Friday, November 02, 2018

Time Has Come Today

How this post came to be: I was searching the blog for something having to do with time, and so many interesting things popped up that I decided to repost some of it.

Come to think of it, this is probably something I should do more often. I'm starting to think that all the good posts have already been written, and that I'm now just repeating myself. It's as if the new stuff is old but the old stuff is new, since I don't recall writing it; no doubt I was in my right mind at the time. And since none of it has been properly edited, I can finally get around to it. But there are also some new things sprinkled in.

The mystery of time. When I say "mystery," I mean it in a particular way. First, it is a distinct mode of understanding through which we may know an absent presence and present absence. In other words, mystery has an epistemological sense and an ontological sense; it is both a form of knowing and a form of being.

God, for example, is encountered through, or in, mystery. The more you heighten your sense of mystery, the more you are open to the transcendent. In my book, I symbolize this open be-attitude as (o).

But there is also the implicit ontological sense of the term. As I have mentioned before, I have long suspected that the various fundamental mysteries that confront man are somehow interconnected; you might say that they are diverse manifestations of O.

What I mean is that there are certain things that are fundamentally beyond the horizon of knowability -- at least in the profane or rationalistic sense. No amount of cogitation will ever resolve these riddles, which include Time, Life, People, Self, Liberty, Reason, O, and other magazines.

My apologies. That was a gag that couldn't help writing itself.

No joke: these mysteries include Time (in all its modes, but especially the Now), Consciousness, Life, Freedom, and Being (this last being our little window into eternity that can truly say -- and share in -- I AM).

In the past I have used the analogy of a three-dimensional hand passing through a two-dimensional plane. As the fingers break through the plane, they will initially appear as one, then two, eventually five, circles. But then the circles will blend together and become one at the wrist.

Think about the "place" where three dimensions appear as two. Is there such a place? Humanly speaking, it must be where free will takes place, not to mention the passage of time, which cannot be perceived absent a stationary or timeless "point." For example, prior to making a choice, we are confronted with a multitude of possibilities. Making the choice collapses the multidimensional field.

It reminds me of No Country For Old Men, which I recently read. Recall the scene in the gas station, where the proprietor's fate hinges on a coin flip. "I don't know what it is I stand to win." "You stand to win everything. Everything."

Nothing or everything, based on a coin toss. I think McCarthy is trying to say, That's Life. In fact, Chigurh says something in the book that isn't in the film:

Anything can be an instrument.... Small things. Things you wouldn't even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People dont pay attention. And then one day there's an accounting. And after that nothing is the same. Well, you say. It's just a coin. For instance. Nothing special there. What could that be an instrument of? You see the problem. To separate the act from the thing. As if the parts of some moment in history might be interchangeable with the parts of some other moment. How could that be? Well, it's just a coin. Yes. That's true. Is it?

So, you never really know when Everything is on the line, or what may by its instrument. Maybe it always is on the line -- or at least we ought to act as if it always is. We never really know what's coming. We can only pretend to know, which gets back to Hayek and the epistemological problem: we just don't know what we cannot know, and yet, we must choose.

With the gas station proprietor a coin is the instrument. With Moss, it's the leather document case filled with cash:

He sat there looking at it and then closed the flap with his head down. His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead. All of it cooked down into forty pounds of paper in a satchel.

What does he do? He sees two lives before him, one already over, the other full of possibilities. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't even be right. Just call it!

He latched the case and fastened the straps and buckled them and rose and shouldered the rifle and then picked up the case and machinepistol and took his bearings by his shadow and set out.

Now, that is a provocative line: He took his bearings by his shadow. I could spend the rest of the post on that one, but I think I'll move on. Judas comes to mind. All this, for thirty pieces of silver!

Back to the subject of transition from one dimension to another... not that we ever left it. This is also the only "place" where the I AM could be. On one side, you might say, is the Dreamer who dreams the dream, on the other the dream-ee who recalls it. But life is a tapestry of Dreamer and Dream-ee, isn't it? Everything opens out to the infinite on one end, and the finite on the other. Subject and object.

I think on the Subject side is "religion as such," while on the object side is such-and-such a religion. Schuon writes that the perennial philosophy or religion

is quite evidently inexhaustible and has no natural limits.... As it is impossible to exhaust all that lends itself to being expressed, and as repetition in metaphysical matters cannot be a mistake -- it being better to be too clear than not clear enough -- we believe that we could return to our usual theses, either to offer things we have not yet said, or to explain in a usefully new way things we have said before.

So if this post is tediously repetitive, that's my excuse.

Later Schuon expands upon this in a useful way:

It is indispensable to know at the outset that there are truths inherent in the human spirit that are as if buried in the 'depths of the heart,' which means that they are contained as potentialities or virtualities in the pure Intellect: these are the principial or archetypal truths, those which prefigure and determine all others....

The intelligence of animals is partial, that of man is total; and this totality is explained only by a transcendent reality to which the intelligence is proportioned. Thus, the decisive error of materialism and of agnosticism is to be blind to the fact that material things and the common experiences of our life are immensely beneath the scope of our intelligence.... without the Absolute, the capacity of our conceiving it would have no cause.

As we've said before, profane thinking, or (k), can only arrive at O in the exterior sense; it can conceive it, but being in it is a different matter. Real ontonoetic thinking is a declension from O, i.e., that "transcendent reality to which the intelligence is proportioned."

Now, if we were fully "in O," then time stops and we simply enjoy the divine Slack. There is duration, but no time per se. Augustine talks about being "taken up into heaven"; likewise, one thinks of Plotinus and so many other mystics down through the ages. Or, as reader Johan reminds us, it is like when Homer talks about the paradox of the beer being "in us," that we may be "in the beer."

Wo. Be-er.

Is any of this actually helpful or even interesting or at least amusing to anyone? Or am I deluding myself? I honestly don't know. Well, amusing, maybe, in a weird kind of way.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Change and Progress, Circle and Line

Yesterday it occurred to me that if there is no freedom, then time is reduced to a kind of space. It is completely solid, as it were, with no give.

Time is bound up with change, but if time is space, then change is... well, it isn't. It would be analogous to two views of the same space -- like this room: I can look in this corner or that one, but it's the same room. Nothing has changed.

When we first got our new dog last year, she'd go out to the backyard and look through the window and see me typing, and think it was a stranger. Slowly the fear turned to puzzlement, and eventually she let it go. In her case, she had two views of the same person but thought it was two people. But if time is an illusion, then everything is like that. What looks like surprise is reduced to inevitability.

Surprise. It's on a continuum, isn't it? There are good surprises and bad surprises, trivial ones and catastrophic ones. But what if there were no surprises? Life would be unendurable, wouldn't it? Goroundhog Day, in circles.

Is there an ontological basis for surprise? The answer may surprise you!

I insist that there is, because I believe creativity is an irreducible principle in God: God cannot be God and not be creative. It's in his nature. Hence all this creativity, everywhere, at all times. It's here because it is a prolongation of, or participation in, God.

Do you have a better idea? Maybe you think it's a "bottom up" phenomenon. If so, then it is anchored in a bottom that is devoid of creativity -- the atemporal block universe described by modern physics. How does creativity get in?

There is change, and there is progress. In the absence of the Absolute, progress is reduced to mere change, and change is reduced to inevitability. And for awhile, this is precisely what Marxists taught: that progressive change, ending in utopia, was inevitable.

D'oh! That didn't work out, so "progress" had to be forced upon the rest of us, which is still the current state of play.

This coming Tuesday will again come down to the choice: change or progress. Except that the people who call themselves "progressives" are really changists, and we mean this quite literally. It is not an insult, because progress is ruled out by their metaphysic:

[P]rogress implies some improvement. Improvement, in turn, implies a standard that is not itself changing. Unless I have access to a fixed standard, I cannot tell whether things are getting better or worse. I must have an idea of what would count as ideal in order to recognize progress (Brown).

Conversely, change requires no standard, which is convenient for the left, being that they have none:

Although some criterion must be used to know that there is change, it need not be a standard measure. I can use any measure I please, and the measure can be changed as often as I please. It does not even matter if my standard itself is changing... (ibid).

Again, convenient for the left. No, mandatory! Truly, it is no joke to say that in the absence of double standards, the left wouldn't have any. Thus, for example, we have to stop demonizing people and realize that white people are our biggest threat. Or stop foreigners from influencing our politics, unless they are illegal Democrats. Etc.

Here's a book we haven't discussed in a long time, if ever: The Reality of Time. Is time indeed real? Or is it just a side effect of something more fundamental? You know what we believe; still, what would it mean for time to be real? What is the meaning of real?

Reality is two things: it is what is, despite our wishing it to be otherwise. But if it is only inevitable, then this isn't any better then the timeless universe referenced above. Let's go back to Dr. Brown:

Reality includes the material universe experienced by our senses and studied by science, but also such things as thought, free will, moral principles, and love. If these things are not real, then life itself is meaningless.

Now, thought, beauty, love, meaning, and free will transcend materiality. Therefore, reality is transcendent. Or, it is immanent but always transcends its own immanence.

Again, reality is 1) what is. But reality (for us) must be a prolongation of the Ultimate Real, and this is what we call God: you might say that there is a kind of dialectical play between reality and Ultimate Reality.

Everything that exists is more or less real. In other words, to exist is to partake of reality. A bad man, for example, exists; but he exists in a state of privation, in that the absence of goodness is a measure of his privation and lack of participation in the Real. Thus, being that things are more or less real, a -- if not the -- point of life must be to become more real, no?

Let's jump-cut to one of the ultimate principles of Christianity: Incarnation. It's a very strange doctrine. What's the point? Well, for starters, it is that the Ultimate Real plunges into what we call reality, in order to redeem it: that God becomes man that man may become (i.e., participate in) God. So, we are real. The Incarnation allows us to become more real.

Really? Again, go back up a few paragraphs, to the ultimate standard against which change is measured. An aphorism comes to mind:

Christ is the truth. What is said about Him are mere approximations to the truth.

Boom. The container has entered the contained. The contained can never contain the container, only "approximate" it. Still, better than nothingness.

Try this approximation on for size:

Christ was in history like a point on a line. But his redemptive act is to history as the center is to the circumference.

The Incarnation is situated on a point in history. But history cannot contain what transcends it, i.e., its own source, ground, and telos. For with the Incarnation, we might say that the Center becomes peripheral that the periphery might become central. Which comports with this timeless nugget recalled by Schuon, and which really ties the room together:

To quote an expression of Pascal’s we favor -- Reality is “an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere.”

How does this work, exactly -- center and circumference? Like this: think of a spider's web "formed of warp and weft threads -- or of radii and concentric circles." The radii connect directly to the center, while the circles are as if "echoes" or fractals or images of it; the former are continuous, the latter separate and discontinuous.

But again, the circles, although seemingly separate from the source, are real. How to reconcile the two relationships? Via the spiral: we are not God (the central point) and yet we are not-not God (via the radii). Christ in his godhood is pure radii, while in his manhood he is situated along a historical circle.

But God is always tossing down various ropes, i.e., radii. They go under the heading of "grace," which is really a vertical gift.

And seriously, where would we be without this ceaseless provision of vertical gifts? That's right: nowhere. We couldn't live for a second.

Never did get to the Reality of Time. Maybe tomorrow. Well, here are a couple of fragmental notes to myself in the back of the book, maybe relevant:

History is the time taken by humans to explicate humanness.

Only the present has a vertical dimension through which floods being, consciousness, life, eternity, etc.

Circle and line, change and progress, respectively.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Nothing and its Consequences

Still thinking about truth, freedom, and creation. These must be ultimate categories, and as we've said many times -- or suspected many times, anyway -- all ultimate categories must somehow be related to one another, otherwise this wouldn't be One Cosmos but many; there would be one cosmos for each ultimate, with no way to reconcile them.

An Ultimate Category is both the end and beginning of thought; take, for example, truth. Truth is obviously the whole point of thinking, but one cannot begin thinking without an implicit notion of truth. The very act of thinking presupposes the truth it converges upon. Indeed, I would say that truth is the substance of thought, just as thought is the form of truth.

But again, those other ultimates have to figure in as well. Freedom, for example, must be present, or truth is reduced to a compulsion or machine. Let's say I'm a leftist who knows the Truth of Gender, and therefore force everyone else to believe there are 57 genders, or that men and women are identical, or that women Must Be Believed. That's a rather brittle "truth," isn't it?

Which goes to the more general point that all "leftist truth" is brittle, for which reason it must be protected and afforded a safe space where it isn't challenged. It's not enough that 95% of professors believe it, or that speech codes protect it. Non-believers must be persecuted and punished!

I read of a survey the other day that found that over 50% of college students are afraid to disagree with their professors. Why only 50%? I suppose because half of the students are already so indoctrinated that they can't imagine disagreeing.

So, freedom makes truth more robust. It's why conservatives are eager to argue with leftists, but leftists ban conservatives from college campuses.

I heard of another self-evident study last week, revealing that conservatives understand leftist arguments much more than leftists understand conservative arguments. This explains why the left so rarely responds to the content of our arguments, but rather, with vilification and slander. This week, for example, you're a racist if you don't like the idea of a mob of foreigners exploiting our laws in order to invade the country. Everyone knows that if we were being invaded by mobs of Republicans, the wall would already be there. With turrets. And a moat.

Creativity is also unthinkable in the absence of freedom, and both require order. Too much order stifles freedom and creativity, as too little dissipates them.

Which certainly has a bearing on how God rolls. One of the fundamental doctrines of the West is "creation from nothing." A pure nothingness would be a total negation of truth and order; I suppose it's like a substance that is curative in a small dose but poisonous if you take too much. Probably a better way of expressing it would be creation with nothing, but not only nothing; rather, it's a vital ingredient, such that that there is a residue of nothingness in everything.

For example, what residues of nothingness do we see in human life? Well, death for starters. But also ignorance, which is again perpetual and irremediable; as described in the previous post, it is both a cause and consequence of a knowing intellect separate from (and yet a prolongation of) God.

We could also say that the inexhaustibility of creativity is a kind of shadow of nothingness. In this context, the most creative person in the world may be distressed to realize that the entirety of his efforts is but a grain of sand in the ocean.

Or, think of it the other way around: what if man could create something so comprehensive and so total that it eliminated the need for any further creativity -- a poem or painting so perfect that no further poems or paintings would be necessary or even desirable, because they would distract us from the One True Painting or Poem?

By the way, that is precisely the future book I have in the back of my mind. Yes, the Impossible Dream. But wait. Unlike the first book, it would not be an attempt at synthesis and integration of diverse fields. Rather, it would go to the nonlocal order of things -- to the implicit rules that make everything possible. Like this post is doing, for example.

Is it possible to read God's mind, or hack his computer? Fortunately we don't have to, because God tells us what's on his mind, or at least what we need to know. Why then do so many people ignore it? I think because it hasn't been presented to them in the right way. In particular, I think that certain important abstractions are understood concretely, and vice versa.


Okay, the Garden of Eden. Does one understand this concretely and literally, or is there supposed to be some abstract takeaway? This isn't just a problem with non-believers. It might even be worse with believers who not only superimpose some concrete understanding onto it, but vilify those of us who don't. Remember, since it verges on the ultimate, there must be an element of freedom and creativity mixed in there as well. Such mythopoetic stories are not there to look at but through. They illuminate the whole landscape. If they don't, then you're doing it wrong.

Think of how many metaphysical lessons are crammed into Genesis -- even just the first few chapters: creation from (or with) nothing; the uniqueness of man in all of creation; the primordial unity-in-complementarity of man and woman; fallenness, which is to say, separation from the Source (in the absence of which we couldn't exist at all); a seeming principle of evil or darkness or entropy; the perpetual exile and exodus of this life; the envy-fueled and murderous impulses in the hearts of our brothers; etc.

Time out for Schuon:

Obviously, creation “comes from” -- that is the meaning of the word ex -- an origin; not from a cosmic, hence “created” substance, but from a reality pertaining to the Creator, and in this sense -- and in this sense only -- it can be said that creation is situated in God. It is situated in Him in respect of ontological immanence: everything in fact “contains” on pain of being non-existent -- on the one hand Being, and on the other a given Archetype or “Idea”; the divine “content” is ipso facto also the “container,” and even is so a priori, since God is Reality as such. But things are “outside God” -- all sacred Scriptures attest to this -- in respect of contingency, hence in respect of the concrete phenomena of the world.

If I understand him rightly, our own nothingness must be a consequence of being situated "outside" God and "inside" contingency (AKA freedom, or at least indeterminacy), even though nothing in reality can be outside or free of him. Or, everything is simultaneously in- and outside him, which, you might say, goes to the principles of transcendence and immanence. We are always what we concretely are -- immanence -- but so much more -- transcendence. And freedom is, as it were, situated between these two rascals:

The purpose of freedom is to enable us to choose what we are in the depths of our heart. We are intrinsically free to the extent that we have a center which frees us: a center which, far from confining us, dilates us by offering us an inward space without limits and without shadows; and this Center is in the last analysis the only one there is.

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