Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Single Intelligible Object--Repost

Repost of Blogger from 9.3.08
The Academy's Blogger of 9.01.08 on the subject of "world views," specifically that of the Atomist Lucretius as he described his own view in his historic poem "On the Nature of Things," allows us to take up the subject again, this time from other perspectives than those of Atomists.
"It is because atomism [naturalism] views matter as independent of God," I wrote, "that atomism was demoted by St. Augustine from the predominating world view, a view that held sway for nearly 1000 years. St. Augustine turned it into the skeptical position against theism. All men have a world view that for each, in some way, is his explanation of the meaning of existence, of the world."

The purpose of the mind of men turning to thoughts of the meaning of life is to summarize it, and the briefest summary is the one that describes everything in the least possible words. A definition of a word in a dictionary is the meaning of a word, in the least number of words.

"A definition must identify the nature of the units, i.e., the essential characteristics without which the units would not be the kind of existents they are. But it is important to remember that a definition implies all the characteristics of the units, since it identifies their essential, not their exhaustive, characteristics..." Ayn Rand; "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology"; p.42

It is that idea that creates the need to describe the world in which we live, not as a single word, which would leave out so much of the essence of existence and our emotional reaction to it; but the fewest number of words which describe that essential characteristic, as a single intelligible object, as any dictionary definition turns the concept(s) described by a word as a single intelligible object.

What follows is a very brief condensation of my book, The Search for the Single Intelligible Object. The purpose of the book is to address the need for such a description, and to explain the naturalistic, objective description of a world which neither knows about us, nor cares about us, and can become anything we have the capacity to turn it into. Or, we can become whatever we let it makes us become, for better or worse and usually for the worse, by ignorning thatexistence has no cognizance of us, and by believing that we cannot over come genetic predispositions, and environments, and a "world we didn't make.

But to do so is a return to Plato's Cave, to astrology, the "reading" of cards and tea leaves and spilled toothpicks on the kitchen floor. It is a return to the belief that there is a wrathful intelligence in the universe, rather than one of justice and truth, and that it is us.

The Single Intelligible Universe

Imagine, for a moment or two, floating way away from Earth. Float away to the outside of the universe itself, outside of all known and unknown existence, and then look at the universe as the astronauts on their way to the moon saw Earth, as a whole. Except that instead of seeing only one-half of the global universe at a single moment, there is no "dark side of the moon," so to speak. You are able to turn the universe over and over in your hand and examine it in minute detail as if it was a snow globe. You are able to look into any part of it of which you are aware. The examination, and the detail you discover, will be determined by your own capabilities.

Those of us who are least aware of the concept of “cosmology” easily understand what it means when it is explained as an awareness of the universe, an awareness one has when one “holds the world before his mind as if it were a single intelligible object.” To which it must be added, “While holding the universe in one's hand and mind, he decides what his place is or is to be, in that universe as he comes to understand it.”

Aurelius wrote, “He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is. But he who has failed in any one of these things could not even say for what purpose he exists himself." Such a conscious examination is formal cosmology, not in the science of physics which deals with very different questions and information; but in the sciences pertaining to formal Philosophy. Sometimes that "science" is quite simply the meditations of people who find the time to think about the world, because it requires a deeper thread of thoughts, and deep thinking is the science of philosophy.

Deciding, i.e., evaluating, one’s place in the world in which he lives, means: holding before his conscience (as if in his hand, as well) the evaluation of one's judgment of his world, for the mind does not operate in a moral vacuum, but is attached to its moral center of judgment. Deciding what one’s place in the world "is or is to be" means looking, sometimes deeply, into one’s conscience, because that is where the real results of evaluations take place. The conscience is the one place where one cannot lie to oneself about who and what one is, and where he is.

Conceiving of the universe as a single intelligible object and then trying to perceive it in metaphysical terms [the theory of everything that exists,] and placing oneself in that universe, leaves us with a "sense of life." The human mind cannot not think in metaphysical terms; it is the first science of Philosophy without which the mind would not be conscious. The mind works in strict terms of philosophical principles whether or not one has evaluated them or is even conscious of them.

“Holding the universe as a single intelligible object," William Watson wrote of it using, not epistemology, the philosophical science of proving the truth of what we believe, but by using literary aesthetics, another philosophical science, in “Dawn on the Headland.” His words ring with an emotional truth, a truth that scares some people and comforts others:
Yet I know that I dwell in the midst of the roar of the Cosmic Wheel
In the hold collision of Forces, and the clangor of boundless Strife,
Mid the sound of the speed of worlds, the rushing worlds, and the peal
Of the thunder of Life.

There is, for those not frightened of it, an exciting and moral challenge in dwelling “in the midst of the Cosmic Wheel.” For those who find the words chilling more than comforting, they may, after understanding the sense of life, the cosmology, found in metaphysical naturalism, discover instead the excitement of that moral challenge, and find it uplifting. It is a challenge often posed in the questions and answers of theology.

Religions have cosmologies.

“The term ‘Logos’ in Christian theology marries, through the revelation of St. John’s Gospel and the Epistles of Paul, its Greek philosophical meaning of an all encompassing rational order uniting humans and divinity into a ‘great cosmos,’” says a long article called “Sacred Cosmology in the Christian Tradition," by Vincent Rossi, and is “thus the supreme ordering principle uniting all levels of being, from the sublimity of the divine to the deepest density of the mineral kingdom.”

This “all encompassing rational order” certainly exists. It exists, though neither as a miracle nor as something intelligently designed either from within, or from without as a chef might design a wedding cake.

It is an all-encompassing rational order only when made comprehensible through an act of rationally ordering what one knows about it, in other words, putting its parts in a hierarchy of rational meanings. This rational ordering is done by the only thing capable of such ordering: the mind of Man. It is Man's mind that decides what his place is or is to be in the "all encompassing rational order."

Any human thought, sentence, expression of language, or fully developed work of fiction, non-fiction or art can and usually does contain a sense of life, an idea that expresses the place of men in the world in which they live.

The Declaration of Independence, is one of those, placing into an all-encompassing rational order the exact purpose for its existence, i.e., it rationally says all it has to say about why the signatories signed it. It does this in its very first paragraph, which is incredibly only one long sentence, part of which is: that often it "becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another," the colonies from England. The Founders knew their place in the world in which they existed, and they knew where they wanted their place to be and it was not in the world as seen by the British Empire. The Founders' sense of life was one of political freedom from tyranny.

Metaphysics are the values of philosophy, and epistemology is the method of "proving" the values. These two manifestations. these elements of consciousness, help make up the subject of cosmology as far as the humanities are concerned. There is also a science of cosmology that deals almost specifically with what are commonly called the "laws of nature," and it is called Physics. Physics has its own "cosmology," described in phrases meant for other physicists.

This sort of cosmology "attempts to measure the immeasurable in mega parsecs and speak rationally about the immensity of space, to explain how its incalculable number of astronomical bodies occupy their incalculable vastness. Cosmology is the human effort at locating us and our environment in relation to all the other environments and their possible inhabitants."[a]
But it has always been the profession of philosophy to put into perspective the ideas of all the other professions. It is why there are ethics of law, ethics of medicine, ethics of warfare, and of journalism, to mention only a very few.

Not one person on Earth needs formal training to make a judgment about the world he lives in, in the sense with which this book deals. We all make those kinds of judgments everyday of our lives.

In the connotation of cosmology as a sense of life, it must be recognized that this sense is as automatic a function of Man's consciousness as his "five senses" are. It cannot be turned off any more than sight can be turned off. We can close our eyes and ignore what would otherwise be visibly before us. We can also choose to ignore the cognitions of our sub-consciously, automatically, evaluating mind: cognitions of impending marital doom, or of something simply being amiss, such as the bad behavior of a child when our evaluation of his behavior turns us toward thoughts of mental illness. Who wants to jump right to that conclusion? So we put off jumping until jumping is no longer a choice. That is, we put it off if we are not rigorous in the integrity of our minds. Most of us are not, sometimes. Many are not, most of the time, suppressing the unasked question, "What should I do?"

Naturalist Loren Eiseley, in his own tranquil and unique cosmological styling, wrote in his classic work, "The Immense Journey," of an archaic Homo sapiens, an early Man, having the experience of pondering the meaning of existence. It was about the “Adam” of men, about the first Man to have such contemplation, the first man to think in philosophical terms.

“For the first time in four billion years a living creature had contemplated
himself and heard with a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, the whisper of the
wind in the night reeds. Perhaps he knew, there in the grass by the chill
waters, that he had before him an immense journey. Perhaps that same foreboding still troubles the hearts of those who walk out of a crowded room and stare with relief into the abyss of space so long as there is a star to be seen twinkling across those miles of emptiness.”

In the art world Grandma Moses described in paint on canvas a sense of life which obviously was not formed of the elements of say, a Van Gogh or a Rockwell. Her skills and her cosmology are described as "Primitive." No matter the skill of the artist to depict her world, the way in which any artist sees it, good, bad, ugly, or wondrously beautiful, gives us a look into the soul of the artist. Hers was a productive soul, intent on journalizing the world in which she lived.
"Her images of rural life provided soothing respite from otherwise turbulent times, and fifty years later her vision of the simple life still strikes a resonant chord." [with examples of her work]

Dow Chemical's world view was presented in its advertising, giving the world a gift of Romanticism, i.e., the world view of the ideality of what it means to be alive in the best sense of "alive." Dow called their advertisement The Human Element. It is rare anymore to see Romanticismi expounded so elegantly, not to mention unabashedly.

The Dow TV ads are a collage of video clips of real people in their own real environmental "elements," on four continents. Dow says it describes their company's vision for the future in their interactions with cultures and environments and people. I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw it, and I have not been disappointed yet, seeing it over and over again.

It is a brilliant, shining star of Romantic cosmology, of what Man means in the universe, in an environment that would have no purpose without him.

The Human Element
For each of us / there is a moment / of discovery.
We turn a page. / We raise a hand. / And just then,
in the flash of a synapse, / we learn that life / is elemental.
And this knowledge / changes everything.
We look around / and see the grandness / of the scheme.
Sodium / bonding with chlorine.
Carbon / bonding with oxygen.
Hydrogen / bonding with oxygen.
We see / all things connected.
We see / life unfold.
And in the dazzling brilliance / of this knowledge
we may overlook / the element not listed / on the chart.
Its importance so obvious / its presence / is simply understood.
The missing element / is the Human Element.
And when we add it / to the equation / the chemistry changes.
Every reaction is different.
Potassium / looks to bond / with potential.
Metals / behave with hardened / resolve.
And hydrogen and oxygen / form desire.
The Human Element / is the element of change.
It gives us our footing / to stand fearlessly
and face the future.
It is a way of seeing / that gives us / a way of touching.
Issues. / Ambitions. / Lives.
The Human Element.
Nothing is more fundamental. / Nothing more elemental.

"We see all things connected. We see life unfold. And in the dazzling brilliance of this knowledge we may overlook the element not listed on the chart. Its importance so obvious its presence is simply understood. The missing element is the Human Element." What more can be said about a cosmology of wondrous delight in being human, of human interaction, of human bonding; of "a way of seeing that gives us a way of touching issues, ambitions, lives?"

Philosophical Romanticism is the benevolent cosmology described (by me) as, "From each according to his ability, then he ought to be rewarded ten times over." It is the cosmology of ideals that are attainable by the best of Men (qua Men,) and it allows for the rest of us to look up to things as having possibility, e.g., the performance of Olympic Athletes; wealth created by men of vision in any endeavor, but look at the founders of Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google, and at Warren Buffet and others, for inspirational examples. They came, they created, they took, and now they give back a hundred-fold.

Cosmology is demonstrated in every piece of art, which is created by psychological action. Scottish novelist George MacDonald wrote of a young man in a story about the title character called "Malcolm."

Malcolm is a fisherman about whom there seems to be a mystery that he himself is not too aware of; and honestly, he does not much care about the mystery. His mind is on things that matter, and the mystery about him is not high on his hierarchy of values. Malcolm has a blind father he loves more dearly than anyone in the world, yet who he knows is not his biological father and believes to be his grandfather. This is part of the mystery about which he cares little, because Malcolm is as devoted to his father and to the people of his Scottish fishing village and to the Lord of the manor, as anyone could be to anyone or anything. It is not that he does not think about the future or the past, but he lives in the present and his values are not of things he cannot control, but of things he can control. He is loved and revered by the fisher folk, and the only person in the town who treats him badly is a woman who treats everyone badly and who is considered by some to be a witch. Malcolm has serenity.

MacDonald wrote about Malcolm that;

“Joy itself seemed embodied in the wind blowing on him. When it came on to blow hard, instead of making him feel small and weak in the midst of storming forces, it gave him a glorious sense of power and unconquerable life.” [italics added]

Those words in italics are a world view, perhaps caused only when Macolm felt the wind blowing, as you might guess by this excerpt. But is describes Malcolm's overall sense of life, and he carried it with him throughout each page of the book.

The cosmology of Malcolm made it one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I have ever had, and indirectly, along with Moby Dick, set me to thinking about writing this book. Malcolm's psychology is one that ought to be emulated much more than it is. There was a time not so long ago when a reasonable and "decent respect"i for "the opinions of others," as Malcolm demonstrates toward everyone he meets, was expected, even if it was a surprise when it came as gracefully as it came from Malcolm.

Today, many people seem to be in spiritual agony, skeptics, hatefilled for life itself, or at least for most other human beings. We are losing our grace in the face of people, places, and things we cannot change and over which we ought not have control. But we want people to be the way we want them to be, and we let it eat at us like acid on metal. And that, in itself, is a world view, that people are objects to be changed into what we disire them to be in order to make our own world better, and that when we don't get what we want the world throws acid on us.

Although Malcolm was not thinking in the metaphysical terms of "glorious" and "unconquerable," the author clearly was thinking of Malcolm’s psychology—Malcolm was “feeling” the impression upon his soul in those seconds of living in the moment of the wind, and his reaction was automatic. Few of us contemplate our own minds when we are "feeling the moment"; we are too busy enjoying the feeling; or too busy wishing the problem would go away; or too wrapped up in trying to make others be what we want them to be.

MacDonald’s words describe in psychological framing a beautiful moment, for while a cosmology can be descriptive of the entirety of a man’s evaluation of his place in the universe, it is most often consciously experienced at pivotal moments. The rest of the time, we just go on about our lives.

Some persons, perhaps most, never know that such a thing as a "sense of his life" exists, at least not in conscious terms. They may simply experience life as “generally happy,” for example, or “generally drab;” or they may feel that "sense" suicidally, or with melancholy or joy, or with any other emotion within Man’s range. One does not have to be aware of his own cosmology in concrete conceptual terms as described here. Yet in concepts of the connection between mind and soul, reason and heart, it can be seen to exist automatically, as automatically as consciousness itself, for it is “first consciousness.” That is why metaphysics which describe it is the "first science."

Without cosmology we humans would be not even be Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, the “Vulcan” who denies the effect of emotions upon his logic and must subjugate them to it, as do all Vulcans. We are not Vulcans; whether you believe the soul to be eternal or to die with the body, to be real or fantasy, to be mentally or biologically mechanical, or mystic and religiously spiritual, or to be the sum total of a man’s evaluation of what the world is and who he is and where he is in it—your emotion-perceiving soul is demonstrated through your actions, and your soul can often be seen in the way you live and in the way to treat and speak to others.

One’s reaction to his own cosmology demonstrates him as he sees himself in the cosmos, or in the chaos if he believes that is what the world is. His cosmology demonstrates the humor, the pathos, or the travesty of the drama, or the serenity of what he believes existence to be. Spock's logic is not the highest ideal a thinking creature can achieve. Discurse is a tool of reason, and logic is a tool of reason. Irrational logic can be proven to be illogical. A Vulcan's subjugation of his emotions to his "logic" is not an ideal for a thinking feeling being. Subjugating emotions to reason is an ideal. Just ask the Stoics, or Aquinas.

But in some ideas there is a very ugly, hurtful, hurting emotion about life. Most of us would want to suppress that, or get help for it before the suppression destroyed him. We can see the soul of ideas when we look at them.

French philosopher Montaign painted a very different and ugly picture of life than MacDonald did when he described Malcolm’s joy.

“Man,” Montaign wrote, “is this miserable and wretched creature who is not so much master of himself,” yet who “should call himself master and emperor of the world?”

His miserable description of cosmological evaluations did not end there. He continued: “Man feels and sees himself lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and riveted to the worst and deadest part of the universe.”

Other persons have felt these same things about life, and it is a pity. This is a man’s “first consciousness” expressed overtly consciously, and they are demonstrations of each author's recombinants. Imagine Montaigne's evaluation as your sense of life. You would not have to do harm to anyone else with your denigrating ideas, but you certainly will not rise out of the "deadest part of the universe."

I prefer Malcolm’s joy, or Hermann Melville’s rapturous declaration that, “Man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellow creatures should run to throw their costliest robes.” Amen; Melville's declaration is a cosmology of Romanticism.

At the other end of the metaphysical/ epistemological/ psychological scale from Melville, Byron wrote in Manfred that man is “half-dust, half deity, alike unfit to sink or soar.” Dryden, on the same sink hole, wrote of man as a “dull and…insensible… beast,” and Thomas Brown called Man “splendid in ashes and pompous in the grave.”

There are stark differences between cosmologies that see man in filth and unable to climb out of it, and in one that refuses to be nailed, that values the feelings of joyfulness, gloriousness, life unconquerable, noble, sparkling, grand, and glowing.

A character in Moby Dick has a cosmology of the universe being not so good a place, life in colonial New England being what it was, and the profession of whaling being even harder; but in that cosmology he found himself a good place in which to be.
"[A]nd while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy," he says.

These demonstrate differences, psychologically, of each author’s valuation of Man qua Man. And every living human demonstrates in one way or another his or her cosmology, his or her evaluation of man-in-the-cosmos. Some see his status "qua Man" as filthy, some see him as the highest form of being. But the descriptions say more about him or her who demonstrates these overtly conscious ideas than about reality, because a reality not comprehended of the highest standards of personal worth and behavior do not reflect a “sense of life” of possibility, probability, serenity, virtue, or value, nor of an existence—environmental or psychological—recombinant to Man’s will.

The Human Element / is the element of change.
It gives us our footing / to stand fearlessly
and face the future.

©The Dow Chemical Company. Permission granted.

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