Saturday, July 16, 2022

Saturday Morning Review

As usual, I intended the post to go one way, but it had its own ideas and ended up choosing another. I suppose there's nothing new in it for old readers, but who knows, perhaps we actually get the occasional new reader for whom this won't consist of a lot of stale bobservations. 

Strange things are afoot in this cosmos, and science is at once helpful and unhelpful in getting to the bottom of them: helpful in discovering new realms of weirdness, but then unhelpful in confining them to a banal scientistic explanation and thereby explaining them away. They put the pro in Procrustean and take the queer out of their theories.  

But the weirdness obviously persists, and this weirdness is simultaneously troubling and liberating. I don't know if "troubling" is the right word, but what I mean is, for example, that 70% of the universe -- 68% to be exact -- is made of "dark energy." 

Okay, what's dark energy? 

Oh, it's about 25% dark matter.

That wasn't the question. What is dark energy?

Oh, that. We know all about it, except for what it is

So, you're telling me that 70% of the universe is a total mystery?

Er, yeah, that's about the size of it. 

If that's the case, how can you assign an exact percentage to your ignorance? 

Homo sapiens, ever since becoming ensouled 60 or 70,000 years ago, have been carrying around various maps of the cosmos in their heads. It's easy to make fun of the premodern maps, but what if the difference between ours and theirs is trivial compared to the difference between ours and reality? Instead of monsters be here written at the edge of the map, ours says dark energy be here.

I suppose some folks will accuse me of anti-intellectualism, but it is quite the opposite, since mainstream science denigrates, and cannot help denigrating, the place of the intellect, whereas I begin with the principle that man is in the image of the Creator. This expresses the idea in a quasi-mythological way, but what I always mean by it is that an inexpungable nonlocal thread connects us to Celestial Central, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

It's one of those things we can't not know, or which we know even in denying. 

I remember back in graduate school, learning about the "unconscious." A professor might confidently assert something along the lines of 90% of the mind is unconscious. Same trick! For how can you measure your ignorance? How can you presume to quantify the unknowable unknown?

Something similar must exist in the biology compartment too, as in What is life? Oh, it evolves via natural selection. Yes, but what is it? That? We have an extremely accurate map of it, called the genome. Yes, but what does the map actually map? 

As it pertains to psychology, my own liberation came when I realized that the unknown always swamps the known, both in principle and in fact: alone among the animals, man not only knows he doesn't know, but can know he never will. We -- some of us, anyway -- know our models are only models.

So, we can do better than that 68% dark matter or 90% unconscious or 98.5% of junk DNA: we know with 100% certitude that we don't know -- which is the point of Gödel's theorems. 

This certitude sounds like a big nothing -- i.e., 100% x 0 -- but it is actually a Big +. We've discussed this before, but the same principle responsible for our ignorance is responsible for our knowledge. In short, it is precisely because we cannot know everything about anything that we can know anything at all

Both of these irrefutable facts of our existence (partial knowledge + total ignorance) flow from the principle of Creation -- or, to be precise, from what was said above about the nonlocal thread connecting the intellect to its Source. Thanks to it, we never stop discovering truths of various kinds and on various levels.

And not just scientific truth, but psychological truth, aesthetic truth, moral truth, philosophical truth, etc.

Now, at the top of it all are metaphysical and theological truths, AKA the Truths that cannot not be. For it turns out that we can have a kind of "total knowledge" in this lifetime, or knowledge of the totality. Indeed, if we couldn't, then life would be fundamentally unfair and unjust, and I don't think that's how the Creator rolls. We'll leave off with some aphorisms arranged stepwise such that they recap the post:

The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions.

Philosophy ultimately fails because one has to speak of the whole in the terms of its parts.

The honest philosophy does not pretend to explain but to circumscribe the mystery.

Happily, the world is inexplicable. (What kind of world would it be if it could be explained by man?) 

Even in the immensity of space we feel caged. Mystery is the only infinity that does not seem like a prison. 
God is the term with which we notify the universe that it is not everything.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Dimensions of Time and the Limits of Stupid

Well, the new book on emergence turned out to be a bust, so we'll have to turn the page to a new subject. I have two possibilities in mind, but let's go with the so-called (by Bob) "temporal hyperdimensionality" of God. 

If I'm not mistaken, there should be significant overlap between this and emergence anyway, since they are so thoroughly entangled that neither can be explained or even mentioned without the other: as the Sphinx might say, emergence can only happen in time, and time is the place where things emerge -- or where creativity, novelty, and upside surprise happen.

Boo!  

In sneaking up on a subject such as this, we are always guided by the dictum that

The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician’s rule book.

A scientistic magician, to be exact. For this is one of the
Four or five invulnerable philosophical propositions [which] allow us to make fun of the rest.

The other ones being little things such as the principle of non-contradiction, the trans-existence of the Absolute (and all this implies), and the intelligibility of the cosmos to man's intelligence (and thus the reality of the world, at least as far as it goes). 

Some things are so truly stupid that only the tenured could believe them. Which reminds me of the other subject I wanted to discuss, the limitations of the human intellect -- not the limitations per se, but the manner in which we are able to intuit the limitations of the other guy's intellect.

I was trying to explain this mysterious ability to my son just yesterday. I never consciously thought about it until stumbling upon the following aphorism:

Of someone else's intelligence we soon sense only the limits.

Or, conversely, the limitlessness. Only when the latter is present can the Raccoon be sure he is in the presence of his own kind, and is speaking ʘto ʘ.

I don't know about you, but I am almost always able to immediately sense the limits of the intelligence in question. Once I do, then there's little point in further discussion, or at least serious discussion, for it is very much analogous to a sphere discussing the nature of geometry with a circle. True, we can agree on some little things, but the circle is going to be limited by what amounts to a dimensional Dunning-Kruger.

Which, now that I think about it, could be the subject of a whole post. I will resist the temptation, but let me illustrate with a concrete example from just yesterday, the disappointing book on emergence by a tenured mediocrity named Vincent Vesterby. 

When I opened it and began reading, I knew from the first paragraph that this was not Raccoon material -- neither the book nor the man -- and the suspicion was only confirmed the more I read. The following will suffice: "The brain, with its associated mind, is a biologically evolved entity," and "Truth is a product of the evolutionary process." 

In other words, I think we're done here. But since our subject is going to be the nature of time, I'll cite one more passage: time

occurs as continuous, uniform, unidirectional, sequential change, which cannot-not occur, and was thus without beginning and will never end. There has occurred an unlimited quantity, an eternity, of time.

Excuse me? The only time science knows of is the time that began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. We can speculate as to what was "before" and what might be "after," but it is not anything like our experience of time. To the extent that it is temporal at all, it must be a hyperdimensional time. 

A reminder that

Those who reject all metaphysics secretly harbor the coarsest.

Here are a few more relevant aphorisms on the subject of intellectual limits:

The great intelligence is not an intelligence greater than the ordinary, but an intelligence of another nature.

More dimensions, you might say. Or at least some additional height and depth. Of which there are counterfeit versions, which is why

Confused ideas and murky ponds seem deep.

Which goes to why leftists are taken in by so much absurd nonsense, because it essentially functions as a substitute for religious depth -- or for the depth dimension disclosed by religion. For on the one hand,

To think like our contemporaries is the recipe for prosperity and stupidity.

But ultimately, 

Thought can avoid the idea of God as long as it limits itself to meditating on minor problems.

Now, we've all heard about the "multiverse," which is a theory invented by lower dimensional physicists who don't like the unavoidable theistic implications of the Big Bang. While the theory is possible in the abstract, it is concretely impossible. 

However, there is a kind of real multiverse, which involves the future, in that, out of all the possible universes that potentially exist, only one will undergo the formality of actually existing. In short, it will emerge, but how, and from what?

To be continued, since we got sidetracked with the rant about intellectual limits.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

God, the Unemerged Emergent

I have another book on the subject of emergence arriving in the mail today, so I need to blow through this one in order not to fall behind. Our Cosmos always runs more smoothly when I'm able to write as I ponder, instead of trying to remember what I was pondering two or three weeks ago -- which is like dredging yesterday's nouspaper out of the recycling. Let the dead bury the tenured.

In short, this blog is always written at the crossroads of the now and eternity, not from memory. You could say that I don't know anything except what I know right now. I am not advocating this aloofstyle. It's just the way I'm built, and it's too late to change now. Retirement has only aggravated it.

Not to get sidetracked right away, but since I've never met anyone who reminds me of me, it is helpful to occasionally run into one in books. 

Schuon calls such personalities "pneumatics," and here are some examples of what he says about these misfits. I cite them because if you are a fan of the blog, you just might be a touch pneumatic yourself. To be honest, I'm pretty sure Schuon is describing himself, nor do I relate to all of the traits, but maybe you will, and in any event, it's close enough for blogging:

the pneumatic is situated, by his nature, on the vertical and timeless axis -- where there is no “before” or “after” -- so that the archetype which he personifies or “incarnates,” and which is his true “himself” or “his very self” can, at any moment, pierce through the contingent, individual envelope; it is therefore really “himself” who is speaking. 

The pneumatic is a man who identifies a priori with his spiritual substance and thus always remains faithful to himself; he is not a mask unaware of his scope, as is the man enclosed in accidentality. 

.... the pneumatic “realizes” or “actualizes” what he “is,” whereas the non-pneumatic realizes what he “must become” -- a difference at once “absolute” and “relative” about which one could argue indefinitely. 

[He] does not attribute any “state” to himself, for he is without ambition and without ostentation; he has a tendency rather... to disguise his nature inasmuch as he has, in any case, awareness of “cosmic play” (lila) and it is hard for him to take secular and worldly persons seriously, that is to say, “horizontal” beings who are full of self-confidence and who remain, “humanists” who are below the vocation of man.  

“Know thyself” was the inscription written above the portico of the Temple of Delphi; that is, know thine immortal essence but also, by that very token, know thine archetype. This injunction no doubt applies in principle to every man, but it applies to the pneumatic in a far more direct manner, in the sense that he has, by definition, awareness of his celestial model in spite of the flaws which his earthly shell may have undergone in contact with an all too uncongenial ambience. 

The “pneumatic” is the man in whom the sense of the sacred takes precedence over other tendencies, whereas in the case of the “psychic” it is the attraction of the world and the accentuation of the ego that take priority, without mentioning the “hylic” or “somatic” who sees in sensory pleasure an end in itself.

This actually touches on the subject of emergence, because if Schuon is correct, it seems to imply that one doesn't so much become (or emerge as) a pneumatic as be revealed as one. 

Now, pneumatic -- that's a name no one would self-apply where I come from, for it can't help but sound more than a bit pompous and pretentious. Nevertheless, it certainly seems to describe the sort of thinkers to whom I am naturally attracted. True, there's a lot about their lives that doesn't make a whole lotta sense to me, but then again, maybe that's why I find them s'durned innarestin'.

So, let's just say I have some abiding pneumatic tendencies mixed in with some other tendencies that only make it more complicated for me to have pneumatic tendencies to begin with -- for example, inability to take myself seriously. That's one problem Schuon did not have. 

Back to the subject of emergence. The reason I am interested in the subject is that it seems to be the best candidate for a truly cross-discipline unification of everything. For example, the book in the mail is called  Origins of Self-Organization, Emergence and Cause. I have no idea if it's any good, but here's the description, emphases mine: 

This book is about how emergence, self-organization, and cause come into existence. These fundamental processes play roles in the origins of virtually everything, thus the book describes the basics of how everything comes into existence.... 
Development can be creative, leading to a progressive increase in complexity. It is a universal factor that provides a way to develop a universal conceptual model.... 
The modern generalist mode is like a Rosetta Stone of understanding. It translates the intrinsic deep structure of reality into a form that can be comprehended by a living mind.

I'm betting right now that the author does not have pneumatic tendencies, so it remains for us to translate this into plain Coonglish, i.e., to make sure the creative telovator goes all there way to the top floor, otherwise we're left with a completely incomplete or consistently inconsistent explanation. Come to think of it, one of the benefits of not taking oneself seriously is that we don't hesitate to go places where a mere scholar wouldn't be caught dead. 

Eh, I think we're done with the first book. I'll just cite this one passage that appeals to the pneumatic in me:

the lower level's "dependence" on the novel and emergent higher level is no less essential than the "involution" of the higher level on the lower....

Therefore,  

the existence of God, here understood as the highest guiding, sustaining, and directive Activity on which all other levels below depend -- and which is itself not emergent -- may be demanded by explanatory consistency.

In others words, as God is the Uncaused Cause, he must be the Unemerged Emergent, so to speak. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

On Celestial Negentropy and Spiritual Metabolism

If you're a sports fan, you know that broadcasts usually feature a play-by-play announcer accompanied by a "color commentator." The latter is often a former player who provides analysis and insights into plays as they happen and strategy as it unfolds. So, I guess that makes Schuon and Dávila my primary color commentators.

With that in mind, I wonder if Schuon has anything else to say about the subject of time? 

Yes, although it means that I will have to provide some additional commentary on his commentary, because the metacosmic game we are playing is more like five-dimensional chess:

Concrete time is the changing of phenomena; abstract time is the duration which this change renders measurable. 

I think I get it: seems to me that concrete time is the usual cause-and-effect that unfolds down here in four dimensions, while abstract duration is something more universal (or even meta-universal). 

This will require some additional explanation as we proceed, but let's just say this universal duration, so to speak, touches on the kind of "changeless change" that must take place in the Godhead and which is projected from up- and in-there to down- and out-here.

Here's a passage from the same article (Structure and Universality of the Conditions of Existence, in From the Divine to the Human): 

Objective time is so to speak a spiroidal movement comprising four phases, and this movement is qualitatively ascending or descending.... 

As for subjective time..., it is divided into present, past, and future: what we are, what we were, and what we will be, and in addition, what our surroundings are, were, and will be.

So time is a four-phase ascending or descending movement divided by three. Was that helpful? We'll have to think about it. Meanwhile, let's ponder something a little more earthy, courtesy of Dávila:

The day is composed of its moments of silence. The rest is lost time.

That checks out: contemplation and dissipation, respectively; or, positive and negative entropy, which gets to the heart of the matter.

Some additional color commentary by Ross before we get back to emergence per se:

time is a dimension or realm in which cause-and-effect phenomena occur, with effects always following their causes.... apart from time, cause-and-effect phenomena anywhere in the universe cannot occur. In other words, time is integral to the operation of cause and effect (Why the Universe is the Way It Is).

But also,

Time appears to be strongly linked with, or defined by, the second law of thermodynamics (the law of continuously increasing entropy or decay). 

Now we can go back to Schuon's commentary about the four-phases of time, by which he means such humanly understandable cycles as spring, summer, autumn, winter; or morning, day, evening, night; or childhood, youth, maturity, old age.

In these experience-near categories, it seems to me that maximum negentropy (positive entropy, as in the winding of a clock) must be associated with spring, day, and maturity, while maximum entropy must be winter (in which nothing grows), the dead of night (where all cows are black), and the mind of Brandon, for in each case there is "no information," AKA total equilibrium. The battery is dead. Extending the sports analogy, game over.

Thanks to entropy, time cuts both ways:

Entropy, the measure of disorder in a system, now becomes a creative principle by which systems reorganize themselves to face the future.

For example, you -- you there -- how do you maintain your order in the face of a relentlessly entropic cosmos? Correct: you assimilate negentropy from the environment (mainly by eating and inhaling) while dissipating entropy into it (by exhaling and excreting).  

Now, the moment I understood this principle, I wondered how it applied to the developing mind. Then, after solving that conundrum, I began wondering how it applies to the realm of spirit, i.e., to "spiritual growth." Exactly what is it, and how is it possible? Is there some parallel to the entropy and negentropy of biological systems, AKA dissipative structures?

Yes there is, although I've come to believe it's the other way around: that dissipative structures are the way they are because the Godhead is the way it is.

The soul is fed from what is mysterious in things (Dávila).

To be continued...

Monday, July 11, 2022

Simpleminded Bob vs. His Complicated Brain

In a book called Why the Universe is the Way It Is, the author makes a passing comment to the effect that

Psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and theologians have also identified a relational property of time. They note that without time, relationships are impossible (Ross, emphasis mine). 

I take that comment personally, since I was a psychologist, and I resent any insinuation that I can be lumped in with sociologists. Moreover, I'm an amateur theologian, so I really resent being lumped in with psychologists.

However, I do agree with the part about the relational property of time, even if I'm not entirely sure what that even means. 

Yet. In this post we'll try to find out what it means. I say "try," since the whole subject of time is notoriously tricky. It's like what old Jeremiah says about the heart of man: deceitful above all things, so who can know it?!

Speaking of which, what else does the Bible say about time -- not just explicitly, but implicitly? Well, for starters, just like modern astrophysics, it claims that it had a beginning

Which right away lands us in paradox, since our everyday understanding of time is that it is "divided" into three very different modes: past, present, and future. How can there have been a time when time didn't have a past?

We've discussed this in previous posts -- the idea that these three categories or domains are so vastly different, and yet, somehow a single dimension of the cosmos. The past consists of events that have happened and are therefore unchangeable, while the future doesn't exist at all. In between is the present, in which the future comes into being and transforms into the past.

Which is not helpful, Bob.

I'm aware of that, Brain. We're just getting started. We will get beneath the clichés, if it takes allpost.

Time is difficult to define. Unlike space, accessible to humans in three dimensions, time is accessible to us in only one. And try as we might, we can neither stop nor reverse the arrow of time. What's more, it's impossible for any human to get outside the cosmic time dimension and observe all its properties (Ross).

Is that so? What am I, a sociologist? I get outside the cosmic time dimension all the time(less), and I can't be the only one. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the principle purposes of religion: to provide us with an extra-temporal perspective on things.  

Yes, I'm talking about the vertical, which is at a right angle, so to speak, to our 4D cosmos. Animals, for example, are completely immersed in those four dimensions, such that they have no transcendent view of reality. But humanness is defined by this transcendent position that is simultaneously in and out of time. 

Yes, we are historical beings to the extent that we are partly of time; but we are not totally of time, because we clearly have access to an atemporal realm of timeless truth. Math, for example, is immaterial and changeless. But so too are a lot of other things without which we wouldn't be human.

To be sure, we're in an ambiguous situation, stretched between the abyss of time and the... other abyss of timelessness. But let's get real.

Literally, since the human journey, if I'm not mistaken, consists of assimilating the Real into the unreal, and Bob, I dare you to explain what the hell that means. 

I accept the challenge, Brain! Here's a clue as to how it works, courtesy of Schuon: the prime directive for the upright Vertical Man is to remain

motionless in his contemplative inwardness -- or his "being," if one prefers -- while moving towards his infinite Center. Spiritual immobility is here opposed to the endless movement of external phenomena, while spiritual movement, on the contrary, is opposed to the natural inertia of the fallen soul (emphasis mine).

See how it works? A fully orthoparadoxical motionless movement in the vertical, detached from the endlessly falling inertia of the horizontal, where it takes all day to get precisely nowhere. Fortunately I am retired, so it takes me no time to be everywhen

In other words, I've been liberated from the Conspiracy, so I am free to abide in the slack that is at a 45º angle to the world. Or rather, if I don't do that, I have no one to blame but my Brain, which isn't as simpleminded as it could be:

The soul must withdraw itself from the dispersion of the world; this is the quality of Inwardness. Then the will must vanquish the passivity of life; this is the quality of Actuality. Finally, the mind must transcend the unconsciousness of the ego; this is the quality of Simplicity. 

To perceive the Substance intellectually, above the uproar of accidents, this is to realize Simplicity. To be one is to be simple; for Simplicity is to the One what Inwardness is to the Center and what Actuality is to the Present (ibid.).

Which is all there ever really Is, Brain. 

Bob is out of time. To be continued...

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Lord of the Rings & Things

I apologize in advance for the woo-wooliness of this post, which is either in the nature of the subject or the nature of the author.

Let's get back to the subject of emergence per se. The term

applies in those cases where the distinctive quality that emerges is not the mere sum of separate elements, but instead embodies a new kind of relation (by definition relations cannot be present in the relata as the relations are not yet in being at the lower level).

That's a subtle point, because we naturally think of the world as consisting or "things," i.e., objects, stuff...

I was trying to think of more synonyms, but there really aren't any, because what's more general than a thing? Things exist, and existence consists of things. And knowledge consists of finding out what these things are

A few posts back we mentioned a passage by Schuon going to what we see when we look at the world:

First, existence; second, differences; third, movements, modifications, transformations; fourth, disappearances.

Objects fall under the heading of differences, in that we see one thing only because it is distinct from another. Each thing exists in its own right, but is subsumed under the even more general category of Being, which includes potential existence, so it's a larger concept. 

Potential existence doesn't yet exist, but nor is it nothing. Here we see the importance of time, which, from our perspective, is thoroughly entangled with the movements, modifications, transformations, and disappearances alluded to above. Time is change, and to say change is to say cause-and-effect.  

Now, as Garrigou-Lagrange reminds us, the soul of every judgment is the verb "to be." This may sound esoteric, but it really just means determining whether or not the thing in question actually exists, whether in the domain of religion, science, or everyday life. 

If you think about it, every argument comes down to the question of is. In fact, even ought questions may be reduced to is -- for example, ought we abort the baby? It depends on what the baby is

But where things have clear existential outlines, relations are more ambiguous. Marriage, for example, is a relation. I know I'm married, but does my dog know? No, but does that make the relation less real? 

Conversely, two homosexuals say they are married, and they even enlist the violence of the state to enforce the claim, but does this make the relation real? If I say I am married to my toaster, am I? 

Beyond nominal definitions is the ontological status of relations, something with which science as such has a great deal of difficulty, since a relation isn't observable. Now, what if this is fundamentally a relational universe? 

Well, it is. It is only up to us to figure out how and why, and what to do about it.

This question of relationality is precisely one of the characteristics that distinguishes Christianity from other religions, philosophies, and belief systems. One might say that the soul of Christianity comes down to the real existence of two principles: Trinity and Incarnation, the rest consisting of entailments, commentary, and assimilation (or vertical metabolism).

The important point -- our First Principle of Isness -- is that ultimate reality is a relation of Persons, or as Norris Clarke puts it, an irreducible substance-in-relation. 

Can anyone point to a relation? No, not exactly. We can elucidate a relation, but it's not actually something we can perceive with the senses. 

This blog, for example, is all about relations of various kinds, e.g., the relationship between science and religion, or religion and politics, or man and God, or metaphysics and theology, or leftism and mental illness, etc. 

My hobby, as it were, is writing about relations of various kinds, especially vertical relations. But the deeper question always comes down to ontology: does or does not the relation actually exist; for if the soul of every judgment is to be, the soul of all being is to relate.

But that is not all, for relations can only exist in the context of time. However, it appears that our experience of time isn't all there is to it. In our four-dimensional world we have direct access only to the irreversible flow of time from past to present to future. And again, this flow is precisely what reveals cause-and-effect.

But we can also discern another type of cause-and-effect at play in the cosmos: vertical, or top-down causation. For example, back in the day, a fellow named Thomas à Kempis wrote a book called The Imitation of Christ, which is all about a vertical causation that is not so much out of time as involving another kind of time. 

You could say that this form of time is a measure of the distance between image and likeness: the standard equipment of the human person has a blueprint of the image, but actualizing this implicit potential into the actual likeness takes time. It reminds me of something Schuon says:

There are basically but three miracles: existence, life, intelligence; with intelligence, the curve springing from God closes on itself, like a ring which in reality has never parted from the Infinite.

It seems that vertical time is an ascending or descending spiroidal movement around -- or away from -- a tri-spiroidal Center. 

To be continued....