Friday, June 10, 2016

Man is the Dice with which God Plays

Don't expect much new product around here for awhile. Next week I have jury duty! Here's another post from the wayback machine, but which has some continuity with yesterday's soiled bobservations:

In our discussion of divine and human freedom, we left off with the orthoparadoxical idea that we live in a world which is good in the sense that it manifests the Divine and its reflected qualities. Nevertheless, the creation "involves a partial and contingent aspect of badness because, not being God while existing nonetheless, it sets itself against God or tends to be the equal of God" (Schuon).

This correlates with the vertical distinction between Being and Beyond-Being, which is the basis of theodicy, through which the problem of evil is explained and God's goodness is vindicated.

In case you've forgotten, this whole discussion started last week, with a post about fate, luck, and free will. Human freedom is derived from the Divine freedom. Again, our free will could never be explained from the bottom up. Nor without it could we know good and evil, truth and illusion, beauty and ugliness, and choose between them. If we didn't have free will, we could never know it -- just as, if we couldn't know truth, we wouldn't be able to know it.

Having said that, although there are analogies between divine and human freedom, the differences must be even greater. Human beings live their lives along this ambiguous vertical bridge, with God at the top and biology, physics, and other principalities down below (sort of like the electric lines and sewer pipes under the city).

As Schuon writes, "creation implies imperfection by metaphysical necessity." And the fact that human beings necessarily have the freedom to choose badly makes matters even worse.

One problem we encounter right away is that freedom implies change, whereas we are told that God is immutable. Perhaps we need to distinguish between the freedom that applies to Beyond-Being, vs. that which applies to Being.

In Beyond-Being, freedom is in a way meaningless, because there is nothing from which to be free. Freedom only comes into play in the context of restraint, of other, of world -- of subject over and against object.

And the highest purpose of freedom is "the possibility of choosing between the Substance and accident, or between the Real and the illusory" (Schuon). Since there can be no accident within the Godhead, our freedom is obviously quite different, being that our world is a tapestry of chance and necessity.

Speaking of which, the chance aspect of the world is insufficiently appreciated, both by the tenured and the wider population. I'm currently reading an interesting book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, and would like to work some of Taleb's contrarian and counter-intuitive ideas into the mix.

It seems that people are instinctively repelled at the idea of pure luck holding so much sway over their lives, which is why both the tenured and the religious invent various ex post facto mythological narratives to explain the past. In this regard, Darwinism is no better than certain other forms of fundamentalism.

I should hasten to add that Taleb shows no signs of being in any way religious (I'm only halfway through the book), such that he seems to be trapped in his own narrative that chance is all -- and more importantly, that chance is only chance and not, say, a teleological breakthrough out of a determined system, an escape from the Machine.

Indeed, in my view, the cosmic purpose of chance is to create a non-deterministic space in which the higher can operate on the lower -- or through which final causes can influence souls and events.

If the world were a deterministic machine that functions only from the bottom up, there would be no freedom and no chance. But being wholly determined from the top would make us no more free than being determined from the bottom.

Thus, freedom and chance go together like liberty and order. It is largely because of freedom that the future is completely unpredictable. But because we are aware of the past, we superimpose narratives on it that make it seem as if the future will be similar. Thus, we are always surprised by the "black swans" that no one predicted, and yet, have the most impact on history.

For example, to the very eve of World War I, no one saw it coming. But in hindsight, historians invent narratives that make it appear inevitable. Likewise other large-scale and highly impactful events such as 9-11, the recent real estate bubble, or the Great Depression. All were foreseeable from the future.

One thing that eludes historians -- by definition -- is all of the evidence of things that didn't happen. Obviously, we cannot know what we don't know (the unknown unknown), which no doubt represents majority of (potential) knowledge.

It seems that history is always on a knife-edge, and can easily be tipped one way or the other by sometimes trivial causes. This is true of any complex system with an infinite number of variables.

We'll get back to black swans later. I just wanted to introduce the idea that randomness is both our friend and our enemy, like water or electricity. Without it we couldn't be free, but with it we're always in for an adventure.

There is no accident in Beyond-Being. But the creation, in order to be separate from God, must involve relativity and therefore contingency.

Thus, one of the purposes of a spiritual practice is to distinguish between those things that must be versus those things that may be. As Schuon describes it, being that we are the "handiwork" and not "the Principle which alone is good," man "is a good inasmuch as he manifests the Principle, but he is not good inasmuch as he is separated from it."

Again, the world is a tapestry of vertical and horizontal causes, of the real and the contingent, so we always see the one reflected in the other. This is why, for example, matter, which is otherwise so "distant" from God, has the metaphysical transparency through which beauty and truth nevertheless radiate.

And it is certainly why man may use his freedom to turn toward truth or illusion, atma or maya, O or Ø. The ego is a bipolar, janus-faced sumbitch, which it must be if we are to be free. It is why the left will always be with us, and why Bernie Sanders will never quit, both literally and figuratively.

Evil and falsehood remind us both that the world is not God (and therefore that God Is) and that there is no one good but the One.


Ann Kellett said...

Brilliant, as always. Thank you.

julie said...

It is why the left will always be with us, and why Bernie Sanders will never quit, both literally and figuratively.

Sadly. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't so relentless; they are like a pestilence against which one must remain ever vigilant if one is to simply remain in place, much less make progress in the direction of what is good, and they spring up like tares in every generation and of course within every heart. Thus all the admonitions about remaining watchful, and of course the contrast with the apostles who, though willing, nevertheless fell asleep in the garden when they were needed most to remain awake.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Well, we can use your hiatus as an opportunity to digest this one post. I'll need that much time.