as an abusive form of mansplaining?

No? I see. It's a form of rape. Besides, that's not funny!

Did you know that 90% of workplace deaths occur to men? So, why isn't everyone freaking out about MORTALITY INEQUALITY!

In my response to Magister's comment, I wrote that, "Speaking of cosmic rights, the baby certainly has a legitimate right to the mother's body, which is why, you know, breasts. (Which are to be distinguished from boobs, which is what breasts look like to a man.)

"More generally, as we've discussed in the past, not only are our minds intrinsically intersubjective, but our bodies are too. Man and woman point beyond themselves and 'refer' to one another. So to say that we 'own' our bodies and that's that is a little simplistic, to say the least, and certainly not humanistic."

The reason it is not humanistic is that a) human beings could not have evolved from such a static situation, and b) no existing human being lives as an isolated body, cut off from the rest of mankind. Rather, a living body is an open system at every level, biologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually. Or supposed to be, rather.

Now, in order for language, or information, or meaning, to exist, one thing must be capable of standing for another thing. This is an extremely simple and basic concept, so simple that everyone has it as a background assumption without ever thinking about how it got here and what it implies. There is no reason to take meaning, because everything is always giving it away.

Of note, this feature is woven into the very fabric of existence, and was here long before human beings hit the cosmic stage. Consider DNA, for example, through which a gene, or combination of genes, stands for -- one might even say "symbolizes" -- this or that trait.

But even prior to that, we know that the world is always susceptible to intelligible abstraction, which is why, for example, we can talk about a "big bang." We can talk about a big bang because of background radiation that encodes information referring to that primordial event -- just as light striking your retina can tell you that a star existed a billion years ago, or however long it took the light to get herenow in spacetime.

This means that at the moment of luminous impact, our present and the star's past, or the star's past and future, are thoroughly entangled in this moment of knowing. When the star gave out that light a billion years ago, little did it know that it would someday arrive at the back of the eye of a lifeform that didn't yet exist. But stars were bigger back then. It's the cosmos that's gotten smaller.

Now, the one Big Idea I have retained from the Christopher Alexander books, and has been haunting me (in a good way) ever since, is that Life Itself is latent or implicate everywhere in the cosmos, but becomes manifest or explicate under certain circumstances.

This is an extremely handy idea for discerning the Living from the Dead at every level of the cosmos. But it is really helpful in sorting between the humans and the zombies, because the language of the latter is dead. There is something wrong with their whole encoding system. They radiate Death from every pore.

Let's see if I can auto-plagiarize some stuff from those old bobservations. "Recognizing this life in things is equivalent to saying, 'The universe is made of person-stuff. I always thought it was made of machine-stuff, but now I see that it is not'" (Christopher Alexander).

Yes, exactly. Person-stuff. Among other things, this means that human beings -- better, Persons -- are not late arrivals to the cosmic manifestivus, but its whole basis; or rather, its quintessential expression, only made explicate and local.

This is why everything makes so much sense, but it also explains when and why it doesn't, because things are supposed to make sense. Absurdity is the exception, not the rule -- just as most things in the world -- unspoiled nature, that is -- are oddly beautiful. Why? What's with all this useless beauty? Indeed, what's with all this useless truth? And Life. More generally, could Absurdity be the ultimate ground and source of all this life, love, logoi, and laughter?

From an old post:

For example, this is why language is even possible, because the person-stuff of the universe is interiorly related and therefore capable of encoding and transmission from one body or region to another. Our ability to see the beauty or apprehend the deep structure of the world represents one cidence of of the same coin-. It is to receive the Memo and be in the Loop.

For this reason, we now understand how and why scientists are guided by feeling and artists by science. In other words, a scientist wouldn't even know what to investigate in the absence of a feeling that reduces the infinite field of phenomena to something 'interesting,' something that attracts his attention.

More good stuff in those old posts on Alexander, but the main principle I have retained is the idea that when something is Living, there is a complex interplay of elements echoing and referring to one another. I would say that this is why Genesis is so "alive" with inexhaustible meaning, just as it is why one senses so much life in one of them big ol' cathedrals. Indeed, the Geometry of Love is anterior to the love of geometry, otherwise the latter couldn't exist.

Back to our original question, which we might formulate as What is the Message of the Human Body? As it so happens, Schuon has an essay on just this subject in one of his best books (most of which go to ten, this one to eleven). But I'm just about out of time, so we'll have to reserve that subject for another sidetrip in the cosmic rambler.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cosmic Perverts & Your Transnatural Right to Truth

That question I posed at the top of yesterday's post: does man have a right to Truth? -- I'm not sure I answered it in the way I had intended. I didn't just mean this in terms of human institutions and whatnot. Rather, I meant it in cosmic terms, i.e., whether man qua man has this right.

It's actually a much more strange and radical question than implied by the rest of yesterpost, because it wouldn't constitute just a natural right, but a transnatural right to know Just What the Hell is Going On Down Here. Seems like a minimal request to me. But the secular world doesn't even believe in natural rights, let alone transnatural rights. Literally. The google machine has never heard of them.

What, there are transgendered rights but no transnatural rights? What then are transgendered rights grounded in? That's right: just a boot to the face, i.e., judicial bullying. For what else is there when we have no intrinsic, which is to say, cosmic, rights?

There are few things in life to which we are entitled. To say we have rights is not to say the world is fair; rather, vice versa: the purpose of rights is to create the possibility of justice.

One thing to which we are entitled is infantile omnipotence. Mature adults are entitled to little, but the helpless infant is genuinely entitled to everything (one reason why being the mother of an infant requires such superhuman strength). You cannot spoil an infant, and people who think otherwise can end up with a child who spends the rest of his life in search of the Lost Entitlement. Is it any coincidence that the growth of the state mirrors the growth of single and working motherhood, and that the latter are the most reliably Democratic LoFos?

If people thought about this beforehand, they wouldn't bring so many children into the world without being able to fulfill their entitlement.

For among other things, a child has the transnatural right to a loving mother and father in a stable and enduring union, without which he will be psychically handicapped from the very outset. No one could seriously argue that a child has a right to a mother only, or two fathers, or cheap daycare, let alone to be aborted. If abortion were a natural right, then it would be present at conception, and few babies would choose to abort themselves.

Back to our right to Truth. This is truly central to man, because what would man be in the absence of Truth? He would be an inexplicable cosmic freak, an existential birth defect, the hopelessly absurd case of an effect with no cause, that is, a tragically unrequited love of Truth.

Irrespective of whether we are children of the Light or merely sons of the bitch Gaia, man's standard equipment includes this inborn epistemophilia, a cosmo-global positioning system which is ultimately in theosynchronous orbit around the strange attractor that ceaselessly pulls us onward, upward, and inward.

I want to say that this is not debatable, nor is it figurative, but rather, literally true, for it is what is happening -- and why it is happening -- when we pursue Truth.

If not, then what are we doing? Just solipsistically chasing after a mirage, or our neurology, or tenure? This would be like being born with a lust for the opposite sex on a grotesquely asexual planet, like a man -- or worse, woman -- in a feminist studies program.

With rights come responsibilities. We have the transnatural right to Truth. What's the corresponding responsibility? Well, there are obvious things, like valuing it above all else; or, to put it inversely, Truth has its own rights, to such an extent that nothing is more privileged than Truth (although some branches are coequal, being that we live under tripartite cosmic rule).

So, we have every right to demand Truth, but Truth has every right to expect us to cherish it, defer to it, honor it, assimilate it, live it. We can only be in a reciprocal relationship to Truth, and then only because we are ultimately composed of Truth, as intelligence to intelligibility: these are just two sides of the same transcendent coin (just as the human unit, on another plane, is "man-and-woman"). Or, one might say that one side manifests as immanence (world), the other as transcendence (knowledge).

We could no more have an inborn spiritual relationship to falsehood and illusion than we could have an inborn sexual attraction to another species. Yes, that obviously happens, but it is called a perversion, and there are spiritual perversions just as there are sexual ones. Do some people have a textual orientation to the Lie? Ya' think?

Note that in such a case, the same metacosmic attraction is at work, only misdirected. Think, for example, of Obama's comically mendacious blowing smokesman, Jim Carney. If you are remotely normal -- i.e., not a cosmic pervert -- it is simply impossible to imagine doing his job. Can you see yourself casually but insistently peddling damaging and destructive lies to millions of citizens? What comes after irony?

So, Jim Carney earns his keep by denying us our transnatural right to Truth. What an unrelenting assoul.

About some of those epistemophilic perversions, or perverse attractions. Haven't you ever had an unnatural attraction to something other than Truth? What was really going on there? What were you searching after, and how did you come to accept {x} as the answer? And why were you so self-satisfied and belligerent about it?

If there's a problem here, I think it needs to be traced all the way back down to the foundation, the roots, the ground. For there are opportunistic parasites all along the way, just waiting for you to fall to the clayside, when we are always properly situated between the realms of clay and spirit.

Speaking of which, this wonderful translation of Genesis -- AKA The Origins of Everything -- can offer some clues. Let's zoom into Genesis 3. Alter has a footnote to the line about our embarking up the wrong tree, stating that the Hebrew word typically translated as "delight" actually means "that which is intensely desired," "and sometimes specifically lust." Thus, our inappropriate attraction is linked to a kind of intense lust.

Lust for what? Well, the text implies that it is bound up with the desire to be God instead of being in relationship to God. Thus, it is none other than the misplaced omniscience and omnipotence to which we are only entitled in infancy, a kind of grandiose spiritual infanity.

I don't have time to get into details, but I am reminded of how, at the root of a sexual perversion or fetish, is the pathological defense mechanism of omnipotence. In fact, I no longer remember the whole thing myself, but this guy explains it (interesting book, by the way): the "central feature" of sexual perversions is "the degradation of the object to an object under one's omnipotent control," etc.

Just transpose this to the key of Truth, and you have a perverse regime that insistently attempts to control reality with words, narratives, and childish Barrytales instead of being in a loving relationship to the one Truth that unites us.


Speaking of light and children, here is the boy visiting one of his baseball teammates in the hospital, where's being treated for leukemia. Poor guy is all puffy from the chemo, but has a great attitude:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Living in the Penumbra Between Time and History

Does man have a right to the truth? Or Truth rather? If so, then they -- you know who they are -- have no right to deprive man of it. In the name of what is it permissible to deny truth? I mean, besides liberalism?

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...

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Time is It?

Well, almost no time again, just enough to quickly proofread this brief blast.

We can't know what abstract time is like, if there is such a thing. Rather, we can only experience time concretely. And even then, we can only experience human time, or what time is like for human beings.

I suppose this is no different than the experience of space. I'm sure an amoeba, an ant, a bat, and an ape all have very different perceptions of space. I'm not sure if it's even possible to truly imagine the space in which the premodern mind existed, with a solid earth floating on the waters below and the closed, dome-shaped firmament above, any more than they could imagine an infinitely open cosmos.

Morson suggests that it may be "misleading to assume a single temporality for all disciplines and all aspects of experience." Rather, we may require different "chronotopes" at different scales.

Again, imagine how the earth rotates on its own axis while revolving around a sun that in turn revolves around a galactic center. Maybe time is like that too: cycles within cycles within cycles.

Think of the different spaces we simultaneously inhabit, from the most intimate, to the private, to various public spaces, and on to the abstract-cosmic. Some people are frightened of the confined spaces -- claustrophobia -- while other are frightened of the expansive -- agoraphobia. (Or think of Pascal's dread of the "eternal silence of the infinite spaces," i.e., agoraphobia on stilts.) Some recoil from the intimate spaces -- e.g., schizoid and narcissistic personalities -- others from the worldly -- raccoons.

What time is it? There is developmental time, biographical time, biological time, historical time(s), etc. Thus, "Just as Galileo maintained that the earth was but one of many planets, so it might be useful to assume that there are always a multiplicity of temporalities to consider."

But of all these various times, there is only one in which this thing called "freedom" comes into play, and may effect the course of time. This is a very mysterious reality, for how could time produce something that transcends time? Or in other words, how can a timebound entity, something produced in time, rise above time?

Some people get around the problem by simply saying it's impossible. While we may feel as if we have free will, this freedom is impossible in principle. It cannot exist because it cannot exist.

I actually appreciate the argument, because at least it is intellectually consistent, following necessarily from first principles. For how does a deterministic world suddenly escape itself and go all indeterministic? How does biology become history? When did this happen? On whose watch? Who goofed?

Speaking of first principles, if the Absolute is Trinity, then it seems to me that God is eternally escaping himself, so to speak. That's what love is like, isn't it? A constant chase with no literal capture, because if you succeed at making the capture, the chase is over. And there are people who are like this, aren't there? Think of the compulsive womanizer who thrills in the pursuit but immediately devalues the conquest.

Thus, it seems to me that transcendence is woven into the cosmic cake, or rather, baked into the cosmic area rug. I read something similar in this book about The Geometry of Love. It is in the context of a discussion of the Eucharist, to the effect that "Eating, before sex, is biological evolution's first step towards transcendence in the animal species because it initiates physical openness to and need for the Other."

But isn't Life Itself already evidence of this cosmic transcendence? In other words, isn't Life, by definition, the transcendence of physics? If it weren't, then physics would be fully sufficient to account for it. When you were sick, instead of going to a doctor, you'd consult with a physicist or mechanic.

But that's not so funny, because there was a 20th century school of psychology called behaviorism which amounted to just that. The human being was reduced to its behavior only, so treatment consisted of rewarding the desired behavior and punishing the undesired.

You will note with the appropriate dread that liberalism attempts the same, only on a massive scale. But at least it is intellectually consistent, since it denies the soul up front. No one with a living soul could be forced at gunpoint to purchase some shoddy state-mandated product.

Back to the question of transcendence. Even before Life Itself, doesn't Physics Itself transcend matter? If not, how do we know physics? In other words, if not for transcendence, then physics would consist of the unreflective sense of touch, if that.