What We Can’t Know & What We Can’t Not Know
For Polanyi, there are “five indeterminacies to which he believed all our knowledge is subject and which must prevent our ever reaching complete objectivity and detachment” (Prosch). For example, reality “is always richer in its capacities to manifest itself in the future than we have grasped it to be in our explicit thought about it.” There is nothing we can do to make the surprise! go away.
For example, the most exhaustive account of physics nevertheless renders life completely inexplicable. Before 4 billion years ago, there was no biological life, only matter. No one could have predicted what was about to happen, i.e., the emergence of life, and with it, a theretofore inconceivable dimension of inwardness, awareness, experience. We can’t even say “inconceivable,” because there was no one to conceive or not conceive.
But just as climate change models cannot retrodict the past, nor can physics. Part of this has to do with complexity, as most systems — including the whole realm of biology — are too complex for physics to cope with.
Time out for Schuon: Whether we like it or not, we live surrounded by mysteries, which logically and existentially draw us towards transcendence. To put it another way, one thing our explanations can never explain is our transcendence — our transcendent ability to posit explanations.
Second, “The rules for deciding whether a discernible pattern in nature is due to chance… can never be rendered determinate.” We really can’t know where order ends and freedom begins. Take again the emergence of life. Most people who have thought about it realize it cannot have been random, because the number of finely tuned variables needed for that to occur approaches infinity. Is it therefore built into physics, something bound to happen? If so, then it only proves how little we know of physics, or about the deep laws governing the universe.
Time out for Schuon: When God is removed from the universe, it becomes a desert of rocks or ice; it is deprived of life and warmth, and every man who still has a sense of the integrally real refuses to admit that this should be reality…
This touches on Gödel, because man — as opposed to any computer — always transcends his own program, so to speak. This also goes to something Russell Kirk said to the effect that ideology is the opposite of conservatism, because the former is a closed system while conservatism is not only open to transcendence but is the tension between transcendence and immanence: it is the recognition of timelessly true principles from outside the universe, and the struggle to instantiate them herebelow, AKA “ thy will be done.”
Thus, To give oneself to God is to give God to the world. And If we want truth to live in us, we must live in it (Schuon).
Third, we do not necessarily “know on what grounds we hold our knowledge to be true.” This touches on what was said yesterday about the function of intuition and imagination. Any knowledge we render completely specific is an impoverished knowledge, or at least knowledge of a very simple system. I don’t know what I know or how I know it, and one of the purposes of blogging is to find out. Even so, I never really know why I know something of a higher order. I just know that it satisfies something in me, something that exists for that very purpose.
Time out for Schuon: It is a fact that man cannot find happiness within his own limits; his very nature condemns him to surpass himself, and in surpassing himself, to free himself. We're always searching for the teloscape that sees all the way to the end of things.
Fourth, “To focus on the subsidiaries in a scientific integration makes us lose sight of the vision formed by their integration.” The integration of subsidiaries is the meaning they point toward. Therefore, to reduce the vision to its components is to destroy the vision. If a pianist focuses on his fingers, he loses sight of musical truth he is trying to convey through them.
Which is why, ultimately, Only the science of the Absolute gives meaning and discipline to the science of the relative (Schuon). Science not only has no meaning outside God, it has no possibility, for the relative depends on the absolute, not vice versa.
Fifth, “we internalize that which we make function subsidiarily,” and “pour our body into it.” You might say we are incarnated, and that we specifically incarnate certain ideas and principles in order to see beyond them.
Even more basically, we are logocentric, such that language penetrates us all the way to the ground; being steeped in language, we use its internalized symbols for the purposes of exteriorization and exploration. Our logosphere is a kind of ever-expanding universe; or not, depending on other factors. But there is always an element of personal, even intimate, involvement in our internalized judgments and commitments. Language can never be reduced to mere words, only the Word that is prior to it.
In the end, “there are only three miracles: existence, life, intelligence…” And “with intelligence, the curve springing from God closes on itself like a ring that in reality has never been parted from the Infinite” (Schuon).
And although the circle is "closed," it ceaselessly expands both exteriorly and interiorly, thus combining absoluteness with infinitude.