Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Intelligibility and Freedom, Absurdity and Compulsion

Just another post that held my interest...


One of the perverse characteristics of our age is that the world is simultaneously regarded as exquisitely intelligible and yet completely absurd.

Which is itself absurd, because it is impossible to understand how these two can be reconciled. I would go so far as to say that if the world were absurd, we could never know it; and that to think the world absurd results from an implicit expectation of non-absurdity.

When I say that the world is seen as exquisitely intelligible, what I mean is that we just assume -- correctly so -- that whatever or wherever we investigate in the cosmos, it will make sense -- that it will speak to us and disclose its secret. Intelligible order is everywhere (which is one of the operating assumptions of science). Faith in the rationality and intelligibility of the cosmos is a faith in God once removed (non-Judeo-Christian cultures have no such faith, unless it has been imported from the West).

As it bears upon ultimate questions, science is every bit as "faith based" as is religion (except in a naive and uncritical way). What I mean is that, for example, science actually has no idea -- nor will it ever, on its own terms -- how a supposedly dead universe suddenly sprang to life 3.85 billion years ago.

Nevertheless, most scientists (if they think about it at all) seem to have a serene confidence that this ultimate discontinuity is unproblematic. Which is why I felt so fortunate to encounter the brilliant Robert Rosen during the years I spent puzzling over the problem of Life Itself (can't really recommend him to layfolk; he didn't live long enough to maybe dumb it down a notch for our benefit).

Likewise the transition -- or leap -- from (mere) animal to man. You will have noticed that in facing this question, science doesn't really work inductively from the actual evidence. Rather, it begins with a Darwinian conclusion -- for them, an axiomatic truth -- and deduces how this or that human trait must have come about via random copying errors naturally selected.

Yes, the results are comical -- for one thing, any properly credentialed mediocrity can play the game -- but no more so than a religious person who, say, begins with the axiomatic truth that the world is 6,000 years old, and then tries to cram all the empirical evidence into that hypothesis. Both can be done, but only badly.

We endured an example of this type of pseudo-analysis the other day, with reader William's appeal to cosmic ignorance in support of his negative omniscience (similar to how scientism marshals intelligibility in support of absurdity). That is, in response to our belief that the universe must in principle be finite, he commented that he is

limited in [my] perception of the observable universe by the space time continuum in which [I] exist, and that [I am] able to perceive and theorize"; [and that] the particle horizon -- the maximum distance from which particles can or have traveled in the age of the universe -- represents the boundary between the observable and the unobservable universe.

Well, that's certainly one way of looking at it. An intrinsically absurd way. For example, is it even remotely true that man's understanding is limited to the laws of physics, or to what is empirically present to the senses? If this were true, then we couldn't even know the laws of physics, for we would merely be an expression of them; the answer to every human problem would be E = mc2, or Planck's constant.

More to the point, man is capable of pondering universal truths that operate in the realm of existence as such, in any conceivable cosmos. It isn't as if these universal truths are reducible to physics; to the contrary, physics must be a prolongation of metaphysics.

In other words, in order for something to be intelligible at all, it must share certain characteristics (which I will discuss in a subsequent post). Therefore, to the extent that there are things outside our "space-time continuum," if they are intelligible, then we can understand them. If they are absurd, then we can't.

However, there is every reason to conclude that "existence" and "intelligibility" are so intimately related that to exist is to be intelligible. To put it the other way around, it is obviously impossible for us to conceive of something that "exists" in an unintelligible way.

We can go so far as to say that the cosmos is "fulfilled" in knowledge of itself -- which is simultaneously man's fulfillment, at least on the natural plane (i.e., that being ends in contemplation of itself).

But even then, there can be no contradiction between Reason and Revelation, since both are creations of the same Author. Thus, in the face of apparent contradiction, we must re-examine and rethink the matter through. Atheists and other trolls never tire of raising such contradictions, precisely because they haven't thought them through. In other words, they take note of the contradiction and stop right there, instead of discerning the unity from a higher perspective.

While it is no doubt true that in premodern times epistemology was subordinated to metaphysics (or, more likely, theology), in our day it is the converse, such that metaphysics is subordinated to positivistic science, a strangely oedipal scenario in which the child (science) murders its parent (natural theology).

Norris Clarke writes that man innately possesses an "unrestricted drive" to know "all that there is to know about all that there is."

Good credo for the masthead: All There is to Know about All There Is.

As such, our mind is by its nature "oriented toward the totality of being as knowable, as its final goal which alone can satisfy its desire to know." Further, this is a kind of "natural hope" -- to go along with our natural faith -- "in the radical intelligibility in principle of all real being."

Blah blah yada yada, if you pursue this line of thought to its inevitable end, you are faced with a choice: "Either the universe is unintelligible," in which case you free -- or compelled, rather -- to wallow in your own absurdity.

If not, then "there must exist one and only one Infinite Source of all other beings, both of their actual existence and all the perfections (goodness) within them.... Our journey of the intellect, in search of the full intelligibility of what it means to be, has now finally arrived at the single Infinite Source of all beings, of the whole community of real existents."


The original desire for the good takes its energy from the ever-pulsating momentum of that Origin in which man, answering the creative call of God, flew across the abyss which parts nothingness from existence. It is the moment with which the possible bursts forth with a roar into the radiant dawn of its first realization: the swift current of a stream that originating in the bright darkness of mere Nature and steadily fed by its source, crosses by the dictates of innate conscience into the realm of freedom (Josef Pieper).

1 comment:

julie said...

For example, is it even remotely true that man's understanding is limited to the laws of physics, or to what is empirically present to the senses?

If that were the case, how could art or writing or music even be possible? Or rather, how would it be possible to recognize them as such? Art and writing are just visual stimuli, and music just sound waves. The meaning isn't in the physics, it's all in our heads.