Thursday, December 08, 2011

I Specialize in Love

Continuing with the Tower of Destruction: just how do we prophylactically avoid having our tower blasted by the thunderbolt? How do we know if our tower is tall enough to reach the ground, or conversely, too high-and-mighty to reach the firmament?

We invite a bad case of thunderclap if we misconscrew evolution. That is, to express it in biological terms, extinction, the ultimate and irreversible bolt from the blue -- or cosmic d'oh! -- can occur as a result of overspecialization, the latter of which confers a temporary advantage but results in painting oneself into an evolutionary coroner. That is, change the environment, or put the organism in a different one, and it cannot adapt. Poof! Nature is through with you.

For humans, the problem of specialization no longer applies to the natural environment, but rather, to the psychological, intellectual, spiritual, and economic environments.

For example, there is much complaining on the left about the loss of certain jobs, even of punishing companies that "ship jobs overseas." What no politician can utter out loud is that the people who once held these jobs have made themselves "unnecessary" to the real economic environment, to which they cannot adapt because they know -- or rather, can do -- only One Thing.

Why are human beings atop the evolutionary heap? Because we specialize in generalization, in a way that no other animal can or ever will. In human beings, intelligence has wrapped around itself in order to produce self-consciousness, and therefore abstract thinking -- or virtual manipulation in the absence of the physical object. Virtual manipulation is none other than thought, or at least the basis of thought.

And beneath this manipulation is that first all-purpose tool, the swiss army knife of evolution, the human hand (L manipulus handful). Some evolutionary psychologists even speculate that sign language is prior to spoken language, which is why the language center is located in the left brain (which controls the right hand). Many words that have to do with intelligibility are related to the hand, e.g., grasp, seize, catch on, apprehend, comprehend, wrap around, etc.

In the bʘʘk, I advanced the theory -- which is mine -- and which belongs to me -- of how it came about that human brains became capable of "hosting" divine souls.

For clearly, the brain must reach a certain threshold of complexity before it can host a soul. But equally important, this brain must also be intersubjective, for knowledge of the other precedes and makes possible knowledge of the self. And this is not just knowledge of the exterior, but of the interior, or of the depth beneath appearances. Only another human being can usher us into the intersubjective depths of humanness.

Conversely, deprivation of such an intimate relationship -- whether for genetic or developmental reasons -- results in an autistic state, which leaves one on the surface and therefore periphery of existence, unable to "read" interiors.

John Paul (then Wojtyla) writes that the person -- in order to be one, precisely -- "must continually discover himself in the other and the other in himself. Love is impossible for beings who are mutually impenetrable -- only the spirituality and 'inwardness' of persons create the conditions for mutual interpenetration..." (emphasis mine).

This is a key point in the further extra-biological or transnatural evolution of the cosmos, for as JPII points out, life becomes a "school of perfection" within this transitional space, wherein we discover and co-create the "we" that is mediated by love.

Love is always "between" two persons, while also pointing "beyond." Therefore, to treat persons as objects is to foreclose the interior and relate only to the surface, which is the very basis of cultural devolution (think of an extreme example such as Nazi Germany, in which case whole classes of persons -- Jews, Gypsies, Christians, Slavs, Russians -- were treated as.... classes, not persons with a God-given interior).

The basis of the human person is clearly not a monadic "I"; but nor is it the I-Thou relationship, critical though that is. Rather: it is the I-Thou-We. For the "we" is not just rooted in mutual love, but love of a "psychic third." Otherwise, we would be dealing with a vicious duality that is only one degree removed from narcissism. More subtly, it would result in a kind of infinite or bottomless regress, in that "I" would find its reality in "Thou," and vice versa, like two mirrors facing one another. In short, there would be no deeper reality sponsoring the We.

Because of the psychic third, our love can expand and encompass more of reality. Here is where love emerges from the harmonious union of truth and freedom, for "Freedom exists for the sake of love" (ibid.), and in the absence of truth, freedom would be either meaningless or a persecutory burden.

To put it another way, love integrates and makes one whole (or puts one "on the way" to wholeness). "The process of integrating love relies on the primary elements of the human spirit -- freedom and truth" (ibid.). And man seeks truth and love because he lacks them, which is why he is always dependent upon that which transcends him; or, discovers himself in surpassing himself (in love and truth).

The upshot is that human beings are the ultimate generalists, and this is one of the keys to avoiding the tower and the thunderbolt. unKnown Friend writes that it involves "the way of general growth or that of 'humbling oneself to the role of a seed,'" in contrast to "the ways of specialization or those of 'exalting oneself by building towers." In short, it is the way of organic growth vs. the way of mechanical building.

Now, growth isn't just some local biological phenomenon somehow attached to an otherwise dead and fully exterior cosmos. Frankly, it is both absurd and incoherent to suggest that interiority could ever have resulted from pure exteriority. In other words, biological, psychological, and spiritual growth are not to be thought of as bugs, but features, of the cosmos.

And what is growth? It is a kind of dynamic interior unity with a developmental vector, a "striving for wholeness." Growth always wishes to realize its possibilities, so it is unavoidably teleological. To say "growth" is to say "teleology." Otherwise it isn't growth, just "expansion" or perhaps "metastasis," that is, the disorganized manner in which a cancer grows and spreads. This is not to say that there are no cancers of the soul, because clearly there are.

The tower -- because, among other things, it is a narrow specialization -- always leads to a spiritual impasse, at least if one attempts to elevate it to a metaphysical generalization. This is what scientism does, and the spiritual consequences are catastrophic, being more or less synonymous with "hell."

And when I say "specialization," I mean reducing the spectrum of reality to the framework of one's particular specialty. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with specialization, so long as it is integrated with the rest of reality, and not mistaken for the whole. I think of A.N. Whitehead, who wrote of the necessity of a metaphysic that frames "a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted." A metaphysic that fails to illuminate the most conspicuous aspects of human existence is a non-starter.

You might say that other animals merely "act out" evolution, but that human beings -- because of their generalization -- know about it. As a result, evolution -- ipso facto, if that means what I think it does -- can never "contain" human beings. Rather, we contain it -- so long as we are contained by the "total reality" of O.

Last night I read a nice passage by Sri Aurobindo, in which he discusses the realization of God in an exceptionally clear and concise manner (and one could easily locate a similar passage by Eckhart or Denys). In it I will substitute O for Brahman:

"We have to perceive O comprehensively as both the Stable and the Moving. We must see it in eternal and immutable Spirit and in all the changing manifestations of universe and relativity.

"We have to perceive all things in Space and Time, the far and the near, the immemorial Past, the immediate Present, the infinite Future with all their contents and happenings as O.

"We have to perceive O as that which exceeds, contains and supports all individual things as well as all universe, transcendentally of Time and Space and Causality. We have to perceive O also as that which lives in and possesses the universe and all it contains."

Or, in the words of John Paul: "When love attains its full dimensions, it introduces into a relationship not only a 'climate' of honesty between persons but a certain awareness of the 'absolute,' a sense of contact with the unconditional and the ultimate. Love is indeed the highest of moral values. But one must know how to transfer it to the ordinary affairs of everyday life."

These passages touch on all the main characteristics of the "higher third" of God-realization, which is the ultimate generalization, but simultaneously -- and ironically -- the ultimate specialization, in that human beings "specialize in love." For at the end of the deity, this is the vector of our interior growth. Failing to follow that vector will result in a corrective thunderbolt. If you're lucky in love.


Gagdad Bob said...

Scientific confirmation: increased specialized intelligence is probably not adaptive.

Gagdad Bob said...

Coincidentally, the first comment to that piece has a perfect first-person description of autism:

"I can recite verbatim almost any lecture I attended, tell you the source from the notes I took in debate class, and recite what was said in my presences.

"I don't know why you are smiling....

"I have over 100 movies memorized verbatim including framing, score, intonation, accent and motion in the scene. I have another 300 I can recall while they are running.

"I don't know why people touch."

mushroom said...

Because we specialize in generalization...

As Heinlein said, specialization is for insects.

Unlucky at gambling/ lucky in love/
I guess you know what/ I'm thinking of.

I tend to think that those who are "lucky" in love are probably the people who are peace with themselves. In my own life, it seems that bad luck is mostly too perfect a reflection of my ugly self.

mushroom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mushroom said...

You have to be careful what you write in these little boxes. I almost told more truth than I intended.

But, yes, it's pretty clear that there is a price for the commenter's kind of "intelligence". I'm not denying he has great and even admirable ability. I work with people like that, and sometimes they are not worth much in the real world.

julie said...

Conversely, deprivation of such an intimate relationship -- whether for genetic or developmental reasons -- results in an autistic state, which leaves one on the surface and therefore periphery of existence, unable to "read" interiors.

Only another human being can usher us into the intersubjective depths of humanness.

This and the linked article puts me in mind of a story I read some months ago about people - usually with some form of autism or Asperger's, if memory serves - who form romantic attachments to physical objects: buildings, bridges, buses; one woman was in love with the Eiffel Tower, and believed somehow that it loved her, too. Needless to say, they had difficulty with human relationships.

On the more pedestrian level, too, are the men who "fall in love" with real dolls, or build themselves robots.

mushroom said...

My wife was telling me about a character like that on that lawyer show with Shatner. I think a lot of us tend that direction when we are children -- one of the reasons Toy Story resonates with many people.

Van said...

"For clearly, the brain must reach a certain threshold of complexity before it can host a soul."

Before it can host a soul... or before it can know it?

mushroom said...

You could argue that a soul implies self-knowledge by definition, but I think that's a good point.

Gagdad Bob said...

I have no idea how the process works in practice. All I know is that the soul cannot manifest in the absence of certain conditions. Consider the reverse process, when the brain degenerates, as in Alzheimers or stroke. What happens to the soul? It must still inhabit some nonlocal field of potential, but is sharply constrained due to local conditions. Likewise, "working on oneself" allows more of its potential to manifest.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"We invite a bad case of thunderclap if we misconscrew evolution."

It will definitely cause blindness, too.