Monday, February 05, 2018

How is Possibility Possible?

This note to myself last Friday seemed urgent at the time, but I haven't thought about it since, and now we have to figure out why it was so important, or at least compelling. It reminds me of what Polanyi says about the importance in science of seeing good problems. Mediocre scientists have all the answers, but gifted ones come up with the good questions.

When you think about it, the history of science is a chronicle of asking the right questions. For example, a big question in physics before Einstein came along had to do with the nature of the ether. But the theory of relativity proved that there was no such medium, and that space and its objects were each reflections of a deeper principle.

If I recall my Thomas Kuhn correctly, a scientific paradigm generates its own questions. At first the paradigm is fruitful, but eventually it generates questions that not only can't be answered, but are absurd or paradoxical. These latter let us know that the paradigm cannot be complete -- that it is simply a useful way to interrogate reality.

For example, the theory of the Big Bang is useful up to a point -- that point being the instant the Bang occurs. Asking what happened "before" the Big Bang lands one in absurdity, since time is said to be a function of the Big Bang. You might even say there's no such thing as a question prior to the Big Bang, so stop asking. Bu-- Shut up!

So, we know there must be more to it than what physics can say. Unless ultimate reality is indeed absurd, which makes no sense at all. Or rather, because it makes sense. In other words, if existence is absurd, man could never know it. Or anything else, for that matter.

Which converges with today's subject, which is the role of language in all of this. The central question before us -- before all men at all times -- is whether we can actually understand reality, or whether we're just making things up in order to conceal our bottomless ignorance.

Paradoxically, science wants to have it both ways: that we are the absolutely contingent residue of genetic copying errors, and yet, that we may know the truth of ourselves. Only one of these can be true. And that's the truth. So we know we're on to something.

The anemic myth we have been given to understand is essentially that man knew nothing -- or nothing but error -- prior to the Enlightenment and scientific revolution, and now we know it all; not all of the details, of course, but the Big Picture, which will never change. In other words, there is no possibility of "progress" beyond the idea that everything is reducible to transformations of matter, such that man is nothing and life ultimately meaningless.

I'm reading an excellent book called Deconstructing the Administrative State, which is unfortunately named, because the authors range much wider and deeper than the title suggests, such that the bureaucratic deep state is seen as the mere side effect of a much more fundamental turn into political darkness. The soft tyranny of the administrative state is what happens when progressivism displaces reality. And it's only soft so long as we don't resist -- which is why they pound the president so hard. He threatens their whole beautiful nightmare.

Make no mistake: children who attend government schools are indoctrinated into the myths of statism -- the myths that support statism -- from the earliest age. Hold on a moment -- This Bus Stops for Aphorisms:

Man is an animal that can be educated, provided he does not fall into the hands of progressive pedagogues. Therefore, The State imposes obligatory and free instruction, for making a stupid man still stupider at the public expense (Dávila).

Remember Socrates? Or better, Remember Socrates! He was murdered by the state for "refusing to recognise the gods acknowledged by the state, and importing strange divinities of his own; he is further guilty of corrupting the young."

As Jesus is our paradigmatic religious figure, Socrates is our paradigmatic philosopher. Socrates is a reminder that if you love wisdom the state will hate you, just as Jesus warned us that love of him will provoke the world's hatred. Strangely, loving truth places a target on one's back, a proposition to which Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro can attest. The truth is of course safe on liberal college campuses, so long as it is surrounded by a retinue of body guards.

Here are some of the founding -- and therefore enabling -- myths of the left. Paraphrasing from the book, they include the ideas that we inhabit a cosmos with no end or purpose, that everything within it is subject to constant change, that man is strictly continuous with nature, that he cannot transcend his genetic programming, that all values are culturally and historically conditioned, that there is no ultimate truth, and in any event no soul that could possibly know it.

Why is this incoherent jumble of myths so important? Because it provides metaphysical support for the political myths of the left: that man has no rights that exist prior to the state, that there are no self-evident truths (only relative ones), and that there are no limits to the size and scope of the state.

We're still dancing around the periphery of the main subject, which is language and reality. The question is, does plain, everyday language go deeper than any and all sciences put together? Does language transcend -- or subtend -- anything math can say about the world? What comes first, quantity or quality? And if the former, how can quality -- say, the beauty of a face, or a landscape, or even just a pure color -- be reduced to quantity?

This line of thought was provoked by an essay of Schuon's called The Problem of Possibility, although most any of his essays would serve as well, for his entire corpus consists of plain language about ultimate reality. There are no equations, no special terms, no academic bloviating, just complete clarity on his end and perfect understanding on mine.

Regarding the latter, this is not to imply that I possess perfect understanding of reality. Rather, what I mean is that when I understand something Schuon says about the nature of reality, the understanding penetrates so deeply that something inside clicks and is convinced that no deeper understanding is possible: that we have hit ontological sheetrock, as it were.

I'm quite sure that many people have this same experience in their religion; indeed, it is this experience that makes one religious, that converts us. Something clicks on a deep level, and that's that.

Let's talk about "the problem of possibility." Going back to paragraph one, is this a real problem, one worth pursuing, or is it just an illusion, or dead end, or pointless exercise? Does science even recognize this problem? And if science says it isn't a problem, then it isn't one.

Nevertheless, exactly how is possibility possible? Is it a thing? Or is everything necessary? More to the point, if everything is reducible to necessity, where does all the possibility come from, most pointedly, free will? For free will is essentially possibility.

Which is why scientism tries to make it go away be denying its possibility. A number of years ago we had a commenter who would get into arguments with us over the impossibility of free will. Well, he's absolutely right: within his paradigm, free will is indeed impossible. But since free will is self-evident, his paradigm is self-evidently wrong. And of course, he's just emblematic of metaphysical materialism and scientism: garbage in, tenure out.

As Schuon (self-evidently) explains, if something exists, then it was possible for it to do so. But if something is possible, it may or may not exist. So, where or what is this realm of possibility? For if things are possible, you need to account for how this is possible.

We'll continue down this rabbit hole Wednesday. Meanwhile, a few related aphorisms:

If determinism is real, if only that can happen which must happen, then error does not exist. Error supposes that something happened that should not have.

So, To admit the existence of errors is to confess the reality of free will.

And ultimately, The free act is only conceivable in a created universe. In the universe that results from a free act.

I'll make it easy for: if you could be wrong about the absence of free will, then you are wrong.


common sense bob said...

Dear Bob,
This one is a wow!! I love it!
Thank you.
Best wishes,
p.s. I would like to offer, in the friendliest way, 1 small quibble.
You write that the theory of relativity "proves"...
But of course that is an imprecise use of the term.
Here is a quote to help us here:
“SCIENCE NEVER PROVES ANYTHING. Science sometimes improves hypotheses and sometimes disproves them. But proof would be another matter…Science probes; it does not prove.” [Capitals and italics in the original]
Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature
I realize you already understand this point from the whole tenor and direction of this piece, and I also realize that thanks to the enormous influence of scientism it is difficult for you and me to keep from slipping into this way of talking about what science does, alas.

common sense bob said...

p.p.s. Dang! a typo. "proved" not "proves"
apologies all around

Gagdad Bob said...

Agree about "proof." "Entails" is a more exact characterization.

Gagdad Bob said...

Another friendly profile of Jordan Peterson. He sure has to take a lot of abuse in exchange for the celebrity. I don't envy him.

julie said...

The soft tyranny of the administrative state is what happens when progressivism displaces reality.

Following up on something that that occurred after last Thursday's comments, I've seen people hoping that perhaps in coming days, truth will be revealed that will signal a serious end to the Democrats and their ilk. It's a pleasant thought, I suppose, but for it to be possible prior to the Second Coming, I suspect mankind would need to be a different and more perfect creature. Even if there were no more "Democrats," there will always be broken people seeking to control others for their own nefariously well-intentioned ends.

The amygdala guy is always going on about something like that - as if a big enough, bad enough apocalypse will cleanse the world of all the r elements and mankind will just be K forevermore. As if. As the Man said, the r will always be with us...

Gagdad Bob said...

As I said on Instapundit, the media is in full JUST A FLESH WOUND! mode.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

It is said that different languages have strong influence on the thoughts of the people who speak it, also in shaping their ways in life. In verse 30 of chapter 21 of the Koran, we read the following addressed strangely enough to the disbelievers, Do not the disbelievers see how earth and heaven were one piece then we have sundered them and created from water everything alive,Do not they believe in the one that has done that. It is not a bang but a measured fission. We are moving in vast and fast strides toward truth including the realization of the second coming. We are living under the worship of the state that beheaded god and establishes itself as the new god. The missionaries of the white man burden are programmed to carry the corruptive message at the end time. In this context I want to mention the prescient verse 4 of chapter 27 of the same mentioned book which states that, We have decreed in the book that the Israelites will corrupt the earth twice and to rise high in the world. It is the story of the chosen people who have failed to carry the true message are turned around to carry the false message. We should not think that we are living in an aimless, clueless planless world. Everything is well planned and the second coming is part of the plan for those who have ears to hear and reason to ponder and measure. All scriptures are clear on reminding the humans that they are not thrown on this earth in vain without purpose and responsibility. Without accountability and death equate between the criminals and the goodhearted ones. It is stupid to think that those who have been allowed to sack the earth and blunder its riches and turn people against each other are not going to receive their just reward. It seems our time is a time of disclosure where the good will receive the prize of their goodness and the ugly will be crowned by the ugliness they have scattered in the world. We should read carefully and do not let the like of the Isis distracted us from the truth. It is a critical time that demands seriousness and sincerity in addressing the issues at hand without immersing ourselves in the unimportant and the abstract and forget raising the flag of truth high above the liars and the arrogant It is the battles of the two sons of Abraham and Christians should not let the Jews use them to carry their fight. Christians should be good broker and not biased referee, Many Christians are awaking to their just mission in this non-linear world of ours.

Van Harvey said...

"...the bureaucratic deep state is seen as the mere side effect of a much more fundamental turn into political darkness. The soft tyranny of the administrative state is what happens when progressivism displaces reality..."

YES. And Possibility is indeed a problem for them, because their misosophy depends upon, is determined by, Determinism (and I'd be remiss to leave out predestination, whether Calvinist, or Inshallah). There must be no Possibility, only fact. Possibility, means Free Will, Truth, Right and Wrong, Individual Rights and laws centered around upholding them.

No soph-loathing totalitarian can tolerate the possibility of that. 'O! I said it! O! I said it again! O!!!'

Gagdad Bob said...

They literally want the messy realm of the possible to be managed by Experts! There are many quotes from Wilson other progressives to that effect.

julie said...

Reminds of a discussion I had with the daughter last night about how our bodies heal themselves. Our bodies function best without a whole lot of input from our conscious, "expert" control. We don't know how to mend a bone, all we can do is help hold it still, provide decent nutrition, and try not to interfere. Any man trying to dictate to those processes how they should work best is likely to slow the process at best, if not causing more damage. And that's just one person with their own body. How much crazier it is to imagine one can micromanage a nation into utopia!

The dark irony is that America as it is is pretty much as close as mankind has ever gotten to a true utopia. They would turn us instead into Venezuela or North Korea, and call it improvement. At least there, the totalitarians are in control!

Van Harvey said...

Yep, it's been their dream since at least Rousseau, and which they were very open about until after Wilson, to have what amounts to an Oligarchy of Experts.

The Amazon page doesn't give a lot of info on the book, but it seems up my alley - are you far enough in to it, to recommend it?

Gagdad Bob said...

To paraphrase Davila, none of the high points of history were planned.

Gagdad Bob said...

Nor, for that matter, any high points of my life...

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your comment. It is good to have a practicing Muslim weigh in on things, considering a sizable bloc of humanity is of that faith. A certain amount of anti-Jew sentiment comes through in your comment, which is unavoidable I suppose. A Muslim must go all-in. You mention the "ugly crowned by ugliness" at the Second Coming. I would question that like the highly skilled debater that I am, but I refrain; there is the off chance, as with any religion "of the book," that it might be the actual case.

The funny thing about the real truth is that it doesn't sell well. Literally. At our lecture hall we pack them in for Conspiracy Theory Discussion, Flat Earth forums, and Herbal Healing Therapy, among others, at $80-100 a chair. Very lucrative.

We've had experts on rock-bottom truth booked to lecture...on topics like Metaphysics and Theology,and...crickets chirping.

People tend to go towards the creative fiction rather than the truth? If so, why?

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Hi Anon, thank you for you comment.
Before we have had worn our imposed labels we are humans and the basic religious message is to respect that original image of the human, and not to waste the time in useless confrontation with other labels or subjecting others to the arrogant power of the misplaced soul, utilizing the perceptual faculties divinely bestowed on us to appreciate that primordial essence and to enhance that faculties by energizing their light by the original light of the one. We live in a sea of energy even the sound we made is part of that primordial energy through which we find ourselves and find our communications with the source and others. In the realm of truth bigotry as a language dies. They said, the difference between spiritual knowledge and intellectual knowledge is that the first is a knowledge of appreciation and reverence, of wonder and worship, of respect to what one comes to know of the divine cosmos not like the others that deal in a disrespectable manner and exploitative fashion with what they come to know, as it is clear from what is going around us, in our inflicted world. It is moving from the bondage of causality to the free realm of synchronicity where the non-causality, that is the free play of the divine operate. When Zecharia. asked god for a son and god responded positively, Zecharia, in astonishment told god how could he have a son in light of his old age and the infertility of his wife, god reminded Zecharia that causality is not the only law in god realm but free play is the rule, warning him from the siege of causality
and thus Zecharia had the son despite what he thought were detrimental obstacles. It is such story that answers the why you have raised. In the realm of faith causality is a poor assumption to play with. God is a paradoxical system of concepts and human are called upon, to study the system and to abide with the positive part of the paradox and protect themselves from the negative side. The tragedy of the humans is that they want to apply the code of the finite on the infinite and to draw the divine image down to the human image thus cage themselves in the world of the low mechanical thinking that prevent them from seeing the whole picture. Salvation is a personal phenomenon and not a social concept that is why, know thyself, is the motto of all perennial traditions. Our consciousness is reflection of His consciousness and the nearer to Him we draw ourselves, the more expansive our consciousness, no wonder we have benefited from the mantra tradition which all spiritual schools utilize in different mode and different combination of letters and different mode of intonations with the common denominator of honesty sincerity and truthful devotion.