Friday, May 11, 2018

My Point Being?

I've been dealing with a cold since Tuesday, hence the temporary suspension of logorrhea. A cold affects all systems, including the delicate blogging system.

Nevertheless, there is ultimately a lesson to be learned from this, or a lesson about ultimacy: that the body is to the mind as the mind is to spirit: in health, each points beyond itself to the next level. But in illness -- even with something as trivial as a cold -- the arrows are reversed, and everything points back to the body.

For example, Tuesday night I don't think I slept more than five minutes at a stretch. I was up all night, but why? Because of my stupid body: sore throat, sneezing, coughing, congestion, etc. I couldn't escape the planet of the apes, AKA the primate body.

Even now my mind is still hovering too close to the body for a full on plunge into the abyss. Let's stick with this subject of bodies and truth. A while back I read Tallis' Michelangelo's Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence, which goes exactly to our subject. My cold, for example, was an exercise in everyday... immanence, I guess -- whatever is the opposite of transcendence.

The book is about the mundane reality of pointing, which is not only much more consequential than we realize, but in many ways goes to the essence of what man is. It is one of the reasons I don't think we'll ever discover our kind of intelligent life elsewhere, because no matter how intelligent the species, if it can't point, then it falls far short of the human standard.

In the past -- and in the book -- I've discussed this in the context of our irreducible intersubjectivity: there is no human individual beneath the social animal, because the two co-arise in infancy: our individuality -- our twoness -- emerges out of the prior infantile oneness. But once we are two, we can then "rediscover" oneness in a variety of ways, via knowledge, love, beauty, etc. Love, for example, is the rediscovery of oneness out of twoness.

Knowledge too is only possible because of the unity of subject and object, or of intelligence and intelligibility.

Conversely, think of unsophisticated epistemologies that haven't individuated from their cultural matrix. American Indian tribes, for example, are opposed to genetic research because it disproves their cultural fantasies about having been in America "forever," instead of having been recent immigrants. Barbarous feminists feel the same way about sexual differences.

So, it turns out that what really defines the uniqueness of human subjectivity is its aboutness or "intentionality." It is a big problem for materialists, so they naturally want to try to stuff it back into the brain -- as if mere matter can be "about" anything but itself.

Materialism is about matter, without explaining how matter can be about anything. I say materialists just have to accept the cold hard facts of life, no matter how joyous and liberating.

The simple act of pointing points to the realities of intentionality and intersubjectivity. I, as pointer, have to first put myself in your psychic shoes, and imagine what you can't see or don't know. You, as beneficiary of the point, need to adopt my perspective and imagine a line running from my mind, through my eyes, down my arm, and toward its terminal point. That is something no other animal can do.

And it is a metaphor for every transmission of knowledge. This post is not only pointing to various things, but the words and letters themselves are instances of pointing: letters point to words, words to sentences, sentences to paragraphs, etc.

To deploy a well worn analogy, you won't get the point of this post by pointing back to the letters of which it is composed. Those are just forms, and it's the substance that counts.

The entire human world -- truly, the whole existentialada -- is an instance of pointing. You will also have noticed that the reality of pointing defines the civil war between left and right.

For example, for us, the Bill of Rights points to irreducibly real realities such as freedom of speech, religion, and self defense. For the left, these realities don't actually exist except insofar as we agree they exist. I can point to the self-evident truth of free speech, but the leftist merely smells my finger.

So, pointing is our "passport out of nature." More generally, it is like a vector pointing from a center to the periphery.

Now, this center is quite mysterious, but again, it can't be properly understood outside the context of its pointing, its aboutness, its intentionality.

I find it quite intriguing, to say the least, that the Trinity provides a metaphysical ground for this. The Son does not "reduce" to the Father; rather, although the Father is in one sense "prior," the two nevertheless eternally co-arise, the one pointing to the other. A meta-cosmos that intrinsically points beyond itself, and it back to us. Damn convenient.

Other animals are enclosed in their neurology, but intentionality is "a uniquely human breach in the solitude of sentient creatures" that "takes us decisively out of our solitary, transient bodies, subject to the laws of nature."

In another book, Tallis describes how sickness and death reverse the pointing, such that everything points back to our mere embodiment: "Dying takes you deeper into the inscrutable, lampless hinterland of carnal being." It is "a world whose horizons are drawn ever tighter, to the final collapse of space that had been opened up..."

Not to be a drama queen, but the same thing happens to me when I have a cold: I lose my point.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Who Sees the Most Wins

Let's play a game: "Let us suppose," writes Tallis, that "we accept biologism in full." Which is only right and proper, being that man deserves, and always seeks at any rate, an integrated and consistent worldview. What are the implications of taking biologism -- and materialism and scientism and neuromania -- seriously?

Well, we would have to tell ourselves a very different story about ourselves, one that excludes freedom (and with it, responsibility), truth, hierarchy, and anything else that transcends matter:

to be identified with our brains is to be identified with a piece of matter, and this, like all other pieces of matter, is subject to, and cannot escape from, the laws of material nature.... [our actions] are wired into the endless causal net, extending from the Big Bang to the Big Crunch, that is the history of the material universe.... Our destiny, like that of pebbles and waterfalls, is to be predestined (Tallis).

Does this even sound plausible in theory, much less workable in practice? It makes no sense, even on its own terms. It self-destructs upon contact with intelligence.

But the science is settled! Tallis quotes the eminent neurophysiologist Colin Blakemore, who insists that the brain is simply a machine that gives rise to the illusions of consciousness and free will: "All our actions are products of the activity of our brains," such that it is nonsensical "to try to distinguish sharply between acts that result from conscious attention and those that result from our reflexes or are caused by disease or damage to the brain."

Say what you want, but there is an intellectually consistent man, one who draws out the inevitable implications of materialism and sticks to his guns even if it means shooting himself between the eyes: the philosophy of materialism -- or any other philosophy -- is indistinguishable from a hole in the head. Which begs the question of why we have a category called "brain disease," but we'll leave that to the side.

Note that a strict materialism has no Ought -- for example, a healthy brain -- only the almighty Is, and one Is is as good or bad as any other. Again, it reduces the I Am to It Is; if the God of Matter could reveal his eternal name, it would surely be It Is What It Is. This is not even nihilism.

And yet, its shadows -- shadows of the Great Nøthing -- are everywhere. Few people draw out the full implications as does Blakemore, but the left in particular relies upon materialist arguments while drawing short of the abyss. As Davila so accurately says, The theses of the left are rationalizations that are carefully suspended before reaching the argument that dissolves them.

In truth, the materialist merely wishes away God. However, this doesn't necessarily imply that God exists by default. Rather, we need to think this through and determine what makes the most sense. I say existence is a game, the object of which is to see and integrate the most truth. And who sees the most wins. Or rather, seeing is analogous to having men on base. You still have to knock them home, which is to say, integrate them.

For example, there is Matter at first base after hitting a bloop single to left field. Then Mind comes to the plate and hits a liner up the middle, driving Matter to third. How do we get both home safely? If you only drive in Matter and leave Mind stranded on base, you're likely to lose the game.

Boy, that was a strained metaphor. Let's move on.

Tallis has a better analogy. Imagine you have a complete printout of your friend's genome. Would this be identical to the experience of knowing what it's like to be with your friend? Well, Barbra Streisand seems to think so. She cloned Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, her dogs.

Or, does knowing that water is H2O tell you what it's like to be all wet, which is to say, Barbra Streisand?

Neurologists can wish away God. But no matter how hard they try, they cannot wish away the person. And the person, don't you know, leads straight back to God. Tallis, being an atheist, accepts only the first part -- the real existence of persons -- but not the second -- their rootedness in God:

Those of us who are not brainwashed into thinking that they are brains washed by the laws of physics might be tempted to hazard a daring suggestion: that it is a person, or something like a person, that looks out at, peers into, interprets and shapes the world.

Remember, once you eliminate the person, he's gone, and there is no getting him back. But it is literally impossible to do this without self-contradiction. For among the things one must jettison along with the person is any distinction between past, present, and future, which, as Einstein famously asserted, is just a "stubborn illusion." Tallis draws out the implications:

It is important to appreciate that, in the absence of an observer, time has no tenses; not only does the physical world not have a past and future in which events are located but... it doesn't have the present. For an event to count as being present, there has to be someone for whom it is present, for whom it is "now" as opposed to "then" or "not yet."

Hmm. Where does this leave us? Nowhere? Everywhere? Is it really possible that reality is a view by nobody from nowhere? Well, that is the scientistic ideal. But does it make any sense?

In order to deal with this question, I'm going to shift gears to a challenging essay I read yesterday by Schuon, called Substance: Subject and Object. He'll get us out of this mess!

First of all, as we always say, Subject and Object are not a vicious and sterile dualism but a friendly and fruitful complementarity. The complementary dance between them proceeds all the way up and all the way down. But of the two, the Subject is obviously prior:

The subject as such takes precedence over the object as such: the consciousness of a creature able to conceive the star-filled heavens is greater than space and the heavenly bodies...

Carl Sagan can talk all he wants about those billions and billions of stars, but all of astronomy pales in significance next to the astronomer. Ultimately we are not contained by the galaxies, but rather, vice versa. The cosmos itself isn't even big -- or small -- except in reference to us:

Man is situated, spatially speaking, between the "infinitely big" and the "infinitely small"..., so that it is his subjectivity and not a quality of the objective world that creates the line of demarcation. If we have an impression of being tiny in stellar space, it is solely because what is big is far more accessible to us than what is small, which quickly eludes the grasp of our senses... (emphasis mine).

So, man is situated between -- and defines -- the Very Big and Very Small. And not only. For he is also the "point of junction between two infinitely more important dimensions, namely, the outward and the inward." Indeed, "it is precisely by virtue of the dimension of inwardness, which opens onto the Absolute and so onto the Infinite, that man is quasi-divine."

That's a bold statement. And yet, ultimately soph-evident. There is a world and there are witnesses, "otherwise the Universe would be an unknown space filled with blind stones and not a world perceived under a multitude of aspects." For

Where there are objects, there must also be subjects: creatures that are witnesses of things form an indissoluble part of creation.

There exist not only "knowable things" but "beings endowed with knowledge in varying degrees." And whether you like it or not, "the summit-degree is man, at least for our world," behind or before or above which is "the absolute Witness -- at once transcendent and immanent -- of all things..." There is nothing magical or miraculous per se about this assertion. Again, it's just a matter of returning the cosmos to bright-side up.