Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Theory of Everything (except reality)

One last post before we close the book on Kierkegaard. I'm just finishing a biography that elucidates his project and puts it all in historical perspective. Okay. Still. I don't think I'll be diving into his dozens of books any time soon in order to get all the details.

I think I mentioned this before, but it is apparently impossible to understand Kierkegaard without appreciating the Hegelian elephant in the room, to which much of his writing is a reaction.

Hard for us to understand it today, but for quite awhile there, Hegel was The Man. He dominated philosophy like no one since -- and of course we are still living with the stinking remains of his rotting corpus in the form of end stage Marxism and all its intellectual and spiritual pathologies. (Woody Wilson, our first totally unhinged progressive president, was a huge fanboy.)

So give Kierkegaard credit for seeing through Hegel's truly cosmic self-aggrandizement and trying to take him out before he could do much damage.

This was back when people were a little more clever than, say, Stephen Colbert, in their putdowns. Shopenhauer, for example, never accused Hegel of being Hölderlin's girlfriend. Rather,

always remember that we are in Germany, where we have been able to proclaim as a great mind and profound thinker a mindless, ignorant, nonsense-spreading philosophaster who, through unprecedented, hollow verbiage, thoroughly and permanently disorganizes their brains. I mean our dear Hegel.


it was Hegel who ultimately showed the greatest audacity in dishing out pure nonsense, slapping together senseless, raving tangles of verbiage such as had only ever been heard in lunatic asylums; he became the instrument of the most ponderous, universal mystification that the world has ever seen, and this with a degree of success that will seem utterly incredible to posterity and will remain a monument to German foolishness.

That is some fine insultainment. What about his third rate followers?

the minds of the contemporary generation of scholars are jumbled by Hegelian nonsense: incapable of thought, coarse, and stupefied, they become the prey of the vulgar materialism that has crept out of the Basilisk’s egg.

I'm lookin' at you, Karl!

Oh well. Not the last time "an impudent, cocky gasbag" would be "sufficient to blow sand in Germans’ eyes."

Back to our main attractor. It seems that Kierkegaard had a similar reaction to this nightmare masquerading as philosophy. Interestingly, although writing a century or so before Gödel, he rejected Hegel's absolute idealism on grounds that would only later be formalized in Gödel's theorems:

"His fundamental dispute with Hegel was based around Hegel's claim to have developed a fully comprehensive system that could explain the whole of reality. Kierkegaard responded to this with the assertion that reality may well be a system for God, but that it cannot be so for any human being, because both reality and humans are incomplete and all philosophical systems imply completeness" (Watts).

Gödel's Theorems: 1. If the system is consistent, it cannot be complete. 2. The consistency of the axioms cannot be proved within the system. Simple as.

Note how merely remumbling these twenty words not only unknowculates you against Hegelianism (or any other such system) but frees you of the terrible burden actually reading him (except out of curiosity).

More generally, there is only so much one can read in this life. Not only can we never get to all of it, we can only take on a fraction, and assimilate even less. So one must be selective. Selective how? How can we know what to select before we even begin?

Principles, my man, principles -- two of the most important having been permanently downloaded by Gödel. In short, do not fall for any manmade system that pretends to be complete. Don't even think about becoming a materialist, a Darwinist, a Marxist. All nonstarters, because they presume a completeness that is not available to man. Thank God! For the world is a tedious place where Marx is still in charge, as on college campuses.

Of course, this was the rationale behind my approach to Ultimate Reality in the book. Let's get one thing straight at the outset: ultimate reality is O, and O is something you will never, ever contain. Rather, it contains us. End of story. Or beginning, rather. Wait -- it's both.

For, does this mean we can't know anything about O? Not at all. Rather, it is the reason we can know anything at all about anything at all: it is the ground, the vector, the destination of knowledge and truth. It "evolves" in time, but not in the impersonal, dialectical way proposed by HegelMarx.

"[B]ecause Hegel seriously believed he had reached ultimate truth, this rendered his claims comical -- whilst Hegel sought to contain all of reality in the conceptual net of his system, the actual process of existence simply slipped through its meshes" (Watts). You might say that Hegel accounts for everything. Except reality.

Reality is not an idea -- certainly not an idea in or of man. You could really take this back to the wrong turn of any philosophy that starts with ideas instead of the world -- with the subject instead of objects. Doing so is yet one more iteration of Genesis 3, and it is still very much with us today. It happens, for example, any time the left pretends it has successfully modeled the global climate, or can direct the economy from above, or inflict annoying new genders on the restavus.

Well, I suppose this means we haven't heard the last of Kierkegaard. To be continued...

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

It's the Morning of History and I'm Not Myself. Or Am I?

I'm tapped out. The only thing of cosmic interest I've been thinking about is the cave paintings left by our so-called ancestors 10- to 40 thousand years ago. I say "so-called," because if the most remarkable thing about them is totally incomprehensible to us, in what way are we related?

To back up a bit, I've been rereading Paul Johnson's sweeping History of Art, which begins at the very beginning, with the cave paintings produced during the Paleolithic era, i.e., before around 10,000 BC.

But in truth, all of this is "before the beginning," since history only begins with writing, which isn't until 3,200 BC. Therefore, it is exceedingly difficult to understand just what our esteemed furbears were up to.

But whatever it was, it was obviously quite... intense.

I was particularly struck by Johnson's point that the aesthetic movement of the Upper Paleolithic (40,000 to 10,000 BC) was the longest artistic fad in human history, "lasting for more than two thirds of the total time when humans have produced art."

That little comment is a head-scratcher and a mind-blower. Imagine being 60 years old, but having no recollection whatsoever of your first 40 years. Someone shows you an impressive portfolio of artistic objects you completed before age 40, but you have no idea why or how you did them. Frankly, they might as well have been done by someone else. In short, you cannot connect them to your personal history at all. Rather, they're just a kind of pre-personal appendix flapping beyond the horizon of your personal memory.

Or, are they just a meaningless projection from the other end of animality? This is what a materialist would have to believe: that the cave paintings -- and every subsequent art form -- are analogous to how beavers produce dams, ants create hills, and bees make hives. It's just what we do.

Except in our case, the productions are in no plausible way connected to physical survival. Yes, there are obtuse Darwinian attempts at explanations, such as a search for order or something, but these productions far exceed such concerns. Ants, after all, do not build cathedrals.

What also struck me was the determination and persistence exhibited by our ancestors. Whatever it is they were up to, it is clear that they really, really wanted to do it, in a way we can scarcely imagine.

For example, one cave in France "runs over six miles into the mountain," and I've read of other cases in which the only way to enter the cave is through a long, tight, -- and obviously totally dark -- passageway. You first!

Then there is the problem of inventing paint, brushes, scaffolding (some of the paintings are 20 feet overhead), and a portable source of light. Even if the idea had occurred to me, I would have been the first to say "screw it. Too difficult."

But that is precisely what they didn't do. The Thing I was thinking about is: is it possible to "reverse imagineer" the cave paintings and comprehend the drive or compulsion our ancestors were under?

Then another question -- or principle, rather -- popped into my head: it must be possible to integrate this into the Arc of Salvation, or harmonize it with meta-history. What if we, with the benefit of hindsight, actually understand better than they did what they were trying to do?

In other words, the purpose of any activity is teleological: it is not revealed at the beginning, but only at the end. While the telos is ontologically first, it is temporally last. For example, I may begin with the idea of a house, but it will take time to realize the house in reality.

"The great age of Magdalenian cave art," writes Johnson, "came to an end about 10,000 BC, with the last ice age. Its cycle was complete. Nothing of this quality was ever produced again."

Boom: it appears in 40,000 BC. Boom: it disappears in 10,000 BC. At least as far as we know. Obviously we cannot know what we don't know, so we have no idea about undiscovered caves, not to mention whatever art may have been produced above ground.

Until the emergence of megalithic architecture between 5000 and 1500 BC. Here again we have no real idea what they were up to, but boy, did they want to do it: "We have here, then, an artistic construct which, like a cathedral, was the work of generations, even in its basic design."

So, the design -- the teleology -- has to be passed down from generation to generation, with no writing, and yet, with a clear idea of the end result (and no doubt its ultimate purpose, for it is impossible to imagine this level of determination without a Damn Good reason).

Take Stonehenge, for example: its giant stones weigh in excess of four tons and had to be transported over twenty miles. Me? Screw it. In another case, creation of the monument "involved shifting hundreds of thousands of tons of earth and chalk." One of them is estimated to weigh 350 tons. So, why did they do it?

If we are going to fit this into the Arc of Salvation, we must be talking about the time between Adam and Abraham. The cave paintings and megalithic structures are postlapsarian but antediluvian. What was -- is -- going on then? Well, "there were giants on the earth in those days." And they lived a long time: over 900 years in some cases. It is after Death has entered the world, but before we know what to think about that little surprise.

In The Beginning of Wisdom, Kass writes that "Death is the mother of the love of glory, of a beautiful name for splendid deeds."

It "is also -- and similarly -- the mother of beauty, of the concern with the beautification of an ugly world, fated to decay, rife with death. In the face of death, artful men create beautiful objects -- statues and paintings, poems and songs, vases and temples -- objects they hope will last, immune to decay as their makers are not."

Mission accomplished.

Nevertheless, "Appreciation of the beautiful may inspire the soul, but efforts to capture it leave one unfulfilled -- even when seemingly successful. For what do we really have if and when we 'possess' the beautiful?"

Beauty "seems to promise some underlying goodness," but "as experience teaches, the promise is only infrequently fulfilled; what strikes us as beautiful is rarely yoked to the good." For example, I'll bet they conducted human sacrifices in those megalithic structures.

So, God needs to bring these quasi-immortal narcissists down a peg: he decides "to shorten the human lifespan to 120 years. Presumably the very great longevity invited only great mischief and danger.... Because death was for so long so far out of sight, these men were able to forget their mortality and pretend to immortal godliness."

Soon enough, because of their long lives and practical immunity from death, they had "behaved even worse than the animals. Perhaps a shorter life span could limit the damage any beastly man might cause.... Perhaps if they could not pretend to immortality, they would be more open to the eternal."

Nah. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the Earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the day." Do over. Metaphorically speaking. But the point is to permanently "drown the natural human aspiration to apotheosis through heroic deed and to replace it with an acquired human commitment to righteousness and the perpetuation of life on earth" (Kass).