Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Ten Things Every Educated Human Needs to Know

People love lists. I just typed "the ten" at amazon and the autofill does the rest: "faces of innovation," "most beautiful experiments," "things to do when your life falls apart," etc.

Seven is even better: "habits of highly effective people," "laws of spiritual success," "principles for making marriage work," etc. And of course, even God gets into the numbers business with the six days of creation or the Ten Commandments -- the latter of which also being habits of highly effective pneumanauts.

Yesterday I was wondering to myself: what are the ten... things? You know, the things without which there couldn't be any other things, and from which everything else flows? Or in other words, the truly necessary things, devoid of contingency -- the Things That Cannot Not Be.

For example, you could say that the word God stands for the one thing (so to speak) that simply cannot not be, on pain of total unintelligibility and absurdity. Because man knows -- and knows he knows -- he must posit a principle that permits this remarkable phenomenon to occur. And this explanatory principle obviously cannot be "below" that which it purports to explain. Indeed, even the word "principle" implies transcendence and containment of particulars.

I don't even want to get into religion per se -- or at least exoteric religious dogma -- because that may cloud the issue. Rather, I want to deal with the pure structure or form of things, whereas religion as it is usually understood touches more on content or substance.

To borrow a phrase from Voegelin, I want to delve into an area that orthoparadoxically "encompasses and excludes all religions." We know this area exists, otherwise it would be impossible for two people of different faiths to communicate.

For example, Thomas says that He who is "is more appropriate than 'God' because of what makes us use the name in the first place, i.e., his existence, because of the unrestricted way in which it signifies him, and because of its tense..." Or, "even more appropriate is the Tetragrammaton, which is used to signify the incommunicable... substance of God."

In other words, "God" -- or any other religious term, for that matter -- can become so saturated with meaning that it fails to convey what it actually means. One reason for this is that man is adapted to various planes of existence, so it is possible to use language that applies to one plane on another, where it is no longer appropriate.

And this doesn't just apply metaphysics, but physics and other disciplines. For example, there is no way to describe or even imagine the quantum realm with language used to describe a Newtonian system. Doing so will simply generate paradox.

One could say the same of asking what came before the big bang. Since astrophysicists maintain that time itself came into existence with the big bang, there can be no temporal "before" prior to it.

Nor, as we have discussed on numerous occasions, can one describe the workings of the mind with the same logic used to understand the physical world. Psychologists who attempt to do this -- such as B.F. Skinnner -- only beclown themselves. A person who could be explained by such a theory would no longer be a person.

Back to our list. You could say that it begins with the first sentence of the Bible -- or that the ten words of this sentence more than adequately convey our meaning, so long as we fully unpack their implications: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

The first thing you will notice is that in this sentence there are three things: God (or the creative principle), heavens, and earth. The latter two -- heavens and earth -- are intended to signify "everything," both terrestrial and celestial, or local and nonlocal, which is another way of saying horizontal and vertical. Is it possible to say that the creative principle ultimately bifurcates into the complementarity of subject-object? More on this possibility later.

Another way of looking at this sentence is to say that it conveys the idea of Creator-creation, or, more abstractly, principle-manifestation, or absolute and relative, or timeless and temporal. Both are real, but in very different ways, since the reality of the latter terms is only a "reflection" of the more real reality of the former.

You might say that the first term sponsors or "guarantees" the second -- like cosigning a loan. Seriously, any metaphysic that denies the First Term is really just passing rubber checks.

So the creation is not the Creator, but without being anything other than the Creator, in the same way the sun's rays are not other than the sun. In other words, there is a transcendent principle of continuity over and above an immanent principle of discontinuity and ontological rupture. Or just say One and many:

"Multiplicity as such is the outward aspect of the world," or "a diversified and diversifying projection of the One" (Schuon).

That the world is not God -- or that the earth is not the heavens, the terrestrial not the celestial -- explains a lot, including the existence of evil. In Genesis we have to wait until chapter 3 for this principle to enter the stage. Of note, it enters "from below," so to speak, with a symbol of "below-ness" as such, Mr. Snake. For our symbolic purposes, no being can be lower than the snake, who slithers the earth on his belly.

Note that the snake "gets to man" via the woman, who is "closer" to earth than the man. Again, as we have discussed on a number of occasions, "mother" is still a biological category, whereas "father" is the first cultural category, the very foundation of the possibility of culture. In her own way, mother is indeed godlike, what with the ability to produce children out of her own substance -- hence the universal idea of "mother" nature and the ubiquitous temptation of paganism and pantheism.

Vertically speaking, the proper flow of energies would be Father-Principle --> Mother-Maya-Manifestation --> Child-Culture. The snake upsets this balance, so the energy goes from earth to woman to man, who then imagines himself to be God.

Thus, the oppression of woman can never come from religion, properly understood. Rather, the opposite: from a crude materialism with man appropriating the power at the top (brute power with no legitimate authority). Hence the liberal war, not so much on "women" in the profane sense, but on the whole reality of womanhood itself (and therefore manhood as well -- an attack on one always damages the other, since they are complementary).

Here is how Schuon describes this movement: "To say radiation is to say increasing distance, and thus progressive weakening or darkening, which explains the privative -- and in the last analysis subversive -- phenomenon of what we call evil..."

And "subversive" is good term to describe what happens when primordial man and woman co-conspire to invert the divine order of the world, placing themselves rather than God at the top/center. What this means in essence is that the periphery claims to be the center, the created the Creator.

Which is why it is so ironic for radical secularists to accuse believers of having an anthropocentric view of the universe, when it is precisely the opposite: only the atheist imagines himself to be at the center of existence, hence his pretentious pronouncements on the whole of reality -- as if the part can know the whole.

Man can surely know, but it is again with recourse to a kind of borrowed light -- for this light cannot be self-generated. The first sentence of John -- which is intended to resonate with the first sentence of Genesis -- speaks of this light-amidst-darkness, which is none other than the principle-amidst-manifestation, or intelligence-within-matter, or just the inward in the outward. I mean, here it is, right?

I guess that's enough for today. To be continued -- but maybe not tomorrow, since I have an early day....


Cond0011 said...

"Man can surely know, but it is again with recourse to a kind of borrowed light -- for this light surely isn't self-generated."

Well put, Bob. Humility is a most becoming trait.

Rick said...

This post is 7 - Sharpening the Saw

Bob, you will believe this, but I just this morning pulled the book 7 Habits from the shelf - for the boy. He doesn't know about it. And he doesn't know the story behind it. How much I should have NOT found it.

I'm sure that, if you had read it at one time long ago, it was still at some time well in to your climb and so you had gone far past it.

But at the time, in the case with me, it was milk when I needed it. It had to come before this place. About 15 years before this place, I think. Or this place might not have happened.

Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Since we are almost half-way through the Ten Days of Repentance - from the Sages:

Ten things were created at twilight on the eve of the first Shabbos - the well that accompanied the Children of Israel in the desert, the manna, the rainbow, the froms of the letters in the Tablets, the engraving of the letters on the Tablets, the Tablets, the burial place of Our Teacher Moses, the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood when the Immanence passed by, the opening of the mouth of Bilaam's donkey and the opening of the earth's mouth to swallow Korach and his congregation; Rabbi Nehmiah says, also fire and a mule. We could answer that the first Teacher holds that fire was created on the Night after Shabbos. Rabbi Josiah says, also the ram that Abraham offered in place of Isaac, the Shamir (a worm that can bore through anything hard, which was used to carve the names of the Tribes on the stones of the High Priest's Breastplate). Rabbi Judah says, also tongs - to make tongs, one needs tongs - only God could create the first pair! Rabbi Josiah said, perhaps tongs were made by man when molten metal was poured into a mold!

More tens and sevens here:

JP said...

Looking at the electoral college, it appears that Obama is going to win the election.

I expect the Republicans to continue to control the House.

I haven't looked at the Senate.

I will change my projections as we get closer to the election if I see additional data.

ge said...

again :
otra vez as they say south of the border