Thursday, May 03, 2012

Reality is in the We of the Beholder

This is an interesting way of expressing it: the human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle. Which itself is just a twist on the old wise crack of the early Fathers, to the effect that Creator becomes creature so that creature might become creator.

As we have discussed in the past, religion embodies sophisticated metaphysical principles clothed in mythopoetic language. Particularly vivid examples of this occur in Genesis, vis-a-vis the origins of man and cosmos.

There we learn that man is (the present tense is important), among other things, created in the image of God. Man is the last creation of the Creator, but this particular creature is unlike the others, since it partakes of the essence of the Creator in some mysterious way. But don't just take it on faith! I mean, you can, but enquiring minds want to know.

Please note that the text is rather unsaturated -- which is as it should be, so as to facilitate higher thought -- plus we don't yet know all that much about this Creator of whom we are said to be the image. But interestingly, the text goes out of its way to depict God in the plural: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

Since anything other than strict monotheism is ruled out -- unless you want to make your bubby cry -- this seeming plurality cannot imply polytheism.

Rather, it must mean that ultimate reality is not an I but a We; or, more to the point, there can be no I in the absence of the We. This is certainly true of human beings; in fact, we might say that it is quintessentially true, in that an isolated human being, cut off from intimate communion with others, is literally inconceivable. And I do mean literally.

To say that man is in the image of the Creator is another way of saying that the manifestation is in the image of the Principle.

That being the case, real knowledge of this particular manifestation -- i.e., man -- should yield knowledge of ultimate reality. Bear in mind that we are not referring to any particular intellectual "content," but rather, the mere presence of man as such.

This is something I attempted to convey in the book -- that if we take a truly disinterested view, man is without question the most astonishing fact of the cosmos. Frankly, nothing else comes close, for whatever else we can think of is obviously being thought of by a human being.

Indeed, that anything is astonishing is itself astonishing, just as it is wonderful that we may spend our lives in a state of wonder.

The point is, if a human being is at bottom an irreducible We, then -- if the metaphysics of Genesis is correct -- then ultimate reality -- or whatever you wish to call it -- must also be a We.

Although the I surely exists, it is posterior to the We. In fact, you can't really get from the I to the We, not in the human sense of the term. For example, there is no We in a pile of rocks, even though they are "together."

And yet, on another level, there is a We in that pile of rocks. We call this We being. Obviously, anything that exists has at the very least this ontological substrate of We-dom, which is why it is knowable, precisely. Anything that is knowable -- i.e., anything that exists -- possesses, or rather, "radiates," potential knowability in a subject.

Thus, to exist is to exist in and for -- at least in potential -- an Other. Put simply, there is no intelligence in the absence of intelligibility, the latter a kind of "giving over" from inhere to in here.

Our own existence isn't "potentiated," so to speak, unless and until it is confirmed by the Other, or more precisely, the m-other (either real or symbolic, but really always both). We come into being in the infinite space between infantile neurology and this nurturing other. Only after the We is established do we discover the I. Otherwise, it's just not safe to come out.

Of course, results may vary, depending upon the quality of nurturing. For some, the We is so maimed by the exigencies of infancy -- abandonment, neglect, abuse, etc. -- that a stable I fails to emerge, and this enfeebled I compulsively seeks communion in a pathological We.

Even here -- i.e., in psychopathology -- the creature seeks out its creator, only in this case, it is a strange demigod of the nursery, i.e., an exteriorized and projected mind parasite.

Now, how would one characterize the nature of a healthy We? Well, for starters, we would say that it is imbued with Love. True, but that's insufficient to describe the phenomenology of what occurs. That is to say, there is a "flowing presence" that is somehow generated by the We, and yet, contains the couple.

The "healthy We" is also characterized by knowledge, beauty, and creativity. For example, recall what was said above, about how anything that exists is intelligible "for" a subject. Thus, to know a truth -- any truth -- is to commune with reality in an intimate manner. For you can't get more intimate than reality giving itself to your head in this manner.

Likewise beauty, where the connection is even more obvious and intimate. For to be touched by beauty is, well, to be touched, isn't it?

And creativity clearly results from a happy and productive internal couple working in harmony. Take what I'm doing at the moment. I don't assume you're having the same experience I am, but this thing I'm creating is very much emerging in the space between me and -- and what?

I don't think we need to define it, but it is clearly a close encounter of some kind, a We, which is a common experience of any creative persons. "How did you write that song?" "I don't know. It was just given to me, I guess." Something like that.

Further confirmation of our metaphysics is found in Proverbs, for example.

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the depths were broken up....

When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep..., then I was beside him, as a master craftsman; and I was his daily delight.

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you....

Say to wisdom, "You are my sister."

They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge.... they shall eat the fruit of their own way and be filled to the full with their own fancies.

And all those who hate me love death.


Gagdad Bob said...

Off topic, but epic smackdown of the Saudi Entity by Pat Condell.

mushroom said...

This is an interesting way of expressing it: the human vocation is to become in fact what we are in principle.

As my pastor used to say, we could stop right there and have church.

mushroom said...

Another target-rich, not to mention tangent-rich environment.

This is certainly true of human beings; in fact, we might say that it is quintessentially true, in that an isolated human being, cut off from intimate communion with others, is literally inconceivable. And I do mean literally.

Yes. Historic instances of feral children -- especially those associated with pack or herd animals -- would make you think that we cannot be humans alone or merely physically human.

julie said...

Mushroom, you beat me to it - I was going to say almost the exact same thing, with the same quote. Just to elaborate slightly, it's notable too that feral children generally don't become "humanized" even if they are brought back into society. If they never acquired language in their early years, they never do. There is a narrow window in which the gift of meaning may be given; received, we see meaning everywhere and continue to grow in knowledge and wisdom so long as we remain open to truth. But if meaning is denied in those early years, there is no foundation laid for the child upon which to develop much of anything, really.

Which of course brings us back to the miracle of the first humans: since meaning must be taught, and since there is truly no I without a We, how in the heck did the I ever develop in the first place? If one is a strict materialist, of course, there is no answer, no reason at all that we shouldn't just have remained, in essence, hairless chimps.

mushroom said...

That's pretty cool.

Or scary.

Magister said...

Julie, that appears to be an intensely interesting problem.

Jim said...

And all those who hate me love death.

Yes, I think the Islamist have said so them own selves.

julie said...

Apropos Condell and the development of the We and I, a Dutch psychologist talks about the psychology of Muslim vs. non-Muslim inmates (via Ace).