Monday, May 22, 2017

Finitude and Infini-Dude

If you didn't make it to the end of the previous post, we left off with a hint or suggestion that it is as if our two cerebral hemispheres reflect -- or are the reflection of -- two "ultimates," one finite, the other infinite. Each maps a different terrain, one having more to do with physical survival, the other with spiritual awareness and perception.

It is difficult to have a spiritual life without a robustly functioning right cerebral hemisphere -- just as, for example, it would be a challenge to breathe or maintain one's heartbeat without a medulla, or to have an emotional life without a hippocampus.

Now, not only can finitude never contain infinitude, it won't even admit it really exists, except maybe as a word -- a placeholder, like "zero." It never really ponders the ineluctable fact of infinitude.

Conversely, finitude fits easily into a tiny corner of infinitude, with room left over for every philosophy ever devised by man. But reality is under no obligation to fit into the schemes of the tenured, or Gödel was just deepakin' the chopra, bigtime.

Religions are finite expressions of the infinite, or forms of the formless. Christianity goes one step further, and claims that a particular person is an expression of the infinite; and not only an expression, but its very incarnation.

Or in other words, Jesus contains the uncontainable. Which perhaps "explains" -- in a manner of speaking -- the Resurrection, which is a reflection of the fact that Death -- which is finite -- could not contain him.

Death is finite. Whew! That's a relief. But life is infinite, which means that, in order to properly understand it, we must invert the cosmos and look at it bright-side up. As the Fathers said, God became man so that man might become God; in so doing, Life takes on Death so that Death might become Life.

Not biological life, of course, biology as such being merely a "downward projection," so to speak, of the Life Divine (the bio-Logos). If the universe were fundamentally dead, you couldn't squeeze life out of it in... 13.7 billion years, no matter how hard you tried.

Analysis true: "Kierkegaard wants us to realize that, ultimately, we can rationally understand neither the world we live in nor our true nature or purpose in life" (Watts). So stop trying!

Or rather, always situate reason within Reason. In short, in order to be a true Christian Dudeist, you must abide in the dynamic space of complementarity -- the pneumatic third -- between these two: ultimately "between" finitude and infinitude. Animals are finite. God is infinite. You are the monkey in the middle.

For finitude is a mode of the Infinite. Just as creation reflects the Creator, immanence always points to transcendence. Frankly, nothing is merely "natural," full stop. Nature itself is supernatural, everywhere spilling out of itself and flowing back to its nonlocal source.

This is precisely what is happening when you view a landscape of primordial beauty: you are participating in this return -- so long as you are looking through the right brain. Otherwise it's just another blandscape.

Looking through. That reminds me of a comment by William Blake (in Upton): "I question not the doctrines and practices of my religion any more than I would question a window concerning sight; I look through them, not with them."

I'm also thinking of how the synapses of the brain work via electrical polarity. No polarity, no action. For us, what is the ultimate polarity? It is by definition "God and man" -- or Creator and creation, and therefore Infinite and finite, Absolute and relative, Eternal and temporal, Whole and part, etc.

So: in order to cultivate a vibrant spiritual life, one must maintain the polarity between self and God, AKA (¶) and O. This is what prayer is all about; or humility, which is a sine qua non.

Note that humility has nothing to do with "humiliation," but rather, is simply an objective appreciation of our finitude. Awareness of finitude makes a man humble. Or should, anyway.

A kind of "energy" is potentiated with the polarization of God and man. If we fail to polarize, then "we dissipate our energy and squander our lives in a variety of meaningless ways" (Watts). This is where "desire" comes in to fill the void.

Obviously, a kind of polarity is created by what we Want and Don't Have. So we fill our lives accumulating the latter and then re-potentiating until the next purchase. I'm obviously not some anti-capitalist imbecile, but you have to use it, rather than vice versa. We've all been there.

For Kierkegaard, Abraham represents a kind of cosmic hinge. Think about it: he -- the father of us all -- allows himself to be completely polarized vis-a-vis Yahweh (similar to Mary's later submission and polarization). He "represents the first man in the Bible to devote himself in complete faith, and through free choice, to One God -- an act that represented a radically new understanding that formed the foundation of Western civilization" (Watts).

Foundation! I say (!) because this foundation is.... empty, so to speak. It is not an assertion, but a listening, an "active passivity." Go. Go where? To the land I will show you. B-... Just go, alright?

Here is how Rabbi Kushner describes it in one of our favorite little mystical tracts:

Abraham, our father,

Was simply told to leave....

This is the setting out.

The leaving of everything behind.

Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions.

The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision. The expectations....

To be, in a word: Open.

AKA the receptive state of (o).

And

If you think you know what you will find,

Then you will find nothing.

If you expect nothing,

Then you will always be surprised.

Boo!

Friday, May 19, 2017

I UnKnow, Wherefore He Is

Just another wild & wooly Friday post.

However, there is always an underlying method to our muddiness, in that every post, in one way or another, is trying to vault you out of your familiar absurcumstances. If the post can do that, then it has succeeded. So, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Which actually goes to the explicit subject of the present post, which has to do with the complementarity of knowing and unknowing. Unlike my competitors, I'm not trying to tell you what to think, but rather, to help you break out of what you think you think. It unsays as much in what remains of my sidebar.

The following strikes me as a key complementarity: "knowledge is objectively certain, but cannot tune in to the living process of reality, nor can it embrace the infinite. In contrast to this, faith is highly uncertain, but allows us direct access to the infinite reality of our own being" (Watts).

As such, the opposite -- or complement -- of knowledge is not ignorance but not-knowing, or what Keats referred to as negative capability: the ability to abide "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

As it so happens, I first stumbled upon this concept by way of Bion, who applied it to the practice of psychoanalysis, through which we can only pretend to understand the mind -- beginning with our own, let alone the patient's. Any such knowledge involves the process of an unknown and unknowable reality giving itself over to our understanding on a moment by moment basis: out of the formless and infinite void, thoughts arise, we know not from where.

Or, to paraphrase Jesus, it is like the wind, which blows wherever the heck it wants to -- gosh! -- such that "you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going." As if anyone could know that!

Here is an analogy of what Bion means by what he calls "transformations in O":

"Let us assume a painter sees a landscape and paints it. The landscape, according to our terminology, will be O," whereas the painting is "the end result of a series of transformations." Obviously there is a relationship between the painting (the transformation) and the landscape (O), but the number of potential transformations is literally inexhaustible -- and this is for just one landscape! Each one will transform something "invariant" from the landscape to the painting, otherwise we couldn't recognize the relationship. But there is no limit to the ways this can be accomplished.

It reminds me of an example Christopher Alexander provides in volume one of The Nature of Order. In it he reproduces a series of self-portraits by Matisse, each one showing very different features that couldn't actually be present in the same person. And yet, each one is clearly recognizable as Matisse. How did he do this?

First of all, this is what separates the genius from the Sunday painter, but that doesn't answer the question.

It must go back to what was said above about the mysterious invariant in the transformation. As Alexander puts it, a person's unique character "is something deeper than features: it is an inner thing which exists over and above the features, and is not even dependent on these features" (emphasis mine). That is weird! "What in the world is going on? What is it that Matisse is seeing?"

"The answer is, this 'character' is the wholeness. It is the overall vector, the overall qualitative structure, the overall field effect of the face." You can describe the face in terms of its elements or features, and yet, an accurate depiction by an average painter might not capture the character, while the "inaccurate" one by a gifted artist does.

I'll give you another example that we were discussing just last night. The wife, whose hobby is photography, -- c.f. here, at parkourmom99 -- has been trying to photograph our Great Dane. You'd think this would be easy, but despite hundreds of attempts, none of them capture his character. The photographs could be of just anydane, and simply don't convey his comical and endearing blend of traits. She might capture one of them, but not the unique combination. Maybe someday.

Conversely, our son is somehow a perfect subject. It's as if every photograph captures his spirit. Again, it's weird.

The thing that always bothers me is that we are in such a strange circumstance, and yet, people are forever wanting to normalize it, as if intelligence is "just anything." It's not! Rather, it is a daily miracle, one of three that are enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives (the other two being existence and life). "With intelligence, the curve springing from God closes on itself like a ring that in reality has never been parted from the Infinite" (Schuon).

Ironically, you can't leave God even if you tried. Rather, one can only pretend to. But this pretense can become like a block of granite or thick layer of ice that forms the boundary between the kingdoms of heaven and hell.

Therefore, you might say that (to mix metaphors) our terrestrial exile is built with bricks of (k), or with the type of self-enclosing knowledge that characterizes scientism and other pneumopathologies. "Theory" is etymologically related to sight, but any theory that pretends to be consistent and complete renders itself blind in a deeper sense.

Schuon has his own way of describing our permanent state of not-knowing, which is always in dialectic with our knowledge: "Whether we like it or not, we live surrounded by mysteries, which logically and existentially draw us towards transcendence." Why is that? Because if we could actually map reality in our heads -- if our knowledge were in perfect conformity to Total Reality -- it would connote complete immanence. Existence would be a closed circle instead of an open spiral.

I have this idea that any manmade map of reality is analogous to pi, which goes on forever without ever being able to resolve itself; in other words, the most perfectly detailed expression of pi is helpless to map the simple reality of a circle -- and what is more simple than a circle, AKA O?

"[T]he information-processing systems of the rational mind," writes Watts, "can comprehend only data existing in the finite world of form, whereas our 'faith-mind,'" -- which is a higher function -- "is the only 'wavelength' of the brain that permits us to attune ourselves to, and realize both the infinite, formless realm and the finite realm of existence."

The linear and timebound left cerebral hemisphere -- so to speak -- can never "contain" the right. But the right contains the left, such that in it we can reconcile finite and infinite. But never in any final way. Rather, its an ongrowing innerprize. It's the work of a lifetime, but the yoke is easy.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Something About Mary

A last minute cancellation has left an opening. Let's try to use this opening for an Opening.

It goes without saying that the feminine is a dimension of the divine. Nor is it merely an add-on: a compensation, an echo or consort. Rather, it -- She -- is absolutely primordial and essential.

We all -- meaning human beings -- intuit this on some level, so it has to be expressed in some form or fashion. In Christianity the principle form is Mary, but then what happened to Sophia, who is all over the OT? Is it possible they are two formal expressions of the same trans-formal reality?

"Scripture provides a sound basis for calling Wisdom not only a mother but a virgin, bride, partner and playmate as well" (Gottfried Arnold, in Cselenyi).

Hmmm, I like that last one: think of the psychic benefits of having a playful mother. My wife has an incredibly playful relationship with our son. My mom was... kind of a buzzkill. Fortunately, I don't think she was that way when I was a baby, when so many tracks of neurology are laid down and etched into our psyche-soma.

I believe Schuon traces masculinity all the way back and up to Absoluteness, whereas the feminine goes to Infinitude. There is no thinking per se beyond these two primordial categories, i.e., Absolute and Infinite.

By the way, just because Thinking Stops Here, this doesn't imply that reality ceases with it. Rather, it simply means we are at the threshold of the apophatic God -- the Godhead, the Ain Sof, the great Beyond-Being, the Divine Go-round of O. (And we use "O" advaitadly, because it is nothing, a void, until we give it content, i.e. wisdom, or it gives content to us, i.e. revelation.)

Oh, and by the way, I just have this suspicion -- a cosmic hunch -- that O is feminine, just as it looks.

It's like the "womb of God," which is of course represented herebelow by the womb of Mary. In a beautifully orthopardadoxical way, Mary contains that which contains her. But is this not the point of the spiritual adventure? To try to give birth to the God who contains us? We'll no doubt return to this theme as we go along.

Mary is also the Universal Church, or the womb of saints. But what is creation but the womb of saints? That seems to be the whole point of having a cosmos -- which, according to Paul has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Ouch!

Now, I concur with Hartshorne that the world is woven of complementarities, but that in any complementarity one side takes precedence. Thus, in the Absolute-Infinite complementarity, the former is first among equals. I mean, someone has to wear the pants in the divine family. HE is strength, while SHE is beauty. (Also, pure infinitude would yield to the cosmic inversion of absolute relativity, or the Left.)

The mother goes to inward relations, the father to outward relations; also, I would say that relationship as such is interior, and that relations are by definition relative. Thus, feminine-infinitude is the divine ground of appearances, of mamamaya.

Note that the Abba-solute has an ontological and not temporal precedence. It is not as if there was a "time" prior to infinitude.

In fact, it is very similar to the orthoparadoxical relationship between Father and Son, wherein Father is obviously primary, even though there was never a time that the Son was (or is) not. Rather, it is a perpetual -- or eternal -- begetting; or better, be-giving. The Father is always giving Being (to the Son), because that is how he rolls, has always rolled, and always will roll.

As the Fathers emphasized, begotten not made, the latter going to temporal creation. In contrast, the Son is... an atemporal creation, or perhaps Logos UnCreate, or something like that.

The command just popped into my head: honor your father and mother. Suddenly that command is loaded with metaphysical implications.

Another point just bubbled up: "Let Us make man in Our image, so male-and-female We is created. (First person plural is prior to first person singular.)

Now, that's provocative and even O-vocative (i.e., giving voice to O): maleandfemale is the unit of creation, and this unit is relation. Why? Because God is relation -- or, as W. Norris Clarke puts it, substance-in-relation.

And what is substance? Every existent thing is a combination of Form and Substance, the latter masculine, the former feminine: substance is like the womb, form the seed. It's mom'n'dad all the way up!

Well, that's about all we have time for. You take it from here. Hopefully you have a few seedlings to play with.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Satan's Frenzy and God's Peace

Ever wondered what a demonic swarm looks like? Wonder no more! The media swarm has reached peak frenzy in the last couple of days. Or has it? Will it just burn itself out? Or -- being that it is demonic -- does it draw on an occult source of energy in order to fuel the frenzy?

Yesterday we spoke of grace, another nonlocal energy that fuels the human adventure. However, it is never frenzied. It is energetic, to be sure, but it is a kind of calm energy. It is also focused rather than diffuse, the latter being characteristic of the demonic kind. Both give "pleasure" in their own ways, as do love and hate. Just as scientism is a kind of cheap omniscience, hatred gives an egalitarian joy that is within anyone's reach. It is why the left is addicted to it.

Of note, the left's perpetual tantrum is also wrapped up in a covert superiority that is both a cause and consequence of the hatred. Speaking of demonic influence, it's very much like the Palestinians: if they're hateful enough to use themselves as bombs, then the hatred must be justified! Except it's not. Rather, the hatred comes first, justification for it later.

Sobriety. That's what it is. Is the left ever sober? No, their baseline is hysteria, and hysteria always exteriorizes, fragments, and dissipates.

Conversely, grace interiorizes, centers, and synthesizes. Which is why, as Spitzer notes, "fear and anxiety should be mitigated as quickly as possible by turning to the Lord in trust and prayer." It's the difference between reluxing in the spiritual kingdom of heaven or dissipating (or hardening) in the material thingdom of heathens.

"When I open myself to God's grace," writes Spitzer, "I often find that I am intellectually open, creative, serendipitous, synthetic, and comprehensive." Concur. It seems that "the Holy Spirit works within our creative subconscious and directs us toward 'serendipitous' discoveries in a subtle way -- allowing us to come to the main insight ourselves" (ibid.).

By the way, is grace synonymous with the Holy Spirit? I like to think so. It simplifies matters.

Put it this way: grace is the presence for us of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus is the presence of the Son.

Note also that this grace is not just an energy but a link: ultimately it is the link between God and man, and this link is of course love. But all love is an iteration or prolongation of this same link: what links us to each other is the very same force that links us to God.

In the past we have discussed Bion's concept of "attacks on linking," a primitive psychological defense mechanism that destroys meaning by dismantling the links -- relations -- it is founded upon. Yesterday I alluded to the mental operation of (PS) <-> (D), which is analogous to catabolism (breaking down) and metabolism (synthesis).

Looked at this way, grace isn't just the metabolism, but a harmonious complementarily between breakdown and synthesis.

In turn, this provides a fruitful way of looking at suffering (which is the subject of Spitzer's book). Look at your own life: I won't even ask you how many times suffering turned out to be the vital prelude of a higher synthesis. Absent the suffering, the synthesis or integration wouldn't have occurred.

The other day I was thinking about the times in my life when certain paths were barred or doors slammed in my face. At the time these were painful or frustrating or puzzling, but in hindsight they were not only vital but life saving -- not biologically but spiritually. Thank God I didn't try to break down those doors or willfully push my way down the closed path. I give up easy. As it pertains to my own ego.

There's a famous passage where Paul thanks God for the affliction of his Thorn. I can relate. Humility is like a self-administered thorn. You can do it yourself or wait for God to take care of it, but his thorn will probably be bigger, depending upon how far up you have fallen from humility. Pride elevates so high that you live beneath yoursoph.

Speaking of which -- or whom -- I've been looking into another mater, the possibility that the Holy Spirit is feminine. I can't wholeheadedly recommend it, but I recently read The Maternal Face of God?, which has got me to wondering (note the question mark in the title). My preluminary answer is Why Yes, of course the Spirit is feminine.

One particular passage caught my attention. I haven't thought it out, but something in it tickled my epiphunny bone:

[M]an is aided by two principles: the Logos and Sophia. The Logos is a principle directed from God toward man while the principle of Sophia is directed from man toward God. The former (God's descent into the created world) is a theurgic act, and the latter (man's ascent to the spheres of heaven and becoming part of the divine) is a sophiurgic act. These two principles meet and unite in the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ.

First of all, this is very clear explication of what we call (↓↑). As we already know, these are not -- and cannot be -- linear arrows that are separate from one another. Rather, they are ultimately two aspects of the same spiraling arrow. You might say their relation is conjugal. Or at least ought to be. Otherwise you're living in sin!

Looked at this way, our ascent is always God's descent, and vice versa.

Mary -- who is all woman, and then some -- represents the last word in perfection attainable on our end. This meets with the descent of the Logos, and voila! The Godman.

Christ's human nature comes from Mary. Does this imply that his human nature is Sophia, so to speak? Might as well be.

Elsewhere Cselenyi reminds us that "there are polarities at every level of being. This proposition is closely related to the Sophia-principle, according to which the highest polarity in creation is the unity of Logos and Sophia" -- which is again Christ. However, I would not say polarity but complementarity; not polarized but conjugal. And of course fruitful. Fertile:

"Sophia increases new life inside individuals.... Sophia is the womb of becoming spiritual, an intermediary between God and world." Cselenyi cites a relevant gag by Angelus Silesius: "Even if Christ is born a thousand times in Bethlehem, but not inside of you, you will remain lost forever."

A womb with a pew or something.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

States & Traits, Fleeting Sparks & Burning Bushes

Hmm, not sure what's going on with the new look. I suppose I updated the blog when I meant to update the template, and now there's no going back. Oh well. Must be sound reasons for the switch, or good King Google wouldn't have done it.

As always, it's a little difficult to pick up the thread when I haven't posted for a few days. It's like a musician stopping in the middle of a solo and then trying to finish it the next week. It's much more a matter of entering the frame of mind that was present when you left off.

No, that's not right. It's not the frame, nor the content. I can always continue with the same subject, but only in an exterior way. In other words, the problem is reentering the same "space" one was in. As such, a better analogy is waking up and then going to sleep the next night and trying to continue in the same dream.

That right there is a critical point, and it actually converges on our current theme of the futility of merely objective knowledge of God: objective knowledge without subjective experience is not only empty, but Kierkegaard would say it is false. Somewhere he -- or someone -- says, better to be a passionate sinner than a hollow believer. Or some orthopardox to that effect.

The point is, it's no use pretending to be who you're not, or pretending not to be who you are. After all, we're talking about God, who cannot be fooled. He knows exactly who you are.

In psychology there is a distinction between states and traits: "Personality traits are characteristic behaviors and feelings that are consistent and long lasting. Unlike traits, which are stable characteristics, states are temporary behaviors or feelings that depend on a person's situation and motives at a particular time."

You might say that states are more spatial, while traits are prolonged in time. It's as if various potential states are at a right angle to linear time.

For example, there is the well known distinction between sacred and profane time; last Saturday evening we went to church, which I simply use as an opportunity to enter sacred time. Or rather, it is as if sacred time enters me. That is, I just close my eyes and empty my head, and the Spirit takes care of the rest.

I recently read the fourth volume of Robert Spitzer's quartet -- now quintet and rising -- on happiness, suffering, and transcendence, The Light Shines in the Darkness: Transforming Suffering Through Faith, and... Period. That sentence was long enough. Anyway, in it there are some passages that precisely parallel my own experience of what I symbolize as (↓) and (---) in the book.

One common way (↓) manifests is through "little coincidences" to which we must pay attention and not dismiss. Really, it's just a different way of looking at the world -- a more right-brained way involving pattern recognition (or recognosis). Words may jump out, -- BOO! -- whether "on the printed page or on a television program." The Spirit "works with subtle increases in tone and volume, subtle coincidences and gentle proddings."

Pretty soon you discover you're inside a conspiracy of providence! This is when the Raccoon whispers the sacred mantra to himself: Can I buy some pot from you?

As the cosmic coincidences begin to pile up "in conversations, books, and other media," it may mean the Spirit is up to something. He -- or possibly She -- "gives us the 'clue' of what to look for, but we must be attentive to how that opportunity might be actualized in our lives." Is there a way to tell when it's a clue and not a red herring?

Spitzer says Yes: it is a "sense of peace" (---) that "persists and lasts." Conversely, "if discord and anxiousness occur, it could be a sign that the Spirit is moving us away from this particular external opportunity." Or, just say increased fragmentation, AKA (•••••) instead of (•). We are always converging upon Unity -- or fragmentation.

In reality, this is simply the structure of our psychic metabolism, which is a complementarity between the two: we chew our food into fragments so it can be taken up into the higher unity of the body. Just so, all day long we are immersed in "fragments of being" that it is our task to weave into the cosmic area rug that pulls it all together. Indeed, this seems to be one of the functions of dreaming, and why people who cannot dream soon become crazy quilts.

For reasons we won't get into, Bion symbolized this psychic metabolism (PS) <-> (D). Note the two-way arrow, for we are always falling apart and coming back together. It is a process, somewhat like a whirlpool, which maintains its shape even while the content is constantly changing.

Have you ever met someone who can't maintain the whirlpool, but is just a collection of disconnected fragments? I recently had a patient with that problem, which you might say is the Problem of problems. Conversely, there are people who are utterly stable but lifeless: instead of dynamic process-structures, they are static and closed structures that cannot metabolize novelty.

By the way, the peace referenced above is not a static thing. The dead are peaceful in their own way. But real peace is a presence, not an absence; it's a thing.

Or better, a person and a relationship. So it can be accompanied by inspiration and enthusiasm, only it will have a peaceful and not manic quality. This manic quality occurs, for example, when your baseball team has a walk-off victory, or when you just made a Big Purchase, or with certain kinds of rock music. There's nothing wrong with it, just don't confuse it with the more lasting kind.

Come to think of it, "the Evil One uses exaggeration to move fervent and enthusiastic people to discouragement or spiritual pride -- or both" (ibid.). For all intents and purposes, rock music used to be my religion. But even then, there was always something in me that saw behind or beneath or above it to something else. If not for that, I'd just be one of those pathetic aging hippies who haven't taken a new imprint since 1967.

In that regard, we'll be hearing a lot about the Summer of Love, being that it's the 50 year anniversary. It is the last word in boomer narcissism, so prepare to be nauseated. I was only 11 at the time, so don't blame me.

How does all this relate to Kierkegaard? Speaking of the Summer of Love -- and of drugs -- a coincidence: "Most people, through alcohol, drugs, the splendor of nature or perhaps through insight that arises from a book or movie, occasionally have experienced profound and enlightening realizations," AKA (?!).

But then they're gone. This is why our sad old hippies never stop trying to resuscitate this corpse. I suppose you could say it's a substitute for resurrection.

This will seem off-the-wall, but I happened to read this interview with the laughably pompous and self-important Donovan, who was big in 1967. So big he refuses to leave:

... what we are listening to in popular music is really, from 1964 onwards, not only a revolution but a renaissance. The world must understand that the door that was opened -- and I kicked the door open first, it seems -- and the world was in deep trouble after the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars and a Depression and nuclear bombs and the systematic destruction of the ecosystem. We were the change. They call it the new Age of Aquarius.

The world is still not out of trouble and what we brought in, the conscious songwriters of the ’60s, and all the things we did musically, breaking down all barriers... Donovan, Paul and Ringo and my wife Linda, we are still doing the same thing...

Wow. What a jackass! Despite Donovan's efforts -- and even a hand from Ringo -- the world still has some problems. I can't imagine why.

Pretty scattered post, eh? We'll leave off with this:

"[E]nlightenment is a moment-by-moment experience. Subjective truths are the living fruits of awareness that exist only in the burning fire of subjective experience -- when the fire goes out the truth becomes a lifeless, impotent, empty 'word husk'" (Watts).

Like Donovan. Except I'm uncomfortable with that word "enlightenment." The Light is coming in, to be sure, but it's because we're in relationship to a source that transcends us, not because we possess anything.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Materialism, AKA The Bureau of Missing Persons

Again, certain problems arise the higher we travel up the epistemological food chain, where things become increasingly real.

For example, it is possible to model simple phenomena such as the solar system, and predict where this or that planet will be 100 or 1,000 years hence. This becomes quite difficult in complex systems (such as the climate), but is impossible in principle in complex systems exhibiting subjectivity and personhood -- or in other words, human beings (in short, you can't model freedom, but liberals never stop trying).

For those of you who don't know the backstory, my grad school education in psychology might have been worthless -- if not pernicious -- had it not intersected with two saving graces, one of whom was a particular professor, the other an obscure (at least outside psychoanalytic circles) theorist named W.R. Bion. It was the latter who vaulted me out of my existing orbit and taught me how to think. Or rather, taught me what I was doing when thinking (or pretending to).

However, especially in hindsight, I can see that there wasn't necessarily anything special about Bion. He didn't discover anything new, so no need to run out and purchase his expensive and abstruse little books.

For example, I'm seeing that Kierkegaard raised the same issues, as did many thinkers before him, probably going back to Socrates. As far as we know, Socrates was the first man to consciously avoid pretending to know what couldn't be known, or to always bear in mind the vast realm of the Unknown Unknown, which swamps the other three.

Of course there are the known knowns of everyday science and known unknowns of twilit philosophy. In many ways psychoanalysis is the paradoxical realm the unknown known, e.g., unconscious drives and conflicts that we only pretend not to know.

In this context, you could say that a psychological symptom is the quintessential case of an unknown known, in the sense that your conscious mind doesn't understand what the symptom means, but your unconscious mind must, or it wouldn't be there. The symptom is a communication of knowledge, only the left brain doesn't know what the right brain is up to.

Think about the miracle of mathematics, which allows us to deal with a whole realm of Objects That Aren't Here. Where do my investments exist, for example? I have a piece of paper with a bunch of abstract numbers that somehow relate to these distant objects, but imagine trying to keep track of them without the numbers.

Well, there are certain dimensions of existence that cannot be so treated, for example, human relationships. As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell remind us, "ain't nothin' like the real thing": I got your picture hangin' on the wall / But it can't see or come to me when I call your name / I realize it's just a picture in a frame. Etc.

No abstract symbol can replace or represent the missing person. Nor, for that matter, the missing God. As Bion puts it, certain formulations are "dependent on the presence of the experiences being formulated." We must deal "with the original object without the aid of an intervening model which [we] can manipulate." For example, "there is no brother with whom to work out problems of the relationship with a father."

Likewise, it's no use dealing with models of God, no matter how accurate. Rather, only the original will do.

Note how materialism, or any form of naturalism, simply denies the existence of persons. Materialism is the philosophy of the Missing Person. This person is somehow putting forth a philosophy that denies the existence of the person putting it forth. It is inherently regressive, because it transforms a known unknown -- the person -- into an unknown unknown. This renders the "examined life" impossible, because there is no one to examine.

Nevertheless, like a dead body floating to the surface, one cannot actually rid the cosmos of the personal without it returning unbidden. Indeed, the materialist has things precisely backward and upside down, for the personal is the ultimate category of existence; everything is reducible to it, rather than vice versa.

Yesterday a thoughtlet pops into my head: the love of truth ultimately converges upon the truth of love.

It also occurred to me that a person is never a thing or object, but a link. Or better, a person always refers to. A baby refers to mother, and vice versa. Assuming we grow all the way up, man ultimately refers to God, and vice versa. That "God refers to man" may sound strange, but it's another way of saying Incarnation.

Then it occurs to me that the cosmos is like a vast life-making machine, and that life is a mind-making machine. This makes man the God-making machine.

But this formulation has it all backward, for we must begin with the personhood of the Creator. The Creator wishes to create persons. Everything in existence is marked by traces of personhood; in other words, every existent has an intelligible interior accessible to the human subject. Knowledge is simply the interior of objects calling out to the interior of persons: they refer to us, as we refer to them, in an ever-deepening spiral.

But the ultimate truth is this mysterious human subject itself. Rather, make that the penultimate truth, because it is inexplicable if it doesn't refer to its own source, AKA God. So, to round out this roundabout post, let's get back to what Kierkegaard has to say about all this perfect nonsense:

"Kierkegaard's emphasis on the pointlessness of 'intellectually grasped' truth... explains why throughout history so few seekers have gained enlightenment from the 'great truths' provided by enlightened men..."

"[F]or when the insights of these enlightened masters are spoken by them, or repeated and recorded by others, they are invariably experienced by those listening only as objective, or intellectually acknowledged, truths that do not carry the energy of the subjective experience from which these insights arise."

"For language cannot directly communicate the subjective truth," but only "conceptual representations of their subjective insights." These representations are "signposts that merely point toward a reality that each individual must discover, or subjectively understand for themselves through their own direct experience" (Watts).

In other words, the Subject must be present to the subject. Accept no substitutes. You can't work out your God issues with your daddy, let alone with matter.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Advice for the Spiritual Pathlete

So Kierkegaard, to his credit, "wished to make people think for themselves, use independent judgment and act with deliberate choice," "based upon his realization that existential truth -- truth that can potentially transform a person's outlook and manner of living -- couldn't be communicated directly in an effective manner" (Watts).

Very much like psychotherapy, through which one is endeavoring to facilitate realizations on the part of the patient.

Realization. Funny word. It means we must somehow "make real" what is by definition already real. I first realized the gnotion when I encountered Bion back in 1985. For him, the whole problem was how to realize truths that could only be understood via experience.

It's the difference between theory and truth, or model and reality. Now, the mind lives on truth and starves without it. But the higher up the scale of knowledge, the more it is entwined with experience. Down low, anyone with average intelligence can understand math or physics or Marxism.

But up high, there are certain qualifications that no degree can confer -- for example, oh, humility, trust, reverence, submission. In other words, there is an element of preparation, just as with any other athlete. For we are spiritual pathletes, and the Spirit is the pneumotherapist.

Note that when dealing with profane knowledge, the quicker the better. A synonym for intelligent is "quick." Likewise, we call a poor student "slow."

That doesn't apply at all in the spirit or even psychic world. Bion writes that

A patient may see the meaning of an interpretation so quickly that the psychoanalyst is surprised to find a moment later that the patient has apparently no understanding of what has been said to him. The speed of his thought makes him able to closure the statement being discussed before he has had time to understand it.

Which goes to the problem of assimilation, or even metabolism -- of chewing and digesting. The kind of truth we are talking about cannot merely be known. Indeed, orthopardoxically, as it pertains to the pneumosphere, knowledge can be one of the key defenses against understanding.

Which is why garden-variety infertile eggheadery simply has no purchase in this dimension. There is no book one could write, no matter how inexhaustibly packed with truth, that a person can't get around. The ways of denial are infinite.

Which is again why Jesus... Well, I don't want to put words in his mouth or motives in his head, but this must be a big reason why he didn't simply write a book and toss it out there. Wouldn't that have been easier? "Here. Here's the truth. Now, commit it to memory and go on with your lives."

But man's Problem isn't found in a book, so the Solution won't be found there either. You know the old gag: you can't reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into.

And surely Adam wasn't reasoned into anything. Rather, he was simply obeying the dictates of his own nature. He didn't need the book. Rather, he was on personal terms with the Author, so he got the Word from the source's mouth and ignored it anyway.

What is the point of that story? What are we supposed to realize? Among others, it surely goes to the many things man can do with truth other than assimilating it.

The purpose of words is to "contain" meaning. But God by definition transcends -- or shatters is more like it -- any such containment. So, how do we... Bion recognized the same problem in psychology:

"The verbal expression can be so formalized, so rigid, so filled with already existing ideas that the idea I want to express can have all the life squeezed out of it."

Conversely, "the meaning I wish to express may have such force and vitality, relative to the verbal formulation in which I strive to contain it, that it destroys the verbal container." On the one hand, meaning that is dead on arrival; on the other, speech that is dead at conception.

How do we get around this? As you know, Bion is the fellow who stole the idea of O from me in a brazen act of anticipatory plagiarism. He adopted "the approach of mystics from the Bhagavad Gita to the present" and put forth the central postulate "that atonement with ultimate reality, or O, as I have called it to avoid involvement with an existing association, is essential to harmonious mental growth."

Note how Bion "rediscovers" the same old Fall: "Disturbance in capacity for atonement is associated with megalomaniac attitudes." You don't say.

Or better, you need to unsay what cannot be said -- which isn't the same as not saying it.

Interesting that just after this passage, Bion goes into a cryptic little riff on threeness: "When the individual is confronted with what, in comparison with himself, is an infinite number or quantity, he binds the 'innumerable' host by the name 'three'" such that "the 'infinite' number has now been made finite."

In my view, -- which of course could be wrong -- the One and the Three are complementary. Not to say the Trinity is finite, only that it is... how to put it... a kind of container of infinitude? Certainly it is a way for humans to "think about" an infinitude that otherwise cannot be thought, taught, or got, only sought. But not unproductively....