Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Message of the Cosmos

Continuing with yesterday's post on the keys to existence, an amazon reviewer of Means to Message explains what Fr. Jaki means vis-a-vis the distinction between means and message:

The "means" are the objects of reality which act upon the knowing mind which receives and forms the "message," since reality and the cosmos as whole are rational (that is, can be known). Jaki shows that even science itself must begin with objects that exist apart from our minds, otherwise science and philosophy become just "talk about talk," thereby confusing both means and message. When the means and message are confused, the human mind alone becomes the sole arbiter of reality, plunging humanity into all sorts of metaphysical and epistemological problems.

And political, as we shall see.

In order to for existence to ex-ist, there must be this primordial distinction between means and message. Typically we think of the foundation of things as consisting of matter, or energy, or law, but these are all somewhat beside the point if there is no Message and no Means to encode and transmit it. This means, of course, that there must also be an encoder, but we're getting a little ahead -- or behind, rather -- of ourselves.

Suffice it to say that in order for us to know anything, there must be a cosmic structure of encoder --> message --> means --> decoder; or God --> truth --> medium --> man.

In a way, this corresponds to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, meaning that God doesn't just formulate the message, but first creates the means through which the message will be conveyed. It is not as if the world already exists, so it is only a matter of superimposing a message. This explains why the world is so shot through with truth and beauty from the inside out. It is full of objects -- means -- that transmit truth -- the message. Vertical murmurandoms are everywhere!

There are diverse methods for unpacking these messages, from poetry to science, philosophy to theology, math to music. More generally, you might say there are qualitative ways and quantitative ways. In our Age of Stupidity, there is a widespread belief that only the quantitative ways are valid, but guess what? As soon as you say that, you've made a qualitative argument, one that obviously cannot be reduced to numbers. People such as Steven Pinker who naïvely promote logic as the last word in wisdom are obviously making an extra-logical (but in this case infra-rational) argument.

Wisdom. Is it a thing, and could it ever be expressed with mathematical precision? Obviously Yes and less obviously YES -- in a way. This for me is the appeal of the Aphorisms, which express a maximum of wisdom with a minimum of words. Here are some relevant examples; I've arranged them so they build to and convey a kind of meta-aphorism:

To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

What is capable of being measured is minor.

Natural laws are irreducible to explanation, like any mystery.

Being only falsifiable, a scientific thesis is never certain but is merely current.

The natural sciences, where the process of falsification prevails, take only errors out of circulation; the social sciences, where fashion prevails, also take their achievements out of circulation.

Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything.

The Christian who is disturbed by the “results” of science does not know what Christianity is or what science is (Dávila).

Jaki writes that "Concern for anything serious cannot be taught in a straightforward manner, if it can be taught at all." Rather, like painting, poetry, and composing, philosophy, if not "inspired by the love of truth," reduces to banality. Thus,

the scientist singles out what is quantitative in reality and therefore he deals with matter only insofar as matter embodies quantitative features. From there the scientist proceeds along a straight track which conceptually is also an extremely narrow track.... The scientist need not probe into the deeper origin of matter as quantitatively patterned...

In contrast, the philosopher -- at least one who is open to being as such, and not just a little corner of it -- must probe the "many other aspects of reality in which the true, the good, and the beautiful are intertwined as they reveal ever greater depths that cannot be fathomed quantitatively."

None of this is to denigrate science; rather, to simply describe it.

Science not only deals with material reality, but assumes it. But as Schuon writes, "Matter is the sensible manifestation of existence itself," such that it is immediately elevated to something much more than science can say about it.

Or, put conversely, if you were to consider all the things science says about matter, they wouldn't add up to existence itself, for existence is greater than the sum of its parts. Again, science simply assumes not only that "matter talks," but -- more bizarrely -- scientists can hear what it is saying!

Critical for our purposes is that "what holds true for the universe applies equally to the soul," for the macro- and microcosms mirror each other, because each is first a mirror of the Divine Mind, the Absolute Subject, the El Supremo at the Top of the Stairs. Oh? Tell us more.

The soul is "matter" by its existential substance, "form" by its individuality," "number" by its necessarily unique subjectivity; it is "space" by its expansion and "time" by its cycles. Or again it is "spatial" by its memory, since space conserves, and "temporal" by its imagination, since time changes and transforms; it could be added that reason refers to number, since it calculates, snd intuition to form, since it perceives directly and by synthesis (Schuon).

Hmm. I just thought of something. A conservative wishes to conserve our founding principles, so this reflects the spatial orientation referenced above. But progressivism -- it's in the name -- is not only temporal (i.e., oriented to an imaginary future), but in such a way that it cuts itself off from founding (spatial) principles.

Now, properly understood, our founding principles are both spatial and temporal, in that they are the operating instructions for a rule-bound dynamism, or ordered liberty. But progressives imagine we can have meaningful progress with no ground and no telos. In short, it is pure message, or abstract idea with no concrete underpinning. Being that they begin with their ideas rather than the world, it should come as no surprise that they end up shipwrecked on the shoals of reality -- the very shoals they deny up front.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How to Exist

No time to post, so blogging will resume tomorrow. However, if I did have time to post, I'd want to talk about the nature and conditions of existence, in other words, what must first exist in order for existence to exist.

For example, in order to exist, you need a body. But the existence of bodies is founded upon any number of prior, or deeper, or more universal principles and conditions. I touched on this in the book, for example, vis-a-vis natural selection. Sure, natural selection makes sense on its own level, but to treat it as an ultimate explanation, without need of much deeper supporting principles, is only to prove you aren't very evolved.

I suppose I first ran into this idea in a book by Stanley Jaki called Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth. If you're going to say anything useful about the world, you have to begin with what you are presently doing, which is, trying to say something useful about the world. How is this even possible? So many assumptions are packed into it, and yet, intellectuals of various kinds just proceed as if they're all self-evident.

All philosophers, intellectuals, thinkers, pundits, and professors, despite different conclusions, will agree on one thing (even if the are unaware of it): that "They all use tangible means for the delivery of their respective messages" (Jaki). In order to communicate meaning, there must be a means of communication:

Therefore, if philosophers are logical, their strictly primary concern should be about the extent to which their particular philosophy justifies the use of any such means, indeed its very reality and all the consequences, both numerous and momentous, that follow from this.

Take Darwinism, for example. Is there anything in this philosophy that permits the entities explained by it to explain themselves, with no remainder? I don't see how. At best, this metaphysic traps us in an inescapable tautology, such that there would be no reason to take seriously what such a restricted being says.

In a way, it's a variant of the old Epimenides gag about all Cretans being liars. For to say that all Darwinians are telling the truth is to transcend Darwinism. As we've put it before, if Darwinism is true, it can't be. More generally,

The perusal of representative selections from the works of modern or pre-modern philosophers hardly reveals on their part a sense of the need to justify thematically the means that carries their message. Yet only in the measure in which that justification is done, implicitly or, what is far better, explicitly, may the philosopher's message become truly about truth (Jaki).

Which means that 99% of philosophers imagine they are finished -- or close to it -- when they haven't actually even begun.

And now I have to get ready for work. To be continued....

Friday, March 16, 2018

Transcendence or Hand Grenades

In yesterday's post I did something I try always to avoid, in that I tossed out a lazy and inadequately supported statement. I hate it when others do it, because this endeavor -- the Raccoon project -- calls for precision, even if precision poetry. The last thing I want to do is deepak the chopra. Nor does it matter if what I said is true. It still needs fleshing out.

This is the statement: "the cosmos is in the soul, not the soul in the cosmos," and later "the cosmos is in us, and we are in God." Those are not the sorts of things you can just toss out there, unless maybe you're passing a joint while doing so. If truth is "just anything," pretty soon it is just nothing.

Yes, religion is often guilty of this sort of thing because of the I-AMbiguous nature of the subject. You might be tempted to believe that science is innocent of this abuse, but you would be wrong. If anything, it is the bigger offender, because nothing about science (or scientism) is grounded in anything (or everything grounded in nothing).

And that's just the metaphysics. Concepts such as "big bang," "evolution," "consciousness," and "person" are thrown around as if they are self-evident. Which they are, so long as you buy into the whole paradigm, but the paradigm is absurd if you take it seriously.

Truly, scientism isn't "in the world" but in its paradigm. Therefore, it sees what the paradigm allows it to see. As soon as we realize the paradigm is in us, we have transcended it, as outlined in yesterday's post. And then you have to account for how this inescapable transcendence has gotten into the universe.

But it cannot be a scientific account, because then you're back where you started, safe inside your little paradigm. This is part of what I mean by saying that the cosmos is in us rather than vice versa. However, I'm saying something a little more radical, because I don't merely mean our representation of the cosmos, but the cosmos as such.

As we've mentioned any number of times, "cosmos" or "universe" are already profoundly metaphysical concepts that assume the oneness of creation. Why should creation be one? Because we intuit it as such. Deep down we know there is an Absolute, and that it is a contradiction in terms to affirm two Absolutes. Reality is one, and we all know it, if not explicitly then implicitly.

The only exceptions to this are the mentally ill or brain damaged. For example, people who are subjected to early trauma, abuse, and deprivation often suffer from a kind of primordial rupture on the ground floor of their neuro-psyche. As such, they have difficulty with most any kind of integration, whether of emotions, thoughts, or actions.

I read a short book the other day that touches on this, God and Philosophy, by Etienne Gilson. To paraphrase and expand upon an amazon review, Greek philosophy was eventually able to arrive at That Which Is -- the objective Absolute, so to speak -- while it fell upon the ancient Hebrews to not only discover the subjective Absolute -- He Who Is, or I AM -- but to then put the two together in a daring cosmo-historical act of integration.

But then Uncles Rene (Descartes) and Manny (Kant) came along and ruined everybody's lives and ate all our steak by demolishing this unity with a "'purely rational' philosophy which holds nearly every intellectual today in bondage." This is the paradigm capture alluded to above, although the prisons are diverse, for truth is one while ideology is many -- a fractured fairy tale.

In any event, any metaphysic worthy of man must account for the IT IS as well as the I AM, i.e., objectivity and subjectivity. Sure, you can reduce the latter to the former, but that doesn't actually solve the problem, any more than throwing a hand grenade onto the board solves a chess problem. Frankly, you can eliminate any problem via reverse transcendence, or "transcendence from below," but this is always accompanied by a destruction of humanness.

For example, the male-female relation is a problem. There is a cosmically correct way to deal with the problem, and then there are the left's ways, which naturally end in more problems -- which is precisely why women are less happy today than when feminism got hold of them. It is impossible to be happy while living in defiance of one's archetype instead of in conformity with it.

So many aphorisms. Regarding what was just said in the paragraph above, Christianity does not solve “problems”; it merely obliges us to live them at a higher level. Again, transcendence, not hand grenades.

About the futile attempt to enclose the cosmos in (lower case) reason, civilization is the irrational fusion of opposing terms. Those who aspire to a “rational” civilization plan slaughters. See 20th century for details.

About the metaphysical slide from oneness to diversity, After conversing with some “thoroughly modern” people, we see that humanity escaped the “centuries of faith” only to get stuck in those of credulity.

About the implicit oneness, Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities. It is not a conviction that we possess, but a conviction that possesses us -- from outside the cosmos. Faith is like an air hole at the top (in addition to letting in the light and warmth).

About reducing subject to object, One to many, soul to matter, He who does not believe in God can at least have the decency of not believing in himself. Because The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.

About being stuck in a paradigm and calling it freedom, The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions.

In philosophy nothing is easier than to be consistent. Rather, the trick is completeness! And no man can pretend to be complete without God.

As to our initial problematic statement about the cosmos being in the soul, Schuon writes that "the Intellect coincides in its innermost nature with the very Being of things." Or in other words, we are ultimately in conformity with reality. If not, then what is the point? This is the truth that sets us free. Every alternative places us in bondage: God or Egypt, transcendence or hand grenades.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

There's Room at the Top of the Cosmos

I caught an article the other day that depicts the entire known universe in a single image:

Boom. Or ¡BANG!, rather. There it is.

Three things: first, that's us in the center. Second, you have to imagine it as a three-dimensional cone, with the central point closest to us. Third, it is not to scale, since it would be impossible to depict the vast distances involved. If it were to scale, our sun, which you see at the center, would be so tiny as to be invisible.

Interestingly, it looks very much like any other mandala, which is a symbolic representation of the cosmos. I wonder if this is because it is a perennial nonlocal form to which humans have vertical access?

Also, the sphere has always been understood as the perfect form, and the cosmos must be a perfect sphere, since it is expanding in all directions from a central point at 68 kilometers per second.

So, what is it expanding into? That's a nonsense question, or at least beyond the limits of the model. Ultimately the mathematical model must be tautologous, forbidden by Gödel to step outside itself. Only humans can do that, not science.

Therefore, there is a strange loop involved in gazing at that model; or better it is like a Klein Bottle, in which yer inside is out and yer outside is in. Again, we are at the center of the model, implying that we are "contained" by it. And yet, we are looking at it from the outside, such that it is we who contain the cosmos, not vice versa.

Is this possible? No, it's necessary: the cosmos is in the soul, not the soul in the cosmos.

Again, consider the logarithmic scale of the image above, such that as one gets closer to the center, things get smaller and smaller. But that is only the "reality," not the Reality. For in real Reality, at the center is the largest imaginable thing in all of existence, which is to say, the human mind -- the same isness that transcends the whole business.

I've mentioned before that I read a novel some 35 years ago called Little, Big. I don't remember anything about it except that it depicts a world of concentric circles. However, unlike standard geometry, the closer one gets to the center, the larger the world, to the point of infinitude.

Here again, this is very much like our world, being that the infinitude is at the center, not the periphery. Think, for example, of childhood. On the one hand, it was a small world -- our house, our family, our neighborhood. Nevertheless, remember the infinitude? It was everywhere and in every thing.

The good news is that there's still room at the top, as man always "opens out" to infinity. As such, it is as if there is a pinhole at the center of the image, with Light streaming in -- the same light that illuminates the image. This pinhole is a window or a door, depending. Jesus said "I am the way," but he might have said ways, e.g., the gate, the vine, the light, the truth.

God has opened a door in the middle of creation, and this open door of the world towards God is man; this opening is God's invitation to look toward Him, to tend towards Him, to persevere with regard to Him, and to return to Him (Schuon).

It is the actual river that runs up Mount Improbable:

the human state is a gate of exit -- and the only gate for the terrestrial world -- not merely out of this world or the formal cosmos, but even out of the immense and numberless objectification that is universal Existence.

Maybe you can't see it, but at the very center of the center -- the beating heart of the cosmos -- would have to be the cross. God is "outside" the circle, but when he condescends to enter, he is cruciform.

Schuon often uses the image of the circle as a point of reference. God is at the center, radiating outward, with each concentric circle representing a world -- for example, worlds of matter, of biology, of mind. In one sense the material world -- or the world of the material ego -- is the most distant from the center, but it is possible for man to plunge right past it, into "negative" spaces of falsehood, evil, and tenure.

In any event, in this view, the spiritual adventure is a journey back to the center:

The subjective principle emanating from the divine Subject crosses the Universe like a ray in order to end in the multitude of egos.... Man marks the limit of the "creative ray" for the terrestrial world that is his; his sufficient reason consists in being this limit, that is, in providing a stop -- after the manner of an echo or a mirror -- to the "ray of exteriorization".... it is at the same time a door open toward the Self and immortality (Schuon).

So, where does this leave us vis-a-vis our picture of the universe? In truth, man cannot be enclosed in any system, whether material, mathematical, ideological, visual, biological, whatever. Rather, the cosmos is in us, and we are in God. And the higher you fly, the deeper you go. So c'mon!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Religious Dunning-Kruger

Yesterday the term occurred to me: "religious Dunning-Kruger." Certainly it applies to Pinker, who simultaneously overestimates what he knows about religion and underestimates what religious people know about his secular humanism. The following is adapted from wiki, but with certain relevant words changed or added:

The Religious Dunning–Kruger effect is a psycho-pneumatic bias wherein excessively rationalistic people suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their spiritual discernment as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metaphysical inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own spiritual ineptitude; without the self-awareness of metaphysics, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual knowledge or experience of the spiritual realm.

Conversely, spiritually gifted individuals may erroneously assume that principles easy for them to understand are also easy for other people to understand, or that other people will have a similar understanding of subjects that they themselves are well-versed in.

At the very least, an intellectually honest atheist will want to seek out the finest in religious thought in order to refute it. Instead, they either dismiss it out of hand with a wave of Dunning Kruger, or trot out the worst examples of religious thought in order to prove their phony superiority. But if all religious thinkers were Deepak Chopra I'd be an atheist, just as if all women were Michelle Obama I'd be gay. It proves nothing.

Much of what goes by the name of "thinking" is nothing more than a crude display of intelligence signaling. Ideology in particular is a cognitive system that allows idiots to have opinions.

Conversely, orthodox religious belief is often a helpful way for non-metaphysicians to have correct opinions about the foundations of existence. That is to say, when the average person starts thinking things through for himself from the ground up, disaster is just over the horizon. My entire generation (the boomers) was guilty of this, and look what ensued.

If you don't believe me, believe the Aphorist:

To educate man is to impede the “free expression of his personality.”


Educating the individual consists in teaching him to distrust the ideas that occur to him.

What, ideas like man is perfectible and government can solve social problems? The self-satisfied individual who believes his own interior propaganda "ends only destroying values higher than than those he is capable of aiming at and engendering evils greater than those he sets out to overcome" (Schuon). For proof, look at any Democrat-run city.

Where Christianity disappears, greed, envy, and lust invent a thousand ideologies to justify themselves.

Bernie Sanders in '20!

When man refuses the discipline the gods give him, demons discipline him.

Hollywood comes to mind.

An irreligious society cannot endure the truth of the human condition. It prefers a lie, no matter how imbecilic it may be.

Bernie Sanders in '20!

The simplistic ideas in which the unbeliever ends up believing are his punishment.

Pinker deserves himself, as Times readers deserve the Times and progressives deserve progressivism.

Nothing remains of Christianity when the Christian tries to seem to the world not to be stupid.

Religious Dunning-Kruger assures this.

Back to Gnosis, which, as I mentioned in the previous post, has some really bad news for Pinker. Except it's not news, of course, but the most venerable things short of God, i.e., the principles that lead from and to him.

At the root of religious Dunning-Kruger must be a rational ego so hypertrophied that it not only obscures the intellect but appropriates some of its its function, which is precisely what allows it to pronounce on realities above its station:

[I]ntellectual genius should not be confused with the mental acuity of logicians: intellectual intuition comprises in its essence a contemplatively that is in no way part of the rational capacity.... it is contemplative power, receptivity toward the uncreated Light, the opening of the Eye of the heart, which distinguishes transcendent intelligence from reason.

For short, it is (o) and (↓).

Moreover, "Reason perceives the general and proceeds by logical operations, whereas Intellect perceives the principial -- the metaphysical -- and proceeds by intuition." Seeing is believing. Which is again where faith comes in, because believing is already a kind of seeing.

Precisely, it is a seeing-beyond-logic, through a window or door situated at the top of the vertical scale. Man is always an open system, both horizontally and vertically -- or at least is supposed to be.

But both history and simple observation of one's contemporaries show that human nature "tends to lock itself into some limitation," which is to say, man stops asking Why? at an arbitrary point, and calls it a metaphysic. Politically this metaphysic ends in a neo-barbaric atheocracy, while intellectually it ends in a prison of relativism, AKA ineradicable stupidity.

Friday, March 09, 2018

The Science of the Inexact is an Exact Science

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, I reread a couple of essays in Schuon's Gnosis that turned out to be particularly apt. It's as if the Cosmic Mind directed me straight to them.

For example, we adverted to the limitations of mere fact and logic, when our adversaries seem to think that these things not only speak for themselves, but can say everything there is to say. But then Gödel comes along and says "no way," because the human mind is bigger than math and logic put together.

Schuon says something similar:

There is doubtless no truth more "exact" than history, but what must be stressed is that there is a truth more "real" than that of facts.... Historical reality is less "real" than the profound truth it expresses, and which myths likewise express; a mythological symbolism is infinitely more "true" than a fact deprived of symbolism.

Here we are really on to something, almost a kind of cosmic meta-law that transcends anything even Gödel might have ventured; for in the end, he was a mere logician, wasn't he?

The reason there is no truth more exact than history is because it happened. Exactly. And yet, what was it? What did -- or does -- it mean? The most exact representation of what happened won't tell you that.

This reminds me of what was wrong with my formal education. For example, I remember studying a different facet of history every grade: US history, California history, European history, world history, etc. There were countless facts and dates to memorize, but I don't recall anyone pulling it all together and explaining What That Was All About.

So, yesterday I randomed into an article called Education as Enchantment: Tolkien’s Essay “On Fairy-Stories.” In it, the author describes perfectly the distinction between mere historical fact and historical reality:

When we teach, our aim isn’t merely [heh] to relay a subject matter -- a curricular “story” -- that otherwise remains “out there” at a level removed from the student himself. On the contrary, our desire is to be so competent and compelling in our teaching-cum-story-telling that our students and children are able, by an act of what Tolkien calls “literary belief,” to enter into the subject matter fully, and “see” and “feel,” even “be” inside of it.

Exactly. Which is ironic, because we're obviously dealing with a higher level of exactitude than mere fact! More:

Yet in casting our pedagogical “spell,” of course, we understand that we are engaged in no mere [heh] game or play-acting; we are not trying to get our students to believe something that is false.

Rather, we are engaged in the perilously important task of trying to seduce -- or “delude,” as Tolkien has it -- our students out of the so-called “real world” that they think they already know by leading them into the even more real “Secondary World” that is being “weaved” by the teacher.

Understood as a form or state of Faërian drama, then, education is to be appreciated as no mere [heh] means to some other, ulterior end, but rather education seeks to bring about much the same effect that all our arts ardently long for (but which only God’s own Faërian drama of the Gospel most fully achieves). In sum, our teaching must strive to imaginatively substitute the existing world with a new and redeemed because enchanted view of the old one.

I don't think I have sufficient time to unpack all that, but perhaps it's unnecessary, for either you get the point or you don't, and certainly Pinker and his ilk don't.

One central point is that the world isn't flat but hierarchical, such that exactitude on one level may be blurry or misleading or meaningless on the next. Nor is it possible to transcend from below, although people -- especially leftists -- never stop trying.

Bob, why did you just throw in that gratuitous insult to the left? Because the left practices a perverse, counterfeit version of Faërian drama by superimposing an ideological superstructure over events, AKA the Narrative. In denying myth, they descend into a kind of systematic and rigid delusion.

In the words of the Aphorist, Nothing is explainable outside of history, but history is not enough to explain anything.

For Real history exceeds what merely happened. Therefore, Facts need the historian in order to become interesting. Unless the imagination refines it, every event is trivial.

No. Exactly trivial. For The event without an intelligent narrator dies in frustrated virtuality. What this ultimately means is that history is consummated in the soul; or rather, it is woven of fact and imagination, horizontal and vertical, but conditioned from above.


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Bad Church of Mere Logic and Fact

I heard Steven Pinker on Dennis Prager's show yesterday, discussing his Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I was expecting a high level debate on God, Man, and Everything, but was quite disappointed.

Pinker came off as someone who has never thought deeply about reason, science, humanism, progress, morality, or any other coordinate of existence. He had only the lamest responses to Prager's most mild challenges.

Indeed, Prager was polite and respectful with Pinker -- almost to the point of fawning -- I suspect because he is one of the few prominent liberals who is vocal in his opposition to the left. Evidently there is a lot of mindless conservative-bashing in the book, but Prager got him to acknowledge that liberalism shares much more in common with conservatism than with leftism.

I wonder if being a Beloved Professor rots one's brain? The adulation allows one to cut corners and substitute verbal wizardry for solidly anchored thought. I wonder if any amazon reviewers have noticed this? Let's check.

Hmm. Bill Gates says it is his "favorite book of all time." Kiss of death right there. Uh oh. More extravagant praise from the likes of Nicholas Kristof, Richard Dawkins, and David Brooks. Maybe I'm bigoted, but I would never even consider reading a book endorsed by these four, since it would indicate to me that the work is tainted by Deep Fallacy and Ineradicable Error.

Perhaps I should emphasize that I am in 100% agreement with Pinker that Things Are Getting Better, especially in all the measurable ways that things are getting better, such as longer lifespans, increased wealth, and less violence. The (or one) question is why -- not just proximally but ultimately.

For example, he will say because of the Enlightenment. Yes, but why did the Enlightenment only happen in Christian civilization? And I doubt he means the French Enlightenment, but I can't say for certain. His argument essentially reduces to "the stuff I like happened because of stuff I like."

He also seems to think that humanism and Christianity are antipodal, when in reality, genuine humanism is rooted in Christianity, whereas radically secular versions end in Nazism, Communism, or some other ideology that necessarily elevates man to godhood. If God is Necessary Being -- that which cannot not be -- then we can no more eliminate him than we can matter, or energy, or light. Rather, we can only deny and displace him.

Which is precisely what Pinker does. For example, he believes it is possible to ground morality in logic. Yes, I suppose that's possible, so long as you furnish logic with the correct premises! But logic alone obviously cannot provide those premises.

Remarkably, Pinker didn't seem to comprehend this when Prager pointed it out. For example, Pinker argued that it is logical not to murder children. But why should we be logical? What if I want to murder children? Who says logic is better than desire? Not Nietzsche, for one.

I'm sure Pinker's argument suffices in the academic lounge or on MSNBC. But logic has never stopped anyone from acting on a desire to commit evil. In fact, logic can obviously assist one in doing so. It is totally neutral. A Nazi might have asked, "what is the most logical way to liquidate the maximum number of Jews with the minimum expense?" Just because something is logical, it hardly means it is good, let alone true. Rather, a logical argument is only sound or unsound.

Speaking of disappointment, I recently read a book called Simply Gödel, and it wasn't especially helpful to the cause. However, it does at least agree with Bob that logic ultimately "consists of empty tautologies" -- of "rules or conventions for deducing sentences from one another, determining whether sentences are consistent with one another, and so on..."

Imagine a guy as bright as Pinker making a tautological argument. But there it is. It means he is saying "nothing," or conveying no information at all. In other words, if I excitedly tell you that 1 = 1, I haven't actually said anything of interest. More to the point, "lacking intuition, we would have no knowledge of existing things at all, only opinions" (Tieszen). And Gödel doesn't mean merely subjective intuition, but rather, something more analogous to the Intellect in Schuon's sense:

Just the opposite is true: intuition is required for objectivity. Without intuition of the objects or states of affairs that our thoughts are about, we would have only empty thoughts. Truth requires agreement between what is merely thought and facts that are intuited. Intuition fills in what is merely thought.

Merely thought. This should humble mere thinkers, but it rarely does.

Similarly, mere logic can prove all kinds of things, but that doesn't mean these things are true: "Formal provability is a purely 'syntactic' notion, which means it does not involve truth" (ibid.) It may or may not be true, but as we all know, semantics cannot be reduced to syntax. You can say something that is perfectly grammatical and yet be completely full of it.

Gödel once remarked that "Either mathematics is too big for the human mind, or the human mind is more than a machine."

Well, mathematics is not too big for the human mind, so we are more than machines. QED. For "computers are just concrete syntax manipulators" incapable of standing outside or above their syntax. Which also means that "formal or computational exactness does not always yield certainty. To think otherwise is an illusion."

Mere thought, mere fact, mere logic, mere clarity, mere exactitude. None of these are goods (or truths) in and of themselves. Rather, they potentially cut both ways.

Gödel made a comment that applies perfectly to the Pinkers of the world: "ninety percent of contemporary philosophers see their principal task to be that of beating religion out of men's heads, and in that way have the same effect as the bad churches."