Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Taking Existence Personally

I've completed nearly six years of posts, meaning there are only seven years left to review. However, I didn't post quite as frequently after 2010, so I'm actually beyond the halfway mark in terms of sheer verbiage. On the other hand, the quality is beginning to pick up, which is seriously slowing me down, in that I have to actually pay attention to what I've written.

I don't ask much of a post. My only request is that it hold my interest. Which this old one from 2011 did:

One point to bear in mind is that we cannot regard the cosmos as some sort of static or given fact, if only because its factuality hasn't yet fully disclosed itself. The world is always evolving, always coming-into-being; furthermore, "world and human existence belong necessarily to one another, so that neither a worldless man nor even a world without man seems thinkable" (Ratzinger).

No one disputes the first half of this equation, but few people outside the coonosphere even think about the second part, i.e., the impossibility of a world without man -- not necessarily Homo sapiens per se, but more generally, the necessity of a vertical "bridge" between Creator and creation in any manifestation deployed in space and time: persons.

Even the most materialistic scientist knows there is an intimate link between cosmos and anthropos, if only because all science depends upon the consummation and development of this intimate marriage of intelligence and intelligibility.

To put it another way, even the scientist implicitly knows that science is impossible without scientists. In short, there must be a kind of anterior and posterior oneness beneath the explicit twoness (or complementarity) of cosmos and man, in the absence of which we couldn't explain anything, especially the surprising mirrorcle of science <--> scientists.

Again, science advances via the reduction of multiplicity to unity. A single concept -- say, gravity -- draws together a host of phenomena, on both a micro and macro scale, that had seemed entirely separate. For Ratzinger, this "two-in-one structure" of man and cosmos "has always pointed to... unity as its final goal."

This being the case, it is incorrect to suggest that history is something that simply "happens" in the cosmos. Rather, "the cosmos is itself history. It does not merely form the scene of human history; before human history began, and later with it, cosmos is itself 'history.'" Ultimately, "there is only one single all-embracing world history, which for all the ups and downs, all the advances and setbacks that it exhibits, nevertheless has a general direction and goes 'forward'" (ibid.).

Now, this "one single all-embracing world history" is the unifying theme of our book and of this blog, no matter how far we may seem to stray from the plot. We are always on the way to the place from which we never left, even if we never can arrive there.

I remember an analogy used by Alan Watts. Imagine looking at a wooden fence with a hole in it. A cat walks by on the other side. Assuming no prior knowledge of cats, one would have no way of unifying the disparate phenomena appearing from our side of the hole. We would see an event play out in time, which is actually unified in a higher space.

We may apply the same idea to the cosmos, since we are in the analogous position of viewing its diverse phenomena through our finite and transitory existence on this side of the whole. As Ratzinger explains,

"Of course, to him who sees only a section of it, this piece, even though it may be relatively big, looks like a circling in the same spot. No direction is perceptible. It is only observed by him who begins to see the whole" (emphasis mine). (For example, even simplistic Darwinian evolution may only be seen by those transcending it; nothing less than man knows anything about it.)

In other words, the lower dimensional evolutionary "movement" of the cosmos can only be seen from a higher perspective -- one more reason why there can be no "naked facts," because the nature of any fact changes, depending upon the temporal and dimensional perspective.

For example, in this larger perspective, the "natural world" is not, and cannot be, some sort of abstract realm cut off from the totality of the cosmos. Rather, in an evolutionary, historical cosmos, "matter and its evolution form the prehistory of spirit or mind" (emphasis mine).

Here again, as explained in the book, it is nothing more than an unexamined prejudice -- a postmodern superstition of the tenured -- to attempt to pull the subject down into into the object, as if this provides any kind of satisfactory explanation for either.

This approach is analogous to attempting to pull the space of a building into its walls. One would have to be quite uncurious -- or a kind of craven conformist -- to accept it without at least raising one's hand in class and asking w-w-why?

One doesn't have to accept the Christian solution, but at least it confronts this question of an evolutionary cosmos head-on, without coming to a gentileman's agreement not to avoid certain awkward questions.

For if Jesus is who we think he is, then "the consummation of the world in that event could be explained as the conviction that our history is advancing to an 'omega' point, at which it will become finally and unmistakably clear that the element of stability that seems to be the supporting ground of reality, so to speak, is not mere unconscious matter."

Rather, "the real, firm ground is mind. Mind holds being together, gives it reality, indeed is reality: it is not from below but from above that being receives its capacity to subsist" (ibid., emphasis mine).

This is indeed one of our foundational orthoparadoxes, and quite literally the "connecting thread" of all our cosmic adventures. For without this connecting thread, there could be no connections and no threads at all. Regarded in this manner, what had looked merely "natural" is drawn up into a much more glorious narrative, i.e., the Adventure of Consciousness.

And not only. For this way of looking at things is, in a manner of speaking, the death of death, since the "dead world" of matter (or the world of dead matter) looks very different once Life emerges from its dark womb.

But might we say the same of Mind? Is mind merely a dead end, a cosmic nul-de-slack, or does it point beyond itself to a higher source and destiny? Again, at least Christianity confronts and answers the question without changing the subject -- into an object:

We have said before that nature and mind form one single history, which advances in such a way that mind emerges more and more clearly as the all-embracing element and thus anthropology and cosmology finally in actual fact coalesce.

But this assertion of the increasing "complexification" of the world through mind necessarily implies its unification around a personal center, for mind is not just an undefined something or other; where it exists in its own specific nature, it subsists as individuality, as person.

Therefore, this "implies that the cosmos is moving toward a unification in the personal," and "confirms once again the infinite precedence of the individual over the universal.... The world is in motion toward unity in the person. The whole draws its meaning from the individual, not the other way about" (ibid., emphasis mine).

Thus the conclusion of Christianity, at once "scandalous" and yet fully in keeping with the way things Are and Must Be: that a single individual, a fully integrated and complete Cross-Word puzzall, is "the center of history and of the whole.... What stands at the end is a countenance. The omega of the world is a 'you,' a person, an individual."

Time out for aphorisms:

--For the Christian, history does not have a direction, but rather a center.

--By unmasking a truth, one encounters a Christian face.

And this, by the way, has political implications, since this quintessential cosmo-historical Person "is at the same time the final denial of all collectivism.... The final stage of the world is not the result of a natural current, but the result of responsibility that is grounded in freedom."

(All quoted material from Ratzinger's so-called "Introduction" to Christianity.)