Saturday, December 07, 2019

Something's Happening: Creation, Ensoulment, and Transphysical Perception

Picking up where we left off, we suggested that creation must be the Mother of All Principles. We won't say God, because God is a person -- or so he says -- and not a principle. The principles are rooted in the nature of the Divine Person, and I always go back to the first three words of the Bible: Bereshit. Elohim. Bara.

Speaking of translation and interpretation, there is a multitude of ways to render that in English, but what's really going on down deep (or up high)? We have a person (Elohim) and an activity (creation). The latter occurs "in the beginning," but the beginning is always now. Indeed, not only can creativity only occur in the now, if you think about it, it is just about the most nowish activity we can engage in. It simultaneously -- and paradoxically -- makes us disappear while requiring all that we are. Neat trick. No wonder it's so addictive.

It reminds me of something the prophet Leonoard said about poetry: Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. And while looking up that one, I found this: How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?

You can't. Unless there is a vertical ingression from outside time. Animals can create nothing new because they are literally bound by their genetic yesterdays. Let me know if you ever see a bird's nest with a statue out front or a painting on the wall.

But as the Aphorist says, Aesthetics is the sensible and secular manifestation of grace. Do I believe this? Yes, but only absolutely. It is not only one of our non-negotiable principles, but one of the ways we may "participate in God," i.e., in his unending bara. There is no need to believe in miracles so long as you never stop relying on them.

A couple more aphorisms just to hammer the point home: The work of art is a covenant with God. And because this represents a divine-human partnership, Aesthetics cannot give recipes, because there are no methods for making miracles.

What? You're not creative? Neither am I, really. I'm not a writer. I just see things and write about them. Fortunately, I don't have to be creative, because I have other people doing it for me -- musicians, artists, film makers, etc. You needn't be a creator per se if it isn't your gift and your calling. In fact, if it isn't your gift, you'll just end up being annoying. Madonna and Miley Cyrus call themselves artists. 'Nuff said.

Nevertheless, you must be capable of perceiving and loving beauty. Again, that's non-negotiable, for it is one of the primordial emanations of God. Thus:

Without aesthetic transfiguration all of reality is pedestrian. And From an aesthetic experience one returns as from a sighting of numinous footprints.

Conversely -- and lucky for us -- we can say that, thanks to the grace of aesthetic transfiguration, the world never gets old. Rather, it's always new, so long as we see things in their metaphysical transparency and follow them up to their source. Numinous footprints and fingerprints are everywhere!

Speaking of endless creativity, I'm thinking of the film (but not only film) composer Ennio Morricone. No one knows how many films he has scored, but the number apparently approaches 500. Consider just 1968: I count 26 films, or one every two weeks, but it looks like he's even more prolific in the 1970s. How is this even possible? He slows down a bit in the '80s and '90s, but in the 2000s he's still doing up to six a year. He's now 91, but imagine if he could live to 1,000.

My point is that man's creativity might as well be boundless, and it requires an explanation. If you are intellectually satisfied by natural selection, then your absence of curiosity is spiritually fatal.

Is there a more intellectually satisfying explanation? Yes. Yesterday I was watching Father Spitzer's Universe, and was surpleased to see that he puts forth the identical argument I do in Book Three of One Cosmos. He even drops the G bomb all over the primitive superstition of materialism: Gödel. For some reason, people just don't appreciate the explosive (and liberating) power of his theorems.

Click on the latest episode from 11-27-19, and start at about 30:30. He points out that although genetic human beings appear as early as 200,000 years ago, there is no evidence of interior humanness until about 70,000 years ago, when there is a veritable Big Bang of consciousness, or what we call psychogenesis. This is when ensoulment occurs, and with it, self-reflection, conceptual ideation, abstract math and logic, moral reasoning, a sense of religious transcendence, symbolic art, etc. It is also when and how the endless creativity gets underway. It hasn't stopped since.

So, natural selection is sufficient to account for the uncreative hominids who sit around eating bananas, smashing coconuts, and watching MSNBC. But it doesn't explain you, let alone one of those endless founts of creativity that pour down into this world.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

One Cosmos or No Cosmos

There's only one world. Why so many interpretations? It reminds us of the doctrine of sola scriptura, or one book, 36,000 denominations. Now, the one book was only rendered possible by the one church that wrote and assembled it. Remove the prior oneness from which the books were discerned in the first place, and the unity collapses into denominational fragments, each holding a piece of the whole.

Did something similar occur with the cosmos -- coincidentally, around the same time, or during the 16th century? While the Reformation begins in about 1520, they say the scientific revolution commences a mere 23 years later, in 1543. It makes one wonder if these two world-historical events aren't linked in some deeper way -- as if they're just bubbles on the surface of a much deeper continuum. Or discontinuum, as it were.

Unity. Now, this is something we insist upon, at every level and in every subjective modality and objective discipline. If this weren't the case, then neither this blog nor book would be called One Cosmos. The oneness is there, irrespective of whether we apprehend it or not.

And indeed, everyone short of the psychotic or demented apprehends it, at least on an implicit basis (and speaking as a psychologist, both psychosis and dementia are characterized by a painful psychic fragmentation, whether violent or passive, that can no longer be synthesized).

Another way of saying this is that everyone begins with an absolute, even if they pretend otherwise. Few people arrive at this realization in a straight line, and many people just call the oneness "God" and let him figure out how he is possible. Which is fine. A proper religious practice provides one with the means to articulate, approach, and assimilate the One.

In my case, I suppose I first arrived at it (i.e., the realty and not just the word) in several works by a philosopher named Errol Harris, in books such as The Reality of Time, Formal, Transcendental, and Dialectical Thinking: Logic and Reality, and the Restitution of Metaphysics (which I really ought to sell, since used copies are going for $329.13). I notice that he also has a title called One World or None, which looks to be political, in a bad way. Nevertheless, the title is sound, for either there is One Cosmos or there is none.

Why none? Because if there is no real oneness, no underlying order, then everyone is living in his own private Idaho, with no conformity or adequation to a real reality. Indeed, this is the modern and postmodern cosmos which we have inherited from Kant on down. Not coincidentally, it is the same cosmos we have inherited from Luther, who, not unlike Islam, demoted the intellect to a willful and pride-infused challenge to God and scripture. For example,

Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

Or, to be fair to Luther, he was at times on both sides of the issue, but that is going to happen once you have severed the underlying unity of faith and reason. Prof. Wiki:

Some scholars have asserted that Luther taught that faith and reason were antithetical in the sense that questions of faith could not be illuminated by reason. He wrote, "All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false," and that "Reason in no way contributes to faith.... For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things."

However, though seemingly contradictorily, he also wrote in the latter work that human reason "strives not against faith, when enlightened, but rather furthers and advances it," bringing claims he was a fideist into dispute. Contemporary Lutheran scholarship, however, has found that Luther rather seeks to separate faith and reason in order to honor the separate spheres of knowledge to which each applies.

So, separate or unified, one or many, syntheses or fragmentation? I think he wants to have it both ways in order to deny the dire implications of his epistemology, for if you deny the intellect, then to what or whom is scripture addressed? And why should we believe it? If we say "yes" to it, then it can only be with the will, not the intellect. Sad!

We're venturing far afield here. Back to unity. I haven't glanced at these books by Harris in a number of years. Let's cut to the chase and examine some of my crusty old notes to myself, as these are usually a good indication of what really stuck out for me. Examples:

--"The primordial nature of God is the ordering principle of wholeness."

--"Only the present has a vertical dimension through which floods being, consciousness, life, eternity, etc."

--"Biology embodies life; life presupposes wholeness."

--"The moment of eternity is the universal ordering principle which constitutes the processual flow into the serial structure of time."

--"History is the time it takes for humans to explicate humanness in its wholeness."

--"The reality of time establishes the reality of a whole which is nontemporal."

There's a lot more, but you get the idea. Or, if you don't, the idea is wholeness. Without it you have no idea. Literally. For without wholeness, any idea will reflect just a fragment of the intrinsic partness of things, so it will be reduced to Just Your Opinion, Man. That's how we descend from the lofty Idea of a University to the laughty reality of 36,000 grievance studies departments.

Now, why do I bring all of this up? Because just before this post got underway, I read one little line in Exercises in the Elements that reads as follows: "All understanding of the individual thing is dependent on understanding the whole." In short, this post was essentially a riff on that single sentence. Out of one bull, so much... fodder!

But how does this work, exactly? What is its Principle -- which surely must be the Mother of all Principles? For Pieper it is the principle of creation. We start here, because either the universe is created or it isn't. If it is, then that is the ultimate source of unity. If it isn't, then there is no conceivable basis for unity, say, the unity between intellect and intelligibility.

To be continued in the next post, assuming I can find this strange attractor again.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Translating the World into Reality

Continuing with the previous post, you could say that everything involves translation and therefore interpretation -- even when we are speaking the same language. I take an idea, translate it to English, pass it along to you, and then you have to reverse engineer it back into the idea. How is this even possible?

And it's not just oral and written language. What is physics but a translation of matter into mathematics? Likewise chemistry: note that we can, for example, translate water into H2O. Okay. But what happened to the water? It's gone. Obviously a new, large scale phenomenon occurs when H and O get together. What's more real, H, O, or Life? The answer may surprise you!

It's not just that water emerges. Think of all the things that are made possible by water, including life itself. H and O are useless to life unless they are in the form of water.

Think also of all the human meanings implicit in water, everything from watching a rainstorm out your window, to a cool drink on a hot day, to the vastness of the oceans, to baptism. All that -- and more -- when hydrogen and oxygen get together.

Yes Bob, that's nice and poetic and all, but does it really mean anything? Does what you're saying really have any cosmic implications?

This is indeed the nub of the gist of the crux of the matter, because I say Yes. There is a properly human world, and it is not reducible to the electrochemical, quantum, or physical worlds. Here is a vertical crossroads, and you really have only two choices: either the human world is real (I say more real than the others) or it isn't. And if it isn't, then you need to be intellectually honest, and not borrow from the illusory human world in order to sneak meaning in through the back door.

As we've said before, it ultimately comes down to God or nihilism. If you imagine there can be some middle ground, you're just fooling yourself and not to be taken seriously. I won't even argue with you, because either you see it or you don't. It's not negotiable. Truth is true even if no one recognizes it.

Nevertheless. Intriguingly, Genesis 3 implies that people don't wish to recognize this primordial truth, and that our first instinct is to try to build and inhabit that middle ground where we create the meaning. Likewise Babel.

And from the Christian perspective -- I heard this just last night -- the whole list of 613 laws in the OT is a kind of stopgap from the human side, until the gap is truly full-filled from the divine side. Obviously, no number of laws reaches infinity, just as no amount of hydrogen or oxygen has the qualities of water.

Translation. In the Incarnation, God is translated to man. His Word is translated to flesh. How is this possible? Well, first of all because translation itself is possible. Again, as indicated in the first sentence of this post, everything is translation, so why not? Who says Alpha can't be Omega, the first principle can't be last, eternal life can't take on finite life?

Recall the God-or-nihilism bifurcation mentioned above. From the nihilist perspective, any number of everyday miracles are rendered impossible, little things like life, beauty, truth, love, etc. Each of these is reducible to something less, something ultimately meaningless.

Note, however, that translation is still going on. It's just that you're translating meaning into meaninglessness. Neat trick. Do you understand the implications? If you do, you're lying to yourself, because there is no such thing as "understanding" in the alternate universe you have created. That horse left the barn once you pledged allegiance to nothing.

Anyone can get drunk on nihilism, and it's fun while it lasts. The problem is, you can never get drunk enough. Rather, sobriety -- or meaning -- keeps creeping in, which you have to knock back down with another sip of nothingness.

I well remember gulping down the existentialists -- Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Kafka, et al. So, Bob, why did you read more than one? Are you a slow learner? Or was there a Nothing beyond nothing you were seeking? Once you get it that existence is meaningless, why press the point? Why so thirsty?

The thirst for the great, the noble and the beautiful is an appetite for God that is ignored (NGD).

Camus at least got one thing right: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide." Sr. Dávila -- who combines the literary qualities of Nietzsche and Christ -- is on the same page: If the atheist does not commit suicide he has no right to be thought lucid.

It just now occurred to me how many Aphorisms go to our subject of Translation, especially the primordial kind that we scarcely think about but which undergirds a properly human life. How is this everyday translation from one realm to another even thinkable without God? One example is sufficient to make the point. Ten (which is where I'll stop) is just rubbing it in. Suffice it to say that the universe speaks; we have only to listen and translate:

--Things do not have feeling, but there is feeling in many things.

--Without aesthetic transfiguration all of reality is pedestrian.

--Aesthetics is the sensible and secular manifestation of grace.

--We are saved from daily tedium only by the impalpable, the invisible, and the ineffable.

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

--Imagination is the capacity to perceive through the senses the attributes of the object that the senses do not perceive.

--Every work of art speaks to us of God. No matter what it says.

--The imagination is not the place where reality is falsified, but where it is fulfilled.

--Mysticism is the empiricism of transcendent knowledge.

--Religion is not expressed very well in words. It is done better in architecture, sculpture, painting, and music.

Theme Song

Theme Song