Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Metaphysical Dunning-Kruger & the Elephant in the Cosmos

The other day I saw a headline on Drudge to the effect that American children are more anxious than ever. I have no idea if this is true, but I believe it. But first we have to define our terms.

Now, anxiety as such is prima facie evidence of an un- or even disintegrated mind. However, one must first determine whether the lack of integration is a cause or an effect.

For example, one may have a hormonal disturbance that causes a lack of psychic integration, which then causes anxiety. Or, think of someone with incipient Alzheimer's disease: as the mind begins to unravel, the person will start to experience anxiety, persecution, and even paranoia.

This is quite different from a primary diagnosis of anxiety. Which is also very different from normal and even necessary anxiety. Frankly, most people aren't nearly anxious enough. Or, they are anxious about the wrong things. Think of the anti-Trump hysterics. They are certainly anxious and definitely in need of treatment. But not for the Trump hysteria. Rather, they need to find out what the Trump hysteria is concealing.

We've all had that One Great Teacher, right? My own esteemed Professor Worthwhile once said... I actually have my old lecture notes hidden away somewhere, so I bet I could find the exact reference.

In any event, he said that with an anxious patient, always assume (once purely biochemical causes are ruled out) there is something in their life they're Not Paying Attention To. The anxiety is a consequence of the Elephant in the Room which they are ignoring, avoiding, repressing, or otherwise pretending doesn't exist. It is the Thing that isn't integrated but needs to be.

Some of the biggest things can't be integrated, so they require the most pretending. For example, Death. Wait. Is this true? That Death can't be integrated? Just this morning, while randomly bumping around the internet, I was reading of Lou Reed's death:

I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou's as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn't afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life -- so beautiful, painful and dazzling -- does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.

For Christians, Jesus is meant to be the final cure for death anxiety, such that death is swallowed by life instead of vice versa. We'll return to this idea -- or real-idea -- later.

For the moment, let's play with this notion that anxiety and integration are inversely related. A rock, for example, is completely integrated and therefore has no anxiety. But it's easy to be integrated if you're a rock, for what is there to integrate? The reason why man is the most anxious critter in all of creation is that he has the most to integrate. Loose ends everywhere!

Indeed, man's very reason for being is the integration of everything. It's our privilege and our burden. That's what you call a Tall Order, but it is nevertheless the case, and everyone knows it, even if most pretend otherwise. Despite the pretense, it is the Prime Directive (or at least one dimension of it).

Alert readers will have noticed a zinger by Thomas Aquinas at the top of the comment box: Since a soul can know all things, in a way it is all things, and thus it is possible for the completeness of the universe to exist in one thing.

This is just another way of saying that man is in the image of the Creator, who is the Complete Person. Absent the Complete Person, no completeness of any kind would be conceivable, much less attainable, on our end. The very idea of the cosmic area rug would be a childish dream.

That's the good news. The bad news is that we are driven by a kind of anxiety until we fulfill our reason for being. Which can be accomplished in various ways, but not without God's help. For one thing, just imagine the futility of pretending a perfect integration that excludes God. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the cosmos!

Revelation is here to assure that every soul can attain this integration, regardless of various terrestrial contingencies -- existential, cultural, historical, etc. Nevertheless, unlike God, we are always trailed by shadows of the nothingness from which we were gratuitously plucked. That would be the ultimate source of our anxiety. IMO.

White makes this very point in The Light of Christ:

[T]he human being is created toward or unto the image of God because this image is not only static but ultimately dynamic.... [T]he human being remains the summit of the visible creation and can become more profoundly so only if he develops a more dynamic, perfect relationship toward God.

However. I want to say: insert Fall here. In other words, all the Trouble is located right here, in the literally infinite space between man and God. Call it what you will, but there is room here aplenty for every kind of mischief. Or just say History.

Gosh. It's one of those mornings that I have much more to say than the ability to say it. I'm trying to wrap my mind around something that is quite obviously larger than myself, but you can't swallow an elephant in one bite. Perhaps if I had all day. In this circumstance I have but one option.

Help, Mr. Schuon, help!

"Knowledge is total or integral to the extent that its object is the most essential and thus the most real" (emphasis mine).

This most essential and real object is none other than the Elephant in -- and beyond -- the Cosmos. When we say "everything is relative," what we mean is that everything is relative to this Elephant, without which there would be no relativity at all, just a kind of absolute mush. A left with no right.

Intelligence gives rise to "the awareness of our superiority in relation to those who do not know how to discern" (discernment between the real and unreal being the function of intelligence).

However, one of the first fruits of this intelligence is awareness of the relativity of our superiority, in that it is either relative to the Elephant, or it is Nothing at All (except for maybe the anxiety of being permanently sealed in total ignorance and futility).

And of course, many people are far too stupid or ignorant to understand how stupid or ignorant they are. Metaphysical Dunning Kruger is a real thing.

Here is our omega for today, which will be tomorrow's alpha: "The human vocation is to realize that which is man's reason for being: a projection of God, and therefore a bridge between earth and Heaven."

There is degree of anxiety so long as we are suspended on this rickety bridge called life.


julie said...

There is degree of anxiety so long as we are suspended on this rickety bridge.

Yes, just so. Far more frightening than mere death is the possibility that one might die having failed to even set a foot on that bridge, instead dithering in the apparent safety of the ground on the nearer side.

Gagdad Bob said...

Faith is like the first step, or the willingness to take it.

julie said...

Thanks for this post, by the way. Very timely.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

It is astonishing how the chain of the divine words are never disconnected. Kierkegarrd said, life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward. Ibn Arabi said, I can not understand him without understanding myself, his door to his inclusive house.The doors of the world have been opened on each other, there is no excuse for anyone to enclose himself in a den and not see the oneness of everything, human oneness, god oneness and the oneness of the cosmos we are living in. Different interpretations should not be an obstacles to human unified understanding once we leave our prejudices and abide by the one truth that is god, the light of heaven and earth. All directions belong to him, when the human understanding becomes aware that we are moving to him. Anxiety can be a bridge to him or can be a bridge to the other side. The divine message is one, despite being delivered by different messengers and it is intended to all humans irrespective of any labels. Not all those on the other side are hopeless some of them can be very good candidate for the divine mission. God tolerates all and his messenger errand must emulate him by only pointing to the divine road and leave to people to decide. There is no compulsion in religion like the ignorant Muslims who have appointed themselves as god on earth.It seems we are living in a fast running humanity toward the end line to receive their prizes and to know that god is real and no crooked will be saved from his just punishment. It is a game under the watch of the one god and he is the only true just judge, whose words have no end, but humans are impatient and occupy themselves with useless information.