Monday, October 22, 2007

Looking for the World, Finding the Creator (10.07.10)

Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious…. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs. --Sam Harris, Unscientist and Nonphilosopher

Science is and must be exciting, since it relies on largely unspecifiable clues which can be sensed, mobilized and integrated only by a passionate response to their hidden meaning.... This is the unaccountable element which enters into science at its source and vitally participates throughout, even in its final result. In science this element has been called intuition. --Michael Polanyi, Scientist and Philosopher

Continuing our little raiding party on the wild godhead, Schuon writes that on the natural plane -- i.e., the horizontal world of empirical reality -- it is sufficient "to have at one's disposal the necessary data and then to reason correctly."

As it so happens, the same rules apply to the suprasensable world, with one important difference, "that the object of thought then requires the intervention of intellection, which is an inner illumination" (emphasis mine). However, the difference is not really as stark as one might suppose, for as Schuon adds, "if natural things may require a certain intuition independent of reasoning as such, then supernatural things will a fortiori require intuition of a superior order, since they do not fall within the reach of the senses."

You will notice that in my list of book raccoomendations in the sidebar of the blog, I don't place too many philosophers there, mainly Michael Polanyi (there is no perfect introduction, but this is probably the best one), one reason being that he most adequately expressed this idea of "lower intuition," so to speak, being critical to the evolution of scientific understanding and therefore progress into the great unKnown. It's not so much that the "intuition" is lower, only that science applies (and arbitrarily limits it) to a lower order of reality, i.e., the material/horizontal world. But to point out that the material world cannot be understood in the absence of intuition is to simultaneously affirm the obvious fact that the world is not material.

Theists often argue that most of the world's greatest scientists have been religious, but in the end, that is neither here nor there. More importantly, science itself cannot operate without certain functions that most people would regard as spiritual or quasi-religious, certainly not "mechanical" or empirical. Even to digest the most alimentary fact, "reason requires data in order to function, otherwise it operates in the void." Therefore, something transcending reason must supply the material for it to operate on, or else you are truly trapped in an absurcular universe from which there is no escape -- not even into knowledge.

In a way, this mirrors the philosophical problem of the ontological status of mathematics. That is, the most perfect mathematical account of the cosmos will never account for two things, 1) the mysterious existence of its own invariant mathematical operations, and 2) the "substance" to which the mathematical equations apply (in other words, no mathematical equation can create reality, only provide an abstract description of it).

In reality -- which is where we want to be in -- the data required by reason can only come from four sources, 1) the world, which is objective, 2) experience, which is obviously subjective, 3), "Revelation, which like the world is objective since it comes to us from without," and 4) "intellection, which is subjective since it is produced within ourselves" (Schuon).

In a gnotshul: exterior world, interior experience, exterior revelation, and interior intellection.

But it is the work of a moment to see that each of these implies and even "contains" its opposite. For example, the fact that we may comprehend the "inner workings" of the exterior world indeed suggests that it has an interior, as Whitehead understood almost a century ago, based upon the (then) new findings of quantum physics. Likewise, the fact that we may objectively understand reality must mean that there is something of the unwavering object inside the human subject. And revelation, save for the most dull-witted literalist (who may be a theist or atheist, it doesn't matter) is like a veritable interior cathedral that ultimately discloses the mind of the Creator (not completely, of course, any more than any text could exhaust the mind of its author).

Reason and experience: both are far more mysterious than the weak secularized mind can appreciate (which is why it is so easily secularized). Back to Michael Polanyi. In an essay entitled The Unaccountable Element in Science, he explains how it is impossible in the practice of science to replace unspecifiable acts of personal judgment -- AKA, intuition -- with the operation of explicit reasoning, as if our minds operated like machines. This applies not only to scientific discovery, but to "the very holding of scientific knowledge."

He begins by citing Kant, who acknowledged that "into all acts of judgment there enters, and must enter, a personal decision which cannot be accounted for by any rules." In other words, "no system of rules can prescribe the procedure by which the rules themselves are to be applied." This is particularly obvious in my own racket of psychology. You cannot unambiguously convey to another person the "rules" for apprehending the unconscious mind. Rather, this ability can only be gained through experience, even though it is "rule bound."

To bring it down to a more mundane (or sophisticated, depending on your point of view) level, when John Madden and I watch a football game, we "see" entirely different realities. What may look like mere "noise" to me, will constitute a field of extremely significant "facts" to Madden. And what looks important to me, may be just noise to him -- a sort of diversion that obscures the real action.

So, BOOM, right away, we can see that one of the indispensable skills of the scientist -- or, shall we say, the expert in any field, from football to theology -- is to distinguish between noise and information. The expert is able to convert what is foreground to the untrained eye into background, so as to attend to hidden clues that only the expert can intuit -- which is to say, appreciate as clues. In psychoanalysis it is called "listening with the third ear," but every discipline or field of study must have something similar, whether it is quantum physics, wine tasting, or biblical exegesis:

"This gift of seeing things where others see nothing is indeed the mark of the scientific genius." Atheistic flatlanders such as Sam Harris see easy solutions everywhere. In contrast, what the genius or superior Man of Achievement sees is a problem where others don't: "All research starts by a process of collecting clues that intrigue the enquiring mind.... The knowledge of a true problem is indeed a paradigm of all knowing. For knowing is always a tension alerted by largely unspecifiable clues and directed by them towards a focus at which we sense the presence of a thing -- a thing that, like a problem, embodies the clues on which we rely for attending to it."

So don't give me this "God is just an intuition" business. For reality itself is nothing but an intuition. And atheism is indeed "nothing more than the noises (merely) reasonable people make in the presence of (their own) unjustified (ir)religious beliefs."

Or, to put it another way, God is not the solution. He is the problem. But only if you can give up your false solutions and are sophisticated enough to intuit the clues within the noise. In short, to see God, you must quiet the noise and get a clue. Otherwise you'll be stuck down in the realm where truth lies -- or where "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity."

Why, on what lines will you look, Socrates, for a thing of whose nature you know nothing at all? Pray, what sort of thing, amongst those you know not, will you treat us to as the object of your search? Or even supposing, at the best, that you hit upon it, how will you know it is the thing you did not know? --Plato, Meno

Now -- if you haven't got an answer
Then you haven't got a question
And if you never had a question
Then you'd never have a problem
But if you never had a problem
Well, everyone would be happy
But if everyone was happy
There'd never be a love song
--Harry Nilsson, Joy


Anonymous said...

"Reason and experience: both are far more mysterious than the weak secularized mind can appreciate (which is why it is so easily secularized)"

Now what I can't figure out is if it is so easily secularized because it is weak, or secularized, or both. Or if it's because reason and experience are both beyond the weak secularized mind, but that makes you wonder which came first, the secularized mind or the loss of reason and experience. Now I don't know why I'm imagining a chicken shooting eggs but it certainly doesn't hold to be reasonable but i don't see how it's secular and maybe I just solved this little mystery. But I believe we're missing some information and seems to be any actual information. Now according to your definitions I suppose it has potential to make sense, but you really haven't proven it because you have only defined one word and that doesn't actually seem to apply.

"And atheism is indeed 'nothing more than the noises (merely) reasonable people make in the presence of (their own) unjustified religious beliefs.'"

I would just stick to the philosophy. Educated men having a pissing contest. Classic. I'm honestly worried about your blood pressure though, you seem a bit heated. Grumpy woke up on the wrong side of bed eh?

Anonymous said...


Ephrem Antony Gray said...

a-bony-mouse: All reasoning eventually points back to itself. It is only in light of the Truth that we can determine whether circularity applies or does not.

Rage your dream, dude. Rage your dream.

Mizz E said...

"In a gnotshul: exterior world, interior experience, exterior revelation, and interior intellection. "

Thanks Bob. I gnottier after reading this post.

robinstarfish said...

we've stepped cold into
the middle of this story
god fills his montblanc

CrypticLife said...

This argument feels remniscient of the early 19th-century transcendentalists. I recall them having lots of stories about ghosts and deals with the devil (besides Thoreau's Walden experience).

Sam Harris, while he doesn't believe in a deity, believes in all sorts of other whacko crap, from what I understand. I don't know if I'd take him for any kind of a reliable voice of atheists.

Speaking of which, I'll be attending tonight's D'Souza/Hitchens debate. I'll let you know if it goes how you think it will. The topic is "Is Christianity the problem?", so I'm not sure if D'Souza will have quite as many problems as you suspect he will. It's far harder to argue that Christianity is "the problem" than that no god exists.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

CL: likely. The attacker is always at disadvantage unless he uses the element of surprise. This is an important strategic principle. It's what I call the sword/shield dilemma.

Hitchens is now attacking Christianity (rather than defending his position of not believing in God?)

Might turn out kind of interesting.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Btw, raccoons; if you've posted a C & R and I didn't notice, feel free to comment here. I might not have found it.

Anonymous said...

Cryptic said:
"I'll be attending tonight's D'Souza/Hitchens debate. I'll let you know if it goes how you think it will."

Oh goodie, looking forward to your impressions. I mean that & am not trying to be funny. I'd also love to know what fellow attendees were saying. Gossip first-hand. Yey!

Read the comment you left this morning on yesterday's post: bubba, if you're open to the possibility of being wrong, that makes you agnostic & not anti-theist.

Keep hangin around here & you'll find that some Raccoons are more into "O" that "God", per se. I mean 'the big guy with a beard wearing robes on metallic throne' directing traffic & capriciously granting human wishes or acting as a bell-hop.

Human endeavors are fraught with silly thinking & Churchianity is no exception. Plenty there gets on my lastassnerve. I don't glow in the dark well & have no intention of parking my brain outside the church-door.

For me it's more about Unity & the Absolute, & how these Principles repeatedly show up in recognizable 'forms' thru time & place. Regardless of language, background or place in time, clearly, at bottom, people are expressing the same 'things'. Bob has done some great posts listing stuff side by side for eyeballing together. Most illuminating.

Getting out of the WTC just in time would certainly qualify as a clue-counter-update. Talk about cracks in the surface of reality. Plenty here have had life-changing 'events', albeit not on that 'external' scale. Seems to go with the territory.

Have you read "One Man's Journey", a three part post on Shrinkwrapped by Jimmy J.? This link points to Part I, Parts II & III link at the top of the screen. Wonder what you think.

Anonymous said...

River said:

"All reasoning eventually points back to itself. It is only in light of the Truth that we can determine whether circularity applies or does not."

Do you really think a profound statement like this is going to make any sense to Anonymous 9:33:00?

It's like speaking to a dog. All you can do is point and command.

Van Harvey said...

What Ximeze said

Van Harvey said...

"And revelation, save for the most dull-witted literalist (who may be a theist or atheist, it doesn't matter) is like a veritable interior cathedral that ultimately discloses the mind of the Creator (not completely, of course, any more than any text could exhaust the mind of its author)."

Really like that.

Van Harvey said...

Speaking of Sam Harris, the poor guy has been getting it from his fellow pariahishoners who feel he's not strong enough in the unfaith(!)

"And there is something cult-like about the culture of atheism. In fact, much of the criticism I have received of my speech is so utterly lacking in content that I can only interpret it as a product of offended atheist piety."

One problem with those who don't believe, is that they don't realize what they do believe. There are sooo many (no, not all, but...) that remind me of teens showing their individuality by dressing like everyone else.

The pose is embarrassingly pretentious and shallow and so self envelloping that they are completely unable to see what is so obvious to any adult looking on with a wince in the eye... our 9:33 aninnymouse is a good example - you just feel so embarrassed for the poor guy - of course you also get to enjoy a good belly laugh at the fools expense, but still....

Van Harvey said...

River, you know the first thing that came to my mind when I saw your post (Folks, if you haven't seen the picture of the monument at River's site - it's well worth the click to see), was "Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie."

And fellow Racoon's, I must confess a streak of slowness regarding the C&R's... I enjoy them... but... I'm not quite sure... what the response is supposed to be...? (I know, I've read the instructions... 'fraid they haven't penetrated my thick spot yet) - but I do enjoy taking them in... maybe that's a start?

julie said...

Don't feel too bad about the C & Rs, Van; on this one, at least, I'm pulling a total blank so far, much to my chagrin. Essentially, though, if you're inspired to create something bloggable based on the topic, then you post what comes to mind. That's all.

robinstarfish said...

Hi Van -

What Julie said much more succinctly than me. But since I already wrote this, here's more...

The "R" is merely the reaction, tangent, resonance, aha, etc. that the "C" might bring to mind, and can take any form that shows up on a monitor. No official rules, no map, except that they usually take place on or near a weekend. Slack time, you know.

Responses can be posted on the Caller's blog or on your own, with reference made to the Call.

That's starting to sound like rules, huh? So break 'em if you want!

The first C&R started from a simple photograph with no text and it's been evolving from there. It's not a meme so it's not officially passed on. Whoever wants to pick up the pebble next and toss it is the Caller for the week. First come, first serve.

Next up would be C&R #7, and it's up for grabs... ;-)

NoMo said...

If you don't believe in God, then you believe in all gods.

Anonymous said...

This balance you speak about "exterior world, interior experience, exterior revelation, and interior intellection." can only be realize when the beauty of silence is experienced...through experienced it takes an instant moment of silence thrust upon one to deeply undestand... like a heart beating with the greatest strength of happiness and the deepsest amount of sadness,all you can do is be silent....then it emptying a release of the commotion that the control?

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Ahm, there is a touch of the Spartan to our sons of the south. I'm from MD, so I've always been conflicted about whether I'm a southerner or a Yankee.

The disaffection among those I know regarding America (these, young people) bothers me a lot. It seems to know no party affiliation, either.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Anony 5:54: True. Pi is an irrational number.