Friday, March 09, 2018

The Science of the Inexact is an Exact Science

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, I reread a couple of essays in Schuon's Gnosis that turned out to be particularly apt. It's as if the Cosmic Mind directed me straight to them.

For example, we adverted to the limitations of mere fact and logic, when our adversaries seem to think that these things not only speak for themselves, but can say everything there is to say. But then Gödel comes along and says "no way," because the human mind is bigger than math and logic put together.

Schuon says something similar:

There is doubtless no truth more "exact" than history, but what must be stressed is that there is a truth more "real" than that of facts.... Historical reality is less "real" than the profound truth it expresses, and which myths likewise express; a mythological symbolism is infinitely more "true" than a fact deprived of symbolism.

Here we are really on to something, almost a kind of cosmic meta-law that transcends anything even Gödel might have ventured; for in the end, he was a mere logician, wasn't he?

The reason there is no truth more exact than history is because it happened. Exactly. And yet, what was it? What did -- or does -- it mean? The most exact representation of what happened won't tell you that.

This reminds me of what was wrong with my formal education. For example, I remember studying a different facet of history every grade: US history, California history, European history, world history, etc. There were countless facts and dates to memorize, but I don't recall anyone pulling it all together and explaining What That Was All About.

So, yesterday I randomed into an article called Education as Enchantment: Tolkien’s Essay “On Fairy-Stories.” In it, the author describes perfectly the distinction between mere historical fact and historical reality:

When we teach, our aim isn’t merely [heh] to relay a subject matter -- a curricular “story” -- that otherwise remains “out there” at a level removed from the student himself. On the contrary, our desire is to be so competent and compelling in our teaching-cum-story-telling that our students and children are able, by an act of what Tolkien calls “literary belief,” to enter into the subject matter fully, and “see” and “feel,” even “be” inside of it.

Exactly. Which is ironic, because we're obviously dealing with a higher level of exactitude than mere fact! More:

Yet in casting our pedagogical “spell,” of course, we understand that we are engaged in no mere [heh] game or play-acting; we are not trying to get our students to believe something that is false.

Rather, we are engaged in the perilously important task of trying to seduce -- or “delude,” as Tolkien has it -- our students out of the so-called “real world” that they think they already know by leading them into the even more real “Secondary World” that is being “weaved” by the teacher.

Understood as a form or state of Faërian drama, then, education is to be appreciated as no mere [heh] means to some other, ulterior end, but rather education seeks to bring about much the same effect that all our arts ardently long for (but which only God’s own Faërian drama of the Gospel most fully achieves). In sum, our teaching must strive to imaginatively substitute the existing world with a new and redeemed because enchanted view of the old one.

I don't think I have sufficient time to unpack all that, but perhaps it's unnecessary, for either you get the point or you don't, and certainly Pinker and his ilk don't.

One central point is that the world isn't flat but hierarchical, such that exactitude on one level may be blurry or misleading or meaningless on the next. Nor is it possible to transcend from below, although people -- especially leftists -- never stop trying.

Bob, why did you just throw in that gratuitous insult to the left? Because the left practices a perverse, counterfeit version of Faërian drama by superimposing an ideological superstructure over events, AKA the Narrative. In denying myth, they descend into a kind of systematic and rigid delusion.

In the words of the Aphorist, Nothing is explainable outside of history, but history is not enough to explain anything.

For Real history exceeds what merely happened. Therefore, Facts need the historian in order to become interesting. Unless the imagination refines it, every event is trivial.

No. Exactly trivial. For The event without an intelligent narrator dies in frustrated virtuality. What this ultimately means is that history is consummated in the soul; or rather, it is woven of fact and imagination, horizontal and vertical, but conditioned from above.


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Bad Church of Mere Logic and Fact

I heard Steven Pinker on Dennis Prager's show yesterday, discussing his Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I was expecting a high level debate on God, Man, and Everything, but was quite disappointed.

Pinker came off as someone who has never thought deeply about reason, science, humanism, progress, morality, or any other coordinate of existence. He had only the lamest responses to Prager's most mild challenges.

Indeed, Prager was polite and respectful with Pinker -- almost to the point of fawning -- I suspect because he is one of the few prominent liberals who is vocal in his opposition to the left. Evidently there is a lot of mindless conservative-bashing in the book, but Prager got him to acknowledge that liberalism shares much more in common with conservatism than with leftism.

I wonder if being a Beloved Professor rots one's brain? The adulation allows one to cut corners and substitute verbal wizardry for solidly anchored thought. I wonder if any amazon reviewers have noticed this? Let's check.

Hmm. Bill Gates says it is his "favorite book of all time." Kiss of death right there. Uh oh. More extravagant praise from the likes of Nicholas Kristof, Richard Dawkins, and David Brooks. Maybe I'm bigoted, but I would never even consider reading a book endorsed by these four, since it would indicate to me that the work is tainted by Deep Fallacy and Ineradicable Error.

Perhaps I should emphasize that I am in 100% agreement with Pinker that Things Are Getting Better, especially in all the measurable ways that things are getting better, such as longer lifespans, increased wealth, and less violence. The (or one) question is why -- not just proximally but ultimately.

For example, he will say because of the Enlightenment. Yes, but why did the Enlightenment only happen in Christian civilization? And I doubt he means the French Enlightenment, but I can't say for certain. His argument essentially reduces to "the stuff I like happened because of stuff I like."

He also seems to think that humanism and Christianity are antipodal, when in reality, genuine humanism is rooted in Christianity, whereas radically secular versions end in Nazism, Communism, or some other ideology that necessarily elevates man to godhood. If God is Necessary Being -- that which cannot not be -- then we can no more eliminate him than we can matter, or energy, or light. Rather, we can only deny and displace him.

Which is precisely what Pinker does. For example, he believes it is possible to ground morality in logic. Yes, I suppose that's possible, so long as you furnish logic with the correct premises! But logic alone obviously cannot provide those premises.

Remarkably, Pinker didn't seem to comprehend this when Prager pointed it out. For example, Pinker argued that it is logical not to murder children. But why should we be logical? What if I want to murder children? Who says logic is better than desire? Not Nietzsche, for one.

I'm sure Pinker's argument suffices in the academic lounge or on MSNBC. But logic has never stopped anyone from acting on a desire to commit evil. In fact, logic can obviously assist one in doing so. It is totally neutral. A Nazi might have asked, "what is the most logical way to liquidate the maximum number of Jews with the minimum expense?" Just because something is logical, it hardly means it is good, let alone true. Rather, a logical argument is only sound or unsound.

Speaking of disappointment, I recently read a book called Simply Gödel, and it wasn't especially helpful to the cause. However, it does at least agree with Bob that logic ultimately "consists of empty tautologies" -- of "rules or conventions for deducing sentences from one another, determining whether sentences are consistent with one another, and so on..."

Imagine a guy as bright as Pinker making a tautological argument. But there it is. It means he is saying "nothing," or conveying no information at all. In other words, if I excitedly tell you that 1 = 1, I haven't actually said anything of interest. More to the point, "lacking intuition, we would have no knowledge of existing things at all, only opinions" (Tieszen). And Gödel doesn't mean merely subjective intuition, but rather, something more analogous to the Intellect in Schuon's sense:

Just the opposite is true: intuition is required for objectivity. Without intuition of the objects or states of affairs that our thoughts are about, we would have only empty thoughts. Truth requires agreement between what is merely thought and facts that are intuited. Intuition fills in what is merely thought.

Merely thought. This should humble mere thinkers, but it rarely does.

Similarly, mere logic can prove all kinds of things, but that doesn't mean these things are true: "Formal provability is a purely 'syntactic' notion, which means it does not involve truth" (ibid.) It may or may not be true, but as we all know, semantics cannot be reduced to syntax. You can say something that is perfectly grammatical and yet be completely full of it.

Gödel once remarked that "Either mathematics is too big for the human mind, or the human mind is more than a machine."

Well, mathematics is not too big for the human mind, so we are more than machines. QED. For "computers are just concrete syntax manipulators" incapable of standing outside or above their syntax. Which also means that "formal or computational exactness does not always yield certainty. To think otherwise is an illusion."

Mere thought, mere fact, mere logic, mere clarity, mere exactitude. None of these are goods (or truths) in and of themselves. Rather, they potentially cut both ways.

Gödel made a comment that applies perfectly to the Pinkers of the world: "ninety percent of contemporary philosophers see their principal task to be that of beating religion out of men's heads, and in that way have the same effect as the bad churches."

Monday, March 05, 2018

A Gloriously Translucent Cosmos

In a sense, necessity and possibility are another way of talking about the perennial question of the One and the many -- an irreducible reality that any metaphysic has to confront. How can the world be both one and diverse? Ah ha! Perhaps it is diverse because it is one, and vice versa: a diversified unity and unified diversity.

The Absolute is necessary-oneness, while the Infinite is diverse-possibility -- both in time and in space. If not for the oneness of time, then each moment would be a radical novelty, unrelated to past or future nows. Time would be atomistic. But like space, it is both continuous and discontinuous, a la quantum physics.

Thus, I am not surprised that physical reality turns out to be wave or particle, depending upon one's perspective. It is actually wavicle, but we aren't equipped to perceive it that way. Presumably only God can see the wavicle. And live.

All of this again implies some sort of "change" in God, but it doesn't mean that God changes. Possibilities simultaneously veil and reveal -- AKA reveil -- God; and what is "Possibility as such" but "the supreme Veil, the one which envelops the mystery of Unicity and at the same time unfolds it, while remaining immutable and deprived of nothing?" (Schuon).

So, in this context, change, or possibility, or diversity, are all veils of the One, so to speak. The thought just popped into my head of the veil dance. Phenomena are a dance of veils. You can remove one after the other, but never get to the unveiled, naked truth. Not for nothing is maya, or shakti, or prakriti, seen as feminine. It is as if Shakti dances before Shiva, the motionless male principle.

Recall the Vedantic trinity of being-consciousness-bliss. As Schuon writes, it is in the latter "that Divine Possibility overflows and gives rise, 'through love,' to the mystery of exteriorization that is the universal Veil, whose weft is made of worlds and whose warp is made of beings."

Bliss is the vision of all-possible Being. It's why God is never bored.

Before you ask if you can buy some pot from me, I was discussing just this subject yesterday with my 12 year old, who has taken up photography. Because of it, he now sees the world in a completely different way, looking at the infinite aesthetic possibilities that are always present each moment, but unseen unless we consciously notice them. Any fully-dimensional spiritual practice must discern beauty, right? And what is beauty but the divine bliss in response to radiant glory?

Yes, there's an Aphorism For That. Take your pick:

When religion and aesthetics are divorced from each other, we do not know which is corrupted sooner.

Aesthetics is the sensible and secular manifestation of grace.

Aesthetics cannot give recipes, because there are no methods for making miracles.

Without aesthetic transfiguration all of reality is pedestrian.

Every work of art speaks to us of God. No matter what it says.

Only those who secretly propagate the admiration of beauty conspire effectively against today’s world.

I do not know whether in another world the devil punishes an irreligious society. But I see that here it is soon punished by aesthetics.

Hollywood be thy name. Except for Gary Oldman.

It is as if man lives between potential and necessity so to speak; or rather, between necessity and necessity. What I mean is that it is up to us to realize and perfect possibility, which is to say, return it to its source. And now that I'm thinking about it, this a way to think about Jesus handing over the whole of creation back to the Father.

Somewhere Schuon describes art in this way. Here it is; a perfectly lucid summary of everything said above:

The essential function of sacred art is to transfer Substance, which is both one and inexhaustible, into the world of accident and to bring the accidental consciousness back to Substance.

One could say also that sacred art transposes Being to the world of existence, of action or of becoming, or that it transposes in a certain way the Infinite to the world of the finite, or Essence to the world of forms; it thereby suggests a continuity proceeding from the one to the other, a way starting from appearance or accident and opening onto Substance or its celestial reverberations

Or this:

The Principle becomes manifestation so that manifestation might rebecome the Principle, or so that the “I” might return to the Self; or simply, so that the human soul might, through given phenomena, make contact with the heavenly archetypes, and thereby with its own archetype.

Which is why, to paraphrase the Aphorist, mere talent is to art what good intentions are to behavior. Each is a road to hell.