Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Dreaming Along with God: To Infinity, and Beyond!

There's a helpful chapter in this book on Hartshorne's theory of order and disorder -- helpful because it speaks to our recent discussions of information theory, in particular, the differences between order, chaos, and information, and how they work together to produce meaningful change.

For example, "to deny the meaning of chaos is also to deny the meaning of order." This is an example of what Hartshorne calls "the logic of ultimate contrasts," a subject to which we will return momentarily. In a very real sense, the seeds of order are impotent in the absence of a fertile soil of chaos.

Furthermore, "The theological consequences of making order absolute would be that the Cosmic Orderer is responsible for all evils."

We might say that evils take place "due to the chaotic element. And if it be asked, 'Why does God not eliminate the chaos entirely?', the reply is, 'Because this is meaningless.' Order is just the limiting of chaos, as a river is the channeling (not the absence) of water."

In short, even God's power cannot be exercised on something that does not, and cannot, exist, i.e., order without chaos: "In this context, we might well think of evil as the overflowing of the banks," as "typified in the destructiveness of a flood."

However, there are also evils that result from too much control, as in the left's coercive, top-down approach of trying to solve problems by eroding liberty. Thus, both excessive and insufficient order can contribute to evil, and if chaos and spontaneity are covalent, these two "must be protected against by being overwhelmed by order."

Hartshorne's novel solution to this conundrum "is to grant everything, including God, some measure of both order and chaos." Again, an absolute order or an absolute chaos would both negate information, creativity, and novelty. For example, an accomplished musician always plays on the boundary between order and chaos; he does not simply reproduce the piece in a rote manner, but allows for creativity and surprise.

Theologians have typically ascribed the order of the cosmos to God, and then puzzled over the disorder. But what if the ultimate category is not order or chaos, but order and chaos? This immediately reminds me of the Jewish principle that the unit of mankind is not male or female, but male and female.

Which brings us back to the logic of ultimate contrasts. What are some of the ultimate contrasts that characterize existence? Let's see: Time/Eternity. One/Many. Absolute/Relative. Wave/Particle. Continuous/Discrete. Subject/Object. Transcendence/Immanence. Form/Substance. Freedom/Necessity. Abstract/Concrete. Whole/Part. Finite/Infinite. Individual/Group.

How are we to understand these pairs? It seems to me that the traditional way is to emphasize one to the neglect of the other -- as if one may be derived from the other, say, relative from absolute.

But what if these are not static dualities or polarities, but rather, ultimate complementarities? What this would mean is that, for example, Absolute + Relative is somehow "more" than Absolute alone, or One + Many is "more" than One alone.

In turn, this would go to the question posed in yesterday's post, Does God suffer? If we respond "yes" to this question, the suffering can be explained with recourse to the logic of ultimate contrasts -- that change and changelessness in God are somehow more than changelessness alone.

In the past, I have viewed the same principles in a modified vertical-emanationist way, a la Schuon. In other words, in his system -- which he regards as the "universal metaphysic" -- you might say that there is the changeless, apophatic God at the top, which in turn gives rise to the confessional/cataphatic God of religion, the God whom we may know and relate to.

This latter God -- say, YHVH -- is not the Absolute, but rather, the "relatively absolute." The true Absolute is beyond anything we can say about it, e.g., the ain sof of Kabbalistic thought, or the nirguna brahman of Vedanta, or Eckhart's unknowable grunt (ground).

But here again, what if -- to continue with the above example -- YHVH and ain sof are not two levels, but rather, a single reality that necessarily includes both poles, i.e., more horizontal/complementary than vertical/emanationist?

In the past, I have borrowed an analogy from psychoanalysis to illuminate this idea. If you've studied a little psychology, you've probably learned that we have a conscious mind (the ego) and an unconscious mind (the id). Typically, this is visualized as a kind of space with a horizontal boundary, with conscious above and unconscious below.

But this isn't how it actually works. Rather, you have to think of conscious/unconscious as a true complementarity that is present in all mental occasions. In other words, there is unconsciousness in every conscious act or thought or feeling, and consciousness in all unconscious ones. No one could possibly know themselves entirely; this is a literal impossibility, and if you don't realize this, just pay attention to your dreams.

Speaking of which, I think the dreamer/dream relation can be a useful way to think about God. The dreamer, for example, is inexhaustibly creative. It is not as if you can have one last dream and be done with it. Rather, dreaming is what the dreamer does -- just as creation is what the Creator does.

Or, as Whitehead put it, The many become one and are increased by one.


mushroom said...

I like the river analogy. The Missouri is a lot different from the way Lewis and Clark saw it. It was more chaotic, less convenient for travel, perhaps more alive. As it has been dammed and channelized, it has become more useful for shipping. The levees and the straightening were meant to control floods.

For the lesser floods, the typical annual floods, the dams and levees work fine. But when the big ones come, they actually make it worse. The river can't spread a little everywhere. Instead, the levees cause the pressure to build until it breaks through excessively and more destructively at weak points.

What the levees have done is make us feel secure enough to build more and more in the floodplains -- forgetting they are called floodplains for a reason.

The river will always win in the end.

julie said...

The dreamer, for example, is inexhaustibly creative.

As are children, for that matter. Not to mention chaotic, but at least they are ordered by the need to sleep on occasion...

ted said...

YHVH and ain sof are not two levels, but rather, a single reality that necessarily includes both poles, i.e., more horizontal/complementary than vertical/emanationist?

Do you view this in the same light as Nagarjuna's emptiness=form/form=emptiness idea? Buddhism may have other metaphysical issues, but this appears to be a similar insight.

Gagdad Bob said...

I don't know. I have a cold, so I can't think straight, but it sounds plausible. I think Hartshorne would say that emptiness is just an abstraction derived from form, and that emptiness can only appear concretely as form (just as the Absolute is never encountered concretely, except in the relative). There are actually some chapters on process philosophy and Buddhism in this book, but I skipped them.

ted said...

Metaphysics doesn't take with head colds. I did a quick search, and found some writings where according to Hartshorne, Nagarjuna ignores the asymmetries which are the very means of distinguishing causes from effects, premises from conclusions, etc. It seems Hartshorne was worried of the deconstructive nature to Nagarjuna's ideas and believed interdependencies must be allowed to be asymmetrical also.

This sort of fits in with information theory too, where the chaos can never achieve equilibrium (i.e. asymmetry/dissipative structures) for the creativity to flow.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, very much so. Hartshorne is big on asymmetry as a key to reality. Order can be symmetrical, but information requires asymmetry. Thus, he even suggests that there must be some analogy to the arrow of time in God. I've always had a hunch that this is true, but it again goes against traditional notions of God, in which he is radically complete, lacking nothing.

But as Hartshorne writes, "To say that 'everything' is such and such -- for example, is necessary, or contingent; absolute or relative; one or many -- is scarcely to say anything." Likewise, it seems to me that to say "God is pure act" is to not say anything intelligible or meaningful. It's pure abstraction, because in any concrete encounter with God, God is in motion (to employ the Thomistic/Aristotelian term).

Rick said...

The Gospels seem asymmetrical to me. And that this provokes meditation on them.

Rick said...

So what you're saying is,
Why settle for everything
when you can have it all!

Rick said...

Speaking of this unconscious isness,
I'm thinking there is some modus telos or method to its endness with respect to the presence of a telos known to the unconscious (without knowing its details or even that it is seeking it because it has no word for its mission). And that this is different than the conscious pursuit (or unaware pursuit) of the telos. The wild dreamer is very serious about its mission. It never rests, after all.
Just a theory.