Friday, January 31, 2014

Where to Begin: Clarity, Simplicity, and Truth

According to Occam's razor, the simplest theory that accounts for the phenomena is the most likely to be true. It is "a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in problem-solving," such that "among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected."

Assumptions are embedded in any hypothesis, theory, or metaphysic. Thanks to Gödel, we know that these assumption cannot be justified by the theory. Which is why they are called "assumptions."

The assumption is where we begin our thought adventure. However, such unexamined assumptions often entail their own conclusions -- or chase their own entailments -- for which reason many metaphysics end up being tautologous, for example, gross materialism, naive Darwinism, or crapto-Marxian leftism.

Simplicity brings with it clarity, and often it is necessary to forego Truth in favor of a fruitful clarity.

For example, we know that Newtonian physics is not literally "true" -- quantum physics having surpassed it -- and yet, it is more than sufficient for our day-to-day dealings with the world. In fact, in an exception to the rule, it is more simple and clear than the paradigm that transcends it -- although many physicists believe they will eventually discover a simpler theory that unifies quantum theory and general relativity, e.g., string theory.

Where does religion begin, i.e., with what assumptions? And are these assumptions any better or worse than those with which, say, a materialist begins?

First and foremost, religion begins with religiosity. This may seem like a trivial point, but if man didn't first have an in-built receptivity to the divine, then we wouldn't be having this conversation.

By way of analogy, imagine a conversation with a bat, of all people. Thanks to echolocation, the bat is able to perceive the worldspace in which it lives, moves, and flies. The bat says to you, "Wow! Did you see that sound! Looks like a big fluttering moth wing! Yummy!"

"Er, no. I see only darkness."

"I don't mean with your eyes, idiot. Look with your ears!"


Now, imagine a similar conversation with a materialist about the fluttering of an angel wing.

One of my favorite books by Schuon is From the Divine to the Human. I've already read it several times, and now I'm slowly making it through this new translation. There's no hurry, since he truly writes from the standpoint of eternity, so that even when one reaches the end of the book, it isn't really the end.

Rather, one might as well proceed right back to the beginning for another inspiraling goround (which is essentially true of all his books). This is because he is not writing from the outside in, so to speak, but from the inside out. I picture him sitting at the center of the Cosmic Circle, his words radiating out to the periphery like concentric ripples on a pond.

Thus, there are numerous lines extending from the center out, striking us in various ways, depending upon where we sit at the periphery. Or, an equally good analogy would be a kind of center-to-center contact: not from Schuon's center, but from the Cosmic Center itself -- or from the Divine to the Human, to coin a phrase.

In the brief foreword to the book, Schuon notes that his writing "tends to a maximum of clarity and even of simplicity." True, some people find him difficult, but to the extent that "difficulties remain, they are to be found in the subject and consequently in the nature of things."

Here again, this reminds me of quantum physics, in which there are most certainly some remaining conceptual difficulties, e.g., is it a wave or a particle? But that latter question cannot be clearly answered, since the ambiguity seems to be "in the nature of things" -- or in the things of nature.

For Neils Bohr, such fuzzy complementarity is the last word, beyond which there is no further clarity to be had. *Oddly*, there is an unsurpassable mystery at the heart of things.

But every discipline, if it is honest with itself, eventually reaches a similar mystery, e.g., cosmology with respect to existence, biology to life, and psychology to mind -- again, unless one naively discovers one's own implicit assumptions at the end of the line, in which case it is just garbage in/tenure out.

How is this for a challenging First Assumption that immediately separates the men from the trousered beasts: "we believe that knowledge exists and that it is a real and efficacious adequation" to the world.

What say you?

If you say "no," then you are excused, for there is neither truth nor the reality it reflects. Truly, all is vain, for there is nothing to know and no way to know it.

Then again, to know we don't know is actually a kind of grand achievement, since this is something no animal could ever know. But we'll leave that orthoparadox to the supposedly truthless materialist to koancentrate on. If you're stupid and you know it clap one hand!

So, our first assumption is that the world is intelligible and that man's intelligence is its complementary reflection; or, just say the eternal marriage of intelligence and intelligibility, 'til death do they part. And they do indeed part for many people, which is either the cause or effect of a soul death -- or murder -- precisely.

In other words, if intelligence is divorced from intelligibility, we end up with -- yes, tenure of course -- but more generally, an inexplicable human intelligence untethered to any prior reality, just muttering nonsense to itself and calling it philosophy, or literature, or the New York Times.

Or, if intelligibility is divorced from intelligence, then we end up with a blind materialism that cannot account for the materialist who believes this crap.

We can distinguish these two ways of manumental casuistry, the first one being more in a literary/humanities/social science mode, the latter in the empirical/mathematical/quantitative mode. And these two camps are often at each other's throats.

For example, a real scientist is not going to be happy about some lit-twit deconstructionist who claims that all truth is relative and just a mask for power. Likewise, no proper postmodernist is going to be pleased with the notion that reality is unambiguously tied down to the power structures implicit in phallocentric science.

I say, a pockmark on both their ugly farces, but especially the postmodernists, because they are not only useless, but dangerous, whereas science at least results in technology, medical breakthroughs, and other cool forms of gendered oppression. Just don't ask them about God, because they're completely clear on that subject.


mushroom said...

...a kind of center-to-center contact...

A circuit from the power source through the light switch to the light. Schuon is the switch -- completes the circuit. You are the light bulb.

mushroom said...

...if intelligence is divorced from intelligibility...

Like your bat analogy, if you don't have light, light receptors are kind of pointless.

OT, it would be interesting to know why we see this particular part of the spectrum.

Gagdad Bob said...

How many Deepaks does it take to kindle your inner light?

Just one, so long as the check clears.

Gagdad Bob said...

Why we see this part of the spectrum?

I would say we have what we have in order to perceive what we need to perceive. We are "ordered to the absolute," but not absolutely ordered, because that would be overwhelming. Rather, it seems that we are conditioned by certain forms or archetypes to "remember" what we need to in order to make it a fruitful journey. Much of the rest is a superfluous distraction.

julie said...

If you're stupid and you know it clap one hand!

Ha - that got a genuine laugh. Now I'm going to crack up every time my kids want to sing that song...

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Simply deep, or deeply simple? Both, aye reckon.

ge said...

Uh-oh, Can one be a
postmodern hermeticist?

Don Johnson said...

Where's the Like Simple button?

ge said...

May I share a recent pop discovery?
AC Newman
{i'm super snob of '60s rulingness and leery of most the young whippersnappers comin' down the puke but this unlikely-looking carrot-top Canuck is in his 40s and a hookmeister general!
[Matador was/is a pretty reliable label]