Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mind and its Materials, or Qualifications and Quality

I don't know why the titles have been so lame lately, but "Useless Science, Harmful Scientists" was another example. Obviously science is far from useless and the average scientist doesn't do any harm. The problem only arises when we apply a mode of knowing that is inappropriate to the object we wish to understand. Now, metaphysics is the science of being, or of the whole, whereas science only studies the parts of being.

Science errs when it attempts to draw a limit to thought, because doing so must involve an implicit knowledge of what's on the either side -- or at least that there is an other side. If we are limited to seeing only one side of the moon, this doesn't mean the other side doesn't exist or that there's nothing we can say about it.

More importantly, it's still the moon and nothing else, despite the fact that we cannot see it from all possible angles. No visible object can be contained by vision, but that hardly means we do not see or that vision is just a form of blindness.

Kant would limit knowledge to the form of our own sensibilities or categories, thus radically detaching knowing from being. In this view -- and it is the modern view -- knowledge is no longer even knowledge, because it is ultimately about the knower: knowledge conforms to us rather than to reality. This new perspective is said to be "true," even while draining all meaning from what it could possibly mean for something to be true. In Truth -- the real kind -- such minds are trapped in a circle while pretending to see it from the perspective of the sphere.

If you've ever wondered how the left can know so much while knowing so little, this is why: their knowledge, such as it is, is detached from being. A case in point would be "homosexual marriage," or the idea that we can choose our gender. The first is not a real marriage -- i.e., anchored in, and a reflection of, being -- any more than Caitlyn Jenner is a real woman. But if knowledge is no longer adequation to reality, then this problem doesn't arise: you are a woman because you feel like one. It's a triumph of the will, but first it is a triumph of sentiment. Intellect is bypassed entirely (i.e., intellect as disclosing knowledge that is in turn rooted in being).

I mentioned above that science errs when it attempts to draw a limit to thought, but this needs to be qualified: there are, of course, insurmountable limits to what man may know, since we are creature and not creator, contingent and not absolute. In order to know God, we would have to be God.

That limitation goes to our humility. And yet, this is compensated by another side that goes to our grandeur, and indeed to the very worth of man: that we -- in particular, our intellect -- are in the image and likeness of the Creator, which obviously confers special powers.

Now, does man have special powers? Or is our knowing fundamentally no different from animal knowing? Science says "yes," but this is an example of precisely where it goes off the rails, for it fails to shift into a different framework when going from the part to the whole. Metaphysics is a science -- again it is the science of being -- but obviously requires a different mode of adequation.

This shouldn't be controversial to an intellectually sophisticated person. We all know that our sensory apparatus cannot conform to the world of mathematics, which means that empiricism does not exhaust what rationalism reveals about the nature of reality. But rationalism in its turn cannot touch the transrational -- at least from below.

That is, we all know that rationalism can say absolutely nothing about what it proposes to reason on or with. Rather, we must first select the premises with which we will reason. After that, the reasoning is machinelike and inevitable.

So, to call oneself a "rationalist" is neither here nor there. As Schuon points out in chapter 3 of Logic and Transcendence, Rationalism Real and Apparent, there are always two extra-rational conditions we must consider in any attempt to reason about things.

First would be "the acuity and profundity of the intelligence." It is no insult to reason to say that anyone can do it. Anyone can take a logic class and understand both logic and logical fallacies. But logic in the hands of a less-than-acute-and-profound intelligence can easily render itself irrational. More generally, as we have been saying (along with Hayek), few things are as irrational as a strict rationalism, or rationalism strictly applied.

For the other problem (along with depth and breadth of intelligence) has to do with the quality of the available information. We can obviously reason about things that are "below" the level of reason, i.e., material objects. We can also reason about the purely rational objects of mathematics. In fact, we can also reason about the reasoner, or I would be out of work. For what is psychology but a transcendent view of the subject? If it isn't then I am being paid for nothing.

So, the question before the house -- the scientific house -- is why can't we also reason about the things that transcend us? Like God, for example. Or, if that word is too loaded, why not just concede that there is a transcendent reality without which the human intellect is literally inconceivable, and try to reason about it?

Not so fast. Again, we must respect the "value or extent of the available information," and at the very least, those less-than-acute intelligences are likely to reason on the basis of bad information. Or, just say New Age, i.e., deepaking the chopra (dumb people reasoning with bad materials).

Now, in the Judeo-Christian stream, we reason with the information provided by revelation, on the assumption that it has been provided by God for just this purpose. Even so, we again come face-to-face with the issue of less-than-acute-and-profound intelligences, not to mention the fact that revelation nevertheless contains a fair amount of "noise," and that it has different levels of importance. Then there is the whole question of the hermeneutical circle through which we balance and interpret the parts in the context of the whole.

For example, the other evening on Tucker Carlson I saw a pro-anti-immigration hacktivist claim that we had to let them all in on the basis of something Jesus said about being nice to children. End of issue. Deferring to this so-called principle, we would be morally obligated to bring, what, several billon poor children into the US. Is this what Jesus meant?

Again, depth of intelligence and quality information. If there are stupid theologians -- and obviously there are -- then this is why. And if there is an intrinsically stupid scientism, then this is also why.

Back to reasoning about the reasoner. Now obviously, the reasoner cannot be reduced to reason. If that happens, then the reasoner is indeed trapped in an eternal tautology, and that's that. But in reality, logic is only consistent when it transcends itself. Even if you reject religion, you ought to understand that Gödel liberated you from tautologous rationalism. You're free! You are not enclosed in reason, you transcend it. But where then will you go? Down or up?

That question is more interesting than it sounds, because there is a third possibility, a sort of lateral one into individualism, the bad kind (leaving aside the fact that if a man fails to transcend himself, he sinks beneath himself).

I alluded to this in a comment the other day -- that all bad philosophy and scholarship descends into a kind of unwitting autobiography. You could say it is Kantian only worse, in that it is a kind of crude eccentricity that amounts to little more than a rebellion against reality. I can't find the exact quote I'm looking for, but this one by Schuon will do:

Relativism engenders a spirit of rebellion and is at the same time its fruit. The spirit of rebellion, unlike holy anger, is not a passing state, nor is it directed at some worldly abuse; on the contrary it is a chronic malady directed toward Heaven and against everything that represents Heaven or is a reminder of it.

You will have noticed that winning the house of representatives has not appeased the left's unhappy spirit of rebellion, rather, only feeds it -- similar to how the redefinition of marriage made them content for a day, before they moved on to the abolition of gender -- for if gender is anything, then it is nothing. Which is of course the point, i.e., nihilism and the abolition real and fruitful (by which we know their reality) categories, boundaries, and limits.

Ah, here's the quote I was looking for:

profane thought is always the portrait of an individual even when it is mingled with some glimmerings of knowledge, as must always be the case since reason is not a closed vessel.

Thus reason gives way to individualism and arbitrariness insofar as it is artificially divorced from the Intellect.

Coincidentally, I just reread The Picture of Dorian Gray last night, and it is all about this rejection of all that surpasses us, and a rebellious descent into a complete individualism. Let me see if I can find an appropriate gag from satan's cynical emissary, Lord Henry, with which to close this post:

In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man -- that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.

I sense that there was a more than a little Oscar in Henry. And interestingly, Oscar was received into the Catholic church on his deathbed, thus leaving the bric-a-brac shop in the nick of timelessness.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Useless Science, Harmful Scientists

As mentioned the other day, I had a single book with me during my exile, Schuon's Logic and Transcendence -- which I'd already read a number of times, but you can't get too much Primordial Truth, especially when all around you the idols of this fleeting world are in flames. You want something solid, as it were. Imperishable. Fireproof.

At the same time, a certain aphorism has been rattling around my head. It sounds extreme, perhaps even preposterous on its face. Could it be true? Or if it is true, in what sense?

Why deceive ourselves? Science has not answered a single important question. --Dávila

Now, if the average person said such a thing, we'd just ignore it. But when someone as brilliant, ironic, and profound as Dávila says it, then we are bound to pay attention. What is he talking about?

Well, amazon is always recommending books to me, for example, this one: Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. And just look at all the others linked to that page, such as Understanding the Brain: From Cells to Behavior to Cognition, Consciousness Explained, or Understanding Our Unseen Reality: Solving Quantum Riddles, etc.

Do any of these books deliver on what they promise? How much explaining, understanding, and solving is really going on here? I skimmed the sample of Consciousness and the Brain, and it just seemed to confirm Davila's claim: the book may answer some questions, but not any important ones such as, oh, the meaning and purpose of life. In fact, if the book is correct, then it kills a lot of questions, such as, oh, whether life has meaning and purpose. It does not and cannot.

From the final chapter: some problems of consciousness "border on the philosophical" -- no, really? -- "and yet I firmly believe that they will ultimately receive an empirical answer..." As if empiricism isn't a philosophy! And what about "I firmly believe"? If his beliefs are "true," then there is no basis for either the beliefs or the I who holds them.

So much crude and naive philosophizing, one scarcely knows where to begin. "Surely something particular about the human mind allows it to turn the flashlight of consciousness onto itself and think about its own thinking." Well, yeah. But who said anything about a flashlight? What a dim metaphor.

He then -- an empiricist -- tries to discredit infanticide through an appeal to "the moral intuitions that all human beings... have equal rights to a good life," right after quoting a couple of eminent human beings who precisely reject that moral intuition. Thus, he is trying to save himself from the consequences of his own empiricism -- trying vainly to out-logic himself.

How can science -- which studies only what is -- say anything about the ought? If he's going to make moral pronouncements, he's got to say how this squares with his empiricism. But that would require transcending it and rethinking his whole life's work, and that's not going to happen.

Indeed, he even claims that "Any scientific knowledge will be better than the a priori proclamations of philosophical and religious leaders" -- even though that is quite obviously an a priori proclamation! And any scientific knowledge? How absurd.

This exquisite biological machinery is clicking right now inside your brain. As you close this book to ponder your own existence, ignited assemblies of neurons literally make up your mind.

Machinery? Clicking? Inside? Ignited? Literally? What a thoughtlessly sloppy use of language. I am so done with this guy. But I'm also done with science as any kind of remotely adequate explanation of life and consciousness. It is in this sense that we can indeed appreciate that science hasn't answered a single important question.

Now, a few aphorisms that expand on what Dávila means; notice how completely unscientific and non-empirical they are. It's not that they are "anti" anything, but rather, refer to a transcendent reality that is at a right angle to the realm studied by science:

Stupidity appropriates with diabolical skill what science invents.

The vulgar epistemology of the natural sciences is a burlesque idealism in which the brain plays the role of “I.”

The soul is fed from what is mysterious in things.

Time soon erodes what is said about the soul but it never even scratches what the soul says.

There is an illiteracy of the soul that no diploma cures.

Those who reject all metaphysics secretly harbor the coarsest.

A fool is he who thinks that what he knows is without mystery.

Literally! Each and every one of them.

One last aphorism: If good and evil, ugliness and beauty, are not the substance of things, science is reduced to a brief statement: what is, is.

The Ought (and any other transcendental such as love, truth, or beauty) is not contained by, or reducible to, the Is, so please stop pretending otherwise. Rather, the Is is and must be in the Ought -- as the relative is in the Absolute, appearance in Reality, and the many in the One.

We'll get to Logic & Transcendence later, probably Wednesday. This will have to do for today:

The rationalism of a frog living at the bottom of a well is to deny the existence of mountains: perhaps this is "logic," but it has nothing to do with reality.