Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Postmodern Prometheus: A God of the Saps

As we were discussing yesterday, consciousness is not merely localized in brains, but is necessarily intersubjective. Without the anterior condition of intersubjecivity, subjectivity could not emerge. As infants, our consciousness is thoroughly entangled with that of our caretakers, and we only eventually--and to varying degrees--wrestle individuality from this primordial matrix of (un)consciousness.

You could almost think of this conscious/unconscious or individual/group duality as anlogous to the wave/particle complementarity in quantum physics. With normal “wideawake and cutandry” logic, something is either a wave or a particle, but cannot be both. The former is a collective phenomenon, the latter an individual one. But it is well understood in subatomic physics that the question of whether something is a wave or particle depends upon how you look at it.

This hardly means that reality is not objective. Both new-age errheads and postmodern solipsists take quantum indeterminacy to mean that, in one way or another, reality is created by observing it--that perception really is reality. This sinnerster meme has somehow trickled from the high country of middlebrow philosophers all the way down into the water supply below. Pick up most any new-age type book, and it will explain to you how, since quantum physics proves that reality is created by observing it, reality is only limited by your dreams!

Therefore, as Anthony Robbins teaches, you can AWAKEN THE GIANT WITHIN and TAKE IMMEDIATE CONTROL of your MENTAL, EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL and FINANCIAL DESTINY! Yes my friends, YOU TOO can be as MALIGNANTLY NARCISSISTIC as TONY ROBBINS or even DEEPAK CHOPRA! Just like a baby, you can have the UNLIMITED POWER of MANIPULATION. Robbins will teach you the SEVEN SECRETS to GETTING WHAT YOU WANT and WHEN YOU WANT IT, although my 15 MONTH OLD could probably teach him A THING OR TWO about THAT! Deepak will reveal to you the MAGICAL SECRETS of achieving SPONTANEOUS FULFILLMENT by harnessing the INFINITE POWER OF COINCIDENCE! Yes, during the $1,500 POWER WEEKEND SEMINAR, Deepak will show you the HIDDEN RELATIONSHIP between HUMAN GULLIBILITY and his powerful BANK ACCOUNT!

The secret is to employ RIDICULOUSLY OVERBLOWN RHETORIC, just like ROBBINS and CHOPRA and make INSANE PROMISES that cannot possibly have any BASIS IN REALITY, quantum or otherwise. Then you can have a BESTSELLER on, while books like ONE COSMOS that GUARANTEE ETERNAL LIFE WHILE YOU WAIT just LANGUISH at NUMBER 354,009! IT’S FUNNY because some of my new-age CRITICS think that I am some kind of budding CULT LEADER with a bunch of fawning BOBBLEHEADS! HA HA HA!

{inhale and let out another} HA HA HA HA HA! {you know, the HOLLOW and BITTER kind}

Where were we? Yes, the complementarily between our conscious and unconscious selves. In fact, in my view, this is how best to understand the idea of the unconscious mind. We tend to visualize the mind like an iceberg or archaeological dig, with the conscious ego “above” and the unconscious “below.” I would suggest that this is a rather unsophisticated view that mirrors the linear way we perceive the material world.

In my view, there is an element of unconsciousness in most every conscious act or thought, and vice versa. In other words, consciousness is not linear but holographic; the conscious and unconscious minds are complementary and indespensable to one another. Furthermore, consciousness is a spectrum, like a rainbow. You might imagine it as a sort of pure white light that is refracted through our evolved primate prismhouse. It is all one light, but we can discern many different shades and colors. While there is a hierarchy of color, the hierarchy is only possible because it presupposes the unity of the white light.

Thus there is infrahuman consciousness and what Aurobindo called “supramental” consciousness running along a continuum. There is no one who can become “fully conscious” under human conditions, although it is certainly possible to let in more or less of the light.

If we apply this principle to spiritual gnosis, it means that consciousness of God could not occur unless, so to speak, we were in God and God were in us--not equally, of course, for if that were the case, then we would be identical to God. Here again, because of the inexorable conditions that make human existence possible, any knowledge is necessarily going to be relative. But not only relative, and certainly not equally relative.

As a matter of fact, there is even knowledge that is relatively absolute, although there can never be knowledge that is absolutely relative, otherwise it is not knowledge at all. In other words, the entire concept of “knowledge” presupposes that it is possible to possess it, and knowledge is not synonymous with error, otherwise knowledge truly would be circular and meaningless, as it is in leftist academia. Listen carefully here, folks, Petey is speaking: this is precisely why the literally diabolical philosophy of deconstruction inevitably leads to the destruction of thought--no, the destruction of man--because it specifically destroys the hierarchy of consciousness that we are discussing here: no hierarchy, no knowledge. Period.

At the top of the hierarchy of knowledge lies revelation, the “relatively absolute.” The error of fundamentalists is to regard revelation as the absolutely absolute, which also makes no sense. If revelation were absolutely absolute, it would be inaccessible to us. The whole point of revelation is that it is the absolute presented to us in human, and therefore relative, terms. But again, being relative, it cannot be the absolute. But it is as close to the absolute as the human mind is capable of knowing (leaving aside nondual mystical states, which are more in the realm of being than knowing).

And even then, as with everything else, there are degrees of knowing. This is where authentic gnosis enters the picture. Many people object to the idea of gnosis, as if it connotes some “secret” knowledge that is separate from, or “higher than,” revelation. No. Gnosis simply involves depth of understanding, which tends toward the infinite. That is, our necessarily relative understanding of the absolute lies on a vertical plane with degrees of depth, and therefore, height. The saints are better than you and I because they are deeper and higher than we are. But they are only deeper and higher because they are much lower, which is to say, more humble than we are. Always mindful of the hierarchy of being, they are aware of the infinite gap between the absolute and the relative. The cosmically narcissistic postmodernist eliminates this gap, and therefore, in his exaltation of relativity, makes himself an absolute god: all hail the Awakened Giant, the Postmodern Prometheus, Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, and the rest of the New Age Traveling Salvation Show!

In reality, any genuine expertise--spiritual or otherwise--involves some kind of “esoteric” knowledge that allows the person to see and experience things that the uninitiated cannot. Theoretically, there is no limit to this deepening process. In my opinion, any genuine growth--especially spiritual growth--involves an ever-deepening extension of our interior horizon. This horizon extends in four directions, up and down, inside and out. Subjective growth involves "colonizing" more and more of what is, in the final analysis, the Great Within.

In the absence of this hierarchical and evolutionary view, the world is ultimately nothing, just a brute object that confronts us. Even the most materialistic science is a special “relatively absolute” language that allows, say, a physicist, to project his mind and peer more deeply within the realm of matter. This is never something the scientist sees with his physical eyes. Rather, the equations of quantum physics are a probe, analogous to the stick that the blind person uses to navigate while walking. The blind person deploys the stick forward into darkness, and it sends messages up his arm and into his brain, allowing him to form a picture of the space around him. It is no different with physics. Physics is just a stick in the dark, like reaching around for your shoes in the back of a dark closet.

Which brings us back to the very special language of revelation. For revelation is also a probe that we, in our metaphysical blindness, may use to illuminate the space around and within us. In fact, if your religion is “working” for you, this is what is happening. Naive secularists always think that the primary purpose of religion is faith or comfort or morality. Yes, it is all of those things, but it is also a way of knowing. By immersing oneself in it, it extends into regions that are otherwise inaccessible to the psyche--for example, into the realm of the sacred or holy. The realm of the sacred that is illuminated by religion is every bit as real as the weird quantum realm that is illuminated by modern physics. Except that it is more real. Indeed, the conviction of the ontological priority of the sacred is one of the things that accompanies the experience of it.

In certain respects, the invocations in the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John are parallel commentaries on one another. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The former statement has to do with ontology, the latter with epistemology. For the separation of the heavens and the earth forms the deep structure of all being; it is the separation of the horizontal and vertical, thereby making the experience of experience possible. Without this primary duality, there is only God. But with this bifurcation, the world is split down the middle into object-subject, quantity-quality, eternity-time, form-substance, wave-particle, conscious-unconscious, Lennon-McCartney, and other primordial complementarities.

But the divide between these complementarities is not unbridgeable, although the one between Paul and Yoko is close. This is because the the Word is anterior to that primordial creative act of God (it was "with God" and "was God"), and is therefore present in each of the complementarities. The world is intelligible because it is thoroughly infused with the same Word that inheres in our consciousness. Thus, the world is structured as a pair of mirrors reflecting back upon themselves through a deepening relationship to language.

This is what is meant when it is said that we are “made in the image of God.” This is the anthropology that inevitably follows from the above ontology and epistemology. This is why the more human we become, the more divine, and the more divine, the more human--and humble. And it all happens in the magical space between the two mirrors, where language carries messages back and forth, in an ever deepening and ascending spiral. We don’t evolve. The Word does.

And the Word is God. Speaking relatively. If you gno what I meme.


Lisa said...

Great post, Bob. It is very interesting if you actually look at what occupies the gaps, as well. The number of points between 0 and 1 is an infinite number. Amazingly, there are the same number of points between 0 and 2, that infinite number again! Thinking in those terms, movement is non-existent. No matter how far out you go, you always end up at the one. I believe this also explains the depth you are talking about. Not only is the word God, but numbers are too!

It seems one has to really try hard and deny many realities to escape God!(if that is even possible)

Gagdad Bob said...


That's a very interesting way of looking at it: the One became nothing so that the nothing might become One--and everything in between.

Alan said...

A quick comment from this fawblehead... Bob points to the importance of the theological debate that centered on Jesus being fully human and fully divine. In order to fully experience resurrection, he also had to travel to the depths of hell. Jesus' teachings of taking the humblest spot at the table, and washing his disciples feet are also in line. In order to reach higher into the sky, buildings have to have a deeper foundation. This is the flaw in many eastern teachings of escape from the world through mystical experiences.

dicentra said...

Don't feel bad, Bob. The book I edited back in '97 ranks 737,017 today. Which is a 30,000 drop from yesterday.

I don't think it ever broke 600,000. But it was a commissioned piece, not a labor of love, and I don't get royalties, so I really couldn't care less where it ranks.

Gandalin said...

Dear Dr Gagdad,

Outstanding commentary. Your critique of the mis-use of quantum mechanics is excellent. We need have no uncertainty about that!

Gagdad Bob said...

Raise your hand, anyone who realized in an instant that today's title was a double play on "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus," by Mary GODWIN Shelley.

I should probably stop putting in little inside jokes that only Petey and I will appreciate.....

Bob the Buddha said...

Same story, other side of the earth.

Therein the being followeth dictates of likes and dislikes,
And findeth ne’er the time to know Equality:
Avoid, O my son, likes and dislikes.

If ye realize the Emptiness of All Things, Compassion
Will arise within your hearts;
If ye lose all differentiation between yourselves and others, fit
To server others ye will be;
And when in serving others ye shall win success, then shall ye
Meet with me;
And in finding me, ye shall attain to Buddhahood.

Milarepa 1051 – 1135 AD

Gagdad Bob said...

If you were from Massachusetts you'd be "Bob the Buddher."

Michael said...

You really do sound like Thomas Aquinas some days. I mean that as a compliment.

There is another modern philospher who you remind of a bnit too. He's got a 'logic' where the 'positive includes and is constituted by the negative'; where the conscious always includes the unconscious; and many other things like that.

It's good stuff. Two main works. Google "The Self as Agent" and "Persons in Relation" if you are interested (two books out of one set of Gifford Lectures).

Gagdad Bob said...

I like! Duly noted and placed in shopping cart. I've read so many of the Gifford Lectures, I don't know how I missed this fellow.

Van said...

Alright Abdul, now you need to stay out of my mind too! This is from a post I just put up that I've been fiddling with for a couple days:

...And why is it that we are susceptible to being taken over by that language - like in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (subtitled The Modern Prometheus), that ever popular Sci-Fi theme of Technology overcoming it's Creators, of Robots going from serving people to enslaving their creators whom they once served. Language can be used to lift you on high, or drag you down into interior darkness. Language might best be looked upon, depending on it's relationship to your Mind, as either Prometheus’s Fire or a Frankenstein’s Monster. If your use of language descends from Prometheus, from high level concepts, it will energize & lift you up...

I just posted it, then clicked over to see what was up on your site and Whamo! Vu-JaDe!

pete(y-not) said...

Bob -

Many interesting concepts in this post... not the least of which is the
"Great Within".

Perhaps this is the same thing I've encountered on my own....

Paul said...

Long before Anthony Robbins there was an author, who's name I can't remember, who wrote a book that my father foisted on me during my angst filled teen years titled "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Within the first few pages I realized it was a book on how to manipulate and use people to your own advantage, and, therefore, not for me.

Alan said...

Paul: That was Dale Carnegie.

Here is a summary of the key ideas...

I think it is important to remember that in growing up we recapitulate the history of mankind in our growth and there is a stage where learning how to relate to others (even if for selfish reasons) is critical for development. Our society frankly sucks now at providing good role models for that. As well, the same tools that may be used for selfish reasons at one point are just as effective and necessary when we do them for unselfish reasons.

dilys said...

Incidentally, Alan, a powerful discussion of the Descent into Hell is from Hans Urs von Balthasar, with compelling "geographical" metaphors.

Yep, you have to be a little older to appreciate the impact of Dale Carnegie on a self-help industry now much degraded. He was a great inspiration to the comparatively naive but good-hearted readers of the generation of the early 20th C. He's really a pioneer of a popular understanding of intersubjectivity. Unreadable now, IMO.

The Dalai Lama's gentle public exchanges, and Stephen Mitchell's Tao Te Ching translation, show attention to the intersubjective space and The Great Within.

Having struck a pseudo-Olympian pose of Individualist most of my life, I am coming to appreciate intersubjectivity. "Man is a social animal," "It is not good for man to be alone," and "He puttest the solitary in families." Intersubjective space, vacuumed of the more deadening projections, is a space full of old and new treasures, a la Winicott and others.

YARGB surfaced this example a well-tended intersubjective space in action yesterday. It is also instructive as to the value of not over-thinking some situations.

Gagdad Bob said...

Interrupting work on today's post to say that this is all very funny--My father too thought that a quick skim of Dale Carnegie would cure my adolescent self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence. It never could have worked for me, but he believed it had worked for him. He was such a smoothie. I don't think he ever had an exchange with someone wherein the other person didn't feel better for having had it. For whatever reason, it "clicked" with his natural personality style, and probably just gave him permission to be himself.

dilys said...

Likewise, my very-much-beloved late father-in-law, not a natural smoothie [how like his younger son xoxoxox] -- but teachable [ditto] -- said it had been important to him to read Dale Carnegie, probably in the late 30's.

A lot of it is what used to be associated with "good breedomg" and natural leaders. Catching flies with honey... As such, it was an important gesture toward democratization and functional equality. It's almost unimaginable to recapture what mass culture was like all those years ago -- raw, and at the same time, very constrained.

Vivid modern contrast -- ghastly ignorant marketing -- linked today by Glenn Reynolds.

Sal said...

My late grandfather, who went from being an East Texas farmer's son to the regional manager of an oil company, was a big Carnegie fan. Like Bob's dad, I think it was just a good fit, something that came naturally to him.

The older I get, the more I encourage people to seize being themselves (supposing that themselves are not dangerous, obnoxious or severely dysfunctional, etc.)with or without permission. It takes most of us a very long time to figure out who that might be, alas.

Alan is right on about the lack of role models.

Dillys - when your answer to "Who would you be w/o this thought?" is always "calm", it makes you regret all that wasted energy, no?

dilys said...

Hi, Sal,

Technically, no. All the purportedly wasted energy just brought us right here, right now, to a Very Fine Moment. I don't mind Smithville. It's on the way to Houston. Or something.

We don't until we do. We do until we don't.

And that's the truth...

Van said...

"In other words, consciousness is not linear but holographic; the conscious and unconscious minds are complementary and indespensable to one another" I really like the imagery here. It gives me something to fasten some thoughts I've been having, onto. In so far as it's possible to imagine the unconcious, I'm beginning to think that it's more a system of relations between thoughts than thoughts themselves....

This analogy I'm about to use is a bit... cheesy, feels a bit like being reduced to drawing a portrait of a dignified person, say George Washington, onto a Whoopie Cushion, but it's the best I've got at the moment - , but please humor me and imagine the mind as an Org Chart. An Org Chart run wild, with lines spidering out to connect different People to their roles & responsibilities... I'm imagining the Unconcious as that part of the chart that is the system of connecting lines, and the boxes as concrete ideas or "data". The lines don't contain data, but they make the data meaningful by relating it, integrating it with other data.

We've all had the feeling of someone's name being right on the tip of your tongue, but you can't quite say it, you almost feel like you've got a hold of it, it's right in your grasp,and yet it isn't until you release it, in this analogy, letting go of the line, that connecting strand of the unconcious, when you stop trying to "read" data from it which it does not and never will have, and just let it carry your attention to the data your looking that you're looking for - then the name suddenly pops out of your mouth.

I wouldn't want to reduce "it" to just lines, because it's a living part of you, maybe even a localized part of that living intersubjecivity that our Neologizing punster-Meister, Gagdad Bob is always pointing towards...? Just a thought.

Gagdad Bob said...


Weird synchronicity--I was thinking the very same thing myself yesterday, and may well post on it this weekend. Every morning, as I work on my post, it is as if I am searching for something that is on "the tip of my brain," waiting for the pieces to come together and cohere. It is both "here" and "not here" at the same time, existing in a virtual space as a sort of cognitve attractor.

This is exactly how Polanyi describes the strucure of thought.

Also, your idea of the cognitive "org chart" comports very nicely with Matte Blanco's idea of the bi-logical structure of the mind. The unconscious mind operates by what he calls "symetrical logic," which has many fascinating implications. I'll try to post about it this weekend.

Van said...

I'm beginning to wonder if we've got some non-local-intersubjecivity-cables crossing into a party line somewhere out there... either way I'm enjoying it - hope there's no extra charge on the final bill ;-)

Sal said...

Dilys -
(Head slap!) Yes, of course. Just never applied that idea, which I completely grasp in other life areas to the Work.
Siily me.

Michael said...

I'm reading Etienne Gilson's Gifford's right now. From the 30's. "The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy".

I get about half of it. Okay, a tenth of it.

But I have to confess that certain minds just fascinate me - the kind of people that are so smart I do not know how their brains fit through a door.

They know things that always make me wonder how one mind could know all that, and understand all that, and analyze and interpret all that.

Gilson is one of those people.

It's like looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Besides anything else, you just wonder, "Who painted all that? It's impossible."