Saturday, April 22, 2006

Gresham's Other Law: Bad Monkeys Drive Out Good (4.23.10)

I was moving some stuff around my office and found an old post-it on the floor, under the desk. On it was written the cryptic sentence, "I was beginning to sense that the night had written a check that daylight couldn't cash." Those aren't my words. I believe I lifted them from Lileks, but he was quoting another writer whose name I can't recall. Anyway, I found the sentence arresting enough to write down on a post-it. I wonder why?

In a way, that's the big question, isn't it? We're only alive for such a brief period of time between two dark slabs of eternity. As Basil Fawlty summed it up in a famous soliloquy, "Whoosh. What was that? That was your life, mate. Oh, that was quick. Do I get another? Sorry mate, that’s your lot."

So the question is, in being inexplicably conceived and burped out of the cosmic voidgin, has time written us a check that eternity cannot cash? Is no body allowed to cross the phoenix line, or may we purchase a luxury corps at pentecost? Is the rend redeemable on our mirromortal garment, or are we nilled to a blank?

Looked at strictly temporally, our lives are a culmination, the detritus left by of 13.7 billion years of meandering evolution, mere cosmic effluvia deposited along the banks at the terminal moraine of the now. If our existence were truly limited to this temporal line of credit, it is nigh impossible to account for the miracle of the human subject.

For really, all adolescent scientistic kidding aside, how, while drifting along in the stream of mere material shuffling, did the current somehow raise itself above the plane of matter, and awaken to a non-empirical dimension of immaterial idealism? That’s some evolutionary currency. The question is, is it backed by the full faith and credit of the Divine Treasury, or is it only a rubber check issued by the Bank of Darwin located in Fort Hard Knocks?

At some point in the cosmic stream, some 3.85 billion years ago, the stream defiantly wrapped around itself and created a tiny loopwhole amidst the greater whole. Up to that point, the cosmos was truly “one.” But it was a purely material one whose circumference was everywhere and center nowhere. With the emergence of life, the cosmos now had a center, a center with branches in every living thing.

For Life itself is not a spatial center but a hierarchical center. Whatever else Life is, it manifests something that mere matter does not. To paralagiaphrise E.F. Schumacher, it is probably easier to think of matter as “life minus x” than it is to think of life as “matter plus x.”

This is why it is hopeless to defer to biology as to the nature of life-its-own-darn-self. As I mentioned in the book, a biologist knows no more about the nature of life than a watchmaker does about the nature of time. As I have noted before, although it is obvious to me that the cosmos manifests intelligent design, I do not rely on this to inductively leap the conclusion that God therefore exists. This is like proving the existence of time by studying watches.

Etymologically, the word evolution is linked to the word for “unroll,” as in the way an ancient manuscript was unfurled. On the one hand, we see that the unrolling tide of evolution has been accompanied by increasing novelty and complexity which is eventually tucked away in that evolutionary data bank known as the genome. But where does the compound interest come from?

In other words, accompanying the horizontal course of evolution has been a vertical liftoff as well. As human beings, this is the only horizon we are really interested in. This vertical horizon is an area of increasing centration, following in the wake of that first declaration of vertical independence represented by life. Life is that narrow slot we have all leapt through in order to have our precarious existence, like a little eddy formed in the stream of time.

Instead of being swallowed up by the tide, that little primordial eddy grew in strength, widened, and gained increasing vertical centration. Still surfing atop the precarious flow of matter and information--a little whirling dance on the knife edge between immaterial being and material non-being--mere animals eventually awakened to humanness.

And that is not all, for the centration and widening of vertical evolution did not end with that first proto-human primate looking around and thinking to himself, “Hmm. I’m alive. I am screwed.” Rather, it seems that, immediately upon awakening to his humanness some 35 to 40,000 years, our distinguished furbear pledged allegiance to the vertical order that had sponsored him. Admittedly, he sometimes did this in awkward and gruesome ways, such as human sacrifice, self-mutilation, and suicide bombing. But he also did it in some preternaturally beautiful ways, such as the cave paintings at Lascaux and Alta Mira.

Which raises an interesting question. Just what was this new subjective dimension that human beings had stumbled upon? Most mysteriously, why was it not an empty vault? In other words, why did it contain such riches as aesthetic standards? What’s the point of beauty? For that matter, why is the world that we awakened to so beautiful? Is it really beautiful? Or do we just see it that way? If the latter, why?

So human beings erected an altar. The purpose of the altar was to further “widen” that same little slot that was initially opened up by life. By widening that slot, human beings obtained increasing awareness of other inexplicable vertical characteristics, forces, and luxury capaxities: a sense of the sacred, the penumbra of holiness, love of truth, right and wrong, refinement of the heart. Each of these represented a subjectively objective reality that was discovered, not invented.

For proto-man to become mankind proper, it was a matter of assimilating more and more of what was discovered in the vertical, all of these traits and capacities that have no Darwinian utility at all. For vertical evolution does not involve becoming a better animal, but a better human. And the standard of humanness is not found in the horizontal world bequeathed to us by Darwin, or by naive scientism in general. Mankind owes nothing to Darwin for those things that lift us above the tide of animal evolution.

For there are only two absolutes. Everything else is a matter of degree. At one end--call it the lower vertical--is pure insentient matter. The secularist Son of the Earth has pledged his allegiance to Mighty Matter, Mother of All Mamafestation. This is Horizontal Man. He is indeed made in the image of that which he worships. He is king of the lowerarchy, not because he knows about the logos, but because he knows how low he goes.

At the other end of the spectrum, at the toppermost of the poppermost of the cosmic hierarchy, is Beyond Being. This is the horizon toward which Sons of the Light fix their gaze. For we are neither dirt nor divinity, but somewhere in between.

And that is not all. For in reality, each created thing is superior to something below it and inferior to something above. As such, "ye shall be godless" is logically equivalent to the primordial lie, “ye shall be as gods." Thus, secular man is his own god, albeit the petty “flatland god” of an ontologically diminished horizontality. In his relativism he feels no better than anyone else, but in elevating his relativism to an absolute, he secretly knows that he is superior to everyone, especially God. He has no way of knowing his place in the cosmic scheme, his proper caste.

This represents a small triumph for darkness, the primordial darkness accompanied by belief in the serpent’s promise of horizontal self-sufficiency in the closed circle of animal existence. You may have noticed that the serpent has insufficient funds to back that check. As such, there's no way to amortize your life.


Spontaneous worship:

We bow before you, O exalted and blessed birthday cake, you who dissolves our crude and undeveloped standards of flavor and moistness with a single bite!


Anonymous said...

Egad, Gagdad! Even busy launching birthday parties, you're cookin' with volcanic gas today...

The metaphor of the altar as something widening "that same little slot [objective /subjective; vertical / horizontal] that was initially opened up by life"!

And how when the Serpent writes a blankrupt check, there's no free lunch. "Hath God said...?" "You shall not surely die." Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Promises always recoiling as insufficient for the purpose.

FWIW, from this one reader's idiosyncratic perspective, you seem poised here perfectly straddling the huge and minuscule vistas, collaging the illuminating memes into what Aristotle calls "a motion of the soul, settling, sudden and sensible, into its proper nature."

At play in the fields where chunk size is an art form.

BTW, the icing on that chunk of cake looks suspiciously like Upper Income Hollywood Suburb Whipped-Cream Confection. Culture reinforces worship, as conservatives keep saying.

Anonymous said...

Bob, Bobheads -

>>For there are only two absolutes. Everything else is a matter of degree. At one end--call it the lower vertical--is pure insentient matter. The secularist Son of the Earth has pledged his allegiance to Mighty Matter, unholy Mother of All.<<

On the other end, the gnostic who wants to wash his hands of it, leave it, never to return. Neither tact is gonna stand up in Court. Is not the best idea to redeem matter by transcending it, at least in its current "fallen" state?

If we take the Garden of Eden to be something more than mere metaphor, if we understand it to be some kind of pre-fall state in which the hardships of life (including the fact of death)did not exist as we now know them, then I think we can assume that "matter" was something quite different from what it is now.

And was not necessarily "unholy". Well, after all, God would have to be the greatest materialist ever, He made so much of it. I'll go further - matter, when you think about it, couldn't be anything other than the bounded Infinite, the bounded One-ness, "programmed" to give birth to sentient life.

But matter, I posit, must have once had a different constintuency than it does now - I'll go so far as to say that its atomic structure had to have been different - that would include, of course, the atomic structure of the human body. Perhaps this pre-fall condition of matter is truly the "natural" condition. The fall somehow hardened, made "solid" the elemental structure of matter, introduced "death" into the mix.

So, the idea is, by redeeming ourselves, we can actually help to redeem matter itself. Hey, a New Heaven and a New Earth - I think it's a mistake to think of that phrase as less revolutionary than it really is.

Anonymous said...

wait just a mo -

That thing facing the Little Guy in the pic, the thing on the other side of the b'day cake . . . is that a paisley OWL??

because if it is . . well, I happen to have one too . . . thought mine was unique in all of existence . . .

mine is named "Omedon" . . . occasionally speaks prophecies . . . fond of champagne . . .

Lisa said...

Is there some kind of cosmic explanation as to why time seems to speed up as one gets older? Those pieces of yummy cake keep getting closer and closer together. Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that the line of time is starting to enclose in on itself becoming a circle and eventually a point.

Gagdad Bob said...

That's funny. It looks like he's worshipping a multi-colored salamander. But I don't think my son is Mormon. I'll have to ask him when he can talk better. Right now he just sort of mumbles under his breath. The salamander, I mean.

Oddly enough, Petey takes that form from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Lisa -

The time-speeding-up thing, I think, is just a matter of losing sense of one's kinship with "timelessness" as one grows older. When we're fresh from the plains of heaven, the timelessness still resonates. Then comes adolescence.

What's interesting is that even kids today have a sense that time is at a gallop pace, at least according to a survey I recently read. Hmm, what d'ya think this portends? Is like a reel-to-reel tape as it nears the end of its length? You know, how it seems to speed up just as it reaches the end?

My observation has been that just before an initiation experience the "oppositional factor" comes into heavy play. You know, the darkest hour is just before dawn. So what does this speeding up of time auger? Is sense of linear time to the max before . . . universal timelessness?


Lisa said...

I hear ya, Will! It does make sense. I don't even bother wearing a watch anymore, I prefer to be timeless!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, Lisa - maybe I should stop hauling this sundial around with me.

Lisa said...

It also infinges upon the freedom and liberties of my wrist!

Anonymous said...

So, this little guy get's to have his cake and eat it too?
Of course, what is the point in having cake, if you can't eat it?
There's a metaphor, in that picture,
a hidden truth that life is sweet.
Ultimately, that's icing on the cake!

Anonymous said...

A hogepodge of thoughts here:

It's bad enough that time has speeded up and years just ain't as long as they used to be, but gravity has managed to jump on the bandwagon with time. My proof of this comes every day when I try to hike up Piccacio Dr. It takes much more effort than it used to. My crazy artist friend pointed out that it's gravity that makes your hair turn gray- pulls all the color out of the root and down to the tips is what it does. T'ain't fair at all...

I once heard this journey compared to swimming across a river in the fog. We're mid-stream and can't see either shore. We can't see the bank we started from, and we just have to take it on faith that there's a bank on the other side. In the mean time- we swim.

Here's a question:
Which translation of the Bible do you all usually go to? And for Lisa, or Khantheroad: What translation of the Old Testament do they rely on in Synagogue?

My first pick is always King James because I like the 'sound' of the language. Other translations somehow seem watered down. But the KJV is often pretty dense. I'm as good a reader as the next guy, but I often find the text so obscure that I come away not sure at all what I just read.

That was one of my complaints with Budhism. I have tried to tackle the Lotus Sutra but the text is so dense as to be mostly incomprehensible. The hallucinatory imagery is exciting at first glance but it rapidly becomes tedious.

And finally, if I may, a request.
Could we try a post based directly on a parable, or passage from scripture, be it Old Testament, New Testament, the Upanishads, or whatever? I'd like to see firsthand some peeling of layers, and probing of depths.


Anonymous said...

I use the NKJV, but I also like the KJV.
I also use the amplified Bible, because you can learn the full meaning(s) of many key words.

Gagdad Bob said...

It doesn't really matter what translation you use, so long as it's in English. I mean, if English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us.

Anonymous said...

RSV, Catholic edition, for most uses. A Challoner-Rheims NT for comparisons and The Message for a (non-doctrinal) shake-up once in a while. I like the Vulgate on-line, if I want to translate for myself for fun.

Okay - I was out of town yesterday, at a UIL theater competition at Baylor U. Due to poor night vision, I stayed in Waco instead of returning home last night. This morning, I was getting ready to enjoy a breakfast I had not cooked myself when the elderly gentleman in the next booth at the IHOP proceded to describe to his dining buddy every colonoscopy he'd ever had, the results of same, the divericulitis that had led to the first of this long series, the discovery that his prostate had calcified and needed six months of massage to put it right and how he was genuinely looking forward to his next colonoscopy on Thursday. He managed a good fifteen minutes of monologue on this.

Now I appreciate modern medicine as much as anyone, but I was really hoping to have my Pancake Platter without a side order of benign polyps. This was so awful that I've been laughing about it randomly all day, but I don't know why it's funny.

A question that occurred to me while watching a whole lot of theater yesterday: Why are live performances - even pretty bad ones - more compelling than recorded ones? Is it some sort of synergy between the performers and the audience?

Will - thanks for another interesting idea to consider!

Gagdad Bob said...


Speaking as an audio enthusiast, it's possible that you need a better stereo system. Of course, live vs. recorded is apples and oranges, but unless you have a true hi fi system, the glories of recorded music will be a closed book. Japanese mid-fi won't cut it.

Anonymous said...

Sal, you're welcome -

And it was a live performance, too.

Anonymous said...

Sal -

I have this theory (gee, there's a surprise) about acting, which might have some bearing on your question.

It seems to me that the "method school" of acting in which actors are encouraged to draw from personal emotional experience, is actually constricting. I think the best actors, whether they are aware of it or not, draw upon human experiential archetypes in order to shape a character's persona and personality. One doesn't need direct personal experience in such and such when one can access the archetype.

There is always something ceremonial, something almost ritualistic in the accessing of an archetype - although acting is not necessarily spiritual in nature, there is a similarity between the accessing of archetype in acting and the accessing of archetype in religious ceremony. Something in the air is changed; there can be a quickening of atmosphere.

A recording can capture the simulation of this quickening, but to experience it in real time as the "ritual" is actually being conducted - there's no substitute.

Of course, this would apply to music performance, poetry reading, whatever. I think the real pros can perform "by rote" and still be able to access the needed archetype.

Anonymous said...

Wow. talk about bummin' your trip.

(sorry) ;P


Dr Schnuggiputz said...

A little ditty on the financial metaphor which is from a naughty series that 'popped up' in a former life, for all your amusement or bemusement, not sure what the muse meant! Eek, did I do this?

When we’re born we’re guaranteed
a rather frightful loan.
Costing more than we can earn,
this Life we’ll never own.

The interest we must pay to Life
we’d much prefer to keep;
for man today there’s nothing worse
than debts that are too deep!

And if we get some inkling of
the vast amount we owe,
we scoot off on a course for growth,
or start the Awful Row!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the trip through creation today Bob.
When I first read the piece it seemed to me somewhat one dimensional, probably my state of mind at the time. I've since read it meditatively several times during the day and each time a new dimension opens to a new awareness.

Anonymous said...

Thomas McGuane, in the wonderful novel Panama, wrote "the night had written a check that daylight couldn't cash."