Saturday, May 02, 2020

Genuine and Fake Uselessness

The "perfect idea," says Brennan, "would be one which, from the depths of its utter simplicity, would picture the whole schema of cosmic reality in a single act of understanding."

This idea would also be perfectly useless. The other day, a troll asked what we think we are doing with our life -- what is our purpose, what do we hope to accomplish, what is our mission, etc. Well, we do not wish to brag, but our goal is to be as utterly useless as the perfectly useless Idea toward which we are being attracted.

Yes, the ultimate humble brag.

Now, metaphysics is the last word in uselessness, or at least the last human word before one leaps into the translinguistic void. According to Pieper, metaphysical knowledge

refers to knowledge concerned with the whole of reality, with the structure of the world as a whole.... It is the application of our knowing faculties -- from deep within our spirit -- to the totality of all that is, to the meaning and foundation of all reality in toto: i.e., the application of the mind to its complete and undiminished object.

Commenting on another post, the same troll referenced above confessed that, "I don't get it. The intelligence of man is potentially total? So what is total intelligence? To know everything? And how is this totality explained by a transcendent reality? I'm not making the connection."

There is a deep connection between the perfect idea and our ultimately futile attempt to know and describe it: they are equally pointless.

"This kind of knowledge," writes Pieper, "is what Aristotle says is the only free kind." And by "free," he means "non-practical," in contrast to practical knowledge aimed at achieving an end.

I have a friend who is a contractor. He can do pretty much anything. He could build a guesthouse in the backyard made out of junk sitting in my garage. He might be the most useful person I know. In other words, we are polar opposites. For

the kind of knowledge which deals with the ultimate foundation of the world is supposed to not "serve" a purpose.

Rather, it is "not even possible or thinkable to put it to any use: 'it alone is there for its own sake.'"

And this means it is free: no strings of purposefulness attached. Like the human person and other ultimate goods, it can never be a means to an end. You might say it is "sabbath knowledge," when we stand back from the whole existentialada and just enjoy the handiwork.

Having said that, we can never quite get there. Try as we might, we can never become perfectly useless:

[T]he knowledge that focuses on the totality of the world, purely for the sake of knowing and to that extent free -- this knowledge cannot possibly be achieved by man; he never fully grasps it; it is therefore not something that man possesses without limitation, since as a human being he himself is subject to many kinds of necessities.... One would have to say that only God can achieve this knowledge completely....

So, only God can be perfectly useless, for he is the ultimate "for his own sake." Then again, the very essence of God is for the sake of the other: God is substance-in-relation, such that the Father makes himself useful by giving himself to the Son, and vice versa. This cannot be for the sake of something else; it is not as if the Father has an ulterior agenda or secret payoff in so pouring himself into the Son.

It must be the same with creation. If creation is an icon of trinitarian love, then it too can have no practical purpose, rather, a wholly impractical one.... What am I trying to say? Perhaps this:

First, however much man is a practical being who needs to use the things of the world to meet his requirements for living, he does not acquire his real riches through technical subordination of the forces of nature but through the purely theoretical knowledge of reality.

The existence of man is all the richer the more deeply he has access to reality and the more it is opened up to him. Through his knowledge he achieves the purest realization of his being, so that even his ultimate perfection and fulfillment consist in knowledge...

And we're back to paragraph one, the Perfect -- and perfectly useless -- Idea.

Anaxagoras expresses it his own way when, in answer to the question, "Why were you born?" he says: "To look at the sun, the moon and the sky" -- by which he would not have meant the physical heavenly bodies but the construction of the world as a whole (Pieper).

A final point: science is obviously practical. But to the extent that it transforms to scientism, it tries to be as useless as metaphysics, but only renders itself soulless and nihilistic, which is another thing entirely. It is a pseudo-uselessness, a nothing masquerading as everything. It doesn't release the intellect into freedom, but rather, eliminates freedom at the root.

Pieper ends with a crack by Boethius: The human soul is necessarily at its freest when it remains in contemplation of the divine spirit.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

O <--> (k) Boomer

I'd like to wrap up our discussion of Thomistic Psychology so we can move on to the next subject, whatever it is. Much of this material isn't new per se. In fact, it's straight out of the Raccoon playbook, except I arrived at it in a circuitous and nonlinear manner, just scratching my intuitchin' and following my whimful thinking wherever it loiters. Given our very different approaches, it's rather striking that we somehow ended up in the same place, more or less.

The intellect of man has nothing to start with, yet it is potentially a whole creation. It reaches out and conquers the world by the process of becoming the world (Brennan).

Turns out that knowing and being are very much linked; in fact, if they're not, then there's nothing to talk about but our own neuropsychology. One could express the relation of knowledge to being with a very simple formula: O <--> (k).

The philosophistry of materialism makes no sense, because it cannot make sense; it is literally the denial of intelligibility, of intelligence, and of any real relation between them:

the singular does not resist understanding because it is singular, but because it is material, since nothing is understood except immaterially (emphasis mine).

A single tree, for example, isn't understood as a tree, because doing so requires the abstract concept of treeness. "The essences of corporeal things are opaque rather than translucent, so far as our ability to understand them is concerned."

In fact, it is impossible for us to imagine such a world of absolute singularities, because we would be reduced -- literally -- to psychosis. The psychotic person lives in a world of terrifying novelty, with every object in each moment de-linked, so to speak, from the others; one exits meaningful history and enters a catastrophic collidescope from which there's no escape from the constant collisions.

Ogden describes it well: "symbol and symbolized are emotionally indistinguishable since there is no interpreting self to mediate between" them. "Thoughts and feelings" become "palpable objects and forces that appear, disappear, contaminate, transform, destroy, rescue, etc." Such a person

may shake his head to get rid of tormenting feelings, may literally put his thoughts into a letter and send the letter to the person who should hold these thoughts, or may request x-rays in order to be able to see the things inside of him that are driving him crazy.

Or, he may put his disturbing thoughts and feelings into President Trump, which solves one problem only to create another: the unenending torment of Orange Man Bad! Not only is this story as old as politics, but the raison d'etre of vulgar politics. The founders saw and recognized this, and hoped to create a system that would neutralize it.

But right away political philosophy devolved into faction, and here we are. Beneath the conviction that politics can solve one's problems is the fantasy that politics is responsible for one's problems. So, hating President Trump is every bit as sensible as putting one's sins into an animal and killing it. It even works. For awhile, at which point a new sacrifice is necessary. This is why the News Cycle was invented by the Aztec. See Bailie for details.

Note that the process is "psychotic," even though we don't label it as such. But clearly, a different sort of logic is at play when we enact such an unconscious political phantasy. Come to think of it, The Symmetry of God explains the basis of the process in both health and illness.

For there is a healthy basis for such confusion of symbol and symbolized, for example, in the experience of art. In appreciating drama, one must "lose one's mind" and give oneself over to the imaginary world. This constitutes the healthy use of a power that becomes unhinged and autonomous in various states of pathology.

For example, what is a conspiracy theory but an imaginary drama into which one projects oneself? I've been binge-watching The Man in the High Castle, but its alternative world is no more bizarre than Rachel Maddow's long-running soap opera, The Russian Operative in the White House, which I occasionally cringe-watch.

Back to Brennan (Robert, not John). Like the materialist, we begin with material objects. However, we don't end there (in truth, neither does the materialist, except he has no principle to explain how he gets from first base -- sensation -- to second -- abstraction). An angelic intelligence requires no object, but can proceed straight to the essence. But we aren't angels, although some people come close. Not for nothing is Aquinas called the "angelic doctor." Schuon too seems to fly in that gossamer plane, right at the threshold between the local and nonlocal.

But for the restavus earthbound dirtclods, our knowledge "is not central but radial knowledge. It proceeds inward from without, and reaches the center only by starting from the periphery. It apprehends the essences of sensible things, not in themselves, but in the symbols which these essences manifest to the senses."

In fact, I think this might constitute a fork in the road between Thomas and Frithjof, because, if I am not mistaken, Schuon believes the True Metaphysician has access to the principial world of a priori truth. There are permanent truths we can know directly and infallibly, and indeed, we have a right to these truths (along with an obligation to know and live from them). Let me see if I can dig up a suitable passage.

It is indispensable to know at the outset that there are truths inherent in the human spirit that are as if buried in the "depths of the heart," which means that they are contained as potentialities or virtualities in the pure Intellect: these are the principial and archetypal truths, those which prefigure and determine all the others (Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism).

I suppose I'm partial to the Schuonian view, while also maintaining a healthy respect for the Gnostic temptation: the Tower of Babel, the Promethean usurpation of divinity, the idea that we can build our own stairway to heaven. That always ends badly, although it can be lucrative while it lasts. Humility is the thing. If it doesn't vary directly with knowledge, then you're doing it wrong. Certain truths have moral and characterological prerequisites, which is why we don't toss our pearls before trolls or give what is holy to the Dems.

For Schuon, not all knowledge is from the periphery to the center. I will speak only for myself, and say that it must be a two way street, or better, an inspirling circularity between God's descent and our ascent, bearing in mind that the latter is strictly impossible in the absence of the former. It is in this context that I would understand the following passage:

if there were no pure Intellect -- the intuitive and infallible faculty of the immanent Spirit -- neither would there be reason, for the miracle of reasoning can be explained and justified only by the miracle of intellection. Animals can have no reason because they are incapable of conceiving the Absolute; in other words, if man possesses reason, together with language, it is because he has access in principle to the suprarational vision of the Real and consequently to metaphysical certitude.

So, the intelligence of man is potentially total, "and this totality is explained only by a transcendent reality to which the intelligence is proportioned."


O <--> (k) boomer.

Monday, April 27, 2020

On the Space Between Appearances & Reality, Time & History, Subject & Object

The following mess is what results if I disable the filter and just let it rip, without thinking about whether it makes any sense to the reader.

I'm going to start with a quote from Thomistic Psychology, which provoked the whole fiasco:

Subject and object must in some manner be related if we are not to lose our grip on reality. Related they certainly are.... But separated, too, they must be, if existence in the intentional order is different from existence in the real order.

On the one hand, everything is what it is. On the other, nothing is what it appears to be. There is reality; and there are appearances. However, we only ever experience the former in terms of the latter. Animals too only have contact with appearances, except they don't know it. Nor do they not know it. Rather, they only know what they know, in a closed neuro-instinctual loop.

How did human beings ever exit this loop? Some people insist we never did. If that's the case, how do they communicate the idea to us?

In any event, it seems -- no, it is the case -- that there is a kind of breach or crack in the cosmos, and that this crack is everything. We can't deny it without reverting to animality, but nor can we ever fill it without exiting humanness from the other end. Supposing we manage to escape, we don't become better than human, rather, like a human only worse. This is, for example, what ideologues do, i.e., imagine a world unfit for humans.

Now, this crack in the cosmic egg is both spatial and temporal. This latter is what we call "history," and here again, it's not something we can ever stop, or from which we can ever disembark. Except when we can, in which case we are also plunged into a world in which everything is what it is -- the world alluded to in paragraph one, prior to the real world where nothing is what it appears to be.

That real human world is full of irony, not to mention humor, ambiguity, and play. Which is why ideologues are never funny, and why late night comedy has become so unfunny. You can't be an ideologue and a comedian at the same time. In North Korea you can't make fun of Kim Jong Un, nor in Iran ridicule the mullahs.

You might think things are different here in the U.S., since our late night ideologues constantly ridicule the president and his supporters. But they aren't permitted to laugh at or even point out the absurdity of figures such as Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Joe Biden, Jerry Nadler, Al Gore, etc.

Back to history. There is the historical stream into which we are born, and our own personal/developmental history situated within it: wheels within wheels. Let's call the first (H), the second (h). Now, one of the most fascinating things about (H) is how easily it can be distorted by (h) due to emotional, cognitive, and spiritual pathologies of various kinds.

I was reminded of this when bashing out the previous post, with reference to a book called The Matrix of the Mind, which I read back in grad school in 1987 or so. It made a big impression on me at the time, but I wonder how it squares with my current, more traditional approach to things? Can it be translated to my current language?

Recall from the previous post that the defense mechanisms of splitting and projection are rooted in an imaginary distancing of the self from a feared or despised intrapsychic object or feeling state. Ogden writes that "splitting creates a state of mind in which there is no 'in between.' A plane has two faces and two faces only; an observer can never see both sides at once."

So, in this polarized state of mind, it is as if half the world disappears; or, as if we were to look at the moon and forget it has a dark side we can't see. Again, it is reduced to the world of mere Is, as we withdraw from the second world in which we understand that nothing is what it appears to be.

Example. Let's say you have a patient with borderline personality disorder -- or a coworker, spouse, or other relative. "When a borderline patient feels angry and disappointed by the therapist, he feels that he has now discovered the truth.... History is completely rewritten.... There is an assault on the emotional history of the object relationship. The present is projected backward and forward, thus creating a static, eternal, non reflective present."

This especially happens when the mind is overcome by primitive hatred. I'll spare you the tedium, but I could cite hundreds of examples of how Trump Derangement causes its victim to distort past and future by projecting the explosive hatred forward and back.

Okay, one example: Ms. Ocrazio says the U.S. is a brutal, barbarian society for the vast majority of working-class Americans. How did she find herself in this parallel universe? Clearly, she didn't think her way there. So, what was the mode of travel? Easy: uncontainable rage exploding out from the moment into the past and future -- like a frustrated three year old who suddenly hates his parents, now and forever.

They say history was discovered by the Jews, and I think I know why. It's because they formed an ongoing relationship with the one transcendent God, whether or not they were frustrated, angry, disappointed, etc. Of course, the OT documents the struggle to maintain the relationship instead of running to another god at the first sign of trouble. In short, in order to enter history, humans had to stop splitting off their various emotional states and projecting them into imaginary gods for comfort and safety.

The same process occurs, by the way, in Christianity. Think of the day after the Crucifixion. How does one reconcile the idea that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that Jesus is the messiah, when the messiah has just endured a brutal death at the hands of the state? It would be very easy to split, both literally and figuratively, as did the two figures the resurrected Jesus encounters on the road to Emmaus.

Among other things, they must have been discussing What That Was All About -- how they had been taken in by the excitement surrounding this charismatic figure, only to have all hope dashed. But Jesus proceeds to give a discourse on all the various scriptures concerning himself, and then,

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

At that point, the travelers heal the split, and this integration allows them to return not just to history, but to a deeper time that touches on the meaning and vector of (H) itself. Again, their momentary grief and despair are integrated into a much higher unity -- a reflection of how the ancient Jews, beginning with Abraham, did the same thing (for example, reconciling the demanded sacrifice of Isaac with a loving deity; it would have been easy to simply flee such a request and run away from God).

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