Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On the Nature of Ultimate Unreality

About what shall we blog today? There is our 30th anniversary, but I don't know what to say about that. Life before 1987 is just a blur or an embarrassment. Since then it's just a blur.

And now I don't remember much before the birth of our son in 2005, which once again reshuffled the existential cards. I guess I'm just not a nostalgic person. I'm certainly not a sentimental one. We are only given today, and that's it. So many ways of escaping the now! Nor do I think of alternative lives. Mine is what it is, the only variable being how much isness one can pack into the day; or rather, derive from it. The former goes more to Doing, the latter to Being.

Which I believe is the point. At least for me and my kind. Obviously we need doers out there. If they weren't doing their thing(s), then I could never be mine. Warriors and Priests. Hands and heads.

The other night the boy and I were watching television when an ad came on featuring a skydiver. We both agreed that this is something we need never do. I added that I've already got the skydiver doing it, which relieves me of the burden. He even took a video. I'll check it out if I ever need to, but the sensation of falling strikes me as totally superfluous. I've fallen before. I get it.

Not that I am in any way anti-sensation. God forbid! Literally, being that the Incarnation doesn't just involve heart and mind, but body as well.

But sometimes the search for novel and intense sensations is rooted in an inability to notice and appreciate the subtle ones that are going on all the time -- like, say, this cup of coffee. Again, we need adventurers, people like Columbus or Magellan or Neil Armstrong. But I am rather easily stimulated. I AM enough. Earth is more than enough. Going to the moon would only unsettle me.

It is often the case that doers are incapable of being. Or, they can only be in the midst of doing. Nevertheless, being is always (vertically) prior to doing, and always available to us right here, right now.

Churchill writes of how in war, "the uncertainty and importance of the present reduce the past and future to comparative insignificance, and clear the mind of minor worries."

No doubt true. But what about spiritual warfare? There is an obvious parallel, in that the latter too can only take place in the present, and Jesus calls it the "greatest commandment" that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength. Of course that's not possible, but what does impossibility have to do with it? That's none of our business.

Abruptly -- or maybe not -- shifting gears, I've begun reading a compendium of The Wisdom of St. Thomas, put together by Josef Pieper. It basically consists of his Bottom Line Takes, stripped of all the scrupulous scholastic argumentation.

All that argumentation is not necessarily necessary to get to God. Certainly it is never sufficient. Rather, to paraphrase Schuon, such arguments are points of reference to satisfy the needs of the intellect, but in the end, there is a direct seeing that cannot be reduced to argument -- just as no eye witness needs to first prove the existence of sight. No, seeing is enough. Direct perception trumps any rationalism. No merely finite statement can contain -- i.e., is adequate to -- the infinite.

However, a finite statement can... how to put it... "transmit" the infinite. So long as the transmission occurs, then argument per se becomes unnecessary. Rules of the intellect can never take the place of depth of intelligence.

Analogously, everyone uses the same rules of music. Yet some compositions are infinitely more deep than others. And not even compositions; sometimes just the raw musical expression.

The best vision in the world can never "see everything." And yet, seeing only what we can see is sufficient to posit a "universe" we will never see, that is, the totality of interacting objects and events. No one needs to see the entire cosmos to know we are in one.

Likewise the intellect: no one needs to know everything in order for everything to be known! In this regard, a few principles go a long way -- all the way up to God, or O, if you prefer a less saturated placeholder for Absoluteness. As Schuon says, "nothing is ever rejected without being replaced by something else." Reject the Absolute at one end, and it will just haunt or beguile you at the other. You gotta serve somebody. Might as well be someOne worthy of service.

The intellect can ascend all the way to God, but in so doing (at least in the moment) extinguishes itself -- just as, say, the idea of a tree is eclipsed in seeing one (even though the idea is necessary in order to see it). Conversely, language descends from God, such that we can communicate the vision, but never in its totality. "Logic is perfectly consistent only when surpassing itself" (Schuon). Go Gödel Go!

This is something I realized in the spring of 1985, long before I understood the religious consequences. I've written before of how my discovery of the obscure psychoanalyst W.R. Bion Blew My Mind. Through him I understood that a good psychological theory must express an unsaturated general truth that can also be "realized" in the particular individual.

The same challenge is involved in realizing the eternal in time, the infinite in space, or God in flesh. Experience must be expressed in dogma, but can never be reduced to it, for the symbol can be no substitute for that which it symbolizes. Fortunately we don't have to choose between the two, for God has conveniently provided a cosmic bridge woo hoo.

Such proofs of God as furnished by Aquinas can never be disproved, but this is still not the same as the experience of that to which they point (and from which they descend). "[A] proof is of assistance only to the man who wishes to understand and who, because of this wish, has in some measure understood already."

The man who wishes not to understand can easily deny the proof, for rationalization has no trouble defying reason. The arguments are "of no practical use to one who, deep in his heart, does not want to change his opinion and whose philosophy merely expresses this desire" (Schuon).

As such, atheism is rooted in desire and in will, not in reality. More to the point, the function of faith is to remain an open system on the vertical plane. The only possible ground for knowledge of God's non-existence is God himself.

Here is Pieper's first nugget of Thomas: The least insight that one can obtain into sublime things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lower things.

Boom. I don't need all the detailed intellectual scaffolding to support that belief. Rather, I see (by) its Light directly.

Here is one on the ultimate pattern of our cosmic adventure. Again, I see the same thing Aquinas sees with my own three eyes, so no one needs to prove it to me:

The complete perfection of the universe demands that there should be created natures which return to God, not only according to the likeness of their being, but also through their actions.

That explains how it is that we're all swimming in this spiraling vortex lured by God, AKA the Great Attractor.

Another nugget that summa-rises the Way of the Raccoon:

Intellect is the first author and mover of the universe.... Hence the last end of the universe must necessarily be the good of the intellect. Hence truth must be the last end of the whole universe.

Nevertheless, there exist human beings who are Of, By, and For the Lie. Put it this way: it is always possible to reject O, as per Genesis 3. But the denied reality merely returns as Ø, which is a theme of so much of the Old Testament, i.e., the reversion to worshipping false gods, which is to say, conforming oneself to an ultimate reality that is ultimately unreal. The left-hand path will always be with us.

12 comments:

Rick said...

Speaking of skydrivers, St Thomas was unstoppable until, The Experience.

Gagdad Bob said...

It reminds me of when I use my creaky ladder to get on the roof. That last step is the interesting one.

Gagdad Bob said...

Skydriving or skywriting? Imagine writing on the sky until you reach a certain altitude at which there is nothing on which to write.

swiftone said...

The rerun of the soldier and priest dichotomy send memory swirling around "The Cloud of Unknowing," which surely I wandered into because of your site. So just a thank you. Comment rarely, half of the comments goofy, but I always revel in the mental meanders offered here. So again, thanks.

Anonymous said...

What is the most sublime experience you can recall having?

Gagdad Bob said...

Too sublime to recall.

ted said...

Churchill writes of how in war, "the uncertainty and importance of the present reduce the past and future to comparative insignificance, and clear the mind of minor worries."

I recall hearing somewhere when the blitz was going on in London, half the psych wards emptied out because these folks wanted to be involved in helping out.

julie said...

The least insight that one can obtain into sublime things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lower things.

And thank heaven for that; a little glimpse of eternity is of tremendous comfort when the hereandnow seemingly devolves into madness.

***

Congrats on the anniversary! We just had our 18-but-really-24th yesterday. Agreed on the before; after so much time, it seems impossible that there was a before.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Once one is disconnected from the theosphere, argumentation set in.His consciousness is the first and I have to thank him for giving me some of it in order to appreciate the wonder of his creation. I love him without argument that sets the operation of the faithful adoration process that enlivens and enlightens my bondage to him. Those who does not love him they like to argue. They say self-realization as the requirement to his true devotion demands constant process of correcting and perfecting, in order to enter the theosphere. Purity yearns to purity. Thank you for clarifying the way to the one.

robinstarfish said...

That was one fine cup of coffee. Went well with the cherry pi.

Gagdad Bob said...

In the immortal words of Jethro Bodine: pi are round. Cornbread are square.

Van Harvey said...

"The other night the boy and I were watching television when an ad came on featuring a skydiver. We both agreed that this is something we need never do. I added that I've already got the skydiver doing it, which relieves me of the burden. He even took a video. I'll check it out if I ever need to, but the sensation of falling strikes me as totally superfluous. I've fallen before. I get it."

Ha! I so agree, there are few things I find more boring than thrills.