Thursday, April 12, 2018

Maps, Models, and Probing in the Dark

This is your Friday Ramble on a Thursday, since I have an early appointment tomorrow...

Yesterday I was rereading the excellent Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. In it Epstein reminds us that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is built upon models, and that the models are wrong -- which is to say, they do not map the territory.

Nevertheless, adherents give more credence to the models than to the reality they are supposed to map. Which only happens all the time in every discipline, from physics to theology.

Some suggest that AGW is more religion than science. Which implies 1) that religions also have models, and 2) that their models are likewise wrong.

But wait. I just finished a book -- The Rational Bible -- the central claim of which is that its 3,000 year old model is both objective and absolute (i.e., not relative). Hyperbole? I don't think so: if people only ordered their lives to the Ten Commandments, "the world would be almost devoid of all man-made suffering."

Scientific models are abstractions and simplifications. They work well enough for linear phenomena, but are much more difficult in the case of complex systems such as weather, the economy, or history, because there are more variables than we can know, plus the variables interact in unpredictable ways. It's why a mutual fund prospectus can tell you all about the Plan, but always ends with the qualifier that

The performance data shown represent past performance, which is not a guarantee of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data cited.

Lower or higher. Thanks for the tip! It's the same with global warming models: temperature may be lower or higher than the model predicts.

As Epstein says, anyone can hindcast or postdict after the fact, that is, come up with a model that tells us why something happened after it happened. Anyone can take the reservation. The hard part is holding the reservation. To do that, you need an effective working model of supply and demand.

We cannot get through life without maps and models of various kinds. There are cultural maps, psychological maps, religious maps. Yesterday we mentioned the psychoanalytic theorist W.R. Bion, who gave a lot of thought to how deceptive our psychological models can be. He even tried to develop his own abstract model, one that would allow us to handle psychological problems in the same way the mathematician is able to deal with problems in the absence of the object. It looked like this:

I have to admit, I never really understood the model, but I admired the attempt. For one thing, the mind is infinite, and you can't model infinitude. In other words, infinitude, by definition cannot be contained. Nevertheless, it can be represented, so long as we are conscious of what we're doing. Thus, for example, we can use the word "God," so long as we bear in mind that the reality designated by the word is (ortho)paradoxically beyond language.

Only humans can do this sort of thing. Obviously only humans have language. But even if AI is able to model human language, we would still be one step ahead, because we are able to appreciate the apophatic aspect of language, i.e., its nothingness as well as its somethingness. Could a computer ever acknowledge that, when it comes right down to it, it knows nothing?

It's a question of createdness vs. builtness. Minds are created, while computers are built. And creation is not just anything. All creation is of an ex nihilo character, even human creativity. No one has explained this more clearly than Pieper:

[W]hatever is real in nature is placed between two knowing agents, namely... between God's mind and the human mind. These "coordinates" place all reality between the absolutely creative, inventive knowledge of God and the imitating, "informed" knowledge of us humans and thus present the total realm of reality as a structure of interwoven original and reproduced conceptions.

In other words, what we call "reality" must exist in a potential space between God and man. Analogously, it was once thought that our eyes are able to see as a result of shining a beam on objects, whereas we now know it's the other way around: that light from objects strikes the retina. Likewise, as Pieper explains, "our knowledge is the product of truth, flowing indeed from the 'truth of all things.'"

This light shines in the darkness, and yet... So much mischief results from the belief that the light is self-generated!

An important orthoparadox: "being true and being unfathomable go together," such that "the comprehensibility of a thing can never be fully exhausted by any finite mind -- for all things are created, which means that the reason they are knowable is by necessity also the reason they are unfathomable" (Pieper).

That is exactly what I mean by the somethingness and nothingness of language, which are complementary, not a dualism or defect. This is the true human model.

Yesterday, in a moment of grandiosity, I was thinking of how I would like to wade through the arkive and assemble a Total Model of Reality. What would it require? Well, first and foremost, the Absolute. Deny that, and no model of any kind is possible.

Which leads back to Schuon's Outline of a Spiritual Anthropology. Here is an initial sketch of the model of who and where we are:

At the summit of the ontological pyramid -- or rather beyond all hierarchy -- we conceive the Absolute, which comprises by definition both Infinitude and Perfection.... If the Absolute is pure Reality, the Infinite will be Possibility, whereas Perfection or the Good will be the totality of the contents of the Infinite.

So, man is on a pilgrimage from possibility to perfection, relative to absolute, appearance to reality. But as Bion explains, it is as if each formulation or crystallization along the way results in "a feeling of security to offset and neutralize the sense of insecurity following on the discovery that discovery has exposed further vistas of unsolved problems -- 'thoughts' in search of a thinker" (Bion). In the end -- or In the beginning -- the thinker is God.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cosmos and Meta-Cosmos, Human and Meta-Human

For a number of weeks now we've been intermittently dipping into Schuon's From the Divine to the Human, but getting distracted along the way. The third section has several essays on the Human World, beginning with one called Outline of a Spiritual Anthropology.

He had me at the title: spiritual anthropology. For if there is a theme that connects everydot about this blog, that would be it: what is man? What is his real order?

It's how I ended up with a PhD in psychology. It certainly wasn't the result of any settled career aspirations, but rather, an inevitable consequence of my unhinged curiosity. Was my curiosity satisfied by what I learned in grad school? What do you think?

Speaking of which, somehow I was lucky enough to encounter the writings of W.R. Bion in my second year, who launched my entire enterprise into a meta level. From that point onward I was in essence studying metapsychology, not just psychology; or, any truth I learned from psychology had to be harmoniously situated within a larger metapsychology: a psycho-spiritual cosmic anthropology, if you like.

Let me see if I can dig out some statements by Bion to exemplify what I'm talking about. As a matter of fact, he published a book called Second Thoughts, which is actually a collection of previously published essays on which he essentially goes meta on himself; in other words, the current Bion considers the past Bion from a higher perspective. (BTW, I don't recommend that anyone run out and purchase his books, since none are aimed at a lay audience.)

Interesting. The book has a single review on amazon, but the reviewer, like me, describes a breathless Can I buy some pot from you? moment on encountering Bion:

Bion is my guru. Fighting my way out of the barren landscapes of modern psychiatry. There is more to man than chemicals looking for a chat. There is more to illness than screwed up chemistry. Bion gives so many answers. He leaves behind awe. An awe of the vistas in front of you. Of the new horizons yet to be explored. There are so many directions to take. It's as if you leave behind a modernistic constrictive complex concrete jungle. Simply step into a delicate vibrant countryside.... Visit and discover places in your own experience and understanding. And yet so much more.

I know exactly what he means, for it is indeed the sensation of being lifted into a higher and more expansive perspective. Of course, I think that happens on any encounter with True Philosophy. For me, it also happened with Michael Polanyi and then later with Schuon, MOTT, Dávila, and others.

Come to think of it, that is the experience I want to transmit via my own writing. It was certainly the point of the book. If and when I assemble another book, it will be 100% about this experience -- a nonstop combination of (n) and (!?). I have no interest in mere information, except insofar as it serves as a launching pad.

Here is Bion commenting on one of his essays:

I am not unappreciative of the account; I think if it were some other psychoanalyst's report I would think it quite good. But as it is, I do not recognize the patient or myself.

This is key, because it demonstrates how easy it is to write plausibly and even convincingly about the mind, but in a way that more or less lacks truth. Only Bion -- the one who wrote it -- can appreciate the absence of truth. Others who read the essay may be convinced of its truth. We can say the same of higher dimensions: how easy it is to write of spirit! Anyone can do it. But is it true? And by what standard?

So much of Exodus is a reminder to the Israelites that they are to follow God's standard, not their own. However, God's standard is universal, which is the point of the whole exercise. If Jews aren't messengers of universal morality, then they were chosen for nothing. What a pointless hassle!

Prager even suggests that this is how and why Jews have in the past gone off the rails in pursuit of non-Jewish universal systems such as Marxism. In other words, Jews are predisposed to think in terms of universality, even if it is a false universality of the left:

Ever since the Jews were emancipated in the nineteenth century, they have been disproportionately involved in universalist movements; but, in their embrace of humanity, they often abandoned the Torah and Jewish identity. They did not wish to acknowledge that it is specifically because of the Torah's teachings that humanity came to view all people, including, of course, strangers, as created in God's image, and therefore -- in the words of the American Declaration of Independence -- "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

When Jews abandoned the Torah and ethical monotheism, these very values affirming the sanctity of all human life have often been abandoned as well -- as was the case with Jews who embraced communism (which made war on religion and God-based values) and ended up supporting the tyrannical and murderous Soviet Union and other communist regimes.

Again, it is the same with contemporary Jewish leftists, who abandon the meta- for the infra-, or transcendence for immanence. The former is always open, the latter closed. The closed system will still allow "realizations," but only of what is permitted or conditioned by the system. Thus, they are "pseudo-realizations" that have the contours of truth without the content. Applied to psychology for example,

It becomes fatal to good analysis if premature application of a theory becomes a habit which places a screen between the psychoanalyst and the exercise of his intuition on fresh and therefore unknown material (Bion).

As it pertains to past bOb, this meant that all the fine theories I was learning were at once doors and walls -- or better, ceilings. Horizontally they are doors, but vertically they are ceilings. The former are essentially linear and mechanistic, the latter organismic and evolutionary, a "coming together, by a sudden precipitating intuition, of a mass of apparently unrelated incoherent phenomena which are thereby given coherence and meaning not previously possessed" (ibid.). This is (n), in contrast to mere (k).

"The verbal expression can be so formalized, so rigid, so filled with already existing ideas that the idea I want to express can have all the life squeezed out of it" (ibid.). I would say that all writing that presumes to be about spirit must be mindful of this minefield of (k). (This is, of course, a major reason why Jesus so often speaks in parables that require a realization on the part of the listener.)

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Conscious Freedom and Absolute Truth

I was thinking about the subtitle of Dennis Prager's The Rational Bible: God, Slavery, and Freedom. Freedom and slavery are obviously at antipodes, and yet, freedom ultimately means nothing in the absence of God: the Israelites were "liberated from Egypt to serve God," and many of the subsequent laws are designed to purge them of their slave mentality.

Indeed, even today many Jews still vote Democrat, so the degyptionization process is ongoing: "In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself has come out of Egypt."

Perhaps on Independence Day we should have something analogous to a Passover service, in which we recall being imperial subjects who miraculously became free citizens thanks to our God-inspired Fathers. As our mosest indispensable Father wrote to a Hebrew congregation in 1789,

May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, [and] planted them in a promised land -- whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation -- still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.

"The point is while liberty is necessary, it is not sufficient for a good life" (Prager). Indeed, "Whoever sees in liberty anything other than liberty itself is born for servitude" (de Tocqueville, ibid.). Prager continues:

In other words, while liberty is magnificent, the only thing liberty guarantees is liberty, not goodness, not morality, not integrity, etc. Liberty must be accompanied by higher values, because liberty alone will lead to moral chaos, and ultimately... servitude.

For example, serving the state. The state gets a foot in the door by "serving" those who are unfit or unprepared for freedom (we are not taking about the deserving poor). This creates a moral-political hazard, as -- very much in contrast to what God attempts with the Israelites -- the state rewards the slave mentality. Create enough slaves, and the rest of us are placed in the position of serving the state that serves its slaves.

Aphorisms come to mind. Remember Julia, the ideal Democrat woman who unashamedly spends her life in different forms of dependence upon the state? The modern State is a teacher who never grants his students a degree (Dávila).

In short, if you are trained for servitude, don't be surprised if servitude is what you're good at: liberalism pampers its beneficiaries until they have been turned into dissolute adults. Thus, Each day we demand more of society so that we can demand less of ourselves. For As the State grows, the individual shrinks (ibid.).

Think of "the resistance." Our founders resisted servitude, while these pathetic cases are resisting freedom! Thus, He who jumps, growls, and barks has an invisible collar and an invisible chain (ibid.). Trump -- of all people -- is not responsible for the chain. Rather, it is self-imposed. And the louder the bark, the stronger the chain.

Let's dig down to the metaphysics of it all: In any proposition about man its paradoxical fusion of determinism and freedom must emerge (ibid.). Agreed: except that it is orthoparadoxical, which is to say, a kind of necessary complementarity. Man is necessarily woven of freedom and determinism.

Which come from where? Maybe you have a better idea, but I'm with Schuon, who writes in From the Divine to the Human that liberty derives "all its reality, hence its efficaciousness, from principial Infinitude -- which coincides with All-Possibility..." Conversely, determinism, or necessity, must ultimately be grounded in "the Absolute, hence to the pure Real."

Absolute Real and All-Possibility, or Truth and Freedom, respectively. And we are the image and likeness. You might say that we are given freedom in order to comport with truth. There is a "Torah" and a "people"; or, Logos and man. Or just Consciousness and Absolute.