Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Science, Magic, Metaphysics

The question before the bus is whether we need math, or logic, or some special science in order to understand the totality of existence, or whether it is possible to do so with plain language that anyone short of end-stage tenure can understand.

Naturally I believe the latter, or I wouldn't have wasted the last twelve years blogging millions of words of plain unglish on the totality of existence. There is indeed a general (not special) science for understanding the whole of reality: metaphysics.

In turn, religion is metaphysics incarnated, so to speak; the former is to the latter as a particular language is to the deep structure of language common to all human beings. We'll come back to this idea later.

Neither math nor logic can get the job done, for reasons etched into the substance of reality by Gödel. Until his theorems are disproven -- and they cannot be -- logic's arms are not long enough to spar with God.

The reverse, however, is not true: God can certainly speak with logic, or better, speak logic. Which is why we can say that things are not true because they are logical, but logical because true. Math and logic can only "prove" tautologies. They are ultimately circular; we can of course expand the circle, but this hardly means we've left it behind. Like astronauts, we can leave the earth behind, but only by taking it (its atmosphere) with us.

Logic is always inside its own circle. In contrast, we are after knowledge from beyond or outside the circle. Is this even possible? No, better! It is necessary, or the circle couldn't exist to begin with. So, how do we exit or see beyond it?

In a word, faith, another subject to which we will return. But faith is form before it is content; and its form is submission and conformity to what transcends us. Which is just like any other object of knowledge, only this one outside the circle.

In other words, all knowledge, if it is knowledge, is adequation, and each science differs as to the objects and methods of adequation. You don't study biological objects with a particle accelerator, just as you don't study God with a microscope or women with feminism, for none of these tools or methods are adequate to the object of study.

Many fine Aphorisms anticipatorily plagiarize the points we have made above. Each of them is self-evidently true, such that if you don't understand them, it's your fault, not Davila's. The following maxims judge you, not vice versa, and thank God there are such maximal judges in the cosmos, for without them we would be ineluctably lost in spacetime without map, canoe, or compass. For example,

That which is incomprehensible increases with the growth of the intelligence. Again, we can surely expand the circle, but this only renders the border between the known and unknown that much longer -- comparable to a light surrounded by darkness. No terrestrial light can hold a candle to the sun above.

The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions. This is just an informal way of saying Gödel! One needn't be a trained logician to see this truth directly. Don't forget: Gödel doesn't escape his own theorems: they aren't true because logical, but logical because true.

Whether we like it or not, Philosophy ultimately fails because one has to speak of the whole in the terms of its parts. Only (traditional) metaphysics and theology turn this around and speak of the parts in terms of the whole.

In other words, we begin with God, not end there as a result of some syllogism or equation. Not to say that proofs aren't helpful in terms of being points of reference, but that's all they are. The proofs can only take one to the threshold of what transcends them. Then you have to leap.

So, The honest philosophy does not pretend to explain but to circumscribe the mystery. This is a somewhat paradoxical formulation, for how does one "circumscribe" -- i.e., envelop or enclose -- a mystery that surpasses us? How does one contain that which contains us?

Good question! To which there are a number of answers, each a point of reference from the seen to the unseen. In other words, to paraphrase Paul, the things of this world point or refer to the world beyond; appearances point to their reality. Otherwise they are not appearances but reality itself. Which is what the materialist must believe.

Here are some primordial ideas that point to an answer: God incarnates in history, such that the author of history becomes a subject within it; Mary gives birth to her Father; the Church is the womb of holiness and sanctity. I'm sure there are others that I'm not thinking of at the moment.

Always remember that doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book. Any reductionistic science is obviously a linguistic rabbit bulled out of an asshat.

Many scientific words and concepts readily slide into magic, such as "evolution," "mind," and "rational." But To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions. And Natural laws are irreducible to explanation, like any mystery.

But In philosophy nothing is easier than to be consistent. Here again, Gödel's theorems tell us that a logical system can be consistent or complete, but not both. In short, a strict scientistic consistency must be purchased at the price of completeness. The only way out is up. Or better, down, for if God doesn't condescend to meet us, no amount of lifting ourselves by our own buddhastraps will take us to the toppermost of the poppermost.

Ha ha: Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions allow us to make fun of the rest. Er, which ones? He doesn't say, but off the top of my head I would suggest the complementarities between Absolute and relative, man and God, group and individual, male and female, necessity and contingency, being and knowledge. Certainly on our side of the veil, these are as warp and weft to the tapestry of existence.

It's this simple: existence is an area rug woven of verticality and horizontality. But although these are complementary, verticality must obviously be prior, for the converse is impossible. It is for this reason that man is the one being uniquely inside and outside the circle. Like God.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a fine post, pure philosophy. I don't believe there is anyone who manages to be as coherent and entertaining while delivering on this topic as yourself. You might want to consider writing another book (it can be a sequel to your first, to expand what you've learned and thought about since, or depart from it in a new direction). Consider supporting it (and your previous book), by giving some talks.

The Bible speaks about not keeping your light under a bushel basket, or some such. I know you've expended considerable effort on communicating, but you could notch it up some. Since your current profession (psychology) seems to be a wasteland for you, declare yourself a full on philosopher, and get it going on all six cylinders.

One way to achieve notoriety, albeit while pandering to the public eye, is to outrage the leftist gatekeepers on some core topic. You could press a class-action lawsuit against the educational system, or some such stunt.

Once your on the mass audience radar, then you can purvey your witty wisdom and everyone wins.

Gagdad Bob said...

Eh. The circus is doing fine without me.

Anonymous said...

If you are content to rest on your laurels, then disregard my comment. I think I gave unwanted advice, pardon.

Gagdad Bob said...

No offense taken. I just feel I would come to regret notoriety. There are too many things in the archive that could easily be used by the uncomprehending or unscrupulous to annihilate poor Bob.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's Jordan Peterson's fear: that his surreal brush with celebrity over the past 18 months will end in an unguarded comment his detractors will use to demolish him.

julie said...

Not everyone is called to be a ringleader, thank goodness. I don't at all envy Peterson his fame; it looks exhausting, for a host of reasons.

In other words, we begin with God, not end there as a result of some syllogism or equation.

I find it interesting sometimes, particularly in Bible study, that even there - or perhaps, even particularly there, people have a tremendous difficulty in squaring what Is with what we think it Oughta Be. They look horizontally, and wonder how the surface we see around us can have anything to do with the vertical from whence it emanates. To look up, even for those who believes, is every day an act of faith.

Gagdad Bob said...

One thing that puzzles me is that Jordan Peterson is wildly popular over at Instapundit, where I often chime in with attempted witty one-liners. However, whenever I make any kind of One Cosmos type metaphysical/theological/Davila- or Schuon-esque point, I tend to get jumped on. People either misunderstand, and/or it provokes an argument that goes nowhere. I wonder what it is about Peterson's spiel that is so appealing, and mine that is so not? I don't expect mine to be popular, but Peterson somehow gets away with saying similar things, and folks eat it up. What gives?

ted said...

Bob: My sense is Peterson uses secular psychology as a gateway. He admits to being a Christian and acknowledges the metaphysical is real, but he couches his supernatural ideas gently (often in Jungian terminology). I'm not saying you're more blunt, but there is more clarity to where you stand that may be too far of a leap for many to reach.

ted said...

Also Peterson has the advantage of having a bunch of his academic lectures videotaped and uploaded to YouTube. I don't believe it is his writings that got him popular, but it grew from the young folks who watched his youtube videos. Blogs are losing ground to video these days.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's true. Blogging is dead, I am told.

julie said...

I don't think blogging is dead, it just doesn't have the wild popularity that other platforms do; it's more difficult to start a viral frenzy with a blog than with a provocative tweet or facebook post. Or video where you square off against SJWs and they make themselves look ridiculous. Everybody loves to see someone poking the bear with a stick, and winning.

As far as Peterson, I get the impression that metaphysically he is now where you were back when this thing started. Or maybe, I was then like a lot of his young followers are today, a recovering atheist with the Jesus willies looking for a way up and in that isn't just a (from the outside) hokey sort of Christianity. He happens to be the teacher that a lot of people need right now.

As Ted noted, we've made a few more revolutions around the spiral in the past decade+; what seems obvious from here tends to look different from lower points of view.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie:

What's an SJW? What are Jesus Willies?

I am unfamiliar with these terms.

Roy Lofquist said...

Howdy. Although I visit here every day I don't comment very often so I ask your indulgence.

Bob writes "The question before the bus is whether we need math, or logic, or some special science in order to understand the totality of existence,". I think this short (3 minute) video of Richard Feynman is particularly germane to the discussion. When Feynman talks about physics think natural philosophy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZZPF9rXzes

Feynman illuminates a dichotomy that spans millennia - first articulated by Plato, who taught that the world could be understood by thinking about it, and Aristotle who said that the world was so complicated that we can only reach understanding by what we actually observe. The Platonic method, the inspiration for theoreticians, can lead to truly ridiculous conclusions unless we have a way to close the loop. Again, we turn to Feynman (1 minute):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL6-x0modwY

What can I say? Four minutes of Feynman equals about two semesters at MIT.

Way too much of modern science is purely speculative. There's no way to close the loop. In the formulation of Karl Popper, the premises are not falsifiable. This is primarily because as Bob says "Always remember that doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book. Any reductionistic science is obviously a linguistic rabbit bulled out of an asshat."

My favorite exposition of this, actually made up by me, is: The reduction of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is a rather large Scrabble set. OK, genius, let's see you make something worthwhile out of that pile. For those of you who are familiar with calculus it's as if we knew differentiation but had no clue about integration.

Bob again: "But In philosophy nothing is easier than to be consistent. Here again, Gödel's theorems tell us that a logical system can be consistent or complete, but not both."

The most common justification for speculative "science" is that it explains so much. It just makes sense. But, and this is the key point of my blatherings, KEY POINT, for any set of data, or observations, there is an infinite number of formulations that fit the observations. We generally hew to the principle of William of Ockham that the simplest explanation is "correct" but that is misleading - it is simply the most tractable, easiest to understand. It is not in any way a proof of causation.

In summary, Bob has the right of it - metaphysics. Totally mysterious. I like it like that. I can't imagine anything more boring than understanding the universe.

julie said...

Yes, well said.

Gagdad Bob said...

Agreed. And certainly there is nothing wrong with science! But -- like everything else, from drugs to video games -- there is a huge difference between we having it and it having us. It reduces us from subject to object.

Anonymous said...

Hello Roy, thanks for the well written and insightful comment.

Your sentiment, "I can't imagine anything more boring than understanding the universe" apparently doesn't apply to many scientists, as you've noted. And then there are the mystic, seer, shaman, yogin, sadhu, mendicant monks, etc. Collectively they form the "contemplative" line of inquiry. They believe they can hack the Mother Lode of Data by defeating the sensory firewall. They apparently do not find the prospect boring.

Are the contemplative chasing chimeras and delusions, or are they truly gaining useful information within their reveries, trances, dreams, meditations, chanting, and the like?

I know one investor who makes obscene amounts of money while seeming to be an airhead. Her method, she says, is accomplished by viewing the future prices of stock as if they were displayed on a computer screen, whilst she is in reverie. Hmmmmm...I don't know.

common sense bob said...

Yes !

Excellent & delightful. Thanks...

Van Harvey said...

Roy Lofquist "We generally hew to the principle of William of Ockham that the simplest explanation is "correct" but that is misleading - it is simply the most tractable, easiest to understand. It is not in any way a proof of causation."

True. One thing that's always bugged me about ol' Will's razor, or at least with how it is often used, is that it's often invoked as a means of declaring that you already know all that needs to be known, and that your presumption of 'what it's for' is also correct. Either presumption is fully able to leave you looking like an ass in the end, and if both, a really big ass (see our aninnymouse comments for reference).

For instance, ask the tenured about what the purpose of a presidential election is, and they'll likely say "So the People! can elect their president..." which is at the very least, doubly wrong. And Ockham's ghost is often invoked to discredit the electoral college, as being too complicated.

'Logic'ing, in the absence of metaphysics, is often the delight of Ockham's Razor... and we really ought to cut it out.

P.S. I really like your 'Hamlet's Scrabble'.

Roy Lofquist said...

Howdy Anony,

You wrote: "Are the contemplative chasing chimeras and delusions, or are they truly gaining useful information within their reveries, trances, dreams, meditations, chanting, and the like?"

Who knows? There is no way to validate their conclusions. As I wrote: "for any set of data, or observations, there is an infinite number of formulations that fit the observations." There is a very simple mathematical proof of this assertion. I'd be more than happy to show it if you want.

The two major impediments to determining "the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything to be the number 42," are uncertainty (Heisenberg) and complexity.

"In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, also known as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle or Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle, is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities[1] asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known."

Don't worry if that seems a bit confusing. The practical implication is that our methodology used to examine the fundamentals of the universe is like throwing a bowling ball through the window of a Pottery Barn then trying to figure out what was in there by listening to the sounds. Do it enough times and you might figure out the size of the crockery but you'll never know if they were decorated in a floral pattern.

The second problem is complexity. I could refer you to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_complexity_theory, but that would be unkindly. Instead I offer a familiar example to hint at the problem.

We are all familiar with the byte - 8 bits that represent characters. Bytes come in groups - kilobytes (1024), megabytes (1024 kilobytes), gigabytes (1024 megabytes)... A kilobyte of characters is about 13 lines of typewritten text. So I'm going to ask you to guess how long it would take your computer, at 3 billion operations a second, to cycle through all combinations of a kilobyte of memory.

Wrong! The answer is 1.09e+2439 times the life of the universe. That is, 1 followed by 2,439 zeroes.

The universe is mysterious, unknowable. So, what's a poor girl to do? Open your eyes. There is one thing that the happiest places on earth have in common - Christianity. Is Christianity true? In all that matters - health, wealth, happiness - it is the clear winner.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Roy! Certainly the plug for Christianity is well taken.

I heard a beautiful song in a Catholic Mass last week. I'm not Catholic, but sometimes go to spy on proceedings. The song, I believe, portrays Jesus speaking to the believer:

"Here I am, standing right beside you.
Here I am, do not be afraid-
Here I am, waiting like a lover.
Here I am, I am here."

Really, what else would you need to know about the Universe? You could just relax into the arms of Jesus, and things would go just fine.