Friday, November 04, 2016

Humble Brag and Grandiose Humility

Ah yes, the relationship between being and knowledge. Who cares, anyway? Put another way, why do I care so much? Who bothers with such nonsense? Don't you have more important things to do?

Sure there are more important things. But "Thinking that only important things are important hints of barbarism" (NGD).

Besides, "I do not speak of God in order to convert anyone," writes the Aphorist, "but because it is the only subject worth speaking of."

I guess I'm just built this way. It's in my nature. I am my own argument against Darwinism, because where's the utility in selecting for traits that have nothing whatsoever to do with survival? And my most conspicuous traits are absolutely good for nothing. Just ask my in-laws!

I suppose artists feel the same way about their non-utility. Or should, anyway. But more often than not, their art is mingled with their narcissism, resulting in more, not less, self-importance. Toss stupidity into the mix, and you have an incurable liberal: the triple threat of uselessness, self-importantance, and stupidity.

"No one is important for a long time without becoming a fool" (NGD). And no one can be a celebrity for even a short time without becoming a jackass. Conversely, "Even if humility did not save us from hell, in any case it saves us from ridicule."

The temptation is always there to diminish God and elevate oneself. But some circumstances make it easier to do that -- fame, power, money, intelligence, any gift, really. For some people it isn't grand enough to be in the image and likeness of God. Rather, they want to be God.

That's got to be the ultimate humble brag, right? Not the Creator of the universe, only the image and likeness. And yet, between these two is an infinite abyss that prevents it from being a boast, for anything not-God is by comparison nothing.

Now, what is the relationship between being and God? "Being is ‘ambiguous,’" writes Schuon, "because it is at the same time absolute and relative, or because it is absolute while being situated in relativity, or again, to express ourselves more boldly though perhaps all the more suggestive, because it is the ‘relative Absolute.’"

Being is ultimately the object of thought. Again, Kant severed this link, such that our knowledge is no longer "about" anything but itself. Being is rendered noumenal, completely beyond any human knowledge.

Like anyone could know that! Again, Kant is committing the error we discussed in last Friday's post -- that in order to limit thought, one must think both sides of the limit.

You have two alternatives as to where to begin your cognitive adventure: to begin in being, or to begin in thought. But if you begin in the latter, then the adventure is over. Or at least it is guaranteed to go nowhere, since it can never recover the being you have cut off at the outset.

One of the ironies of modernity -- or whatever you call this era through which we are living -- is that people simultaneously accept the Kantian rupture (e.g., "perception is reality") while implicitly holding to a scientistic paradigm that presumes to know all (at least in principle).

So, is science about being? Or just about itself? The deconstructionist must regard scientism as naive (i.e., pre-critical), while the scientist must regard the deconstructionist as an intellectual buffoon (as if quantum theory, for example, is just words about words).

Well, they're both wrong in their own ways, and deserve one another. Scientism is naive; and postmodernism is pernicious buffoonery.

Being that I am the twisted product of an extensive modern education, I didn't completely sort this out for myself until... let's see... until 1999, when I read philosopher of science Stanley Jaki's Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth. And even then, it didn't completely sink in, because that was before I would have been able to connect it to the whole western -- which is to say, Christian -- tradition.

What was once plain common sense is now a revolutionary statement: that objects are prior to the subject. Jaki: "A book with the subtitle, 'a treatise on truth,' must... convey its author's resolve to face up to the question: 'What is truth?'"

And by truth he does not mean opinion. But nor does he mean "dogma." It's more like what I was saying the other day about 1) man being entitled to truth, and 2) Bob not wising to get into arguments with people over the nature of truth. Rather, there is only one logical path -- or one that doesn't end in implosion, absurdity, or self-refutation -- and this is it. To be sure, there are any number of alternative paths, but they necessarily end nowhere.

Our first step -- whether we admit it to ourselves or not -- is "the registering of objects." If not, then "the philosopher will be guilty of a sleight of hand, however sophisticated." For "he will have to bring in through the back door the very objects the use of which his starting point has failed to justify." The man with the umlaut strikes again!

Recall the crack about any radical dualism ending with a bit of one side on the other: "If objects are not presented as a primary datum, some other factors will expropriate that role.... For objects will not cease claiming their rights to be recognized for what they are: objects and not their disembodied conceptual factors."

There is no way out of this truth except via deception, self- or otherwise: "This truth cannot be evaded, let alone refuted, because the refutation itself is an act of communication, an implicit" appeal to an objective means whereby other subjects may be be reached.

This goes to the reality of communication. In this post, for example, I am communicating to you via objects called words. Therefore, even before anything else I say, I must implicitly believe that my readers will register these objects and decode their meaning.

Which, as it so happens, mirrors the structure of reality: intelligible objects transmitting their meaning to intelligent subjects.

To express it baseballically, "The pitcher is the philosopher, the ball he throws is the book in which his treatise on truth is literally embodied. And since he throws that book... at his fellow philosophers, his treatise on truth must be such as to assure rigorously the reality of that book or ball."

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


"When we get right down to it," wrote Bob yesterday, "the ultimate question is the relationship between epistemology and ontology, of knowing and being."

Why is this the ultimate question? Because if thinking does not disclose being, then we can know nothing of ultimate reality. If knowing isn't about being, then it's just about... phenomena, or appearances, or more knowing. Knowledge becomes as enclosed in itself as tenure.

This thought occurred to me while reading an article linked at Happy Acres. In it Anthony Esolen naïvely laments the fact that the modern -- or postmodern -- college student prefers to study himself:

"They were angered by my suggestion... that there was something narcissistic in the common insistence that people should study THEMSELVES rather than people who lived long ago and in cultures far removed from ours by any ordinary criterion, and that there was something totalitarian in the impulse of the secular left, to attempt to subject our curriculum to the demands of a current political aim."

I can't even imagine wanting to be a college professor in this climate. It would be analogous to being a physician for people who refuse to be treated, or a police officer in a... Democrat precinct where they would sooner shoot you than allow you to do your job.

Esolen is essentially complaining that students don't want to know what is going on beneath the surface, rather, only to be reinforced about their particular surface. Happy Acres Guy suggests that this may have to do with race and intelligence, but I would prefer to just say intelligence, because I don't need the hate. It is sufficient to say that abstraction varies with intelligence, and that the stupider one is, the more difficult to take on a universalist perspective, or even to see beyond oneself.

This is well understood in developmental psychology, at least the last time I checked. One of the first things you learn about is Piaget's stages of childhood cognitive development. They have been tweaked and adjusted over the years, but there is no gainsaying the fact that children start out with concrete thinking and become more capable of abstraction as they develop.

Some friends were over for dinner the other night, and their 17 year old daughter was doing some calculus homework.

Calculus. Where does that lie on the abstraction spectrum? Certainly it is above my pay grade, mathwise. I took algebra in the 9th grade, which I flunked. I retook it in the tenth grade, but this time paid attention and aced it. I took geometry in the 11th, and received a gentleteen's C, followed by Algebra II in the 12th -- which I think is trigonometry -- but discretely withdrew after one semester and one D. My point, if I have one, is that I never got to calculus.

I also took physics in the 11th grade, but learned precisely nothing. However, since the teacher graded on a curve, somehow nothing didn't translate to an F. Probably something to do with nonlocality.

My parents -- in particular, my mother -- just expected me to take these brainy types of courses, despite the lack of aptitude. It was an unspoken assumption that I would attend college, although I myself literally never gave it a thought. Somehow, I just thought things would work out without my having to work them out -- that Slack would prevail.

Nevertheless, I did go on to college -- the junior kind -- and majored in Business Administration, because I had no earthly idea what else to major in. There I took Business Math, which I actually passed. I squeaked by in Economics and even Accounting, but once I got to a four year university, hit the wall with Money & Banking and some other course with lots of numbers.

What are we talking about here? Right: abstraction. And knowledge. And being. But believe it or not, this pathetic post is over, because I have to get ready for work. We'll continue down this road tomorrow, and try to redeem ourselves. I think I have some ideas for some ideas.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

We Hold this Irrational Faith to be Entirely Self-Serving...

Continuing with yesterday's post, we were pointing out how if determinism is the case, then error cannot exist; and that if we are not free, then we wouldn't even have the word. Therefore, it is logically impossible to say that "determinism is true" -- just as it is logically impossible to affirm that "truth doesn't exist."

I suppose it is possible to say that truth doesn't exist, so long as you don't mean it in a logical way; rather, only as an intuition or hunch. But then we're back to faith, and what you're really saying is that faith is a reliable guide to know things we cannot otherwise know.

A paradox enters here, because it would imply that what is determined is not strictly true (since there can be neither truth nor falsehood). What I mean is, imagine a closed system; or better, imagine that the system of logic really were complete and self-sufficient. If that were the case, then everything within the system would be as predetermined as 2 + 2 = 4.

But in reality, no human system is complete, and every system contains assumptions that cannot be proved by the system. Rather, they come from outside the system, via anything from spontaneous hunches, to tacit foreknowledge of an impending solution, to God reaching down vertically via revelation. But ultimately the human circle can only be completed by and with God.

That latter is another Unavoidable Truth. You can of course say that God doesn't exist, but be mindful of what you are implying with that statement.

First of all, if it is true, then it is false, because you have eliminated any ground or basis for truth. But let that pass. What is really happening is that you are truly subjecting yourself to the Ultimate Con, because you are pretending to close a circle that in principle can never be closed by human effort.

In the absence of God, man is like a gaping wound on the surface of being. What I mean is that human beings are uniquely "opened up" to knowledge and experience, but without any reason for being so. Prior to the emergence of man, animals are indeed self-contained within their own neurology and instincts. Animals are not capable of exiting that closed circle, or of even knowing that there is anything outside their immediate experience.

I was attempting to explain this principle to a fellow over at Instapundit the other day. I see from subsequent comments that he is a conservative. But he's obviously not conservative all the way down -- and up. For he was simultaneously insisting that Darwinism is true, and that man may discover his first principles in logic.

I ask you: how can this be the case? Even if you stipulate the Darwinism part, how did randomly evolved animals escape the closed circle of Darwinism in order to know it from the outside? How do definitionally immanent creatures attain transcendence? I attempted to express this in an aphoristic way that was perhaps too aphoristic: "If Darwinism is true, then it is false."

That is not an argument, it's just a logical entailment. It is a necessary conclusion. Conversely, if you are going to affirm that Darwinism is literally true, then you can only do so by stepping outside Darwinism and making an appeal to faith, as per the above. But then you've opened a whole can of cosmic wormholes, such that Darwinism becomes a rather meager thing. It's just one wormhole among many.

When we get right down to it, the ultimate question is the relationship between epistemology and ontology, of knowing and being. As we said the other day, Kant is the one who officially presided over the divorce, ironically, in 1776, when the Critique was published.

I say "ironic" because that was the same year a bunch of dead white guys opened up their political manifesto (after a brief paragraph of throat-clearing) with the line, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

We can only thank Providence that Kant wasn't there, because he would have immediately taken issue with the gag about self-evident truths. How would they have expressed it in a manner acceptable to Kant?

"We hold this truth to be self-evident, that truth is unknowable by man. Rather, we can only know forms of our own sensibility. In other words, we have only access to appearances, never reality.

"Having said that, we infer that there must be a noumenal reality behind the phenomenal appearances. It's just that we can't know anything about it.

"Anyhoo, that's the bad news. The good nous (lol!) is that religion is all about the noumemal. I know what you're thinking -- 'so, religion is a lot of nonsense about the unknowable?' Not so fast! It might be true. You never know. That's why religion involves faith.

"Therefore, I propose this rewording: 'We hold this irrational faith to be entirely self-serving...'"

As it is unable to explain that consciousness which creates it, science, when it finishes explaining everything, will not have explained anything. --Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Monday, October 31, 2016

I'm Not Arrogantly Arguing, I'm Humbly Insisting

As we were saying, if science has no limits, it means -- paradoxically -- that man has all the more. It is paradoxical because man, and only man, is capable of science, let alone a limitless one.

What's a good -- or at least bad -- analogy? It is like being a king, only the more power this king has, the smaller his kingdom, to the point that the kingdom vanishes entirely with his absolute power over it.

Likewise, when man possesses limitless science, he causes himself to disappear. He ends with a total explanation of nothing, certainly as it pertains to man. Which of course brings to mind an Aphorism or two:

"Nothing makes clearer the limits of science than the scientist's opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession."

"What ceases to be thought qualitatively so as to be thought quantitatively ceases to be thought significantly."

A world reduced to quantity is Hell. And science deals only with quantity. Not to knock science, because quantity surely exists. It's just that we mustn't allow the tool to become the master.

BTW, I mentioned in a comment that for the last week or so I've been commenting at Instapundit, mostly just one liners and other assorted insultainment.

To back up a bit, that is how I started this blog, by commenting elsewhere, and people then following me here. I thought that perhaps I might reach out to members of the scattered tribe who don't know the tribe has reassembled over here, just a click away. You know -- "be ye fishers of Raccoons," and all that.

Anyway, every once in awhile I toss in a more metaphysical zinger such as the above -- "when man possesses limitless science, he causes himself to disappear" -- but it either clanks or generates an argument.

Now, a zinger like that -- like one of Don Colacho's aphorisms -- is not meant to start an argument. Rather, it's meant to provoke a guffaw-HA experience, a sudden flash of insight, like "how stupid of me not to have thought of that!" At any rate, if my site meter can be trusted, not a single soul has wandered over here from there.

Which is fine. I don't do this for the attention, only the uncritical adulation. But another thing I've noticed is that my ideas are equally offensive to materialist and religionist alike. I'm trying to put myself in their shoes and figure out why.

I would guess that both see my humble self as arrogant, the former as arrogant-stupid, the latter as arrogant-grandiose. Both accuse me of pretending to know things that cannot be known, while the scientism types accuse me not knowing things that everyone knows. Bill Maher to the left of me, Rick Warren or Joel Osteen to the right.

Dávila: "One could object to science that it easily falls into the hands of imbeciles, if religion's case were not just as serious."

Here is an example of an Aphorism that is not an argument. Rather it is just the Truth. One can either recognize or not; one can either assimilate the principle or fall short of it:

"There are arguments of increasing validity, but, in short, no argument in any field spares us the final leap."

I was trying to patiently explain this in my own bobnoxious way to a commenter at Instapundit, but he kept insisting that it was possible to ground thought in pure logic. I was only trying to help -- not argue -- but not a single point got through.

Frankly, I don't think we need Gödel to tell us that any logical system contains assumptions that cannot be proved by the system.

Furthermore, this truism is not confining -- it's liberating! It means that man is always free, no matter how much you try to cram him into your secondary ideological reality. Gödel's theorems are simply a more abstract and operational way of saying that man is always conformed -- or condemned, depending on your politics -- to transcendence.

Because man is free and open to transcendence -- which amount to the same thing -- reducing him to any system erodes both his freedom and the vector of his freedom, AKA God. God must be the ground and destiny of our freedom, or else it is as if freedom dangles from the sky, unattached to anything.

So many outstanding Aphorisms on this subject, for example, "If determinism is real, if only that can happen which must happen, error does not exist." Think about that one: we may not know truth, but surely we know error. But we can't know error unless truth exists, so there!

For the same reason, we can only know of necessity because of freedom. Absent freedom, we wouldn't even have the word. And think of the irony -- that a person who is totally cynical of transcendence -- say, a Bill Maher -- is the one they call a "free thinker." But "free" is precisely what he cannot be, if freedom means anything. And only someone as modest as your humble servant could be so sure of the truth.