Monday, July 27, 2009

The Occidentally-on-Purpose Unification of East and West Brains

Friday was a bit of a sidetrack. We've been discussing the unification of East and West in Maximus -- not just of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, or even orient and occident, but a deeper dialectic that seems to be imprinted into our mainframe, i.e., the left and right hemispheres of the brain, each of which is required in order to host the "higher third" of the human subject.

So many philosophical disputes down through the ages are simply a result of failure to appreciate the irreducible complementarity -- not duality -- of being. A duality is an unproductive sort of stalemate, whereas a complementarity is a productive interplay that generates the "higher third" alluded to above.

Individual examples are too numerous to chronicle here, but failure to admit complementarity not only creates impasses between disciplines, but within them as well. For example, in science, there are materialists and idealists, or Aristotelians and Platonists. In psychology, there are behaviorists and depth psychologists. In religion, there are the mystics and dogmatics.

I no longer remember the details, but about 20 years ago, I was complaining about some quandary to my analyst, and he said something to the effect of, "why does it have to be either/or? Why not both/and? After all, it always is."

The idea of complementarity is one of those things that you realize is true the moment you hear it, and yet, must be relearned again and again. As we now know, it is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, as elucidated by the physicist Neils Bohr (the "complementarity principle").

That is, in subatomic physics, it literally makes no sense to ask if one is dealing with a wave or a particle, for it is always both/and. Yes, you can pretend that reality is particle-like, but then you're excluding half the story. Or, you can pretend it's wavelike, and you miss the other half. If you know where a particle is, then you don't know its velocity. If you know the velocity, then you don't know its location. I understand that batting against Sandy Koufax posed a similar problem. On one occasion, after the umpire called a strike, the batter asked, "are you sure? That sounded outside."

Now, many new-age types try to use the facts of physics to build "upward" and justify a mystical view of the cosmos, e.g., The Tao of Physics. But it doesn't work that way. We don't have a left and right brain because the cosmos is simultaneously particle- and wavelike. Rather, vice versa. And our analysis cannot end with man. Rather, man has this intrinsic complementarity because he is in the image of the Creator.

Again, creation could not occur if there were only a uniform "oneness." Rather, there must be distinction. But this is never a radical separation from the Principle; rather, it is always multiplicity within a prior unity.

Oneness could never be achieved on any level -- material, biological, psychological or spiritual -- if it weren't latent within creation to begin with. In other words, in the absence of oneness, we could not have objects, organisms, egos, or selves, each of which reflects the principle of wholeness within its particular domain (i.e., matter, life, mind, and spirit).

You might say that as one becomes many, it breaks out into the absolute and infinite, which would correspond to particle and wave (or left brain and right brain, male and female), respectively. Thus, whenever we see the apparent multiplicity of duality, we must "recall" the prior complementary oneness that actually joins them together in wholly matterimany.

One critical point to bear in mind is that the principle of complementarity applies to both the object and subject. That is, just as physics proves the existence of material complementarity, psychology proves the existence of subjective complementarity. As I have discussed before, it is a bit old-fashioned to imagine the mind in 19th century mechanistic terms, perhaps as an archaeological dig with the older material "below," or maybe a bag with "stuff" inside, or perhaps a pressure cooker that needs to let off steam in the form of "instinctual energy."

Rather, just as the Trinity is entirely intersubjective, each being a member of the other, the mind consists of "parts" that can only be artificially separated from the whole. Therefore, while we can talk about "ego" and "unconscious," we must always remember that these are no more real than "wave" and "particle."

Rather, it all depends upon how we look at it. In reality, there is no conscious act that doesn't have unconscious roots, and no unconscious fantasy that isn't infused with the conscious. And we have no idea how this actually works, any more than we have any idea how a dream is produced. In order to think about anything at all, we must resort to dualism. Just don't confuse method with truth, for the truth is always the complementary whole. A physicist doesn't actually know what matter or energy are, any more than a biologist knows what life is, or a psychologist knows what consciousness is, or a priest knows what God is.

But in each case, we do have means of finding out. In other words, there are specific methods for disclosing the truth of matter, life, mind and spirit. However, just don't confuse the means with the underlying truth, which is to confuse epistemology -- what we can know -- with ontology -- what actually is.

In fact, that is another false dualism -- ontology and epistemology -- that is resolved in Christian metaphysics. If I discuss this now, I'll be getting wayyy ahead of myself, but this was very much emphasized by Symeon the New Theologian, who you might say unified doctrine and experience within his own person (which is what made him so New). But I want to finish with Maximus before moving on to Symeon.

Indeed, in many ways, Symeon is just a restatement of Maximus, only in a more highly personalized manner. Remember what I said about complementarity having to be rediscovered again and again, perhaps by each generation; thus, you can draw a more or less straight or crooked line from, say, Denys to Maximus to Symeon to Gregory Palamas to Toots Mondello to me.

So Balthasar talks about some of the polarities that are unified in Maximus, such as that "between the impersonal religious thought of the East and the personal categories of biblical revelation," or "between a religion of nature [↑] and a religion of self-communication and of grace [↓]," between "narrative thought" and "analytic thought," between schoolroom and monastery, or between mythos and logos.

For me, the important point is that Maximus straddled the gulf between God's transcendence and immanence, which is a complementarity that can only be "resolved" within the human subject. Although he ultimately chose the Western tradition, he did so in such a way that he "imported" the Eastern conception. In other words, he brought in "the whole Asian mystique of divinization," or theosis, "on the higher level of the biblical mystery," as opposed to "the lower level of natural dissolution and fusion."

Do you see the point? It all turns on the meaning of One. Symbolically, you could say that it all turns on O vs. ʘ. That little point in the middle is you. Either that dot is o-bliterated in egoic dissolution, or it is "preserved" as one of God's precious "parts." If you think you must choose between the two, I think you're caught up in one of those false dualities. For in reality, there is the eternal complementarity of O and •, which is none other than infinite and absolute playing along the shoreline of the aeon. So enjoy your praydate with O. You only get ʘne.


Ricky Raccoon said...

Not to get way ahead, but just so I don't forget, a taste of Symeon the New Theolgian is on Google Books here.

Anonymous said...

40 days and 40 nights...

Petey said...

In the always-beginning God perpetually creates the heavens and earth, the O and the •. In the always-ending Christ unifies them.

Ricky Raccoon said...

If you are just joining our flowgram, and in the spirit of unconfusion, opposites versus compliments, please do not confuse or kinflate the current O-potus with the O-riginal inwhich, but not ofwhich, Bob speaketh.

Alan said...

Gagdad Bob referenced on a new series of posts at Gates of Vienna here.

River Cocytus said...

Bob, there is something interesting to think about here:


I think that duality revolves around catharsis, whereas complementarity revolves around kenosis.

Plus, he strikes a few blows at the notion of 'drama' and goes with the idea that drama itself is not it, but it is the lyric and epic which may accompany it where all of 'the important stuff' is.

I've noticed that difference in Western vs. Eastern liturgies; the first tend to be closer to drama (i.e. re-enactment) whereas the second tend to be recapitulative, i.e. epic; as though the thing is still happening and cannot be 'redone' - it can only be connected with wherein the worshiper is in-spired to participate in the continously ongoing event.

This is not true for all Western Liturgies but some I have witnessed tend to think of themselves in terms of drama instead of epic.

Ricky Raccoon said...

“wherein the worshiper is in-spired to participate in”

I like that. Inspire or respire.
Like a river; can you contain a part of one and still call it a river? No. It is on-going.

ge said...

...The last book i was obliged to part with [used-via amazon] was 'Symeon, the New Theologian: The Discourses (Classics of Western Spirituality)'---to a midwest Christian college library! [[the 'good news' is that a friendly neighbor down the street owns that whole darn 'Classics' series, it seems!!]]

Aquila said...

Hey GE, I checked out your MySpace page. Props for covering "Child of the Moon" -- the coolest of all Stones songs! :-)

Van said...

Ricky, thanks for the book link.

Ricky Raccoon said...

My pleasure, Van.
I think it's only the first 50 pages or so. I'm hooked so far..
No eBook ver out there that I could find :-(

Ricky Raccoon said...

River's links are a good read, as well. Though not finished them yet..

Van said...

"Rather, just as the Trinity is entirely intersubjective, each being a member of the other, the mind consists of "parts" that can only be artificially separated from the whole. Therefore, while we can talk about "ego" and "unconscious," we must always remember that these are no more real than "wave" and "particle." "

And that's the 'analysis' trap, that separates the One whOle into opposing parts of subjective and objective. Doing that while letting slip your starting point of one whole (which does actually exist), leaves you without the entireity, the One Cosmos you began with, and holding only abstract partial perspectives (which don't actually exist).

And why is it that people complain that their lives seem empty?


Van said...

... or rather, they don't actually exist except in relation to, and of, the whOle.

ge said...

thank you Aquila! out of my hundreds of downloadable songs, that'n made by far most sheckles -cant figure out how-why really. it ended up like an incredible string band-meets- stones version, i feel