Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Utterly Personal and Completely Universal

A few posts back we mentioned a new scientific discovery pushing back the emergence of life on earth from 3.5 to 3.7 billion years ago.

Either way, since earth only cooled sufficiently to permit life something like 4.5 billion years ago, the emergence of life cannot have been random, because there simply wasn't enough time. Knowing this, researchers suggest that life must be "built in" to the nature of things, somehow bound to appear.

This is similar to the problem of predestination, only on a lower plane. That is, if predestination is the case, then there is literally no distinction between Creator and creature: everything is simply God acting. Not only does it render life pointless, one wonders why God would even bother.

Likewise, if life is built into physics, then biology doesn't really exist. Rather, it's just a kind of illusory extension of physics and chemistry. It never occurs to this type of mind that physics might be a downward projection of life, as opposed to life being an upward projection of matter.

In any event, this is the sort of bad nonsense that occurs when we fail to respect levels, boundaries, and dimensions.

If you will indulge me in a momentary zooming-out to a wide-angle vision, there is something intriguing about truth, or at least truth as I know it. Here it is 2016, and I am discussing an author -- Polanyi -- whom I first discovered around 35 years ago, when I was just starting my psychopneumatic journey, and knew next to nothing about anything.

I'm looking at my battered old copy of Meaning, which is heavily annotated, highlighted, and marked up. This must have been around the time I began the practice of annotating, highlighting, and marking up my books. For one thing, I never read any books before this, or at least not many. If you subtract the books I was forced to read... well, there can't have been many before my mid-twenties, and nothing serious.

Anyway, I first encountered Polanyi around the same time my mind was "coming on line," so to speak. Before this Great Event, I didn't know I had one, nor did I know what it was for. I was more beast than man. An amiable and frivolous beast, but still, not one marked out for anything more than obedience and semi-skilled labor.

Interestingly, I read in volume one of the Churchill bio that something very similar happened to him at around the same age. No, I am not comparing myself to Churchill, only drawing attention to an interesting phenomenon.

Like Bob, Winston was a terrible student. He wasn't nearly good enough to attend any kind of elite university, so ended up entering a military academy, ninety-second in a class of 102. "Even when seen through the kindest of eyes," writes Manchester, "he was a redheaded, puny little swaggerer who was always in trouble, always disobedient, always making and breaking promises." His father wrote in a letter that Winston had a gift only for "show off exaggeration & make believe."

It wasn't until he was around 22 -- finished with school and stationed in India -- that the Light inexplicably came on: "The transformation began with early pangs of intellectual curiosity." Looking back on it, that is around the time my own pangs began, at around 22, maybe 23. It is a Hunger, only for immaterial food.

At any rate, Churchill "found that he had 'a liking for words and for the feel of words fitting and falling into places like pennies in the slot.'" His vocabulary suddenly widened, to the extent that he began throwing out words "which I could not define precisely."

Equally suddenly, he became Curious: "It occurred to him that his knowledge of history was limited and something ought to be done about it" -- to put it mildly. He "resolved to read history, philosophy, economics, and things like that." He began devouring books like a liberal spends other people's money: all day long.

Henry Corbin talks about "openings," but we might as well say "invasions," because we can open all we want, but nothing will happen unless we are invaded by an Other.

Changing gears once again, I'm trying to describe a phenomenon that began for me when the Light came on, and has continued ever since. And the only reason I bring it up is because I assume something similar has occurred in other Raccoons. Indeed, I don't see how one could appreciate the blog unless it has.

First of all, there is a timeless quality to it. Something in the soul knows it is encountering a kind of truth that penetrates all the way to the core. It is an example of what I symbolize (?!), because it's as palpable as sticking your finger in a socket and receiving a jolt.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I experienced an opening in which I was invaded by Truth. This would account for my singular lack of qualification in being able to discern truth from falsehood. In other words, this extra-mental invasion is no respecter of persons. It can happen to any idiot. But for this particular idiot, it caused a complete reorientation -- literally, from the horizontal to the vertical. Words such as "repentance" and "born again" are intended to convey the same experience.

So, I was invaded and seized. And I'll bet if I examine some of my annotations and exclamations from 35 years ago, they might as well have come from my present self, even though, again, I was an idiot at the time. Naturally this will mean nothing to you if you consider me an idiot still. But if I'm not an idiot, then it is as if my past self was invaded by my future self. My future self seized the wheels of the cosmic bus, and steered me in an entirely unexpected direction.

Here is a note to mysoph on the front flap: "God as integrative and limiting factor." First of all: like anyone could know that! But what does it mean? That the infinite expresses itself in limited forms of finitude that point back to their divine source. Why? The next note says "truth not gained freely is worthless." So, God is in the ticklish position of giving truth in such a way that it can be discovered, not imposed. Movement toward God is characterized by integration on various levels.

"The act of understanding is more important than what is understood." Indeed, this is precisely what this post is about: this unending process of understanding. "Only the wise ones see beyond the limitations." Or in other words, they see the Unlimited toward which the limitations point and converge.

"Principles of each level are governed by the next highest level." This is certainly one that has stayed with me, right down to the statement in paragraph four above, that matter is a downward projection of life.

Here is another short note: "development is not wholly accountable by [the] past." This is full of metaphysical implications, ultimately the de-inversion of the cosmos, such that the future -- or upper vertical -- exerts an influence on the present/horizontal.

"Language as liberated DNA." That actually goes to what this post was originally going to be about before it was invaded and highjacked by other forces. That is, DNA is (obviously) a language. But it cannot function as a language if it is built into physics and chemistry.

By way of analogy, Prosch says that if rocks rolling to the bottom of a hill always spelled out English words, then we couldn't use the rocks to encode a message. Rather, the rocks must be neutral as to the message we want them to carry. Likewise, if physics and chemistry inevitably roll down into DNA, then DNA cannot carry information. Rather, it can only function as a code if its order is not necessary.

"Origins of DNA 'contained' far more meaning than we think." In other words, it is not just that DNA codes for "life." Rather, it ultimately points to meanings far surpassing mere life. It is really a cosmic opening that continues right up to the highest realization of integral unity. Or, as I put it in the book, life represents a luminous fissure in this heretofore dark, impenetrable circle, the dawning of an internal horizon, the unimaginable opening of a window on the world....

Not only does this fissure occur in matter, it occurs in us. Bottom line for today: be ye fissures of God!


Gagdad Bob said...

The left is all about sealing up every last fissure.

ted said...

For one thing, I never read any books before this, or at least not many. If you subtract the books I was forced to read... well, there can't have been many before my mid-twenties, and nothing serious.

Once again, I can relate as a Raccoon! I was guilty of Cliff noting myself through high school, as I had a revulsion to reading. I studied engineering in college, so time for exploring other interests was not even an option. But I was even a later bloomer. I was around 30ish when the spiritual/intellectual curious bug found me. Now, I have been under the omniscience impulse ever since. An invasion is a good way of putting it.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, the omniscience impulse is a good term for it. To paraphrase Schuon, the intellect is proportioned to the Absolute, such that nothing short of it can satisfy our restless souls.

John Lien said...

"Bottom line for today: be ye fissures of God!"

You crack me up.

Gagdad Bob said...



Rick said...

Invasion or kitnapping?

"On the night of August 22nd, a Sunday, when, after having attended church all day (which was to be a lifelong habit for John Adams), he went out under the stars, so inspired by the sermon, he said, and also in a state of euphoria . . . and he wrote of the glorious shows of nature overhead and of the intense sense of pleasure they evoked. Beholding the night sky, the amazing concave of heaven, sprinkled and glittering with stars, he was thrown, he wrote, into a kind of transport and knew that such wonders were the gifts of God, expressions of God's love--but that the greatest gift of all, he was certain, was the gift of an inquiring mind."

From McCullough's John Adams

Love this post.

Leslie said...

God works in mysterious ways. Irresistible Grace? CS Lewis calls Him, "the Hound of Heaven". Ephesians 1:4

neal said...

The tale of the Fissure King is a palindrome, no?
Probably seems precognitive unitl the egg is just a chicken.
Probably faith can be moving mountains of stuff that have need of being noticed.
Of course, when that bends Time and Space, then information would have to be robust and trusting.

All of these issues with the information that is fragile and requires bonding with a form that knows how to correct errors in replication over time really tends to confuse the scientists. That whole time gap seems impossible, like a miracle.

I would say that is probably faith unseen even after one gets there. Or the newborn calling to the ancestors.

What do I know? I think that is kind of like cheating, but mostly all living things do it.

julie said...

John, lol.

Re. reading vs. the Hunger, I was always a reader. But mostly what I read was, well, junk. Perhaps especially in my 20s. Eventually, I wanted to read something that didn't make me hopeless. I knew I was looking for something, but would have had no way to articulate it had I not come here. Then as often as not, reading felt like remembering.

JWM said...

Hey folks- This from FaceBook:

Friends of Will Musham - I just received a phone message from our mutual friend - he is in Cayuga Medical Center and has possibly suffered a stroke last night - his phone doesn't work in his room and I'm not sure he gets any internet service in there either. I'm planning to go up for a visit in a moment. I'm glad to report that his speech seemed just fine so that's a very good sign! Send good thoughts and healing vibes his way! I'll report back here when I get back.


Aaron said...

Speaking of "openings":

"Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow,” Dylan said in a statement. “They can be closed, but at the same time they allow the seasons and breezes to enter and flow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways, there is no difference."

Gagdad Bob said...

I was just now reading of a very similar concept in Sufi mysticism, called the Barzahh, which is like an isthmus between worlds. Reminds me also of Polanyi's discussion of the frame, without which there is no art.

Gagdad Bob said...

Not Barzahh, Barzakh.

julie said...

JWM, thanks for letting us know about Will. We'll be praying for him! So glad to hear he is talking well.

mushroom said...

Prayers for Will.

You kind of get a sense of the non-predestined destiny when you read through the Bible and realize God was always trying to get to the point where the world was as ready for the Incarnation as it could be. He pruned this, cultivated and encouraged that, seemed overly harsh with some, overly indulgent with others, but it finally comes to fruition and then it makes sense.

Gagdad Bob said...

One of the principles of Sufism as per Corbin is that God always appears in a form consistent with our capacity to receive him...

Leslie Godwin said...

Dear JWM, That's great you are able to visit Will. Please contact me gringagirl 18 @ gmail to let me know if he needs anything (audible credits, radio, pokemon go credit ;)
And please let Will know I am praying for him. I'll email him, but if you could let him know all that, I'd be so grateful. Thank you so much for mentioning!
Leslie G

JWM said...

You da best, Leslie.
But I only copied the FB post from Will's friend. Will is in Ithaca NY. I'm right here in So Cal. I will pass your note along (without posting your email on FB.)

John M

Magister said...

Wonderful post. That analogy of rocks and messages is, ahem, solid.

"God was always trying to get to the point where the world was as ready for the Incarnation as it could be"

Cool, Adrienne von Speyr has a beautiful meditation on this in her fine book on Mary, _The Handmaid of the Lord_. God waited for Mary's YES. That was the moment of conjunction, the touchdown pass to the end zoe-ne.

julie said...

Looking back on it, that is around the time my own pangs began, at around 22, maybe 23. It is a Hunger, only for immaterial food.

"He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich away empty-handed"
(Luke 1:53)

Van Harvey said...

JWM "Friends of Will Musham..."

Ooph. Give him our best and know that prayers are winging his way.