Friday, September 23, 2016

Deciphering and Re-ciphering the Mystery

Back to Polanyi for a moment, who was a critic of the notion that "true knowledge must be something detached and utterly objective," and that science alone is capable of meeting these criteria" (Prosch).

Rather -- as we've been discussing vis-a-vis al-'Arabi -- "World views are imaginative projections" and "are not products themselves of scientific investigations" (ibid.).

Indeed, a world view implies both perspective -- and therefore lack of objectivity -- and participation. Imagine trying to see the room where you are sitting from all possible perspectives. Then throw in all possible subjects, including the ant now crawling up my leg. Now consider something larger -- history, or the cosmos, or God. As I mentioned the other day, such things can only be imaginatively envisioned.

I believe I've mentioned before that when I read a good history book, it is as if a previously unnoticed scotoma is filled in. A scotoma is a blind spot where, for example, the optic nerve connects to the eyeball. This produces a "hole" in the field of vision of each eye, which our brains don't notice. But if you stare straight ahead while moving an object at the periphery, there is a point at which it disappears.

I see that the wiki article includes a section on neuropsychological, psychological, and intellectual scotomas. To which we might add historical and spiritual:

"The common theme of all the figurative senses is of a gap... in the mind's perception, cognition, or world view." And "in psychology, scotoma can refer to a person's inability to perceive personality traits in themselves that are obvious to others.... [A]t the highest abstraction level are what have been called intellectual scotomas, in which a person cannot perceive distortions in their world view that are obvious to others."

This concept of psycho-pneumatic scotomas is full of implications. The most important scotoma of all, as we've been saying in recent posts, is God. How is that? Well, recall what was said a couple of posts back about how "Incapacity to attain comprehension is itself comprehension." I would say that this High Incomprehension is actually an accurate perception of the ontological scotoma at the heart of existence -- or in other words, of our radical incompleteness.

And yet, reality itself cannot be "incomplete." That would be an absurdity. Therefore, our ontological scʘtʘma is, as it were, a "placeholder" we fill with God. Conversely, you might say that the atheist simply papers over the hole, filling it with "matter" or "math" or "natural selection," or whatever. But thank God for that hole in the ground of being, without which we would be sadly complete.

Come to think of it, Gödel's theorems certainly go to this. For example, if you imagine that your scientific theory is somehow "complete," it is only because you are overlooking the Gödelian hole at its center -- i.e., the metaphysical assumption(s) for which the theory cannot account.

It is simply a truism that knowledge of God begins and ends in Not Knowing, if only because the finite can never contain the infinite. Yes, the finite can represent the infinite, but we must never forget the scotomatous abyss between the two.

Analogously, what is the "space" between a circle and a sphere? Think of the old gag to the effect that God is as close to you as your jugular vein. Likewise, from the perspective of the circle, the sphere couldn't be any closer, since the latter contains an infinite number of circles. And yet, there is nevertheless an unquantifiable abyss between circle and sphere -- a dimensional scotoma, so to speak.

To change if not grind our gears for a moment, this also applies to our politics. Our founders, for example, were quite careful to create a system of negative liberties, and what is a negative liberty but a kind of empty space free from government intrusion? Thankfully there is a big nothing at the very heart of the American ideal.

Unless you are a liberal, in which case you wish to eliminate the Nothing with an infinite number of laws, regulations, speech codes, and political correctness, right down to the most intimate behavior. And I use the term "infinite" advisedly, because there is no limiting principle to the ever-growing regulatory state cherished by liberals.

It is vital to understand that "negative liberty" is inconceivable -- or at least unworkable -- in the absence of "positive obligations." As we've said before, only a person who is a priori responsible is fit for liberty. One thing -- the most important thing -- an American education should do is help form responsible citizens who are fit for -- i.e., can tolerate -- negative liberty.

How's that working out? You will have noticed that the whole catastrophe comes down to those who can tolerate the scotoma of responsible negative liberty vs. those who want to empower the state to make it go away.

Think of "scientific Marxism." No scotomas there! It only explains everything, with no gaps or mysteries. Likewise scientism, metaphysical Darwinism, or any other ideology. To paraphrase Arthur Koestler, these are men without umbilical cords grounding them to the Womb of Being.

This is all by way of a meandering prelude to a discussion of Henry Corbin, who writes of "a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is the 'cipher' of a mystery, the only means of saying something that cannot be apprehended in any other way." (Cipher: a zero; a figure O.)

You might compare it to the circle and sphere alluded to above. The symbol is to God as circle is to sphere: it is "never 'explained' once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution."

So, you might say that the metabolism of God involves a never-ending re-cipherment for the purposes of de-cipherment. Because again, no number of circles will ever fill up the sphere, let alone that Sphere.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Waystation Between Must Be and Can't Be

There are three sorts of existence: there is Necessary Being, "which cannot not be." Then there are things that cannot be under any circumstances: necessary not-being, you might say, or just plain impossibility (although the Cubs are posing a challenge to that one). Then there is the realm of the Possible, of things that might or might not be. That would include you and I, "whose relationship to existence and nonexistence is equal."

D'oh! This means that we always have one foot in existence and another on a banana peel. It is what makes life so... bracing. We are situated smack dab between Must Be and Can't Be, so there is an inherent degree of absurdity, or at least ambiguity.

To choose atheism or scientism or existentialism is to essentially say we are either children of the Can't Be or an extension of the Must Be. If the former, then our lives are indeed absurd and nothing more. And if we have no free will, then it is as if everything is preordained, and we Must Be who and what we are.

It seems that people are uncomfortable with the ambiguity and enigma of the Possible. One immediate implication is that there is a lot of Luck involved. Why did that white guy in Charlotte get dragged from his car last night and brutalized by the rioting savages? Wrong place at the wrong time. Bad luck.

I'm thinking of Curtis Mayfield, who was just standing on stage at an outdoor concert when a lighting scaffold blew over and crashed down on him, breaking his neck and rendering him quadriplegic. A couple of years ago an enormous tree broke in half and crashed into my back yard. If anyone had been standing there, it would have killed him. Who knows how many close calls we have in a given day? We generally only know about the bad things that happen, but not all the near misses.

The point is, we are always perched between existence and nonexistence, and although we can take precautions, there is nevertheless an element of randomness we can't eliminate. If we could, then we would be in the realm of necessity, not possibility.

In fact, for Schuon, God's All-Possibility is the whole explanation of evil. Evil is something that ought not be, but is nevertheless possible. What Schuon would say is that God doesn't will evil, of course, only possibility. But possibility includes the negation of God's will, hence, evil.

"Infinitude, which is an aspect of the Divine Nature, implies unlimited Possibility and consequently Relativity, Manifestation, the world. To speak of the world is to speak of separation from the Principle, and to speak of separation is to speak of the possibility -- and necessity -- of evil; seen from this angle, what we term evil is thus indirectly a result of Infinitude, hence of the Divine Nature..."

Therefore, "The nature of evil, and not its inevitability, constitutes its condemnation; its inevitability must be accepted, for tragedy enters perforce into the divine play, if only because the world is not God; one must not accept error, but one must be resigned to its existence." Haters gonna hate, and all that.

This latter goes to man's fallen nature (or to the tragic vision of life, if you prefer), and it is precisely this Lamentable Fact that the liberal denies (c.f., Sowell's A Conflist of Visions and Vision of the Anointed).

So, the world is a tapestry of necessity and contingency, which is precisely what makes it the world. If not for the contingency, it would be heaven. Schuon says somewhere that it is also product of geometry and music; and what is architecture but frozen music, and music but flowing architecture?

This means that to perceive reality we must, as it were, see the geometry and hear the music. In a certain sense, science is about the former, art and religion the latter. But there is also a kind of intuitive hearing in science, and a kind of hierarchical structure in God.

Now, one of the purposes of religion is to render us more "real" by participating in the Real -- in Necessary Being. In our own way, we participate in Necessary Being simply by virtue of our uniqueness: "each human being is a unique reflection of God, since 'Self-disclosure never repeats itself.'"

So, on the one hand, we might or might not have been; but once we are, then there can be no repetition. Our "true self" -- or soul -- must be a kind of fragment of Cosmic Necessity, of the Divine I AM, but again, woven with contingency.

And "man is not man until he brings the divine attributes latent within himself into actuality." But most people -- you will have noticed -- are closer to "animal man," or "animals in human form, since they have not actualized the divine form which would make them human."

So, it appears that the human station is the very possibility of participating in human being or in non-being: your call. If you've never met a human non-being, then you need to get out of the house more often. Or just turn on the news.

"'Animal man' is the opposite of perfect man," whether the latter is limited to Jesus or is widened out to encompass the saints. From my perspective, I think the saints "participate" in Jesus, hence the (relative) perfection.

Jesus is "the way," but also the "waystation." For "A 'waystation' is a station to which God descends to you, or within which you alight upon Him.... He desires to descend to you and places within your heart a seeking to alight upon Him" -- the old (⇅).

Well, that's about the size of it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Round About the Queer God

For any curious human being -- and a human without curiosity is scarcely worthy of the name -- the existence of God is the Question of questions. But merely answering the question in the affirmative is insufficient. Rather, "having answered it," writes Chittick, human beings "must then set out to verify the truth of their answer by finding God in fact, not in theory."

This is precisely what we mean by (k) vs. (n): our "main concern is not with the mental concept of being [k] but with the experience [n] of God's Being," whereby "finding," "perceiving" and "being" are united in "that which truly is."

This constitutes what we call the Bewilderness Adventure: "To find God is to fall into bewilderment, not the bewilderment of being lost and unable to find one's way, but the bewilderment of finding and knowing God and of not-finding and not-knowing Him at the same time."

You could say that (k) is mere knowledge, the sort of thing that can be easily passed from mind to mind. But (n) requires a wide-I'd state of blunderment, in which we first empty ourselves of what we know in order to make room for what we don't.

Thus the orthoparadox: "Incapacity to attain comprehension is itself comprehension." So, be wary of those who only know. As the saying goes, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

A gag by Kierkegaard just popped into my head, so perhaps it is relevant: "Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the culture around us." Conversely, imagine if the gospel were as assimilable as any other form of (k). In the end, it would render us equal, if not superior, to God, because it would mean we could contain him (rather than vice versa).

Indeed, the fact that we can know God but never contain him is guaranteed to generate an endless stream of partial answers -- as no amount of two-dimensional circles can add up to the three-dimensional sphere. Thus, our answers can and will be completely true and yet utterly false. To tweak a famous saying, "Why do you call it truth? There is no one true but God allone."

Any extreme seeker knows that "the answer to every significant question concerning God and the world is 'Yes and no.'" Whatever Yes you can come up with simply isn't big enough for God. Indeed, there are certain gods so puny -- and you know who they are -- that the No! is far preferable to any Yes. Saying Yes to them would be an insult to God and man. Give me an honest naytheist to a narrow-minded yeatheist.

"'Finding,' it needs to be repeated, is never just epistemological. It is fundamentally ontological. Being precedes knowledge knowledge in God as in the world" (ibid.).

In God, of course, knowledge is Being, and vice versa; in giving existence to the world, God literally gives being, but this being is at the same time not-being. If you don't know that, then death is here to remind you. You might say that the purpose of religion is to bridge that otherwise unbridgeable gap between being and Being.

And when I say "unbridgeable," I mean of course from our end: again, we can never contain the Container. But "what if" -- "I'm just thinking out loud here," said God -- "what if the Container were somehow to become the content?" What if the Timeless were to enter time, the Infinite the finite, the Author his story? Wouldn't that be a kick in the godhead?

To paraphrase the early Fathers, The Container becomes contained so that the contained might become Container.

Is any God-spiel down here adequate to accomplish this? If so, it would have to be a strange spiel indeed, not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

"None knows God but God." True enough, even self-evidently so. And if not for the Incarnation, it would be an impenetrable tautology.

But as a human individual who has come into existence and then returned to his Creator, he has tied together the Origin and the Return.... He is the part and the Whole, the many and the One, the small and the Great, everything and All. Just as he turns round about God, so the cosmos turns round about him. --William Chittick

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Seeing the Light in our Prismhouse

We are in the process of cross-referencing some insights from a celebrated 13th century Sufi Cosmonaught with everything else we know to be true of reality. Why? Because it is always intriguing when people separated by centuries, cultures, languages, and religions nevertheless perceive the same invisible things. For me, anyway.

Perhaps it's fundamentally no different than two explorers -- say, Vikings and Spaniards -- discovering the same land mass. Of course there will be differences, since Newfoundland is not central America. Nevertheless, it's a Place, and in any event, the Place wasn't Europe. Same with nonlocal/vertical reality: it is quite diverse, despite the underlying unity (same house, many mansions).

Indeed, al-'Arabi is Allahbout describing that place: it is "the realm where invisible realities become visible and corporeal things are spiritualized. Though more real and 'subtle' than the physical world, the World of Imagination is less real and 'denser' than the spiritual world, which remains forever invisible as such."

You might say that, just as the material world is transmuted through our senses into a ponderable reality, so too is the spiritual world transmuted through the imaginal into the world of religion. As they say, water takes on the color of its container. Compare pure spirit to invisible water, and religious imagery its container: different colors, same water.

I was thinking about this yesterday; or rather, vice versa, since the thought just popped unbidden into my noggin. But we use the word "reality" rather loosely. Reality is one thing, our ideas about it another. Is any human idea actually adequate to reality? Clearly not. Rather, reality is something we can only imagine -- even when we use scientific concepts to do so.

A critical point, however, is that this is not to be confused with a Kantian dualism that denies us access to reality. For Kant, we are essentially trapped in the phenomenal representations of our nervous system, with no access to the noumenal-Real. Our esteemed Shaykh would insist that we do indeed have access to the noumenal via imaginal representations of it.

Go back to what was said above about the place where invisible realities become visible and corporeal things are spiritualized. In particular, think of how we inevitably "spiritualize" reality.

For example, most people, in the presence of virgin nature -- the ocean, rivers, forests, mountains, etc. -- don't just see H20, or trees, or a pile of dirt. Somehow it is transmuted into a spiritual perception -- or perception of spirit -- such that a kind of metaphysical light shines through. This is another thing no artificial intelligence would be able to accomplish, whereas for humans it is hard not to accomplish it.

Note that there must be a difference between "spirit" and the thing it is clothed in, e.g., the river or mountain. This again goes to the idea of spirit taking on the color of its container. We don't reduce water to its container; nevertheless, we couldn't see it without the container. (Perhaps a better analogy is invisible light through a prism.)

Now, shift gears and apply the same principle to the upper vertical. It is pervaded by the same invisible spirit, but how do we capture it? The customary way is through religious containers, e.g., myths, symbols, icons, archetypes, commandments, etc. These are how we "clothe God" (or the sacred), so to speak.

This is an idea that is present in all religions. What distinguishes Christianity is that God literally clothes himself in man, a man who then becomes the "way" to think about God.

In what we might call Primordial Religion, there are three great Revelations. There is existence as such, which is transparent to the Light alluded to above. There is also revelation proper, the book or prophet who speak for God.

For Schuon, there is also the human intellect, which can have no sufficient reason outside God. In other words, nothing short of God can account for a Reason that so transcends everything under its purview. Just as the Light shines through matter and through written revelation, so too does the same Light shine on and through the intellect-nous.

This happens in sometimes surprising and unexpected ways. For example, in the Churchill bio there are many extracts of his prose, and there is something magically luminous about it. I don't know how he does it, but it just rolls out of him. Well, go back to the Light and the Container. I can't help thinking that the key lies in his contact with the Light, which then becomes clothed in his words.

It is very, very different from mere intellectualism. Indeed, Churchill was not an intellectual, in the sense of being interested in abstract ideas. Likewise, he preferred short and common words, and plain meaning. But there is no doubt that these words stirred a civilization to defend itself from a barbarous darkness that nearly succeeded in extinguishing it. Some how he "spoke" on behalf of the very Light for which Western Civilization is the container.

If this sounds like hero-worship, well, yes.

Conversely, think of how his anti-type, Hitler, did the same thing. He too clothed an invisible reality in powerful language. But what a difference! Hitler is truly "darkness visible," the lower vertical incarnate. And wouldn't it be nice if he were the only person capable of clothing "luminous darkness" in speech. Fat chance.

In any event, "imaginal existence allows abstract meanings to take on concrete form," whether that form is in matter or in the intellect.

Now, the radiation of spirit is closely tied to the presence of "openings." Or, spirit is always there; it is up to us to create the opening. It is "a near synonym for several other terms, such as unveiling, tasting, witnessing, divine effusion, divine self-disclosure, and insight." Each "designates a mode of gaining direct knowledge of God" which "comes to the aspirant suddenly [?!] after he has been waiting patiently at the door.'

To paraphrase Woody Allen, 90% of life is just showing up. In this case, you have to be there for the Light to break through. You don't necessarily have to do anything in particular, and indeed, there is nothing you could do on your end to force it to happen. However, there are a lot of things you can not do which will allow it to happen. Which is precisely what we mean by the "bewilderness adventure of higher non doodling."

Having said that, one must always coonsider the Source. I just left a comment on yesterday's post about Schuon's critique of what he calls "realizationism," which essentially involves a lack of discernment of the spirits to which one has opened. Spirit is neither here nor there; or rather, both here and there, i.e., up and down.

How to tell the difference? We're almost out of time, but al-'Arabi suggests that one test involves -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- the unity, or integrity, or harmony, or interconnectedness of it all. It should all Make Sense in a higher and deeper context.

Think of, say, St. Thomas vs. secular scientism. Both "explain everything," but the latter only does so by first explaining away everything that matters.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Imagining Reality

One thing leads to anauthor, in this case, Henry Corbin to Ibn al-'Arabi via William Chittick's The Sufi Path of Knowledge. I'm as dubious of Islam as the next guy, but there are always exceptions, most notably Schuon, whom I probably quote more than any other author.

Indeed, it is fair to say I that am far closer to a Schuon-style Sufism than to certain strands of moonstream Christianity -- just as if Lena Dunham were the only alternative, I don't know that I could call myself heterosexual.

Nor was Schuon himself without the same ambivalence: "Formerly, the prince of darkness fought against religions above all from without and apart from the sinful nature of man; in our age he adds a new stratagem to this struggle, with regard to emphasis at least, which consists of seizing religions from within, and he has largely succeeded, in the world of Islam as well as the worlds of Judaism and Christianity."

After all, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama call themselves Christian (as Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry are "Catholic"), and some 75% of Jews are reliable Democratic voters. All of these trends should be "impossible," but, as Schuon would say, evil is the possibility of impossibility (or presence of nothingness), so to speak. Some things cannot -- or at least should not -- be, and yet, there they Are.

In any event, this satanic ruse "is not even very difficult for him... given the prodigious lack of discernment that characterizes the humanity of our epoch..." This absence of discernment is precisely what renders the impossible possible and gives it the appearance of reality.

Speaking of possible impossibilities, I am currently reading volume 2 of Manchester's magnificent Churchill bio. It is rather more slow moving than the first and third volumes (which I have already read), and provides an almost hour-by-hour (and sometimes minute-by-minute) account of the three year lead up to World War II, from Hitler's 1936 yoinking of the Rhineland to his 1939 invasion of Poland.

While historians tell us World War II broke out in August of 1939, in actuality it started no later than 1936. It's just that the allies finally acknowledged it in 1939. Why did they (excepting Churchill) fail to notice they were at war before then? Well, why does the left not acknowledge that we are at war with Islamic terror? Rather, we are in a Narrative Fight with folks who call themselves Muslim. My narrative can beat up your narrative!

But you can't actually even say that, because the whole idea of narrative comes out of a subreal literary theory that says one narrative is no better than another, and that they are all rooted in power, not truth. Thus, just as the P. of D. seizes religions from within, so too does he seize English, history, philosophy, and psychology departments, not to mention political parties, TV stations, and newspapers.

I see we've already opened a multitude of possible avenues to explore in this post. I hadn't intended to veer off into Churchill, but my main point is the singular lack of discernment -- blindness, really -- in his opponents in the 1930s.

Conversely, Hitler wasn't at all blind, at least insofar as he saw exactly what he wanted to do and how to go about doing it. But just as liberals today blind themselves to troubling aspects of Islam, intellectuals of the 1930s skimmed right past the, er, troubling parts of the Mein Kampf narrative.

In comparing attitudes of the 1930s to contemporary times, the parallels are even more striking than I had realized. For example, liberals don't want to refer to terrorists as "Islamic" for fear of offending them. Just so, the whole policy of the Chamberlain government revolved around not angering Hitler.

Bear in mind that this was before "appeasement" had been discredited -- before it became a pejorative term. Rather, Chamberlain openly and enthusiastically embraced the policy of appeasement -- which is why the last thing he wanted to do was bring Churchill into the government, as this would have undoubtedly made the Fuhrer "cross." The logic is the same: just as angering terrorists creates more of them, Churchill was the Nazi's best recruiting tool.

But let's get back to matters at hand, al-'Arabi. I can't say I would recommend the book. Rather, I'm only here to extract the useful and throw away the rest. And the main thing I find useful is cross-referencing some of his insights and experiences with people like Meister Eckhart, who popped into history a little bit later (he was born about 20 years after al-'Arabi died in the 13th century).

Is it possible that those two had a common Source? Yes, I believe so, but nothing "exterior." Rather, it seems to me that they were orbiting around the same Attractor, and therefore seeing and experiencing some of the same things. You could say they were battling for the same Narrative.

I'm not going to pretend to be any kind of expert, nor to give any kind of tidy summary (which is impossible anyway, since he wrote some "700 books, treatises, and collections of poetry." You could say that he stood knee-deep in O with the firehose on full blast -- a ceaseless torrent of mystical insights. And as is always true in such cases, it is left to us to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Shifting gears rather violently for the moment, Churchill was the same way, at least in regard to his writing. The spigot was always on. Lately I've been trying to figure out the peculiar power of his words. What's his trick? Whence the magic?

Of note, one of the reasons he was ignored in the 1930s is that everyone acknowledged his "genius." It was his judgment they questioned. In short, it was widely believed that his prudence was not equal to his intelligence, such that there was an awful lot of indiscriminate balderdash tossed into the undeniably brilliant mix.

Which is sometimes true. You might say, the bigger the genius, the greater the error. One of his defenders said "Winston was often right. But when he was wrong -- well, my God.”

I think the "problem," if it can be defined as such, was his prodigious imagination. Now, as we've been discussing lately, reality takes place in the imaginal space between world and soul. Imaginal is not the same as imagination, but they certainly share similarities. Which we will no doubt get to as we proceed, because this is one of al-'Arabi's (and Henry Corbin's) central ideas.

This unruly post just refuses to settle down!

Let me begin with some highlighted passages from Chittick's introduction:

"Many important thinkers have concluded that the West never should have abandoned certain teachings about reality which it shared with the East.... In putting complete faith in reason, the West forgot that imagination opens up the soul to certain possibilities of perceiving and understanding not available to the rational mind."

Analysis: true. I entered western Christianity via the eastern door, and found there everything I had been looking for in yoga, only in a different garb, AKA veil.

At any rate, "Once we lose sight of the imaginal nature of certain realities, the true import of a great body of mythic and religious teachings slips from our grasp."

Speaking of which, in my ongoing effort to understand the Churchill magic, I'm reading his sprawling History of the English Speaking Peoples. In it he discusses the legendary Arthur, who may be imaginary but is none the less real for being so: he "takes us out of the mist of dimly remembered history into the daylight of romance." There he "looms, large, uncertain, dim but glittering," such that "around his name and deeds shine all that romance and poetry can bestow."

Not to push the envelope too far, but what was Churchill but a modern-day incarnation of this same mythic and quintessentially British archetype? Certainly he was the only man in 1940 capable of pulling the imaginal sword from the stone of modern sophistication, and wielding it to rouse dreams and visions of light conquering darkness and good vanquishing evil.

Well, we're out of time. To be continued...

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