Saturday, December 03, 2022

Just Bobism and the Exploding Now

Yesterday’s post was written from memory in a remote location, away from my bookloined liberatoreum. Today I will cover the same subject, only properly plagiaphrased from the source. 

In short, we’re taking a brief side trip from our ongoing discussion of Lonergan’s Understanding and Being, into Charles De Koninck’s The Cosmos, which I first read and blogged about it in 2009. Whatever I said back then, forget it -- I know I have -- and let’s have another stab at it.

First of all, The Cosmos is a previously unpublished work contained in volume one of The Writings of Charles De Koninck, which, if memory serves, was recommended to me by James at Just Thomism (another blogger who is still pressing words @ thomism.wordpress.com). 

Unlike James or Charles, I am not a trained philosopher and even less a trained theologian, just a blender with the lid off, cf., yesterday’s post. In other words, Just Bobism.

Here are some passages that struck me, this first one on the nature of Life Itself:
the biological world shows us an always growing concentration. Its movement is centripetal, arriving at a state of high organization and immanence. Life goes against time’s dispersion. Time disperses, life gathers, tending toward structures that are more and more tight.
Didn’t we say something similar just the other day, even quoting Booker T & the MGs to the effect that Time is Tight? It was in the context of a discussion of how it is difficult to describe time without spatializing it, which is precisely what De Koninck does here. 

Yes, there is a time-binding aspect of life, but ultimately in service to a freedom and Slack that surpasses it. We’ll no doubt discuss this in more detail as we proceed, but for now let’s just bear in mind how life at once concentrates in space in order to dilate in time, i.e., into the now and up into eternity. De Koninck even says as much, more or less:
Memory is obviously meta-temporal since it contains that which is no longer in time…. Thus man not only lifts himself above time like other animals with memory, but he can lift himself above memory.
Therefore,
Already in man the world is bent in on itself, and in God its extremes touch.

And 

Even while touching it only from without, man, living on earth, already conceives this eternity.
Which, BTW, is why my book is and had to be circular. I wouldn’t say man “conceives” eternity, since we exist in its light, nor would I say we only touch it “from without." 

Again, whatever else the Now is, it is at the crossroads of time and eternity, and follows upon its prior colonization by Life. We are “in” it, or rather, it is in us, especially since the Incarnation. 

For what is the Body of Christ but biology transposed to a higher key? Only come to find out that biology is just a distant analogy of the interior life of God transposed and exteriorized into a lower key. God is the principle of Life. Unless you have a better idea.

Speaking of Just Bobism, in the book I suggested that the so-called Big Bang was followed by three additional bangs into Life, Mind, and Spirit. 

But as we know, first in intention is last in execution (or something like that), so Spirit is temporally last (Omega) even though it is and must be ontologically first (Alpha). In a flagrant act of anticipatory plagiarism, De Koninck wrote in 1936 that
The simple observed facts sketch an image of a nature which advances by successive explosions in the manner of a rocket, rising to the sky and asking directly from the hands of its Creator the spiritual form of man to which nature has been destined and in which she is liberated (sic).
That seems a bit awkward, but bear in mind that De Koninck never intended for this to be published, so who knows how he may have edited it upon final consideration. I don’t think he’s presaging some superficial new-age Teilhardism, but rather, sketching a total vision, much like some blogging blender with the lid off his head. 

We’re almost out of time this morning, so we’ll have to resume this tomorrow, but here’s a preview:
We will only be able to understand ourselves when we understand the universe.
And vice versa, but that's just Bob speaking. But
The more profoundly we understand the world, the better we comprehend that we touch it only with the feet, and that with our head we touch the bottom rungs of another hierarchy of which nature is only a fleeting shadow.

Yes: feet in the horizontal, head in the vertical, both happening in the temporal dilation of the exploding now.

Friday, December 02, 2022

A First Crack at the Improbable Dream

Lecture 3 of Understanding and Being is called The Dynamic Aspect of Knowing, but since when has knowing ever not been dynamic? It is always in process, partly because “the pursuit of knowledge is the pursuit of an unknown.” Even supposing we could somehow exhaust the unknown, we couldn’t know it. Besides, that would make us omniscient, and we know that’s a nonstarter.  Don’t we? 

Don’t we?

There are any number of things we don’t know -- or about which we do not understand their nature -- but can nevertheless plug in like algebraic variables to get things done. Who cares if we don’t know what they are? What is the nature of light, exactly? Electricity? Doesn’t matter, so long as they behave themselves. 

I remember Whitehead saying something to the effect that there aren’t actually laws of nature, rather, habits. Turns out those habits will eventually change as the universe expands, but for now we can rely on Mother Nature being pretty OCD about her routines. 

Lonergan uses the example of predicting the break in a game of pool, in which case you have to consider the weight, mass, and velocity of the cueball, then figure in an infinite number of possible trajectories, then the interaction of fifteen other balls and how loosely or tightly they’re packed together, then the distance between them and the bands, and how they’ll rebound and interact with each other…. 

Soon enough the number of variables approaches an infinity that is in principle unspecifiable, which is why you should never play pool with a climate scientist. 

We know the billiard balls obey the Law — the laws of physics — but knowing these laws is of no use in making exact predictions, since the interaction of variables redounds to an infinitude of possibilities. There is no general solution to the problem of the pool break.

Now do reality.


Correct. Which is interesting, because it shows the necessary limits of necessity. Or perhaps the necessity of probability, which, it turns out, is present all the way down to the quantum level, which is “governed” by statistical probability: it seems that in our cosmos, it’s habits all the way down.

But what is the relationship between probability and intelligibility? For if the best we can have is probable knowledge, doesn’t this imply the universe is fundamentally unintelligible? All of science would be analogous to a weather report: look for gravity, with a chance of falling bodies. Nor could a theory be falsified, since anything can happen: improbable doesn’t mean impossible.

However, some things are so improbable that it is more rational to appeal to the miraculous. For example, if we flip a fair coin and it comes up heads 100 times in a row, that so far exceeds the limits of probability that, at the very least, we need to posit a totally unknown variable to account for the defiance of nature’s habits. Analogously, for 13.4 billion years the cosmos had the habit of being lifeless. What happened?

As it turns out, there are two main variables which ultimately reduce to one, and with these two we can figure out all the rest.  

The first variable is Man, i.e., the existence of self-conscious persons. Of course, as with the billiard balls, even the most complete knowledge of the laws of physics cannot get from there — the situation at Planck Time 13.8 billion years ago — to here — where we are thinking about Planck Time, and of what a long, strange journey it’s been since then. 

Supposing someone were there at the beginning, he would rightly say the emergence of human beings is impossible — or maybe as likely as a break in pool resulting in the balls ending up in the perfect triangle with which they started, only hovering slightly above the table, and wondering about how they got this way. Definitely possible. But how likely? 

But truly truly I say to you: there is no General Law that says we cannot begin at the other end -- at our end of the telos-scope -- with the presence of self-conscious intelligences, such that there can be no laws that would prevent their presence, plus a nonlocal telos drawing the existing laws in this direction. Then what we see back there is intelligible instead of one damn miracle after another. Or better, one miracle instead of an infinite number of them.

This is somewhat difficult to describe, because I just thought of it, but the universe as we know it is a backward projection emanating from and leading back to us. In a sense, this is both literal and trivial, but I mean it in a deeper way than that. I think. 

Einstein said something to the effect that the most surprising thing about the universe is its intelligibility, but it turns out its intelligibility is just the far side of our intelligence. The two go together like form and prime matter, in that we never see one without the other. Prime matter itself is just a formless nothing that can’t even be imagined. 

To ask that first (?!) of philosophy — Why is there something instead of nothing? -- is to ask why there is anything other than a formless ocean of not-even prime matter. Not only is that not what we see, but if that were the case, then there would literally be nothing to see and no one to see it. Ever.

But look at all the things seen by intelligence -- which turns out to be a back- and downward projection of intelligence itself, all the way back in time (to the initial singularity of the Big Bang) and down in space (into the quantum world). 

Which goes to the second variable alluded to above, which we’ll call O to avoid unintended associations. Ultimately this world of ours is a projection from O, but not like a movie projected onto a screen, for it is more like a projection that simultaneously projects the screen it projects upon. What would this be like, and is there anything analogous to help us wrap our minds around it?

Best I can do at the moment is imagination, or maybe dreaming. Think about the structure of dreaming: it is at once a projection, but of what and onto what? And from whom? There are sharply drawn characters, dialogue true to the characters, plots, sets, architecture, and scenery, conflict, drama, etc. Clearly there is form, and a kind of lawfulness punctuated by constant surprises (even though we are their author). 

What is to the dream as the screen is to the movie?  Whenever we are faced with a paradoxical dualism, there are only two ways out: down or up. Going downward involves reducing one side to the other, while going upward means resolving the complementarity into a higher unity.

Now, the variable O is meant to stand for the highest possible unity from which various transcendentals and primordial complementarities flow. 

My timetank is getting close to E, but I want to say that the Son is like a projection of the Father, sharing the identical substance, but like a “screen” onto which the Father is known to himself (in a manner of speaking).  

As it so happens, this book I’m rereading by De Koninck touches on this very subject, and with his timely assistance I will make a second attempt at this subject tomorrow. Let’s just say that the cosmic area rug and its weaver are definitely not-two. Lotta ins & outs, but we see in its exterior patterns the interior pattern of the one who never stops weaving it. This whole subject may be impossible, but I can do better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Wandering in a Window Wonderland

We all know that science and philosophy begin in wonder. I wonder: is there anything else we can say about wonder that hasn’t been said before? Something more than we might find in a fortune cookie, greeting card, or office poster?

This is a helpful way of putting it: “when you start to wonder about something,” says Lonergan, "You are giving the flow of experience an orientation toward understanding.” 

All animals have a flow of experience, but only human beings consciously will this flow in the “direction” of “understanding.” Nor just understanding this or that, but literally everything. To engage in philosophy is to aim wonder at O, and let it fly.

Higher mammals do try to understand, but only those things connected to instinct. You can get your dog to wonder which hand is holding the treat, but not which painting is aesthetically superior, which artist more profound, and where does art come from, anyway? Oh, and by the way, can I buy some pot from you?

Even if dogs do wonder, they don’t wonder about wonder. Nor do they understand understanding or have insight into insight. 

But is this capacity of ours important, or just an accident of evolution, a side effect of something else that is “important,” i.e., reproductive fitness? 

Well, supposing it isn’t important, we could never know that, because it would presuppose an ability to know what is important, and this is ruled out by the initial reduction of importance to reproductive fitness.

In short, we have a problem of ontological circularity, and on two levels: first, how does one escape one’s genetic program, and second, how does one escape one’s ideological matrix?

How we vaulted up and out of instinct is admittedly vague. Or, it is incredibly specific -- for example, as described in Genesis. Is that description credible? No, not in the details, if taken literally. 

But that’s not how ancients thought about things. Rather, it is sufficient if you take away the lesson that the human soul does not and cannot come about in the usual way, especially by any purely materialistic means. That’s just a nonstarter, a simplification so crude that one would have to be tenured in order to believe it. If you'll buy that, I have a degree in gender studies I'd like to sell you.

Anyway, our flow of experience is not a geyser that shoots straight up but a river that flows forward. 

Well, it’s a geyser too, but that would go to a different subject, to mysticism and contemplation, i.e., raja Christianity (or yoga) as opposed to jñāna Christianity.

Backing up a bit and maybe even tugging at my collar, I accept the yogic distinction of paths to the divine, which are easily translighted into Christian terms. One doesn’t have to practice yoga per se to appreciate these different approaches, i.e., wisdom, contemplation, service, devotion, etc. Each of them is present in all of them anyway, since God is fractal (e.g., each Person of the Trinity has everything "possessed" by the others).

For example, I will tweak the following passage by Prof. Wiki on jñāna yoga into purely Christian terms:
Jnana is knowledge, which refers to any cognitive event that is correct and true over time. It particularly refers to knowledge inseparable from the total experience of its object, especially about reality or supreme being. In Christianity, it is knowledge which sets one free, or facilitates liberation from sin, wherein one knows the unity of self with Christ, the second Person of the Trinity. 
One final point before we wrap up this lecture. As we know, certain cosmic conditions are necessary in order to know anything about anything. One of them is that this particular moment of time must somehow be relevant to all moments of time, i.e., all times and places, ultimately to the entire cosmos and beyond. This goes to the ultimate telos of the flow of experience referenced above.
In other words, this little window into eternity must literally be a… window into eternity. To wonder is to look out this window -- whether we look forward (science) or above (religion). 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Really, Bob, Must You?

Before moving on to Lecture 2, a couple more points from Lecture 1 (of Understanding and Being, which consists of a series of recorded lectures on Lonergan’s magnum opus, Insight). 

Toward the end, he makes a somewhat passing comment about how no one has ever seen a “must.” Rather, it is something that can only be understood. Once you think about it it’s obvious, and yet, full of implications. 

For example (these are my thoughtlets, not Lonergan’s), we all must die, but my dog is right now sunning herself in the backyard, happily oblivious to any existential or ontological musticism. 

More generally, her life is entirely free of any musts, even conditional musts, for example, I must feed her, she mustn’t bark at the new neighbors, and the poop isn’t going to pick up itself. 

Mathematics is really a binary language of must be or can’t be -- or at least it was back in my day, before progressive educators got hold of it. Must be nice!

Nowadays, the mathematical must is transcended by a higher must. In this case, if Children of Color do poorly at math, then it must be due to racism. There is no other possible explanation. And if you don’t accept it, then you too must be racist. 

This turns out to be a convenient explanation, because like the must itself, no one has ever seen this racism. Rather, it can only be “understood.”

Then again, note how progressives do indeed employ the mathematical must in order to prove the existence of racism. For example, that’s a nice corporation you have there, and if there’s a statistical disparity between how many black employees you have and how many we think there should be, then you will be fined. And the fine will be expressed in an exact number. Unless, like google, you transfer an exact amount of cash to the Democrat party, then you get a pass.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the insultainment. Let’s just say that human beings have unique access to this world of must be, could be, and can’t be. But it’s more complicated than that, because most of what the left believes can’t be, and yet, there it is. What’s going on here? They must be mad!

Or is there a method to their madness? Must be both. 

One of the frustrating things about this day and age is that we have insight into them, but they have no insight into us. They never stop with their usual accusations, but these aren’t insights, rather, just libel.  

Now, what is indoctrination but the assimilation of a whole range of false insights about the world? Having once been a manchild of the left, I know this is true. None of those neo-Marixst insights actually saw into reality, so what was the appeal? Why did I believe it? 

Let us count the whys! Social status, unearned virtue, intellectual superiority, cheap omniscience, cultural pressure, fitting in, cash and other valuable prizes….

But in the end, a hollow universe. 

Enough! Lecture 2, entitled Elements of Understanding. By the way, the first was called Self-Appropriation and Insight, and thank God I appropriated myself from the left without even having to pay a cult deprogrammer. Which reminds me. There is only one amazon review for the book we’re discussing: 
[Lonergan’s] writing is esoteric, erudite and the stream of consciousness inundating. One has to read ever so slowly so that the text registers. Wonderful exercise in self-exorcism!!!
Ho! Turns out I didn’t have to employ that cult deprogrammer because I exorcised myself. Not without nonlocal assistance, of course, but that’s another Subject. At any rate, turns out the universe isn’t so hollow after all. It's just that inverse insight makes it appear that way.

Speaking of which, I see a note to myself in the margin: your cosmos is as large as that which interests you. This is a lesson I try to impart to lil’ Gagdad, being that I am interested in everything. Therefore, my cosmos literally can’t get any larger, and yet, it is always expanding. In other words, it cannot be contained, but the ceaseless attempt to do so is just about the last word in adult innerattainment. Must be fun!

It is. But why? It reminds me of that old joke by Steven Wright:


You know that state of being totally puzzled, only relieved by a sudden insight? I feel that way all the time. 

Only man can render himself puzzled, confused, open to surprise. Seems like most people put a premature end to this bewilderness adventure, when I don’t see any way out short of death. We all must die. But no one needs to stop wondering in the bewilderness and being fed from above with daily insights. But perhaps I’ve said too much. You must think I’m mad!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Critical Ignorance & Perpetual Notions

Dear Diary:

I’ve now finished six books by -- and another two about -- the big-brained theologian Bernard Lonergan, most recently one called Understanding and Being


This one is my favorite so far, and not just because it was the cheapest to obtain, rather, because it had the highest ratio of (!) to (?). In other words, I understood much of it, and there was less glazing of the eyes.

I shall now attempt to translate it to plain Coonglish, because what good does it do anyone if two large-brained primates -- say, Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel -- conduct private conversations to which no one else has access and few others would understand anyway?
To avoid the difficulty of an Atlantic crossing, the Gödels sailed from Japan to San Francisco, which they reached on March 4, 1940, then crossed the US by train to Princeton. There Gödel accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study. Albert Einstein was also living at Princeton during this time. 
Gödel and Einstein developed a strong friendship, and were known to take long walks together to and from the IAS. The nature of their conversations was a mystery to the other Institute members. Toward the end of his life Einstein confided that his "own work no longer meant much, that he came to the Institute merely... to have the privilege of walking home with Gödel” (Wiki).
What about the restavus? How are we supposed to march forth into the great unknown? Well, one of the guiding principles of this blog is that normal folks have their rights, and that ultimate reality is not some exclusive private club, but rather, in the words of the Aphorist,
In each moment, each person is capable of possessing the truths that matter.
Indeed, I could write a whole book on that subject, and maybe I already have. Maybe I should even stop, but here we go: let the flipping begin!
In Lecture 1, Lonergan brings up the old paradox that "seeking knowledge is seeking an unknown,” so how do we know what to look for, and how do we know when we've found it? 
If we knew what we were looking for when we were seeking knowledge, we would not have to look for it, we would have it already…. 
But no one just starts out blindly looking for "knowledge." Rather, we begin with a theory, a hypotheses, a paradigm, etc. Moreover, as discussed in yesterday’s post, we ultimately begin with -- whether we acknowledge it or not -- an implicit link between Intelligence and Intelligibility which we (Bob & Co.) call faith
So, “seeking knowledge” already presupposes a great deal, at the very least that knowledge exists and that seeking it will be fruitful, i.e., that the link between our seeking at one and and the Great Unknown at the other never stops flowing.
In thinking about this yesterday, an image popped into my noggin from the movie Avatar, when the main character, Jake, plugs his hair into that beast and connects to some superior magical nonlocal Gaia wisdom or something. 
In James Cameron’s clumsy iconography, I suppose it’s supposed to be analogous to God and Adam, only better this time. In his Manichaean world, "Avatar views tribal people as an honest group, whereas a technologically advanced imperial culture is fundamentally evil.” Okay. No wonder he supports Hillary, despite already having four ex-wives.
Back to our titanesque subject -- literally, since we are hot on the trail of Everything -- “there is a combination, then, of knowledge and ignorance,” and not just the buffoonish ignorance of glitzy but ditsy Hollywood nit-wits, but a systematic and methodical -- AKA critical -- ignorance.
In short, if you’re ignorant and you know it, clap your hands. Conversely, if you’re ignorant and you don’t know it, you don’t have to keep voting Democrat. Rather, there is a cure, but there is some pain involved. Some disassembly is required, followed by reassembly, or what Lonergan describes as
A double movement of analysis and synthesis -- analysis to discover causes, and synthesis to move from causes to the things.
In the past we have symbolized this double movement as (↓), bearing in mind that it is actually an endless spiral, or a sort of perpetual notion machine, in that we never stop having generative notions about Being, which generate further notions. 

The order of discovery is just the opposite of the order of doctrine. In doctrine you start from the principles and draw the conclusions, but in discovery you discover one conclusion after another and gradually you move on to your principles.

I guess that's it for today. Lecture 2 tomorrow. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Faith in Faith

This is a nice way of putting it:

If it were necessary or useful to prove the Absolute, the objective and transpersonal character of the human intellect would be sufficient as evidence, for that same intellect testifies irrecusably to a purely spiritual first Cause, to a Unity infinitely central but containing all things, to an Essence at once immanent and transcendent (Schuon).
As we’ve said before, there are certain "limit categories" beyond which it is impossible to think conceptually, and I suspect -- or maybe even guestimate -- that these are either different aspects of the same “object,” or its first entailments -- in this case,  such categories as Transcendence, Immanence, Unity, Cause, Center, Essence; or rather, the very Cause of causation, Unity of oneness, Center of centrality, and Essence of essentiality.

Total Truth not something we can grasp, but which we can certainty reach. In other words, so long as we are confined here to the land of finitude, our reach exceeds our grasp. 

But then again, you might say that our reaching is the grasping, in the sense that faith is already a kind of knowing, or darkness visible. Somewhere Schuon says something similar… Can’t find the exact passage, but this will do:
Faith is like an "existential" intuition of its "intellectual" object.
We come into the world with preconceptual categories that are ready to be filled out by experience. The mind is not a blank slate, but rather, has an implicit structure that is -- so to speak -- con-cave to the world’s con-vexity and vexation. It is similar to animal instinct, only on a higher nonlocal plane.

Which may sound a bit woowoo, but is really quite experience-near, and is why there exist all those universals that are present in every culture. In The Book of Absolutes, Gairdner discusses the current state of the research, which finds “the existence of some 311 human universals (and counting).” (I read this book way back in 2009; may be time for a second look, but not now.)

At any rate, my point is that what we call “faith” is (at least for the Christian) a link between two realities. This link is anything but static, although it can be if yr doin it rong. 

But when properly functioning, it is no more static than the link between our intelligence and the intelligibility of the material world. What occurs between these two terms is an endlessly spiraling intellectual adventure that only ends upon death. Just like religious faith, scientific faith deepens over time. Unless, of course, yr doin it rong.

This dynamic link is a two-way flow, in that we begin with the data of the senses and work our way up from questions to ideas to concepts to judgments to system, etc. 

But just as with religious faith, our scientific faith always exceeds our grasp. Or rather, whatever we grasp always results in more questions and deeper exploration. If we could arrive at the end, we would be God. Every scientific answer generates new questions -- thank God, for if this weren’t the case we’d be bored stiff. And as boring as the stiffest evangelical atheist.

On the other hand (or cerebral hemisphere), we can actually reach the end, this being what folks call God, precisely. Looked at this way, a dynamic religious faith is a science of the vertical. Or, in the words of Schuon, it is
a priori a natural disposition of the soul to admit the supernatural; it is therefore essentially an intuition of the supernatural, brought about by Grace.
Which is why it is universal, celebrity atheists notwithstanding. The latter live in the shelter of their own simple beliefs, which begin and end with an unjustifiable faith in themselves, of all persons. For it is written,
There was never any conflict between reason and faith, but between two faiths (NGD).
There can, of course, be conflict, but only because error or passion or presumption has entered the picture: Genesis 3 All Over Again. Don't they ever get bored of it?

Come to think of it, this entire discussion has much in common with Lonergan’s Insight  and Method in Theology, in that his whole point is that what is universal is our insight into reality, while what is particular is the object of insight. 

These objects vary from matter (physics) to organisms (biology) to “the past” (history) to Celestial Central (religion), but the Method is the same. Which is a good introduction to the next post. 

We’ll end with a few more observations by Schuon on the subject of faith:
There is no faith without any knowledge, nor knowledge without any faith.

Faith is a priori a natural disposition of the soul to admit the supernatural; it is therefore essentially an intuition of the supernatural…
 
Faith as a quasi-ontological and premental certitude…. The mystery of faith is in fact the possibility of an anticipatory perception in the absence of its content; that is, faith makes present its content by accepting it already, before the perception properly so-called.