Thursday, April 09, 2015

Bombs Away!

I'm still struggling, if that's the right word, to assimilate all the truth bombs tucked away inside Heart of the World, Center of the Church. Every time I clean up one implosion, another goes off.

What's especially weird is how a bomb in this book sets off one in another book, in a kind of nonlocal chain reaction. Then a bomb goes off in my dreamworld, followed by another on a TV program I was watching (The Journey Home on EWTN). Is someone trying to tell me something? And how do I put all of these explosions together? It's hard enough to deal with one.

The image comes to mind of young Helen Keller. By way of analogy, imagine we are to the divine world as she was to the human world in her sound-, sight-, and speechless (non)existence. Then she has that one "little" explosion, in which she realizes that all her disparate experiences of wetness may be organized under one abstract and transcendent heading: water!

That is the ultimate WTF -- AKA (?!) -- and it never stops. Compared to it, the Big Bang and biogenesis are just distant echoes or foreshadows of greater detonations to come.

Irrespective of whether the story is apocryphal, it nevertheless conveys a profound truth, maybe even the Greatest Truth Ever Told, since it is the very ground and basis of the possibility of truth: that this is that, and vice versa.

Or in other words, that our cosmos is a web of symbolic exchange, such that transcendent meaning everywhere courses through its nonlocal veins, arteries, and capillaries. It is only for us to tap into this interior process and participate in the flow of truth-love-beauty.

Yesterday someone mentioned Polanyi in a comment. In another cosmic coincidence, he is mentioned in a footnote of the very page I am now looking at. As it so happens, his last book -- and the final summation of his thought -- is called Meaning. I haven't looked at it in a number of years, but I don't really have to, since I long ago absorbed anything worth plagiarizing.

Speaking of explosions, the book looks like something exploded inside of it. There are notes scrawled everywhere, which is the pneuma-archeological evidence of so many Helen Keller moments, as Polanyi's ideas collided with my brain. Toots Mondello referred to these as cooncussions.

Examples: "The act of understanding is more important than what is understood." "Only the wise ones see beyond the limitations." "Wisdom has always been non-literal, i.e., 'not meaning what we said.'" "Whatever is undetermined on a lower level is conditioned by the next." "Fusion of incompatibles in the time before time. God as integrative AND limiting factor."

This makes me want to go back in time and buy some pot from this guy.

In the preface, Polanyi's collaborator, Harry Prosch, describes how "the modern mind has destroyed meaning," but how Polanyi's "work on the reformation of epistemology and the philosophy of science has prepared the way for a possible restoration of meaning through the development of the notion of personal knowledge" -- the latter a term of art for how the mind always "sees through" the data to the meaning toward which it points. (Speaking of Helen Keller, one of Polanyi's favorite examples was how the blind man, by unconsciously attending to the sensory input from stick to hand, is able to construct and "perceive" a three-dimensional space.)

Today we are deep into the wayback machine, because when I first read this book I was more or less an atheist and certainly anti-Christian. If I was ever going to come back from the outskirts of the cosmos, the only way would have been through someone like Polanyi, who follows a purely logical line of thought, only to arrive at the threshold of mystery and Mister O.

In the Journey Home episode mentioned above -- here it is, right on youtube -- the guest, a former atheist, has great praise for real atheists who genuinely Don't Know and won't rest until they find out, as opposed to the fashionable strident atheists who presume to know and won't shut up until they have forced the rest of us to accept their narrow, flat, and shallow reality.

The guest's experience exactly parallels mine, because his impersonal pursuit of truth lead him right back to the Person -- which must happen, given sufficient time and honesty. Either it happens or you just die stupid.

Back to Polanyi. Writing in the 1950s, he described precisely the state of contemporary liberalism: "freedom of thought destroyed itself when thought pursued to its ultimate conclusions a self-contradictory conception of its own freedom." This is why the more liberalism, the less freedom of thought, the quintessential case being acadummia.

Imagine a place set aside and devoted to the unfettered pursuit of truth, becoming the one place where this is forbidden. What comes after irony? But this is the power of the Adversary: to transform something into its opposite with no effort at all.

To be sure, Polanyi was confused about some things. After all, he wasn't really a "philosopher" per se, rather, just a very curious scientist who refused to mind his own business and stay within the confines of his own department. But we forgive him his blind spots for the light he shed on so much tenured darkness. Like everything else, he must be "raised up" into a higher, total truth.

About this "total truth." In order to reach it, one must follow the circuitous and soph-bewildering Raccoon path, and be a rank multi-undisciplinarian. In order to know a lot about the One Thing, you need to know a little about every thing, and vice versa.

This goes directly against the Conspiracy, which, as Schindler describes it, "presupposes an extrinsic or external relation among the contents of the disciplines." Thus, physics, for example, has nothing to do with anthropology, which has even less to do with theology.

Tertullian famously asked "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" Quite a lot, actually, so long as we put things in their proper order and don't try to trump God with our manmode philosophy.

Schindler points out that this division of disciplines "is already the expression of a mechanistic worldview, whose hallmark is [an] 'atomism' which assumes unrelated (or primitively externally related) parts." Therefore, no unifying worldview is possible, because you have uncritically denied it at the outset. Once again the Adversary doesn't even have to get up off the couch to accomplish this.

But guess what? Not even atoms behave like this, let alone minds! In other words, a metaphysic of logical atomism may in fact be ruled out from the get go.

I'm out of time, so I'll just conclude with a comment by Schindler that goes to how our task is to take the inverted cosmos bequeathed to us by liberal vulgarians and put it back on its feet: "physics and biology therefore, to be pursued intelligently ('critically'), must... remain intrinsically open to explanation on levels above them, indeed, to explanation all the way to the level of ultimacy (metaphysics, theology)."

Amen for a child's job. Because someone's gotta do it.


Blogger julie said...


Heh - yes, that's the perfect word for what happened when I started reading here, way back when.

4/09/2015 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"Wisdom has always been non-literal, i.e., 'not meaning what we said.'"

Yes - for instance, to take a parable merely literally is to miss the point of it entirely. Much like you were saying a week or so ago about looking up definitions of words and thus failing to understand the sentence.

4/09/2015 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, meaning is "toward," not "from."

4/09/2015 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or "from-to," as Polanyi puts it.

4/09/2015 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Griffin said...

You see how this works? "Meaning" is the very book I am currently meandering through, albeit slowly, as one might a lengthy, many-coursed dinner, savoring every flavor, and trying to find every subtle note and connection to meals past.

My wife, a bit more of a historian than myself, tells me that Polanyi was less than happy with the result of Prosch's work, and having read "Personal Knowledge" and "The Tacit Dimension," I can say that "Meaning" definitely has a comparatively odd tone and occasionally strange way of putting things. However, at least so far, I feel that it does a more than decent job of capturing the essence of his ideas and presenting them plainly and accessibly.

I don't love everything about the first chapter's historic overview, but the analysis of how Europe descended into totalitarianism and why similar decay did not happen in Britain and America was fascinating. And terrifying. We seem determined to walk this path again.

What comes after irony?

If we've already gone through the "tragedy" iteration of this particular sub-round of history, that would put us squarely in the "farce" repetition. I would think that actual irony that is recognized as such usually occurs in the "tragedy" go-around. That's part of what makes it tragic.

In the "farce" iteration of history, part of the farce is that no one sees the irony...

4/09/2015 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Polanyi's problem was that ultimately he was neither fish nor fowl, when he needed to evolve his wings and go all the way to the latter. But I think his essentially scientific mindset kept him somewhat grounded in spite of where his ideas point.

4/09/2015 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Mushroom -- curious, did you get the corrected version of the Maya Angelou stamps?

4/09/2015 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Ah yes, Polanyi. His concept of Tacit Knowledge is very useful, very useful indeed.

The idiocy du jour is that apparently, some liberal discovered the Descent into Hades and thought it would a be good scoop to up their 'The Gnostics were right' cred (all letters get signed by Dan Brown, of course.)

Heck, we have our 'secret Pascha' on Saturday, which might just be an Orthodox thing, where we eat the food of paradise (nuts, fruit and wine) and mostly enjoy ourselves until Pascha.

If one follows the liturgical form, the Lamentations takes one into the grave (for the procession takes one UNDER the bier) so Great and Holy Saturday is celebrated in the grave.

Thus the dramatic moment in the Paschal service where, after a midnight procession the priest bangs on the church door and says, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that the King of Glory may enter" - the church comes out of the grave and into the resurrection.

But never mind all of that, Christofascist Kyriarch Cismale Aryans are gonna be so surprised when they find out...!

It would be more amusing if we hadn't already lost the kulturkamph.

4/09/2015 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Either it happens or you just die stupid.

Unfortunately, I've already finished the engraving on my headstone. Maybe I can do an addendum.

RE: the correction, is there no limit to the depths of that woman's profundity? Amazing.

4/09/2015 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

In order to know a lot about the One Thing, you need to know a little about every thing, and vice versa.

Otherwise, like analogical Helen Kellers we are analogically blind and deaf.

We don't have anything to hook to to pull ourselves out.

I'd never thought about it, but the Helen Keller connection is astounding. She had to build the world from scratch.

4/09/2015 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Speaking of explosions, the book looks like something exploded inside of it. There are notes scrawled everywhere, which is the pneuma-archeological evidence of so many Helen Keller moments, as Polanyi's ideas collided with my brain. Toots Mondello referred to these as cooncussions."

The image that comes to mind is a film of someone walking across a field as bombs go off all around him, but with the film run backwards, so that the chaos is erupting into order. Cooncussion. It fits well.

4/09/2015 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are no Gnostics. That is just what happens when heretics do not know about forward or back.
Traveling with light. No one much involved with the backwards part gets to sound smart. Still looks the same.

Pretty much all over. How can that be black body radiation or ultraviolet catastrophe when no one is there to notice?

Probably should just make that be one at a time. It is OK to be spread out in places that do not need to know.

Paratemporal. Probably cheating.

4/09/2015 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"In the Journey Home episode mentioned above -- here it is, right on youtube -- the guest, a former atheist, has great praise for real atheists who genuinely Don't Know and won't rest until they find out, as opposed to the fashionable strident atheists who presume to know and won't shut up until they have forced the rest of us to accept their narrow, flat, and shallow reality."

Wouldn't a real atheist, who will not rest until they find out be an agnostic at heart?
Because they haven't ruled out the possibility of God.

At least according to Huxley:
Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle ... Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

4/10/2015 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

However, according to wiki, William Rowe came up with the term agnostic atheism, but frankly, I don't know what the difference is, since both terms do not rule out a Deity, yet will keep searchin' for the truth, ideally without any preconceptions.

4/10/2015 06:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The guest's point was that many atheists of good will are atheists because they are passionate about truth. So long as they passionately pursue truth with an open mind, they will eventually, at the very least, realize that something like God must exist. It is only the hardened and dogmatic atheists who seal themselves inside their own feeble omniscience. They are the very epitome of closed-mindedness, which is the real issue, not the atheism per se.

4/10/2015 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aye, the dogmatic atheists are hate religion so much they formed a cult.

4/10/2015 07:13:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Disregard that aregghh!

4/10/2015 07:13:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In fact, good atheists are useful because they force us to defend the faith in a rational and believable way -- which I believe Paul said Christians need to be able to do. Ratzinger often talks about how Christianity must be cognizant of the cultural context in order to make itself understandable.

4/10/2015 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I've had a long-running dialogue with my inner atheist, who is like a logical superego, in that he won't permit any metaphysically loose sh*t.

4/10/2015 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

I think what it comes down to is are they pursuing Truth, or pushing a position? If the former, they're in the same race, and even if they had off down some dead ends here and there, they are still seeking after the same finish line. The latter however... they don't even rise to the level of being lost, and they'd sure like to do the same for you, or punish anyone who'd dare being in the race.

4/10/2015 08:13:00 AM  

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