Friday, October 27, 2017

The Throbbing Novelty of the Cosmos Hurtling Toward a New Post

Back when I was writing the book, I remember pondering the question of when man first appeared -- or appears, since it must recur in eachuvus -- in creation. But only for about five years or so. I read everything I could find that addressed it from an evolutionary, or anthropological, or genetic perspective, but still, there is an inevitable gap.

And when I say "inevitable," that is not a God-of-the-gaps dodge. Rather, it is true in principle, because man is something utterly sui generis, or unique, in all of creation. Although some antecedents can help account for man in retrospect, absolutely nothing could have predicted him. For how can one predict the radically novel? If one could, it wouldn't be novel.

To back up a bit, the same principle applies to existence-as-such (Existence) and to life-as-such (Life), in that both are necessarily presumed by science, not explained by it. Again, this is not a dodge: to ask why there is something instead of nothing is not a scientific question.

Although a more controversial assertion, it is also not (ultimately) a scientific question to ask about the origins of Life. Even if we could pinpoint the time and circumstances coinciding with its emergence, this still wouldn't account for the nature of Life, which is again entirely novel.

Indeed, one might say it is novelty itself. With Life we now have sensation, awareness, perception, interiority, presence, subject, each beyond the reach of even the most subtle materialism. A "science of the interior?" Yes, there is one, but it has nothing to do with science as we know it, but rather, with metaphysics.

Whitehead was all over this, so he was a big help. He thought about these ultimate issues in the Correct way, more or less. He suggests that Life "is an offensive directed against the repetitious mechanism of the Universe."

Life, you might say, is the life of the cosmic party. Instead of just going around in circles, it always aims beyond itself and thus has a circular pattern: "the aim is always beyond the attained fact. The goal is some type of perfected things," whereas "inorganic nature is characterized by its acceptance of matter of fact." Borr-rring.

Do you see the revolution? With Life, there is now a wedge between fact-as-fact and fact-as-aim, or process. All of a sudden Time takes on primary importance. By which I do not mean mere chronological duration, i.e., One Damn Thing After Another, but events tied together by an inner coherence from present --> future. For a living system is an anticipatory system, and what is that?! In other words, the now is now oriented toward the great not-yet. Here is where that thing called Hope first elbows its way into creation.

"In nature, the soil rests, while the root of the plant pursues the sources of its refreshment" (Whitehead). That is a typical example of Whitehead's epigramatical pithiness, but it makes me think of how the same image applies to the mind or spirit. Obviously, the mind does not seek its refreshment in matter, unless you are seriously autistic. Rather, it grows upward and inward, ultimately seeking its refreshment in... you geist it!

We'll come back to that later.

What I really want to say is right here in a marvelous marginalia I must have written over 30 years ago, possibly a direct quote of AWN: the creativity of the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurtling itself into a new transcendent fact.

Whitehead goes on to say that higher animals seem to be "personal," in the sense that they are organized around a kind of inner center: "Thus in one sense a dog is a 'person,' and in another sense he is a non-personal society." Conversely, lower animals "seem to lack the dominance of [a] personal society," such that a tree, for example, "is a democracy."

I don't know about that. A tree must nevertheless cohere around some nonlocal essence, or it would dissolve into its constituents, as it does upon death. What really sets man apart from the trees -- some men, anyway -- is a conscious hierarchy, or better, hierarchy-become-conscious. Each of us is the king of his own castle, master of his domain.

Or ought to be, anyway. A sick person -- say, Dirty Harvey -- is indeed a democracy, in which the lowest impulse has the same rights as the noblest ideal. (If he has any ideals left -- in other words, if the bottom-up revolution hasn't been complete.)

By the way, you will have noticed how the Founders applied this same principle to politics, such that our system is neither a top-down aristocracy nor a bottom-up democracy. If it were the latter, we could vote for slavery, or for socialized medicine, or for limits on free speech.


We're getting awfully far afield this morning, for which I apologize. But this is the New Regime, and you might even say that it is more democratic than the old one, in that I'm simply allowing all the voices in my head a chance to speak. So there won't be as much coherence, or at least posts may not wrap themselves up as tidily as before.

Let me just get back to what started this post to begin with, which is a passage in White about the origins of man. He speaks of how "there is a kind of historical continuity between non-living things and living things, but also a differentiation and progression from one kind of reality to another, up the scale of perfection." (Recall the continuous/discontinuous chapters within the bʘʘk, and indeed of the b↻↺k itself.)

Once Life appears, there is a kind of "foundation for the emergence in human beings of specifically rational, spiritual activities of language and complex technology." Again, this emergence of human personhood cannot be reduced to antecedents, but is a Novel Thing that is "inserted," so to speak, in this new space:

At a given time, then, we can postulate that due to a new initiative of God, animals were elevated to a higher level. God began to create spiritual souls in human animals, and so the human adventure begins. There was a passage from the "merely animal" world of homo sapiens to the specifically spiritual world of the human person.

This is the passage where God initiated the new project of humanity, by creating the spiritual soul, and infusing it as the "form of the body" in what constituted the first human beings. (We might hypothesize that this took place around 50,000 years ago, given the evidence of human culture provided by paleontology.)

Agreed! What could go wrong? A note in the margin says Fall situated here. If I know myself, it must mean that if man appears at around noon, 50,000 years ago, then the fall occurs at around 12:01 PM.


julie said...

If I know myself, it must mean that if man appears at around noon, 50,000 years ago, then the fall occurs at around 12:01 PM.

One of the downsides of going to confession is realizing how distressingly quickly we go right on back to the usual sinning. Usually just seconds later.

Gagdad Bob said...

Sin is indeed a regression to circularity, isn't it?

julie said...

Indeed, though of course there's always the hope that it's more of a spiral with an upward trajectory. Even if only measured in millimeters per mile.

vanderleun said...

The title: "The Throbbing Novelty of the Cosmos Hurtling Toward a New Post" can be improved by simply making it "The Throbbing Novelty of the Cosmos Hurtling Toward a New Past"

Gagdad Bob said...

That reminds me of the title of a boxed set by the group Sparks: New Music For Amnesiacs.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

God and faith in god is not a realm for speculation and sophisticated clever talk. It is a realm for veneration,worship, humiliation and adoration that dose not tolerate unsure narration. God is timeless that is division of time is not applicable in his realm, He is the creator of the cosmos and the life of the cosmos and from my knowledge of Whitehead I find his suggestion that life is an offensive directed against the repetitious mechanism of the universe runs contrary to his philosophy of the living universe and the never ending
processes that keeps it alive. God is available to the sincere seekers to intuit in them the necessary knowledge that help them to navigate soberly in this complex cosmos, otherwise all spiritual growth and mystical experiences render themselves worthless in the absence of such contact. What I found disturbing is to leave the center issue and get busy in the peripheries, a deviation Schuon warned against. The humans are both thinkers and makers that is why all spiritual schools emphasized the talk with the walk and warned from the hypocrites more than from the disbelievers.Thank you for the mobilizing of the human thoughts in the way of the One, the source of all thoughts and forms..

julie said...

heh. Bruce Maxwell: kneels for anthem, stands for mugshot.

Lets hope the MLB doesn't start allowing the inmates to run the prison...

Gagdad Bob said...

For most of these idiot athletes who attack the police, it's just self interest.

mushroom said...

Coherence is overrated. Go, Dodgers!

Van Harvey said...

"For a living system is an anticipatory system, and what is that?! In other words, the now is now oriented toward the great not-yet. Here is where that thing called Hope first elbows its way into creation."


Though we should try to keep our elbows to ourselves.

Gagdad Bob said...

Life, liberty, & the pursuit if happiness is great, so long as you pursue your happiness and not everybody else's!