Friday, November 29, 2019

Interpreting the World(s)

One thing leads to another, yada yada. Now that I'm thinking about solid rock -- foundational principles that cannot not be -- I keep running into them everywhere. The old Baader–Meinhof effect, whereby "a name, or other thing that has recently come to one's attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards."

They call it an illusion, but in this case it's the opposite: the dis-illusionment of perceiving the reality beneath appearances. The reality is always there. How could it not be? We just have to pay attention to it (or tweak our attentiveness).

I just read a recently republished book by Josef Pieper called Exercises in the Elements, and it's full of solid rock. First of all, what's with the title? What does that even mean? I'm pretty sure it means something more obvious in German, but Pieper explains in the preface that "elements" connotes elemental or elementary, i.e., foundational truths that do not "cheat us of things which are elementary and obvious."

For example, scientism obviously explains a lot, but at the cost of unexplaing a great deal more. And not only unexplaining, but then robbing us of the properly human meaning to which we are entitled. If I reduce you to a bag of chemicals, then everything that transcends chemistry vanishes. Why, it reminds us of an aphorism or three:

--With the categories admitted by the modern mind, we do not manage to understand anything but trifles.

--Scraping the painting, we do not find the meaning of the picture, only a blank and mute canvas. Equally, it is not in scratching about in nature that we will find its sense.

--The meanings are the reality; their material vehicles are the appearance.

And by "exercises," Pieper simply means something like "instruction"; so Exercises in the Elements is really about instruction in the fundamentals.

The first essay asks the innocent sounding question, What Does Interpretation Mean?, but it is full of provocative insights and insightful provocations. By the way, the writing is quite terse and unsaturated, leaving lots of space to fill in the blanks. The secret protects itself. But not from nosy Raccoons!

Pieper begins with Lonergan's answer to the question: "an interpretation is the expression of the meaning of another expression." As such, interpretation always involves translation, even if it is in the same language (for example, transglishing the Bible into plain English).

In a way, you might say that interpretation comes down to explaining what is really meant, from physics to theology and everything in between. It presupposes no less than two levels of meaning. For example, quantum physics interprets Newtonian physics at a deeper level. Likewise, for a Christian, Christ is the interpretative key for unlocking the meaning of the Old Testament. Christ is that to which the OT points.

There can also be pathological interpretations, which involve either a false analysis or synthesis -- say, Marxism, which interprets all of history as class struggle, or reduces economic activity to the labor theory of value.

Yes, it's a stupid theory, but it obviously appeals to a deep need on the part of its votaries to feel exploited and victimized (or it caters to those who harbor narcissistic fantasies of rescuing the exploited and victimized). A proper interpretation of Marxism must advert to permanent features of human nature such as envy, resentment, omniscience, and grandiosity; it conveys certain truths, but only inadvertently and ironically.

So, interpretation is a bridge between two realities. Which brings us to the question of scripture. What is it? Well, first and foremost it is a bridge between realities, not the reality itself. A fundamentalist bibliolater will conflate the two realities, thus defeating the purpose of scripture.

For example, the Garden of Eden story must be interpreted; and indeed, it even goes to the very existence of multiple levels, and to the gap between the way we are and the way we ought to be. "Original sin" means failure to conform to our divine archetype. This results in conscious or unconscious awareness of guilt. What to do with it?

Hmmm, let's see... how about a sacrifice! That ought to appease the the gods and purify us of our culpability! The rest is history (see Bailie here and here).

Some notes to myself: "nothing can free us of the need to interpret phenomena; the cosmos is not self-evident." As we know, no one has ever seen the cosmos; rather it is a metaphysical axiom that is promptly forgotten. But to say "cosmos" is to have interpreted the phenomena in a Big Way, indeed the broadest way immarginable.

In the case of atheism, there is no reality to which its interpreter is pointing; or, he interprets phenomena in such a way that interpretation is either impossible or meaningless. But to say that there is no need of interpretation is an interpretation.

Again, interpretation is a link between two worlds, but for the atheist there is only one, so what is the ontological status of his interpretation? It reminds us of another aphorism of solid rock:

--The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality.

No way around that one. Thus, if atheism is true, then it is unimportant, insignificant, trivial, and ultimately impossible to maintain with a straight face.

"[A]n utterance is significant and therefore able to be interpreted precisely because it points to reality." So, what I would ask the atheist is, What is the metaphysical significance of a contingent animal being able to utter statements that point to this thing you call reality? Things require a sufficient reason. What's yours?

Here's a good one: "All understanding of the individual thing is dependent on the understanding of the whole." Now, my metaphysic accounts for how and why it is possible for us to intuit this whole. But how does atheism presume to have knowledge of the whole? No mere animal knows that reality is the whole and vice versa.

"Truth is, after all the same as reality coming into view" (Pieper).

Here is how we can not only know the whole, but the parts (for parts are only parts because they are part of the whole): "the things we find in the world, by their very nature, exist between two knowing faculties."

In short, we can only know things at all because God knows them first; our intelligence and the intelligibility of things both flow from God's prior act of knowledge. Conversely, atheists have no explanation for their uniquely human intelligence (which is not just more animal intelligence); nor can they explain how human intelligence is conformed to the infinite intelligibility of the world.

We might say that between intelligence and intelligibility is interpretation or translation. Again, there are always no fewer than two worlds, and language -- Logos -- is the link between them. Interpretation is a "living rapport" between things. Things like, O, Father and Son.

That's about it for today.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Throwing Rocks with Sr. Dávila

While on the subject of solid rock, I thought it might be fun to select some of Dávila's aphorisms that are built on or out of bedrock, such that they can't possibly get more aphoristic on Moh's scale of vertical hardness. They drill down to the essence and substance of things, so to deny them is to exit this cosmos and inhabit a parallel looniverse of lies and soph-deception.

As I've mentioned before, if I ever write another book, it would have to be as terse and pointy as Dávila, if only because there is way too much goround to cover. Each field, from cosmology to theology to physics, would have to be stripped down to the bare truth, with no excess verbiage or egocentric bloviating: just say it and get out of the way. If a truth can be reduced to a deeper truth, then the former is not strictly necessary. Let others emanate those secondary and tertiary penumbras from the deeper principles.

Some of the aphorisms apply to the subjective world, while others apply to the objective world. Nevertheless, both must be objective. What do I mean by this? Here is an example: Reason is no substitute for faith, just as color is no substitute for sound. Most people would regard faith as "subjective," which it is; it is nevertheless an adequation to reality and therefore partakes of the objective nature of things. Or in other words, Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities. Objects can't be faithful; subjects can't not be.

More deeply, if God is a person (a Subject to whom we'll return), then a subjective element is built into the cake. I know that my new neighbor objectively exists. But to say that my objective knowledge of his existence exhausts what can be known about him is just silly. Same thing with reality: to imagine it can be exhaustively described empirically is instantaneously self-refuting, otherwise, to whom is the world a mere object? Another object?

Now, is God a person? Well, do persons exist? If they don't, then you are dismissed. For you the denial of personhood is rock, and you have reduced yourself to it. "There are no persons, said the person." Okay Humer.

But if persons do exist, then what is their principle, their sufficient reason? In what are they grounded? Is human intelligence just "more" animal intelligence, or something else altogether? If you believe natural selection is a sufficient cause of human intelligence, then you are faced with a dilemma, because animals can know nothing of essences, principles, abstract categories, etc. How can natural selection transcend itself if it forbids transcendence a priori?

Here is an aphorism that goes to one of our rock-bottom principles, complementarity: Two contradictory philosophical theses complete each other, but only God knows how.

Now, when I use the term complementarity, I don't just mean it in the quantum sense, i.e., Heisenberg's uncertainty principle; rather quantum complementarity is just the residue of a much deeper complementarity that is built into the nature of things. What are some of our primordial, which is to say, irreducible, complementarities?

Let's see: subject/object; eternity/time; absolute/infinite; point/space; center/periphery; vertical/horizontal; creation/created; geometry/music; spirit/matter; form/substance; act/potency; existence/essence; quantity/quality.

There are no doubt more, but in any event, they are all synthesized and harmonized in God, both before and after the fact, since God is both outside and inside time. The reason why we can approach unity is because unity exists; we may know there is One Cosmos, even if we can never rearrive there in this life. Or as the Prophet Leonard says, the goal falls short of the reach, being that no earthly or finite goal can satisfy us because our reach extends to God, to infinitude.

So, God doesn't harmonize anything, since he is Harmony. In which we are privileged to participate, which is why we may attain integral knowledge of this One Cosmos, a vision of the All. Again, animal intelligence can't even know that it knows, let alone what it can never know.

A few more rocks, and then I gotta go:

Only the theocentric vision does not end up reducing man to absolute insignificance.

Either God or chance: all other terms are disguises for one or the other.

God is not an inane compensation for lost reality, but the horizon surrounding the summits of conquered reality.