Friday, June 12, 2015

Man: The Only Animal Obligated to Adapt to Himself

Whether we like it or not, we live surrounded by mysteries, which logically and existentially draw us toward transcendence. -- Schuon

"Haunted by transcendence," I suppose you could say. For if there is no transcendence there can be no hauntedness. In a pre-living cosmos there are no problems because there are no alternatives. And in a prehuman cosmos there can be no anxiety, no worry, no apprehension. Fear, yes, but it can't be like human fear, which lives in the imagination.

I remember (I think) Alan Watts using the example of a rabbit. To us the rabbit looks a bit ill-at-ease as it listens and looks around for predators. But from the standpoint of the rabbit, it might be analogous to a crosswalk with a flashing red light saying DON'T WALK DON'T WALK DON'T WALK or you'll get run over and killed! Yes, there is potential danger, but no one is freaking out about it.

But humans are always haunted by an Otherness which is built into us. You see it right away in prehistory, from the moment there is evidence of humanness. In the book I spookulated that this must have something to do with adapting to the strange new condition of "mindedness." One reason I say this is because man is still adapting to mindedness, so it must have been all the more baffling 50,000 or 100,000 years ago, when the space was all new -- or we were new to the space, rather.

One thing we have to make clear at the outset is that this space is ontologically real. Or at least that is our hypothesis. After all, if it isn't real -- i.e., just a kind of transient and meaningless blip amidst the flow of entropy -- then everything falls apart and human existence is indeed an absurd space between two infinite slabs of darkness. Could be. We don't want to exclude that possibility a priori. But then this really would be a haunted universe, or rather, man would be both the haunter and the haunted.

My belief -- similar to Ken Wilber -- is that there are different degrees and dimensions of reality. Everyone recognizes this, even if they don't admit it to themselves, for there is the material/empirical world, the rational/linguistic mental world, and the immaterial/contemplative spiritual world. In his book Eye to Eye, Wilber talks about the different "eyes" necessary to perceive these worlds, i.e., the eyes of flesh, reason, and contemplation, respectively. (And Corbin calls our multidimensional psycho-spiritual spatiality the imaginal realm.)

Animals have the eye of flesh, but the best among them have only attenuated versions of the higher two, and even then, mostly because of contact with humans (e.g., dogs). Higher primates have tried to teach sign language to the subprimes, but the latter can only get so far before they hit a ceiling. We might think of this as a literal ceiling, only an immaterial one. For humans there is no ceiling, as our space opens all the way out and up. It is what makes us human.

But since this space is infinite, perhaps you can appreciate how it can provoke a kind of agoraphobia, so to speak. Agoraphobia is fear of open spaces, just as claustrophobia is a fear of jolly fat men with white beards. No, wait, it is a fear of enclosed presences. All punning aside, both are pathological endeavors to manage psychic space, only projected outward. But why must space be managed at all?

Because it's haunted, that's why. There was a time -- a long time, meaning most of history -- when this was much more experience-near. Now we psychologize and medicalize the space. Instead of saying you're haunted by ghosts and goblins, we say you're haunted by global warming, or structural racism, or white privilege, or the patriarchy. These poor souls are just trying to manage their anxieties. But anxiety is just a word, whereas the ghosts are real.

The first book I ever read that discusses this subject was The Phenomenon of Life, by Hans Jonas. The first essay is called Life, Death, and the Body in the Theory of Being, and it goes exactly to this subject of adaptation to our haunted space. (I'm sure I have blogged on this before, somewhere in here.)

From previous posts; and I apologize in advance for the length, but I kept finding interesting stuff. Interesting to me, anyway:

"[I]t is in the dark stirrings of primeval organic substance that a principle of freedom shines forth for the first time within the vast necessity of the physical universe -- a principle foreign to suns, planets, and atoms.... [T]he first appearance of this principle in its bare, elementary object-form signifies the break-through of being to the indefinite range of possibilities which hence stretches to the farthest reaches of subjective life, and as a whole stands under the sign of 'freedom'.... even the transition from inanimate to animate substance, the first feat of matter's organizing itself for life, was actuated by a tendency in the depth of being toward the very modes of freedom to which this transition opened the gate" (Jonas).

"But already the simple observed facts sketch an image of nature which advances by successive explosions in the manner of a rocket... from the hands of its Creator [comes] the spiritual form of man to which nature has been destined and in which she is liberated. In this new order, evolution is pursued always in the very interior of humanity. Moreover, evolution which continues in humanity has taken on a different color.... We find ourselves from now on on a spiritual plane where plasticity is infinitely greater... (Charles DeKoninck).

Jonas writes that "When man first began to interpret the nature of things -- and this he did when he began to be man -- life was to him everywhere, and being the same as being alive" (emphasis mine).

Thus, "Animism was the widespread expression of this stage.... Soul flooded the whole of existence and encountered itself in all things. Bare matter -- that is, truly inanimate, 'dead' matter, was yet to be discovered -- as indeed its concept, so familiar to us, is anything but obvious" (Jonas).

As Jonas argues in The Phenomenon of Life, the "discovery" of a non-living cosmos is a very late one. Rather, for primordial man, life was the general rule, death the exception, the very thing that Lucy and her astoneaged friends needed to 'splain.

It is only with modernity that this perspective is reversed, so that death becomes "the natural thing, life the problem." Now that the universe is regarded as a kind of lifeless machine, life becomes a huge conceptual problem, because it must somehow be explained in terms of the lifeless. Could this attitude be one of the metaphysical tributaries to the death culture of the radical secular left? Jonas implies as much: "Our thinking today is under the ontological dominance of death."

One doesn't have to read too many existentialist writers -- e.g., Sartre, Camus, Kafka -- before one realizes that they really do regard life in this deeply pessimystic way -- as a plague or prison with no exit, into which human insects are thrown upon birth, and from which we are then nauseatingly alienated once we realize this is indeed our fate. Just the other day, some profoundly sick feminists celebrated "abortion pride" day. Why not? If our life is just an absurd and meaningless prison house, then surely abortion is a mercy. Why not nip life in the bud?

Jonas was surely converging upon the same Raccoon attractor when he wrote, "Perhaps, rightly understood, man is after all the measure of all things -- not indeed through the legislation of his reason but through the exemplar of his psychophysiological totality which represents the maximum of concrete ontological completeness known to us: a completeness from which, reductively, the species of being may have to be determined by way of progressive subtraction down to the minimum of bare elementary matter."

That last crack comports perfectly with Schuon, who writes that "Man is made for what he is able to conceive; the very ideas of absoluteness and transcendence prove both his spiritual nature and the supra-terrestrial character of his destiny.... The paradox of the human condition is that nothing could be more contrary to us than the requirement to transcend ourselves, and yet nothing could be more essentially ourselves than the core of this requirement or the fruit of this self-overcoming."

And transcending oneself "is to remove the layer of ice or darkness that imprisons the true nature of man.... [O]nly the 'divine dimension' can satisfy the thirst for plenitude in our willing or our love" (in Echoes of Perennial Wisdom, his most aphoristically bite-sized work).

Indeed, you could even say that the cosmos overcomes itself in the form of man:

Man is upright and he is bipedal; upright because he spans all of the vertical degrees of being; bipedal because he has a foot in both realms, the worldly and the celestial, heaven and earth, slack and conspiracy. He is not a dead man walking to his own godless wake, but a live wire waking to his own walk with Wakan Tanka.

Imagine alien explorers discovering earth:

"Our explorers enter a cave, and on the walls they discern lines or other configurations that must have been produced artificially, that have no structural function, and that suggest a likeness to one or another of the living forms encountered outside." Even "the crudest and most childish drawing would be just as conclusive as the frescoes of Michelangelo."

Conclusive of what, exactly? Of a relation to ideas that have no direct bearing upon purely biological ends. Here is evidence of an exit from the world of mere life, and entrance to the world of mind.

Thus, "just as a footprint is a sign of the foot that made it," a picture is not a sign of the hand that made it but of the mind that conceived it -- and that abstracted some essence from the object before representing it. In order to depict the essence one must first perceive the essence. This implies the ability to distinguish form from substance or mind from matter.

Painting involves a transformation and preservation of essence from one plane to another. Obviously, no animal can do this. Rather, they confront only a world of objects. To the extent that they perceive interiors, it is only through invariant signs, not symbols -- and a sign is really closer to an exterior (like a stop sign, which doesn't reveal anything about the person who made it).

Now, to know the distinction between form and substance is to be capable of distinguishing between appearance and reality, or surface and depth. And as mentioned the other day, to know that appearances are deceptive is to know that truth exists, for truth is simply the splendor of the Real (just as beauty is the splendor of the true).

Clearly, in order to distinguish between appearance and reality, there must be a kind of "space" in between. This is the middle earthspace inhobbited by human consciousness. Just as animals live in a world of appearances, God is the being who lives in truth and reality -- or is not different from them. And the human station is in between these two, God and nature, the One and the many.

Note that in Genesis man is given the power to name the animals. As Jonas explains, "the giving of names to objects is here regarded as the first feat of the newly created man and as the first distinctively human act." It is a "step beyond creation," or liberation from being plunged solely into the world of matter. In order to name something, we must be above it, and be capable of perceiving the unity beneath the multiplicity (which is another way of saying the reality behind appearances).

As usual, quoting old posts takes as much time as building new ones.

21 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Animals have the eye of flesh, but the best among them have only attenuated versions of the higher two...

Tangentially, I learned recently that many reptiles actually do have a third eye on top of their heads.

I can see the evolutionary usefulness, but sometimes wonder about the spiritual significance (symbolically speaking, of course). back to reading...

6/12/2015 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

My mother had eyes in the back of her head.

6/12/2015 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

lol - supersonic hearing is helpful, too.

6/12/2015 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Especially for those moments when it becomes a little too quiet.

6/12/2015 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

But humans are always haunted by an Otherness which is built into us.

And how often we find that, one way or another, the Other is us. Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the woman who pretended to be black in Spokane. Not much different from people suffering gender confusion, really. We are never satisfied with what we are, but so often seek to transcend ourselves in all the wrong ways.

6/12/2015 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Blacks who are obsessed with race are just managing the otherness in a pathological way.

6/12/2015 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes.

My grandmother spent her life trying to pass as white. In fairness, she faced very real examples of racism for having a permanent tan, but even so her response was not healthy, nor did it do any favors for her offspring. Ironically, she did so because she faced negative consequences for being black in the wrong neighborhood; today, we have an example of a (very white) woman who tries to pass herself as black, at least partially (it seems) in order to reap the benefits of being black in the right neighborhood.

I suspect the fact that her parents adopted a bunch of black children has something to do with it, as well...

6/12/2015 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

a picture is not a sign of the hand that made it but of the mind that conceived it

Mindprints all over the place.

Oddly enough, for no particular reason, I downloaded two or three videos on fairies and Celtic lore. I've only watched the fairy documentary (no trips to Frisco), but the filmmaker isn't mocking. They touch on the idea that you are talking about of a realm between the real and the unreal where these creatures might exist.

Shoot, as I write that, I realize how well it works to explain so much of weirdness I see.

6/12/2015 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Google Best of the Web When Words Fail

The whole world is one big trigger. Why liberals don't want to transcend their triggers is another mystery.

6/12/2015 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Average Liberal said...

You have no right to mock us. It's true that because of my birth to white humans, I have been forced to live as a human and work for a living. But, inside, I am a chimp. My dream is to live in the zoo and throw poop at people.

6/12/2015 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Average Liberul said...

Hey, where'd my comment go?

Another great thing about being a chimp: never having to apologize for treating objects like women, and vice versa.

6/12/2015 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Taranto's observations are metatriggering.

6/12/2015 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Why liberals don't want to transcend their triggers is another mystery.

There's no money in it.

6/12/2015 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"But humans are always haunted by an Otherness which is built into us. You see it right away in prehistory, from the moment there is evidence of humanness. In the book I spookulated that this must have something to do with adapting to the strange new condition of "mindedness." One reason I say this is because man is still adapting to mindedness, so it must have been all the more baffling 50,000 or 100,000 years ago, when the space was all new -- or we were new to the space, rather."

Seems like a sound spookulation to me. Also helps explain why there is such a ghoulish determination among the anti-minders to become zombies while fantasizing that they have somehow evolved to the point of not needing their own minds or past wisdom.
Well, to be fair, I reckon that as zombies they wouldn't need to actually think (and not having to think is appealing to those steeped in nihilism), but it's certainly not progress.

6/12/2015 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Bob, irt that Best Of Web, When Words Fail article, you should've given us a snigger warning.

6/12/2015 11:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Eyore said...

I could use a Tigger warning.

6/12/2015 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

James Taranto is the best. When he went behind the wall of pay I panicked, but he's googleable, so I still read him every day.

6/13/2015 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Taranto is also on Fox on Sat at 1200 PST, and again on Sun, the same time. I wish they would give him his own show, as long as he can still do Best aof The Web.

6/13/2015 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Meanwhile, in Florida...

6/14/2015 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Raccoon rises above the conspiracy gator. Good find, Julie. :)

6/15/2015 12:09:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Thus, "just as a footprint is a sign of the foot that made it," a picture is not a sign of the hand that made it but of the mind that conceived it -- and that abstracted some essence from the object before representing it. In order to depict the essence one must first perceive the essence. This implies the ability to distinguish form from substance or mind from matter."

Not much to add, just wanted to see it again (again). I got into a discussion a couple days ago, ironically with a couple artists, Libertarians, who, while I've often seemed to be in agreement with them, theirs always seemed to be a big But in the room... as is often the case with the L's, somethings are just clearly off, the agreements agree on the surface only.

Well it turns out, they not only don't believe that reality exists, but Reality and Truth, are their least favorite words! Annndddd... they've agreed to an extended discussion on the matter, so it'll be interesting to see what it is that they think that their mindprints are leaving a print upon (or from).

Hopefully I don't send them into hysterics as quickly as I seem to with leftists... but... I suppose on encountering reality for the first time, seeing the ghosts face to face for the first time...that can be a heir raising experience.

6/16/2015 04:20:00 AM  

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