Friday, May 20, 2022

A Remedy for Finitude

Continuing with our Trump obsession meditations on the relationship of cosmos and person, yesterday I read a book called The Greatest Marvel of Nature: An Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person, by Pierre Emonet, but it was somewhat less than marvelous, not on the same level as Clarke's Person and Being

Let me flip through it and see if there's anything that advances the argument, or at least repeats it, since we welcome any scholarly backup from nonlocal explorers in the same attractor. 

For example, Emonet agrees with the Raccoon doctrine that the person is an open system that specifically "opens out upon the infinite." He further agrees that the soul is a kind of totality "capable of containing within itself all that is," AKA the whole existentialada.   

And here's an intriguing quote: "Together, consciousness and things 'super-exist.'" Moreover, consistent with what we were saying the other day about cosmic depth, "we shall never find the floor of the soul" -- nor its height or breadth for that matter. 

There are also some good things on the undeniable immateriality of the soul, for example, vis-a-vis "common sense" -- no, not the everyday common sense which is merely the polar opposite of progressivism, but rather, the soul's capacity to integrate and synthesize information from the external senses. 

Obviously, the senses don't know anything; to be perfectly accurate, the senses can affirm that something is, but they can never say what that something is, since they know nothing of essences. 

But what really interests One Cosmos readers -- or this one, anyway -- is the even higher and deeper unification and synthesis of all the nonsense understood by the soul. 

For example, we know that atoms, chemicals, organisms, and persons exist, but how do we synthesize all these diverse strands? Yes, there's always the path of reductionism, but let the dead bury the trolls and the trolls bury the tenured.  

There's an interesting etymological analysis of "intellect," which connotes "reading within" (intus = within, lectus = gathering or reading). As we've been saying, everything, it turns out, has a within, and the intellect is how we access this fathomless world of intelligibility: senses are to the Great Without what intellect is to the Great Within of the cosmos. 

Here's a coincidence: yesterday we alluded to cosmic communion via ex- and in-spiration. Well, the intellect "inhales essences." Moreover, the intellect is to intelligible objects as the sun is to objects of vision: it is a kind of "inner sun" through which the intelligible world veritably glows. We might call it the metaphysical translucence of being.

Here's another brief passage that opens worlds and meta-worlds: "Grammar implies a whole philosophy." That's a tempting rabbit hole to jump into, but I think we'll get back to Person and Being. Suffice it to say that In the beginning is the Word, but that any word implies a grammar, and that -- now that I'm thinking about it -- the Trinity must be this grammar. We'll probably come back to this idea later, since it's a pretty big deal.

Remember what we said above about super-existence? Well, "Thomas speaks of the power of the finite mind"

to gather up and "inscribe the whole order of the universe" in the unity of its own consciousness, "as a remedy for its finitude" (Clarke).

A remedy for finitude? One that doesn't involve the old snake oil, i.e., Ye shall be as gods? We'll take one bottle please!

What kind of bottle? 

Longtome readers know exactly what kind: a Klein bottle, in which the inside is the outside and vice versa. I ask you: how could the cosmos be structured in any other way, since this reveals how intelligence and intelligibility, within and without, are two sides of the same reality? Indeed, just knowing this is half the bottle.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Rhythm & Clues

Two observations by Clarke, the first going to our horizontal substance-in-relation, the second to its vertical analogue:

1) Unless someone else treats me as a "Thou" I can never wake up to myself as an "I," as a person.... the entire development of personal life unfolds through active dialogue with an ever growing matrix of relations to other persons and the larger world beyond them.

2) [A]t the deepest level of its being and self-identity the human person must be defined in terms of its permanent relationship to God, the Source of all being, as the latter's created image. Who I am at my deepest level can only be understood in irreducibly relational terms.

Each of these may be envisioned as a rhythmically alternating open spiral "between the two poles of the person's being: self-possession and self-communication." Any "personalized being" -- whether vertical or horizontal -- 

must obey the basic dyadic ontological structure of all being, that is, presence in itself and presence to others.... To be a person is to be intrinsically expansive, ordered toward self-manifestation and self-communication.

This is what Raccoons refer to as the ultimate Goround of Being, and once seen it cannot be unseen:

we are caught up in, and give conscious expression to, the great, ongoing, alternating, dyadic rhythm of all existential being: in itself and towards-others, as though the whole universe itself were one great rhythm of breathing in and breathing out.

As though? 

Shifting seers for a moment, Schuon writes of how "the majority of minds are closed to sapiential esoterism" resulting from

a kind of wish not to understand; this in turn comes from individualism and thus from an attachment to the formal order with which the individual is bound up (emphasis mine).

On the one hand there can be an inward hardening that closes itself to vertical reality; or alternatively "a passional tendency toward outwardness and dispersing activity." But in either case, 

If one insists on making a fundamental distinction between men, it should be between the worldly and the spiritual.

Oh, I insist alright. 

But to be perfectly accurate, it is between the vertically open or closed, in contrast to those purblind worldlings who are more or less open on the horizontal plane only. 

As for the whole universe being a great rhythm of ex- and in-spiration, in the introduction to this newly released collection of letters, the author relates an anecdote of how Schuon "spoke about breathing" and of how the very air that surrounds us is "a vehicle of the universal Presence of God," allowing us to "breathe in the divine Omnipresence." 

I'll buy that: communion via the lungs -- just as the eyes facilitate a communion with the Divine Light.

I guess we'll conclude this morning's post with the following passage from Person and Being, with which we wholeheadedly agree: 

In a word, the final goal and perfection of the whole universe is, literally, the communion between persons, who in turn gather up the whole universe in their consciousness and love and thus lead it back to its Source.

I frankly can't think of a more interesting way to pass the timelessness down here, even if few few others see things our way. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

God is Like Anyone Else, Only More So

Continuing with the forever unfinished isness of the human condition, Clarke writes of 

a kind of infinite or inexhaustible depth in our spirit, due to its openness to the Infinite, which cannot be plumbed by our explicit consciousness short of the direct vision of God himself... 

Yes, but one can try. I'm reading a newly released collection of Schuon's letters, and an early one from 1928 -- when he was not yet 21! -- describes this effort:

I contemplate the Infinite ceaselessly. During the day it envelops my soul like a deep, distant rhythm coming from the ocean's depths... it is like a gaze of the gods that continuously rests upon me with cool stillness. It will transform me, impure vessel, according to its will. Man needs only to close himself to the finite and open himself to the Infinite in order for it to stream into him.

In other letters from this period of time he writes of feeling a bit lonely, isolated, and alienated. Dude.

In contrast, the Christian yoke is a little easier. For starters, by no means does it close itself to the finite; rather, the whole point, as it were, is to baptize the finite in Infinitude, and voila! We're already there:

Actually, the two focuses of knowledge advance together, in an alternating spiral of reciprocal illumination until the final vision (Clarke).

And "Without me you can do nothing." In other words, try as we might to mount from finitude to infinitude, the last leap is strictly impossible in the absence of Infinitude having taken the leap on our be-half (in order for us to bewhole). Many aphorisms come to mind (nor do I believe the mature Schuon would disagree with any of them): 

God is infinitely close and infinitely distant; one should not speak of Him as if He were at some intermediate distance. 
There are arguments of increasing validity, but, in short, no argument in any field spares us the final leap. 
The man of faith does not escape his prison of paradoxes except by means of a vertical act of faith. 

Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities.  

Christianity does not deny the splendor of the world but encourages us to seek its origin, to ascend to its pure snow. 
Christ was in history like a point on a line. But his redemptive act is to history as the center is to the circumference.

We might say that God and man -- or Infinitude-as-such and the finite-infinitude (so to speak) of man -- are "paradigms of each other" (John Scotus Eriugena) and that "Both are ultimately ineffable, and this both because of their subjectivity and their inexhaustible depth" (Clarke).

Me? I've always suspected that "subjectivity" and "inexhaustible depth" are synonymous terms. After all, objects have no depth -- or height or width or breadth -- unless a subject is there to perceive it. Does this constitute relativism? No, not at all, since knowledge is a conformity of subject to object. Which never ends:

To be a human person is to be on a journey from potential self-possession to actual.

As Clarke describes it, there are two complementary sides to the journey, one which is expressive and extroverted, the other receptive and introverted; there is an "in-itself" and a "toward-others" aspect, which correspond, respectively, to substance and relation:

A person, like every other real being, is a living synthesis of substantiality and relationality, and the relational side is equally important as the substantial side, because it is only through the former that the self as substance can actualize its potentiality and fulfill its destiny. 

A destiny that rests in the Infinite Substance some people like to call God. But whatever you call it, there it is. Or here it is, rather. How is it here? Duh: because this infinite substance is substance-in-relation. In this regard, God is just like anyone else, only more so.

I discover positively what and who I am by engaging actively -- and receptively -- in interpersonal relations with other human beings like me who treat me as a "Thou" in an interpersonal social matrix of "I-Thou-We."

Which reminds me of someone... I know -- Eckhart!

For God is a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive. As God is omnipotent in his deeds, so too is the soul equally profound in its capacity to receive.  

And as Bernard McGinn writes,

the very same love with which the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father must be the love by which we love God.

To be continued... 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Unknow Thyself

One of Aristotle's most important metaphysical insights allowed for the reconciliation of two contradictory views of reality: one of pure process, impermanence, and becoming (Heraclitus) vs. one of absolute oneness and changelessness (Parmenides). These two views are reconciled via Aristotle's division of being into act and potency

This division is quintessentially seen in ourselves -- in the human person -- in that regardless of how much self-actualization we accomplish in this life, there's always more: each of us dies before we are finished. D'oh!

Which again makes us unique among living beings. Other animals may fail to attain their end due to accident, illness, or predation, but we apparently fail to do so under any circumstance. It is not as if Mozart or Shakespeare or Groucho would have run out of melodies or stories or puns. 

Now that I'm thinking about it, it seems that potency relates to infinitude. Only God is literally infinite -- or Infinitude as such -- and yet, our deiform nature means that we share in it. As we do with his Absoluteness, which would seemingly correspond to act at our end of creation (as infinitude corresponds to potency). 

That little preramble was provoked by the following passage from Person and Being: "It does not seem," writes Clarke, 

that the process of self-possession through self-knowledge can ever reach a final stage of completeness and total clarity for a human person at any time throughout his life, at least this present chapter of it. The human remains always a "known-unknown," a mysterious abyss, in which more remains unknown than known (emphasis mine).

Hmm. Quite the ontological pickle, but I think there's a way out. 

At the moment, my melon is being assailed from two sides, but let's start with a couple of bold claims made by John Paul II -- that in the absence of Christ, man remains a mystery to himself; and that the Godman is somehow the center of both history and of the universe itself. 

In short, Christ is the key to unlocking the mysteries of creation, man, and history. This is either the Best or Craziest Idea Ever, and let's not jump to any conclusions but abide in unknowing as we proceed. 

Of course, Christ is not merely an "idea" but a person, and now we're getting somewhere, because even absent Christ, personhood is the most important fact in all of existence, and this fact is said to be anchored in the principle of Christ, who is in turn anchored in the Trinity. Obviously we'll have much more to say about this marvelous or crazy notion.

The second idea assailing my melon comes from Schuon. He expresses it in so many ways in so many contexts that I'll have to choose some at random -- for example, 

--Man, like the Universe, is a fabric of determination and indetermination; the latter stemming from the Infinite [read: potency], and the former from the Absolute [act].

--Man is central, and in all things must be an extension of God.  

--The celestial Word, once it has descended into the human dimension, becomes a human cosmos with regard to its form.

--Man is himself “made in the image of God”: only man is such a direct image, in the sense that his form is an “axial” and “ascendant” perfection and his content a totality. 

--Man is like a reduced image of the cosmogonic unfolding; we are made of matter, but in the center of our being is the supra-sensible and transcendent reality, the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “eye of the heart,” the way to the Infinite. 

--The animal cannot leave his state, whereas man can; strictly speaking, only he who is fully man can leave the closed system of the individual, through participation in the one and universal Selfhood. 

--[O]ther creatures also participate in life, but man synthesizes them: he carries all life within himself and thus becomes the spokesman for all life, the vertical axis where life opens onto the spirit and where it becomes spirit. 

--[T]he highest spiritual aptitude resides in man's capacity to surpass himself in relation to God...

I could cite dozens more, but the point is that man is at once forever incomplete and yet offered the gift of completeness insofar as he orients himself to the Absolute and actualizes his deiformity in this life. To be continued...

Monday, May 16, 2022

Human Nature and How it Gets That Way

All other animals have a nature, but this nature is fixed; to the extent that it evolves, it doesn't do so in the span of a single lifetime. Only in human beings do we see this peculiar combination of a fixed nature and open development that can persist throughout one's life. You might say we are necessarily contingent.

Indeed, there is something of a paradox at play here, since a human who is not actualizing his latent potential is failing to fulfill his nature. It seems that, as God's essence is to exist, our existence is to "essentialize," i.e., to actualize our essence in time -- which is why only man creates and exists in history. 

If a nature isn't fixed, is it still a nature? An existentialist would respond, No, and that's the whole point. We must choose, but on the basis of no nature, which is why we are condemned to freedom. 

The technical term for freedom + no nature is nothingness. For Sartre

[T]here is no human nature.... Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.

And existentialism itself "is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." 

Coherent? How's that working out? For if the first consequence of a consistent atheistic position is incoherence, the second is inconsistency, and the third is creepy men in sundresses using the girl's restroom. 

Sartre:

Existential philosophy is above all a philosophy that asserts that existence precedes essence.

This sounds like an academic abstraction, but it is the hinge upon which everything else... hinges, for to say that we exist without an essence is again to say that we are, uniquely among the animals, nothing

Now, while we are indeed -- obviously -- unique among the animals, we need to anchor this uniqueness in a sufficient reason. We can't just arbitrarily assert that we magically escape all definition and somehow create ourselves. By virtue of what principle? This is where existentialism goes off the cosmic rails into a parallel acosmos or chaosmos. 

Jumping ahead a bit, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the only adequate -- consistent, coherent, and fruitful -- principle on which to base the human person is the transhuman Person. We can express this axiom in mythopoetic terms or we can do so in more purely metaphysical terms. Either way, we avoid the rudimentary error of attempting to derive the (infinitely) greater in the lesser. 

This is why we say that person is the ultimate category, not derived -- or derivable -- from anything else. 

Okay, but what is a person? I suppose it's easier -- because more experience-near -- to start with what we are and then deduce from this what God must be like by way of analogy. 

So, what are we like? What are our most striking attributes, those without which we aren't persons? Let's review them. Clarke begins with

the unrestricted range of man's intellectual power and interests, matched by the corresponding freedom of his will, [which gives] him an inexhaustible creativity to express himself in constantly new... cultural forms, instruments, and ways of interacting with nature.

That's a helpful list: reducing it to a more abstract expression, we can say intellect-freedom-creativity, which, as it so happens, corresponds to truth-virtue-beauty, respectively. Persons are free to know truth, free to choose the good, and free to create beauty. This elevates and confers an ultimate meaning upon the very freedom which, for the existentialist, equates to mere nothingness.  

Freedom in the absence of truth is not, and cannot be, free; rather, it is the freedom of a man lost in the desert or adrift at sea. Some freedom!

It is man's nature to be free, but freedom has its own telos or it is nothing. This dilates and widens out our existence, again, not only situating it in history but forging the basis of history; what we call "history" is freedom + essence deployed in time.  

Putting it all together, Clarke defines our nature as follows:

a human being is by nature a finite embodied spirit, in search of the Infinite, in social solidarity with its fellow human beings, on an historical journey through the material cosmos towards its final trans-world goal.

That's a pretty, pretty good definition, but I think we can do better. For starters, we need to flesh out what it means to be "in social solidarity with our fellow human beings," because it presumes something much deeper, touching on the very nature of I am and We are. For

the explicit awakening to self-awareness as an "I," as a self, can only be done by another human person, reaching out to us with love and treating us as a person, calling us into an I-Thou relation.

 Now we're getting somewhere. To be continued... 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

A Spiral River Flowing Upstream Around a Motionless Center

In the previous post we alluded to the Great and/or Divine Attractor to Whom we are ultimately ordered. Later that day I read an essay by Schuon which describes the same reality  from a slightly different perspective (from The Symbolism of the Hourglass, in Logic and Transcendence):

in reality there are two poles, one earthly and one heavenly, so that heavenly attraction should be represented by an ascending movement of the sand toward the upper compartment....

Spiritually, a movement toward the higher is always a sort of turning upside down, for the soul turns away from the world, which imprisons and disperses it, thus reversing the movement of its will or love.   

The expression "pole of attraction" calls to mind the image of two magnetic centers, one above and one below.... 

[T]he world attracts like a magnetic center, but at the same time it is diverse and it disperses; the "Kingdom of Heaven" also attracts like a magnet, but at the same time it is infinite and it expands. 

In this latter space, "time becomes a circular or spiral river flowing around a motionless center." In an earlier essay in the same book (Evidence and Mystery) he describes this dynamism in similar terms as 

a spiral with centripetal movement progressing indefinitely toward a center that is never reached but that can nonetheless be grasped... 

Grasped via intellection, which is our very own link between the above and below. 

Let's try to reconcile this with Clarke's Person and Being, the book we've been discussing: "the human being, because of its dual nature as embodied spirit," is properly seen as the "microcosm," i.e., "a synthesis of the whole universe":

by his spiritual soul he rises above the dispersion of space and time to live in the spiritual horizon of supra-material meanings and values and to set his sights on the Infinite and the Eternal.  

The reason why I've emboldened those words is to highlight the precise similarity to Schuon, indicating that these two are indeed describing -- better, inhabiting -- the very same nonlocal attractor. 

This is life at the leading edge of the divine-human spiral described above by Schuon: "to be a human being," writes Clarke, is to live "on the frontier of matter and spirit, time and eternity." It is "to be an amphibian"

able at will to direct himself in either direction, down toward matter or up toward spirit. [Our] destiny is thus to journey through matter toward a fulfillment beyond matter (Clarke).

In Raccoon argot we refer to this as our "I AMphibious" nature, but you get the point, supposing your not one of our illuminate trolls confined to the lower chamber of the hourglass. 

What else can we say on this fine Sunday morning, or have we already said enough for one post? 

The latter. Let's save something for Monday.