Friday, April 14, 2017

Alternate Facts, Alternate Brains

This post is all over the place, and once again I don't have time to tie it all together. Besides, that's what commenters are for. You tell me where the rug is hidden.

Yesterday we spoke of those "enigmas which faith imposes upon the believer," but "which he accepts because he accepts God." And accepts God "not out of naivety, but thanks to a certain instinct for the essential and for the supernatural."

In short, there is a kind of direct perception or intuition of God that allows one to take the rest on board, even if some of the rest is enigmatic or impenetrable to mere reason.

For the great majority of history the great majority of men functioned with this "instinct" intact. Did the rise of rationalism (or materialism or scientism or secular leftism) result in an attenuation of the instinct, or did the weakening of the instinct result in a heightened rationalism?

Either way, there is something one-sided -- something intrinsically out of balance -- in a man who seeks truth (as all men must), but only via the left brain. Alternate facts? Of course there are alternate facts. Unless maybe you're had a stroke or head injury or attended graduate school.

And I use "left brain" as a metonym for all the modes of truth and truth-seeking that bypass or transcend mere logic of the everyday kind. Indeed, what about the nighttime logic of which, say, Finnegans Wake is an expression? Clearly, that book was not written by or for the left brain.

Which is its whole reason for being. It was "conceived as obscurity, it was executed as obscurity, it is about obscurity." But not pointless obscurity! Rather, "it's natural that things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?" (Joyce, in Bishop). In short, it's a book about the logic of the night, written with the logic of the night (i.e., the dream logic of the right brain).

Come to think of it, why was it written at all? No doubt because people hate being caged within rationalism. If they can't escape via religion, then they'll find another way out, whether through drugs, political radicalism, literature, whatever.

There was a time in my life when I would have agreed that in the bad old days people had to settle for God, but that nowadays, thankfully, we have almighty rock music. From the age of nine or so, music was my means of escape (or inscape). In many ways it still is, only not in a way that runs counter to religion, but is confluent with it.

It's been a while since we gave a shout to The Symmetry of God, which may not resolve all of the enigmas faith imposes upon the believer (or right brain on left), but certainly provides a fruitful way to look at them.

Long story short, even back in graduate school I was an extreme seeker, such that I was drawn to more daring and far-reaching psychoanalytic theorists such as W.R. Bion, and in this case, Ignacio Matte Blanco. I devoured his magnum opus, The Unconscious as Infinite Sets, and if I'd thought of it first, perhaps I might have applied his ideas to religion, which is what Bomford has done.

The amazon review of Matte Blanco a little overwrought, but gives a sense of where he was coming from, and why young Bob was excited at the prospect of diving into the strange world of bi-logic with both hemispheres:

The Unconscious as Infinite Sets: An essay in Bi-logic by Ignacio Matte Blanco is an endless roller coaster ride into the deepest sources of thought and feeling. Matte Blanco writes from the inside out, from the thermonuclear source of the Sun to the warmth of its rays to the Earth. Words like quarks ricochet off the pages.

Matte Blanco splits the Mind into two realms, two bi-halves, two different logical structures, or his "bi-logic."

The depths and hell of the unbelievable, is the Unconscious, where instinct spews lava into primordial affect. Unconscious logic underlies the language of poetry, dreams, jokes, propaganda, racism, advertisement, religion, and figures of speech. This Alice in Wonderland logic is generated by the Unconscious mind by the mechanisms of condensation, displacement, symbolization, concretization and hallucinations. This logic was conceptualized by Freud as the primary process and by Matte Blanco as symmetrical logic.

The other half, the Conscious, is where instinctual energy is transduced into factually based logic that attempts to keep us from being eaten alive by our fellow carnivores. This Aristotelian logic is generated by our conscious mind; Freud conceptualized this as the secondary process and Matte Blanco as asymmetrical logic....

It goes on in that florid vein, but the point is that the wide-awake asymmetrical logic of Aristotle does not necessarily yield truth, just as the symmetrical logic of the night brain doesn't necessarily result in error and falsehood.

For example, the left brain is of little use in helping us understand the truth of poetry, music, painting, and religion. Or, to be precise, we really need to exercise bi-logic, and not just rely on one or the other. In so doing, a hidden dimension emerges, similar to how our two eyes result in spatial depth, or our two ears in stereo.

So much of religion can only be apprehended via the right brain! But when I say "right brain," what I really mean is that what we call the right brain is already an expression of the deeper reality it discloses.

In other words, we don't perceive reality the way we do just because we perceive it through right or left brains; rather, human beings have these two modes because they are required in order to disclose the fulness of reality.

Think of, say, Mr. Spock, and the dimensions of humanness from which he is excluded due to his half-Vulcanized, hypertrophic left brain.

I'm about to make a wrenching segue, but it reminds me of a critical point Steven Hayward makes in Patriotism is Not Enough: basically, that what we call "statesmanship" can never be reduced to a formula. There are many thinkers and politicians of both left and right who imagine that leadership essentially consists in having the correct theory and pushing the right buttons. Thus, a leftist such as Obama relies on Keynesian theory to push the EXPAND GOVERNMENT button, while conservatives promise to hit the REDUCE TAXES button.

You might say that ideology of any kind is always a simplification of the world into easily manageable left-brained categories. But the heart of statesmanship is the exercise of a prudence that can never be reduced to ideology, and certainly isn't any kind of linear formula.

Churchill, for example -- surely one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived -- was not what you would call a logical man; nor was he illogical. Rather, passionate, visionary, inspiring, resolute, courageous, etc. Indeed, sometimes he was superficially illogical in pursuit of translogical aims. At any rate, there was no ready formula that could tell him, say, whether or not to bomb the French fleet, just as there is no formula that can tell Trump whether or not to drop the mother of all bombs on ISIS.

The point Hayward emphasizes is that just because statesmanship cannot be reduced to a formula doesn't mean it isn't a Thing. It's a Thing alright, just not reducible to left-brain, asymmetrical logic. Like religion, which is also a Thing, but a Thing that simply cannot be cracked by the left brain. As they say, it has not pleased God to save men through logic. But that's just the personification of an ontological fact: that it is the height of illogic to imagine that reality can be contained by mere logic, any more than the day can contain the night.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Every Problem is a Mystery, but Not Every Mystery is Problem

We left off yesterday with a comment by Schuon that I will quote in full, since it contains multiple and interlinked observations:

Only metaphysics can resolve these enigmas which faith imposes upon the believer, and which he accepts because he accepts God; not out of naivety, but thanks to a certain instinct for the essential and for the supernatural. It is precisely the loss of this instinct that allowed rationalism to flower and spread; piety having weakened, impiety was able to assert itself.

And if on the one hand the world of faith unquestionably comprises naivety, on the other hand the world of reason totally lacks intellectual and spiritual intuition, which is more serious; it is the loss of the sacred and death of the spirit.

There are so many points embedded in this paragraph ("metagraph" is more like it), that one scarcely knows where to begin. As I've already mentioned, these late works of Schuon that we've been unpacking are even more concentrated than usual.

Implied in the first sentence is that faith imposes inevitable enigmas on us. However, one might say there are "two ways out" of the enigmas, one way abstract and intellectual, the other concrete and experiential. Or in brief, Head and Heart.

The former (the headway) conveys truth via an explicit metaphysics that religion expresses more or less adequately through its implicit symbolism. The second (the heartway) is through a direct intuition (intuition being a vertical perception) that God Is.

And if God Is, then certain implicit conclusions follow, e.g., that he is Good and Just, and therefore we are not created just for the hell of it. Life has a meaning and a purpose, and since these cannot be fullyfilled on this plane -- and are often mocked -- then there must be an afterlife. Otherwise God isn't fair, which makes no sense at all, for it would imply that humans have a standard of fairness superior to God.

Of course that sentence is written out in longhand, when the whole point is that the heart doesn't necessarily explicate them in such a wideawake and cutandry way. Rather, it's more of a right-brain thingy, implicitly seen all at once -- like, I don't know, the phenomenon of love at first sight.

The point is, man is equipped with "a certain instinct for the essential and for the supernatural." Elsewhere Schuon said something to the effect that -- in a manner of speaking -- instinct represents animal intellect, whereas intellect represents human instinct.

Note that this human instinct isn't just restricted to the plane of religion, but is precisely what marks us out as human (i.e., it is literally a condition without which we wouldn't be human).

What I mean is that our "first act of mind" is the direct apprehension of a concept. And although the least of us does this automatically, science has no idea how. Let this google-selected guy break it down for you:

Understanding (or "simple apprehension") is the "first act of the mind" for two reasons. First, it lays the foundation for the "second" and "third" acts of the mind and second, it is fundamental to the difference between truly human thought and the thought possible by the higher animals (e.g. dolphins, apes, whales) and the "thought" possible by "artificial intelligence," (e.g. a computer)....

[T]he first question any person asks is "what is that?" The answer to this question, "what?" (quid in Latin), gives us the thing's essence or quiddity, its "whatness." The understanding of something's essence gives rise, in our minds, to concepts. A concept is an immaterial (sorry materialists, but you're wrong already), abstract, universal, necessary, and unchanging mental realities by which we understand the real world around us. When I see a triangle, for example, I only physically see a material, concrete, particular, contingent, changeable object. I don't physically see "triangularity" (i.e. the essence of "triangle-ness"). However, by asking that distinctly human question, "what is it," I can come to understand this essence.

Since this is the first act of mind, and because science has no idea how we can accomplish such a marvelous feat, it is entirely accurate to say that scientific materialism doesn't know the first thing about the mind (certainly nothing in Darwinism explains how this is possible).

The point is that humans, by virtue of being human, can instantaneously abstract essences from encounters with concrete things. And if we couldn't do this, we wouldn't be human.

But the Real Point is that we not only do this horizontally, but vertically. We can have concrete encounters with vertical realities through which we can experience, say, beauty. This is so ubiquitous that we can easily take it for granted, but what is the apprehension of beauty but the direct perception of an essence in a concrete object?

I don't know if we're getting far afield or moving the ball forward. Let's just say that our direct and intuitive perception of God is no more mysterious than the perception of a beautiful sunset. Which is to say, VERY! mysterious.

Speaking of which, I'm reading a book on whether or not God changes, called Does God Suffer? One reason I'm reading it is because the author comes to the exact opposite conclusion I do, and I'm very curious to see how he manages this, and if I need to revise my thought accordingly. I might add that he is quite intellectually scrupulous, and spends an entire chapter outlining the strongest arguments for why he might be wrong.

I don't want to get into his main theme, but he says a few preliminary things that touch on the present discussion -- for example, asking what it is we are doing when are doing theology? Are we beginning with the direct perception of God, as described above (the "first act," of theology, so to speak), and then trying to make intellectual sense of it? This would be the classic approach of "faith seeking understanding."

Along these lines, Weinandy makes what I consider to be a crucial distinction between a problem and a mystery. The clock on this post is starting to run out, so I'll be brief. Science treats things as problems to be solved, whereas religion deals more with mysteries to be enjoyed -- and deepened. This latter seems paradoxical, but only if you look at it from a left brain perspective.

I'm going to have to stop before I can tie all this nonsense together. Tomorrow I hope to locate the missing area rug that can accomplish this mysterious feat.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On the Meta-Cosmic Rights, Duties, and Limitations of Atheism

Time only for a very brief post. Let's get right to it!

In a way, theism and atheism have a mutually supporting relationship; for just as dopey religions and religious arguments can prompt one to become an atheist, likewise, the intellectually negligible arguments of Bill Maher or Richard "Vanilla Thunder" Dawkins are often the most compelling case for theism.

And since neither can be proved -- at least with the weapons of rationalism -- we are back to the unavoidable leap of faith: the very faith the rationalist finds so offensive.

Now, atheism has its rights. That being the case, it not only has corresponding duties, but the duties are necessarily prior to the rights. The duty, of course, is to Truth -- not just the lower case truth of rationalism, but the Truth of which rationalism is a prolongation or echo.

What are we supposed to do with our reason in the face of an unreasonable or frankly idiotic religion? Schuon writes that man has "legitimate needs for causality raised by certain dogmas, at least when these are taken literally..."

As such, one can scarcely "begrudge anyone for being scandalized by the stupidities and the crimes perpetrated in the name of religion," or even by the outward "antinomies between the different creeds."

However, an intellectually honest atheist will not only concede that "excesses and abuses are a part of human nature," but acknowledge with embarrassment that the apostles of pure reason -- e.g., "scientific socialism" -- have an even worse track record of excesses and abuses.

Is there a way to arbitrate between an absurcular atheism and an extravagant theism? Both camps sacrifice consistency to completeness (a la Gödel), but is there an approach to reality that is both consistent and complete?

Yes and no. Think about the fact that we can even know and understand Gödel's theorems, something a computer cannot do in principle:

1) Computing machines are essentially formal systems.

2) Gödel has shown that there are sentences—Gödel sentences—that can't be proven within a formal system, but that humans can see to be true.

3) Therefore, humans can do something that computers can't do, namely, recognise the truth of Gödel sentences.

To the extent that a rationalist understands Gödel and still clings to his rationalism, he has rendered himself an irrationalist.

In this context, you could say that religions are "theories," so to speak (or visions), of the Complete and Consistent Object that reason can only know partially, or "through a glass, darkly," as the gag goes.

But fortunately, there are ways of knowing that transcend mere (lower case) reason. Indeed, I would say that man is entitled to an explanation that satisfies the demands of his Total Intelligence.

But as Schuon writes, "Only metaphysics can resolve [the] enigmas which faith imposes upon the believer," a faith which at the same time reflects "a certain instinct for the essential and for the supernatural."

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

On the Momentary Presence of God

This post totally got away from me. First, I was pulled into an unforeseen but promising rabbit hole that consumed much of my blogtime.

Then the post veered into a rather deepish province that required my utmost presence, just when I was running short of timelessness. I'm tempted to delay posting this, but why not? It's a start, anyway. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out it it's also the end...

It's always hard to pick up the thread when we've set it aside for a few days. Maybe it's because our blogging is like journalism, only in an inverted sense.

To paraphrase Kierkegaard, everyday vulgar journalism is "of the moment, for the moment, and by the moment," such that "no man who has the least inkling of the eternal in his breast can cease to wage everlasting war" against its vacuity.

But wait a moment! Everything I write is of, for, and by the moment. So, what's the difference, if any?

Naturally we don't know, being that we are presently In the Moment and have never before pondered the question.

But the first thing that pops into our head is a comment by the Aphorist: One must live for the moment and for eternity. Not for the disloyalty of time. Sound advice, as usual, but is this what the journalist does?

It's like the difference between a properly religious existentialism vs. a merely atheistic one. Existentialism is fine, so long as it is grounded in a Being-ness, or Presence, that surpasses it.

But an existentialism reduced to mere existence is entirely soph-negating and unworthy of the man who voluntarily confines himself to its cramped confines.

Raccoons are born with the pre-knowledge that it has not pleased God to save men through tenure, let alone journalism.

Or, to put it another way, we are aware of man's limitations, in particular, his inability to save himself, especially from himself. But we are equally aware of man's privileged station in the cosmos (AKA our divine light privilege). What gives?

Ah, there's that missing thread! It goes back to the aforementioned distinction between concluding and perceiving. It turns out that even the best conclusion is a kind of "circumstantial evidence," so to speak, and that, as always, first hand evidence is the most reliable.

Being cannot be concluded, rather, only.... been. Better, it is either present or absent.

Nevertheless, we too must be present in order to participate in the Presence of Being. Which I would suggest is the whole point of religion: to facilitate perception of and access to the Presence of Being, which is again either now or always, but not "in between," in time (except as shadow, or echo).

Along these lines, Schuon writes that "modern philosophy is the codification of an acquired infirmity" revolving around "a hypertrophy of practical intelligence"; in a sense, it is the conquest of the right brain by the left, and worse, a systematic disruption of their dynamic complementarity which allows us to "perceive" the vertical (or "within" the vertical, to be precise).

"It goes without saying," writes Schuon, "that a rationalist can be right on the level of observations and experiences." But "man is not a closed system," and certainly not enclosed within himself (although fallen man never stops trying to seal the air holes and bolt the inscape hatch).

I think it is accurate to say that God is not only present, but Presence as such: Being is the presence of Presence. And I am that I am.