Friday, August 26, 2016

What Does Meaning Mean?

"The modern mind must continue to work its own destruction," says Polanyi, "so long as it fails to reach a vision of itself -- and of the universe itself -- within which the unlimited demands of the modern mind can be seen to require their own framework of intrinsic limitation."

This is what I meant by venturing through and beyond postmodernism as opposed to retrenchment to a pre-postmodernism that is never coming back. Traditionalism, for example, is fine on a retail basis, but the culture at large is not going to return to a premodern mentality. Rather, the task before us is to bring the past into the future: neotraditional retrofuturism. Failing that, then we are, as Polanyi warns, on a path toward inevitable destruction.

What are the "unlimited demands" of the modern mind? They reduce to two, "our unbridled demands" for objectivity and for moral perfection. Right away you see the irony, because the left believes in neither intrinsic truth nor objective morality, and yet, who is more blindly dogmatic and shrilly moralistic than the unhinged leftist? Their stance is utterly incoherent -- which is why it requires force to make people comply with it, right down to bathroom usage (because they even presume to control biosocial reality).

It is noteworthy that the science Polanyi knew and revered is not the science of today. Even it has been infected by the left, at least in disciplines outside physics, chemistry, and engineering. I forget the exact figure, but something like 70% of scientific studies cannot be replicated, meaning they are less than worthless, because people may take them for true.

Are all of these the result of the left? I can only speak of my own field, psychology, which is so pervaded by leftist biases masquerading as scientific conclusions, that it is pretty much beyond repair. Certain conclusions are mandatory, while others are not even to be wondered about. Curiosity is forbidden. I would be surprised if a psychologist with politically incorrect opinions about homosexuality, IQ, motherhood, daycare, and feminism could be hired in a liberal university. Or even survive grad school.

Science was once guided by a prescientific morality founded upon a love of truth. Science can no more function in its absence than a democracy can survive with an ignorant and immoral citizenry. Consider, for example, how science functioned in the Soviet Union: the conclusions were already known; only the details needed to be worked out. Scientific Marxism was correct, period. Conclusions consistent with it were welcome, while those running counter to it were a threat to one's health.

What a soul-deadening enterprise! And why? It starts with the denial of the soul and its innate epistemophilic drive, i.e., love of truth. "Such views as these thus set men free to subvert and destroy the old order of things with all the fervor of their subterranean moral passions." The point is, we cannot actually be detached from commitment, from moral passion, from subjectivity.

Much of this centers around Polanyi's concept of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge has a from-to structure, such that we perceive what it is pointing to without taking cognizance of the pointers, so to speak. Take an obvious example, the human face. We perceive the face holistically, such that it is always more than the sum of its parts. We do not additively see lips, nose, and eyes, and come to the conclusion that this is indeed a face.

And we can "know" or remember a face without being able to describe the parts of which it is composed. There can be no face without the features that constitute it, so we are obviously cognizant of them in some manner, but it is a tacit cognizance. As Polanyi would say, perception is constituted by a non-conscious seeing-from to a conscious seeing-to.

A useful way to think about it is to imagine what it must be like for an autistic individual who may perceive only parts but be unable to recognize the whole. Or, think of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which causes the individual to obsess over the trees to the exclusion of the forest. They literally lose the Big Picture.

More generally, perception is always "a meaningful but non explicit integration of many clues." This goes to why "artificial intelligence" is impossible in principle, because this is something no machine can ever do.

There is always a kind of living dialectic between parts and whole, between proximal and distal perception, between tacit and focal knowledge. Thus, there is always an element of subjectivity, because only a subject can dwell in the particulars in order to achieve an integration. Scientists who are committed to naturalism apparently don't like this idea, but there it is. There is no way around it.

Another key point is that focal perception is the meaning to which the tacit clues point. You might say that we look through and beyond the clues in order to perceive the meaning to which they point. Analogously, "brush strokes are meaningless, except as they enter into the appearance of the painting."

This applies to the distinction between semantics (meaning) and syntax (order) in language. Obviously, as you read this sentence, you are not consciously focussed on the letters or the words; rather, they are only tacitly present as you endeavor to grasp the meaning toward which they are aiming. "Without their bearing upon the distal they would be meaningless" -- literally just words.

Which opens up a whole can of wormholes vis-a-vis religious communication. I will stipulate, for example, that my words make no sense to our current troll, or even a kind of "negative sense," or destruction of meaning. I produce nothing of value except perhaps to weak minds, such that my "net contribution to humanity is deeply negative."

Suffice it to say that he not only doesn't see what we see, but generally sees in my words things I am not saying. In other words, he hallucinates things that aren't present. Meaning is surely present for him, only not the meaning I intend. He is like a dog sniffing my finger instead of looking at that to which I am pointing.

Now, meaning is really "a triadic term in that, in addition to the functionally different proximal and distal factors, there must always be a person, a user, an intender involved." Some people say that life is "meaningless." Is this true? Well, it's certainly true for them, as they do not see that to which all the clues are pointing.

Certainly we can agree that life is either meaningless or meaningful. There can be no middle ground, for if it isn't meaningful as such, than what we call "meaning" is just a trick of perception. If "God is dead," how did that happen? How did we un-meaning existence?

Polanyi says that meaning can be lost when, for example, we withdraw from focal awareness and focus instead on the particulars. Again, "brush strokes lose their meaning when studied focally," as do notes when taken in isolation from the performance -- by looking at instead of dwelling in.

Now, I take the position that God is that to which a multitude of diverse particulars are pointing. Thus, God is the meaning of things. Furthermore, I turn things around, such that because meaning obviously exists, therefore God does. The only alternative is to insist that God and therefore meaning do not exist. But that has no meaning, precisely. The One Cosmos we all see points to the one God we don't.

31 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

A useful way to think about it is to imagine what it must be like for an autistic individual who may perceive only parts but be unable to recognize the whole.

It would be like living in a Picasso painting.

8/26/2016 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or a non-stop panic attack.

It would really be another name for hell -- the complete eradication of meaning.

8/26/2016 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The horror! Social Psychology Quarterly bravely sounds the alarm on the evil effects of gender stereotyping at zoos. What kind of neanderthal culture calls a lion with a mane a male?!?!

8/26/2016 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Science: Zoos Are Polluting Our Children’s Minds With Dangerous Gender Stereotypes.

8/26/2016 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Ha - I beat you to it!

8/26/2016 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Oops. Didn't see your comment. But it's so illustrative of my point about science, it's worth highlighting twice.

8/26/2016 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Liberalism is like an economic bubble filled with unreality, only on the mental plane. At some point it's gotta burst.

8/26/2016 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Did you see the language they used in that abstract? So painful, it verges on word salad:

"We draw on public observations conducted in a zoo to identify three instances in which adults make use of its specific spatial and symbolic resources to transmit socialization messages to children according to “naturalized” models of hegemonic gender difference."

8/26/2016 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's similar to fundamentalists who rejected Darwinism because it might lead to the conclusion that we are animals.

8/26/2016 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Such word salad has the goal of destroying meaning in order to replace it with the left's agenda. It's like a tortuous path around the obvious so as to reach the impossible.

8/26/2016 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The left has been deliberately and constantly undermining the pillars of our system of ordered liberty for 70 years, even as they have moved into positions of controlling the institutions they brand as corrupt, imperialist, and racist.

"It is why the people running our civilization have never developed the virtues necessary to carry out their duties adequately. Determined to always think of themselves as persons out of power, they never learned to regard themselves as persons with power, and all the responsibilities power entails. They never learned to imagine the kinds of moral formation that would fit a person for rule, rather than for protest."

Straight up moral inversion: religious fervor without religious guidelines.

8/26/2016 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Going back to the OT, I'm reminded of something I read or heard in passing recently, the observation that what the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice - bulls, goats, etc. - was what everybody else was worshipping.

8/26/2016 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

they are only tacitly present as you endeavor to grasp the meaning toward which they are aiming.

Teleology in language.

As to your zoo links, the Onion might as well close down.

8/26/2016 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger Abdulmonem Othman said...

Ibn Arabi Said that the cosmos and the humans are filled with signs that are pointing to the one. He said we increase our knowledge to understand him not to seek worldly recognition. He said also that his commission is to learn and to do good in His service, knowing that his self-realization resides in aligning his will with His will. It seems truthful visions are not prone to get old. Vision is a personal matter,seen through the inner eye of the visionary in accordance with the perceptive awareness he holds.The same visions expressed by Aquinas and Tomberg. It seems humanity is under a repetitive cycles of learning to ward realizing the truth. The truth of one cosmos, one humanity, one god ,one consciousness, one path despite the different boats we ride to him, for certainly everyone has his unique saving boat whether he puts it in the ship of Christ or Moses, Mohammad or Buddha etc, providing he is honest, truthful and just in his endevour . To make the human realize that life can not fly without its two wings that of truth and justice and these can not be acquired without divine grace. Meaning is intrinsically an orderly matter that can not be corrupted by disorder. Our imagination is our seeds that only grow in the path to him through the soil of meditation and the water of contemplation and air of devotion and the fire of sincerity. Faith, once felt, it turns into commission to call others to the glorious path of the divine without condemnation or execration and wait for the divine involvement which the faithfuls are fully aware of. The divine program is a long-term program whose results are not evident only in the the long run. The imaginative after, the unseen that will become seen, which are apparent in so many irregular signs abound in our closing world. In an imaginary vision I saw the spiritually deformed projecting his spiritual deformity into physical deformity, including the environments which are showing all kinds of deformities. Noah told his people to ask forgiveness in order for god to send his rain again.In such time of adversities, one has to be patient and never lose hope of the divine merciful justice. May the criminals sober up before the harsh they have caused in the world will devour them. It is the law of reversal.

8/26/2016 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger Melanie Lee said...

Interesting . . . thank you.

8/26/2016 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Crucial single Brush stroke art!

[know the guy from my old 'hood]

8/27/2016 03:32:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Science was once guided by a prescientific morality founded upon a love of truth. Science can no more function in its absence than a democracy can survive with an ignorant and immoral citizenry...."

Ain't that the truth.

8/27/2016 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Suffice it to say that he not only doesn't see what we see, but generally sees in my words things I am not saying. In other words, he hallucinates things that aren't present. Meaning is surely present for him, only not the meaning I intend. He is like a dog sniffing my finger instead of looking at that to which I am pointing."

Yep. And if you listen carefully to what they do say, and to what they say about what you say, you can follow that From-To to a picture of the world as they see it, and that picture... is... well... who needs Stephen King's fictions when the 'reality' those people see is all around you?

8/27/2016 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"What a soul-deadening enterprise! And why? It starts with the denial of the soul and its innate epistemophilic drive, i.e., love of truth. "Such views as these thus set men free to subvert and destroy the old order of things with all the fervor of their subterranean moral passions."...."

Exactly. And how does one get themselves into that anti-holistic hole? I had to restrain myself from commenting yesterday, because I realized that meaning that was meant in this,

"...and a tolerance of opinion rooted in the existence of philosophic doubt. Clearly, nothing can be discovered unless there is a space for the existence of doubt, and where scientific and religious faith are free to roam."

, was not the meaning that I'm so accustomed to being on the lookout for, and this post's 'From-To' I think helps clarify what separates the proper role of Doubt, and the view that infiltrates and instigates the improper role of Doubt. This usage of 'Doubt', is right and proper, but, heh, the word tends to 'trigger' me, I'm forever reminding people "Be careful where you point that thing.", as since Descartes, Doubt has become a doubtful enterprise; one that I doubt I can ever ignore or hear without... doubts.

Doubt itself, is a natural, vital, healthy response to an awareness that what you know is not matching up with what you've just learned. Being open about such doubts, being able to express such doubts, and especially taking a person who's having such doubts seriously, is incredibly important.

But. When you are attending to such doubts properly, then dispelling them through greater understanding is the goal, and that is reached by questioning. "Have I missed something here? Have I misunderstood? What do you perceive the nature of this X to be? How does that function? What does it mean? In what way do you imagine that this other Y must stand in relation to it? What do you see that relation as being?", and so on, back and forth, between both the doubter and the informer (be it a person or reality in general). This entire enterprise is based upon the expectation of sound knowledge and the discovery of Truth... even realizing that there are some (many) areas where you simply will not be able to know enough to rid yourself of all doubts, such a view (and your doubt) is still presumed upon the view that the Cosmos is One, whole, integrated and complete, a view that "...is constituted by a non-conscious seeing-from to a conscious seeing-to."

That is not the role or purpose of Doubt in the modern world that is built upon Descartes' doubtful foundations. That is the furthest thing from what is intended when you hear anyone related to, or passing along from academic sources, what they call 'Critical Thinking'.

Descartes had very little interest in honest doubts, except as camouflage for his 'method of doubt'. What he wants you to do, is to fake a doubt, to artificially behave as if you had something to be doubtful of, and to conduct yourself under the presumption that all you see is untrue. That is a very different thing from positively Questioning what you think you know, to ensure that you know it well. Descartes (or at least those who've developed his method) doesn't expect you to ask "What is the nature of this?", but rather "Prove to me that this isn't a lie!".

That outlook is shot through with the 'From-To' that nothing can be known, that there is no truth, there is only disintegration and that every certainty is a denial of the fact that it is actually a lie. That is a prescription for skepticism, cynicism, intellectual dishonesty, and for championing the lie that seems most beneficial to you. IOW: Modernity.

And I doubt that I'll ever be able to hear the word without doubts coming to mind about its meaning.

8/27/2016 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

everyone has his unique saving boat whether he puts it in the ship of Christ or Moses, Mohammad or Buddha etc, providing he is honest, truthful and just in his endevour

Actually, C.S.Lewis would not disagree much with this idea. It is a start. A heart rendered (and rent) in an honest pursuit of what is truly True, even if one's boat is rather leaky as a means of arriving there, cannot fail to arrive at His shores.

8/27/2016 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I finished reading this book by Henry Corbin on sufism, and he essentially says that God appears in the form of our ability to perceive or conceive of him. Not only that, but both ends of the pole are God -- the perception and the reality. This is similar to Eckhart's gag that the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me. It's all a little murky at this point. I'll have to blog about it to clarify the whole thing.

Corbin is definitely not the clearest of writers, but a lot of what he says makes good, or at least provocative, nonsense.

8/27/2016 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "...he essentially says that God appears in the form of our ability to perceive or conceive of him. Not only that, but both ends of the pole are God -- the perception and the reality...."

Yikes. That's a rather disturbing nudgling that's been poking at me for some time, and keeping in mind that it is all One Cosmos, doubts and all, it's difficult to brush it off.

Seriously, if you listen carefully to what it is that they are saying, if you follow that From-To to a picture of the world as they see it, then isn't that picture... a view of the same One filtered from a different perspective?

Not to drop all context, but... is reality really what we make of it?

There are so many ways that that can go off the rails, but... yeah.

8/27/2016 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think Polanyi finds a way to reconcile subjectivity and objectivity, or Kant and positivism. It's more like a complementary dance between subject and object, which proceeds to ever-deeper and more comprehensive unities.

8/27/2016 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Abdulmonem Othman said...

Everyone conceives his god in light of his receptivity, perceptivity and preparedness and his detachment from the prison of his culture. God is the light field in which we are submerged, yet he is the constant companion that wants the human to be aware of his company. His porosity never stops with one form but takes any form that he wills without being besieged in any form, that is why every one worships him in the form he feels comfortably with. It is an epistemological journey that leads to merge the seeker consciousness with the one consciousness, thus realizing the unity of consciousness and not the unity of existence as sometime is mistakenly referred to since his essence has no comparator, the one who was before existence and remains so after existence.

8/27/2016 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Abdulmonem Othman said...

And appears at billion places at the same time. He is present with believers and with the non-believers without discrimination to let his gift of freedom to run its course in the world unhindered. These are his mysteries that will remains until he wills or until we join Him.

8/27/2016 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ibn Arabi's way of looking at things does solve a number of thorny theological problems.

8/27/2016 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger doug saxum said...

Rather, the task before us is to bring the past into the future: neotraditional retrofuturism. Failing that, then we are, as Polanyi warns, on a path toward inevitable destruction.

There is nothing like prophesy being fulfilled to accomplish the task.
Naturally, we can't force it. Just bear witness to revelations that occur.

8/27/2016 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger Abdulmonem Othman said...

Yes Bob, oxford university had established ever since 1977 a society to address the heritage of Ibn Arabi and its relevance to address the crises of our world. They have been working diligently and dexterously to illicit what is important in helping to step off the carousel of misrepresentations and misinterpretations that are dragging the world to his demise or as polanyi put it,to its inevitable destruction.

8/28/2016 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Ibn: “And so, one fine day, I went to Cordoba, to the house of Abu'l Walid Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He had expressed the desire to meet me personally, because he had heard of the revelations that God had accorded me in the course of my spiritual retirement, and he had made no secret of his astonishment at what he had been told. For this reason my father, who was one of his intimate friends, sent me to his house one day, pretexting some sort of errand, in reality to enable Ibn Rushd to have a talk with me. At that time I was still a beardless youth. When I entered, the master arose from his place, received me with signal marks of friendship and consideration, and finally embraced me. Then he said: ‘Yes.’ And I in turn said: ‘Yes.’ His joy was great at noting that I had understood. But then taking cognizance of what had called forth his joy, I added: ‘No.’ Immediately Ibn Rushd winced, the colour went out of his cheeks, he seemed to doubt his own thoughts. He asked me this question: ‘What manner of solution have you found through divine illumination and inspiration? Is it identical with that which we obtain from speculative reflection?’ I replied: ‘Yes and no. Between the yes and the no, spirits take their flight from their matter, and the necks are separated from their bodies’. Ibn Rushd turned pale, I saw him tremble; he murmured the ritual phrase 'There is no power save in God' – for he had understood my allusion.”
[they had 'illusion' haha, translate THIS!]
http://www.chishti.ru/d_m_dr.htm [for more on the exchange]

8/29/2016 04:28:00 AM  
Blogger Abdulmonem Othman said...

I know that story and now I can testify to the truth of the descent of the divine knowledge into the human sphere in this time in which we have come to know that our cosmos and our human are webs of information in the divine web where everything take place and everything is connected and registered.There is a system for the descent of the divine knowledge into the human sphere, a system that has been used by all sages across the ages including Ibn Arabi who has proved it and come aloud in the open about it, What is spirit but a carrier of information from the above to the below and from the below to the above and across. What are thoughts but unseen forces that need to be disciplined and made conscious in their arrival and their departure. The Schools of transcendental meditation are known and their usage of mantras to expand the human reception and production of knowledge is also known. It seems we are living in a time of ever-expanding discovery and revelation. Humans are called not to be prisoners of transmitted knowledge to move always to the revelatory knowledge and this the messages that all prophets came to remind their people of. Christ told them this is commandment of men not of god. Quran is a good document for those who want to spiritually rise, it is sad that the intelligentsia of the west did benefit from this resourceful document. In it we read about the tools of descending the divine knowledge, Aleef Laam Meem doubt not. this is the vibrational sound through which we activate the descent of the divine knowledge. It seems we are living in a time where such tools will lend themselves to action. Faith has always been a field of denial, so let the deniers enjoy there time until they come face to face with truth. At the end I like to end with the saying of an old Chinese sage,, I meet good with good that good may be maintained and I meet evil with good that good may be created. Thank you for remind me.

8/29/2016 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Abdulmonem said "...Quran is a good document for those who want to spiritually rise..."

Could you maybe point out a good line or two where you see that happening? I missed it in my attempts, though admittedly I didn't get all that far into it.

8/30/2016 07:49:00 AM  

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