Monday, August 19, 2019

The XYZ Affair

We left off the previous post with an aphorism and a question. The aphorism: Intelligence is the capacity for discerning principles. The question: So, what interferes with knowledge of principles?

Being that intelligence is the capacity to discern principles, then failure to discern them would be a consequence of "minus intelligence," AKA stupidity. But that's not quite right, because -- or so we have heard from the wise -- any man has the capacity to understand the Principles That Matter, by virtue of being a man.

We might say that what distinguishes man from the animals is knowledge of the principles that distinguish man from the animals. That might sound like a tautology, but only if we situate these principles on the plane of man, instead of being anchored in the heavens, or in the nature of things.

It reminds me of E.F. Schumacher's Guide for the Perplexed, which I must have read over 30 years ago. Can't find it at the moment, but I'm looking at the sample on Amazon, which has a chapter on the Four Kingdoms, and now I'm wondering if this book had an unconscious influence on my own. That's my alibi, anyway.

Here again, all humans, by virtue of being human, can recognize the four kingdoms: Matter, Life, Consciousness, and Self-awareness. "Life," for example, not only has a mysterious power lacking in matter, but

there is nothing in the laws, concepts, and formulae of physics and chemistry to explain or even describe such powers. X [i.e., life] is something quite new and additional, and the more deeply we contemplate it, the clearer it becomes that we are faced here with what might be called an ontological discontinuity or, more simply, a jump in the Level of Being.

As it so happens, just yesterday I began reading a newish book -- this one by a biologist -- called Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something "Alive" and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It, which makes the same point, more on which below.

Back to Schumacher: if we symbolize matter (m), then life is (m) + some mysterious and inexplicable power we shall call (x). Similarly, animals would be (m) + (x) + (y), while humans are (m) + (x) + (y) + (z). This last variable is defined as the ability to both think and to be aware of thinking; or, one might say, it is thinking about thinking, or self-awareness:

Consciousness and intelligence, as it were, recoil upon themselves.... There is something able to say "I" and to direct consciousness in accordance with its own purposes, a master or controller, a power at a higher level than consciousness itself. This power z, consciousness recoiling upon itself, opens up unlimited possibilities of purposeful learning, investigating, exploring, and of formulating and accumulating knowledge.

We can invent a word to point at (z), but we must remember that it is only a word, not the thing itself. What do they say about philosophy? That it is a way to avoid being bewitched by language? Well, here is a perfect example. We have words for everyday, irreducible mysteries such as being, life, and mind, without having any idea what these actually are.

This is indeed one of Turner's points, that one reason we lack any "Darwinian explanation for the origin of life" is that we lack "a good Darwinian explanation for what life is in the first place" (emphasis mine). For that matter, "Darwinism is also having a rather hard time explaining what an organism is," and before that, what a gene is, or how it could ever be.

I'm only up to page 12, but all of these mysteries presuppose a very specific kind of cosmos in which such mysteries can exist. What kind of cosmos would that be? Well, first of all, a cosmos, which is to say, a total order, or ordered totality.

Back to my possible unconscious plagiarism of Schumacher. He ultimately solves the problem not by positing Life as (m) plus (x), but rather, by turning the cosmos right-side up and starting at the top. We begin with the highest principle, which immediately remedies the fallacy of trying to derive the greater (x, y, and z) from the lesser (m).

So now you know why I start (and end) with O. I do so because there is logically no other place with which to start. Any other position from which you start will redound to absurdity and self-refutation. Just try. I dare you. If you fail to see the contradiction, then you have failed to discern one of the principles alluded to in the first paragraph above. Ironically, you have used your own intelligence to render yourself stupid. And not just temporarily.

No, literally. This is not intended as an insult. For example, Turner references a prominent atheist who unequivocally declares the following (which I will render in poetic form, just for the hell of it):

There are no gods

no purpose, no goal-directed forces of any kind....

There is no ultimate foundation for ethics,

no ultimate meaning to life

and no free will for humans, either.

Yes, exactly:

Actually, someone could know that. For as we've said many times, if God doesn't exist, only he knows it. Conversely, if he does exist, then only man can not know it.

Back to Schumacher:

In a hierarchical structure, the higher does not merely possess powers that are additional to and exceed those possessed by the lower; it has the power to organize the lower and use it for its own purposes.... Are there powers that are higher than self-awareness?

Again, this cannot not be the case. Nothing that essentially defines man can be derived from the bottom, but can only be explained as a prolongation from the top, e.g., freedom, interiority, truth, beauty, unity, goodness, love, etc.

Just about out of time, but I'll leave off with a couple observations by Schuon which I bumped into yesterday:

those who seek to enclose the Universe within their shortsighted logic fail to see, at least in principle, that the sum of possible phenomenal knowledge is inexhaustible and, consequently, that the present "scientific" knowledge represents a total nothingness beside our ignorance....

In this desire to to accumulate knowledge of relative things, the metaphysical dimension -- which alone takes us out of the [vicious circle] of the phenomenal and the absurd -- is expressly put aside; it is as if a man were to be endowed with all possible faculties of perception minus intelligence; or again, it is as if one believed that an animal endowed with sight were more capable than a blind man of understanding the mysteries of the world.

Quite simply, it is as if cosmos minus (x), (y), and (z) explains the cosmos. Then who is speaking? And to whom? For (m) + (m) is just more (m).


Gagdad Bob said...

Having said that, even a gorilla knows progressivism is a mind parasite.

Anonymous said...

Yet there's no mention of a gorilla in that post. Personally, I'd say progressivism works for that gorilla. The state keeps him well fed so he can entertain his fans and not have to worry about some corporation bulldozing his family forest for condos.

Ace’s post only does what most bloggers (of every kind and stripe) does these days – hate on some designated enemy with little new substance to back it up since all substance is already assumed. Since anything but virtue signaling the hate du jour is discouraged, hate addicts overwhelm the free thinkers. Free thought is too laborious anyways. I don’t think Christian love works that way (though Old Testament fans might argue otherwise).

That’s why I like Joe Rogan, where (so far) the only designated enemy is ignorance. He has everybody on that show and gives them equal time to talk about whatever it is that floats their boat (or stocks their wallet), but will play devils advocate with ideas that don’t make sense to him.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Godwin, this is a great post, a good read.

Your poetic (just for the hell of it) rendering of the atheist's statement imbues it with an even greater sense of futility and pessimism that it probably had prior. How dismal, how dreary. How could anyone wallow in that mind-set? What a waste of time.

That being said, I am a Democrat. Your disdain for Democrats, who are by and large not atheists, indicates you have beefs in addition to the charge of being Godless. I believe you mentioned being interested in Utopia related social engineering. How many beefs are you sitting on anyway? These should be unpacked and sorted into categories.

It's a wonder you can even stand Republicans.

julie said...

@Bob, yes, the gorilla describes it quite well.

Anonymous said...

Christians are actually widely spread over various political affiliations. By party affiliation, only Mormons and white evangelicals lean more Republican. Catholics are fairly evenly divided. Jews and black protestants lean more Democratic.

This concerns me because The Troubles lasted for 30 years with over 3500 deaths. While not a religious conflict, most of those involved self-identified as Christians. While I'm sure this wasn't Jesus' intention, this suggests that Christians are quite violent and will fight for... well, nothing much actually resulted from that conflict.

Does this need more study, or is this just another case where everything is always the other teams fault?

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Christina M said...

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Roy Lofquist said...

Bob, you mentioned "Purpose and Desire:...". I have not read the book, and probably won't after reading "Signature in the Cell" by Stephen Meyer. Meyer's work, at 628 pages, is a tour de force. It presents the most complete history of the search(es) for the origins of life I have encountered. It also offers a graduate level course in microbiology and combinatorial mathematics. It is surprisingly engaging and readable. I can't gauge how readable it is for a layman since I have been immersed in biology and mathematics for far longer than most but my sense is that any interested reader would find it most edifying. (Goes to

The construct h=m+x+y+z originated with Aristotle who posited three different levels of soul for plant, animal and man respectively.

From my experience with control systems (starting with the guidance system of the Minuteman II ICBM in 1965) I believe that there is another lower level (w) which governs the basic element of life, the cell. For all the marvelous machinery of the cell we have yet to identify the regulatory mechanisms that govern its functions. From a computer perspective everything is ROM (read only memory). There are apparently no decision making elements nor anyway to note changes in conditions (writeable memory). It's like you car, just an expensive lawn ornament until you get behind the wheel.

The whole structure resembles modern systems which run electrical grids and refineries and factories. The military calls it C3I - Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. Sometimes it works better than other times.

Gagdad Bob said...

I can't recommend Purpose & Desire, which turned out to be a dud. Turns out the author has one idea, that life is homeostasis, or dynamic equilibrium.

I'm familiar with Meyer, although I haven't read that particular book. Not to devalue his efforts, but I'm ambivalent about the whole intelligent design thing, because it seems to me that it conflates science and metaphysics, or tries to prove the latter via the former. In my view, even if there were a wholly "natural" explanation for the emergence of life, it would nevertheless be a supernatural phenomenon, just as the soul can never be reduced to brain activity. For me, it doesn't matter one way or the other (similar to how, for Aquinas, it doesn't matter whether or not the cosmos had a temporal beginning, as it nevertheless has a vertical source).

To put it another way, if you begin at the top of the cosmos, with necessary being, then you have a sufficient explanation for mind, life, beauty, etc. Remove the First Principle, and nothing makes sense, not even nonsense.

In terms of a purely biological approach to these questions, my favorite is still Robert Rosen.

Gagdad Bob said...

The other day a commenter at Instapundit recommended this video which includes Stephen Meyer, which I haven't yet viewed.

Roy Lofquist said...


In re Intelligent Design:

You wrote "because it seems to me that it conflates science and metaphysics, or tries to prove the latter via the former"

That is not the case. The fundamental tenet of ID is that "life", for whatever it is, lies outside the domain of material science in its current state. It is, by definition, supernatural.

You can build a typewriter and paper using the laws of physics. You just can't make it type "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Only a human being can.

Unlike other writers on the origin of life Meyer offers no speculation. It is, plain and simple, mysterious.

The video is interesting but mainly addresses somewhat peripheral issues. It is useful in that it gives some flavor of how Meyer thinks and writes. Might I suggest that you go to the link. On the upper left corner of the first screen is a picture of the book. If you click that you can read the introduction and chapter 1 for a preview.

If you are more than a little interested in the origin of life, for without life there is no vertical, then you do yourself a disservice if you skip this book.

Please forgive me for being a bit overbearing. It is not my usual style.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn’t think that anything ID could be proven or disproven by any creature constrained by the laws of spacetime. The theoretical lowest paygrade angel, spiritually formed, is going to know the effect of every possible material cause because (extrapolated from special relativity) they are going to exist everywhere all the time. That’s one helluva viewing angle. This means that a top paygrade master creator/supervisor God who wished to remain completely hidden would be able to craft natural laws and conditions which would invariably produce an earth and life result exactly as we know it. But I guess it might be fun to try and see if he left any clues, for his own (maybe ours) amusement.

Not liberal said...

Intelligence discerns principles and intelligence also recognizes paradox as a principle. Paradoxically.

Progressives are still engaged in a Bertrand Russell style of solve the universe even though Gödel sank that boat a long time ago