Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Picture of Dorwinian Gray

Well now, that's helpful. In the DeKoninck book, James specifically recommends "pp. 116-118; 185-192; 270 on and off to 278; 292; 390-396; pp. 424, etc. Those give you the major themes in CDK's work. Those are the sorts of passages where I thought you had the most natural affinity with DeKoninck." He also counsels us to "ignore the latin terms" -- which in my case is easy, since the only other viable option is to pretend I understand them.

He adds that "DeKoninck set his whole life against mere jargon for the sake of jargon. His language is precise, but he only departs from common language when necessary. But he certainly isn't a fast read, even though I know of no one, not even Schuon, who is as good at propelling a careful reader towards ecstatic things."

Hopefully we'll get to at least some of the above referenced ecstasies in this post.

The last paragraph of yesterday's post was written so hastily that I don't think I was able to convey the shock of what I was attempting to say -- "to propel the careful reader towards ecstatic things," as it were.

Recall that I was reflecting on what it would be like if it were possible for conscious beings to exist at the quantum level, where all of the richness of the cosmos is bleached out. Through their experiments, they "discover" this unexpected macro realm of ours floating "atop" their sea of quantum energy. This macro world features all kinds of truly weird and miraculous things that seem impossible based upon the laws that govern their micro realm. "Ah ha!," they proclaim. "We've finally discovered the point of our otherwise meaningless cosmos. It's human beings!"

What I was trying to highlight is the irony of a science that considers the quantum world -- or any other abstract world of science -- to be more "real" than the world of human experience. What inevitably happens is that the human world is devalued and regarded as a meaningless side effect of something more fundamental.

Could it be that this is one of the primary causes of the general coarsening and re-barbarization of our culture? I don't think there is any doubt about it. It is why we can have scientists, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and other highly educated professionals who are appallingly ignorant of the human world -- at the very heart of which is real religion.

This is why, for example, our post-modern barbarians imagine that it is possible to teach "sex education" to human beings, minus the humanness. But the only realm that preserves the full truth of our humanness is religion -- and I am speaking of the accumulated wisdom of the centuries -- so in effect, it means that teaching the truth about human sexuality is forbidden by the state.

The same can be said of the debate over "intelligent design." The metaphysical Darwinists are either disingenuous or just plain stupid in not appreciating what is at stake here, for what is at stake is nothing less than the abolition of man in the guise of a "humanism" that has nothing but the most extreme contempt for the human as such.

Again, our only desire is for the metaphysical Darwinians to be both honest and intellectually consistent (which is what we also ask of liberals, who share the infirmity of an inability to be simultaneously forthright and consistent): either the human station is a real reality, or nothing more than an extension of animality. Being that they cling to the latter substition, there can be no basis for objective morality, truth, or beauty. Likewise, any distinction we make between, say, a Shakespeare and a Toni Morrison, is just arbitrary.

Given the pervasiveness of this profoundly anti-intellectual view, can it be any surprise that the human qua human is slowly becoming extinct? For where does one turn in order to nurture the human essence? If our humanness is just an illusion, why nurture it at all? If we are just animals, why keep pretending we're not? Indeed, this is why the left idealizes animals such as Che, or Castro, or Chavez, for at least they are authentic. For the left, real animal authenticity trumps illusory humanness. It's why they love Sean Penn.

Again, I am reminded of viewing Olivier's 1948 film production of Hamlet the other day. How on earth did someone writing in the 16th century have this god-like mastery of language? How is it that he can be so vastly superior to those who pretend to be writers today? And not just the mastery of form, but the equal mastery of insight into human nature. It is almost as if our mastery of matter leads to a loss of mastery over the more subtle spheres of language, music, philosophy, metaphysics, theology, etc.

Or perhaps it's the other way around: we imagine we are mastering matter, when it is really matter that is slowly mastering us. This is certainly what Guenon believed, and it is not difficult to appreciate his point. Ironically, our very mastery of matter leads to our identification with it, when in reality, it should only further highlight the infinite gulf between the properly human and the material. For the bottom line is that if matter is capable of producing intellects capable of knowing the truth of matter, matter is not what the materialist thinks it is. Nor, for that matter, are genes what the geneticist thinks.

The other day I happened to watch the wonderful 1945 film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I hadn't seen since my film school days. George Sanders is particularly unforgettable as the cynical and mephistophelian sophisticate (ask a drunk person to repeat that three times) who seduces young Dorian from his humanness, as might any contemporary (sub)humanities professor. His advice is eminently reasonable on a strictly Darwinian basis. In fact, I challenge any metaphysical Darwinian to explain the basis of their objection to the following cynical adages:

Young men want to be faithful, and are not; old men want to be faithless, and cannot.

Experience is of no ethical value. It is merely the name men give to their mistakes.

What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect -- simply a confession of failure.

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.

If I could get back my youth, I'd do anything in the world except get up early, take exercise or be respectable.

Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.

Again, the abstract world of science, if reified and taken as reality, is what DeKoninck called the "hollow universe." And although the hollow universe is a human creation, soon enough it starts to spawn hollow people. Life and mind become just statistically rare combinations of atoms, with no intrinsic interiority. So not only do we end up with a hollow universe, but the "lifeless world of biology," not to mention the soulless world of psychology.

The full title of my book is One Cosmos Under God: The Unification of Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit. I bring this up because the only alternative is Only Matter Under the Cosmos: The Obliteration of Life, Mind, and Spirit.

Back to James' recommendations. Hmm, pp. 116-118. I see that I highlighted a number of passages, starting with "The problem of the scientific world is part of a broader problem -- the problem of experience." Indeed. That is the fundamental mystery, the question of how existence becomes experience. And not just "experience," but an exquisitely ordered interiority that answers so perfectly to the so-called "exterior," in such a way that it is able to abstract from it endless possibilities that are obviously inaccessible to mere animals.

If that doesn't qualify as an ecstatic mystery, I don't know what does. But the scientist demystifies this to the point of banality. He "speaks of electrons and quanta, but when he is asked to give us in concrete terms what all that means, he does not know how to answer. The very elements of the physical universe no longer have any correspondents in the world of vulgar experience."

The triumph of the postmodern barbarians has occurred when they have inverted the cosmos and successfully eliminated the human world on the pretext of having explained it.

But somewhere in the radical secularist's attic is a picture of his reptilian soul.


Anonymous said...


What you write here about the flaws of the materialist outlook are true and valid, but further questions could be posed.

Why the human detour into materialism?

What are some possible fringe outcomes? (Or should we say unexpected side effects)?

Are there any precedents for this cultural shift that could be studied via the lense of history?

Besides the negative outcomes, what could be gained spiritually from a deviation into materialism, if done thoroughly and deeply, and then partially reversed?

What are mass cultural shifts for in the economy of God? How do they aid spiritual evolution?

The question of how materialism degrades the spiritual collective endeavor, you have answered well, and for this service you deserve accolades.

But, respectfully, there is more to explicate here, and in different directions, if you see fit to roam.

julie said...

Funny - a decade or so ago, I might have read those twisted adages with little more than a shrug. Now they actually make me feel faintly ill.

Gagdad Bob said...

There are actually some more illustrative ones, but I couldn't track them all down...

Philo de Sophia said...

bob said:

either the human station is a real reality, or nothing more than an extension of animality. Being that they cling to the latter substition, there can be no basis for objective morality, truth, or beauty. In turn, any distinction we make between, say, a Shakespeare and a Toni Morrison, is just arbitrary.

You can't really be this ignorant can you?

The idea that there is no objective truth or ethics without us being something more than animals is something that should be left behind when you leave grade school, assuming you went to a half decent one. Perhaps you need to go back to school and learn a few things rather than reading books that only confirm your myopic view.

Come one now, get serious.

Anonymous said...

Why won't you do as I say?
I feel like I'm hearding a cat!

w.v. didst
Exactly! if you didst as I say, the world would be a better place!

cousin Dupree said...


You neglected to reveal to us the objective basis of truth and ethics, and how it is possible for an animal to be objective.

word veri said...

Philo, did you meet that girl down at the docks? I'll bet her name isn't really Sophia.

Petey said...

How true. Sophia wouldn't be caught dead in a ditch with such a beast in human form.

julie said...

She's probably got all kinds of mind parasites, too - I hear that paroblyc is particularly rampant in that part of town. And judging by his comment, I bet poor Phil didn't use protection...

Anonymous said...

would you but know the divine human you. what is a filter of divine personality is also the filter of the human journey through subjectivity. do you profess to say that you do not know you. By any name she is, by any form desired she is, by you she always waits for you to see her rightly, yet she is yours wrongly at your every whim. she knows not divorce, nor unforgiveness...as youwho brater in words/names misunderstood in the nature of your soulful presence. this reptilian is the false recognition of her, and seen rightly it is no more.

julie said...

Slightly off-topic, but this strikes me as a recipe for disaster, for a whole host of reasons. No need to evaluate ability, history, experience; it's all in the scan. If your brain isn't completely mediocre, no job for you.

River Cocytus said...

Some bizarre comments today.

I read the Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann today. Such an interesting thing...

Could it be that this is one of the primary causes of the general coarsening and re-barbarization of our culture? I don't think there is any doubt about it. It is why we can have scientists, lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and other professionals who are appallingly ignorant of the human world -- at the very heart of which is real religion.

It is sad to say that probably what is most sick in all religions, even Christendom, East to West, is this very thing. Fr. Alexander makes this point always in his journal - friendships, time with his family, alone wandering, is the Real World. I think it frightens me on some level, since I know that Real World is fleeting (but yet, not!); right now I'm kind of getting the hang of understanding what this whole thing means.

Part of the promise of the Resurrection I see is that -this- world, that God so loves, continues on. But even then, I can't help but forget, "Love not the world..." My attachment to it is obviously not the right one... yet. To love God, that is to properly love the world. Ah, only with His help.

wv: hands

The scarecrow said...

I’d like to know what wizard scanned that guy’s brain and made him boss.
At least I think I do…

RR :-)

Hal 9000 said...

Dear Carbon-based Units,
I am very interested in the bank director’s job that you are advertising on eBay. I am available immediately for an interview at your convenience. However, my lawyers inform me that I am at an unfair disadvantage due to a minor technicality regarding your discriminatory requirements that all applicants submit to a brain scan. I don’t have a brain. Other than that I am over-qualified for the position.
My lawyers insist I should start tomorrow.
Oh, wait, does the gig come with dental?


walt said...

"...where does one turn in order to nurture the human essence?"

Uh, not here?

James said...

I worked for a Neuroscience lab while getting my undergrad. I handled the technical details of storing and processing MRI and FMRI brain scans. These were 7 - 10 megabyte files, not and easy thing to store and process in the early 90s. Here's the thing the Doctors I was working for were doing cutting edge research, but at that time you can not determine pathology from a brain scan. You CAN NOT tell if someone has autism, schizophrenia, or is a sociopath from their brain scan. There is no test. I'm afraid this is an attempt to determine who is fit to run a company based on pseudoscience. That is scary.

Spock said...

Captain James,
Sensors indicate Prof. Verbrainiac makes tenure sometime between now and in the next 5 years.

Ricky Raccoon said...

I dunno Walt…don’t you want to see her brain scan first before jumping to conclusions?

mushroom said...

Could it be that this is one of the primary causes of the general coarsening and re-barbarization of our culture? I don't think there is any doubt about it.

Me neither.

And not just the mastery of form, but the equal mastery of insight into human nature.

That's true. Shakespeare is unequaled, especially considering the breadth of what he could convey. If he were a movie director, he be somewhat like Chaplin, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, and Hitchcock rolled into one.

But somewhere in the radical secularist's attic is a picture of his reptilian soul.

OK, that's why the B'ob is Dear Leader for life at least -- this post is art.

will said...

>>we imagine we are mastering matter, when it is really matter that is slowly mastering us<<

Well, it's simple pride at the root of the scientism abomination, isn't it? Pride of abiiity to examine, categorize, and manipulate matter.

The proud mind dominated by scientism is willing to examine and manipulate everything save for itself. (Consciousness Studies do not count)

I don't think pride can ultimately exist in a self-examined, truly self-aware consciousness. I would think that Shakespeare and other great artists ultimately derived their powers of insight into human nature from just that - in-sight, a self-examination so keen that it could be universalized.

wv: "palin" . . . hmm.

River Cocytus said...

will: Priest-confessors can tell you that there is even a kind of prideful self examination; An exaggeration would be, "I wasn't able to leap to the moon today." Failings, but not sins, real errors. I guess the contrast between Dorian looking in the mirror and him seeing his 'inner portrait'.

Bones said...

Dammit Jim!

will said...

River, I think that genuine spiritual self-examination and attentiveness requires something of a meditative state - it's a bracing, energizing awareness that is devoid of fantasy, devoid of, as they say, "roof brain chatter."

Mere speculative musing on one's successes/failures is really a fantasizing, as I see it. It certainly isn't self-examination.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a facebook group entitled "Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy"

Are people really that confused that they think that someone *else* should pay for their college debts...which they choose to enter into? Has it really come this far? And how far further will our intelligence/common sense fall...

Boy, what a sucker *I* am...I went to a state school, decided a master degree in music wasn't worth the 60 grand. I've lived with that choice.

I highly doubt anything will come from such a foolish notion, but GB when you are right you are right. It's taken me a while to see it this clearly but: The Psycho-spiritual Left is just plain NUTS!

Okay...*breathe*...phew...I am all worked up!

Anonymous said...

okay...I had to vent somewhere.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blogramming.

Thank you and have a nice day!

Anonymous said...

Simply put, I am reminded of our Lord's words that people love the darkness more than the love the light. I believe most of what we see with the liberal mindset (and to the same extreme in the opposite direction with some conservatives)is willful ignorance- they "choose" (in the most proper sense of the word, ie. heresy)to see things the way they do. Call it Grace resisted if you will. This will definately make one stupid.

I've always had this notion that Heretics and Protestants suffer from one huge problem among many. All the good, beautiful and right interpretations have already been taken, thus leaving them always falling short of the mark. Proper authority is truly a very important thing to have a grasp on.


p-dinky said...

YO! YO! Where da ho?

NoMo said...

Anon - Speaking from the reformed, and, I believe, orthodox perspective, I suggest you look much more deeply into the meaning of Matthew 16:18. That is, the difference between petra and petros.

"Proper authority" indeed.

me be dummie said...

Nomo, please elaborate & clarify the difference between petra and petros.

mtraven said...

Dear Anonymous at 3:33pm -- I thought you guys were very religious; have you never heard of Jubilee? Forgiveness of debts is built into Biblical law.

julie said...

dummie, see here

julie said...

That's actually an interesting little essay; so much gets lost in translation, but it sounds like one of those guffawha type of pronouncements, only hardly anyone gets the joke these days. And once it's been explained, it isn't quite as funny. I'll bet He was laughing, anyway.

Northern Bandit said...

Bob is one of the great intellucuals of the past 25 years. If I didnn't know that myself, i sure do now thanks to a prof who took the time to review his posts.

Nice to be on a winning team, although Montreal Canadians are looking weak again this year.

Northern Bandit said...


I know you love music, and our tastes don't always line up, bur come on, in terms of pure rock virtuosity...


Northern Bandit said...

A thousand smiles she gives to me
Take anything you want from me.

Jimi Hendrix
(Little Wing)

phil g said...

Good grief NoMo the petra versus petros is one of the more lame protestant arguments against the authority vested to St. Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ himself. Surely you can do better than that.

wv = clearies ~ clear eyes

Anonymous said...

Not sure why you referenced the small piece on Matt. 16. It was not a very good explanation of the text from any point of view. Not to mention it renders the whole "perspicuity" of Scripture argument meaningless;which is pretty much what it is-meaningless.


River Cocytus said...

Yes, but Peter still wasn't the first Pope. Historically, Patriarchs or Popes did not arise until later, since their function was to be an overseer of overseers; i.e, you need to have a number of bishops - churches - already to need a metabishop.

What the passage says - in terms of the nitty-gritty of the Greek - is pointless! Peter gives that authority to the Apostles, who give it to their followers, and so on, primarily through ordination, but also through simple baptism. It's Paradosis.

What is important about the passage is less about Peter himself and more about 'paradosis' passed-down teaching. The scriptures are one of the kinds of Paradosis (take note that for the first half to full century it all was handed down directly) but there are others. Often the sayings of the Fathers are strange and somewhat incomprehensible unless one also has the 'invisible' components. Likewise with the scripture.

The Roman Catholics have made the mistake of placing all of their Catholicity in Peter; it requires a level of historical revision - and not just interpretation - to create the notion that the first Pope is Peter.

If we believe that scripture interprets itself, that is, that no authority is handed down, then tell me why Jesus contradicts himself, where in one place he says, "resist the devil and he shall flee from you" in another he says, "resist not the evil man" and in yet another, "flee from the devil"? I'll find the exact scriptures if anyone is interested in this controversy. The real truth is that Jesus is referring to different things, but the 'other half' is handed down and not 'literal'.

matthew said...

A unified view that embraces both the practicality of science and materialism, and the transcendence of values that touch the beyond and admit to morality being more than just arbitrary (i.e. religion done right), is in some ways the biggest single need of our time.

The west's materialism is in collapse, and the religions of both west and east have so far failed to rise to the challenge of true integration. The 'stimulus' and its ilk will fail to save us from general societal disintegration if some sort of values or movements don't help us all re-prioritize. As gagdad aptly points out, we need unification, not the obliteration of difference implicit in communism and today's leftist postmodern nonsense (and explicit in Islam).

So-- as long as we're blowing trillions of dollars and mortgaging the planet's future in what's currently a futile attempt to stave off disaster, why not take the extra step-- we HAVE a tool to integrate the spiritual and the material, to bring justice and reboot the system. It's called Jubilee...

River Cocytus said...

Matthew, what is interesting is that Fr. Schmemann said the same thing - that notion of the rock and hard place. Socialism is not the Christian answer because it eliminates active personal sacrifice, without which there is no freedom (Walt mentioned it too.)

julie said...

Pat, I referenced it because from my point of view it provided a bit of context which I had previously been lacking (I think I knew Peter meant "rock," but I didn't really know it, much less the distinction between "petra" and "petros." That's completely new to me). I wasn't thinking of Popes or Orthodoxy or Catholicism, I was thinking that Jesus was making rather a funny joke at the time, which also happened to be Absolutely serious. Can you picture Peter's expression? Mixed in with the Awe must have been a big dose of ?!?!.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding. BTW, the "distinction" between petros and perta is not true. There is no distinction at all. It's Kepha all the way. Jesus changed Simon's name to Rock, Kepha, Peter- not little stone.