Monday, August 22, 2016

No Cosmos For Old Men

Might as well continue our review of this Introduction to Polanyi. Like the Tommy Lee Jones character in No Country for Old Men, we "always like to hear about the old-timers. Never miss a chance to do so. You can't help but compare yourself against the old-timers. Can't help but wonder how they'd have operated in these times."

I'll just flip through it and highlight some of my highlights. Here is one that gets right to the heart of the nub of the gist: "Popular thought seemed to imply that only scientific theories were capable of verification (i.e., proof), and that moral or ethical or political or religious ideals and principles were essentially unprovable, mere matters of emotional preference."

Well, not so fast. The existence of both a free science and the free society it depends upon are not themselves scientific principles. Rather, they rest "upon freely held beliefs in ideals and principles that not only could not be proved, but could not even be made wholly explicit." But just because they cannot be proved hardly makes them unworthy of belief.

We'll have more to say on what he means by explicit knowledge as we proceed, but think of it as analogous to one of those magic-eye 3D pictures. The three-dimensional picture is "composed" of the thousands of little two-dimensional dots, but cannot be reduced to them. The dots may be compared to implicit knowledge. Many if not most of our explicit beliefs and convictions are of this nature, such that we cannot specify all of the implicit clues that point to this or that belief.

Come to think if it, this goes to the overall purpose of this blog. We are always trying to understand how the countless clues surrounding us may be reconciled with the whole existentialiada. This is the very meaning of One Cosmos. It is why the book begins with the quote by Richard Weaver, comparing modern man to someone "furiously beating the earth and imagining that the finer he pulverizes it, the nearer he will get to the riddle of existence."

But that direction is not only away from meaning, but renders any logically consistent meaning impossible. Thus, "No synthesizing truths lie in that direction. It is in the opposite direction that the path must be followed..."

How is this latter even possible? Or, more to the point, is the meaning we attain real or only imaginary? This cuts right to the heart of our postmodern dilemma. Postmodernists have no problem per se with meaning. Rather, meaning is anything we want it to be. The text of the constitution means one thing to you, something entirely different to me. So, meaning exists. It's just that it's arbitrary and horizontal, pointing to nothing objective.

One thing Polanyi accomplishes is the reconciliation of our intellectual freedom and objective truth. As such, he is the best cure for postmodernism I've ever discovered. Instead of denying it and fortifying an intellectual position "prior" to it, he blows right through and past it. Truly, he is uniquely post-postmodern.

When I refer to myself as a neotraditional retrofuturist, this is what I'm referring to: I don't want to defend Christianity by denying current sensibilities, but by picking them up and carrying them through to safety. Falling back on mere dogma is fine -- at least it'll keep you out of trouble. But this is explicit knowledge, and it is always pointing to a gnosis that is its fulfillment, AKA (k) --> (n).

Here again, this is the meaning of verticalisthenics and mental gymgnostics. We are not like bodybuilders who only exercise their muscles in order to make them bigger. Rather, we exercise them in order to do something and get somewhere (and be someone). We are spiritual athletes playing a game. The glass bead one, to be exact.

From the first post that pops up:

It reminds me of Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game, which, if I recall correctly (it's probably been 30 years), is about a league of gentlemen slackers who play a sort of game in which the point is to unify diverse strands of knowledge, say, a Bach fugue with the laws of physics.

Here, let me look it up... Yes, here's the description: "Hesse's final novel is set in a 23rd-century utopia in which the intellectual elite have distilled all available knowledge of math, music, science, and art into an elaborately coded game."

Another review says that it is "about humanity's eternal quest for enlightenment and for synthesis of the intellectual and the participatory life. Set in the 23rd century, the novel purports to be a biography of Josef Knecht.... Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy. This he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi," or Master of the Game.

Our quest for truth is motivated by an inbuilt passion for it. Think about this orthoparadox: sober science doesn't really get anywhere unless it is drunk with passion -- specifically, "a passion to attain comprehensive and meaningful wholes..." For Polanyi, organisms are "primordially meaning-seeking centers." The very first iteration of life had the ability to detect "meaning," if only the distinction between self and not-self.

Now, the mind, no different from the heart, lungs, and kidneys, is an organ. But it is different from the latter, in that it is obviously invisible. However, it is no less real, for it is our first hyperspatial organ. It is clearly multidimensional, operating transtemporally from past to future, vertically up and down, and horizontally in and out.

That's a lot of dimensions to juggle, but reductionism simply drops the colored balls by reducing their movement to brain activity. The brain too is an organ, but the material brain can never account for the transcendent abilities of our hyperdimensional minds. Truly, that is to reverse the arrow of meaning -- to deny what it is pointing toward and to aim it backwards. With this soph-defeating approach we deny ourselves the ability to novelgaze around the ocean of being.

This is no better than changing street signs in order to create a new world. This is what the British did in order to confuse the Germans in the case of an invasion. If the Germans landed in England and tried to use their maps, they would be utterly confused. Not only would they be meaningless, they would point in the wrong direction.

Is it any wonder that the postmodern beneficiaries of a liberal education are similarly confused, only in the transcendent realm? With a liberal education one internalizes all sorts of signs which either give bad directions or point nowhere.

In reality, the human being "points" to the God who is its sufficient reason, its meaning, its ground and destiny. Take away that vector and the human being is reduced to an absurdity. Postmodernism tries to come to the rescue by saying man is anything we want him to be (even a her), but that only exchanges absurdity for nihilism (a void which is immediately filled by power).

This is a job for which only a child is qualified, for in the child we so vividly see the mind transitioning from meaning to more comprehensive meaning as its world (both interior and exterior) expands. Reminds us of Heraclitus' old gag that The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls. So, amen for a child's job.


Abdulmonem Othman said...

Thank you, keep going. Yes taking away the stabilizer, the unifier of meanings and the human falls in the sea of nihilistic absurdity. It is the oneness that has no old no young no ancient no recent no past no future, but a continuum conscious presence. The tale of the glass bead recalls to my mind the glass bead used by the sufis as a tool of concentration,contemplation and recitation in order to enter the field of unified meanings. Yes life is a tense and striving exercise in mental gymgnositic to reach spiritual repose. Nothing can be gained without cost and pain. I am curious as what you mean by verticalisenthetics and what you did Polanyi mean by tacit knowledge as the door to explicit knowledge,in light of your study.

Gagdad Bob said...

Science confirms common sense. Reality is so homophobic.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

I am sorry it is verticalesthenics.

mushroom said...

Sorry to go OT, but you got thinking how dependent we are on our tools.

Would you have Newtonian physics without telescopes? (Newton was born the year Galileo died.) Quantum physics without a means of detecting subatomic particles? Without the Hooker telescope, Hubble would likely not have come up with an expanding universe theory. We used to, reasonably, think the Milky Way was the universe.

Microscopes revealed some basics, and electron microscopes even more.

How much of what we know is evident apart from our tools?

John Lien said...

"For Polanyi, organisms are "primordially meaning-seeking centers." The very first iteration of life had the ability to detect "meaning," if only the distinction between self and not-self."

That was particularly meaningful.

Mush sez:
"How much of what we know is evident apart from our tools?"

Hmmm, I'm thinking not much in the horizontal realm, really. On the other, opposable-thumbed hand, I don't think vertical exploration requires any tools.

julie said...

"Popular thought seemed to imply that only scientific theories were capable of verification (i.e., proof), and that moral or ethical or political or religious ideals and principles were essentially unprovable, mere matters of emotional preference."

Of course, many of these things are provable. One simply must observe what happens over time when any of these ideas are applied. For instance, anyone who understands how socialism works in practice is completely unsurprised at how things are turning out in Venezuela. Anyone who understands what atheism really means is not surprised at the nihilism and demographic collapse that take place when nations reject God. These things can be verified by their fruits, again and again, for those with eyes to see.

neal said...

What do I know? I am just a fool, and a tool. I dropped a telescope, once. Still managed to see on the shoulders of giants.
Maybe that was just rubbing my eyes, like a high energy particle loop. I do not know this One of whom you speak.
I just know I was blind, now my eyes are not my own. Hard to manage the fire.
Harder still to dance in it. I hear that is not socially acceptable. Probably just stares. Is there an optics of not using optics?

I still have those tools. A telescope, next to a medicine bundle. I hear that compresses a lot of Time into the back seat of an old Ford truck.

Of course, there is that ten foot long bull snake that is curled up around all of that history. Only stuff that is very old.
I guess that one will just distribute that history where it will. I really do not mind the evidence of personal existence being passed around.

No one much stares up at the sky barefoot these days. It is good to connect the dust with the parents. That is why human churches are bones and streaming stuff from that other place.

Gagdad Bob said...


There is always a dialectic between theory and technology, the one extending the other. Polanyi uses the example of the blind man and his stick. While his hand registers sensations from the stick to the hand, he doesn't focus on those explicitly, or he would run into things. Rather, the sensations become tacit knowledge for the purpose of projecting a kind of explicit world space.

Theories are tools we don't see, but through which we see -- or without which we can't see.

Probably the little dots of light in a telescope have no meaning unless you have a theory to organize them. Conversely, the tool can help extend the theory.

We'll no doubt be discussing this further as we go along. As to electron microscopes, no one would have invented them if they didn't have some sense of what they were looking for. But then the tool discovers new surprises that need to be assimilated to the theory, or the theory has to expand to account for them.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Your latter point reminds me of this poem of mine:

"'Neath an eyeless sky, the inkblack sea
Moves softly, utters not save a quiet sound
A lapping-sound, not saying what may be
The reach of its voice a furthest bound;
And beyond it, nothing, nothing known
Though the wind the boat has gently blown
Unsteady on shifting and traceless ground
And quickly away from it has flown.

Allow us a map, and a lamp electric
That by instrument we may probe the dark
Unheard sounds and an unseen metric
Keep alive in us that unknown spark
To burn bright and not consume or mar
Has the unbounded one come yet so far
For night over night the days to mark
His journey -- adrift, without a star?"

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Physical tools are extension of our spiritual tools and without the spiritual tools the physical tools become useless. One should not be imprisoned by by the transmitted knowledge, the tools of inspiration are available for those who want to free themselves from the prison.