Monday, January 22, 2018

Understanding Understanding

Not much time. Just a short blast...

How do we understand the ultimate nature of the cosmos? Via astrophysics? Astronomy? No, scientific disciplines simply assume the cosmos. But they assume it for religious reasons, in that they assume the cosmos of the Bible, not, say, Buddhist cosmology, in which, according to Prof. Wiki,

there is no ultimate beginning nor final end to the universe. It considers all existence as eternal, and believes there is no creator god.

Or Mormon cosmology, in which

The Earth's creation... was not ex nihilo, but organized from existing matter. The faith teaches that this earth is just one of many inhabited worlds, and that there are many governing heavenly bodies, including a planet or star Kolob which is said to be nearest the throne of God.

In short, "Though we are led to think that the universe is the province of a special science," the cosmos "is an irreducibly metaphysical and theological idea" which we only subsequently investigate via scientific methodology.

Moreover, the transcendent unity of the cosmos "is most fundamentally a unity of being" (Hanby). It really is One Thing, not an agglomeration of units, "each separated by an ontological abyss from each other."

"[I]f the cosmos is not inherently intelligible, if its logos is not intrinsic to it," then knowledge and truth become "impossible by definition.... The very possibility of cosmological truth depends upon reality being intelligible 'all the way down (and up)'" (ibid.).

A key point is that scientific knowledge -- in fact, any knowledge -- follows from this principle of the unity of being. Put conversely, if not for the prior unity of being, no knowledge of any kind would be possible.

But a cosmos lacking in oneness is an absurd proposition, because in a fundamentally fragmented and dis-unified "cosmos," there couldn't be any organic unity, and therefore no organisms or knowers. (I put cosmos in scare quotes because there couldn't be one; rather, each atomistic monad would be its own enclosed world, as it were; this would be a multiverse of exteriorly related billiard balls.)

Speaking of unity of being, did you know that cosmos, cosmetology, and cosmetics are related? The term kosmos

denotes order and beauty, even more specifically the beauty resulting from order, the beauty that is still implied today by an activity that derives its name from the word -- cosmetics (ibid.).

So now we see that both order and beauty are built into the cosmos. Why are we surrounded by such beauty? Because of a unity of being that at once gives rise to truth, beauty, and goodness (or the moral law). "Cosmology and anthropology are always correlative" (ibid.).

Not only are they correlative, but of the two, anthropos is ontologically prior. You might say that it is with God from the beginning. In other words, while they are complementary, the cosmos ultimately derives from the person(s) in whose image we are.

In this context, what we call causation is itself "a communication of meaning" (ibid.). Science is only possible because of our communion with being; or science is a communion that takes place between between subject and objects that are unified in being. Knowledge is a reflection of being, as immanence is a reflection of transcendence, or infinitude of absolute: I AM, therefore we can think.

For Schuon, "the laws of intelligence... reflect the laws of the divine Intellect." The Intellect is a prolongation of the Absolute, which is why reason "prolongs the Intellect in the direction of relativity." In other words, man always faces in two directions, up and down. But you cannot derive up from down!

So yes, man can understand the physical cosmos. But "one cannot understand the world unless one understands the place of understanding within it" (Jonathan Lear, in Hanby). In other words, it makes no sense to understand the cosmos while failing to understand how and why you can understand it, or worse, positing a cosmos that cannot account for its own capacity to be understood.

7 comments:

julie said...

But they assume it for religious reasons, in that they assume the cosmos of the Bible, not, say, Buddhist cosmology

Huh. I don't know that I've ever thought of it that way before. What would a Buddhist cosmology look like? It couldn't posit a big bang; would it recognize the speed with which various bits of the universe are scattering from each other, or would it come up with a different set of theories to explain what can be scientifically observed? Would a Buddhist cosmology posit black holes?

Very interesting thought.

I'd love to see an atheist scientist try studying the universe from a different cosmological perspective, just to see if it generated any different testable theories.

Gagdad Bob said...

Stanley Jaki and others have written extensively on this (Rodney Stark comes to mind). Science requires a very specific metaphysic, which is why it was "stillborn" in all other civilizations.

julie said...

Yes, that's not surprising. What can be observed so powerfully contradicts most religions that there can either faith or science, but not both.

Much like how without the many specific circumstances of our planet, moon, solar system, galaxy, etc., there would be no life on Earth.

That Christianity is not proven wrong by science is a pretty powerful indicator that it is in fact the Truth.

Olden Ears said...

"you cannot derive up from down"

So now I think I get the meaning of "as above, so below."

Anonymous said...

Once you've understood understanding, then what?

Gagdad Bob said...

Then nothing. The most important things are for their own sake.

Van Harvey said...

"In short, "Though we are led to think that the universe is the province of a special science," the cosmos "is an irreducibly metaphysical and theological idea" which we only subsequently investigate via scientific methodology."

Sure science began in the West (but only of course because compasses are racist), but why did the movement towards Science, peter out with the Greeks? Why did such notions go no further than ideas of engineering, with the Romans? Why did Science proper only finally begin in the West, with Christian monks such as Roger Bacon?

You'd think, what with scientists being so curious & all, they'd spend more time asking questions like that. I mean in our time... in Roger Bacon's time, being a Christian, the answer was fairly obvious. Weird how some questions stop being asked.