Thursday, January 22, 2015

Extraterrestrial Encounter at the Football Game

As a hypothetical, let's imagine an extraterrestrial from a distant world travels to Earth and invisibly observes a football game.  The extraterrestrial has no knowledge or background, and is merely observing the football game, having no idea it is even a game, or that human beings are even sentient.

In watching the game, the extraterrestrial observes that when certain things (offensive linemen) receive the football, they begin running toward the goal post.  If the extraterrestrial assumes that the extraterrestrial is the only sentient organism in the universe, they will be convinced that they are witnessing some kind of complex mechanism.  Clearly, when certain parts receive a physical signal (the football), the football causes the machine to move up the field toward the goal.  The extraterrestrial notices that as the lineman moves up the field, the machine/offensive lineman seems to be repelled by the presence of defensive players approaching, moving out of the way or avoiding them.  Although the motion of the machine/offensive line man is not completely determined, the offensive lineman seems to move randomly toward the end zone, even accounting for the repulsion caused by the presence of the defensive line men.

Is the extraterrestrial witnessing the behavior of sentient human beings, or is the extraterrestrial witnessing the behavior of complex organic machines?  How could the extraterrestrial tell the two types of processes apart?  Empirically speaking, when the offensive lineman receives the football, it is followed by movement toward the end zone.  Wouldn't the extraterrestrial postulate that possession of the football causes the machine to proceed to the end zone?  In addition, the proximity of the defensive linemen--does this not cause the lineman to avoid the defensive lineman?  How do you distinguish a sentient process (dependent on signs and a socially created system of meaning) from a mechanical process?

In order to have a system based on meaning, we need at least two things:  a system of social customs and organisms with the faculty of memory.  There must be an agreed upon form for doing things, and there must be agreed upon signs that trigger certain behaviors.  We can make a distinction between norms, which are manifest in synergized behavior by organism, and rules, which are formal symbols.  There can obviously be a game, such as an informal game of catch, which function without explicit rules, but presuppose norms.  After all, you must know to catch the ball when it is thrown to you, and you must know to throw it back.  When a player deviates from the norms (in the eyes of the other players), then usually a discussion and an agreement on rules follows--for example, how hard to throw the ball, or what the agreed upon bounds of play are.  This point is important, because it goes in part to demonstrate that normative transgression results in the production of formal rules.  If all people shared the same sense of norms, and all people followed those norms, then there would be no rules. 

We can find this distinction between norms and rules made in Romans Chapter 2 verses 12-16, where St. Paul discusses the Law, which we can equate with rules:

All who sinned apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.  For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God's sight, but the doers of the Law who will be justified.  When Gentiles, who do not possess the Law, do instinctively what the Law requires, these, though not having the Law, are a Law to themselves.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bear witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, accord to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

The law written in the heart corresponds to norms, whereas the revealed Law corresponds to rules.  One of the perplexities of Wittgenstein scholarship deals with Wittgenstein’s contention that there can be no moral rules.  The Law does not reveal the nature of the Good to us, the Law corrects us, or chastises us when we deviate from the true Good.  If we are truly Good, we need no Law, and if we possess a Law, mere possession or knowledge of the Law does not aid us, it is only if we obey the Law do we gain any benefit.  It is also noteworthy that the Law is only comprehensible because we already possess the true Law in our hearts:  the spoken Law only chastises us back into conformity with the inner Law of our hearts.

Will the extraterrestrial understand that the football match is a game, or will the extraterrestrial view the football match as a mechanical system, with footballs causing people to run up the field and the like?  Unless the extraterrestrial has a system of intersubjective norms similar to those held by the human species, it is not clear that the extraterrestrial will ever be able to comprehend that the match is a football game, and not merely a mechanical system.  But we have to ask, how do we know a football game is a football game?  In some sense, because we possess a similar set of norms as our football players.  What distinguishes a game of football from firing a gun?

First of all, the game depends upon memory, the memory of the players.  But in addition, the game depends upon the players possessing sufficient intellect to learn the game over a certain period of time.  Last, the game depends upon the will of the players, first to learn the game, second to continue to abide by the rules (and the norms) of the game during play.  Without memory, intellect, and will, there can be no football.  Thus, to understand the game is to possess a system of intersubjective norms, and to possess intellect, memory and will.  

What are these intersubjective norms?  Well, first is bears mentioning something that these norms are not:  describable.  Because human beings can coordinate their behavior, they can develop customs and norms.  Because human beings have norms, they can coordinate their speech, and their speech is intelligible precisely on account of the existence of these norms.  Thus, we can have norms without speech, but no speech without norms.  Accordingly, our speech presupposes norms, and manifests our norms, but, being incapable of division from our norms, can never describe what our norms are (their form), while being capable sometimes of explicating the substance of a specific norm is (within a community). 

Because we cannot really describe what our norms are, only their effects, it bears noting that we cannot describe why our norms sometimes differ.  St. Paul seems to suggest that our capacity for intellection has been impaired, confused, and that this can sometimes accuse us (obfuscation), and sometimes excuse us (true ignorance).  The Christian message regarding these norms is expressed in the story of the Fall:  transgression, fall, and then a new form of life, characterized by pain and strife.  It is a description of the effect of the Fall, but not an explanation of how our norms became corruption, because it deals in effects, not causes.  The Fall is unintelligible.

Returning to our discussion of norms and rules, we can see the limits of the Law:  the written Law presupposes a system of norms for it to be intelligible, and the written Law only chastises or returns us to the Law writ in our hearts.  Moreover, only on account of transgression is there a written Law in the first place:  the Law accuses us (the existence of Language accuses us), and disciplines us, but it does not, on its own accord, make us holy.  Moreover, given the fundamental indeterminacy of meaning, it is clear that the written Law, on its own accord, cannot even properly chastise us, because its meaning is ultimately unknowable.  We do not need ethical rules (because we lack the ability to interpret them consistently), we need an ethical example to imitate.  If we are to be good, the Good must reveal itself to us, and we must recognize it as the Good, and follow it.  In this sense, ethics is voluntary, and can never truly be compelled by another person.  This is our liberty, to follow or to reject, and we cannot be forced to follow, we can only be forced to conform. 

Returning to our extraterrestrial, the extraterrestrial must recognize the football players as rational agents, imitating some kind of paradigm, in order for the extraterrestrial to recognize what it is dealing with. 

The question is the following:  we know that human beings play games, have communication systems, follow norms, possess a collective sense of meaning.  Is it possible that the sub-components of the human being also follow norms and possess a collective sense of meaning, for example, the immune system?  Is it possible that life itself is really the manifestation of a system of meaning?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Theological "Truths"

I was watching an atheist clip the other day, and he was talking about how the fact that X number of people were willing to give their lives for the preservation of their religious tradition did not make it true.  It occurred to me that what I was hearing was a man who has a conception of truth that is radically different from the conception of truth found in many religious traditions.  Thus, he was not refuting an argument, he was imposing his conception of truth, and pointing out that martyrdom does not equate to truth under his conception.  Thus, he was not refuting the Truth of God, he was substituting his own truth in the place of God's Truth, as it has been articulated by God's followers.

This was interesting to me, not because I want to convince anyone that either side is correct, but because it presented a translation problem.  We have two rival conceptions of a concept, two sides advancing arguments, but misunderstanding of what each other is presupposing as their first principles.

Let's start with our atheist debater.  Although he didn't quite come out and say it, I surmise that his conception of truth is something like the following:  A statement is true if and only if it is true.  This is the correspondence theory of truth, a statement is true if it corresponds to reality.  Further, this correspondence is determined by empirical observation of reality.  In this sense, the fact that I subjectively believe something is true does not make it true, only the fact that it corresponds to this objective reality.  Thus, even if I die the death of a martyr, that does not make my belief true.

Of course, this correspondence theory has limited utility outside of very narrow empirical investigations.  For example, is it true that gravity exists, or that evolutionary theory is true?  In the first instance, no one has ever observed gravity, only its effects, so it is not true that gravity exists.  The theory of gravity is just a useful tool for making predictions about future observable events.  Likewise, the status of evolution is even shakier.  Evolution does not make any firm predictions about anything, it explains a historical fact of speciation.  In as much as there may very well emerge new species, it may be that someone can say that evolution makes predictions about how those species will come to be, but it is clear that evolution does not actually make any specific
predictions about future species, any more than astrology does.  My evolutionary friends are going to object to this way of formulating it, but the fact remains that evolution does not predict when a new species will happen, or what form the new species will take or anything of the sort.  It is a hand-waving sort of explanation, which should trouble some people, but does not.

Unlike gravity, evolution does not really make testable predictions, rather, it provides a narrative trope or a framework for talking about historical patterns.  At the same time, I am fudging it a bit, in population genetics, scientists will use probability models to predict genetic (and phenotypical) incidences in future generations, and these predictions are testable.  But is this really evolutionary theory (e.g. an explanation of the origin of species) or is this merely applying mathematical models to genetics?  Lets just say the theory of evolution makes a domain more intelligible than it might otherwise be, and that evolution can be teased into something like a predictive theory in certain contexts, radically inferior if judged in light of Newton's Law of Gravity. In any event, evolution is not true, it is merely useful.

We can consider mathematics, which is not empirical.  Mathematics is simply a kind of language, or a kind of activity that human beings engage in, but which happens to have practical applications to the empirical world.  A mathematical truth is not empirical, for example, we don't have to calculate what "2+2" equals on the moon to be assured it equals "4" on the moon as well as on Earth.  But notice my atheist friend cannot account for why mathematical truths can be said to be true.  Of course, we can engage in a little Platonic mythology, and talk about the transcendent eternal plane of Numbers, and that our little terrestrial operations correspond to these scared, eternal truths on the Platonic dimension.  But lets think about this one, shall we?  Let's say our little account were true, that there was this invisible realm, and that when I calculated my numbers, my result corresponded to this invisible Platonic structure.  How would I know such a thing?  How would I transmit such knowledge to my child?  How could I know that I knew such a thing? Do I know these things, or do I have a picture (or a model) that I derived from discussing propositions about empirical states of affairs, that I am now trying to impose on mathematical truths?

I should like to break out of this dilemma by suggesting that mathematical truths are true on the basis of convention.  Humans devise certain rules or procedures, and explore those procedures--we can compare it to the invention of the game of chess.  As humans explore these systems of procedures, we come up against certain possibilities, for example, division by zero yields one result when we use one procedure and another result by another procedure, so we make a rule that you cannot divide by zero.  Note that what makes mathematical truths true is that there is a uniform consensus of persons on the general rules of mathematics.  Thus, it is not up to an individual to decide what is or is not true in mathematics, but it is up to the consensus of a community.  For example, I can establish a mathematical proof of a certain theorem to my own satisfaction, but the theorem is not proved unless or until the community deems the proof to be valid.  Notwithstanding that mathematical truths are social facts, not empirical facts, this does not detract from the utility of various systems of mathematics.  Moreover, the fact that there are different means of constructing mathematical systems (for example, Euclidean versus Non-Euclidean geometries), this does not matter so long as the there are empirical applications.  That is to say, mathematics may be better viewed as a tool, a means of representation, rather than some super-essential structure of the universe.

But returning to our correspondence theory of truth, it is pretty clear that we cannot gain any insight into mathematical truths from our correspondence theory, we are just left with some silly Platonist mythology which we are not able to connect up with a human epistemology or an empirical world.  So whatever we want to say about truth, it is not clearly a correspondence with empirical reality, and a correspondence with some metaphysical reality does not clarify anything.  It is like saying that because the word "unicorn" has a meaning, there has to be an imaginary world which is populated with unicorns, in the same way that for "cow" to have a meaning, there has to be a real world populated by cows.  But I have a means of teaching a child to use the term "cow" which includes pointing to real animals called "cows".  I can't do this with a "unicorn"--but we might have a way of understanding how "unicorn" can refer to something:  it can refer to an image.  But I cannot point to a "unicorn" in some alternative metaphysical realm.  We are using a certain model of truth and then insisting that our practices be made to fit into this model.  The truth of mathematics are social truths, and it is clear that we have to acknowledge two ontological levels:  one of the community, and one of the individual.  The truths of mathematics express a communal order, a norm of expression within a certain group.  On the other hand, the truths of mathematics do not express an individual order, as the individual can believe him or herself to be right, but can be wrong.  The community, on the other hand, cannot be wrong (unless it decides in the future that it was wrong in the past).  The task of the individual, in as much as the individual wants to succeed at mathematics, is not to be certain, but to conform to the rule of the community.  But why does the community want to preserve this system of norms and rules, and why does the individual want to conform to this system?  Presumably, because both the individual and the community perceive mathematics to be a good, or to result in a good.  After all, being an IV drug user also involves being a member of a certain community and conforming to the norms of that community, but none-the-less most people support the suppression of IV drug use because they perceive the end of the community to be evil.

A social fact implies the existence of a community unified by a set of rules and practices (which reflect communal norms) and which exists for some purpose.  Where there are communal norms (unspoken conventions of behavior) or communal rules and practices (verbal conventions embodied in conventions of behavior), there is a purpose.  In fact, this is the general structure for organization of a complex system.  A system of signals and conventions of behavior which can be socially transmitted to new persons, and which provides for positive and negative reinforcement of individuals.  Although this is true of human social behavior, I suspect, without being able to empirically establish, that this structure replicates itself downwards to all levels of self-organizing behavior.  Activity unifies many parts toward a directed goal, employing norms of behavior and, on occasion, symbols.  From this standpoint, life is not something contained within a physical matrix, but something symbolized through a physical matrix.  Thus, we should not be surprised that we cannot get far understanding mathematics from a reductive or mechanical framework, as the truths of mathematics can only be understood as manifesting the correspondence between one ontological level of reality to a higher level of reality.  [Speaking from the Platonic perspective, the higher level is higher because it makes the lower level intelligible.]  I think we can also understand where the notion of free will raises itself:  a goal directed lower order can either be integrated or oriented within the goals (and norms) of a higher order, or the lower order can deviate from the higher order.  Without positing a hierarchy of ontological levels, and a system of communication and punishment, it is hard to conceptualize what is involved in free will.

At the same time, we have a problem, because these different levels of reality cannot be fully differentiated.  Our mathematician is part of the community of mathematicians, and the community of mathematicians includes our mathematician.  Thus, we can make no ultimate division between the mathematician and the community, the way we can make one between our subjective belief about the weather and the actual condition of the weather.  The truths of mathematics are not true independent of mathematicians, but at the same time, a truth of mathematics is not true because one mathematician believes it.  There are truths of mathematics because all mathematicians agree, but if there were no mathematicians, or they were incapable of reaching agreement on anything, there could be no mathematics.  We have spoken previously of powers and effects.  Clearly most people, as a potency, the capacity to learn mathematics.  But everyone does not have the power to actually do advanced mathematics.  How can this potency be understood, except as a capacity to be able to develop to the point that one can do something.  Moreover, this doing of mathematics, it cannot be understood as a private activity, but as participating in a collective form of life.  This potency is the capacity to become part of something greater than simply one's self, through conforming to the rule of the community.

This discussion should cause us to come back to our simple "correspondence" theory, to point out that it has problems even in our empirical domain.  After all, "It is raining" is not true based on our observation, as we can be mistaken, or hallucinating, or delusional.  Rather, whether it is raining or not is ultimately the result of a communal consensus, not merely an individual.  Otherwise, there would be no difference between believing that I confirmed it was raining, and actually confirming that it was raining.  Thus, ultimately, we must reject our distinction between empirical truths and social truths.  There are only social truths.  Moreover, the relationship between an individual and a community cannot ultimately be rationally analyzed, because an individual cannot ultimately be segregated out from the community.   The communal norm forms the judgments of the members of the community.  The further we push our analysis of the truth, the clearer it becomes that we are never going to ultimately define the truth, except in this sense of the lower order of reality corresponding with the higher order of reality.  The lower order does not describe the higher order (as the higher order makes the lower order intelligible), the lower order expresses or shows the higher order.

Here we get to the notion of God.  If truth in the ultimate analysis is social, reflecting a correspondence of the judgment of an individual with a system of group norms, rules and behaviors, then power exercised in accordance with justice, authority, manifests truth.  On the other hand, even if power is exercised in accordance with the selfish ends of the control group, without concern for the subjects, although power dispenses with justice, power still retains the capacity to compel assent.  That is, the individual or group with power has the capacity to compel the assent of the subject individuals.  Stalin says it is true, and you repeat that it is true.  Subjectivity is ordered by an inter-subjective order of power, but if there is to be a traditional understanding of truth, beyond simple conformity to a system of power, then inter-subjectivity must be ordered by some power beyond itself.  That is to say, justice, the shared norms above the group, uniting the group.  Authority is the exercise of power in accordance with justice, which is above power.  The modern obsession with power, and limiting power, proves to be a chimera.  Since all complex orders are hierarchical, simply shifting the identity of the control group does nothing to make the system any fairer.  The real issue is not power, but the absence of justice.  So long as justice remains uncorrupted, the order is stable, whether it is administered by representatives of the bourgeois or representatives of the proletariat.

Because power interprets the meaning of the laws, the symbolic content of the law does nothing to restrain power.  If power is to be exercised justly, leaders must exercise self-restraint.  To the extent that a leader can exercise self-restraint, the laws will be just.  Thus, more than fetishizing positive legal symbols, in order to have a just or sound order, leaders must be educated in the virtues and demonstrate sound moral character.  If one looks historically at authoritarian regimes, historical divergences can be explained in large part based on the character of the leader: a Bismark can always be contrasted with a Hitler or a Bonaparte in main measure due to Bismark's virtue.  If mass movements supporting dictatorships do a poor job in selecting leaders, the principle of heredity does not seem to guarantee much success either.  For this reason, provided a people posses sufficient collective virtue to support it, a Republic serves better than a Monarchy, as a Republic combines features of both a Monarchy and an Oligarchy.  A Parliamentary system is more consistent than monarchy (if more mediocre) because even though a member stands for election, the structural forces in the society (mass media, monied interests) can exert influence on the Parliament no matter who wins or loses.  Parliament allows for oligarchical control and democratic legitimacy.  Thus, the Republic, with a unitary executive and a congressional body allows for a balance.  In times of a strong, decisive executive, the Republic exhibits characteristics of the Monarchy, whereas in times of a weak, ineffectual executive, the Republic reverts to the consistent mediocrity of Oligarchy.        

In considering our leader, we must posit an ideal from which our actual leader deviates.  For this ideal leader, all exercise of power will be in keeping with the norms of the community.  What he or she does will be just.  What he or she knows will be true.  That is, we have to postulate an ideal subject, which embodies authority, in which knowing and being are unified, e.g. what it thinks is, and what is is what it thinks.  In this sense, power, knowledge and truth are unified in this subject, and this subject unifies all creation.  If we postulate this ideal subject, then we can conceptualize how a community can be ultimately wrong.  Stalin may define knowledge, and he may define what is true, but for all that, he lacks the capacity to make it true.  Because of this disparity, Stalin's power, and therefore his knowledge, is limited.  On the other hand, the Sovereign of the Universe is not limited in any fashion.  In this sense, the truth of a social order is given by its correspondence with the higher ontological level, it is true in as much as it is just.       

If we consider the game of chess, we recognize that we are dealing with a complex system involving rules which expresses a competitive purpose.  One wants to best one's opponent.  Who wins the game of chess?  If we think strategically, we can say that the structure of the game affords certain strategic advantages, and the player who can see these advantages can triumph over a weaker opponent, regardless of how the opponent actually plays.  The strategy emerges from the structure created by the system, and the one who sees more clearly, comprehends or intuits the relative benefits of various chess positions.  Rules create a purpose-driven activity, but rules in combination with physical limitations create strategic possibilities within the system.  Likewise, war and politics may be viewed as a game, and to the extent that both war and politics are driven by ends, they are limited by rules and norms.  The outcome of a battle rests on the laws of physics, but above and beyond the laws of physics, the battle rests on the morale, the level of cooperation between troops, on the abilities of the generals, etc.  A good general must not only see the purely material dimension of the battle, but these truths which are revealed in the higher orders of things.

We can contrast war and politics.  Politics is a contest between two groups or factions for domination, but a political contest always occurs within certain bounds.  Even if a form of politics includes assassinations or poisonings, these aggressions are targeted at specific individuals.  On the other hand, in war, enmity is unbounded, and in many instances, the victor has annihilated the vanquished.  Who we are in terms of nationality is directly or indirectly the result of human warfare.  What language we speak, or even what religion we practice is directly or indirectly the result of human warfare.  I would submit that war defines humanity, humanity does not define war.  We speak of "ending the cycle of violence" but the cycle of violence can have no clear end.  We can only suppress the cycle of violence, and only for a limited period time, in a limited area of territorial control.  Without order, violence inevitably raises its ugly head, and no human order is everlasting.  Human beings are not ultimately in control of their destinies, any more than the outcome of conflicts between relative equals are assured.  A conflict between two rival human orders can only be resolved by an order above both.  We say "One Nation, Under God" for a reason, because a nation can only exist so long as it is a unified order, and it can preserve itself and its territory in battle.  If we read the Old Testament, it is clear that it is God that grants salvation, victory in Battle, to his Chosen People.

I have a theory about the psychological and sociological origins of modern atheism.  If we accept that human beings are defined by an order beyond themselves, which ultimately culminates in God, then God brings wars and God decides wars.  In an age of massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, it is clear that God can, in a pretty direct way, destroy modern society in the span of approximately 3 minutes.  It would be splendid if we really thought human beings were fantastic and beautiful, and that modern society could not possibly warrant total destruction.   But there it is, isn't it?  We probably on some level realize that we deserve destruction.  Well, God has both the means, and a damn good motive.  Moreover, there is even an expressed Biblical intent to destroy the world by fire.  It would be a whole lot nicer to believe that human beings could control warfare, that human beings could limit warfare, that we could make a world in which warfare never happened, that all these weapons never got used.  But notice that humanity has never been able to even wholesale limit the production of these weapons, and reductions between the United States and Russia have never significantly limited the nuclear capacity of either Nation.  Why should we suppose anyone would pull back in the event of reasonable provocation?  The real existence of God is horrifying in the extreme--God is in control, and we have, in our arrogance, developed the means for our own slaughter by the Sovereign.  He sent us out to fetch a switch, so we brought back a thermonuclear arsenal.  Better to deny the existence of God, and engage in acts of sacrilege to assure ourselves there is "no one up there".  Surely it could not be unmerited mercy that stays his Hand?

I, as a grim realist, must confess that the existence of hierarchical orders is an irreducible feature of our world, as expressed in language and social structures.  Further, all human hierarchies are answerable to a power outside of themselves.  Whether we call it God or Justice or Judgment, all Nations enjoy peace and victory only on account of powers beyond themselves.  Nor would I claim that victory goes only to the just.  The wicked are punished, but the good are also tested.  The arc of history tends to Justice, but it can be a very long bend during which time we can only persevere in faith and prepare in hope for a meeker future.

So we return to the argument that God exists based on the willingness of his followers to die for their faith.  If we understand that the ultimate truth is not something that you can measure on an instrument panel, but a trust in something that will insure the survival of your group in the face of the ultimate testing ground of human existence, war and death, then I think we have to look at the theistic argument differently.  After all, we spoke of those who in chess could see more clearly than their opponents, and who understood more clearly what the right move was.  In chess, one can only determine the soundness of a move at the end of the game.  In the game of life, it is unclear how we can judge whether a person's decision to embrace martyrdom is a wise or a foolish decision.  We have rejected the notion that a mathematical truth is a description of some invisible metaphysical reality, likewise, we must reject the notion that theology serves as a description of some invisible metaphysical reality.  Rather, a human being cries out in fear and trembling when the meet the face of God, the Judge of Judges, the King of Kings.  We cannot understand theology as descriptions, but rather expressions of the awesomeness and greatness that is beyond words.  To encounter someone so powerful, so magnificent, that obedience and trust in that person superseded any punishment a Magistrate or an Emperor could dish out--that would be an encounter with Truth.  Moreover, their death would manifest that encounter with Truth to those persons from whose eyes that the scales had fallen off.

Who is afraid of the Truth?  Not the one who is willing to die for it.  Not the one seeking to live for it.  Only the one who lives in variance with the Truth would fear encountering it.  The Truth, in so much as it exists, is an existential Truth, it orders our lives, our minds, our families, our communities, our nations.  The source of meaning cannot be described in words, because if words could signify it, the words would have to be outside it, that is the words would have to be meaningless.  I can signify a cat with the word "cat", because the word "cat" is wholly separate and distinct from a cat.  God is the source of the cosmic system of meaning, which contains all language.  Language cannot then refer to God and remain language.  The lower order participates within the higher order.  Language can only express or reveal God in the world, and to see God's Revelation is to see the Glory of God manifest in the world.  Left to ourselves, we cannot even pray without the intercession of God.  God calls us by name, we do not call on God.  When God calls us face to face, and one responds without fear or hesitation to God's call, then we have evidence of a Soul who has encountered God before and made peace.  Thus, martyrdom is a witness to Truth, but a Truth which by nature cannot be reduced to a description. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Meaning of History and Random Events

If we understand natural science as an attempt to formulate predictive laws through the study of natural, observable processes, then we are left with events that are not subject to predictive laws, these are random events.

If we want to be metaphysical, we can claim events are not truly random, we simply lack sufficient knowledge to be able to predict them.  In fact, there are two specifically metaphysical approaches to viewing random events, one naturalistic, one super-naturalistic.  The naturalistic viewpoint is to claim that there are no random events in nature:  God does not play dice with the universe, per Einstein.  The supernaturalist viewpoint is to claim that there are random events in nature, that is to say, things happen that are not predictable based on observable regularities in nature.  At the same time, it is not to deny that these events do not have a cause, but that the cause is not intelligible based on merely a study of observable and natural regularities. The patterns might be revealed to the mind, but not derived from the empirical world (in fact, the patterns might formulate the basis for conceptualizing an empirical world).

Physics, to some extent, is the enemy of God, because the physicist seeks to explain everything that happens in the world with reference to mathematical laws derived from the observation of natural regularities.  I believe Stephen Hawking is not so much opposed to the existence of God, as he is to the existence of natural phenomenon that scientists can't explain.  If a power above the observable world acts on the observable world for its own purposes, then natural phenomenon must be, to some extent, random.  Even more sinister, it might be that the empirical regularities turn out to be more a reflection of will than of "nature".  For example, if you imagine a legal system with a penal code that is enacted by a justice system with regularity, you can speak of "law" in a positive sense.  But this law exists only because there is an existing system of power, or order, which makes it so.  One can positively describe and predict the operations of the system of law, procedural and otherwise, but there is nothing "natural" about the system.  Likewise, random events suggest--or at least leave open the possibility--that there are no true natural laws, there are invisible powers acting on a material world.  This would blow up the grand vision of "Science", without of course negating its utility.

The physicists are correct in a sense: there is an actual world, and if the features of the actual world in part include random phenomena, then the world is not defined by the laws of physics.  If a power can be defined by its material effects, then it is a material power.  (Heat, gravity, etc.)  If there are material effects that cannot be explained by material powers (e.g. random events), then they can only be explained by supernatural powers.  If the world is intelligible, then events have true causes, e.g. they are caused by a power.  The cause of the world would therefore have to be supernatural, if the world is to be intelligible.  If the world is unintelligible, then one can question how it could have an order at all, if only a random one.  How could the regularities of nature be anything other than random coincidences?  After all, a random sequence can contain *random* *illusory* order within the sequence, but an ordered sequence cannot contain any randomness.  We are left with either an ordered universe, ordered by a supernatural power beyond our scientific comprehension, or a random universe with no true order upon which we project illusory patterns.  No wonder the physicists are seeking possible worlds and multiverses to try and eliminate randomness.  Otherwise, you are left with an all-powerful God establishing natural laws or an omnipresent Chaos creating the false appearance of patterns.  But the problem is, even if there are infinite multiverses all running along the same laws of physics, our own experience of an actual world is random.  Why am I running along in this universe and not another?  What gives me my identity (or non-identity) across possible worlds?  Physics cannot say, because it would define the ultimate container (consisting of an infinite batch of hermetically sealed containers), and would partially define what happens within a hermetically sealed container, but it would not address the motion/kinetics of things/individuals between the containers.  If there are millions of identical organisms to myself in an ginormous number of universes, why do I only experience what I experience?  What locates me here and not there?  Why am I me, and not the famous rock star that a biologically similar organism with a biologically similar origin is in another universe?  I would submit that these attempts to rid the world of randomness fail ultimately, because they simply shift the conceptual problem, rather than solve it.  By trying to make randomness not actual, they succeed in making actuality random.  (And a physical explanation that does explain an actual physical universe is worth what?)

I would submit there are two possible views of the universe:  that it is in fact a universe, that is, a unified plurality that manifests a unified order, or that it is merely a random exercise in chaos.  In the first, we can view physics as a limited, imperfect attempt to understand the order of things.  In the second, physics is an illusion, the finding of an illusory order in a random scheme of events.  These views are ultimately interpretations.  The apparent universe is the only one we can observe, and its apparent patterns and regularities are the only one's that we are going to get.  I think that the interpretation that views the Universe as providentially ordered is the superior interpretation, because it makes sense of the existing data.  The second interpretation is inferior, because it basically discounts the data.  Moreover, the deist viewpoint, denying miracles and the like, emerged as a result of Newtonian mechanics, which appeared determinant.  (Newton's laws would not determine the angle of deflection and velocity resulting from a direct collision of two objects of equal mass and velocity.) If you give random phenomenon a fundamental role, such as in quantum mechanics, you have all the more reason to embrace the old-fashioned Providential understanding of the universe. 

If we embrace the first view, then we can look at random events while not being explainable in terms of natural laws, we can view them as manifestations of a higher order, which shows patterns, intelligibility, without being capable of scientific explanation.  Thus, the higher order can be revealed in history despite the fact that it defies scientific explanation.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On a Philosophical Method for Distinguishing Between Occult Powers

We have previously discussed occult powers, such as gravity, in our last post, and noted that postulating occult powers is necessary for articulating the unity (and the true substance) of the physical world.  Kinetics requires the hidden power of gravity, or perhaps the all-penetrating field of space-time to explain mechanics.  Obviously, we do not observe gravity directly, or distortions in the space-time continuum directly, we observe these hidden forces through their effects on observables.

However, we must be prepared to make a distinction between occult powers, powers such as gravity and powers such as beauty, based on the relationship of the power to its effects.  The operations of gravity can be defined solely in terms of its effects on matter, and for this reason, physics is a predictive science.  In contrast, the operations of beauty cannot be defined solely in terms of its effects on matter.  As a result, the discipline of aesthetics is not a predictive science, but a series of arguments.  Is beauty solely in the eyes of the beholder?  Is beauty the ideology of consumer capitalism?  Is aesthetics purely nonsensical?  Should there be aesthetics if beauty is undefinable?

While I would take the position that the Beautiful is undefinable, and all attempts to define the Beautiful will fail, I think the undefinable nature of Beauty tells us something important about Beauty, that is, the Beautiful is ontologically independent from the material world.  Because beauty cannot be defined by its material effects, beauty as a power cannot be material.  Nor can beauty be subjective, because if there were no general agreements on judgments of beauty, then we could not talk about beauty.  Our sense of beauty must be derived from shared norms of judgment, and those norms must be inter-subjective.  If they were not, I would not know what you mean if you said the painting was beautiful (even if I disagreed).

We are left with an inter-subjectively perceived power which operates on the material world, but which cannot be defined in terms of the material world.  I think we can see that the consequence is that the Beautiful exists in ontological independence from the material world.  For example, if there were no material world, there could be no gravity, but if there were no material world, there would still be Beauty.

For similar reasons, I must ultimately reject the correspondence theory of truth, that the truth of a proposition is defined by its correspondence with "reality".  This theory presupposes a divide between language and an empirical world, one which cannot be maintained, as language is an empirical phenomenon contained within the empirical world.  Second, this theory contends that truth consists of a relationship between a proposition and the empirical world.  Truth cannot be defined in terms of the material world (for example, truths in mathematics), and therefore Truth is ontologically independent of the material world.  If the world, and language, and people had never been created, the Truth would still exist.  The idea of a correspondence between a proposition and an empirical state of affairs may provide intelligibility within a limited context, such as considering the findings of natural scientists, but it does not describe even the full use of the concept of truth or its undefinable essence.

This leads me to considerations on a philosophical method.  To the extent that contemporary philosophy concerns itself with attempts to define the True, the Good, the Beautiful, it confuses the creature with the Creator.  Only a creature can be defined, and only to the extent that a creature is purely material.  It is our duty to engage in anti-philosophy to combat this error.  We can distinguish between two types of occult powers:  worldly, which are definable, and heavenly which are ultimately undefinable.  We can understand that modern philosophy and the modern philosophical method is predicated on an intellectual bondage to worldly occult powers.  It either denies the obvious, the influence of Heavenly Powers, or it tries to define the Heavenly Powers in terms derived from Worldly Powers.  Our method, consistent with Ludwig Wittgenstein, is to free the Soul from its bondage, that is to say it is therapeutic.  The point is to see clearly our bondage, and to realize that we cannot, through reason alone, free ourselves from our captivity.  Only what is above us can free us.

At the same time, there is another possible philosophical method, one which has been pushed out in the name of progress, namely, contemplation.  Rather than define the beautiful, we can come to know the Beautiful by contemplation of beautiful things.  Because the beautiful is ontologically independent of the physical world, likewise our capacity to contemplate beauty is also independent of the physical world.  Through contemplation, we move from the physical dimension, of a fragmentation of subject and object, to the realm of intellection, in which there is a unity of subject and object, within the idea which is both within the subject and the object, and before the subject and the object and above both the subject and the object.  Rather than the production of definitions, this method yields flashes of insight into the true nature of things.  The mind is not freed by ratiocination, but can only be freed through Revelation.