Friday, August 09, 2019

We Don't Believe in Miracles, We Just Savor Them

Maybe you've noticed that our postmodern, post-literate, and post-rational world denies but doesn't actually eliminate the miraculous. Rather it just kicks the miracle down the road, or paves the road over it. And under it, come to think of it. Meaning that their desiccated cosmos just hangs suspended between its alpha and omega, with no ground, principle, or reason. You know, a miracle, only in the magico-superstitious instead of metaphysical sense.

Looked at another way, this form of thought conceals an unthinkable anti-thought at its foundation, one that restricts our view of reality -- like looking at the world from the bottom of a well and concluding it is a circular disc. Given the implicit assumptions, this view isn't wrong, just very limited.

As anyone who hasn't been to college knows, there are no less than four Big Miracles that can never be eliminated from our discourse. At the very least there is existence; there is life; there is a kind of infinite intelligibility; and there is the human person.

These fan out into love, truth, intelligence, beauty, science, music, painting, poetry, faith, virtue, nobility, selflessness, progress; miracles of sound, rhythm, and color; and the sheer miracle of the present, which is to say, conscious awareness, or being-for-itself, leading all the way back up and in to our ground, source, and destiny.

To be perfectly accurate being-for-itself does not and could not exist, for it is always being-in-relation, which might be the rock-bottom mirrorcle of them all, in that we and everything else are images of the Trinity. We couldn't know a single thing if being weren't constantly in relation to the knowing intellect.

Or, to quote W. Norris Clarke, to be is to be substance-in-relation. Behind or within the I AM is always the WE ARE. Being is always twogather in threeness, which is why you need to take existence personally.

In the previous post we spoke of scotomas and scotosis, i.e., scientistic holes in the whole of reality, which render it less than wholesome, which is to say, healthy. The failure to appreciate the irreducible WE of the subjective horizon would have to constitute the most conspicuous hole in the materialist metaphysic.

Indeed, even if you disagree with me, you need someone -- me -- with whom to disagree. I know. Ironic.

Clarke writes of "the experience, without which none of us could be truly human, of knowing other human beings as equally real with ourselves....

"This experience can be condensed as follows: I know that we are, that we are like each other, that we can engage in meaningful communication with each other." In short, subjectivity is always intersubjectivity, so that in a way, love is simply the radical ratification of being. Or in other words, it (being) is good!

And please note that the existence of this WE could never be known unless first lived. To live outside the WE is no more conceivable for us than trying to imagine the consciousness of a reptile, or the color of sound.

Not that it matters in terms of the truth which cannot not be, but it is interesting that science is catching up with the trinitarian nature of a cosmos that is substance-in-relation, or "self-communicating active presence."

This is laid out in a recent book called Mimesis and Science: Empirical Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture and Religion. I don't know that I can recommend it, since it doesn't affirm anything that isn't covered in our bʘʘk in a much more thoroughly frivolous manner.

The scientific upshot is that the primordial We of the mother-infant dyad is the portal to "more complex social, cultural, and representational abilities." Not I think, therefore I am, but we are, therefore I am, and the resultant We can lift us above the closed circle of neurology, such that we may think about thinking.

Speaking of miracles, of the self-expression of being, and of the cosmic journey, yesterday I read a fascinating article in the latest National Review (dead link) about a contemporary American composer and pianist named Michael Hersch. You'll want to read the whole thing, but here is a man who seems very much in awe of the miraculous gift he has been given:

He sits down to play his massive and monumental piano work The Vanishing Pavilions.... It is apocalyptic, visionary, and staggering. And it takes approximately two and a half hours to play. Hersch does not play it all, in this pre‑concert concert. He plays excerpts, a little suite. And he plays it with his prodigious technique, one that draws gasps. Apparently, his fingers can do whatever his brain commands.
He was not a child prodigy, and didn't discover his gift until the late age (for classical music) of 18, at which time it was somehow waiting there, not only fully formed but unspoiled by the kind of drudgery that might have been imposed by more agenda-driven, or less child-centered, parents:

I didn’t look at it as, ‘I have so much to catch up on.’ People sometimes say, ‘You started so late, it must have been daunting.’ But I wasn’t thinking in terms of chronology or lost years. I was just overjoyed at my luck. I had found this world, and I had it all to explore.

'His parents, he says, have "caught a lot of flak from people who think, ‘What if he had started at four or five?’ Well, maybe I would have burned out.”

Remarkably, he doesn't have to practice in order to play even the most difficult pieces, nor does he "struggle to compose, but he does need time. He cannot be rushed. He works on a piece in his head until it’s ready. Then he writes it down, with no revision. It took almost a year to write down The Vanishing Pavilions, which runs more than 300 pages."

Hersch speaks of how "the music is lying dormant, waiting for you. You can activate it anytime, simply by engaging with it”; and of how "it just anguishes me that there are so many people out there, possibly, who could have been like me, or are like me, who weren’t fortunate enough to have a brother who would say, ‘You need to sit down and listen to Beethoven.’ What about all the people who are just as talented as I am, or more talented, and didn’t have the opportunity?”

Now, there's a guy who doesn't waste his time wondering if miracles exist. Rather, he just enjoys them.

Monday, August 05, 2019

What's Before and After Science?

Just as there are people we call uncultured, there are folks we would call un-cosmoed. Ironically, more often than not, it is the most cultured person who is the least cosmoed.

Likewise, uncultured people often implicitly retain their cosmic perspective, which is one of the reasons why so many deplorables are repelled by the deplorable left.

Contemporary liberalism is provincial, ahistorical, and unphilosophical in the extreme, which is why there is usually so much more wisdom in a simple person of faith than there is in the tenured herd and the media mob.

An uncultured person is what? Related words include countrified, unlearned, unrefined, unsophisticated, roughhewn, raw, -- but also, in a wholly positive sense, natural, unartificial, guileless, pristine, unsullied. Likewise, we know the positive connotations of cultured, but the latter can also veer into sophistry, intellectualism, artifice, decadence, and, in these latter days, mere conformity to intellectual fashion.

So much of contemporary debate can be cast in these terms of cultured-uncultured. It is a major source of the left's toxic arrogance, and why they simply cannot conceal their contempt for half the country, and condescension for the other half. Or, they treat half the country as if it is stupid, the other half as if it is evil.

Now, what is an uncosmoed person? I would think that first and foremost it is someone who imagines he can enclose the cosmos in some little manmade ideology -- who imagines he has demystified the cosmos just because he has memorized a few words and concepts such as "big bang," or "DNA," or "natural selection," or who simply fails to draw out the implications of everyday words such as "person," or "love," or "truth," or "beauty," or "universe."

Each of the latter is an irreducible mystery, in the sense that we only imagine we have banished a mystery by saturating it with some readymade ideological content.

But mystery itself is a mystery, in that it is a mode of knowledge, not a problem to be solved. Indeed, life without mystery would be unendurable. Give me mystery or give me ego death (but I repeat myself)!

Mysticism is the empiricism of transcendent knowledge.

Mystery is less disturbing than the fatuous attempt to exclude it by stupid explanations.

The mystic is the only one who is seriously ambitious (NGD).

Another way of conceptualizing this whole area is to say that man is always and everywhere metaphysical; even if we don't want to be, we can't avoid it. It's one of those modalities into which we are necessarily plunged, like space, time, matter, language, gender (one of two) and intersubjectivity (two of one).

It says here in this book on Man and Metaphysics that

the geometer or the mathematician could never have laid a true foundation for his discipline, however rigorous it may be at its own level, without recourse to metaphysics in the form of an affirmation of the existence of God as the locus or creator of the eternal verities.

Unless your rigorous discipline just hangs there suspended in mid-air, with no sufficient reason or transcendent ground. If that is the case, then you need to explain how it could be the case. But they never do. Which is about as sophisticated as thinking that babies are delivered by a stork. Truth, they must imagine, just grows on truth trees.

This or that science studies one particular aspect of being, from physics to chemistry to biology. But the object of metaphysics is being as such as opposed to such and such a being. Its object is everything, and in order to approach it, we need to do so with our own transcendent unity and totality. We need All We Are in order to be adequate to the Everything That Is. This includes reason, of course, but also experiential knowledge of transcendent realities, AKA mysticism. Either the soul of man forever escapes any attempt to contain it in reason, or reason defies logic (see Gödel for details).

Here is how Schuon defines mystery. See if you don't agree:

By ‘mystery’ we do not mean something incomprehensible in principle -- unless it be on the purely rational level -- but something which opens on to the Infinite, or which is envisaged in this respect, so that intelligibility becomes limitless and humanly inexhaustible. A mystery is always ‘something of God’ (Gnosis: Divine Wisdom).

Again: mystery is a mode of intellection, but not a mode the typical intellectual will endorse, since it is an affront to the narcissistic co-opting of the intellect for purely egoic -- or defensive -- purposes.

In the past I have discussed how, just as there are psychological defense mechanisms that apply to the lower vertical, there are what we might call "pneumatological defense mechanisms" that apply to the upper vertical, e.g., pride and envy. In many ways, we could say that sin by definition obscures the metaphysical object, and that there are intellectual sins no less than sins of the will. Again, you will have noticed how grandiose and narcissistic are so many "intellectuals," such that their own gifted intellect negates itself at the root.

In any event, "intellectualization" is one defense mechanism that is deployed in both directions, the upper and lower vertical. Wiki defines it as

a defense mechanism where reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress, by 'using excessive and abstract ideation to avoid difficult feelings'. It involves removing one's self, emotionally, from a stressful event. Intellectualization may accompany, but 'differs from rationalization, which is justification of irrational behavior through cliches, stories, and pat explanation.'

One can glean at a glance how both intellectualization and rationalization would apply to the upper vertical, in particular, vis-a-vis the New Atheists armed with their rationalistic "cliches, stories, and pat explanations." Which leads us back to our discussion of Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, which then veered into an extended Voegelinapalooza.

By the very title, one can appreciate that the author is a deeply cosmoed man coming from a cosmic perspective. I just opened the book to page 98, where we seem to have left off in our discussion, and Purcell (borrowing from Lonergan) is discussing what he calls the "scotosis" of scientism, which is to say, its ontological blind spot, i.e., "the non-occurance of relevant insights for whatever reason," and "the reality eclipsed because not questioned."

In short, in any form of scientism, there is a hole where reality should be, but which is filled with ideology -- similar to the scotoma we all have in our field of vision, where the optic nerve connects to the eyeball. Without even being consciously aware of it, our brains just paper over the hole and create the illusion of continuity.

Think of the scotosis that results from any attempt to reduce the cosmos to its mathematical elements; to do so is to reduce quality to quantity, semantics to syntax, and ultimately subject to object. But then there's no subject left to understand and appreciate the mysterious and beautiful math. Nor taste the delicious irony. (Note also that the scotoma of scientism can fashion a prison or serve as an escape hatch, once the hole is recognized.)

A more balanced and reasonable -- not to say nuanced -- view would be closer to the one enunciated by Pope John Paul II in 1991 (quoted by Purcell):

Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and from false absolutes. Each can help the other to enter into a more complete world, where both can prosper.

Here it isn't just a matter of rejoining left and right brains and east and west hemispheres, although that's no doubt part of it. Rather, the real action is vertical and hierarchical, and lies in keeping things in perspective. The uncosmoed person always lacks perspective, since the cosmic is the ultimate perspective (excluding the perspective of God, since we can't see from that particular vertex).