Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Humans Hear a Who

Unity and totality. What are they, and where do they come from?

A totality without unity would be just a blob, while unity without totality would be an impenetrable monad. But darn it, that's not the kind of universe this is, nor the kind of people we are.

This topic may sound... whatever you think it sounds like, but I promise you it isn't, because it goes straight to the nub of the gist of the essence of things. First Philosophy, you might say, because you either have to address this issue or skip right past it while pretending you have dealt with it.

Let's start with an observation by Schmitz, that there must be "an immanent specifying principle," i.e., something that gives things form and makes them what they are -- this and not that. To put it another way, in the absence of the specifying principle, everything would be the same, and we're back to the cosmic blob. It has oneness but lacks all distinction.

Totality, on the other hand, "brings unity to an even wider context, to a system, horizon, or world. It is a kind of organizing form that brings diverse factors into a complex and more or less internally related arrangement."

Thus, it seems that formal unity is the more static of the two, while totality seems more of a process. In fact, totalizing might be a better way of expressing it.

For example, what is personal growth -- the kind of post-biological growth alluded to yesterday, subsequent to the achievement of (merely) formal adulthood? I don't know about you, but to me it feels like a kind of totalizing process whereby the person attains to a higher and deeper sense of totality. Call the latter One Cosmos, or the Cosmic Attractor toward which we are drawn.

Look at it this way. A person laboring under the dead weight of scientistic materialism will agree that there is One Cosmos. But what an impoverished cosmos it is! Sucked into the "vortex of objectivity," it is lacking precisely the totality under discussion. It is one, but in this case, one does not equal one. It doesn't even come close, for the most exterior thing still has an immaterial interiority that transcends materialism, otherwise we couldn't know anything about anything. Knowledge is a relationship and relationships are not material objects.

So there is really a dynamic complementarity between unity and totality. Physicists talk about a "theory of everything," but you can be sure this theory will go only to unity, not to totality. In a footnote, Schmitz dryly mentions that postmodernists "wish to make war upon totality."

This is an understatement, since they actually destroy the very possibility of totality up front, and then go on from there, cleaning up their own mess and calling it scholarship. A tenured barbarian can destroy in five minutes what took thousands of years to attain. In so doing, the postmodern savage is far more effective than those Muslims with hammers, although we don't want to find out what would happen if the latter were to replace their hammers with nuclear missiles.

Grinding our gears a bit, I want to turn to a book by Martin Lings called Symbol & Archetype, because I think it advances our discussion more deeply into Totality. I've only read one chapter so far, but it is so dense and rich that I had to stop to digest it. {Belch}

Lings begins with the bold statement that "symbolism is the most important thing in existence; and it is at the same time the sole explanation of existence." Really? Symbolism is the theory of everything we've been looking for?

This makes a kind of superficial sense, in that any explanation of existence is naturally symbolic, and a cosmos capable of symbolization is radically distinct from one that isn't. Ironically, we may conclude that the very possibility of a "theory of everything" rests on metaphysical grounds far more consequential than its specific content, for the theorist is essentially proclaiming I can explain everything!

In short, he is confessing to omniscience, which you will agree is more interesting than the theory itself. Omniscient products of random evolution? Wo! Now you need a theory for how that is even possible, being that it cannot be explained by your little theory of everything. If anything, your theory renders the theorist impossible, so you need to go back a few steps in order to account for this strange totality to which man is uniquely qualified to access.

We have touched on this subject in the past: that is, we just so happen to inhabit a cosmos in which one thing can stand for another. In short, it is a symbolic and symbolizing cosmos, and we are its privileged symbolees. How did that come about? In any event, we can be sure that physics in principle cannot explain it, only rely on it.

The literal meaning of symbol is something "thrown across." Here again, this implicit meaning is loaded with implicit assumptions about the nature of this universe. For example: thrown across what? Or, from who and to whom? Who? Wo, slow down. How did a who get into the cosmos? And can there be a who without a whom?

"Man himself," writes Lings, "is the greatest of earthly symbols" -- which follows from the "universal doctrine that he was made in the image of God." That language is unfortunately loaded -- or saturated -- such that its metaphysical meaning is lost to most. But in the context under discussion, it suggests that man himself is "thrown across," so to speak, just like any other symbol.

However, being the quintessential case, "man is the symbol of the sum of the attributes, that is, of the Divine Nature in its Totality."

There's that word again, totality. This implies that man is a symbolic totality thrown across a something by another Totality. Everything short of man is also a symbol, but in a much more limited way. They will have more or less unity, but not totality. Which is why we can know -- contain -- them, but not vice versa.

This is why the world "lies open" to us. It is a kind of open book, filled with words, which is to say, symbols. It's where the all the metaphysical transparency comes from, whether we are talking about truth, beauty, or unity.

Better stop. Gotta get ready for work.


julie said...

So there is really a dynamic complementarity between unity and totality.

I am reminded of how every living body is both one and millions upon millions. And even within each one of those millions upon millions of distinct cells, there is not a unified blobular mass off undifferentiated goo, but rather separate organelles with differing functions, and so on. It's fair to say that no life form of any kind exists without differentiation, even as each life form is recognizably one.

ted said...

I'm always a day late and a dollar short, but this quote from yesterday's blog summed up all the symbolism I need (at least for now):

Remember: the source of man's value -- his dignity -- is in that disequilibrium between us and God. You are of course free to pursue a life of equilibrium with the world, but if you succeed, then you fail. About that disequilibrium: "God is infinitely close to man, but man is infinitely far from God." The first makes the journey possible, while the second makes it necessary.

Joan of Argghh! said...

We are partakers of His divine nature. In Christ rests the fullness of the Godhead, he is the ultimate Symbol of our.. who-ness.

Hmm... clay is "thrown" in a process that extracts impurities. Or I wonder if "cast" comes through in the definition of "thrown across", much like filling a mold.. I'm having fun finding all the places for cast, cast down, thrown, poured in the Bible. Just don't wanna be thrown out, cast down, or poured out like wax.

Don't mind me. I'm on pain meds.

mushroom said...

Image and likeness=symbol, SIGNS and wonders,man as the metaphor. No wonder He calls us to be holy as He is holy. An imperfect metaphor gives an imperfect revelation. We could be meatphors. I don't have Joan's excuse. I am just warped.

ted said...

I know not everyone out here agrees, but I still like David Brooks. He does a nice job today taking on the Pope's ideological disposition.

The innocence of the dove has to be accompanied by the wisdom of the serpent — the awareness that programs based on the purity of the heart backfire; the irony that the best social programs harvest the low but steady motivations of people as they actually are.

Gagdad Bob said...

Here's something you don't see everyday: a coonface t-shirt.

julie said...

Whoa - I don't know whether that is awesome, or terrifying, or just a mask away from the infamous three wolves t-shirt.