Thursday, May 11, 2017

Materialism, AKA The Bureau of Missing Persons

Again, certain problems arise the higher we travel up the epistemological food chain, where things become increasingly real.

For example, it is possible to model simple phenomena such as the solar system, and predict where this or that planet will be 100 or 1,000 years hence. This becomes quite difficult in complex systems (such as the climate), but is impossible in principle in complex systems exhibiting subjectivity and personhood -- or in other words, human beings (in short, you can't model freedom, but liberals never stop trying).

For those of you who don't know the backstory, my grad school education in psychology might have been worthless -- if not pernicious -- had it not intersected with two saving graces, one of whom was a particular professor, the other an obscure (at least outside psychoanalytic circles) theorist named W.R. Bion. It was the latter who vaulted me out of my existing orbit and taught me how to think. Or rather, taught me what I was doing when thinking (or pretending to).

However, especially in hindsight, I can see that there wasn't necessarily anything special about Bion. He didn't discover anything new, so no need to run out and purchase his expensive and abstruse little books.

For example, I'm seeing that Kierkegaard raised the same issues, as did many thinkers before him, probably going back to Socrates. As far as we know, Socrates was the first man to consciously avoid pretending to know what couldn't be known, or to always bear in mind the vast realm of the Unknown Unknown, which swamps the other three.

Of course there are the known knowns of everyday science and known unknowns of twilit philosophy. In many ways psychoanalysis is the paradoxical realm the unknown known, e.g., unconscious drives and conflicts that we only pretend not to know.

In this context, you could say that a psychological symptom is the quintessential case of an unknown known, in the sense that your conscious mind doesn't understand what the symptom means, but your unconscious mind must, or it wouldn't be there. The symptom is a communication of knowledge, only the left brain doesn't know what the right brain is up to.

Think about the miracle of mathematics, which allows us to deal with a whole realm of Objects That Aren't Here. Where do my investments exist, for example? I have a piece of paper with a bunch of abstract numbers that somehow relate to these distant objects, but imagine trying to keep track of them without the numbers.

Well, there are certain dimensions of existence that cannot be so treated, for example, human relationships. As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell remind us, "ain't nothin' like the real thing": I got your picture hangin' on the wall / But it can't see or come to me when I call your name / I realize it's just a picture in a frame. Etc.

No abstract symbol can replace or represent the missing person. Nor, for that matter, the missing God. As Bion puts it, certain formulations are "dependent on the presence of the experiences being formulated." We must deal "with the original object without the aid of an intervening model which [we] can manipulate." For example, "there is no brother with whom to work out problems of the relationship with a father."

Likewise, it's no use dealing with models of God, no matter how accurate. Rather, only the original will do.

Note how materialism, or any form of naturalism, simply denies the existence of persons. Materialism is the philosophy of the Missing Person. This person is somehow putting forth a philosophy that denies the existence of the person putting it forth. It is inherently regressive, because it transforms a known unknown -- the person -- into an unknown unknown. This renders the "examined life" impossible, because there is no one to examine.

Nevertheless, like a dead body floating to the surface, one cannot actually rid the cosmos of the personal without it returning unbidden. Indeed, the materialist has things precisely backward and upside down, for the personal is the ultimate category of existence; everything is reducible to it, rather than vice versa.

Yesterday a thoughtlet pops into my head: the love of truth ultimately converges upon the truth of love.

It also occurred to me that a person is never a thing or object, but a link. Or better, a person always refers to. A baby refers to mother, and vice versa. Assuming we grow all the way up, man ultimately refers to God, and vice versa. That "God refers to man" may sound strange, but it's another way of saying Incarnation.

Then it occurs to me that the cosmos is like a vast life-making machine, and that life is a mind-making machine. This makes man the God-making machine.

But this formulation has it all backward, for we must begin with the personhood of the Creator. The Creator wishes to create persons. Everything in existence is marked by traces of personhood; in other words, every existent has an intelligible interior accessible to the human subject. Knowledge is simply the interior of objects calling out to the interior of persons: they refer to us, as we refer to them, in an ever-deepening spiral.

But the ultimate truth is this mysterious human subject itself. Rather, make that the penultimate truth, because it is inexplicable if it doesn't refer to its own source, AKA God. So, to round out this roundabout post, let's get back to what Kierkegaard has to say about all this perfect nonsense:

"Kierkegaard's emphasis on the pointlessness of 'intellectually grasped' truth... explains why throughout history so few seekers have gained enlightenment from the 'great truths' provided by enlightened men..."

"[F]or when the insights of these enlightened masters are spoken by them, or repeated and recorded by others, they are invariably experienced by those listening only as objective, or intellectually acknowledged, truths that do not carry the energy of the subjective experience from which these insights arise."

"For language cannot directly communicate the subjective truth," but only "conceptual representations of their subjective insights." These representations are "signposts that merely point toward a reality that each individual must discover, or subjectively understand for themselves through their own direct experience" (Watts).

In other words, the Subject must be present to the subject. Accept no substitutes. You can't work out your God issues with your daddy, let alone with matter.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Advice for the Spiritual Pathlete

So Kierkegaard, to his credit, "wished to make people think for themselves, use independent judgment and act with deliberate choice," "based upon his realization that existential truth -- truth that can potentially transform a person's outlook and manner of living -- couldn't be communicated directly in an effective manner" (Watts).

Very much like psychotherapy, through which one is endeavoring to facilitate realizations on the part of the patient.

Realization. Funny word. It means we must somehow "make real" what is by definition already real. I first realized the gnotion when I encountered Bion back in 1985. For him, the whole problem was how to realize truths that could only be understood via experience.

It's the difference between theory and truth, or model and reality. Now, the mind lives on truth and starves without it. But the higher up the scale of knowledge, the more it is entwined with experience. Down low, anyone with average intelligence can understand math or physics or Marxism.

But up high, there are certain qualifications that no degree can confer -- for example, oh, humility, trust, reverence, submission. In other words, there is an element of preparation, just as with any other athlete. For we are spiritual pathletes, and the Spirit is the pneumotherapist.

Note that when dealing with profane knowledge, the quicker the better. A synonym for intelligent is "quick." Likewise, we call a poor student "slow."

That doesn't apply at all in the spirit or even psychic world. Bion writes that

A patient may see the meaning of an interpretation so quickly that the psychoanalyst is surprised to find a moment later that the patient has apparently no understanding of what has been said to him. The speed of his thought makes him able to closure the statement being discussed before he has had time to understand it.

Which goes to the problem of assimilation, or even metabolism -- of chewing and digesting. The kind of truth we are talking about cannot merely be known. Indeed, orthopardoxically, as it pertains to the pneumosphere, knowledge can be one of the key defenses against understanding.

Which is why garden-variety infertile eggheadery simply has no purchase in this dimension. There is no book one could write, no matter how inexhaustibly packed with truth, that a person can't get around. The ways of denial are infinite.

Which is again why Jesus... Well, I don't want to put words in his mouth or motives in his head, but this must be a big reason why he didn't simply write a book and toss it out there. Wouldn't that have been easier? "Here. Here's the truth. Now, commit it to memory and go on with your lives."

But man's Problem isn't found in a book, so the Solution won't be found there either. You know the old gag: you can't reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into.

And surely Adam wasn't reasoned into anything. Rather, he was simply obeying the dictates of his own nature. He didn't need the book. Rather, he was on personal terms with the Author, so he got the Word from the source's mouth and ignored it anyway.

What is the point of that story? What are we supposed to realize? Among others, it surely goes to the many things man can do with truth other than assimilating it.

The purpose of words is to "contain" meaning. But God by definition transcends -- or shatters is more like it -- any such containment. So, how do we... Bion recognized the same problem in psychology:

"The verbal expression can be so formalized, so rigid, so filled with already existing ideas that the idea I want to express can have all the life squeezed out of it."

Conversely, "the meaning I wish to express may have such force and vitality, relative to the verbal formulation in which I strive to contain it, that it destroys the verbal container." On the one hand, meaning that is dead on arrival; on the other, speech that is dead at conception.

How do we get around this? As you know, Bion is the fellow who stole the idea of O from me in a brazen act of anticipatory plagiarism. He adopted "the approach of mystics from the Bhagavad Gita to the present" and put forth the central postulate "that atonement with ultimate reality, or O, as I have called it to avoid involvement with an existing association, is essential to harmonious mental growth."

Note how Bion "rediscovers" the same old Fall: "Disturbance in capacity for atonement is associated with megalomaniac attitudes." You don't say.

Or better, you need to unsay what cannot be said -- which isn't the same as not saying it.

Interesting that just after this passage, Bion goes into a cryptic little riff on threeness: "When the individual is confronted with what, in comparison with himself, is an infinite number or quantity, he binds the 'innumerable' host by the name 'three'" such that "the 'infinite' number has now been made finite."

In my view, -- which of course could be wrong -- the One and the Three are complementary. Not to say the Trinity is finite, only that it is... how to put it... a kind of container of infinitude? Certainly it is a way for humans to "think about" an infinitude that otherwise cannot be thought, taught, or got, only sought. But not unproductively....

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Divine Archcomedian

So: there is no system we can invent or discover that contains us; and yet, we are obviously contained in or by some sort of system. What -- or Who -- is it?

It is God, of course -- or better, O, since the word "God" can become so saturated with meaning as to become a human projection, thus once again containing us in our own system. Certain realities cannot be reduced to words without thereby becoming mere words. This, it seems to me, was one of Kierkegaard's principal concerns.

What can a person mean when he uses the word "God?" He cannot possibly mean GOD as God exists in his own Godhood. Rather, he can only mean his opinion or experience or understanding of God. When a terrorist screams ALLAH IS GREAT just before committing mass murder, he is expressing his particular slant on ultimate reality.

Likewise, when an atheist claims that God doesn't exist, he is essentially expressing the view that God is contained by godlessness, or that ultimate reality is contained by appearances. This approach is utterly backasswards, for obviously ultimate reality is prior to our opinions about it.

Again, Hegel was deluded enough to believe he had contained ultimate reality within his system. But there are plenty more where he came from. The whole Bill Nye-Neil Tyson science-lovin' leftist pomposity is similarly rooted in the Mother of all Fallacies, i.e, that it is possible for science to transcend science.

A riddle: how is it possible to transcend religion? It isn't possible, since religion is concerned with the dimension of transcendence, precisely. Yes, there are more and less adequate maps of this territory, but this hardly means the territory isn't real.

It's like those old maps of the world from before it was explored and settled. In a very real way, man is still exploring and settling a nonlocal vertical world that he only definitively entered as recently as 40,000 years ago. Is it any wonder there are difficulties in adapting to it?

Truly, it is the final frontier, and we are analogous to the first proto-men who had one foot in the trees and one on the plains. In other words, there must have been a transitional phase between our tree-dwelling ancestors our bipedal relatives. Indeed, we are always the monkey in the middle, and always will be. It's just a matter of where we are situated on the vertical scale.

Early in his exploration of the vertical, Kierkegaard wondered whether there could be an Archimedean point from which man could objectively and disinterestedly regard the totality of existence.

The answer is Yes and No, or Not Really but Kind Of. Again, this is where O comes in (or we come into O), for we can objectively affirm its existence without claiming to comprehend it.

Rather, -- and this is Kierkegaard's central thesis -- "man's true home, his true Archimedean point, can only be found in the realization of God's fatherly love for us, providing us with a stable life-view which frees us from both pride and despair" (Watts).

In other words, it is obvious that man cannot create his own Archimedean point, any more than the eye can see itself or the hand grasp itself. But this doesn't mean existence is Pointless. However, the Point, if there is one, can only be furnished by God.

In the Christian view, Jesus is the Point; but he actually points to an even deeper Point, i.e., Trinity. Interesting, isn't it, that Hegel at least intuited a necessary threeness at the heart of things, i.e., the dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

You might say that thesis is the Father of antithesis (the rebellious Son), and that synthesis is the friendly geist who reunites the family into a higher union.

Now, how does one transmit religious truth without reducing it to mere knowledge? This is not a problem in the sciences, where the whole point is a knowledge-to-knower transmission:

Kierkegaard perceptively observed that although direct communication can be very effective in communicating facts or information, it cannot adequately catalyze the realization of subjective truth, which is the only type of truth that can evolve a person's consciousness...

The problem is, man lives in illusion, the primary illusion being that he Understands, or contains himself. How do you communicate ideas that will vault him out of his illusion instead of merely aggravating it?

Think of how this plays out, say, in politics. You try to explain to a leftist how the world works, and he responds that you are a tool of Big Business or White Privilege or RUSSIA! or whatever. Instead of liberating him from his narrow and oppressive intellectual system, he simply incorporates you into it!

The "direct approach" doesn't work with the left, any more than it does with a paranoid personality (but I repeat myself). So, what was Kierkegaard's strategy?

"He avoids [their defenses] by challenging them undetected, through 'approaching from behind.' If one does this effectively, the person's defenses can be bypassed or sufficiently weakened, before they notice they are 'under attack,' and in this way, one can subtly undermine the confidence they have in their approach to existence" (ibid.).

You know, socratic like. Notice how often Jesus approaches his interlocutors in this roundabout, elliptical way. We may not be able to see from the Archimedean point, but we can be drawn up into a divine Archimedean spiral. To be continued...

Theme Song

Theme Song