Wednesday, March 14, 2012

All This Useless Truth: First Things, Ask Questions Later

First things. First things. First, things. Or, principle first. Then things.

What's first? And who's on it? Things? Or Principles? Or do they co-arise?

Way before I ever encountered Thomism, I attempted to think all this through on my own. Yes, you could say "needlessly," as it turns out, but not necessarily.

I say this because I'm always shocked at how frequently my own free application of reason ends up in the same space as this Thomas fellow. Details may vary -- after all, he couldn't have foretold 700 years of scientific development -- but the broad outlines are similar. Let's say we're in the same school, if different classrooms.

But in any event, we share the same principal, Dr. Furst. Why? Because the One Cosmos mysthead tells me so:


So, in the book of the Sane Gnome, I begin with the question -- the first question, as it were -- of "Where in the world do we begin? Do we have any right to assume that the universe is intelligible? If not, you can stop reading right now and do something else, something that actually has a purpose."

Wait, a footnote, the first one. Let's see what it says. "Bear in mind, however, that if the universe has no purpose, then neither will anything you do instead of reading the book. Therefore, you might as well read the book."

So you see, there's really no way to avoid reading the book. You have no excuse, only pretexts.

Back to the text: "But if the universe is intelligible, how and why is this the case?"

Blah blah yada yada, "Of course we should start our enquiry with the 'facts,' but what exactly is a fact? Which end is up? In other words, do we start with the objects of thought or the subject that apprehends them?"

And hey, "just what is the relationship between apparently 'external' objects and the consciousness that is able to cognize them? Indeed, any fact we consider presupposes a subject who has selected the fact in question out of an infinite sea of possibilities, so any conceivable fact" is bound up with the subject.

So it seems that first things are immediately followed by first questions. That is, humans are uniquely capable of asking questions about the things they first encounter. Knowledge begins with this encounter between subject and object, but doesn't end there, as it does in animals and other atheists.

Rather, human beings may reason about their experience of things -- and, equally important, reason about reason itself. A better name for metaphysics might actually be "meta-epistemology," "meta-pneumatics," or something similar, so the accent is on the unavoidably supernatural properties of reason.

Metaphysics begins in being, not knowledge. Which is why any metaphysic that begins with science is, in the words of Maritain, "false from the beginning," because science assumes being without attempting to account for it.

To use a construction analogy, science analyzes the building without getting into the question of how it got there or who planned it. Indeed, it cannot even address the question without fatal contradictions, e.g., the absurcular argument of natural selection.

But unlike science, metaphysics is utterly useless, which is another way of saying that it is completely disinterested and hence objective. Conversely, science always assumes a point of view, and more generally, a whole paradigm (usually unexamined).

Now, "useless" doesn't imply "worthless." Hardly. To the contrary, "nothing is more necessary to man than this uselessness. What we need is not truths that serve us but a truth we may serve" (emphasis mine).

My fellow Raccoons, ask not what Truth can do for you, and you know the rest.

"For that truth is food of the spirit.... Useless metaphysics puts order -- not any sort of police order, but the order that has sprung from eternity" into man's otherwise rudderless -- or groundless -- intelligence (Maritain).

To express it poetically but then again literally, metaphysics allows man "to gravitate, head first, to the midst of the stars, while he hangs from the earth by his two legs."

In other words, in the Upanishadic formulation, the universe is a tree with its nonlocal roots aloft and local branches down below. Therefore, in the bobservational formulation,

"history is a chronicle of our evolutionary sprint from biology to spirit, in which we first climb down from the trees of eastern Africa and then up the metaphorical Upanishadic tree....

"Thus, we start our journey 'out on a limb' and soon find ourselves 'grounded,' but eventually find a radical solution to our troubling situation, arriving at the root' of the cosmos" ("radical" being related to the Latin "root").

So, where does this leave us? Out of time, for one thing. Still not adjusted to dawnlight wasting time...


Gagdad Bob said...

Hey, let's ban Dante. He's worse than Rush!

julie said...

Tsk, tsk - no need to ban him, these days it should be perfectly acceptable to simply "fix" his work so that all the offensive sections no longer give offense to the sensitive sensibilities of progressive minds. For instance, simply replace gays with Rush Limbaugh. There, see? I can hear the cheering already. Lord knows, a great many on the left have already grabbed their pitchforks; I suspect there are not a few who would happily spend eternity in hell so long as they could eternally torment those they hate most.

Verdiales said...

Might be worth *requiring* Dante.

Teachers will tut tut, students will yawn and rebel against the teachers, and the smarter students may be jolted out of their slumbers.

It would make a great motion picture.

Speaking of Italian things, there's this new art discovery:


Van said...

"Blah blah yada yada, "Of course we should start our enquiry with the 'facts,' but what exactly is a fact? Which end is up? In other words, do we start with the objects of thought or the subject that apprehends them?"

Tilted spiral that it is, we've got to start with things, in order to realize that there is more to know than the things that are dreamt of in their misosophy, Horatio.

"Where in the world do we begin? Do we have any right to assume that the universe is intelligible?"

We begin with what we perceive, perceive that what we perceive can be known, then we begin to wonder... and the Sky's the unlimit then.

But don't worry, proregressives will get rid of all Dante's and any other potential streams of wonder, so that all that might be known can be safely no'd.

mushroom said...

Speaking of the value of uselessness: What do totalitarians always do when they get half a chance? Get rid of all the "useless" people. Nothing says 'prick' like Pragmatism. Especially progressive pragmatism.

John Lien said...

"Now, "useless" doesn't imply "worthless." Hardly. To the contrary, "nothing is more necessary to man than this uselessness. What we need is not truths that serve us but a truth we may serve" (emphasis mine)."

I like that.

Flip the emphasis from the serving the self to the Creator and one's world is transformed.

Gagdad Bob said...

Memo to William: the universe is not infinite, but 13 -15 billion years old.

Gagdad Bob said...

Besides, only a pre-philosophical bumpkin conflates being and existence.

Gagdad Bob said...

And no, I'm not suggesting that everyone from Tennessee is a slack-jawed bumpkin.

Gagdad Bob said...

For one thing, the guy that fashioned this hat from roadkill is a genius.

Verdiales said...

"Most humans are not wired to accept or even ponder the concept of infinity."

Comedy gold, right there.

"An infinite universe requires no 'planner' or 'creator'."

When you use the word "infinite," William, I think you mean "infinite duration," which means "duration without beginning or end."

This concept brackets the question of origin but doesn't proscribe or refute it.

You're probably vaguely interested in vacuum genesis, quantum field theory, the Planck epoch, etc. All these are really interesting material theories, but they aren't testable, and they all start to work *after* existence as such gets into the system.

Duration is only part of the story. Think about infinity also as "non-finite existence," or sheer Being. THAT, William, is the only logical beginning of what you call the "infinite universe." Somehow, Being as such has to get into the system. It can't come from non-Being, obviously, because non-Being has, er, nothing to offer.

Then you can go to town with the quantum field stuff.

Verdiales said...

Bob, for spring, you might consider a nutria chapeau. They're plentiful, so as good stewards we have to find some good use for them.

Unfortunately, they are not tasty.

Like many animals.

Please God, let William be a vegan.

julie said...

Damn, I almost sprayed my keyboard again...

Van said...

Proregressivism means having enough universes to never have to admit your sorriness.

There's always enough monkeys, somewhere, working on banging out whatever you need to claim to know is unknown.

mushroom said...

Really, William is right. You guys are soooo provincial. Everybody knows about the unknown universe. Of course that's only the known unknown universe. Then there's the unknown known universe, the unknown unknown universe, and known known universe -- but you knew about that one.

Cond0010 said...

"But unlike science, metaphysics is utterly useless, which is another way of saying that it is completely disinterested and hence objective. "

Science is where the 'rubber meets the road'

Metaphysics is the map to your destination.

Science supplies the 'how'.

Metaphysics supplies the 'why'.

Its funny how just 3 letters are a key to creation and our awareness of our being.

All hypothesis, theories, paradigms, beliefs (even Faith) require some component of the meaning oif the word 'why' - and 'Why' comes from the essence of our being. No animal can comprehend the word 'Why'.

Purely a Human phenomenon.

mushroom said...

You should caption that, King of the Cosmic Frontier.

Cond0010 said...

"Most humans are not wired to accept or even ponder the concept of infinity."

In mathematics we do that alot: and it is rather fun, too.

The application for those silly limits equations? System stability ranging from electronics, to traffic jams.

Quite fun to learn and query the infinite within 'a drop of rain'.

Cond0010 said...

"King of the Cosmic Frontier."

Caption that? Hmmm... and to enfold it with a raccoon theme... hmmmm...

Van said...

willian mewed "Most humans are not wired to accept or even ponder the concept of infinity."

Actually myself and the people around me have to deal with infinity on a daily basis. Only the newbies get caught up in the loop though.

And then the laughter... well... if your a newbie, I'm sure it seems like it goes on, and on, and on...

Gagdad Bob said...

Remember what I said about leftists fleeing from facts to principles when the facts prove them wrong? Thus, confronted with the ineluctable fact of a finite universe,

"Memo to Bob: you may be refering to the known universe. Expand your horizons."

The "unknown as first principle" explains everything you need to know about the left, because it reduces to eternal stupidity as man's cosmic birthright, and raw power takes care of the rest.

mushroom said...

I made the mistake of saying, Everybody knows.

Infinity is not just space.

Cond0010 said...

"I made the mistake of saying, Everybody knows. "

That's okay, Mush, you were being generous to people like William whose spiritual substrate does not allow for much metaphysical absorption - thus his view of the world is rather limited in color and dimension.

Who knows, perhaps there is hope for William to gain eyes to see. After all, he considers himself a 'Liberal' - and they pride themselves in being 'open-minded'.

julie said...

Though apparently William considers himself "broad-horizoned," which explains why he's stuck on the ground floor and failing to achieve any vertical laughtoff.

Mushroom @ 2:01 - my favorite so far.

Van said...

Gagdad said "Remember what I said about leftists fleeing from facts to principles when the facts prove them wrong?"


Their preferred method is to Dodge Principles, and talk only about particulars.

If you manage to pin them on it, they will deny that you can know anything for certain, and then tell you what they know you should act on as if it were certain.

If you manage to pin them on that, they will try to resort to Principles which have no basis in reality.

Don't let em. It's fun to watch. Ever see "The Thing"? Where the Thing in the end tries changing, and changing and changing form, then finally drops dead? It's kind of like that. But step one (from my post today), is to call them on it, not what they are claiming, but the principle they are relying upon to claim it,

"... and they will break themselves upon those concepts or run like a troll back under their bridges, lickety-split.

Ask them to define their terms. The Stock-in-Trade of the Proregressive Leftist, is your willingness to assume that because you both use the same words, you are talking about the same things, and they use your generous willingness to gain ground over you that they are entirely incapable of seizing on their own power. ...

Don't let just them use words you recognize, like Rights, in unrecognizable ways, that's just another way of denying reality.

Gagdad Bob said...

Not only is it a scientific fact that the universe is finite, but a necessary metaphysical truth. So there's nowhere to hide from the reality except in fantasy. But since when did that ever stop the left?

ge said...

" Now, "useless" doesn't imply "worthless." "

just this 2 term distinction came up recently in a discussion of what is Art---1 aspect of which i [must have heard] said is its USElessness.

now the person i was discussing this with's wife joined in the discussion having heard it 2nd hand, but used the term 'worthless' which aint the same sense quite as 'use-less', and suits the argument less felicitously.

William said...

Have you ever looked at a map of the observable universe? What is at the the center? The Virgo supercluster - home of the Milky Way Galaxy - Earth. We are at the center of the observable universe. Doesn't that remind you of the ancient Geocentric model where everything revolved around the earth? (Maybe should we call it "Bob's Egocentric Model'?)

We are limited in our perception of the observable universe by the space time coninuum in which we exist, and that we are able to perceive and theorize. The particle horizon - the maximum distance from which particles can or have traveled in the age of the universe - represents the boundary between the observable and the unobservable universe. My point is that our view is limited. As we move through time, our perception will change. For example, some galaxies will become observable in the future, while some will become extremely redshifted and eventually disappear due to ongoing expansion. While theories of both a finite and an infinite universe exist, both theories see the universe as 'borderless.' No evidence exists to suggest that there is any boundary of the universe as a whole.

Further and even more enigmatic are the generally accepted theories of parallel universes, the 'multiverse'. For example, some regions of space continue to undergo rapid expansion. The space between us and these other areas is expanding faster than the speed of light, so they are therefore, completely unobserved in our space time continuum.

Infinity is so great, and man is so small.

Van said...

willian simpered " Infinity is so great, and man is so small."

I'd say ' Speak for yourself!', but, obviously you already are.

julie said...


That means that... our whole solar system... could be, like... one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being.

This is too much!

That means... one tiny atom in my fingernail could be...
could be one little... tiny universe!

Could l buy some pot from you?

Gagdad Bob said...

Like a crude religionist, he appeals to the gaps in our knowledge in order to avoid the obvious.

Gagdad Bob said...

Might as well say we can't know anything unless we can know everything. Ironically, it's the other way around: we can only know anything because we can't know everything. In other words, we are not God.

Cond0010 said...


"Infinity is so great, and man is so small."

So its easy to rationalize eating an entire cake.

Cond0010 said...

I know, I know I got the munchies...

Pass the bong, would ya? :)