Friday, May 19, 2017

I UnKnow, Wherefore He Is

Just another wild & wooly Friday post.

However, there is always an underlying method to our muddiness, in that every post, in one way or another, is trying to vault you out of your familiar absurcumstances. If the post can do that, then it has succeeded. So, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Which actually goes to the explicit subject of the present post, which has to do with the complementarity of knowing and unknowing. Unlike my competitors, I'm not trying to tell you what to think, but rather, to help you break out of what you think you think. It unsays as much in what remains of my sidebar.

The following strikes me as a key complementarity: "knowledge is objectively certain, but cannot tune in to the living process of reality, nor can it embrace the infinite. In contrast to this, faith is highly uncertain, but allows us direct access to the infinite reality of our own being" (Watts).

As such, the opposite -- or complement -- of knowledge is not ignorance but not-knowing, or what Keats referred to as negative capability: the ability to abide "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

As it so happens, I first stumbled upon this concept by way of Bion, who applied it to the practice of psychoanalysis, through which we can only pretend to understand the mind -- beginning with our own, let alone the patient's. Any such knowledge involves the process of an unknown and unknowable reality giving itself over to our understanding on a moment by moment basis: out of the formless and infinite void, thoughts arise, we know not from where.

Or, to paraphrase Jesus, it is like the wind, which blows wherever the heck it wants to -- gosh! -- such that "you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going." As if anyone could know that!

Here is an analogy of what Bion means by what he calls "transformations in O":

"Let us assume a painter sees a landscape and paints it. The landscape, according to our terminology, will be O," whereas the painting is "the end result of a series of transformations." Obviously there is a relationship between the painting (the transformation) and the landscape (O), but the number of potential transformations is literally inexhaustible -- and this is for just one landscape! Each one will transform something "invariant" from the landscape to the painting, otherwise we couldn't recognize the relationship. But there is no limit to the ways this can be accomplished.

It reminds me of an example Christopher Alexander provides in volume one of The Nature of Order. In it he reproduces a series of self-portraits by Matisse, each one showing very different features that couldn't actually be present in the same person. And yet, each one is clearly recognizable as Matisse. How did he do this?

First of all, this is what separates the genius from the Sunday painter, but that doesn't answer the question.

It must go back to what was said above about the mysterious invariant in the transformation. As Alexander puts it, a person's unique character "is something deeper than features: it is an inner thing which exists over and above the features, and is not even dependent on these features" (emphasis mine). That is weird! "What in the world is going on? What is it that Matisse is seeing?"

"The answer is, this 'character' is the wholeness. It is the overall vector, the overall qualitative structure, the overall field effect of the face." You can describe the face in terms of its elements or features, and yet, an accurate depiction by an average painter might not capture the character, while the "inaccurate" one by a gifted artist does.

I'll give you another example that we were discussing just last night. The wife, whose hobby is photography, -- c.f. here, at parkourmom99 -- has been trying to photograph our Great Dane. You'd think this would be easy, but despite hundreds of attempts, none of them capture his character. The photographs could be of just anydane, and simply don't convey his comical and endearing blend of traits. She might capture one of them, but not the unique combination. Maybe someday.

Conversely, our son is somehow a perfect subject. It's as if every photograph captures his spirit. Again, it's weird.

The thing that always bothers me is that we are in such a strange circumstance, and yet, people are forever wanting to normalize it, as if intelligence is "just anything." It's not! Rather, it is a daily miracle, one of three that are enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives (the other two being existence and life). "With intelligence, the curve springing from God closes on itself like a ring that in reality has never been parted from the Infinite" (Schuon).

Ironically, you can't leave God even if you tried. Rather, one can only pretend to. But this pretense can become like a block of granite or thick layer of ice that forms the boundary between the kingdoms of heaven and hell.

Therefore, you might say that (to mix metaphors) our terrestrial exile is built with bricks of (k), or with the type of self-enclosing knowledge that characterizes scientism and other pneumopathologies. "Theory" is etymologically related to sight, but any theory that pretends to be consistent and complete renders itself blind in a deeper sense.

Schuon has his own way of describing our permanent state of not-knowing, which is always in dialectic with our knowledge: "Whether we like it or not, we live surrounded by mysteries, which logically and existentially draw us towards transcendence." Why is that? Because if we could actually map reality in our heads -- if our knowledge were in perfect conformity to Total Reality -- it would connote complete immanence. Existence would be a closed circle instead of an open spiral.

I have this idea that any manmade map of reality is analogous to pi, which goes on forever without ever being able to resolve itself; in other words, the most perfectly detailed expression of pi is helpless to map the simple reality of a circle -- and what is more simple than a circle, AKA O?

"[T]he information-processing systems of the rational mind," writes Watts, "can comprehend only data existing in the finite world of form, whereas our 'faith-mind,'" -- which is a higher function -- "is the only 'wavelength' of the brain that permits us to attune ourselves to, and realize both the infinite, formless realm and the finite realm of existence."

The linear and timebound left cerebral hemisphere -- so to speak -- can never "contain" the right. But the right contains the left, such that in it we can reconcile finite and infinite. But never in any final way. Rather, its an ongrowing innerprize. It's the work of a lifetime, but the yoke is easy.


julie said...

Obviously there is a relationship between the painting (the transformation) and O, but the number of potential transformations is literally inexhaustible -- and this is for just one landscape! Each one will transform something "invariant" from the landscape to the painting, otherwise we couldn't recognize the relationship. But there is no limit to the ways this can be accomplished.

Yes - and the same only perhaps moreso for painting a face. The invariants, if they go awry by even the smallest amount, will make an otherwise "good" portrait quite bad; at the same time, things you'd think should be important may matter not at all.

julie said...

(Heh - I should have kept reading...)

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Godwin, aka Gagdad Bob.

Your latest posts have been especially fine reading, and have indeed taken me to a more interior and subjective place, where the real action is. In doing so, you skirt the boundary line beyond which language will no longer suffice to describe the terrain, but that is all well and good. The closer the approach, the better. I see you depending on your intuition and spontaneous thoughts as your write and I think this technique has served us well.

Your descriptions of the working of grace are especially valuable, I think. It is easy to discount the subtle signals being sent by grace, or pass them off as happenstance. Far better to take them as true signals, even if mistakes are made here and there.

I thought of a metaphor; the air traffic control system. The tower sends highly specific messages to each plane, but the air crew must be alert, have the radio on the correct frequency, and trust and execute the controller's instructions. So it goes with grace. It is there, it is crucial information, and we should be attending the "radio" with great concentration, to reap the maximum benefits.

I find coins on the ground at certain intervals while walking; the Master arranges my random walks, and the thought upon which I was dwelling on when finding the coin is now marked for special consideration. Sometimes the coin is just a consolation when I feel forsaken. But I have never been forsaken. The system has served me well. Perhaps each person has their own special system. I have never asked.

Anyway Bob and readers, be well, thrive, enjoy the grace which is upon us at every turn.

ted said...

Oh oh Bob. I recall you wrote about being an INTP. I just came across this:

INTP – You are eternally condemned to researching an extremely vapid topic using wildly inaccurate methods, mostly involving interviewing people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Hmm. I don't see how O could be any less vapid.

Sadly, I am an INTJ. Even worse:

INTJ – Every time you open your mouth to say something intelligent, something entirely idiotic comes out instead.

Explains a lot.

mushroom said...

Catching up once again.