Friday, July 20, 2007

The Blessed Remystification of the World

We live in a world of fragmentation and doubt. The two are related, because our modern rational minds know how to tear down and analyze but not to synthesize and revision the whole. It is a cliché, but nevertheless true that a main purpose of religion is to reconnect one to the whole, or to at least give one a sense of it, both spatially and temporally.

A commenter yesterday chided me for poking fun at atheists, but I actually sympathize with them. As I have said before, when I ridicule them, I am specifically referring to the obnoxious, militant ones who get their jollies belittling religion in such a lowbrow way. I'm just punching back in the way that boys will do. No hard feelings. Assholes.

But I always emphasize that agnosticism is a completely honorable position, and I have no problem with atheists who refrain from becoming evangelists of stupidity. Look, for some people, religion comes quite naturally. It makes total sense to them, so they never had to grapple with whether or not the Creator exists, and what to do about it. There are also people to whom atheism comes quite naturally. Human traits are distributed along a continuum, and spiritual receptivity just happens to be one of those traits. Just as there are mathematical or artistic geniuses, there are surely spiritual geniuses. Necessarily there are spiritual dunces, imbeciles, and morons.

The difference between Vincent van Gogh and a Sunday painter is more or less infinite, which itself is a mystery to ponder. Likewise the distance between Van Morrison and Bon Jovi, or James Madison and John Edwards. Similarly, if you are sensitive to spiritual matters, you soon realize that history has probably deposited as many or as few authentic spiritual geniuses as artistic or scientific ones along the way.

We tend to think of history as self-propelling in the direction of progress, but as Charles Murray pointed out in Human Accomplishment -- in which he attempts to quantify human excellence from prehistory to the present -- you don't have to subtract too many people before history becomes an even bleaker place than it already is. In fact, when you assemble the list of people who have contributed the most to art, science, philosophy and technology, "only a few thousand people stand out from the rest. Among them, the people who are indispensable to the story of human accomplishment number in the hundreds. Among those hundreds, a handful stand conspicuously above the rest."

Those who stand conspicuously above the rest cut across disciplines. A religious genius and a scientific genius will have much more in common than either will have with a mediocre mind such as Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins. Most people can sense this: that depth converges, regardless of the discipline. This is why people can be spiritually invigorated, say, by great music or poetry.

But we can also be spiritually nourished by science, so long as we do not reduce it to the enclosed and circular little world of scientism. The more science discovers about the cosmos, the more reason for awe and wonder. I don't think science has demystified the world at all; rather, it has remystified it, especially after a little sidetrack down the paths of empiricism and positivism that only lasted for a couple hundred years at the most. The universe is so much stranger than supposed by antequated materialists, that we literally cannot suppose how strange it is. In order to be sufficiently puzzled by reality, we have to crank our puzzler up to 11.

But there is something in the human mind that wants to contain novelty and demystify the world -- to make the anxiety of not-knowing go away. In a sense this is perfectly understandable. Ironically, it is a legacy of our evolved nature which, after all, was not designed to ponder the mystery of being, but to survive and get tenure.

It is almost as if the atheist sophers from a hypertrophied "empirical ego," so to speak -- that is, the part of the mind which is more or less exterior to being, and is mostly an adaptation to its environment. As such, it just wants to map reality in the simplest way possible, irrespective of distortions and omissions impossible. This is why most cultures have generally produced one dopey map after another. They are simply ad hoc affairs, aimed more at diminishing group anxiety than approaching and assimilating Truth.

As I have mentioned before, science proceeds from the unknown to the known, while religion proceeds from the known to the great unknown. I have also made the bobservation that science is the subjective study of the ultimate object, whereas religion is the objective study of the ultimate Subject. Clearly, science involves human subjects attempting to understand reality by quantifying it. But science can never offer any ultimate explanation, because the scientist doing the explaining will always defy quantification. For he is an irreducible subject, an ontological category that slips through the coarse cognitive nets of science like trying to eat a soupy herd of Jello cats nailed to the wall with a fork.

One of my favorite little signposts along the way was The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object by Franklin Merrell-Wolff. It is a day-to-day, somewhat dispassionate autobiography of a spiritual transformation. At the time I read it, I found much in common with my own experience. It begins,

"August 17

"The ineffable transition came, about ten days ago.... At the time, I was engaged in the reading of portions of The System of the Vedanta.... I had been led to this specific program of reading through the realization that Shankara's words had a peculiar power, at least in my own experience. For some time I had spontaneously looked to him as a Guru with whom I was in complete sympathetic accord. I had found him always clear and convincing, at least in all matters relative to the analysis of consciousness, while with the other Sages I either found obscurities or emphases which which I could not feel complete sympathy...."

He goes on to describe the experience of a subtle current of transcendental joy that seemed to result from persistent efforts "to reconcile Transcendent Being with the physical universe. The idea is that ponderable matter -- meaning by that term all things sensed whether gross or subtle -- is, in fact, a relative absence of substance, a sort of partial vacuum." The effect was "a far more effective acceptance of substantial reality where the senses reported emptiness, and a greater capacity to realize unreality -- or merely dependent and derivative reality -- in the material given through the senses."

In short, he had reversed figure and ground, so to speak, in exactly the manner implied above, in that that he was vouchsafed the objective experience of the transcendent Subject. At once he realized the error in looking for an "ultimate object," either in science or in religion. Instead, he "abstracted the subjective moment -- the 'I AM' or 'Atman' element -- from the totality of the objective consciousness manifold." Looked at another way, he had an experience of the implicate ground of consciousness itself: "The Silence is Full and Pregnant, and out of It flows the Stream of all formations in endless variety: symphonies, philosophies, governments, sciences, arts, societies, and so on and on and on."

Yesterday we touched on the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. In his approach to yoga, the initial stage involves the "awakening" or identification with what he calls the "psychic being" (not to be confused with "psychics," channelers, and the like). Although Aurobindo gave it a particular name, I obviously believe that he was describing something universal, and which is recognized in some form or fashion in all the major religions. Looked at in the most abstract way, we would simply say that it is that part of man which exists on the vertical plane, both "behind" and potentially "above" the ego. It is both the subject of spiritual knowledge and the object of spritual growth. In my book, I give it the symbol (¶) to distinguish it from the horizontal self, (•).

Baby's up. Back in a bit... He's got a cold, so this may take awhile....

Longer than I thought. Mrs. G was up with him several times last night, so she just went back to bed. Now my hands are full. Better just post now and continue tomorrow. In any event, I hope this post has nudged you a bit toward the remystification of your world, or what we call "higher coonfusion."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Evolution of the Interior Horizon of the Cosmos

So, in 1995, knowing that I had to choose one path and stick to it, I became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. At the time, the choice was rather easy, based on the options available (or which I thought were available). Aurobindo (1872-1950) is widely considered to be the greatest Hindu sage of the 20th century, perhaps ever, alongside Shankara.

At the time, for reasons I have explained, I couldn't have chosen Christianity, because I just didn't know of any kind of Christianity that appealed to me, and many of the most visible forms -- or at least their practitioners -- frankly repelled me. I was a typical case of someone who turns to the east because we are exposed to so many religious yahoos from our own tradition. If I had been born in India, I'd probably have become Catholic, seeing what a wreck certain Hindu doctrines had made of the place. It was a classic case of comparing their best with our worst.

But Aurobindo also appealed to me because of his thoroughly modern intellect. Although born in India, he was educated at some of the finest schools in England, where he mastered Greek, Latin, and English -- not to mention learning French, Italian, German, and Spanish -- received various prizes for literature and history, and was eventually awarded a scholarship to Cambridge. By the time he returned to India in 1893, he had been thoroughy anglicized and actually had no knowledge of Indian culture or religion. He took a position at a university and then became one of the early leaders in the movement for independence. He was arrested on charges of sedition in 1908 and spent a year in jail, where he had some powerful spiritual experiences. He was acquitted a year later.

To make an endless story short, the spiritual experiences kept coming, and eventually a small group of followers formed around him. He began publishing a spiritual journal in 1914, and his output was somewhat staggering. For the next ten years or so, he engaged in what he called "overmental writing," in that the material would seemingly just come down through him as opposed to from him. Simultaneously he composed several major works, any one of which would be considered a signal achievement for a normal person, including The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Human Cycle, and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Vedas, not to mention reams of poetry, including the cosmic-spiritual epic Savitri, at some 24,000 lines the longest poem in the English language.

Much of his prose probably sounds a bit turgid to modern ears, since he was educated at the peak of that overly formal and florid Victorian or Edwardian or whatever you call it style. However, after the mid-1920s or so, he wrote almost nothing but letters to disciples -- thousands and thousands of them -- and in these he is much more informal, sometimes humorous and playful (he still wrote some poems as well). The letters are collected into three volumes, and are much more accessible than his formal writings. If you add the three volumes of letters together, they come to some 3400 pages, and cover most every conceivable spiritual topic.

I don't know that I want to get into a complete review of his philosophy, because it's just too complex and multifaceted. (The best introduction is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem). But perhaps his central theme was the reconciliation of the perennial insights of Vedanta embodied in the Upanishads (which form the esoteric essence of Hindu metaphysics) with the evolutionary cosmos revealed by science. In this regard, he was way ahead of his time, because he recognized that there can be no conflict between religion and science -- or that if there appears to be conflict, it must be concealing a deeper unity that eludes us. He has certain rough parallels with Hegel, in that he sees the cosmos as a platform of spiritual evolution toward higher and higher syntheses of unity.

But he has even more in common with the Catholic thinker Teilhard de Chardin, whose Phenomenon of Man was the first systematic attempt to do with Christianity what Aurobindo was doing with Vedanta, which is to say, reconcile it with the new scientific views that emerged in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In turn, Aurobindo and Teilhard have some loose affinities with the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, if you want a purely secular point of entry into a cosmic view of evolution.

Another thing about Sri Aurobindo that appealed to me was that his approach worked largely through grace as opposed to self-effort. As I have mentioned, I really hadn't gotten too far based upon my own efforts, so I submitted myself to the grace of Sri Aurobindo and his collaborator, known as The Mother (long strange story there). I didn't really expect anything to happen, but something did, and rather immediately. I began meditating on a darshan photo of them, and felt "zapped" by their force. I suppose that's neither here nor there, but I was soon able to understand spiritual matters in a way I never could before. It was as if a veil had been lifted, or a new kind of transpersonal light shone on whatever it was I was looking into.

It was during this period of time that the idea for my book came to me. I was just meditating and I had this four-part, circular vision of the whole. I must emphasize that I saw the whole first, and that I had no idea how or even whether I would be able to sketch it out in linear form, as a sort of story, or four part "cosmic suite." In fact, there is no doubt that I wouldn't do it the same way today, but I did the best I could with the materials available to me -- or which fell into my hands -- at the time.

The book was actually written in the order it appears, as I first attempted to tackle cosmology and physics, then theoretical biology, then human evolution, and then the algorithms of spiritual transformation. As the book unfolds, you could say that I am grappling with both the subject matter and myself in real time -- except for the prologue and epilogue, which more or less represent the distilled essence of what I came up -- or down -- with.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon a book that was very helpful to me at the time, The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue. In it, von Bruck writes that "yoga is nothing else than a preparation of the body and mind for non-dual, intuitive knowledge." Elsewhere he writes that "Western culture is determined more by reflection, Asiatic cultures by meditation. The meeting of the two is the important historical event of the present century."

That's how I feel. I just don't see how any kind of fundamentalist religion can survive if it isn't compatible with everything else we know to be true about the cosmos, both in its exterior and interior aspects.

This post was interrupted by child care responsibilities, and I lost the thread. I'll have to try to pick it up again tomorrow. Assuming anyone's interested, since the ol' site meter indicates that increasing numbers flee from the blog every day.

I have broken the limits of the embodied mind
And am no more the figure of a soul.
The burning galaxies are in me outlined;
The universe is my stupendous whole.
--Sri Aurobindo, The Cosmic Spirit

Till all is done for which the stars were made,
Till the heart discovers God
And the soul knows itself. And even then
There is no end.
--Sri Aurobindo, Is This the End

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Unity of Consciousness: Two, One, Blessed Off! (7.27.10)

Well then, it all comes down to consciousness, doesn't it? What is it? What's it doing here? If consciousness is just a fluke, a total cosmic accident, what makes us think that it can truly know anything, much less the truth about itself?

Schuon wrote that "One of the keys to the understanding of our true nature and of our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world never measure up to the real range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing. Among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies – or proves – that what confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish, and what makes it wholly what it is, is the Absolute alone." Along these lines, he quotes Dante: “I perceive that our intellect is never satisfied, if the True does not enlighten it, outside which no truth is possible."

Consciousness is constituted of awareness; intelligence; will; and sentiment. As mentioned yesterday in the brief discussion of Schopenhauer, human beings have an automatic bias toward concretizing the explicate aspect of their own consciousness, which we call the ego. But the ego is only the local constellation of a much more encompassing, nonlocal "implicate" consciousness, which includes unconscious and supra-conscious levels (i.e., the lower and higher vertical).

Analogously, the ego is like a cloud against a clear blue sky. We focus on the cloud, but do not see that it is simply the end result of a global weather pattern -- a small "ripple" against a vast and unbroken substrate of nonlinear meteorological processes. Or better yet, compare it to an ocean current. Imagine reifying the current, and thinking that it is somehow separate from the ocean that produced it. This goes not just for the ego-island atop our own little pond of consciousness, but the presence of human beings within the cosmic ocean that tossed them up like a tangle of seaweed upon the shore.

But exactly where do we draw the line with regard to consciousness? Presumably there is an absolute line between you and me -- or your consciousness and my consciousness. Therefore, we invented language in order to link minds to other minds. But that is not exactly how language works. Rather, language is very much like consciousness itself, in that it has an implicate/explicate order -- in other words, its particular meanings rest upon a much deeper kind of holographic field that unifies us within language as such.

I see this vividly in my two year old son, who is in the midst of "language acquisition." He has always been extremely talkative, even though his speech had no discernible content. While it had pitch, modulation, emphasis, dramatic pauses, musicality, etc., he seemed to be using a private language. Some days it sounded like Chinese, other days German, but it was possible to have lengthy, animated conversations with him merely by mimicking his speech patterns.

In my opinion, what the boy was doing was laying down the implicate order of language, in which he first links up directly with other minds. Only afterwards have actual words been superimposed upon this deep connectedness. So on the one hand, language "divides" the world into units of meaning, but it rests upon a sea of primordial, holistic interconnectedness. Language doesn't "invent" the interconnectedness so much as take advantage of it and ride piggyback on top of it. The oneness is our prior condition.

This is what makes humans so different from computers, which also "talk" to one another, but only in an atomistic and linear way. In fact, there are many people with various mental disorders who use language more like a computer than a human being. We might call them "autistic," "schizoid," or just a little "off," but what they lack is a feel for the music that lay beneath the words.

Furthermore, this is one of the primary barriers to accessing the world of meaning present in religion. The obligatory atheist or doctrinaire materialist is, for whatever reason, unable to "read out" what is being conveyed through religious language. Instead, they reduce it to its explicate form, which immediately forecloses the implicate.

As we discussed a couple of days ago, it is not so much that there are two realms -- conscious/unconscious, implicate/explicate, or phenomenal/noumenal -- but different ways of looking at the same thing. For example, while the purpose of psychotherapy is to "make the unconscious conscious," it is not as if one can ever know the unconscious directly. Rather, one merely begins to look at oneself -- ones actions, beliefs, and feelings -- from a different "angle," so to speak, which in turn reveals a world of hidden meaning. But it's the same world. There are no bright lines in the mind.

Likewise, to enter the realm mapped by religion is not, strictly speaking, to enter another world, but to regard the same world from a different perspective. However, it can feel like another world, simply because the focus is on the implicate side of things; to put it another way, everything about religion bears on unifying the complementarity that creates the empirical ego to begin with: whole vs. part, eternity vs. time, One vs. many, Absolute vs. relative, wave vs. particle, consciousness vs. matter, etc.

Now, another way of looking at this is that we must discern between the created and uncreated aspects of our own consciousness, or between the Intellect (the nous, not the lower mind) vs. the ego. As Schuon writes:

"The Intellect, in a certain sense, is ‘divine’ for the mind [i.e., ego] and ‘created’ or ‘manifested’ for God: it is nonetheless necessary to distinguish between a ‘created Intellect’ and an ‘uncreated Intellect,’ the latter being the divine Light and the former the reflection of this Light at the center of Existence; ‘essentially,’ they are One, but ‘existentially,’ they are distinct, so that we could say, in Hindu style, that the Intellect is ‘neither divine nor non-divine,’ an elliptical expression which doubtless is repugnant to the Latin and Western mentality, but which transmits an essential shade of meaning. However that may be, when we speak of the Heart-Intellect, we mean the universal faculty which has the human heart for its symbolical seat, but which, while being ‘crystallised’ according to different planes of reflection, is none the less ‘divine’ in its single essence."

Now the heart is an interesting organ, for it has always been the symbol of man's implicate consciousness -- that which joins as opposed to the brain, which separates, distinguishes and analyzes. Do you remember your first broken heart? Exactly what was broken? I don't know about you, but for me it was the entire unity of being. Suddenly I was a cosmic orphan, disconnected from the very source of Life and Love.

But subsequent therapy revealed that this broken heart was superimposed upon an earlier brokenness, or primordial disconnection, and that it was simply the "occasion" to realize it. In fact, the "falling in love" itself was an attempt to recapture the broken unity, which was one of the reasons why it was charged with an intensity well beyond what was healthy or appropriate.

It reminds me of something one of my psychoanalytic mentors once said about relationships. Unhealthy people always want to go from two to one. But a healthy relationship involves going from one to two. If you try to use the other person to complete yourself, you are headed for trouble of one kind or another. The idea is to complement a self that is already reasonably whole.

But there is horizontal wholeness and vertical wholeness, and no human being can achieve the latter in the absence of some kind of active spiritual life. In this respect, we do want to go from being two to being -- or realizing -- One.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death!

So, Schopenhauer realized that Kant had made several serious boo-boos in his analysis. For one thing, Kant regarded the noumenal as consisting of things (plural) in themselves, uncolored by our perceptions of them. But in order for anything to be different from anything else, it must occupy a different space or be in a different time. If it occupies the same time and space, then it is the same thing. In fact, "the very concept of number would be impossible without the concept of succession, and the concept of succession presupposes either spatial or temporal concepts, or both" (Magee). So everything from mathematics to music to evolution can only occur in a universe in which there is differentiation and succession.

But -- as Kant pointed out, space and time are forms of human sensibility. Remove the human subject, and they vanish. For as I pointed out on page 55 of the Coonifesto -- which, thanks to the many supporters of this blog, continues to bubble under the top 300,000 sellers on amazon -- the cosmos actually has no qualities at all in the absence of a subject in space and time. I won't repeat my reasoning here, since I know you already have the book and can look it up yourself.

Schopenhauer concluded from this that whatever it is that abides outside experience must be undifferentiated. He didn't say "one," because even that presupposes its opposite, i.e., "many." Furthermore, being that knowledge implies differentiation between a subject and an object, a knower and something known, there can only be knowledge within the phenomenal world. We can know about the noumenal, in the same sense that I can know many things about another person and still never know what it is actually like to be him. There is a kind of absolute barrier that exists between the noumenal subject of any two people.

Schopenhauer's conclusion -- which seems to me unassailable, as far as it goes -- is that "there is an immaterial, undifferentiated, timeless, spaceless something of which we can never have direct knowledge but which manifests itself to us as this differentiated phenomenal world of material objects (including us) in space and time."

In my book, I used the symbol O to stand for this reality. Interestingly, Schopenhauer arrived at this conclusion using pure metaphysics alone. Only much later in life did one of the first copies of the Upanishads available in the West fall into his hands -- a Latin translation of a Persian translation. He would read a few pages before going to bed each night, and wrote of them that they were "the consolation of my life and will be that of my death."

But little did Schopenhauer know that there was actually no conflict between the Upanishads and the religious traditions of the West. Showing this to be so was one of the elephantine tusks I set before myself in writing One Cosmos, even if you think the book a pachydermented trunk full of junk. Again, it is not as if Christianity is in need of yoga, only that the latter -- at least for me -- helps to illuminate many hidden or underemphasized dimensions in the former. This is all I mean by "Christian yoga."

Getting back to Schopenhauer for a moment, although like all Raccoons he recognized that science was one of the glories of man, he was also fully aware of its sharp limitations with regard to metaphysics. As Magee writes, science can never be complete or exhaustive because "it explains things in terms that are themselves left unexplained," and is therefore inevitably circular. If you want to know what the world is as such, it is not in the nature of science to provide it: "Ultimate explanations, then, are not to be looked for in science. The insistence that they are is not a scientific belief but a belief in science, a metaphysical belief, an act of faith whose inadequacy [is] fairly easy to demonstrate. At its crudest it takes the form of materialism," which Schopenhauer described as "the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." In fact, nothing that is mere knowledge can ever be ultimate, by definition.

Again, Schopenhauer's battle cry was that "the solution to the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience." "This being so," according to Magee, "it would seem that the royal road to a deeper understanding of the nature of things must pass through the investigation of inner as well as outer experience, and if anything, more the former than the latter." In fact, Schopenhauer was of the belief that "philosophy has so long been in vain because it was sought by way of the sciences instead of by way of the arts."

And exactly what did he mean by this? Of all the arts, he especially felt that music was the most adequate expression of the way in which the noumenal passes into the phenomenal, or the manner in which we may trace the phenomenal back to the noumenal. This is discussed on pp. 106-107 of the Coonifesto, so I won't rebeat myhorse here.

Rather, I would like to go down a tangent that I don't think I ever explicitly considered before. In a certain sense, Shopenhauer was a precursor of Freud's discoveries of the unconscious, in that he recognized that our own interior structure mirrored that of the cosmos. That is to say, we have an outward "phenomenal" ego that floats atop, so to speak, "an underlying reality that remains hidden from us and can never be met with in experience." Not only is this realm "unconscious," but it is incapable of being conscious (to us, not for itself, a key point). For ultimately it is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream, the ineffable background subject of human experience.

This being so, I wonder if it proves the existence of our own immortality -- not of the ego, which, of course, is phenomenal and therefore of the passing moment, but of its source and ground, which necessarily transcends space and time. My favorite Christian yogi, Meister Eckhart, certainly thought so, for

There is something in the soul which is above the soul, divine, simple, an absolute nothing; rather unnamed than named; unknown than known.... higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace, for in all these there is still a distinction.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who's Minting the Mind?

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, but I read this WSJ editorial on The New Atheism, and it got me to thinking. Perhaps I should discoonvert to atheism, since there's big money there:

"Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins's 'The God Delusion' (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens's 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything' (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris's 'Letter to a Christian Nation' (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett's 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon'; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger's 'God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist' (2007)."

I'm sure I could write a more convincing and entertaining book than these five. Let's say I sell half a million copies. I live pretty simply, so I could retire and use the proceeds to spend the rest of my life laying in the hammock in the back yard, reading mystical theology and thinking about God.

But I just don't see how any logical person can arrive at atheism. To be fully craptized into the faith, I would have to pretend to be so ignorant -- such a metaphysical rube -- that I don't know that I could be very convincing. If you're going to be an atheist, you obviously have to be passionate, even hysterical, since cold logic won't get you very far. I was noticing this the other day with the amazon reviews of Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution. It seems that it's impossible for the Darwinian fundamentalists to express their objection to Behe's ideas without all the strident hysteria. It really is as if he is a scientific heretic. Burn him!

One of my favorite Western philosophers is the much misunderstood Schopenhauer. In a way, I don't think he has been surpassed -- or can be surpassed -- because he takes reason as far as it can go, which is to the noumenon, the ultimate unknowable reality (O) behind appearances (he used the singular "noumenon" rather than "noumena," because he understood that whatever else it was, it had to be one, which I will explain later). Schopenhauer realized that science does not -- cannot -- disclose the noumenon, only the phenomena which are its expression.

I have so little time this morning that I'll probably end up oversimplifying, but here goes....

Schopenhauer wrote that "the solution to the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience." He begins with Kant's idea that the human body and brain are by definition limited to dealing with an object of possible experience -- which doesn't necessarily have to be a material object. Rather, it can be a work of music, a mathematical equation, a memory. "But whatever these are, the totality of them constitutes the outer limit of what we can have any thought or awareness of."

However -- and this is where the atheists commit their howler -- "it does not follow from this that it is also the outer limit of what exists." Rather, "What is just is, independently of us and the apparatus with which we happen to find ourselves equipped; and we have no grounds whatsoever for believing that reality, the totaltity of what exists, coincides with what we are able to apprehend -- and nor could we ever have any such grounds, for that would involve our being able to see on both sides of a line when that line is, as we have just said, an outer limit." Nevertheless, the intellect has a naive bias toward confusing its abstractions with reality.

Of course, it is always possible that the scientific ideas capable of being hatched in the mind of man just so happen to coincide with ultimate reality. But the chances are so remote that we may dismiss them out of hand. In a way, the atheist is asking us to believe something far more unbelievable than religious revelation, which is that the cosmos reveals its true inner and outer nature to man just by sheer luck.

But as Magee points out, "The only plausible possibility of a reality completely corresponding to our conceptions of it rests on the possibility that reality itself could be mind-like, or could be created by a mind, or by minds." Ironically, it is the atheists and other flatlanders "who most confidently do not believe this... [and] who are most tightly wedded to an epistemological criterion of reality. That is one of the incoherences of their position."

Shopenhauer wrote that the relationship between the noumenon and the phenomenal world is not a causal one. Rather, they are "the same thing understood in different ways." For example, consider the physicist's equations that disclose a mysterious realm of flowing, unbroken wholeness, or "implicate" order "beneath" the explicate world available to our senses. Is the quantum world the "cause" of the familiar Newtonian world of solid bodies moving in space? No, it is not. It is the same reality, only regarded "in a totally different way from the way I normally perceive and think about it. The same object is being apprehended in two ways which are completely different, and yet both are valid -- both, if you like, 'true.'"

Some of Shopenhauer's deepest insights about the nature of ultimate reality came from his great appreciation of art. He believed that "it is the specific function of the arts to convey profound and unique insights that are unamenable to conceptual communication." Although this kind of insight is "not communicable in concepts, it is, nevertheless, communicable.... Even when a great work of art is constructed out of words, as is a poem, play, or novel, it is nevertheless impossible to say in words what it 'means.'" In other words, "the meaning of a work of art is something that the work conveys but cannot state."

If this is true of art, how much more true it is of revelation, including the revelations of the cosmos, of life, and of the human mind itself. Put another way, the existence of man's mind tells us much more about the nature of this cosmos than any of its particular mental content.

To be continued. (All quotes taken from Bryan Magee's very enjoyable Confessions of a Philosopher, although his biography of Schopenhauer is also a great read. Having said that, Magee is not a religious man, in that he stops short of following Schopenauer into the Upanishads and what they reveal about Reality.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Random Facts About Petey and Other Household Gnomes

Let's see, eight random facts about myself. One, I don't work exclusively with Bob. There are others.

Two -- I'm a little lazy today, so I'm just going to quote Adin Steinsaltz -- "The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only a part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds. Most of these worlds are spiritual in their essence; they are of a different order than the known world. Which does not necessarily mean that they exist somewhere else, but means rather that they exist in different dimensions of being."

I'm pretty much the same way. I'm here, but I'm not here. How to explain.... I'm always here in the same sense that all 200 or whatever it is crappy TV stations are always streaming into your house. They're what we might call "implicate." But you can only tap into one at a time, thereby making the implicate explicate. The multidimensional implicate order is anterior to the explicate order, so that what you folks call "consensus reality" is more of a mutual agreement to limit the implicate order in a certain way. It's all about the existential anxiety, not the Truth. If you want to get at the Truth, you're going to have to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, not make the anxiety go away with some stupid scientistic-materialistic nonsense.

You know the old line -- "if the doors of perception we cleansed, then everything would appear as it is, infinite." It is such a monstrous conceit for humans to imagine that their puny minds can encompass the very reality that produced them!

Three -- yes, there are higher and lower worlds. I guess this isn't obvious to a leftist, but if any of you saw the "Live Earth" concert on TV, you know all about people who inhabit a lower world. Their language, their music, their feelings, their world view -- all emanate from a lower world. Ironically, most of them aren't even from the earth plane, but a notch or two below that.

The point I'm making is that the words high and low "refer only to the place of any particular world on the ladder of causality. To call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world -- in a sense, a copy. Yet the copy is not just an imitation but rather a whole system, with a more or less independent life of its own, its own variety of experience, characteristics and properties."

This is why the flatlanders -- scientists, atheists, materialists -- can become so enclosed in their abcircular illusions. In a way, their world view is complete (on its own level), and yet, it's radically incomplete (with regard to the whole).

I remember explaining this to Gödel, who sketched it out with ironyclad logic. I say "irony," because his ideas have been highjacked by the psycho-spiritual left to suggest that we cannot make absolute statements about reality, when Gödel and I were making the opposite point about the limitations of logic to express things we know damn well to be true. One such point is that things aren't true because they're logical but logical because they're true. Duh!

Four, being that I was once an embodied and enmentaled man prior to the farming accident, I feel that I am fit to pronounce on this. Human beings live in a world of "action," but imagine that that's where all the action is. Not true.

Allow me to explain. Or better yet, allow Steinsaltz to explain: "The lower part of the world of action is what is known as as the 'world of physical nature' and of more or less mechanical processes -- that is to say, the world where natural law prevails; while above this world of physical nature is another part of the same world which we may call the 'world of spiritual action.'"

Now, what these two realms have in common is the action of Man, since "the human creature is so situated between them that he partakes of both. As part of the physical system of the universe, man is subordinate to the physical, chemical, and biological laws of nature; while from the standpoint of his consciousness, even while this consciousness is totally occupied with matters of a lower order, man belongs to the spiritual world, the world of ideas.... Every aspect of human existence is therefore made up of both matter and spirit."

Five, it is my nature to be a "messenger, to constitute a permanent contact between [your] world of action and the higher worlds. The angel is the one who effects transfers of the vital plenty between worlds."

Six, "An angel's missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward, to other angels and to creatures below the world of formation; and it may also serve as the one who carries things upwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds." You might call us the transpersonal postal service for prayers and the like.

Just to make it clear, it was not I who prompted Bob to steal the Holiday Inn flag. There are "subversive angels" that are actually created by the thoughts and actions of men. I believe Bob calls them "mind parasites." They are contingent objectifications from various vital-emotional domains. Up here we sometimes call them the "tempters." Either that, or the "mesmerers."

Seven, it would be wrong to conclude on the basis of what I have just said that the difference between you and me is that you have a body and I don't. Rather, "the soul of man is most complex and includes a whole world of different existential elements of all kinds, while the angel is a being of a single essence and therefore in a sense one-dimensional." This is why you and I play such different roles in the cosmic economy. You actually have the tougher job, which is to say, because of your "many-sidedness" and your "capacity to to contain contradictions," this makes it possible for you to "rise to great heights," but at the same time "creates the possibility [of] failure and backsliding," neither of which is true for me. Rather, the angel is "eternally the same; it is static, an unchanging existence," "fixed within rigid limits."

You might say that I am already "whole" in space, whereas it is your vocation to become whole in time. Not easy, I realize.

Eight, another way of saying it is that I do not evolve, but you can and must. In other words, there is no evolution here in the vertical, only in the horizontal. In the absence of the horizontal, it's frankly a little boring here -- or as I put it in One Cosmos,

Only himsoph with nowhere to bewrong, hovering over the waters without a kenosis. Vishnu were here, but just His lux, God only knows only God, and frankly, ishwara monotheotenous -- no one beside him, no nous, same old shunyada yada yada.

Well, I could say a lot more, but my understanding is that I only had to come up with eight, so I'm outta here.

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