Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Becoming a Master in the Game of Life

It's funny how such diverse things can be woven together in the crazy quilt of the human soul, and can only be woven together there. Unless they are already woven together, and we simply imagine that we do the weaving....

It reminds me of Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game, which, if I recall correctly (it's probably been 30 years), is about a league of gentlemen slackers who play a sort of game in which the point is to unify diverse strands of knowledge, say, a Bach fugue with the laws of physics.

Here, let me look it up... Yes, here's the description: "Hesse's final novel is set in a 23rd-century utopia in which the intellectual elite have distilled all available knowledge of math, music, science, and art into an elaborately coded game."

Another review says that it is "about humanity's eternal quest for enlightenment and for synthesis of the intellectual and the participatory life. Set in the 23rd century, the novel purports to be a biography of Josef Knecht.... Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy. This he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi," or Master of the Game.

I have been very aware of playing the Glass Bead Game for, I don't know, 25 years or so, and unconsciously playing it for longer than that. This is what I was alluding to in a recent post, when I mentioned my distaste for school.

The bottom line is that the liberal educational establishment interfered with my Glass Bead Game, and mostly just got in the way. It essentially consisted of transferring "finished products" of other people's thought into my dome in a wholly linear and atomized manner. Or, you might say that it consisted of giving me the "final scores" of other games, but not allowing me to play my own. I suppose some of it was useful for the Game, but other aspects can put an end to the Game altogether if you take them seriously -- for example, radical Darwinism.

The radical Darwinist eliminates himself from the Game, and imagines that those who play it are only doing so at the behest of their genes. In reality, the only entities in the cosmos that get to play at all are the genes. We are simply the byproduct of their unconscious play. Love? Beauty? Truth? All just tricks of those mischievous genes. And there is no point to their play. It's just what they do, so don't ask. It's for them to know and you to find out.

However, if you are remotely intellectually sophisticated -- or if your intellect has not been completely extinguished by this asinine sort of radical secularism -- then you see in an instant that the Darwinist is just playing a very bad form of the Glass Bead Game. For he too wishes to distill all knowledge into one vast (or tiny) system, except that in his case, it is not a system of thought, nor is it a product of the nonlocal intellect, only of the local ego.

In fact, thought -- and therefore truth -- is precisely what is eliminated in the Darwinist's game, reduced to a side effect of genetic competition. Yes, it is -- and they are -- absurd, but if you ask a terminal Darwinian how a Bach fugue and the laws of physics are related, he might say something like, "well, to be honest we don't yet know. But we think it has something to do with gene #5043-K. The main point is that there is a genetic explanation."

Intellectually speaking, this is like borrowing a huge amount of money because one thinks one will receive a windfall in the future in order to pay back the intellectual loan. But in reality, it is like the real estate bubble, except that it is a cognitive bubble that will eventually go bust. The truth of Darwinism is all "on paper" that can never be cashed in for real wealth.

Now, I think it is obvious to one and all that my book is the preluminary result of my own Glass Bead Game. However, the Game obviously continues, as evidenced by the past 1,300 or so posts.

But a couple of points to bear in mind. When I wrote the book, I tried to do so in such a way that my later play would not fundamentally contradict anything in the book. I don't like to be so self-referential, but I frankly don't know who else I can refer to here. But one of my purposes in writing the book was to do so in such a way that reading it would not be at all like my bad experience with education, in which someone else's finished products were simply funneled into the Gagdad melon.

Rather, what I wanted to do was create a book that would allow others to play the Glass Bead Game. In other words, it's really meant to be a sort of template one can use to play the home version of the Glass Bead Game. I believe this is most obvious in book four, with all of the symbols I use for the spiritual life. That practically ensures that I am not "giving you the answer," but showing you how to play the game. In order accomplish my goal, the book had to be simultaneously "fixed" and yet "open." But this is just an analogue to how life, mind, and spirit -- the cosmos itself -- operate.

These thoughts were provoked yesterday in reading Jonah Goldberg's great Liberal Fascism at the same time I am pondering and blogging about Balthasar's Cosmic Liturgy.

Now, I would be willing to bet folding money that I am the first human being in history who has ever read these two particular books at the same time. That is not a comment about me, just about the uniqueness of the individual human, and how each of us uses such different material to play the Game.

Anyway, in reading these two works simultaneously, some cross-pollination is bound to occur as a result of all the bees buzzing in my bonnet. So yesterday afternoon, as I was reading Liberal Fascism, I was furiously making all of these margin notes about the connection between the two -- connections that I imagine that no other human being has previously noted in this exact way, and yet, are just "there," waiting to be noticed by someone.

Therefore, are the connections manmade? Or are we simply the middle man needed to bridge the connections that are already there? And assuming that the connections are already there -- which I believe they are -- what does this say about the mutual "object" they are illuminating?

Well, for starters, it cannot be anything like a three-dimensional object in time and space. Rather, this would obviously have to have more dimensions than three, and it would have to be non-linear. In reality, I believe that it is -- to borrow a term from Terence McKenna -- a "hyperdimensional manifold," a subjective topology which human beings have the unique privilege of "entering" and exploring.

"Hyperdimensional" simply means that it possesses more than four dimensions, while a manifold is a special kind of mathematical space. I call this space O, and I believe that it is ultimately in the form of a complex Klein Bottle (see illustration), in which the outside surface is the inside, and vice versa.

In my particular version of the Glass Bead Game, this is how I understand the distinction between subject and object, spirit and matter, potential and actuality. You might say that consciousness is the "interior" of the cosmos and matter the "exterior." However, theses are simply two sides of the same surface, like the Klein Bottle. We live "inside" the Klein Bottle, while the world we interact with is the "outside" of the Klein Bottle. But on pain of absurdity, object and subject are ultimately "one." The world is infused with intelligent consciousness, while human beings prove that matter can "think."

As I said, that's how Gagdad plays the Game.

It is also how Maximus played the Game, which is why I find him so compatible. For example, Balthasar notes that it is ridiculous to think that two "ways of conceiving the universe can stand in [such a] contradictory relationship to each other that no power of the intelligence will ever be able to remove the contradiction by creating a higher, third possibility."

That is, Maximus was a "creator" who worked with "traditional material but who also [knew] how to arrange the pieces according to their own architectural design." Again, as we mentioned before, he was able to unify -- or to see the hidden unity of -- "five or six intellectual worlds that seemingly had lost all contact," bringing to light "new connections that gave rise, in turn, to unexpected similarities and relationships."

Really, he was just accurately describing the hyperdimensional manifold of O: "His ecstatic vision of a holy universe, flowing forth, wave upon wave, from the unfathomable depths of God, whose center lies always beyond the creature's reach; his vision of a creation that realizes itself in ever more distant echoes, until it finally ebbs away at the borders of nothingness, yet which is 'brought home,' step by step, through the ascending unities of an awestruck love..."

Maximus was a Master of the Game.

And if it's all the same to you, I would prefer that you address me as the Maestro.


Joan of Argghh! said...

That's right kids! OC now comes in a deluxe, heaven-bound edition. Buy the whole set and play along at home! Be sure to sign up for the secret decoder ring, mask and CooNVision googles so that you may readily recognize and share in the fun with other players!

slackosopher said...

I read "The Glass Bead Game" a few years back, and loved it. I found it a much more useful book than Hesse's others. I am thankful to be reminded of this particularly potent metaphor for the intellectual (nous-centered) life.

May even be worth a re-read. I'd like to look again at the choice he makes to leave the game...and what that might imply.

i.e. Aquinas saying "all that I have written seems like straw to me."

One of the more disheartening results of the current accepted version of the game can be seen in how so many of my more pomo associates feel they can leave the game before they have become masters--or hardly even students of it.

They have been "officially" authorized to think that it's "all straw"-- but it's fairly clear most have little idea what it is they are even rejecting.

Gagdad Bob said...


You read my mind. I was going to write about how postmodernism is quite clearly a kind of "mysticism from below." It takes rabbinical principles of textual analysis that have always been known, but applies them to "nothing" instead of "everything."

Van said...

"Now, I would be willing to bet folding money that I am the first human being in history who has ever read these two particular books at the same time. "

Heh... my joint read with Liberal Fascism was Pfeiffer's book on Leisure. Lots of good harmonies there too.

I remember hearing of an Objectivist parlor game... name might have been something like "Tie-in's", where you picked two pieces of paper out of two different bowls, one filled with concretes, and the other with concepts, and had to tie them together, so you'd get something like 'interstate highway' and 'Honesty'. Always sounded like a fun one to try... 'fraid I was the only one that I knew who thought that though. Seemed as if the thought that came to other peoples mind when I brought it up was "Run! ".

Van said...

"So yesterday afternoon, as I was reading Liberal Fascism, I was furiously making all of these margin notes about the connection between the two..."

Slightly OT, last week when you mentioned to those who wanted to read along at home, turh to page 215(?), I pulled mine down and thumbed to it... and it was blank.

"Huh". Kind of odd... I flicked back through a few pages and there was my normal scribbling all through the margins. I flicke back and noticed that it was right about where the Symbols came in... a couple pages later, red ink, pressed hard "Why doesn't he use WORDS!!!"... and then a page or so after, "Ohhh... now I get it" .


No thanks, just the meat.

walt said...

Hesse's book woke me up in my early twenties to the Idea that there was another Game going on, of a different order. Didn't really enjoy the book then, but I bet I would now.

A big help, I think, to know what Game one is playing, since everyone around us is forever chanting "We're Numbah One!" and at times it's confusing. One formulation is, "Know what you're doing, and why" -- but that too can get lost.

"Maestro" has a nice ring to it -- isn't that how one addresses a "Conductor"?

NoMo said...

Yeah, Walt. How many "numbah Ones" can there be. One isn't an infinite number...or is it?

OT (although may fit the category of games) - There sure seems to be a lot of talk about racism lately (can’t imagine why). Might it not be reasonable to base a definition of “racism” on what MLK said, i.e. judging someone based on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character? If so, then I would easily agree with Glenn Beck (and perhaps MLK if he were here) that our current President is, sadly, but plainly, a racist.

Obama – Keeping Racism Alive! Yee-haw!

wv astutely says, "unpers" (not even half a person)

slackosopher said...

Perhaps one could see the pomo version of the game as "Faustian" in that it is from below i.e. the need to "sell your soul to the Devil". It is based in perpetual dissatisfaction.

Conversely the Master Player is a Monk-Scholar. That purification of the self/mind is what allows one to begin to glimpse Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Love i.e. it is based in virtue.

Or is that too simplistic?

Magnus Itland said...

"a holy universe, flowing forth, wave upon wave, from the unfathomable depths of God, whose center lies always beyond the creature's reach"

Yes. That's it.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

So yesterday afternoon, as I was reading Liberal Fascism, I was furiously making all of these margin notes about the connection between the two -- connections that I imagine that no other human being has previously noted in this exact way, and yet, are just "there," waiting to be noticed by someone."

Wow. When I think about it, the number of connections as you put it, connections that can reveal more than their individual parts is virtue-ally infinite!