Saturday, February 18, 2006

God, Language, and Vertical Logic

People want to know: is this or that religion true or false? Does God exist? How much religious talk is to be taken literally, metaphorically, symbolically, mythologically, or allegorically? In order to be religious, do I have to check my brain at the door and surrender myself to an intellectual ghetto of implausible fairy tales and the beastly society of a bunch of credulous, slack-jawed yokels?

Yes, you do.

Just kidding.

If you recall last Saturday's post, I floated the idea of putting the kibosh on this blog, in part because it interfered with my forays into the unknown. As part of the solution to that problem, I've decided to do some of my unknowing in public, so to speak. What I mean is that my commitment to the blog would have interfered with developing new ideas and moving on to the next book. Therefore, I will simply work on some new ideas in full view of your prying eyes.

I remember ten or fifteen years ago there was a film about Picasso, showing how he worked. I didn't see it, but from what I understand, it was filmed from behind a transparent "canvas" made of glass, so that the viewer saw the painter in action while the painting came into being. Now, I'm hardly comparing myself to Picasso--or to any artist, for that matter. But you are invited to take part in this self-indulgent journey, as I attempt to wrest a new book from the formless and infinite void. It may or may not happen, but you'll be the first to know.

Any original book begins with an attitude of abject faith that it is possible for it to be written. At present, I am merely swimming in a sea of provocative hints and clues pointing me toward something that I have not yet actually discovered.

In other words, I am only dwelling in the particulars that may one day reveal the meaning to which they may or may not be pointing and therefore become a book. Most books are presumably written only subsequent to the discovery that it is their purpose to convey. This one begins before, but hopefully during and after, the approaching discovery, as it draws closer and closer.

Although we are surrounded by clues, there is no guarantee that these clues are actually clues, that is, that they are somehow connected to something larger that we do not yet see or understand. What makes me so sure that these are even clues, since a “clue” presupposes a solution to the mystery to which it points? In fact, there is no way of knowing yet whether these are actually clues or just false leads, or worse yet, planted evidence.

Like Columbus, we are embarking on a voyage of discovery in search of an unknown land we feel exists but which we have not yet found. Also, like Columbus, if we wait for the land to be discovered before we set out for it, there is no certainty that it will ever be discovered. And in any event, if not Columbus, then someone must eventually gamble that the New World exists and take the voyage of discovery.

As always, our guiding clue is higher bewilderment, or the ability to appreciate the bewildering existence of clues. Anyone who has ever set about to solve a problem is familiar with the initial stage when you know and yet don't know. You have unconscious but not conscious knowledge--a holy hunch, the sense of a connection among the medley of facts before you that you can't quite apprehend.

We begin this foray into the unknown with a passion for wholeness and a sense of the eternal, guided by the dim foreknowledge that wholeness and eternity are somehow related as space is to time. In this regard, scientific faith is no different from religious faith. Both science and religion serve as “probes” into the unknown. Both involve a passionate commitment to the idea that there is something there to be discovered, something that will reward our passion to understand.

For both scientist and visionary mystic, the leap from a lot of known particulars to their joint meaning--from random appearing clues to their internal coherence--is a leap of imagination. It is not possible to specify a “rule” whereby the leap may be made from the known to the previously unknown discovery, otherwise it wouldn't be a discovery. It is discontinuous. The discovery evolves and extends us into the unknown. But for some reason, these discoveries are accompanied by a distinct kind of joy for which we don't seem to have a word.

So there you go: some unedited, pretentious blather for your Sunday morning amusement!


Now back to the topic at hand: language, God, and the trans-logic of supersensible domains.

In order to begin this discussion, we probably need to go back to Freud's discovery of the unconscious, especially as elaborated by the psychoanalyst Ignacio Matte Blanco, because the unconscious shares much in common with the higher realms of consciousness where God is encountered. In fact, it is my belief that the vertical dimension extends above and below, so to speak.

While Freud ably addressed the "underworld" of the lower unconscious, he mistakenly consigned all religion to that realm as well (some religion most certainly emanates from there, such as most of Islam). But his genius notwithstanding, Freud had no understanding of real religion. Coincidentally, he also had no feel whatsoever for music--it didn't do anything for him. I can't help thinking that these two disabilities were related.

In any event, we can certainly be thankful to Freud for being the first psychic cartographer to map the world of the unconscious. Moreover, he discovered the mode of logic whereby the unrepressed unconscious mind operates.

In other words, the unconscious is not only the realm where repressed psychological content resides. There is also an unrepressed unconscious which is by far the larger part of our being. No matter how "conscious" you are, it will be only a fraction of the unrepressed unconscious, in the same way that your dream life is literally infinite and inexhaustible. The idea is to live fruitfully in the dialectical space between the conscious and unconscious minds, something I will elaborate on later.

In my previous book I discuss "mind parasites," which you may think of as split-off aspects of ourselves that are dispatched to the unconscious. One of the reasons these parasites are so problematic is that, once lodged in the unconscious, they become subject to the eerie unconscious logic that I am about to describe. It is this logic that gives them their monstrous quality, whether experienced as internal persecutors or projected outwardly as, say, Muslims do with their florid anti-Semitism.

In fact, both anti-Semitism and Bush hatred are so bizarre because they partake so liberally of the unconscious logic that literally creates monsters. Nor can someone given over to this kind of logic be reasoned with, because you cannot reason someone out of something they were never reasoned into.

Listen, for example, to this piece of unhinged Cheney hatred written by that intellectual giant, Alec Baldwin, on puffingtonhost yesterday: "Cheney is a terrorist. He terrorizes our enemies abroad and innocent citizens here at home indiscriminately. Who ever thought Harry Whittington would be the answer to America's prayers. Finally, someone who might get that lying, thieving Cheney into a courtroom to answer some direct questions."

This is an example of almost "pure" unconscious logic, identical in tone to the kind of insane rhetoric that comes out of the Arab world. Although the statement appears completely illogical, it actually obeys the strict logic of the unconscious. It's just a different kind of logic. As in the recent discoveries of chaos and complexity theories, Freud's discovery was that apparent irrationality is not arbitrary but ordered: it is patterned irrationality.

That is, according to Freud, unconscious logic obeys five main principles: timelessness, placelessness, non-contradiction, displacement and condensation, and inability to distinguish between imagination and reality. However, Freud had no idea that these same principles also applied to the higher vertical realm of consciousness, what Sri Aurobindo calls the supramental overmind. Rather than spending time explaining how these five principles apply to the unconscious, I'll skip that and explain how they apply to the higher vertical as well.

Religion offers a language through which we may speak of the eternal, or timeless. Remember, eternity is not time everlasting, but timelessness. As I explained in my previous book, time is a function of eternity. In fact, the two are dialectically related, and one is not possible without the other. However, our surface ego, or frontal personality, gives us the illusion that only time exists.

Yet, we always have intuitions of the eternal from which the events of time arise and return. Religion is a way of acknowledging and talking about this, of giving form and substance to this more primary ground of timelessness. It is where we came from before birth and where we are headed after death, but it's also here now. In fact, now is the only place eternity is or has ever been.

Recall that when God reveals his name to Moses, he says that it is, "I AM THAT I AM." Not I was, or I will be, but I AM. When you think about it, there is something very mysterious about this "I" and this "AM." As a matter of fact, there is no science or philosophy that can account for them or explain what they are. They actually are ultimate categories of thought that mere logic can never penetrate. As it so happens, this "I" and "AM" are the slots in the cosmos where eternity comes pouring into time consciously.

Similarly, what did Jesus say? "Before Abraham was, I AM." Also, the Upanishads speak of this in many ways: "aham asmi" (I AM), or "so ham asmi" ("I am he"). The Tao Te Ching too: "Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not. How do I know this is true? I look inside myself and see."

I just looked inside myself and realized I'm hungry. To be continued tomorrow.

Good book on the time-eternity dialectic: "The very nature of the world, in its physical and biological aspects, compels us to postulate something other than continuous change, in contrast to which alone that change is possible, something other than time, on which time itself is dependent or of which it is a necessary aspect.... All time and all process imply, and exist only within, a nontemporal totality."

And of course, there is that great genius Alfred North Whitehead: "Wherever a vicious dualism occurs, it is by reason of mistaking an abstraction for a final concrete fact. The universe is dual because, in the fullest sense, it is both transient and eternal... The Universe is one, because of the universal immanence. There is thus a dualism in this contrast between the unity and multiplicity."


Bryan said...

I just wanted to say thanks for your decision not to terminate your blog but instead to work on your next book in front of us. I'll be following your forays into the infinite with great interest.

Dan Spomer said...

Agreed. Thank you for embarking on this adventure!!!

But beware... as Ed Abbey said, "I always write with my .357 magnum handy. Why? Well, you never know when God may try to interfere."

dilys said...

--Filed in haste by native bearer from the ecclesiastical front lines--

"Do I have to check my brain at the door and surrender myself to an intellectual ghetto of implausible fairy tales and the beastly society of a bunch of credulous, slack-jawed yokels?"

Yes and no. No and yes.

Incidentally, rhetorically "checking the brain at the door" is the catch-phrase for horror of Papal infallibility.

Entering a Big Box religion with a full, developed, coherent philosophical and historic underpinning (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or Buddhism in my estimation), I got to check at the door certain mind parasites: the inclination toward epistemological and metaphysical rabbit trails which had led nowhere, and that the accumulated human legacy says will lead nowhere, however dazzling to imagine.

But the use of the brain to understand and adapt, feel my way into, the key principles and their implications, that's a really fine enterprise for this overeducated twit. Here, I even had occasion to lift Gagdad's A.N. Whitehead quotation.

"The beastly society of a bunch of credulous, slack-jawed yokels..." differs in its horror according to whether you are all standing together in Kairos-time in the light of a gorgeous psycho-conceptual pattern as described above; or trying to interrelate while making it up as you go, with yokels in the ascendant. Proximity to yokels, learning as Jung says the proper charitable personal distance from each, and imagining through their eyes my own slack-jawed characteristics, has been part of the civilizing enterprise the Church plays.

So, yes and no.
The trick, and prayer&meditation help, so does sage advice from insiders and the experienced, is to know where to apply each.

Naturally, some of the best bloghosts and colleagues differ on the usefulness of submitting institutionally to a Tradition, and mileage may vary. I waited a long time to declare it good eventually to acquire some kind of vehicle to get from here to there. Or here to Here.

Linda Nash said...

Your defination of eternity as "timelessness" is not the understanding of the Bible. The defination of eternity in the Bible is "endless time". See Oscar Cullmann'S CHRIST AND TIME, "...the fact that one can speak of eternity in the plural proves that it does not signify cessation of time or timelessness. It means rather endless time and therefore an ongoing of time which is incomprehensible to men; or, as it may be still better expressed, it means the linking of an unlimited series of limited world periods, whose succession only God is able to survey." p.46.

Gagdad Bob said...

Actually, "endless time" is a penultimate understanding of eternity, an effort to to represent it in terms of assymetrical logic that the ego can comprehend. It is a metaphysical declension which I will not attempt to talk you or Cullmann out of.

Kahn the Road said...

Bob, may I request, as a follow up to the information in your book, a bit more on how to put it all into practice.

For example (if you'd be willing to share) I'd be curious to know what steps you took in formulating a 'religion' for yourself. Are there certain things you'd recommend doing daily? How does one go about cultivating a 'Petey?'

Is there a 'baby steps' approach for ambitious, impatient types inclined to take on too much too soon?

And, especially, what the best way to slow down a racing mind for meditation?

primal_john said...

Will follow your adventures as far as my non-spiritual self will allow.
Thanks for beginning the book recommendations. I'm presently reading one or two of them.

Mike Andreyakovich said...

I think Whitehead hit on something with this line: "Wherever a vicious dualism occurs, it is by reason of mistaking an abstraction for a final concrete fact."

Doesn't that explain the basic misassumption of the Left? They assume a hypothesis or a theory to have all the finality of Ultimate Truth, and cannot be shifted from that ASSumption.

Gagdad Bob said...


Whitehead called it the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness": confusing our abstractions with reality. For the left, when reality falls short of the abstraction, they toss out reality.

The right is much more apt to simply observe what works and stay out of its way--at least in principle. (I mean the conservative movement, not necessarily the Republican Party, which, as often as not, is at odds with conservative classical liberal principles.)

jwm said...

For me, a metaphor for spiritual experience is the stereogram- you know, those "Magic Eye" pictures. All they look like is a random pattern of blotches on a page. It makes no sense at all until you get the trick of unfocusing your eyes. Then the image appears, and the illusion of depth is perfect.
I have a gut feeling that true religious experience is like this. But as of yet I have never quite got the trick. I strain at it, but still see only the flat page full of random blotches.
Maybe I don't work hard enough at it.
Maybe I try too hard.
Or maybe I am seeing it, only I don't know what I'm looking at.
Hard to tell.


Gagdad Bob said...


"Bob, may I request, as a follow up to the information in your book, a bit more on how to put it all into practice."

--There's no magic to it. You submit yourself to an authentic tradition with absolute humility and sincerity.

"Are there certain things you'd recommend doing daily?"

--No, not Daily. Moment by moment is more like it.

"Is there a 'baby steps' approach for ambitious, impatient types inclined to take on too much too soon?"

--No. The path must become the destination. If you do not surrender to the path, you can forget about the destination.

"And, especially, what the best way to slow down a racing mind for meditation?"

--There is no best way, there are any number of ways. It's like asking, "what is the best musical instrument." You just have to pick one and stick with it.

And slowing the mind is not the key. Rising above it is. You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.

hoarhey said...

I am also one who wishes to thank you for continuing your blog. I was just recently made aware of your internet home and feared I had joined the party too late.
I must disagree with you on something you wrote earlier during your consideration to change or suspend the blog. You said something to the effect that other bloggers did a perfectly fine and effective job at covering the political stories of the day and produced a product suitable for sane, rational people and that because of this your services were not necessarily needed. While this may be partially true, there is one service you provide which they don't and that is a connection to the Spirit. Your writing has a holistic quality about it not found everyday which speaks of causation and depth instead of being one dimensional and purely fact based. It becomes a bridge in understanding the spiritual dimension manifesting in the physical. It indicates a man who has made an in depth study of himself and as a result has been given a worldly understanding.

Now to my comment on this article.

"The idea is to live fruitfully in the dialectical space between the conscious and unconscious minds"

This statement interests me most, my question being: Is this a conscious state to be lived in the present moment (waking hours), a sort of mindfulness, or is this an actual state, say between waking and sleep which when utilized wisely can acually change the tragectory of ones life?
Or....? Please elaborate.

Anonymous said...

A Rightist whose plans are frustrated: "Dammit. Now I have to try something different."

A Leftist whose plans are frustrated: "Fuck, now I've gotta start all over again."

William Theaux said...