Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Adversary's Solution to the Mind-Matter Conundrum: Divide and Conquer

I was out late last night, and now I'm tired. Therefore, this will not be a challenging post. I'm not up for any deep pondering. Maybe just some groundwork. Plus it will no doubt be more rambly than usual. I predict that it will struggle to get off the ground before running out of steam at the end. So maybe you should just skip it.

Last night someone asked me what this book is about -- Heart of the World, Center of the Church -- but I was pretty much stumped for an answer. It kind of blows my circuits as I'm reading, which seems to interfere with memory, and certainly synthesis. There's too much to wrap one's mind around, and if I can't grasp the whole, I have trouble retaining the parts.

So, I'm going to just revisit the parts I highlighted, and try to unscramble my egghead and put my humpty back together.

For me, the author doesn't really hit his stride until about midway through the book, with a chapter called Catholicism and the Liberal Model of the Academy in America. It goes to the more general question: of what should a Catholic education consist?

I would prefer to just say Christian education, but that might be part of the problem, because -- if Schindler is correct -- Protestantism already cedes so much ground to secularism at the outset, that it loses the battle before it has begun. In other words, certain Protestant assumptions entail secular liberal conclusions.

For example, should a "Christian" university try to be like any other university, only with a little religion sprinkled on top? Naturally it is easier in the liberal arts, where one can simply have a curriculum that revolves around the artistic treasures of western civilization instead of degrading us with the hideous gobshite of postmodernity.

But what about more generally? I look at my son's Catholic school, and sometimes wonder how it is supposed to be distinctively different from a secular school. In my mind, rather than having the religious dimension added on, his education should be infused with the Christian spirit. What would this look like, and how can we tell the difference? What does it mean to think as a Christian -- not so much the content, but the form?

"To have a Catholic university... it is necessary (also) to develop a Catholic mind." Simply learning about religion is a necessary but not sufficient condition for this transformation of the mind.

And when I say "trans-formation," it is very much as if the mind must be refashioned and re-formed by transcendental causes to which it must be open. If that fails to occur, then you haven't had a "Christian education," no matter how much theology, dogma, and scripture you have committed to memory.

"Is it meaningful to speak of a mind... internally Catholic in any discipline other than theology? What could 'internally Catholic' mean, for example, in philosophy, or in biology and physics, or in accounting and computer science?"

In short, if truth is universal, how could there be secular truth and Christian truth in the disciplines he mentions? I'll tell you how. In a minute.

But if you simply swallow these disciplines whole, without criticism (i.e., the secular approach to them), you're going to take in a whole lot of hidden assumptions with them. Then, once these assumptions are in place, they will actually interfere with a properly religious understanding. Like how a virus gets into your computer.

Very insidious, don't you know. Once this happens, to the extent that you want to continue being religious, then it will be as if religion needs to exist side by side with the other disciplines. Any possibility of Total Cosmic Unity will be lost, and you will live in a bifurcated, dualistic world in which you retain your faith in spite of what you learned in school, instead of because of it.

But -- and here I think is the key -- you actually assimilated this bifurcated world before you even began your journey. That's how they ensnare you! You think you're just learning content, when in reality you're assimilating a whole way of looking at things that is anti-religious (and, more to the point, anti-reality) to the core.

Liberalism -- and this is one of the points Jonah Goldberg drives home in Liberal Fascism -- "embodies above all the claim to neutrality" (and he's not talking about political liberalism per se, rather, the whole project of modernity). It presumes "to avoid any a priori assumption of content" which might "prejudice the (putative) pure openness of the methods."

This is what modern liberals are referring to when they accuse conservatives of being "anti-science." That is, we're the ones who supposedly approach reality with all this theological baggage, whereas they do so with a completely blank slate. They claim to accept truth where they find it, with no ideological, metaphysical, or philosophical commitments whatsoever.

The cosmos apparently went off the rails with Descartes. I personally have trouble blaming one guy for this mess, so let's just take him as the focal point of a more general trend. Descartes "strove to remove the ghostly residue of subjectivity from method and indeed to determine the form of method prior to its being conditioned by any content whatsoever."

Seems like a good idea. It's even rather seductive, isn't it? What could possibly go wrong? We'll just empty our heads of all assumptions and proceed in a purely rational manner: "We are committed in advance only to pure form and not at all to content."

Seems innocent enough, but do this and you have swallowed a whole cosmos -- an alternative cosmos. Or, one might say that you have stepped into a parallel universe, under the assumption that man has finally, after 100,000 years of wandering in the bewilderness, entered the Real World.

But remember, Descartes actually divides the world "in half" before he even starts. That is, if you begin by presupposing radically divided worlds of mind and matter, you shouldn't be surprised that this radical division will persist wherever you look and no matter how much your thinking evolves. Dude, you've rended the fabric of reality, such that there is no way to put Humpty back together, and no area rug big enough to sweep his broken fragments under it!

There is orthoparadox and there is paradox, and Descartes lands us in the latter, for in dividing reality, we end with a "false objectivity" mirrored by an arbitrary subjectivism. Or -- and this is what you'll get in a modern education -- scientism at one end and relativism at the other. Each of these is an intellectual tyranny -- for they destroy the soul's freedom -- and yet, are opposites.

I think I'll stop now, before things get too heavy for my brain to lift.


julie said...

This is quite an interesting topic. Perhaps the more so because we are planning on sending the boy off to kindergarten in the fall. For now, we have a group of homeschooling friends we meet up with roughly once a week for a kindergarten science lesson. They start with prayer, and make it a point to tie each lesson in with the Biblical story of Creation.

One may take issue with the means of approach and the elements of literalism, but actually I quite like the underlying point that there is no division between the horizontal and the vertical.

As to the future, ultimately it is our duty as parents to demonstrate, in our daily lives, the underlying wholeness. Not merely teach it, but try to live it, such that our children's eyes will be able to distinguish the truth of reality from the fiction that is so often presented. If we fail to do so, no matter what kind of schooling they get, they will become jaded.

swiftone said...

...Descartes lands us in the (paradox), for in dividing reality, we end with a "false objectivity" mirrored by an arbitrary subjectivism.

Subjectively, I recall the bzzzzzzzzt that occurred in my head when I first read a translation of the famous passage that begins, "I think, therefore I am." Sitting in the English classroom taking standardized achievement tests in the mid 1960s, that passage grabbed my attention like nothing had. Hey! Here's the way out of this bewilderness. Logic all the way down. And what a primrose path it turned out to be. Didn't get off til Godel gobsmacked me about a decade later. By then I was some seriously damaged goods. Fifty years is about right to start trying to put it back together.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Godel torpedoes the whole thing and saves reality from the fatal division.

Paul Griffin said...

As DL has noted in the past, Polanyi's work was an attempt at showing a way forward, but most people are not interested in actual science or what actual scientists have to say. We are as superstitious and dogmatic a people as we have ever been.

If Descartes gets picked on a lot, it is because he is more or less the mile marker for the transition between knowing that we don't know and not knowing that we don't know.

Van Harvey said...

"But -- and here I think is the key -- you actually assimilated this bifurcated world before you even began your journey. That's how they ensnare you! You think you're just learning content, when in reality you're assimilating a whole way of looking at things that is anti-religious (and, more to the point, anti-reality) to the core."

(Brevity, I've been working on it)

Van Harvey said...

"Seems innocent enough, but do this and you have swallowed a whole cosmos -- an alternative cosmos."

Ahhh.... Mick Jagger, bite me. Satisfaction I've got. I was tempted to think I'd died and gone to heaven, but nope, still only a 1/2" window to type in, but satisfying all the same.

Is it unfair to peg Descartes as the source? Maybe, but it's still accurate to. Others were pushing similar lines, Machiavelli for instance, but their 'errors' remained on the surface, they might have rippled the waves but made no changes to the current. I still think he didn't intend to undo the cosmos, but it was still Descartes' ideas that showed how to redirect the entire flow of thought, and so, mistakenly or not, the errors of modernity begin with him - He erred, therefore he's it.

mushroom said...

Plus, Descartes has the meme. It's the pin in the hinge even if he didn't build the door. Every mid-wit sophomore, including me back in the day, could "get" cognito ergo sum. And that's what you have to have to build your false narrative. If they had had bumpers back then, they would have put it on a bumpersticker.

The idea that religion is opposed to reason because religion is "subjective" while reason is "objective" threatens to destroy us.

We even buy into it when we call AGW a religion, as if the mark of religion is fanatical adherence to something patently and obviously untrue.

Christianity is the most objective thing I've ever encountered. I didn't want it to be true, but when something kicks your butt, you tend to think it might have some substance.

Rick said...

Well said, Mush.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It's a good idea to have Godel as a member of your crew, I always say.