That was a touching story about Helen Keller, but let's not get carried away. In fact, I subjected it to a quick blogside field sobriety test, and it was more than a little wobbly, and couldn't stand up on its own without nonlocal assistance.
Let's stipulate that Helen's bang happened in the way she describes. What does it really tell us about the nature of things? What conclusions may we draw? For even supposing it happened, we still must ask: by virtue of what principle did it happen? What was its sufficient reason?
At the very least, it can't finally illuminate the gap between animal and man, except insofar as it confirms its existence. It doesn't tell us how the gap got here, or why there is something on the other side. True, she made the breakthrough from matter to spirit. But in what kind of cosmos is this possible?
First, let's find out what Percy concluded, since he's the one who brought it up. Way down aroun' that Alabamy well-house
something extremely important and mysterious happened. Eight-year-old Helen made her breakthrough from the good responding animal which behaviorists study so successfully to the strange name-giving and sentence-uttering creature who begins by naming shoes and ships and sealing wax, and later tells jokes, curses, reads the paper... or becomes a Hegel and composes an entire system of philosophy.
Or in her case maybe a little worse than Hegel, in that she became a radical socialist.
(Excuse me? Cousin Dupree just made a mean-spirited joke that is unworthy of this blog -- something to the effect of "that makes sense. To be a socialist you need to be as blind as a moonbat and as dumb as AOC.")
Hmm. I guess Dupree isn't alone: "Keller claimed that newspaper columnists who had praised her courage and intelligence before she expressed her socialist views now called attention to her disabilities" (Wiki).
Jumping ahead a bit, I think we can say that man's "breakthrough" has been a mixed blessing from the start, i.e., since the nonlocal events depicted in Genesis 3.
Please bear in mind that we are by no means just piling on the disabled lady. Rather, we're trying to make a serious point, whatever it turns out to be.
Interestingly, she called herself a Christian -- albeit the gnostic kind -- and was quoted as saying "I always knew He was there, but I didn't know His name!"
Back to Percy. He suggests that "Helen's breakthrough must bear some relation to the breakthrough of the species itself, at that faraway time" when it suddenly dawned on our ancestors that they were thinking, communicating, and understanding.
Well, yes: some relation. That's simultaneously saying too much and too little. He says it "was something new under the sun, evolutionarily speaking." But that can't be the case, since there's no leaping allowed in vulgar evolutionism.
Let's refocus: something remarkable happened to and with Helen, but what? Percy gets a little closer to the correct answer when he discusses the "irreducibility" of its components, i.e., thing (sensory information about water), symbol (water!), and "Helen."
Here again this isn't very helpful, for what is Helen, anyway? What is a person?
I'm thinking of Norris Clarke, who characterizes ultimate (trinitarian) reality as irreducible substance-in-relation. This is the "with" I referenced in a comment on yesterday's post. Think about that one for a moment: how does with get into an atomistic or mechanical or material cosmos? Matter isn't "with" anything. I can be with it, but it obviously can't be with me (insofar as it is material, i.e., lifeless and mindless).
For Percy, this space of meaning -- which he calls "Delta," since it is situated between Alpha and Omega -- is everything; it is "at the heart of every event that has ever occurred in which a sentence is uttered or understood, a name is given or received, a painting painted and viewed."
Okay, I'll bite: by virtue of what principle is Delta possible? Crickets. While Percy deploys Delta as a principle to interpret various phenomena, he doesn't explicitly interpret Delta itself in terms of something ontologically prior to it.
But he was a novelist, not a metaphysician, which he proves with the following blunder: Delta is "recent":
Life has existed on the earth for perhaps three billion years, yet Delta could not be more than a million years old, no older certainly than Homo erectus and perhaps a good deal more recent, as late as the time of Homo neanderthalensis, when man underwent an astonishing evolutionary explosion which on the scale of earth time was as sudden as biblical creation.... The spark jumped, language was born, the brain flowered with words, and man became man.
Percy's heart is in the right place, but there so much wrong with this paragraph that I wouldn't even give him an F. Rather, I'd hand it back to him and ask him to think about it more deeply and rewrite it, because he's simultaneously close but a million miles away.
For example, if Delta were "recent" it couldn't be here at all. He compares it to the suddenness of biblical creation, which is a category error of literally infinite magnitude, being that biblical creation is not a temporal event. It wasn't "sudden." Rather, it is vertical, relational, and ongoing; it's not "in the past," it is now.
Analogously, one could say that this post suddenly came into being. How? Well, I typed it. With what? My fingers. But what moved the fingers? Oh, don't worry about that. Think of the analogy of painting a house. The house is painted with a brush, but you can't avoid the necessity of a painter at the other end by positing a very long handle.
Percy suggests as much, saying that Helen accomplished in a few hours what stretches out for months in a normal child. But again, whether the time (or handle) is short or long, it still has to be attached to someone.
We're almost out of time, but I hate to leave you hanging. What, in a sentence or two, is the correct way to look at this? Nicolás, help us!
God is infinitely close and infinitely distant; one should not speak of Him as if He were at some intermediate distance.
God exists for me in the same act in which I exist.
Faith is not knowledge of the object. But communication with it.
To search for the “truth outside of time” is the way to find the “truth of our time.”
Truth is in history, but history is not truth.
The world is explicable from man; but man is not explicable from the world. Man is a given reality; the world is a hypothesis we invent.
The soul is not in the body, but rather the body is in the soul. But it is in the body where we feel the soul. The absolute is not in history, but rather history is in the absolute. But it is in history where we discover the absolute.
The meanings are the reality; their material vehicles are the appearance.
Every beginning is an image of the Beginning; every end is an image of the End
There are only instants.
Probably if we could put those together into a single ten-dimensional aphorism, we'd have a pretty good idea of what's going on.