Saturday, May 04, 2019

Can IT BE without I AM?

The life of the intelligence is a dialogue between the personalism of spirit and the impersonalism of reason. --Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Let us continue with our story (of the cosmos), which has only two possible outcomes: for it is either the futile quest of a contingent and randomly evolved primate to understand his origins, OR it is the return to God of his only theomorphic creature. All else is just the frivolous noise of trousered monkeys and tenured flunkies.

As with Purcell, I was puzzled by that most basic ontological distinction in the cosmos between subject and object -- specifically, how IT IS (the great outdoors) relates to I AM (the great in here, or cosmic sensorium). In no way could I understand how one could ever derive the I from the IT, unless the former were somehow there with IT to begin with, whether implicitly or explicitly.

In any event, one cannot derive the greater from the lesser, let alone the infinitely greater (and the human person is infinitely greater than its material matrix, or we're back in the ivory tower of tenured babble).

A casual and eventually thoroughgoing acquaintance with science and philosophy establishes the fact that most thinkers don't actually deal with the issue, but rather, simply stop asking questions at some point, thus violating the principle of sufficient reason, which says that any effect requires a cause adequate to account for it; which is a fancy way of saying that you can't get blood out of a turnip.

In the golden words of our fine Colombian:

--Intelligence is a train from which few do not deboard, one after the other, in successive stations.

--The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.

--To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

And this doozy, which in many ways reveils the entire Doctrine, if you cogitate on it:

--The world is explicable from man; but man is not explicable from the world. Man is a given reality; the world is a hypothesis we invent.

In other words -- getting back to the thesis of this post -- IT IS being derived from I AM is at least conceivable, while the converse is strictly inconceivable: no one will ever explain how existence becomes experience, or how object becomes subject. It can't be done, and if it could, you couldn't be there to do it.

Another way of looking at this question is to say that before we accept an explanation, we have to first decide what would constitute one. In short, there is truth and there is adequacy, i.e., the principle of sufficient reason. To put in personal terms, some people are so stupid, or incurious, or compliant, that they'll believe anything. And The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions (NGD).

This is indeed where evolutionists and materialists in general run into so much trouble, e.g., "man is just another animal, animals are just the expression of selfish genes, and that's the truth." One of these three statements is not like the others (doubly so if it is true)!

Bryan Magee has a good analysis of the problem in his fine biography of Schopenhauer:

It is possible for us to pose some sort of Why? question with regard to anything. As Schopenhauer puts it: "The validity of the principle of sufficient reason is so much involved in the form of consciousness that we simply cannot imagine anything objectively of which no 'why?' could be further demanded."

In philosophy a single naïve question is sometimes enough to make an entire system come tumbling down (NGD).

Now, the core of any discipline, whether science, philosophy, history, or law, revolves around this question of sufficient reason, of which there are different kinds. For example, physical causation is not the same as moral causation. If this weren't the case, then we wouldn't have free will, including the freedom to know the truth about free will.

For Schopenhauer there are four main kinds of sufficient reason: the type of direct physical causation that occurs, say, between billiard balls; mathematical determination; logical entailment; and the sort of "motivated action" that can only arise from a free subject, or mind.

In each case, philosophical questions arise, but the first three categories aren't nearly as problematic as the fourth: "[T]he scientist gestures in the direction of the philosopher," who then pretends to answer the question. The metaphysical theologian raises his hand and says "I know I know I know," but they refuse to pick him.

The bottom line is that "science is, in a serious sense of the term, occult, in that it explains everything else without itself being explained" (ibid). Ironically, this is one of the definitions of God, i.e., the uncaused cause.

An “explanation” consists in the end in assimilating a strange mystery to a familiar mystery (NGD).

Equally ironic is that, at the end of the deity, after all the science has been, er, settled, "the mystery of the world as such would be as great at the end of the process as it had been at the beginning" (ibid). Why? That's why: because we can still ask why?

Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything (NGD).

In lieu of the above, we could probably save a lot of time with a one word, all purpose protest: Gödel!, proving once again that you can't crack the cosmic egg without breaking out the umlaut.

For "the laws of logic, like the basic concepts of science, and the axioms and the rules of mathematics... must involve circularity, since they themselves generate the justification procedures in their universe of discourse" (ibid).

But interestingly, we all recognize the flaw in this approach when it comes to moral justification. Our whole legal system is -- or was, before liberals hijacked it -- built around the idea that we do not allow people to get away with crimes just because they felt morally justified in committing them.

This whole discussion hits rather close to home, because, as a forensic psychologist, I am routinely asked to give a precise opinion as to what "caused" a patient's "psychiatric injury" (or "mental condition").

The problem here is that there is an utter conflation between the kind of causation that applies to matter vs. the kind of causation that is adequate to explain mental events. In no way am I permitted to provide fully comprehensive explanations appropriate to the subject -- for example, the percentage of causation that may be attributed to man's fallen nature, or just the fact that life is hard, so deal with it. Rather, I must pretend that the all mental causes are as discrete and proximate as those in a game of billiards. The whole absurd exercise rests on a massive category error, but it pays well.

In any event, as Magee explains, "there is a point where natural science, and indeed every branch of knowledge, leaves things as they are" and "does not go beyond this point."

Looked at this way, the belief that the "big bang" ends the discussion of our origins is no better than the belief that the cosmos was caused by the god Witoto taking a leak into the void. Neither one satisfies me. I mean, I certainly prefer the former, but it's not as if it's a self-sufficent explanation. Another key aphorism:

Every beginning is an image of the Beginning; every end is an image of the End.

For example, where do all those elegant equations governing the big bang come from? Who knows, maybe Witoto tinkles them into the void.

Or maybe, just maybe, as reveiled in the Encirclopedia Raccoonica, it was not good that this Godhead, the Most High, should be allone, so He expired with a big bong and said "let there be higher physics," and it was zo.

Two final aphorisms before we sign off. Both aren't only true, but alive with truth:

--Truth is a person.

--The truth is objective but not impersonal (NGD).

Friday, May 03, 2019

Coming Up with a Likely Story for an Unlikely Predicament

This is an extended multi-post review of Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, which, like our One Cosmos, attempts to pack the whole existentialida -- the whole cosmic drama -- into a single combo-plate of about 300 pages. It's the only other recent book of which I am aware that synthesizes everything from physics to anthropology to paleontology to biology to history to mysticism to theology to mind parasites into one convenient narrative.

Who is this Brendan Purcell? According to Professor Backflap, he is an ordained priest who is currently adjunct professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. His previous book was called The Drama of Humanity: Towards a Philosophy of Humanity in History, while he also co-edited Voegelin's classic Hitler and the Germans. In fact, he is hugely influenced by Voegelin, whom he knew personally. In his bibliography there is more Voegelin than anyone else, essentially the complete works.

I see that our bibliographies contain many of the same names. This is not an academic observation, per se; rather, it reveals the "clues" we both regard as significant. In other words, faced with the infinite mass of data before us, we both honed in on particular hints, tips, signs, and knowing winks.

At the same time, we had some mutually exclusive influences, including some who are quite central to my approach, thus accounting for differences in sensibility and emphasis. "Individual" and "universal" interact in peculiar ways, but this goes to the very nature of personhood (which represents our ultimate category).

I think it's safe to say that Purcell's approach is much more mainstream, both scientifically and religiously. Obviously we are burdened -- or liberated, depending upon your EQ (eccentricity quotient) -- by the whole Raccoon sensibility, from which we couldn't escape even if we wanted. Again, persons will be persons, and it takes all kinds of them to make a world.

This post is only a brief intro, since I'm already pressed for time, so let's start with the big picture, and get into details later. This Big Picture is the idea that all human beings -- even the wrongheaded ones we don't like -- are motivated by the same Quest, which is none other than the Cosmic Adventure, the search for the Eternal Ground. Just as there are things we can't not know, it seems that there are things we can't not do, and this is one of them -- no, it must be the only one, to which everything else is necessarily related (just as all truth must be grounded in the Absolute, or no truth is possible).

Although their metaphysic will not allow them to admit it to themselves, even Marxists, leftists, metaphysical Darwinists, doctrinaire atheists, secular fundamentalists, and positivists of various kinds are all seeking the same ultimate Truth, except in a self-defeating way that assures failure. However, this hardly means that we can't benefit from this or that genuine relative truth they discover, since all truth is of the Holy Spirit.


According to Purcell, there is a universal Quest "that summons all true human beings to the heart of the human mystery."

To back up a bit, if you don't recognize that man -- i.e., your existence -- is a mystery, then you are living in a self-imposed Matrix that cuts you off from your essential personhood. In other words, you have performed a mysterectomy on yourself. For example, in a letter, Dostoyevsky wrote that "Man is a mystery.... I occupy myself with this mystery because I want to be a man" (in Purcell).

Now, you might suppose that a standard autobiography is a kind of transparent plunge into the mystery, but that approach usually leads nowhere if it fails to link up with the Source. In other words, the individual self is literally a kind of inexhaustible mystery, but this "inexhaustibility" provides a clue to the Big Mystery, since man is a kind of "finite infinitude" which mirrors the infinite infinitude of O.

Therefore, if you imagine that your bullshit will ever run dry, you're only fooling yourself. You'll never find God that way, because you're already in the ocean searching for water.

Now that it is understood that man is embedded in a cosmic drama extending back no less than 13.85 billion years -- that History is much longer than anyone ever supposed -- it is frankly impossible to write a comprehensive autobiography without taking into consideration, say, the big bang, the evolution of life, and the emergence of human consciousness.

By which I mean that if we are deprived of certain ground-floor experiences during this sensitive period, our quest for the Ground will be compromised later in life. The psychoanalyst Michael Balint wrote of the "basic fault" (as in "fault line"), which can even be seen as one way in which man perpetuates his ancestral Fall from generation to generation. A person haunted by the Basic Fault often spends his life in pursuit of what might be called "dark mysteries," or thrilling perversions and secret compulsions of various kinds.

It is gratifying to see another writer tackle the "discontinuity problem" of human beings. In fact, Purcell makes a useful distinction between the fact of evolution and the ideology of "evolutionism," which is analogous to the critical distinction between science and scientism, of which every educated person should be aware.

The dogma of evolutionism maintains that there is no ontological distinction between man and animal, an absurd metaphysic that immediately runs aground for reasons Darwin himself intuited:

With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

The answer is no, of course not. That being the case, where is the line in nature at which point monkey convictions become reliable and trustworthy? Darwinian ideology answers -- and disproves -- itself if one is honest.

Recall that in the Encirclopedia Raccoonica, the individual chapters are so arranged as to be both discontinuous -- i.e., discrete and numbered, just like any other book -- but also continuous and flowing, apparently unlike any other book. This complementarity signifies a number of things, including the ontological discontinuity -- the evolutionary leap, which evolution supposedly cannot do -- of man.

Yes, we are aware of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, but that is merely another attempt at a natural explanation to "save the appearances" of what is clearly a transnatural phenomenon.

One of the themes that runs through From Big Bang to Big Mystery is that human beings "are both continuous with the evolutionary process and discontinuous with it." I for one know exactly what he means when he references Walker Percy's observation that there is "more difference between a human and an animal -- let's say an orangutan -- than between the animal and the planet Saturn."


About that comment yesterday to the effect that there is more difference between a man and a monkey than between a monkey and an inanimate object. I would go even further and say that there is sometimes more difference between men than between men and animals.

One needs to be cautious here, because by no means does it imply that every person isn't of infinite value. But I was thinking of JWN Sullivan's remark to the effect that -- musically speaking, of course -- there is a greater distance between Beethoven and the average man than between the average man and a dog.

There are indeed a handful of men who tower above the rest, whether saints, or scientists, or novelists, poets and painters. Why is this?

I believe it is essentially a necessary consequence of the ontological category of "man," who contains within himself all the hierarchical degrees of being, and spans the entire cosmos in both space and time, vertically and horizontally.

This being the case... Put it this way: it is analogous to the biosphere, in which there are no gaps whatsoever. Everything has a job and a place, even if it means sprouting up through a slab of concrete, or dwelling in darkness at the bottom of the ocean, or eking out a living inside a scalding geyser.

In other words, wherever one goes on the planet, from the north pole, to the hottest desert, to the wastelands of MSNBC, there is some form of primitive life that has found a way to adapt itself to environmental conditions. It has found its niche.

But there is also a vertical space uniquely inhabited by man. This space too is populated wherever one travels within it. Indeed, one can go to hell and back -- Dante proved this -- but one will always find footprints of our predecessors and/or contemporaries (and occasionally descendants from the "future").

The point is that vertical space is densely populated, with some people near the top, others closer to the bottom. This is proven by various aphorisms:

--My brothers? Yes. My equals? No. Because there are younger ones and there are older ones.

--There is something definitively vile about the man who only admits equals, who does not tirelessly seek out his betters.

--Equality is not the fulfillment but the perversion of equity. Only a hierarchical ordering proceeds equitably with “the lion and the ox.”

But man possesses such protean gifts, that almost everyone has something that places him near the top, even if it is only -- only! -- kindness, or mothering, or decency, or sincerity. For example, although Beethoven was in the stratosphere musically, his interpersonal skills were evidently closer to a junkyard dog.

More generally, saints are not usually sages, scientists are not philosophers, celebrities are not political scientists, community organizers are not statesmen, etc.

Interesting, however, that someone like Thomas Aquinas was indeed both saint and sage, and at the highest levels. In his case, this convergence was necessary, because there is a kind of personal purity needed to disclose the highest realities he touches upon. Anyone less than a saint might burst into flames on contact.

I think I've mentioned in the past that the ultimate question motivating my book was: how is it that I am possible? And I don't necessarily mean that in any special way, rather, just the naked fact of the most unexpected thing one could possibly imagine in a cosmos: I AM.

It turns out that in order to answer the question, you can't just say, for example, "my parents just happened to stumble into one another, and you know the rest."

Yes there's that, but there's also cosmology, history, anthropology, religion, linguistics, etc., etc., etc. It turns out that Purcell is motivated by that same question -- the very Question that defines man:

"What led me back to philosophy from psychology was a sense that, as a human being, I myself wasn't really, at least not exclusively, 'an object,' the kind of a thing a science could wholly encompass [read: contain] and explain."

Rather, "I realized I'm something other than a world-immanent thing -- a subject -- and that there's an inexhaustibility to the within-ness that marks me out as a human being as distinct from a galaxy, an ecosystem, or an animal."

Same here. To be continued...

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