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.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rabble Without a Clue

About the spiritually sightless ophthalmologist of yesterpost, he is a symbol of many who suffer the same malady, that is, the inability to "see God."

But maybe that wording is part of the problem: see God. We've discussed in the past how someone who otherwise thinks quite abstractly -- say, a scientist -- suddenly goes all concrete when discussing or hearing about religion. Such a person might say something like, okay, show me. Come down here and perform a miracle, and then I'll believe.

A nuclear physicist, say, is fully aware of the fact that the models he employs and the language he uses to describe the subatomic realm cannot be considered "literal." Atoms aren't like little solar systems, creation didn't literally begin with a bang, and gravity isn't an "attraction." Nor, for that matter, can genes be "selfish."

In each case, language provides "points of reference" from one realm to another. The only realm we really know in a concrete way is the concrete realm to which language originally applies, and from which it draws its analogies. We can only understand another realm by way of analogy, which always introduces ambiguities and paradoxes if pushed too far.

Most famously, the analogies of "wave" and "particle" as applied to the quantum world are only so useful before skirting the boundary of paradox. One could say the same of genes and organism, each being "real" in its own way unless pushed too far.

So religious language -- like any language that transcends the concrete -- provides a frame of reference to a world beyond itself. It is perhaps most easy to be confused about this vis-a-vis the Hebrew Bible, which frequently deploys -- how to put it? -- "narrative-as-wisdom," or "myth-as-metaphysics," or "law-as-principle." The easiest thing in the world to do is to reduce the abstract to the concrete, and then ridicule the latter.

Doing so is about as intelligent as, say, a 19th century physician taking offense at someone who tells him he should wash his hands because there are millions of little creatures crawling all over him: who are you calling dirty? Such a person is confusing realms and turning an abstract scientific truth into a concrete insult from the world of "manners."

According to the Catechism -- which is in its own right a fascinating document, since it embodies 2,000 years of collective meditation on the abstractions implicit in concrete revelation -- the atheist is not to be thought of as some sort of "adversary," that is, unless he chooses to become the aggressor for unrelated reasons, e.g., the God-hating and Man-controlling left.

Rather, it says here that many of our contemporaries simply fail to perceive the "intimate and vital bond of man to God." Those who "do not perceive" may be completely blameless, or at least virtually so, given our debased cultural ambiance.

You can't blame a child raised by wolves for behaving like one, for that's all he has ever known. Likewise so many liberals who live in their friction-free ideological bubbles and second realities, never encountering opposition unless it is by way of ridiculous straw men, projected demons, or alternatively vicious or risible caricatures.

Aaaaaand, we're back. Had to drive the boy to school.

On the way back, it occurred to me that our modern, space age au-go-go society is characterized by a strange combination of cynicism and irony with naiveté and childish innocence -- say, Jon Stewart, or MSNBC, or anyone who sees through everything except their own silly liberalism.

The problem with the cynic or ironist is that he does indeed see through most everything, but not to anything. This is because cynicism and irony are perversions of a proper and unique function of the human mind -- that is, seeing through appearances -- except with no reality on the other side.

For example, in order to read, we "see through" the words on the page, toward the invisible truth they are trying to convey. It is as if the cynic reverses the process, and says, "I see through your little game. Those are just arbitrary marks on a page. There's no reality behind them, just something you invented."

And before you dismiss such a person as an irrelevant crank, this is precisely what postmodernism in general and deconstruction in particular do: render a text meaningless by systematically refusing to look at what it is referring to. One can do this with scripture just as easily as one can do it with the Constitution. In Obama's case he does it with both, i.e., "black theology" and the "living Constitution," neither of which has anything to do with the laws of the Cosmos or of the Land, respectively (except when for the sake of Higher Expediency).

Referring again to the Catechism, it says that the term "atheism" applies to "many different phenomena," which makes sense, since the Absolute is by definition One, so deviations from it are going to be quite diverse. How to pick, when there are so many ways to be wrong! Well, I suppose that's what college is for: to grow up and settle down with one particular error.

The Catechism mentions a "practical materialism" which confines man behind immanent bars of mundane space and time. Likewise, "atheistic humanism," instead of properly seeing through and beyond man, toward his transcendental source, "falsely considers man to be 'an end to himself.'"

Here is another fine example of the left's naiveté and/or self-deception, because to make man his own end renders him either a beast or a god. Practically speaking, it results in a bipolar world with auto-idolatrous gods at the top and infrahuman beasts at the bottom. Talk about your "one percent"! Imagine the naiveté of someone who wonders why "income equality" is so much worse under Obama, or why so much obscene wealth encircles Washington DC!

Yet "another form contemporary atheism takes is for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation." It maintains "that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hope in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him" from participating in the glorious revolution -- you know, Obama's hope for dopes and change for chumps.

This cynical and manipulative stance is always on offer by the left, but it's really just the same perennial temptation to turn stones into bread. With every election cycle, every speech, every program, the left promises that this time the stones will finally turn into bread, but they never do, for the left is as unhappy as ever. They even (even?) invent reasons to feel miserable, such as the "war on women," or hatred of homosexuals, or insufficient spending on education, or a "broken" healthcare system which they proceed to break in every possible way. In order to peddle their hopium, they must first hook you on hopelessness.

Memo to the left: there is always a reason to feel miserable. The trick is how to feel joyous, given the existential constraints we are all operating under, e.g., death, loss, toil, frustrated ambitions, and the impossibility of ever actualizing our full potential. There is no political solution to any of these. Nor any scientific or economic solutions -- at least nothing that can be managed by the statist one percent.

Being miserable or envious or bored or selfish or resentful is the easiest and most natural thing in the world, which is why the left is always a "downhill" attractor or basin. Anyone who hasn't nailed themselves to a higher reality ends up with the clueless rabble down there, not realizing their dependence upon higher energies in order to be "happy" in this vale of tears. Absent a living exchange with that world, one can only manage an "animal happiness" which doesn't actually exist anyway. To the extent that an animal is happy, it is only because it doesn't know what all humans -- all grown-up humans -- know.

And it's partly, or even largely, our fault. Yes, I blame religion for making itself look stupid, and therefore easy to dismiss. That's a nasty little secret the Catechism lets out of the bag, that "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism."

So, be careful what you say and how you tie your shoes in the presence of infidels. Like children, they will see through your pretenses but not beyond them.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Turning a Blind Eye Doctor

As mentioned yesterday, I want to leave politics aside, and return to our usual fare. Which is what now? Never mind that. But it can be a challenge to leave politics alone when politics won't leave us alone, no? As we've often said, the right can never match the left in political energy, since political mania is their demonic religion. Which is another reason why they despise actual religion, because it is a competitor.

I don't know about you, but whenever I want to get back to basics, I turn to... Actually, I do know about you, because I'm sure you don't do what I am about to say I do, which is have a little chitchat, or vertical summit meeting, with Schuon. This is not to say I am any kind of formal disciple, and I don't want to pretend I am. It's just that I find him so provocative, that virtually every paragraph sends me flying into four or five different dimension.

I think this is because he is essential, by which I mean he cuts through appearances like so much smoke, and gets right to the essence, to the beating heart of reality. In fact, this is precisely what Nasr says in his introduction to The Essential Frithjof Schuon. In describing the virtues of his writings, he begins with their essentiality, their universality, and their comprehensiveness.

Or, one might say their depth, their height, and their breadth, respectively. I would love to be able to accomplish the same sort of effect, because to do this would be to write things that will always be true, because they touch the eternal. And when you think about it, what would be the point of writing anything less than this? Seriously. There are not only WAY too many books, there are too many blogs, too many magazines, too many paragraphs, too many sentences. Will someone please shut-up already?!

As to Schuon's essentiality, Nasr notes that his writings "always go to the heart and are concerned with the essence of whatever they deal with." Which is to say, he "possesses the gift of reaching the very core of the subject he is treating, of going beyond forms to the essential formless Center of forms whether they be religious, artistic or related to certain features and traits of the cosmic or human orders."

The question I have is, why isn't everyone hungry for this type of intellectual -- or pneuma-cognitive -- nourishment? I think Schuon would say they are, by virtue of being human. To paraphrase the man himsoph, human beings are condemned to transcendence, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

That is, the intellect is ordered to the absolute, which is its proper, or ultimate, object. In fact, to know any truth is to be ordered to this object, otherwise it wouldn't be truth. It wouldn't even be false, just nothing, since falsehood is the shadow of truth. You can't be wrong if you can't be right. Right?

Nasr describes exactly how it is for me: "To read [Schuon's] works is to be transplanted from the shell to the kernel, to be carried on a journey that is at once intellectual and spiritual from the circumference to the Center."

The Center would have to be the place -- the only possible place -- where essence, universality, and comprehensiveness collide. And when they do collide, one sees stars. Or sparks. At least I do.

You know the old crack about how Christianity is not a religion, but the cure for religion? I think it is the same with Schuon's intellectuality, i.e., a cure for secular or rationalistic intellectualism.

And we are in need of a cure for the latter, because when reason becomes the master instead of the slave, it is as if a corrosive mind parasite has hijacked the soul. It doesn't so much metabolize truth as it does erode the foundation, as do termites to a house. And once you've destroyed the foundation, you can't build anything on it. Logic wins, but the soul perishes. Or, the operation is a success, although the patient is dead.

I had a free-wheeling discussion about this with our vertically attuned contractor yesterday. He mentioned a distressing conversation with his hyper-rationalistic ophthalmologist, a man who can deploy reason to disprove anything, but which leaves him in a cold and barren world deprived of spiritual light and cosmic meaning.

He sounds like a reasonably intelligent person, which I'm sure he is. One generally can't be an idiot and get through medical school. However, in the Darwinian sense, the environment of medical school "selects" people with certain personality traits, and then aggravates those traits over the subsequent six or seven or more years. Is it any wonder that reason can become hypertrophied while the spiritual imagination withers? And when the latter shrivels up, the realm to which it gives access naturally "disappears." It's like me and my pancreas. Ask it about insulin, and it will say insawhut?

A brilliant physician has access to other tacit worlds that the layman cannot perceive. And these worlds can certainly be essential to physical wellbeing, but an exclusive focus on them can occlude other realities. One reason I like to blog first thing in the morning is that it helps ground me in the essential before I must venture forth and make my way in that other annoying world. It helps me be in it but not of it.

A person whose (lower case r) reason is running amuck needs to get back to the Essence, the Universal, the Comprehensive, and away from the surface, the particular, and the local. The rub, of course, is that I don't really want my surgeon living in the latter world, any more than I want my accountant to be floating in a happy rainbow land of tangerine taxes, marmalade math, and marshmallow IRS agents.

Anyway, for the eye doctor with the hypertrophied rationalism, Dr. Bob might prescribe a little Schuon to break through the layers of ice and rock that have formed above his mind. I know what it's like to be encrapsulated in an omniscient little ego, and it is not a pleasant feeling. There are ways out, of course, but many of them involve bypassing the intellect, which is precisely what the intellectual will have difficulty doing.

Therefore, he is in need of some intellectual keys that dwarf his puny reason, restore his epistemological humility, and show logic for what it is: a limited tool for exploring certain realities, but certainly not a key to the truth that necessarily transcends it.

It's a little like martial arts, whereby the power of the mind is used against itself. When properly used, the intellect should arrive at the mystery which it cannot solve, because it is a reflection of it. This is where the intellect can finally find its rest, and stop thrashing about, looking for, or pretending to have, answers that surpass it.

Speaking of eyes and physicians, we all know about the "three eyes" of the soul. There is the physical eye that discloses the empirical world, just as there is the rational eye with which we perceive invisible mathematical and logical truths.

But there is also the spiritual eye with which we "see" spiritual truths and realities that precede us -- just as the physical world obviously must precede the physical eye. The world doesn't proceed from the eye, any more than God proceeds from the human spirit.

We can take the analogy further, in the sense that even perception is never just perception. Take the example of two people watching a baseball game, one who played the game and knows all its subtle rules and strategies, the other attending his first game. Although they will "see" the exact same thing, they will perceive very different realities. The more one understands the game, the more one sees, to the point of inexhaustibility.

Now, if we transpose this idea to the spiritual realm, the same truth applies. Religion, you might say, provides the rules of the game: common landmarks, points of reference, warnings, tips, hints, etc. And as one immerses oneself in this world and gazes into the clear-view mirror, sure enough, it begins coming into view. One starts to perceive the contours of this world, to which all the points of reference are referring.

And then one can describe this world in a more direct way, without necessarily having to use the existing points of reference -- although it is generally best to use them, for the same reason it is best to speak truth in an existing language instead of inventing a new one that no one understands.

It is as if one touches the substance, but the substance still needs a form in order to be both intelligible and communicable. For example, Christianity obviously provides such forms. But if they are only understood dogmatically as forms, then I think one has missed half a loaf on the boat to nowhere.

Rather, I think the whole point must be to embody the form, which is to say, prolong the vertical into the horizontal -- which, if I am not mistaken, is kind of the whole point of the Incarnation. It is what the Word is trying to tell us, if only we know how to listen with the third ear, or correct for our cardiomyopia.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don't Worry, the State of the State is Bigger and More Powerful than Ever!

Is there anything left for Obama to tell us tonight about his decadent, end stage liberalism? Is there anyone left to buy? Are there any groups he has forgotten to pander to, any real or straw men he has forgotten to slander, threaten, or bully?

If only the speech could be delivered Richard Sherman gangster-style, instead of in Obama's soporific, robo-preacher manner, we'd get a better feel for its thuggish content.

We all know the state of the State is strong. Stronger than ever. Ginormous. All-seeing. All-powerful. Intrusive. Coercive. Punitive. But rewarding for cronies, victims, and political insiders.

Er, what about the union?

Oh, that. Weak. Divisive. Fractured. Politically controlled but morally deregulated. The way it should be in order to create the conditions for leviathan. Multiculturalism evokes monocracy -- or rather, vice versa. It's one of those perma-truths, i.e., divide and conquer.

Human beings, apparently by virtue of being human, keep discovering the same truths but call them by different names. They do, however, discover new falsehoods all the time. For a person bitterly clinging to a falsehood, everything is taken as its proof, while nothing is proof of its falsehood, e.g., global warming, Keynesian economics, or hey, two mothers are just as good as a married mother and father, probably even better, because, you know, patriarchy & stuff.

About calling things by the wrong name. The left likes to say that Obama is a "constitutional scholar," by which they really mean that he thoroughly cased the joint before taking office. He studied the Constitution the way a counterfeiter studies money.

Speaking of the rediscovery of old ideas, while reading Betrayal of the Masses I had a flashing insight into existential guilt and original sin. How can we be born guilty?

I once read somewhere that it's not so much that we are born that way, but that we are born into a thoroughly corrupt system. In order to survive, we are all compromised by having to adapt to this human nutwork of greed, passion, envy, self-interest, etc. Thus, we all have dirty hands, which in time dirties our souls, especially if we completely abandon ourselves to its lures, seductions, and temptations.

Ironic, isn't it, that it is the left that is most shrill about the original sin of this corrupt world system? The problem isn't so much pointing out the corruption -- since it is ineveateapple -- but imagining that 1) we can eliminate it, and 2) that the best way to accomplish this is through an intrusive and coercive state, i.e., liberal tyranny.

But the problem -- another one of those universal truths -- is that the same corrupt human beings will be in charge of the state. D'oh!

To put it another way, the reason why government is corrupt is because it is peopled by people. The bigger the government, the more possible it is for politicians to act in self-interest, and the more possible it is to gain power in exchange for cash and other valuable prizes.

The limited government created by the framers offered few opportunities for such widescale patronage and cronyism -- maybe ambassadors, the Postmaster General, and a few other baubles. Limited government offers few ways for resentment and envy to be fungible to political power, since there is little surplus power to redistribute, only the powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution. And those are no fun for a political opportunist on a satanic mission.

One useful idea I pulled from Tyranny is the distinction between primordial despots and transcendental ones. The primordial despot is motivated by the usual human weaknesses, e.g., greed, lust, gluttony, etc. Think of a Charlie Rangel or any other government-fattened pig.

The transcendental despot is far more dangerous, because he is always on a religious crusade masquerading as politics. Siegel implicitly points this out by quoting any number of prominent liberal authors who sound more like deranged prophets than political pundits. They condemn the world -- actually, the United States -- in the most strident and bitter tones, and essentially urge us to repent by giving ourselves over to the latest leftwing savior.

When a liberal talks about "the system," he's really talking about original sin from which we cannot escape by virtue of being in the system.

For example, all people of colorlessness are racist, no exceptions. "Structural racism" is built into the system, so you are guilty no matter what you do. You are guilty if you treat blacks unequally, and you are most certainly guilty if you treat them equally. Engage in the latter and you will face federal charges due to "under-representation" or "disparate impact."

Here the left is adept at reframing offense as defense. In short, they characterize attacks as grievances as a way to legitimize their aggression. Scratch any state-sanctioned victim and you will find a bully. They pretend to be helpless on the outside in order to be vicious on the inside.

Time to move on from politics, before I throw up. Back to the usual fare.

Religion is a map. A map provides orientation and direction, but one is under no compulsion to go anywhere with it. It lets you know YOU ARE HERE and GOD IS THERE. The rest is between you and him.

Or, more generally, religion maps the landscape of the human interior. But in the words of Schuon, "to know the nature of subjectivity is to know the structure of the world."

Thus, the unexamined life is not worth living because it goes absolutely nowhere -- and so fast! The opposite of nowhere is somewhere, probably even here, while a synonym for life is growth, specifically, of differentiation-in-unity (or unity-in-differentiation). Thus, religion ultimately provides the map for growing up. No wonder the left hates it.

To be continued....