Monday, November 11, 2013

Human Beings are Out of This World!

Human beings, by virtue of being human, are literally out of this world. As we've been discussing, consciousness is always intentional, meaning that it is always "about" something outside or beyond itself.

But what makes human consciousness unique -- what sets it apart from animal consciousness -- is that ours is not just about objects.

Rather, the defining characteristic of of human subjectivity is that it is also about other subjects, i.e., intersubjectivity. This is not the same as being a mere "social animal," because that can occur on an essentially physical basis, with no deep interiority in the sense which human beings experience it.

Ants, for example, do not encounter another ant and ask themselves, "I wonder what he's up to?" Rather, their social behavior is fixed within an unvarying structure: the queen does what she does, the workers do what they do, and some lucky male gets to mate with the queen before quickly outliving his uselessness.

Both types of intentionality produce a "world space," so to speak. For example, vis-a-vis physics or cosmology, our perception extends further down and out, respectively -- from the roiling depths of the subatomic world, to the very horizon of the physical cosmos.

But this only highlights the fact that the real horizon is always "within"; for when the human within encounters a physical without, it never sees only an appearance. The whole project of science is rooted in a prior human drive to delve beneath the appearance of things, i.e., to understand. And even prior to science, man attempted to understand the reality behind appearances via myth.

Until the emergence of modern superstitions such as materialism and positivism, it never occurred to human beings that appearance and reality were identical, or that the within of the world was reducible to the without.

Again, it is this within-to-within communion, or human intersubjectivity, that defines man. And even then, our encounter with physical objects isn't just quantitative. When we gaze upon the world, we do not merely see objects in motion. Rather, we are arrested by qualities -- qualities that have absolutely nothing to do with genetic survival, if that's what you're thinking.

Hart, for example, writes that "We can be drawn toward objects of aesthetic contemplation that possess no practical value for us -- that cannot nourish, protect, strengthen, or enrich us -- because we delight in a certain transcendent splendor that shines through them."

In other words, when we consider the natural world, we do not see a mere utilitarian space for the acquisition of food and sex partners. Rather, we enter an aesthetic space, a dimension of seemingly superfluous beauty that is "perpendicular" to the outward, horizontal world.

Likewise, unless we are a sociopath or a liberal, when we encounter another human being, it's not like physically bumping heads with a fellow member of the hive. Rather, every human encounter gives rise to an intersubjective space between two interior horizons.

In fact, modern psychoanalytic ("object relations") therapy essentially comes down to a systematic exploration of this intersubjective space -- which is often contaminated with mind parasites that contract it or render it less transparent. Now that I think about it, mind parasites make us a little more like ants, in that they compel a certain narrow repertoire of actions and reactions. They always diminish freedom.

Now, science and religion, in a certain sense, involve the exploration of two very different spaces. One might say that they give rise to one of those irreducible antinomies, i.e., subject/object, or interior/exterior, or form/substance.

But again, until the emergence of modern physiolatry, it never occurred to anyone that these realms were radically distinct, or that the spiritual was reducible to the physical. In reality, these are two different views of a single reality. And of the two, which is the more inclusive? I would say that objects are readily included within the subject (hence the possibility of knowledge), but that the converse is strictly impossible.

Let's look at the strange conduct of the scientist committed to a material worldview. To paraphrase Hart, just like the rest of us, he is motivated by a search for truth, in the faith that the world he explores is ultimately intelligible. Thus, he essentially uses transcendence for the project of eliminating transcendence, in the faith that his faith will turn out to be unfounded. That is what you call madness, or worse, tenure.

Hart writes that "the structure of rational consciousness is ecstatic: our minds are capable of reflecting the world because there is a kind of elation in our thinking, a joy, or at least anticipation of joy, which seeks its fulfillment in an embrace of truth in its essence."

I mean, that's how it is, for both secular and religious seekers. The secular seeker can only pretend that this is not the phenomenological structure of his quest. But he then imagines that the same thing is true of the religious seeker -- that there is no elation or joy associated with "fulfillment in an embrace of truth in its essence."

In reality, the cosmos in its entirety -- meaning both horizontal and vertical, objective and subjective -- is intelligible, and a "side effect" of this intelligibility is a kind of joy. In the words of Hart, the discovery of truth is accompanied by "a kind of delight, a kind of fulfillment that can supersede the momentary disappointments or frustrations that the search for truth brings."

Just as fragmentation seems to be accompanied by a kind of existential anxiety, the experience of unity is associated with joy. I think of the joy a mother experiences in the unity with her infant, or the joy of a happy marriage, or the joy of friendship -- in short, the joy of love.

Aesthetic joy also reveals union; think, for example, of how a dog must experience music -- just a kind of outward white noise. But human beings can know the beauty of music because they are able to get "inside" the melody, or harmony, or expressiveness of the vocalist.

Now, the Subject of subjectivity is God, the I AM of existence as such. Therefore, the interiority of the world is ultimately "the reflection of absolute reality within the realm of the contingent." From our end, we experience this as "the soul's unquenchable eros for the divine" (↑) which "underlies all knowledge, all openness of the mind to the truth of things" (ibid.).

How convenient and how wonderful "that consciousness should be made open to being by an implausible desire [↑] for the absolute to inspire and (ideally) satiate that desire [↓]. The ecstatic structure of finite consciousness -- this inextinguishable yearning for truth that weds the mind to the being of all things -- is simply a manifestation of the metaphysical structure of reality."

That structure is ultimately the unending spiral of (↑↓) described in those priceless SIGNED COPIES!

Kind of reminds me of this:

Oh, how is it that I could come out to you / And be still floating / And never hit bottom but keep falling through / Just relaxed and paying attention?


And I will remember the place that is now / That has ended before the beginning...


Magister said...

Beautiful reflection.

how a dog must experience music

Or even a dolphin. I wonder. There's been a long line of reactionary talk now that puts humanity on a continuum with other animals. The emphasis to date has been on the nonhuman side. There's not nearly enough on the human side, the differentials.

Speaking of dogs, I've been reading a book on neurogastronomy. It turns out that while dogs have more scent receptors in their shnozzles, humans have something called a massive "neocortex." We have fewer receptors, but oh, what our fancy neocortices can do with them!

It takes effort to stay vertical, perpendicular. Maybe that's why there's such relentless Gresham effect in our cultures right now -- so much easier to slouch, slouch, slouch.

julie said...

The secular seeker can only pretend that this is not the phenomenological structure of his quest. But he then imagines that the same thing is true of the religious seeker -- that there is no elation or joy associated with "fulfillment in an embrace of truth in its essence."

Back when I was young and thought I knew everything, I actually (and to my eternal shame) laughed at a guy once because he said he wanted to be a priest. I apologized the moment I realized he was serious. Fortunately, I don't think he took offense, and as I understand it after graduating college he did join the priesthood. But anyway. Up until that point, the only religious people I had ever met were old, and at some point during my college years, I got the idea in my head that priests and nuns couldn't possibly really believe. Or at least, that their belief was anything but purely intellectual and maybe even cynical. But then, of course, I was simply projecting my own experience into their reality...