Friday, June 02, 2017

Saying What Can't be Said

I was out late last night making merry at a high school graduation party, so this will probably be an abbreviated one. But you never know. I just show up at the keyboard. What happens next is what happens next.

High school graduation. I remember mine as if it were yesterday. In many ways I've never gotten over it.

Yesterday we spoke of "liberation." Well, I don't know that I've ever had a sense of liberation that surpasses the feeling of that day. But then, every summer was a little like that -- like an anticipatory fractal of the Big Liberation that occurred with high school.

Many things in life are a kind of rehearsal for death -- losses of various kinds, illnesses, humiliations, IRS audits. I wonder if there is something analogous on the positive side, i.e., rehearsals for salvation or liberation? Must be. Come to think of it, what is the liturgy but a kind of r. for s.? I just ordered this book on the subject, called Nothing Superfluous. The mass is a little like attending your own Wake, isn't it?

And every real celebration marks a birth and a death -- or death and rebirth, Easter being the Urchetype of archetypes. Yesterday's celebration was very much on that order -- more like a psychic bat mitzvah marking the death of the girl and birth of the woman. Mine wasn't like that at all. Rather, more like the death of the caged child and birth of the liberated child. "Manhood" didn't enter into the equation at all.

Birth is a funeral, and a funeral is a birth. Haven't we discussed this before? My brain is a little foggy, so I can't remember. I do recall mentioning something Christopher Hitchens once said. An interviewer, trying to draw him out, asked how he felt upon the birth of his son: "Like I was looking into the eyes of my funeral director."

One doesn't have to go that far to realize that upon becoming Father, one is no longer Son. At least in my case. My father was already gone by the time of my son's birth. You fathers out there whose own fathers are still alive, do you feel like a son? Or is it more of a lateral relationship, father to father?

Back to matters at hand. We're still flipping through this biography of Kierkegaard. Every time I try to finish it and move on, I get hung up on some passage.

Like today, for example. I find it interesting that we don't need actually need Gödel to tell us about his theorems. Rather, they're just common sense: Kierkegaard recognized that "humans are incomplete and all philosophical systems imply completeness." Simple as. This is what I was trying to convey to my internetlocutor over at Instapundit, but he was having none of it.

Which I don't get. In short, he was trying to vigorously defend Gödel while transparently violating him. It's as if he wants to have the birth without the death. My final response to him was a comment by Gödel himself to the effect that "sooner or later my proof will be made useful for religion." Well, duh.

"At the very least," writes Goldstein, "Gödel believed his first incompleteness theorem supported Platonism's insistence on the existence of a suprasensible domain of eternal verities." Any attempts on our part to enclose reality within our "limpid constructions" and thereby "keep out all contradictions and paradox, are doomed to failure." Boom.

It's an orthoparadoxical cosmos. Deal with it. "Gödel's first incompleteness theorem tells us that any consistent formal system... must leave out much of mathematical reality," while the second shows that no formal system can "prove itself to be self-consistent." Therefore, your little system can be consistent or complete, but not both. Never. Forever and ever. Amen. Period.

Now thankfully, God is under no such limitation. Obviously. How do we know this? Because reality -- by which I mean the Real, from top to bottom, inside and out, vertical and horizontal -- is by definition consistent and complete. I mean, just because we can't explain how, this hardly means that reality isn't what it is. Reality always slips through our fingertips. And our TOEs, i.e., Theories of Everything.

It is only "aspects of mathematical reality that must escape our formal systematizing," but "not our knowledge" (ibid.). This is apparently a controversial assertion, but only for people who pretend it is possible to reduce knowledge to math or physics or computation. But according to Goldstein, Gödel "believed our expressible knowledge, demonstrably our mathematical knowledge, is greater than our systems."

In other words, we always know more than we can say, such that what we say can never catch up to what we know. It's why, for example, the blah-blah-blogging goes on forever, irrespective of whether you are pro- or antiBoB.

Therefore -- and this is the, or at least a, Bottom Line of the Whole Existentialada -- "Whereof we cannot formalize, thereof we can still know." Which is a kind of inversion of Wittgenstein's famous gag that "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Not true! Indeed, it reminds me of this book by Cardinal Sarah on The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. Now we're really in the world of orthoparadox, because you might say that the book is an eloquent soliloquy on the silence of ultimate reality. So, you can always say what can't be said. Just don't pretend there's nothing more to say.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Inward Mobility in the Cosmos

You know the old Zen gag about how, before satori, mountains are just mountains. But upon awakening to one's true nature, wu! Mountains are no longer mountains! However, soon enough, mountains are just mountains again. Wha' happened?

Watts explains that before enlightenment, "one is fully immersed in the finite world of form"; but with enlightenment, there is a kind of switch from finite to infinite: "one feels a deep connection with the infinite but alienated from the world of form which now has lost all its attraction."

In a way, this is a movement from twoness to oneness. But you can't live in oneness forever. I mean, someone has to pay the mortgage and take out the trash. However, the world is different: "there is once again a sense of connection with, and interest in, the finite world of everyday life whilst remaining perfectly in touch with the formless realm of infinity" (ibid.).

This new reality represents a kind of psychic third: recall that with enlightenment we went from two to one. But this new world is a blend or complementarity of the two: everything is completely the same but totally different.

The same pattern is recognized in Christianity, e.g., being "born again from above." Being born of the water or in the flesh surely entails being tossed into finitude, if I recall correctly. D'oh!

In contrast, to be born of the Spirit clearly implies contact with infinitude. Or, it is initiation into the vertical, one's "true home": the immaterial Kingdom of Heaven vs. the material thingdom of heathens.

Prof Wiki cites a passage that sounds like Schuon could have written it:

With the voluntaristic type, rebirth is expressed in a new alignment of the will, in the liberation of new capabilities and powers that were hitherto undeveloped in the person concerned.

With the intellectual type, it leads to an activation of the capabilities for understanding, to the breakthrough of a "vision."

With others it leads to the discovery of an unexpected beauty in the order of nature or to the discovery of the mysterious meaning of history.

With still others it leads to a new vision of the moral life and its orders, to a selfless realization of love of neighbor.... each person affected perceives his life in Christ at any given time as “newness of life."

In short, new strength, new ideas, new patterns, new love or virtue. There's something for everyone!

Furthermore, all these are connected: a rising tide lifts all buddhis. As such, becoming more intelligent should covary with becoming more virtuous, and vice versa. It ought to result in becoming a better and more integrated person.

That little internet dialog I published a few days ago is a good example. The fellow I was debating is obviously intelligent. But he is a hopelessly -- and willfully -- infertile egghead, bound and determined to situate himself in finitude. There is no budging him from that stance unless or until he has a Spirit visitation that shatters all that nonsense. Then he will see finitude from the standpoint of infinitude, and his personal mountain will vanish.

You return to your world, but it's regenerated. All things made new. It's not a one-time-only event -- for that would make it finite -- but ongrowing; or up- and ingrowing: simultaneous ascent and interiorization. Very much in the world, but no longer of it.

Of what then? Of the Spirit, of which we ask God to give us this day (our spiritual sustenance). Detachment (from the world). Attachment (to God). Reattachment (life in the Trialectic, AKA Love).

Is Love higher than Truth? Can't be, for nothing can be more privileged than Truth. Rather, they are two names for the same reality.

The idea is that man is the conscious bridge or link between two worlds (finite and infinite, visible and invisible, local and nonlocal), such that to be born again is to activate the latent energies that flow between them. Our enigmatic old friend Boris describes it thus: "entry into the Kingdom of God is closed to those who have not been born anew." Exterior Man is an infertile egghead who produces no fruit. But with Interior Man, it's always harvest time.

In this context, "freedom" is not merely doing what one wants. Rather, the highest freedom is that of detachment, without which there is no objectivity, and therefore no truth. Schuon says something to the effect that to assimilate an eternal truth is to die a little; recall too Socrates' crack about how philosophy is rehearsal for death. But that only applies to the ego, which feeds on finitude. One might say that the Medicine of Immortality (for the spiritual self or soul) is toxic to the material ego.

Note as well that the Lie is like holy communion for the ego. Which goes to the function of the liberal media, AKA fake news: feeding the Beast. Literally.

Is it even possible to be a self without access to eternal truths? In other words, if we are not grounded in truth, then what are we? Either "whatever we want to be," which is nothing; or, whatever we are compelled to be, which is also nothing.

In reality, freedom and truth are two sides of the same reality, for we must be free to discern and assimilate truth or it's no truth at all. Truth is not dependent upon us, as postmodern relativists maintain; rather, we are dependent upon the truth that pre-exists us.

The cosmos is two things: the world, and our consciousness of it. Neither is reducible to the other, but each is reducible to the Word that is in the beginning. That Word bifurcates into intelligence and intelligibility -- or time and eternity, finite and infinite, absolute and relative, etc. -- but it seems that Job One for us is to assimilate the Word that is prior to the bifurcation, which is how we move on up in the world: inward mobility.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Freedom and Sacrifice, Determinism and Suicide

What follows is a little conversation I had with a fellow commenter on Instapundit regarding an article on whether machines can attain consciousness. The answer is No: not now, not soon, not ever.

Indeed, to even ask the question is to not know what consciousness is, which is to say, qualitative subject and not quantitative object. Why pretend it is possible to reduce the former to the latter? This constitutes the last word in reductionism, since it reduces and thereby eradicates the very entity that caries out the reduction. Truly, it is like jumping into a hole and pulling the hole in after yourself.

Why would you even want to do that? It renders your life quite literally meaningless, with no possibility of any purpose whatsoever.

No, that wasn't a rhetorical question. One could ask the same question of atheists more generally: why do you choose a philosophy that either denies the possibility of choice or renders it absurd?

Well, let's start with the principle that man is what he is, irrespective of what we imagine he is. And one thing man is is epistemophilic. In other words, man loves truth. It's in our nature, and there is no way of getting around it.

If you ask an average atheist if he loves truth, he may or may not admit it. But they always act as if they are devoted to truth, no matter where it leads, in contrast to religious folk, who are attached to childish, consoling, and self-deceptive fairy tales, myths, and superstitions. Atheists are the Adults in the Room, for they are willing to acknowledge Reality without compensatory hallucinations.

So the atheist loves truth as he sees it. Indeed, he loves it so much that he is willing to sacrifice himself on its altar, for he insists that "I believe this, even if it renders all belief, and my life with it, utterly futile."

The commenter with whom I engage below reminds me of this. I don't doubt that he is scrupulously honest -- honest to the point of self-immolation (his responses are indented, while my comments on my comments are in parentheses):


Computationalism is a priori demolished by Gödel, but its simpleminded adherents haven't gotten the memo. Sad!

(That was intended only as a concise little gag. It is literally and eternally true, such that it isn't worth wasting a moment of your life pretending the mind is a computer. I certainly didn't expect an argument against what is certain!)

(Oh and I'm willing to concede that I don't really understand Gödel. If so, then neither does Gödel understand me, and I'm in the right on this matter.)

Godel's Theorems are universal, applying equally to computers and to humans. They don't impinge on computationalism any more or less than anything else.

Yes, but in understanding the theorems we thereby transcend them. In Rebecca Goldstein's bio, she claims that Gödel's point is that man has access to truths that cannot be proved by the systems we construct.

Speaking only for myself, I know with 100% certitude that I have access to suprasensible truths that no computer will ever touch or even know about; they are translogical, not illogical. In short, the limits of truth and limits of logic are very different things: semantics cannot be reduced to syntax -- nor, for that matter, subject to object.

Besides, even if our minds were enclosed in logical tautologies, I would insist otherwise, if only because it's a more fun way to live, and it pisses off all the right people.

That's exactly what Godel proved is impossible. You can't have it both ways.

Use your right brain, man! You're free!

(By which I mean that the left brain is indeed enclosed in logical tautologies, while the right brain transcends all that. Which is why we have one. They are complementary, meant to work in tandem, but the left brain cannot contain the right, any more than the object can contain the subject. And no, I'm not reducing this to brain anatomy; feel free to regard it as an allegory.)

You know how Godel's proofs work? He proved the first Incompleteness Theorem using *arithmetic*. That's how fundamental it is.

It is quite literally inescapable, which is why it is regarded as one of the most important advances ever in the history of mathematics.

Gödel did not show what the mind is, but he certainly showed what it is not, which is to say, a logic machine.

If you take it one step further, among other things, he proved the existence of unprovable arithmetical truths: or in other words -- and this is just common sense -- that there exist things that are both unprovable and true. But only the best things in life.

(Again, literally true: none of the best things in life can be reduced to a logical system. You can try, but you'll be very lonely and bored.)

This is not really something you can have differing opinions on. Godel proved, as you say, that there are statements that are true but unprovable. But we are bound by Godel's proof too. We cannot ever know those statements are true. Sometimes we can know they're unprovable. Sometimes not even that. This is the reality of mathematics, and it's our reality.

The wonderful book Godel, Escher, Bach goes into the implications of this for human and machine intelligence - and art and society as well. I highly recommend it to everyone.

That is not what Gödel believed: he didn't believe his theorems supported reductionism, but rather, a la Plato, the existence of a suprasensible domain of eternal verities. Think of your own case: do you really not know any truths that cannot be proved by logic? -- for example, that man is free to accept or reject truth.

No, I don't know any truths that can't be proved by logic. If they can't be proved by logic, I don't know that they're true. If I don't know that they're true, why call them truths?

There are things I *believe* to be true that I cant prove, of course. But I could be wrong.

I think you're selling yourself short by enclosing truth within logical tautologies. For you, things are true because rational; for me, they are rational because true.

You say you know of no truths that can't be proved by logic. Well, it is impossible to prove man has free will, and yet, we do. One could cite many other examples, but just one suffices to blow up reductionism.

What do you mean by "free will"? There's certainly no evidence that we have any form of free will that contradicts reductionism.

If that's the case, then you were determined to say that, and truth doesn't enter into it. In other words, if we are not free, then we obviously cannot choose truth. Nor could you convince me otherwise, since I too would be bound to believe what I believe.

You ask what I mean by free will: most importantly, freedom to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, reality and appearances. This is what characterizes the human station. Speaking only for myself, I want to live in a system in which I am free to choose truth, beauty, and virtue.

Freedom is metaphysical, not physical, and is more than adequate proof of our transcendence. And of course, there is nothing compelling one to believe this truth. We are always free to reject freedom.

More to the point: is understanding Gödel's theorems just a logical entailment, or does it situate you outside logical systems? If it's just another tautology, then to hell with it.


That was it. One point I wanted to add is that determinism is for Marxists, Muslims, and behaviorists, not Americans. Especially on this Memorial Day, think about it: we are here because thousands of brave soldiers gave their lives for our freedom.

Yes, but What do you mean by freedom? There's certainly no evidence that we have any form of free will that contradicts reductionism.

Oh? This means that these warriors -- this one, for example -- weren't brave at all, merely foolish or deluded, sacrificing themselves to something that doesn't exist. Meanwhile, the atheist sacrifices his mind to the one thing that supposedly does exist: godless matter. But is there any merit in his sacrifice, being that he has no choice but to make it?

I'll say it again for emphasis: freedom is sufficient proof of our transcendence. And those who have given their all in its defense haven't wasted their lives but testified to its ultimate significance. Which is why we honor them.

(I can hear it now: What do you mean by honor? There's no such thing!)

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