Thursday, February 27, 2020

One Small Step for the Son of Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind

Why do we have these two words: appearance and reality? If your philosophy begins with the idea that we cannot know reality, then the reality behind appearances is only more appearances, all the way down. In fact, there can be no down -- or up, or any direction at all, since there is no unmoving reference by which it can be perceived.

If ground zero of modern thought is I think, therefore I am, the battle cry of postmodern thought must be I know nothing, therefore I know it all; or I am unemployable, therefore I am tenured; etc.

To repeat something Lewis said a couple of posts back, "What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience."

First, this is absolutely true, and second, it must account for much of the appeal of various forms of bonehead relativism. And every philosophy necessarily reduces to bonehead relativism in the absence of God.

To be scrupulously fair to relativists, they would insist that my belief in God is just bonehead absolutism: that the only thing we can know is that there is no truth, only opinions and perspectives ultimately grounded in interest. Granted, while it is true that there is always a perspective, it doesn't follow that perspective is all there is.

For one thing, unlike an animal, we can know we have a "point of view," and awareness of this at once situates us outside or above this perspective. In short, we may partake of objectivity and detachment, which are quasi-divine superpowers -- and literally so, since perception of perception, knowledge of knowledge, and consciousness of consciousness are all immaterial powers that transcend nature.

Along these lines, Schuon writes that

Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing. Among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies -- or proves -- that what confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish, and what makes it wholly what it is, is the Absolute alone.

In other words, we mustn't reduce human intelligence to the least thing it can do -- i.e., what it shares with the animals -- but approach it from the perspective of what it can uniquely do, and what no animal could ever do. The end illuminates the beginning; we can't know what a seed is for until we see the mature tree.

In order to prove the existence of God, one need only prove the existence of man. I mean this literally, because in claiming man is totally reducible to animal, animal to matter, matter to physics, etc., one is affirming that man doesn't properly exist -- that he is only the appearance of a deeper reality consisting entirely of subhuman law + stuff.

Could be. In the end, it's either something like that or something like this:

The Intellect, in a certain sense, is ‘divine’ for [i.e., from the perspective of] the mind and ‘created’ or ‘manifested’ for God: it is nonetheless necessary to distinguish between a ‘created Intellect’ and an ‘uncreated Intellect,’ the latter being the divine Light and the former the reflection of this Light at the center of Existence; ‘essentially’, they are One, but ‘existentially’, they are distinct...

What this really means, however you wish to characterize it, is that first there is Intellect: it is In the Beginning. It is what we call divine, and we have the word "divine" -- or "sacred" or "holy" -- in order to mark a kind of primordial distinction known to all men at any time, by virtue of being men. Everyone knows that some things are sacred, especially people who don't believe in the sacred, and that it is distinct from the profane and secular.

As we've discussed many times, leftism is a religion; or better, because it superficially denies religiosity, the denied religious energies and categories return in thinly disguised form.

Political correctness, for example, is an enforcement mechanism used to discourage and punish heretics and blasphemy. "Cancel culture" is just excommunication. Victimhood is righteousness, Trump is the devil, and the NY Times is scripture. The saints are too numerous to mention. Elite universities are progressive seminaries, and you shall have no gods before diversity. You are full of ecological sin, and you must purify yourself of carbon and its many minions. You must confess the sin of White Privilege and make reparations.

Man also has imagination and creativity, but the intellect is not these; it is not "active," but rather, passive and receptive, as container to contained, female to male, or soul to God:

The intellect is a receptive faculty and not a productive power: it does not “create,” it receives and transmits; it is a mirror reflecting reality in a manner that is adequate and therefore effective.

This is precisely what it means to be created in the image of God. If you want to be purely logical about it, put it this way: 1) we have certain abilities only a god could have, 2) we are not God, 3) therefore we must partake of God, or be a prolongation of God, or somehow share in his nature. But beware #2: we are not God.

Every profane philosophy affirms premise (1) but denies premise (2), which leads to... well, history, AKA, the fall prolonged in time, the cosmic battle between men who believe in God and men who believe they are Gods. In this Age of Metaphysical Shrinkage,

the intellect is atrophied to the point of being reduced to a mere virtuality, although doubtless there is no watertight partition between it and the reason, for a sound process of reasoning indirectly transmits something of the intellect; be that as it may, the respective operations of the reason -- or the mind -- and of the intellect are fundamentally different from the point of view that interests us here, despite certain appearances due to the fact that every man is a thinking being, whether he be wise or ignorant.

That was a bit of a mouthful, but it goes to what we said above about the impossibility of irreligiosity, for even the most hardened atheist with the most shriveled intellect nonetheless uses a desiccated reason in order to make his case, and reason cannot but help to transmit something of the light and truth that surpass it. Reason itself (like life or freedom) is always good, even if it is inevitably used for bad ends.

Now, here is a key point: yes, the intellect is simultaneously composed of light while being an adequation to it. But it may be compared to a candle against the sun, nor would you light a match in order to get a better look at the sun. That would be stupid, but nevertheless, that is what atheism is: I will flick my little Bic to disprove the existence of Light!

But put that stupid thing down and look up at the sun! For

There is no difficulty in the fact that pure intelligence -- the intellect -- immensely surpasses thought, and that there is no continuity -- despite the identity of essence -- between a concept as such and reality... to lament over the shortcomings of thought is to ask it to be something that it is not; this is the classical error of philosophers who seek to enclose everything in the cogito alone [I think therefore I am].

Rather, and we mean this literally: He thinks, therefore I am; and He is, therefore I think. We cannot be men if there isn't someone superior to man. Or, one small step for the Son of Man, one giant leap for mankind.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mono-realism vs. Oops²

Miracles. What are they? It depends. For flatlanders, a miracle, even if it occurs, cannot occur, therefore it didn't. I don't discount this philosophy, except to say that it is a philosophy -- a philosophy which regards it as axiomatic that miracles cannot exist.

The trouble with an a priori axiom such as this is that it forecloses a possible dimension of reality -- as mentioned in yesterday's post, we may unwittingly enclose ourselves in tautology and then imagine that our method of looking just so happens to coincide with all that can be seen.

What are the chances of this occurring in a random universe (which would actually no uni-verse at all)? Now, that would be miraculous -- as if the keys to the cosmos just happen to be left in the only place where we are constrained (e.g., by natural selection) to look.

But what if we are under no such constraint? In other words, what if the human mind isn't just a contingent epiphenomenon adapted to an accidental universe? What if our world isn't just an appearance mirroring appearances -- oops² -- but rather, consciousness of, and conformity to, the Absolute? What if we are the real mirrors of that which we may truly know?

Well, science -- whether explicitly or implicitly -- says as much: that real adequation is possible between mind and reality. It's just that we 1) take this seriously (i.e., draw out the implications), and 2) posit multiple dimensions of reality which require very different modes of knowing.

Not to insult your intelligence so early in the morning, but understanding a chemical reaction, a mathematical equation, a work of art, or a person, require very different approaches. And understanding God requires all of these and then some -- in part because all of these are mirrors of, and pathways back to, the divine mind.

In short, to say mono-theism is to say mono-realism: there is one reality, but with diverse modes of... how to put it... output and input. We are always situated in a spiral between Intelligence and Intelligibility, but there are diverse manifestations and modes of each.

My son, for example, is gifted with a musical intelligence that allows him to perceive things others can't. He has access to a whole world that is more or less silent to others. Conversely, it's looking like math is a closed book to him. At any rate, he has zero interest. Except to say that music is -- of course, and among other things -- flowing math. So he loves math, just not the frozen kind.

But miracles. It's always helpful to warm up the mind by conducting some stretching exercises with our favorite nonlocal trainers. Schuon, for example:

This phenomenon [the miraculous] has in itself nothing mysterious or problematical about it: the so-called natural laws of a lower degree of Existence can always be suspended through the intervention of a higher degree, whence the perfectly logical term “supernatural”: but this degree also has its laws, which means that the miracle is “natural” on the universal scale, while being “supernatural” on the earthly scale.

Here again, it isn't so much that natural and supernatural are "out there." Rather, if they aren't "in here" as well, neither will be seen.

For example, for a primitive animist there is no natural world, no world uninhabited by spirits -- just as for the primitive naturalist there is no spiritual world that can't be reduced to a preferred building block (e.g., atoms, chemistry, DNA, the dialectic of history, etc.). But of course, both (spirit-and-matter) always exist and cannot not exist together.

More Schuon:

The miraculous is that which is due to a direct, thus vertical intervention of a heavenly Power, and not to a horizontal progression of causality.

Recall what was said yesterday about how humans beings are at once links in the great chain of being, and yet, the broken (feel free to interpret that word in two ways) links where freedom intrudes. You could pose the question as a paradoxical koan: What is the cause of indeterminism? In other words, what compels freedom?

Perhaps a better way of approaching this crossroads is to say that there is an unbroken chain of horizontal causation from Big Bang (or whenever you wish to begin) to Little Now. But this must -- MUST! -- be supplemented by a vertical chain that dangles from -- let's call it O -- to... let's call it the Big Now, because it's where everything happens and can only happen (blindingly soph-evident, since the past is gone and the future doesn't exist).

Now, nothing can dangle from above if it isn't anchored in something. Let's say Dupree wants to hang a chandelier in his converted tool shed. He's afraid of heights, and also a little buzzed, so he doesn't want to use a ladder. He solves the problem by purchasing a very long chain. But no matter how long the chain... you get the picture.

Same with free will. Here we can agree with the naturalist, that if nature is all there is, then freedom simply cannot exist. We may imagine it exists, but this is just an illusion.

But this actually makes no sense, since knowledge of necessity is itself a manifestation of freedom. In other words, if we were wholly determined, we could never know it. Nor could we have any valid knowledge, of anything.

The problem is solved if we simply sober up (attain objectivity) and overcome our fear of heights (theophobia), and attach freedom and truth -- will and intellect -- to the ceiling.

If truth and freedom aren't anchored above, then they simply cannot be. Likewise beauty. Dávila:

Aesthetics cannot give recipes, because there are no methods for making miracles.

Not even with Auto-Tune, a drum machine, and the most sincere adolescent doggerel.

The free act is only conceivable in a created universe. In the universe that results from a free act.

To plagiaphrase Thomas, an error concerning the creation ends in false thinking about God and everything else. We're just about out of time this morning, but let's end by agreeing that there is really only one miracle, although everything else participates in it: the miracle of existence from being, or being from beyond-being. We'll sort it out in the next post.

Monday, February 24, 2020

We All Live in a Leaky Submarine

Last night I finally got around to watching Das Boot, the 1981 World War II film about life in a German U-boat. This post isn't about that. Rather, it's about the analogy of living in a little capsule submerged in an ocean of phenomena, and yet, sealed off from any actual contact with it.

What, for example, is the most salient feature of the ocean? Yes, it is wet. And yet, the submarine crew never touches water. Unless something goes terribly wrong -- which it did for 30,000 of the 40,000 men who served in das boots.

I'm tempted to cut straight to the chase and propose that the Christian is a swimmer, while most any other philosophy one can think of is either inside a submarine or floating atop the water. The latter resembles swimming except that only the ship touches water, not the crew.

Nevertheless, there are always rumors of water, and sometimes the real thing if the ship sinks. Sometimes reality floods in... No, it always does, right? This is our reason for hope. The progressive Ship of Fools is taking on water and going down as we speak.

Bob, this sounds like another one of those strained analogies. Where is this going? Well, modern philosophy begins with Kant, who places us inside a skin-encapsulated submarine, such that we never touch reality -- the noumenon -- but only have access to various instrument readings, i.e., those "a priori laws of nature that apply to all objects before we experience them."

See how this works? We come into the world with various factory-installed instruments and idiot lights such as substance, causality, and relation. These instruments may or may not tell us about "reality," whatever that is. We can never know. Again, all we can know is the instrument readings.

But this is a terribly unsatisfying metaphysic, which is why it is generally ignored. It is also incoherent and self-refuting, because Kant is simultaneously telling us about the nature of reality while claiming the impossibility of doing so.

But that's not my point. My point is that science, for example, gives us only instrument readings, but then goes right ahead anyway and conflates the readings with the reality. This is scientism, precisely -- the idea that what can be seen with the scientific method just so happens to coincide with all that can be seen. Like anyone could know that! Besides, scientism obviously isn't seen with the scientific method.

As a matter of fact, I was just reading about this yesterday in C.S. Lewis's surprisingly Coonish Miracles (contained in this giant compilation of seven books, an incredible bargain at eight or nine bucks).

Put it this way: we can never get away from those Two Trees in the garden. We have a choice: let's call one the trees natural, the other supernatural. Note that the first can never account for the second. But the second easily accommodates the first. So why do people choose the first?

I can think of several reasons, but the main one is pride. Functionally speaking we might call it "self-enclosure." This anticipates the principle that ultimate reality is trinitarian or relational, so to choose vertical self-enclosure is to choose... badly.

This is Lewis's approach. i.e., that we must choose either a metaphysic of naturalism or of supernaturalism. Eh, I don't really like the latter. It's too loaded. How about transnatural? In any event, Kant is half-correct in the sense that our perception of reality will definitely be colored by the categories we bring to it. It's just that we have a choice in the matter. We can touch water. Unless we choose not to:

What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

What comes first, the evidence or the metaphysic? Again, Kant is half-correct, because our perceptions will be conditioned by our metaphysic. But it's really a complementarity between evidence and metaphysic, because while we must be guided by evidence, some evidence -- indeed, the most important -- is only discerned with recourse to the metaphysic.

To take an obvious example, in my tree, truth is an adequation to reality. But just yesterday we had a visitor who disagrees with this proposition; rather he claims that "any communication is always about reality, no matter what the content." This is the kind of extreme postmodern view that equates Mozart and Taylor Swift.

The same commenter holds the view that "The assertion that deception or manipulation reduces a communication to useless unreality is clearly not the case." This is straight out of the leftist ploybook, in that, once language is no longer an adequation, it is all about power, not truth. And power is quite useful to the left, while truth isn't.

In a way, it all comes down to Truth and Freedom vs. Power and Necessity. Don't worry, we'll have much more to say about the subject, but we're running out of time this morning.

No thoroughgoing Naturalist believes in free will: for free will would mean that human beings have the power of independent action, the power of doing something more or other than what was involved by the total series of events.

Humans are at once links in the Great Chain of Being (the "total series of events") while being breaks in that very chain (the power of independent action). How can this be?

That's not how I would put the question. Rather, I would turn it around and ask, "what kind of cosmos must this be in order for free beings to exist?" In other words, begin with what is both experience-near and self-evident. If your metaphysic can't account for the miracle of freedom, it can't account for anything else, because only a free being can know truth to begin with, let alone deny it.

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