Saturday, April 18, 2020

May the Best Delusion Win

You don't say:

The conflict between passion and reason makes up a major portion of the drama of [man's] existence on earth; and when the struggle is over, passion very often emerges the victor. This is the sad epic of humanity from the beginning (Brennan).

Frankly, I think this understates the power of reason to mess things up just as badly as passion. For as Chesterton said, "A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason." One can go off the shallow end just as easily as the deep end.

The problem is that reason, in order to get off the ground, must begin with an appeal to self-evidence. However, most people hide the evidence and proceed with the reason anyway.

An example of this occurred the other day. As you know, we homeschool our son -- not just because of the Chinese virus but because of the far more dangerous and deadly progressive virus that has devastated California. Because of this pandemic of idiocy, it isn't safe to have contact with any state-mediated institution.

Anyway, he was watching some kind of science video that happened to be narrated by planetarium director Neil Dyson. I forget why, but I reassured my son that whatever Dyson says about science is probably sound, even though he is probably in error when he strays from his lane and opines on anything unrelated to whatever it is he actually knows about. He is as superficial and conventional as one would expect of someone whom the MSM has anointed a Pundit.

But I don't actually know that much about him, only that he is a figure of fun amongst people I respect. So I consulted with Prof. Wiki, who confirms that Dyson regards philosophy as "useless" and is "unconvinced by any claims anyone has ever made about the existence or the power of a divine force operating in the universe."

Now, why would anyone care what a science popularizer believes about anything unrelated to his role of ratifying the Conventional Wisdom? No doubt because he is an effective apostle of the left's naive religiosity and simplistic philosophy, plus he's a Scientist of Color, so there are bonus points for virtue signaling (which is of course not his fault).

Like a Bill Nye or Carl Sagan, his opinions pose no threat to the progressive agenda and worldview. He can be trusted not to go near the science of IQ, or the absence of science of transgenderism, nor point out the wild inaccuracy of the global warming models. He's safe. He won't poke his head out of the Matrix.

Timeout for timelessness:

--Each one sees in the world only what he deserves to see.

--The simplistic ideas in which the unbeliever ends up believing are his punishment.

--He who speaks of the farthest regions of the soul soon needs a theological vocabulary (Dávila).

The following paragraph describes what the philosophistry of the flatlander excludes, nor it does this expanded view limit science one iota -- rather, it places it in the context of a far grander vision, one worthy of the human station:

[W]ith the advent of the thinking process, a completely new world is opened up to us: a universe of ideas and volitions, an immaterial expanse of creativeness, a region liberated from the palpabilities of sense....

Because it can overreach the restrictions of matter and rid itself of all time-space dimensions, it is truly infinite in its potentialities of understanding, a microcosmos which, by its ability to know and become the universe, is actually the universe (Brennan).

IS the universe -- not in the manner of perception-is-reality, but rather, because to exist is to be intelligible. And

The highest type of living activity consists in the intellectual grasping of reality. This penetrative power of mind presupposes that what is real is by that very fact intelligible, otherwise it has no title to reality (Brennan).

This paragraph adverts to one of our first principles, but it is hardly arbitrary or indefensible, rather self-evident. For either the mind can penetrate beneath the ever shifting surface of things to the intelligible reality beneath, or it can't. And if it can't, then scientific knowledge isn't possible, let alone anything that transcends or grounds science.

Without knowledge of essences and universals, we would be like animals, confined to sensory data about our surface contact with matter. "Knowledge," such as it is, would be reduced to prescientific rumors, gossip, anecdotes, and single instances. Generalization and induction would not exist because they could not exist. Nor could deduction exist, because there would be no principles or axioms from which to do so. It would be a subhuman world, precisely, with no possibility of escape or inscape.

It is quite obvious that the senses do not capture the inner meaning of things. They are in surface contact, so to speak, with their objects; and the best they can do is to register the accidental or phenomenal qualities of matter.

Nor could they ever know these qualities as accidental or phenomenal, because these latter can only be understood in contrast to the necessary and noumenal. As freedom is knowledge of necessity, reality is understanding of appearances (because they can only be understood as appearances from the perspective of a higher or deeper view). The intellect

plunges beneath the surface and grasps the very thing which holds all phenomenal qualities together. The senses exist in a sort of perpetual twilight.... Intellect, by contrast, moves in the clear atmosphere of immaterial knowledge.

A man who is only a man isn't even that, for

Man alone, of all earthly creatures, exhibits a complete emergence from the conditions of subjectivism that make the animal's knowledge concrete and particular and restricted to the tangible realities of sense.

Bottom line: man is the animal that may know reality. If not, then what are we debating? Whose delusion is more powerful?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Love is the Answer!!! Unless it's the Problem

A small but important point: "no sensitive power can reflect upon itself" (Brennan.) In other words, our five senses don't know they're sensing; they cannot reflect upon themselves. Rather, their knowledge is limited to that which they sense, which is always something material.

Nor can one sense know what any other sense is up to. Eyes know nothing about sound, as ears know nothing about light. To understand that the bluebird is chirping is an immaterial synthesis of sensory information, not reducible to mere sense.

I remember back in high school, a rumor made the rounds that it was possible to do homework in one's sleep. Apparently, all that mattered was that the soundwaves of the lecture enter one's ears. Being that I detested school from the depths of my being, this was an attractive proposition. Why doesn't it work? Mainly because learning can only take place in the depths of one's b. It doesn't take place on the surface of the senses.

Analogously, I always listen to music when going to sleep. Upon awakening I can remember the last song I heard before falling asleep, often even the point in the middle of a song. Obviously the music continued playing and entered my ears. Or did it? Music is only synthesized in a human mind. It isn't merely sensed, although the sense of hearing is obviously required in order to apprehend the music. So the senses are involved, but converting the sensory vibrations into music is pure nonsense. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Along these lines, Brennan writes that

The basic reason why sense is unable to make a complete return upon itself is the material texture of its being. A faculty that is able to reflect upon itself is necessarily devoid of all matter; and so its object is not limited like that of the senses.

That's a bold claim in these tenured times: that the most quintessential human power is devoid of ALL matter. After all, we live in a dark and materialist age in which nothing can be devoid of all matter except, of course, the doctrine of materialism. But in order to be a proper materialist, one must believe both that everything is reducible to matter and that nothing outside or beyond matter can have any real existence.

However, as we already said (in the previous post) A universe of matter alone would be simply unintelligible, period, full stop, end of story. Matter devoid of form is the "essence" of unintelligibility, if there could be such a thing. But there can be no such thing, except conceptually, for we never encounter uninformed matter. You could say that "matter" (or what Thomists call prime matter) is analogous to the placeholder 0 in math. In order for 0 to be something, it requires another digit. Otherwise nothing is nothing.

Now, to be human is to know that we sense and to understand that we know, and both of these powers are immaterial. How can this be? By virtue of what principle can an immaterial entity exist in a material cosmos? Well, math surely exists, and it is obviously immaterial. No one ever saw pi, or the square root of two, or Obama's college GPA. Yes, but math is objective. We're talking about the human subject. What's that about?

Not to run ahead of ourselves, but there is no such thing as an object in the absence of a subject. These two categories aren't just existential complementarities but ontologically irreducible to anything else, all the way down to the goround of being. Thanks to important advances in theology, man was able to move beyond the wild or tame speculations of pre-Christian metaphysicians, even while maintaining our sizable lead over post-Christian cranks and malcontents.

That probably sounds like a gag, but theology advances no less than does science. This obviously doesn't imply that the object of theology evolves, which would be absurd. Rather, our understanding deepens; to be precise, it can proceed forward, toward the Godhead, or back, in the direction of soul dead materialism or braindead atheism.

Philosophy, theology, and science are different activities, and let no Raccoon suggest it isn't helpful to distinguish them. However, we don't leave it at that. Rather, we distinguish in order to unite, in part because the distinctions are in the subject, not the object; and even the practice of science is always in the direction of deeper principles that unite disparate facts.

Put another way, realty is one, while our approaches to it are diverse. If one forgets this, then one will inevitably "evolve backward" and elevate something less than God to God, in order to make the unsettling diversity go away.

Put it this way: ether one acknowledges God or one conflates and confuses the non- or anti-God with God. Which is why idolatry is such an intrinsic error. Intellectual sin is probably worse than the other kind, because it can injure so many more people. You could say that a single crime of passion may be a tragedy, while the crimes of ideology are a statistic.

Speaking of which, Brennan notes that

When we sift the matter down, it will be found that love is at the root of every passion. It is, in a sense, the beginning and end, the alpha and omega, of all the movements of our appetites.

Another bold statement, but the first thing one must understand is that love itself is neither here nor there. Rather, there is disordered love and rightly ordered love.

A quintessential example of the former is the left's cliché that we shouldn't discriminate against others based on WHO THEY LOVE!!! (sic). Taken on its own terms, it means that love has no proper object or order. Which is precisely analogous to insisting that knowledge has no object or order. Which is to say that truth not only doesn't exist, but is an impossibility.

Which is to say: anarchy, chaos, and nihilism.

Or maybe you haven't noticed.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Strange Neighborhood

Let's stipulate that man is without question the most interesting and important fact in all of creation. If you can't stipulate to this, then you haven't yet begun to think.

I say this because thinking isn't just anything. Rather, it is ordered to reality, and exists for that reason. And unless you are a bit dim or just plain tenured, you will notice -- for starters -- that man qua man is the only creature that inhabits two very different worlds.

Indeed, man effortlessly reconciles these worlds in his own being. There are various theories of how this can be so, but they're just theories. Irrespective of your little theory, the fact remains that there is a material reality and an immaterial reality. Modern sophisticates like to reduce the latter to the former, while unsophisticated retro-Platonists such as Deepak prefer it the other way around -- i.e., "consciousness" is all.

But neither of these approaches fits the case. They're just two sides of the same sophistry aimed at making the problem go away instead of confronting it head on in all its strangeness: that we are embodied and we are ensouled, and although we can distinguish these, they are "not two." The body isn't analogous to an empty vessel into which an immaterial soul is inserted, nor is the soul a material entity or side effect of physics and chemistry. In reality,

man stands on the fringe of two universes: one, the world of matter and material dimensions; the other, the world of spirit, which has neither length, nor breadth, nor weight, nor any other tangible property (Brennan).

What a queer neighborhood! On the one hand, man shares the same zip code as animals, plants, minerals, atoms, and quarks. Yet, man is also "neighbor to the angels. Truly, he is a denizen of two worlds, a horizon and a meeting place. Though angelic by his intelligence, yet he is not a pure spirit; though sensitive and passionate by his brute powers, yet he is not entirely material" (ibid.).

The question isn't that this is the case, but how it is the case: by virtue of what principle(s) can such a strange situation obtain?

We mentioned a few post back that people naturally wonder how a divine nature and a human nature can coexist in the same person. Nevertheless, it is equally puzzling how animal nature and human nature can coexist in the same person, which is to say, in all of us, in varying proportions.

This is probably going to be a non-linear post, since I'm just flipping from page to page. Or perhaps we should put a positive spin on it and say it will be a holographic post, such that each part will reflect the whole.

At any rate, Brennan -- writing back in 1941, before it would have been controversial -- makes the surprising claim that the growing baby is never, nor can it ever be, "inside" the mother. As soon as you think about it, you'll understand why:

Man's body may be likened to a cylindrical mass of of matter, perforated by several tracts or cavities that open to the outside world.

For example, there is the alimentary tract, the respiratory tract, the urinary tract, the uterine tract. This being the case, there are obviously "two surfaces to the human body: an outside surface covered by skin; and an inside surface covered by mucosae."

So, just because something is "in" your stomach it doesn't mean it is in your body per se. Rather, digestion is the process of absorbing and transforming it into the body, precisely. And the most complete scientific account of this process will never explain how an it -- food -- is transformed into I -- the person.

It's an everyday analogue to the mystery of life itself -- of how, with the appearance of life, existence becomes experience. By virtue of what principle? And is this related to the principle of how two natures can coexist in one person?

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Yes.

Back to the growing baby. If we want to be literal about it, the fetus is never inside the mother's body; rather, only in contact with the inside surface. If you want a baby to be literally inside your body, you'll have to eat one.

Speaking of outside and inside -- or interior and exterior -- Brennan makes the point that "certain requirements are demanded of the object if it is to be known, that is, if it is to be united with the subject."

In other words, waaaaaay before we can claim to know anything about any thing, there must be a principle by virtue of which such knowledge is even possible. What is this principle?

Here again, I suspect it will ultimately be related to the two mentioned above. But if we're going to know something -- anything -- the knowing subject and knowable object must share something in common. What sort of something? Well,

a certain degree of immateriality is a primary requisite. A universe of matter alone would be simply unintelligible.

Now, what renders matter knowable? Its form, which is the intelligibility that may be known by intelligence, both of which are obviously immaterial. So, man dwells in a haunted neighborhood, with invisible ghosts of intelligibility running around everywhere.