Tuesday, April 08, 2014

God's Troubles with the Cosmic Rollout

As I mentioned in a comment the other day, this book on the nature of time, Narrative and Freedom, is quite provocative, so much so that it's provoking more ideas than I can assimilate. It's like each idea is a seed for its own tree. Although not difficult, it is thick, or rich, or dense. Just the kind of book I like.

That is, most books -- even from the nontenured -- contain one or two ideas swathed in reams of self-indulgent verbiage. Cognitively speaking, such books are totally saturated and therefore dead.

The good book is the opposite: it is alive with ideas that are efficiently expressed with a minimum of fuss and pretension. Instead of being self-important, the writing is soph-important, in service to the idea that is its attractor and leading edge. Or in other words, it is transparent, in Polanyi's from-->to sense.

I suppose the problem is that the postmodern rabble doesn't understand that ideas are real, and instead pretends that words are just about other words.

Therefore, not only are we sealed into a closed cosmos (as per scientistic dogma) with no possibility of escape or inscape, but we are equally -- and for the same reason -- enclosed in language. Because transcendence is a priori impossible, throwing out words is no more (but no less) effective than tossing bricks in the sky.

Which all goes to the central theme of this book, which is: is the universe closed, or open? There are two main ways to live as a shut-in within a closed universe, one religious, the other scientistic.

As we've been discussing in recent weeks, if predestination is the case, then this is another way of saying that time is closed. From our standpoint in the now, it certainly looks as if there are any number of potential paths into the future, each path in turn branching off into additional choices.

In other words, from where we stand phenomenologically, the future looks like a tree, with its trunk planted in the now, and its branches and leaves representing possible futures. But then, a new tree extends forward out of each branch and leaf. We can never embrace or embody the tree, which is always up ahead. (One of the difficulties of writing history is appreciating the unknown future -- the tree -- from the perspective of the past; or in other words, we know the future but they don't.)

But now that I'm thinking about this for the first time, it looks to me as if the tree very much has a fractal structure. Which is to say, it has similarity across scale. Examine any point in time, and we see the self-similar tree structure. The question is, is the tree only similar in form, or also similar in content?

It seems to me that both must be true, or the cosmos would degenerate into chaos. This is another way of saying that there exist attractors within the structure of the tree, i.e., forms, archetypes, ideas, what have you.

To cite one obvious example, we are told that "random evolution" has "discovered" the eye on many separate occasions. Or in other words, it is as if so-called "independent" evolutionary branches are guided by the strange attractor of the eye-idea.

This would also apply to personal development. For the existentialist, in each now we are radically free; there is no past that compels us, nor any future that limits us.

But of course, this is not what it feels like, at least in the absence of chemical fortification. Rather, we are always shaped by our past and constrained by both virtues and mind parasites. Both are attractors in vertical space, the former located above and ahead, the latter behind and below. No one is radically free, least of all Jean Paul Sartre!

(Interestingly, a perversion subjectively feels "free" to the pervert; or the pervert feels existentially liberated while engaging in the perversion, which is why movements that celebrate various perversions -- whether sexual, political, or genderoid -- usually have the word "liberation" in their self-designation, just as one can be sure that a country with the word "Democratic" in its name is a tyranny.)

Anyway, the other way to enclose oneself in time is via scientism, but we've debunked that bunk so many times that I don't want to rub it in. Not sporting.

Among the Big Ideas -- or let's say Big Questions -- that have struck me while reading this book is, How far to take this view? I am all for taking it all the way to God, which I know upsets some readers, but I think the converse is much more upsetting if you really think about it. In short, do you really want to live in closed time, in which choice is an illusion, responsibility a mirage, and meaning impossible?

Let's go All the Way Down and Back, to the free launch of Genesis 1. If you approach the text without preconceptions, you will notice something striking. That is, God does not create the universe all at once, in one big abba-kabbalah, but rather, in stages. But if he already knows what's going to come out, what is the point of this?

The way the narrative is structured, it is as if God is surprised -- for why would he be pleased? -- by what is produced. For example, he begins by creating the heavens and earth, but the latter comes out a mess -- a dark and formless void -- so he tweaks it by shedding some light on the situation and dividing light from darkness.

But even then there are some problems with the rollout. No need to reprise the whole thing, but you get the picture: it is very much as if God creates and then stands back to judge what he has created before taking the next step. And this would be completely superfluous if God knows everything ahead of time.

It's just another way of emphasizing that God is really and truly Creator, and that his very own existence is the quintessence of openness and choice. There are always a multitude of possibilities, even -- or especially! -- in God. To me that's a comfort, not a conceit.

Indeed, I would say that the only reason we are open is that God is. Otherwise, an open mind in an open creation is completely inexplicable. It makes no sense at all.

However, I might add that, just as we are constrained and attracted by various transcendentals, e.g., love, truth, beauty, justice, unity, etc., so too is God constrained by his own nature, so to speak.

Which is why prophecy is indeed possible. Prophecy, which is a memoir of the future, is clearly distinct from history. History deals with the past, which is closed; but prophecy is a foreshadowing of the open future, therefore it cannot be as "exact" as history. Rather, it can provide general outlines and shapes of things to come, since it is apparently a vision of various attractors up above and ahead. But it's about the Big Picture, not the infinite and unknowable details.


Rick said...

"...so too is God constrained by his own nature, so to speak."

One could say He is constrained because He chooses to do so. This speaks to His will; a will to which of course His Son always makes deference (and likeways chooses to).

Van Harvey said...

"I suppose the problem is that the postmodern rabble doesn't understand that ideas are real, and instead pretends that words are just about other words."

That sums it up well. I run into it daily, the slightly patronizing glint at the idea that ideas actually mean something and are consequential to their lives, while they feel free to use words (which, um, refer to... what?) as the mood strikes them, and Justify their behavior with them.


Rick said...

...a NT Wright and Gary Morson sorta-debate here.

julie said...

It's like each idea is a seed for its own tree. Although not difficult, it is thick, or rich, or dense.

Okay, okay - I just got an Amazon gift card in the mail...

julie said...

And as to the rest of the post, yes, just so.

julie said...

Re. the Genesis book, I saw that on Amazon the other day. It looks interesting, too.

Rick said...

Also, to say "fractals" or "branches" is to say: not-accidental

Berlinski (ref his latest interview at Uncommon Knowledge) would agree with that, I think -- 'specially with regard to evolution.

Maybe it has something to do with: in which direction does one look when looking at "fractals" (forward or backward) therefore depends where you fall in the evolution debate. With those on the side of "evolution is guided", we place ourminds (ala Polanyi), say, at the Cambrian explosion and look forward (rather than brainstanding at here-and-now and looking backward at the explosion). Berlinski may sayhe: there are simply too many branches (choices/alternative paths/protein combinations) -- the game seems rigged; or "guided".

Berlinski is to guided, as Bob is to attractor.

We're not looking back; we're looking forward -- or betterwet: from the "stump", through the "branches", and toward the attractor.

neal said...

You know, in a Klein Bottle, the very narrow singular part is where the expansion is happening. Hard to have labels like before and after, living and dead. That is where humans trade places with angels, stabilizing and remembering. Of course, there is a damned War going on, gets bigger in the past, which is not over, or set.

They say that is a snake eating it's tail, probably seems like that. Maybe just an event horizon worshiping a singular Mystery, optiks, and such.

Humans are worried about lines, and run from whirlwinds. Very prodigal, and hard to watch.

Peyton said...

"Let's go All the Way Down and Back, to the free launch of Genesis 1. ..."

Man, that's worth the price of admission!

Joan of Argghh! said...

How else could Abraham have thought to bargain with God, except that he felt that he, too, was part of the creative process?

mushroom said...

This makes sense to me. As we have said before, predestination is about the result not the process. Or, we might say, God knows what He wants when He sees it.

Dougman said...

As an artist judges his/her creation, so too does G_D. On the macro and individual level.
The option to change their testimony was always in front of the martyrs of Christ, yet they held to the Truth. And there is the power and beauty and enduring strength of suffering for the Truth.

Unlike islam. Where taqqiya is considered kosher