Friday, April 20, 2018

Humanism and Animalism

There's too much going on in this book -- Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity -- for me to take a linear approach, at least until I get a handle on it. Therefore, we'll just have to settle for an impressionistic or even pointillistic view.

What does the Aphorist say? My brief sentences are touches of color in a pointillist composition. Moreover, The only claim that I have is that of not having written a linear book, but a concentric book. The points consist of pebbles thrown into a pond -- and the pond is your soul.

Handle. Does the world have one? Is it numbers? Words? Ideas? Or is the cosmos entirely flat, such that there is nothing to grab and no one to lift it? Well, we do have hands, so we can physically handle things. Moreover, human beings are uniquely able to consciously think about things they'd like to lift, like this cup of coffee to my right.

That's a good start, but is there an ultimate handle, which is to say, principle of intelligibility? If you are a neuromeshugeh or Darwinebbish, I'm afraid not. There is no there there, only a here. And it's not even a here, because there can be no presence for whom the here is here.

Quite literally. Tallis spends a good deal of time discussing the reality of intentionality, which is to say, the irreducible "aboutness" of consciousness. Before the age of one, human infants surpass all other creatures in being able to look at where the finger is pointing. It's what we do. It's what you are effortlessly doing right now, seeing through my words (which you didn't even notice until I mentioned them) while both constructing and interacting with an implicit mental image that is more real than the words pointing to it. Polanyi and all that.

Come to think of it, I see Tallis and Polanyi as engaging in very similar projects, that is, rescuing science and philosophy from the metaphysical nul de slack that results from a naive -- but deeply destructive -- scientism. Destructive to what? To human beings, ultimately to the human state itself. The difference is that Polanyi, while apparently not a conventional believer, was very much open to the religious dimension, whereas Tallis has a knee-jerk opposition to it.

I'm frankly a little surprised that Tallis doesn't foresee "where this is headed," so to speak -- why he doesn't think to himself, "ah, now I get where those religious folk are coming from."

Instead, he draws a sharp line: he ventures into the transcendent, and even insists that it cannot be reduced to matter, but leaves it at that. It is literally sur-real, meaning beyond reality, but with no principle to explain or render it intelligible. Look! A hole in the sky:

Where does it go? He doesn't ask. Nor does he pretend to understand where it came from. It's just there.

But for Polanyi, religion involves a "fusion of incompatibles" accomplished by the imagination. God is the focal point of the fusion; or, in other words, He is the Cosmic Area Rug that reveals the meaning of its various patterns: "as in art -- only in a more whole and complete way -- God also becomes the integration of all the incompatibles in our own lives" (Polanyi).

Incompatibles? Like what? Oh, spirit and matter, God and man, knowing and being, body and mind, man and woman, faith and reason, Tallis and Schuon, you name it. Absent the integration, we can be no more than "a heap of impressions," or "a slop of accumulated experiences and their echoes in memory, not too different from delirium" (Tallis).

Instead, we have one mind. Or, more to the point, the mind itself is (or ought to be) one, which means that it possesses (or is possessed by) a synthetic and dynamic interior unity.

How do we -- how does the I of this neural storm -- pull this off, given the fact that there are more potential connections in the brain than there are particles in the universe? Our brain circuitry has "an estimated 9,000,000,000 components," each of which having "many hundreds, even thousands of connections with other neurons." The brain is "the mother of all motherboards." Yes, but which came first, the motherheno or the eggboard?

Where does this unity -- this synthesis -- take place? It can't be in the parts, because that just begs the question. If the parts are parts, they can't account for the whole: no matter how many rocks or neurons you toss onto a pile, it will still be a pile, not a unity.

Or, maybe the unity -- a faux unity to be sure -- is located below. This is what the neuromaniacs and Darwinists hold, that "you are just a little byway in the boundless causal nexus that is the material world" -- that you and your so-called mind serve "evolutionary success, not truth."

Therefore, if the Darwinians are correct, they will leave the most offspring. "The reasons we give for the things we do are mere rationalizations that conceal from us the real reason, which is no reason at all but a biologically determined propensity."

Well, at least God above and Darwinians below agree that we should be fruitful and multiply. But why then do the latter hate us so much?

Again, the rigidly orthodox Darwinian Professor Gray, whom Tallis quotes at the outset, describes man as "exceptionally rapacious," "predatory and destructive," possessing "no more meaning than that of a slime mold," and "not obviously worth preserving." In short, be sterile and stop propagating. How can a reductionist Darwinian be so un-Darwinian? How ever did he transcend his genes to the point of genocide?

It takes all kinds.


ted said...

I recently heard an interview with George Will who I didn't know was an atheist. When the interviewer asked him how he could have objective standards without a God, he said these standards were just a natural way as to how we should be and didn't need a theistic notion for them to be there. Hmm. Comes off short to me. But it works for some, I suppose.

Gagdad Bob said...

He should try that in a non-Judeo-Christian culture and see how it flies.

julie said...

Indeed. Depending on the culture, it may be "off the roof without a parachute."

In short, be sterile and stop propagating. How can a reductionist Darwinian be so un-Darwinian? How ever did he transcend his genes to the point of genocide?

There is a question for the ages. I was reading somewhere today that the demographic carnage in Europe is worse even than currently projected. The secularist utopia leads directly to extinction, either immediately in the usual carnage of communist systems, or more slowly as each succeeding generation, believing in nothing (except perhaps "saving the earth"), finds no reason to do what comes naturally.

Anonymous said...

Hello Panel:

I'd like to pose some questions about mind and body for closer examination:

The mind generates a lot of drives, which are not purely physical nor purely mental, so represent a midway point where the debate can be thrown into sharper relief:

Reproductive Drive: Strong

Respiratory Drive: Imperative

Appetite/Satiety Drive: Very Strong

Hydration/thirst Drive: Imperative

Social Acceptance/Love Drive: Moderately strong

The Darwinian view explains these all as brain/body integrated functions which favor survival and exemplify the "selfish gene" outlook. This explanation seems to work? Clearly more genes will be produced as a result of obeying these drives.

In the non-Darwinian approach, these may be described as "crosses to bear" or challenges to the spiritual life. Of note, the radically spiritual have tried to subvert and control all of these drives, trying breath control, fasting, social isolation, and celibacy (yoga, mysticism, monasticism). Of note these attempts were never wholly successful. These drives clearly trump or overween the capacity of human will power.

The exception is suicide, wherein these drives are eliminated along with everything else by a single volitional act.

The question to the panel is, what is the relationship between God and these drives? What is the relationship between the soul and these drives? What is the relationship between the higher mind (intellectual functions) and these drives?

Thanks for considering this, I know I can be a real pill.

doug saxum said...

I had a brother commit suicide when he was twenty years old.
The physical pain he tried to live with was the driving force behind his last act.

Anonymous said...

Hello Doug:

I'm sorry for the loss of your brother at twenty years of age. This must have gone very hard for you, and I can imagine your parents were devastated.


Your remarks about Europe were a shock and a disappointment. Did your mother raise you up to stand in judgment of your fellow man? Does Jesus instruct you to throw verbal stones at others?

Ordinarily you exemplify the virtues of modesty and charity, but this latest comment is not in keeping with the comportment of a Catholic lady.

Furthermore, I wonder if your husband is aware of your discourse with men on the blog here, and what he would say about that.

Or, on the other hand, perhaps you are the master of your own life and will do and say what you please. In that case, I retract my complaint.

julie said...

Doug, I'm sorry for the loss of your brother. It's hard when the people we love suffer, and there's nothing we can do to help. Harder still when they take their lives, even though it may be understandable. I pray his soul is at rest.

If it's any comfort, you can have masses said for him, either through online services or through your church (apologies if you're ahead of me on that one). Every now and then, I like to put people's names in here. I'm not sure who runs it, but appreciate that somewhere, someone is praying for those who need it.

Van Harvey said...

" How can a reductionist Darwinian be so un-Darwinian? How ever did he transcend his genes to the point of genocide?"

Perhaps, like our aninnymouse, in failing to consciously transcend their genes, they are instead driven by them. A failure to launch, so to speak, and their dust, being what it is, yearns to return to dust.

The Sisyphus-brain picture is a winner.

doug saxum said...

It was a difficult time.
Thanks for your reply.

doug saxum said...

Thank you Julie.
My folks received a sign that he had crossed over during the funeral service and felt at peace.

Anonymous said...


Consider the phrase "transcending your genes."

The first question is, why would anyone want to transcend their genes? What is the pay-off?

Consider the trouble someone has gone to to make genes a thing. There they are, sitting under the microscope looking all pretty. This chromosome does this, this chromosome does that, if this one is doubled or erased, if that one is transposed or replaced, weird stuff happens.

Do you suppose this is all just some kind of misunderstanding? Creator didn't mean it?

Secondly, is it even possible?

Exhort someone with Trisomy 13 to transcend their genes. They would gladly comply.

So. Look at what is in front of the eyes, and stop talking crap about transcending genes. They are clearly a force to be reckoned with. Have you transcended a gene lately? Tell us about it.

Religion has to be updated to incorporate what is known, as it becomes known. Now work on that, and get back to us. Current religious thought is not taking into account the "set-up" we find here. Someone has to have a frank talk with God and get the skinny on what is the expected goals here and how best to accomplish them, within the milieu of genes and all of the other annoying constraints we find ourselves under.

Now get cracking. That means you too Van.

Van Harvey said...

Dear aninnymouse, you have been transcended.

ted said...

Hmm. Has Jordan Peterson jumped the shark?

Continent and Content said...

Bob, have you ever looked at the work of Silvan Tomkins and his therapeutic colleagues Nathan Donaldson and Vernon Kelly on Affect Theory?

Gagdad Bob said...

No, never heard of them.

Van Harvey said...

When the shark is a Maher panel you're on... what're ya gonna do, but jump?

BZ said...

"But for Polanyi, religion involves a "fusion of incompatibles""

I've been reading about Kierkegaard, one of his interesting ideas from "Either/Or" about the acceptance of the Christian story of a son of God, virgin birth and so on. He states the rational mind cannot fathom this as true, because it is so beyond human ability to reach that divine truth. So, EITHER you must reject the story as absurd, OR you must make a leap of faith and accept it as a divine truth beyond reason, a step he says is like stepping out into nothing with 40,000 fathoms below. (a "Fusion of Incompatibles").

I read this blog because it gives me at least a map of possiblities (0->(null)) beyond the scientistic one. It's pretty clear to me, left to our own devices, we are royally screwed.

My further understanding of Mr. Kierkegaard, his other point being it comes down to the individual, that enlightenment/salvation is not distributed to groups, but to solitary individuals. That's been my experience.

Thanks Bob, for years of your thoughts, I appreciate.