Friday, May 26, 2023

Temporal Normality

Improbable blogging conditions this morning, and impossible tomorrow, especially given the nature of the subject. I need to think about this one. The Maestro must have SILENCE -- a silence that should resume once the boy officially graduates high school tomorrow and there are no visitors disturbing the peace. You know me:

I'm a quiet living man,
who prefers to spend the morning in the silence of his room,
who likes an atmosphere as restful as
an undiscovered tomb,
A pensive man am I, of philosophical joys,
who likes to meditate, contemplate,
far for humanity's mad inhuman noise,
A quiet living man....

Chapter 22, Time. Clearly, it is one of those fundamental *things*, like being, experience, space, or order, that cannot be thought away, because they are the very basis of there being anything to think about. Try thinking away "experience" and see how far you get.

A few posts back we spoke of how, in the case of a primordial complementarity, one side is nevertheless more fundamental, since it could account for the other side, while the other side could not account for it. Now I'm wondering if it also works the other way around.

In other words, if we find something that seems to be fundamental, it must have its complement without which it cannot be understood. In the case of time, its complement is eternity, and the traditional understanding of eternity is that it is not time everlasting but timelessness. 

I frankly don't like either option. Infinite time is obviously absurd, but timelessness is no bargain either. It is literally unthinkable, and I like to think that eternity and thought are compatible -- in other words, that it's a joyous cerebration.

We'll sort through some options later, but first let's see what McGilchrist has to say. He mentions something that reminds me of the early Christian councils that were more about excluding error than defining truth in a perfectly rigid way; or at least they gave some leeway to the latter, even while defining no-go interpretations.

"As in the approach to all deep questions," McGilchrist proposes "at least to see more clearly what it is we now believe that is unlikely to be the case."

What are some of time's no-go zones? Sounds silly, but there's nothing silly about 100 million dead due to Marx's idea of time and history. And his is far from the only one. 

How about the Aztec, who needed to slaughter thousands of victims in order to keep time rollin' along -- to feed the gods, keep the sun from dying, and ensure the continued existence of the world, in short, to stay on the right side of history?

McGilchrist also suggests that perhaps we can learn something about time by looking into what happens to it in cases of psychopathology, especially schizophrenia (which seems to be more an RH dysfunction) and depression (more of an LH problem). 

This implies that there must be something like Temporal Normality, something McGilchrist nowhere implies, but hey, why not? 

If we really want to widen out our discussion, we could always bring in Balthasar's five-volume Theo-Drama, which does indeed posit a kind of normative time -- a dramatic structure of history that comes to us directly from God. (

Balthasar shows how many of the trends of modern theology (e.g. “event”, “history”, “orthopraxy”, “dialogue”, “political theology”) point to an understanding of human and cosmic reality as a divine drama. 

This discussion would take us so far afield that we'd never finish the present opus. Remind me to come back to it.

Now I'm curious. Just a peek. 

The aim is to make the individual's short span of life coextensive with the whole span of the life of the world.

So, a person is a temporal fractal of the whole. I like that. 

Is time "a cathedral in dramatic form?" 

"Something has changed in salvation-time as it flows onward, something that makes it different from pre-Christian time." 

And here's an interesting question: "If the Creator gives his creature [temporal] freedom, does he not become dependent on him?"

But we haven't even finished a single page of McGilchrist!


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Time Out for Oxygen!

Difference and sameness -- like the One and the Many -- "constantly interpenetrate one another and give life to one another." To which McGilchrist adds, always.

Pretty, pretty authoritative, and I couldn't agree more. The question is, how and why -- i.e., by virtue of what eternal Principle is this the case? 

Hmm: what is one and three, distinct and yet consubstantial, interpenetrating and intersubjective, e.g.,  I am in My Father, and you are in Meand I am in you?

What could it be?

One problem I'm having with the book is its "mid-level metaphysics," so to speak, which is causing me a bit of sophication, since I am so accustomed to breathing the clearclean mountainair at the summit. Not that I am at the summit. Rather, that the air circulates downward if you know where the vents are.

In other words, I find that McGilchrist is making assertions that I agree are true, but not following them all the way up to the Principle(s) by virtue of which they are true. 

And often he's even taking an upside-down approach, and seemingly anchoring things in, say, physics, instead of the Reality above, even though he claims to be opposed to reductionism.

But just because physics and biology are much weirder than we had imagined -- and they are -- reductionism is still reductionism. One of the foundational texts of this unemployed hippy bum approach was The Tao of Physics, when we should be talking about the physics of the Tao:
The doctrines that explain the higher by means of the lower are appendices of a magician's rule book.
In other words, the material world is a reflection of the immaterial world, not vice versa. The former gives us hints of the latter -- as it must -- but that's different from trying to, for example, ground free will in the uncertainty principle, which is to not know what freedom is, precisely.  

Unlike the Science is Real crowd, I truly love science, but let's be honest,
Science cannot do more than draw up the inventory of our prison.

The inventory is larger and more full of surprises than we had imagined, but it cannot transcend its own assumptions and limits, for, self-evidently, 

That which is not a person is not finally anything.
Deal with it. You just have to accept the truth, regardless of how pleasant.

But I'm only up to p. 957. Perhaps we'll penetrate the toppermyst in chapter 27, Purpose, Life and the Nature of the Cosmos. Must be patient, I suppose. I don't want to be too critical, because he's certainly on the right (hemispheric) track. One just has to be mindful of various cautionary aphorisms, such as 
All truths converge upon one truth, but the routes have been barricaded.
The philosopher who adopts scientific notions has predetermined his conclusions.
For ultimately, 
The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality.
Therefore, it is and always will be the case that
The man does not escape from his prison of paradoxes except by means of a vertical act of faith.
In other words, if pantheism is the case -- which McGilchrist appears to be saying -- then so what. It's just nihilsim by another name. It doesn't matter how weird or how big your cosmos,
The distances of the physical universe are those of a prison.

Again, the vents are in the ceiling:  

We cannot escape the triviality of existence through the doors, but rather through the roofs.

On p. 855 McGilchrist cites one of Blake's aphorisms: The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.  

Agreed. Now, what do we mean by "eagle"?

The language of the great contemplatives is hand-to-hand combat with things that cannot be spoken.... Colliding in its flight with ineffable secrets, with unrevealed mysteries, it has the appearance of an eagle who arrives in regions where, even for it, there is no longer suitable air for breathing. Thoughts are lacking for it. Their intellect descends again, struggling against words, which fail, each in their own turn....
In this ascent..., all lights are shadows in comparison with the last light. The treasuries into which the great contemplative's gaze searches are forever inexhaustible; and eternity promises to their ever-renewed joy fresh springs that will never be exhausted (Ernest Hello).

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The RH Child is Father to the LH Goat

Uniqueness is to Generality as One is to Many and Substance is to Form.

I would say Change my mind, but I haven't yet made up my mind. It just kind of popped out. At any rate, 

On the one hand, we need to see [a thing] as unique: nothing that exists is ever the same as anything else. Yet, one aspect of what it really is requires us to see where it fits into the context of everything else; and to see that we need generalities (McGilchrist). 

Take two coins, for example: one coin is not the other, but they are nevertheless both coins. So, what distinguishes them? A Thomist would say their accidents: this one is, say, worn and faded, that one shiny and sharp.  

As a child, the excitement lies in discovering that not everything is unique, but that there are general categories giving shape to the world: "Bunny!," "Doggie!" This gives pattern to experience (ibid.).

Hmm. I wonder if the excitement lies in the other direction for an old goat?

As adults we have become so used to this, that we have to make an effort in the opposite direction: the excitement comes only when we recover the uniqueness of what it is we contemplate (ibid.).

So, is this why the old goat meditates? 

when everything is familiar, time speeds up. When we are young all is new: not so in age. This may be another good reason for practicing mindfulness, which makes everything new once more (ibid.).

Well, we'll stipulate that something makes all things new. 

And now that I think about it, it's the novelty we're after. Not total novelty, because that way lies psychosis, but... a gentle flow, or something: hello, noumena! Remumble when? I do, but how to get back there? Give us this day our daily dawn, when

the real, experienced presence of the mountains and lakes as a child was overwhelming -- they were, in our terms, present "in their very essence" to him, awe-inspiring and unique; when as an adult he could see them only as re-presented, now become the essential Mountain and the essential Lake (ibid.).

The Substantial or Archetypal Mountain or Lake from which all other mountains and lakes are number two, or lower. Which makes you wonder if it was also like this for prelapsarian man, or when man as such was a young goat:

For the man of the golden age to climb a mountain was in truth to approach the Principle. In our day to climb a mountain -- and there is no longer a mountain that is the “center of the world” -- is to “conquer” its summit; the ascent is no longer a spiritual act but a profanation. Man, in his aspect of human animal, makes himself God. The gates of Heaven, mysteriously present in nature, close to him (Schuon).

Bad goat! 

Reminds me of a song:

When the child was a child
It didn't know it was a child
Everything for it was filled with life and all life was one
Saw the horizon without trying to reach it

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

I Gotta Be... or Maybe Become... Me!

We're into chapter 21, The One and the Many, and it is... my kind of chapter, for it prompted a few Can I buy some pot from you? moments. Let's see if I can remember where they were.

Here's the headline:

Everything is part of one whole, connected to every other part by a matter of degree. But everything is also absolutely unique [and] has "the most intense individuality."

This goes to the "central paradox of the one and the many," but I suspect we're going to discover that it's a foundational orthoparadox, i.e., always both. And that RH/LH are deeply implicated in this mysterious isness, going "to the core of what it means to be at all."

You know me: I'm thinking to myself, "What is always One and Three?," but let's not get ahead of our skis. Besides, we can't ski up the mountain.

Being or becoming? Which comes first? You know me: I reject the premise, because it's another orthoparadoxical complementarity. Okay then, which of the two is prior, or more fundamental, even though we never see them apart? 

McGilchrist seems to lean toward becoming, but I'm going to have to call a foul on that. 

We'll get into the reasons why later, but suffice it to say at this juncture that a universe of pure becoming would be unintelligible. As Thomas says, "The formal object of the intellect is being," and the soul of every judgment is to be: if nothing is, then nothing is known or knowable. 

But things are knowable, big time. Therefore isness is, and from our side of the deal we are aware of an "absolute immutability of the first principles of reason and of reality" (Garrigou-Lagrange). No amount of tenure will ever change this, so relax and enjoy the certitude. 

Having said this, we are nevertheless dealing with a deep orthoparadox, and we need to give becoming (and maniness) its due. 

Again, everything is like something (this being a metaphorical cosmos), or it would be unintelligible. On the other hand, take enough LSD and you see that nothing is like anything, i.e., utterly unique (!!!!!!!!). 

This also happens in psychosis, which can result in a catastrophic torrent of sheer novelty (????????): becoming with no being. Or sometimes neither, like an endless fall into a static black hole in the psyche (oooooooo).


To know that anything is unique requires understanding the ways in which it differs from something else it might have been: you are a unique human being, and the generality of your being a human being is still there, but hidden in the particularity (McGilchrist).

Think about the orthoparadox at the heart of humanness: a species of unique instances, when a truly unique instance is defined as something that belongs to no general category. 

How to squeer this absurcularity? Maybe it explains why we are unintelligible to ourselves: because we are unique. Yes, we are human beings, but that's just an abstract LH category. No one knows what it is like to be me, starting with me! Well, God, but let's save someOne for later.

Can I buy some pot from me?

We're raising a lot of points that take us far afield from McGilchrist. I could address them, but let's refocus on the chapter at hand. Oh, and we're running of time. I'll just end with this, and we'll resume tomorrow:

To see each thing as it really is requires a balancing act. On the one hand, we need to see it as unique: nothing that exists is ever the same as anything else. 

Yet one aspect of what really is requires us to see where it fits into the context of everything else; and to see that we need generalities. And to appreciate the relationship between uniqueness and generality means always to balance sameness and generality (McGilchrist).

For example, Juan and Manny are both illegals, but nevertheless, Juan is not Manny and Manny is not Juan. But why is this even my problem?

Monday, May 22, 2023

Absurcularity and Transpirality

We're now into Volume II of The Matter With Things, subtitled The Unforeseen Nature of Reality. As with the first volume we'll try to review one chapter a day, but that may not be possible, since this volume tackles modest subjects such as, oh, life, time, consciousness, and purpose. 

The first chapter, The Coincidentia Oppositorum -- that's coincidence of opposites for those of you living in Rio Linda -- is right in our karmic wheelhouse, being that we have written countless posts on the centrality of complementarity, in particular, of primordial complementarities such as time and eternity, absolute and infinite, male and female, form and substance, vertical and horizontal, et al.

This is somewhat of a continuation of the previous chapter, which pointed out how trivial or superficial truths may contradict one another, whereas the opposite of a deep truth may well be another deep truth. McGilchrist quotes Niels Bohr -- father of the complementarity principle -- to this effect:

It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is also a deep truth. 

Or as we say, orthoparadox

Okay, but how do we avoid a vicious dualism at the heart of things? This riddle was solved for me by Charles Hartshorne, who essentially said that, in the case of a true complementarity, one of the two will nevertheless be more fundamental -- for example, vertical could give rise to horizontal, but not vice versa. Analogously, all the matter in the world will never add up to spirit. 

Male and Female? Interesting question. I don't want to spark a controversy, but there are those who would insist that Female must be implicitly behind it all, and I myself am partial to this view. 

It is explicitly expressed with the idea of Beyond-Being giving rise to Being, and more implicitly in certain esoteric connotations of Mary. At the very least, this complementarity will have to sneak into a sidedoor of your metaphysic.

I might add that threeness is another way of escaping from a two-timing impasse, and we'll no doubt return to this subject later.

But let's stay on track. Problem is, McGilchrist is once again preaching to the long-converted, so I find myself just nodding off in agreement, for example, "A tension between opposites is at the heart of all creativity," from Lennon-McCartney to Miles and Trane. 

This is new, but notice how it corresponds perfectly with what was said above about one complementarity being more fundamental than the other:

The right hemisphere can incorporate the left's take, but the left cannot incorporate that of the right. The mechanistic vision can come only from experience, even if it is an experience from which much has been excluded....

Likewise, we may begin with a 

description in terms of physics, but could never progress from that to the experiential tree; whereas we can begin with the experience [of the tree] and later incorporate within it the physics.

In short, "the experience of the tree can never emerge from the mechanistic vision," which is really just straight-up Thomisic realism, which always begins in the senses, from which concepts or essences are extracted. You can't proceed in the other direction; or Kant, rather, but that's another subject.

Each truth conceals another, opposing, truth, that becomes apparent as soon as we move from the abstract to a real world context.

Dávila expresses in compact RH Aphorisms what McGilchrist unfurls in prose, for example,

Any straight line leads to hell.

McGilchrist writes that

It was the painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser's view that "the straight line leads to the downfall of mankind."

Granted, but he doesn't stop there. In case you missed the point, straight lines are "an absolute tyranny," "something cowardly," "the rotten foundation of our doomed civilization," "atheistic and immoral," "criminal sterility," "forbidden fruit," "the curse of our civilization," "stillborn," "an aesthetic void," a "desert of uniformity," "prefabricated," "impotent," etc.

Okay, okay. Makes a fellow want to start a petition in support of lines.  

But the deeper point is that it takes two points to make a line and three to make a circle, I guess. I wasn't good at geometry, but in any event, 

The circle represents both the finite and the eternal, since it has no end; it also represents that which moves and stays still.

I'm gonna object, because the circle is a kind of phony infinite from which we can only escape via the spiral. McGilchrist says as much, in that

linearity and circularity can co-exist, if what looks like a circle... is actually a spiral, like an endless coiled spring viewed down its axis.

More to the point, could the circle ever give rise to the spiral? NO! The mere circle is cowardly, tyrannical, sterile, criminal, a curse! Circles makes me want to vomit! 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

What is Metaphor Like?

The last chapter of Volume I is Intuition, Imagination and the Unveiling of the World, and it's pretty much a continuation of the previous one on the cultural demise of RH intuition, one I'm pretty sure I survived. 

People sometimes ask about my plans, but I've never had one, perhaps because the RH is in charge, or maybe my LH could use some assertiveness training. 

In a way, I'm not very practical, but then again, it turns out that the snap decisions of the RH are often superior to the careful analysis of the LH. It's not as if my spontaneous nonplans have turned out badly. To the contrary, everything has turned out fine, even though I would hesitate to recommend this approach to others. Unless, like me, they just can't help it anyway. 

There's a lot of research in the previous chapter about how intuitions "are more often valid than not," and how we are "much better than chance" at judging things like age, sexual orientation, and political affiliation. It seems that gaydar is real. I know my guydar is unfailingly accurate at detecting when some guy is pretending to be a woman, just as all my Jewish friends and relatives have a highly developed goydar.

By the way, "stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable findings in social psychology," and stereotypes "have all been repeatedly shown to be remarkably reliable." Therefore (and this is something Thomas Sowell often discusses), "prejudices are not necessarily wrong. What is wrong is to be biased in any individual case by your prejudice." This latter is not especially difficult, rather, our capacity for this kind of detachment is "remarkably good."

Of course, this is not to excuse those MAGA deplorables who are much more prone to bias and discrimination.

Wrong. "Scientists are no less prone to bias than anyone else," and some research confirms your common sense belief "that people with more education are more likely to cling to ideological beliefs in the teeth of evidence." 

No! I shan't believe it! That the tenured live in a toxic bubble of ideological conformity? Never!

Back to the present chapter, 

The product of intuition is insight. It has been defined as "any sudden comprehension, realization, or problem solution that involves a reorganization of the elements of a person's mental representation of a stimulus, situation, or event to yield a non-obvious or non-dominant interpretation."

This is a subject I've been interested in since grad school, and two names stick out in particular, W.R. Bion and Michael Polanyi, each of whom describes this sudden reorganization of psychic elements from different angles. The vocabulary is different but the mechanism -- the underlying reality -- is the same, and I discussed it in detail in my ponderously titled dissertation mentioned yesterday (and in the Book).

But I don't want to revisit what I wrote 20 or 35 years ago, correct though it may be. Let's keep this discussion rolling forward. McGilchrist says something on p. 758 that goes to the coonological principle that metaphor isn't just a side dish, but the main course: this is a metaphorical cosmos, with all this implies. 

No, McGilchrist doesn't put it that way, but I will. He writes that metaphor

is fundamental to how we understand the world. It is only by seeing something as in some sense and however dimly "like" something else that we build knowledge, and insight consists in perceiving likeness in dissimilar things.

Now, I first encountered the Extreme Version of this idea when reading Stanley Jaki's Means to Message -- back in 2002, it was. But as soon as I read it, it only confirmed in me something I already knew to be deeply true. 

You have only to begin by asking yourself: in what kind of cosmos is metaphor even possible, and then you suddenly realize how central it is to everything, beginning with language itself, or rather, logos. Everything is like something, which is the very space between intelligence and intelligibility.

A note to myself in the margin says "Reality is first and foremost something capable of carrying a message between subjects." Nor does it take much intuition to leap from this to the Trinity. I would now say Of course this is a metaphorical cosmos, and the first metaphor is the Son, even though there was never a time this metaphor didn't exist.

Just a hunch. 

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