Friday, February 06, 2015

The Sad Divorce of Mr. Substance and Mrs. Process

The bad nose: sinus infection. The good nose: antibiotics are on the way, but not until my 2:30 appointment. Not that uncomfortable, but a little fuzzy in the head, so we'll just have to struggle through this together. I wouldn't expect much.

Until just a second ago, I had always had an issue with the idea that the self is a process, as opposed to a kind of stable entity. It seems like a sneak attack on the soul, as in the perspective of neurology, which reduces the self to a process of the brain only: in other words, the self is just an emergent phenomenon of brain activity.

It's a bit like the Buddhist view, which also regards everything as a process with no substance underneath. In fact, to see any enduring substance is to be trapped in maya-illusion. The cosmos is just a big sand painting and we have a head cold, so we're always one sneeze away from Obliteration.

However, it is not the idea of process that's wrong, only the reduction. For if man is a fractal of God, and God is a kind of interior process, then every created thing should reflect this, human beings quintessentially so.

"With the decline of Newtonian physics and the emergence of quantum theory and relativity, the physical world-picture in the West became centered around a process concept" (in Nature, Man, and Society). I would qualify this somewhat, in that, although the metaphysic has changed, the People haven't heard the news, and continue to live in the Machine Cosmos of their collective imagination.

As we've discussed a number of times, Alfred North Whitehead was the first to understand the philosophical implications of the new physics, and yet, it is not as if everyone suddenly became a Whiteheadian.

Far from it. I don't even want to know who the fashionable philosophers are today among the tenured, but these academic blackhats owe nothing Whitehead. Rather, for the most part, they have utterly rejected even the possibility of a Grand Metaphysical Narrative, and instead fallen -- or enthusiastically leapt -- into the tyranny of relativism.

I suppose the orthoparadox at the heart of this is that the Absolute is a process. Intuitively we think of the Absolute as static and unchanging. But if I understand God rightly, he wants us to know that this is not the case, and that he is indeed a process. Being that he went to some lengths to press the point home to earthlings, I think we ought to listen.

So, the emergence of quantum physics should have alerted all and sundry to "the end of the stiff mechanistic absolutism based on the substance view" (ibid.). However, I would again modify this, and say that substance and process are complementary, not opposite. Therefore, "to be," -- in the formulation of Norris Clarke -- "is to be substance-in-relation" (note that that is OneWord in three).

As it applies to man, I would say that we continue to have a center, but that this center is more analogous to the central point of the worldpool or the I of the cosmic hurricane. Or better, a strange attractor in the complex phase space of our interiority. Looked at this way, it is impossible to say whether the process is "obeying" the attractor, or whether the attractor emerges from the process.

Again, complementarity: substance and relation "belong together in any adequate metaphysics," writes Clarke "as intrinsically complementary aspects, distinct but inseparable..." This complementarity conveys "what it means to be, to be a real being in the full and proper sense of the term" (ibid.).

So, we are human beings, not human islings or itlings. Who knew?

When you think about it -- think about it in the Raccoon way, I mean -- we're really talking about that sameold primordial marriage of He & She, Adam & Eve, Absolute & Infinite, Earth & Sky, Math & Music, etc. But "Unfortunately the two notions, originally joined together, have become sundered and more opposed to each other as modern philosophy has unfolded since Descartes..." (ibid.).

In fact, Clarke suggests that we could call this metaphysical divorce "The Sad Adventure of Substance in Modern Philosophy from Descartes to Whitehead."

Another key idea that emerges from this view is that reality is intrinsically communicative. How's that? Well, let's start at the top (or bottom, if you like), with the Trinity. Obviously the Trinity is "communicative" within itselves, Father-to-Son, Son-to-Father, Holy Ghost to everyone, etc. There is nothing beneath, before, or above this eternal comm-union of love-in-relation. Or, just say Love, which is unthinkable in the absence of relation.

By the way, why can't it be Hate, as implied by Islamist theology or leftist vilification?

Because primordial hatred is always a severing, a rupture, a rejection, a failure of communion and integration. We will return to this idea shortly, as it is a central principle of Interpersonal Neurobiology. In fact, this entire coonversation will eventually lead back to and extend the ideas put forth in that book, i.e., to an interpersonal theoneurobiology.

As Clarke describes it, substance-in-relation "has an intrinsic dynamic orientation towards self-expressive action, toward self-communication with others, as the crown of its perfection, as its very raison d'tre, literally..." After all, if it's good enough for God, it ought to be good enough for the likes & loves of us, right?

To reiterate, a certain kind of self-expression is the "crown of perfection" and our reason for being. I hope it doesn't sound like Brian Willams-level pomposity to say that this is indeed my reason for being. Not the only reason, but certainly the highest, as there is nothing I desire more than the knowledge of truth AND the ability to share and communicate it. The former would be a little anemic -- not to mention narcissistic or even Ønanistic -- in the absence of the positive joy of the latter (and this is naturally to be distinguished from the perverse joy of communicating lies, as in the case of an Obama or Williams).

Why should the communication of truth be such a joy? Again, if it's good enough for God...

22 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

However, it is not the idea of process that's wrong, only the reduction.

Reduction is one of those childish things that have to be put away.

As is usually the case, some of this very powerful stuff scares me.

I read Father Stephen earlier today. What he says seems (to me) to dovetail with what you are saying:

The world devoid of mystery is the world of a boundless ego.

And this true existence requires boundaries: it requires that I not know some things. It requires that there be places I cannot go.

It is a very good thing to learn that you are not God. It is only there that we will learn what it means to truly exist.

2/06/2015 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

"Jesus did not die in order to rescue the ego: He died in order to put the ego to death."

Hammer meets nail.

2/06/2015 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I desire more than the knowledge of truth AND the ability to share and communicate it. The former would be a little anemic -- not to mention narcissistic or even Ønanistic -- in the absence of the positive joy of the latter (and this is naturally to be distinguished from the perverse joy of communicating lies, as in the case of an Obama or Williams).

Yes, just so. The whole purpose of a Williams or Obama seems to me rather sad, as a whole - they want to be known and admired, but can't be admired for themselves so must fabricate a persona they think everyone would like more. But no matter how much people like the fabrication, the liar must live with the reality that nobody likes his real self, because he has hidden it within the falsehood. There can be no joy whatsoever in that.

2/06/2015 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Must also be why actors, who are paid to pretend to be someone else, feel so compelled to reveal their true selves and tell us all about their idiotic political opinions.

2/06/2015 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Probably - except that I bet most of the time, even that's a pose. They still haven't revealed their "true selves," just the "caring person who really cares" that they want everyone to think they are.

2/06/2015 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The mother of one of Tristan's teammates died in a car wreck. Poof. Just like that. In five years of baseball, I can't think of any nicer people I've met. You just never know...

2/07/2015 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, no - how awful! They will be in my prayers.

2/07/2015 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Gagdad,

As you mentioned, it is generally understood that Buddhism operates from a different set of metaphysical premises- that of process rather than substance. Do you think that Schuon's affirmation of the anatta doctrine as an "orthodox" position holds up? I've often wondered if Guenon might have been right when he originally disputed with Schuon over the heterodoxy of Buddhism.

2/07/2015 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Chris:

I'm not on board with Schuon's whole scheme of the transcendent unity of religions to begin with, so I don't know.

However, I can see as how it would be orthodox for Schuon, since he found (or projected, rather) his unity in the metaphysics of the Vedanta rather than in orthodox Christianity.

2/07/2015 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"...Until just a second ago, I had always had an issue with the idea that the self is a process, as opposed to a kind of stable entity. It seems like a sneak attack on the soul, as in the perspective of neurology, which reduces the self to a process of the brain only: in other words, the self is just an emergent phenomenon of brain activity...."

Speaking of process, we've been spending the weekend under the roof of our oldest boy's new house. He's not just our son, and we're not just his parents, but neither substance would be what they've become without the process.

Viva le Processes.

2/08/2015 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Then again, sometimes processes really suck. So sorry for Tristan's friend.

2/08/2015 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Gagdad,

I'm curious- does your metaphysical understanding correspond with a more of a classical theist picture or more of a panentheist one. As I understand it, the difference would be whether or not the world is an intrinsic necessary property of God or an extrinsic contingent property of God.

Best,


Chris

2/08/2015 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Panentheism all the way, which simply means that God is in the world while always transcending it. Kind of like us.

2/08/2015 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

New (to me) musical discovery:

First Aid Kit

These cuts are good starters:
1) Blue
2) Emmylou

First Aid Kit

2/08/2015 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Apologies for my typical subject change.

"God is in the world but always transcending it."

To me, that corresponds with the "classical" theist perspective. The Creator is creating the world at every instant in the present.

Panentheism, on the other hand, suggests (I think) that there is "an overlap or intersection between the being of God and the being of the universe"- that is- that there is no clear ontological distinction.

Because of this lack of clear distinction, some have objected on the grounds that it blurs the real distinction between good and
evil.

2/08/2015 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

{shrug}

2/08/2015 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

And this:

Kat Edmonson

Intersting covers of "Summertime" and "Night and Day" and "Lovefool"

Kat Edmonson - Take To The Sky

2/08/2015 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

OT but need to link it somewhere for my brethren under the pelt:
Dear Justice Kennedy: An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent.

2/08/2015 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"Until just a second ago, I had always had an issue with the idea that the self is a process, as opposed to a kind of stable entity."

That's the wrong answer, Bob.

The self is both a stable entity *and* a process.

I am always *me*.

I can never be *not me*. So this is certainly a boundary. I'm not mushroom. I should note that both mushroom and I know this, so that helps.

Everywhere I go, there I am.

Next question.

2/09/2015 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Panentheism, on the other hand, suggests (I think) that there is "an overlap or intersection between the being of God and the being of the universe"- that is- that there is no clear ontological distinction.

Because of this lack of clear distinction, some have objected on the grounds that it blurs the real distinction between good and
evil."

There is an overlap. Both a clear ontological distinction and continuity.

One difference between good and evil is that evil is essentially both parasitic and insane.

However, it rains on both the good and the evil, so they are the same.

Same and different.

Left brain, right brain.

2/09/2015 06:38:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

JP,

Do you think this objection holds up?

God is the Absolute Good. Creation is an admixture of good and evil. If there is not an absolute discontinuity between Creator and created, then it could be argued that God has evil "in" Him, in which case He is not the Absolute Good.


2/09/2015 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Chris said "Do you think this objection holds up?"

Nope.

2/09/2015 08:43:00 PM  

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