This Morning I Am a Man!
Okay, let's give it a try: let us reflect upon the nature of the Universe. Hmm...
Yup. Human intelligence does strike one as a miraculous irruption of subjectivity transcending anything that comes into its purview. It is the one thing we rely upon to explain any- and everything, and yet, is itself unexplained, or at least taken for granted. But it is the sine qua non of everything human -- which is close to being a tautology, because it suggests that humanness is necessary for humanness (or personhood for persons).
But something cannot furnish its own explanation. Rather, things have causes outside themselves. What is the sufficient cause of human intelligence? If it were simply caused by the material world, it is impossible to explain how it can have powers that so transcend materiality.
In other words, a cause cannot give to an effect something it does not possess. There is an incommensurability between an objective cause and a subjective effect: in short: how could objects give a subjectivity entirely foreign to their nature?
There aren't really too many plausible or even implausible answers to this question. For example, consciousness might be just an illusory side effect of brain activity. But what does it mean for one illusion -- the teacher -- to say this to another -- the student? It means nothing, nor can anything mean anything. Rather, meaning and truth are denied a priori.
More generally, the affirmation that existence is meaningless is pregnant with meaning (although its issue is stillborn). Nihilism is not actually belief in nothing, if only because there is someone who believes it. A true nihilist would have to be an animal, since animals have no beliefs, nor any belief that they have none.
For most of mankind's history this question didn't arise, because it was assumed -- whether explicitly or implicitly -- that consciousness was built into the nature of things. Think of it: as Schuon says in paragraph one, the first thing that strikes us is the mysterious presence of a human interior that transcends -- and penetrates -- everything it encounters.
Now, for early man, objects didn't come first, rather, the subject. In other words, what we call "objectivity" has only been slowly teased out of subjectivity. Prior to the so-called scientific revolution....
Indeed, what was this revolution but a kind of systematic method for segregating the two? Premodern science -- because of its default toward subjectivity -- saw too much of it in the objects of nature. Things did this or that because they intended to.
Speaking of Things I Read a Long Time Ago that Have Always Stuck With Me, there is an essay about this in Hans Jonas' The Phenomenon of Life, called Life, Death, and the Body in the Theory of Being. In it he observes that
"When man first began to interpret the things of nature -- and this he did when he began to be man [that same curious fellow in the title above] -- life was to him everywhere, and being the same as being alive." Who could blame him? To this day, all children go through this stage, until they learn that the world is safely dead and that consciousness has no meaning or even reality.
But maybe we can learn a thing or two from our distant furbears. For them, "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."
You might say that a strict objectivity is profoundly unnatural. Think of a "natural" diet. One reason it is beneficial is that it contains all sorts of nutrients -- even ones we don't know about -- that cannot be replaced or reproduced in an unnatural diet. We can put some vitamin C back into frozen orange juice, but we have no idea as to all that is actually in a real life orange.
Just so, is it possible for artificial men weaned on scientism to ever recover the full richness of their desiccated subjectivity? Well, they can try -- hence the cult of art and other modalities to recover and resurrect something of the great Cosmic Interior.
But "That the world is alive is really the most natural view, and largely supported by prima-facie evidence." Nor is there really any sharp boundary between what is alive and what isn't.
Rather, "most of what we know to be inanimate is so intimately intertwined with the dynamics of life that it seems to share its nature" (ibid.). Indeed, we see an attempted recovery of this cognitive modality in radical environmentalists -- in tree-hugging gaia worshipers.
The point is, modern man, in learning to view the world scientifically -- or only scientifically -- must first unlearn this more right brained, integral way of seeing things. "[P]rimitive panpsychism, in addition to answering powerful needs of the soul, was justified by the rules of inference and verification within the available range of experience..." (ibid.).
Now, if we turn the cosmos back right-side up, we see that "it is not our personal thought that preceded the world, it was -- or is -- absolute Consciousness, of which our thought is a distant reflection precisely" (Schuon). In short, our own consciousness proves that "in the beginning was the Spirit." Or in other words, only Consciousness can be the sufficient cause of consciousness, just as only the Logos can be the sufficient cause of human language.
There are Mysteries and there are Absurdities, and it is vital not to conflate the two. And "Nothing is more absurd than to have intelligence derive from matter, hence the greater from the lesser; the evolutionary leap from matter to intelligence is from every point of view the most inconceivable thing that could be" (ibid.).
It would frankly have to be a miracle. And not the good kind!
Nevertheless, "tons of intelligence" -- not to mention billions of dollars -- "are wasted to circumvent the essential while brilliantly proving the absurd" (ibid.).
Could the very essence of reality be the utter banality of scientism? Nah. "In the beginning was, not matter, but Spirit, which is the Alpha and Omega" (Schuon).
Modern thought which began with the Renaissance is placed in exactly the opposite theoretic situation. Death is the natural thing, life the problem.... Accordingly, it is the existence of life within a mechanical universe which now calls for an explanation, and the explanation has to be in terms of the lifeless. --Hans Jonas
Similarly, we might say that tenure is an explanation of mind by the mindless.