Sunday, February 11, 2007

Brief Exchange

Yesterday I read Aristides post Sociobiology and made a comment to which he made a reply:

John P. said...


Wilson's thought is rigorous to a degree that most of us never achieve and I am humbled by the reach of his intellect. My personal reaction is that one needs to appreciate the limitations of knowledge which I view as restricted by its contingency on existential matter. Knowledge can never be complete, all encompassing. No body of knowledge is ever going to fully and finally give absolute expression to reality. Like material things knowledge is limited to a participatory role. It may be so that whatever absolute truth, or beauty, if you like, exists is coextensive with all being but at the same time each instantiation of that truth or beauty conveys no meaning beyond itself because of the ubiquitous nature of the substratum. Thus it takes a leap of faith or "belief" to dig out the "metaphysical" reality.

To me and others before me the emergence and the appreciation of values such as consciousness, truth, beauty, wisdom, conscience, justice, liberty, love, courage, nobility, and the like are essential clues to the true purpose of life. These do not have an existence of their own. St. Thomas Aquinas, if my memory serves, characterized such entities as contingent on the existence of another. In this instance that would be mankind. My own thought, borrowing from LeComte DeNouy, is that these things are actually imbedded in existential matter and given the right set of circumstances come into being. Taking these into consideration it is not to subtle a leap of the intellect that these evolutes, fragile as they might be, nurtured by religious and philosophical traditions and, yes, political ideology too, are, as the ancient Greeks (Socrates) pointed out, mechanisms by which man has commerce with a divine reality. Or, to put it another way, they are facets of the divine by which G_d's nature finds expression, and I might add, self awareness, through sentient beings. Life emerges from matter in order that the spark of consciousness will give rise to these divine qualities. I heard that the nuclear scientist is the atom's mechanism for attaining self knowledge. Well, the universe perhaps is G_d's way of seeing into his own nature.

Your insert regarding "...implications in the choice-migration to America.." provoked the thought that what is really at work in America is the evolution of the "Good" in a political mechanism that will tend to evolve and if it prevails impede the propagation of its antithesis, evil. Wilson, I suppose, might see this as mere tribalism. I don't.

In a nutshell the Universe is self aware, operates heuristically in the sense that discovery IS the action of the unknown. And as far as Nietzsche's void is concerned it is the great mystery of the real that out of nothing something does indeed come and passes back to its origin, the void. In a sense this accounts for the fact that knowledge can never be complete. How could you ever fill the void? Or, isn't the void filled with every experience and simultaneously emptied? So, instead of taking the view that, as Samuel Beckett wrote in his "Waiting for Godot", "They give birth astride graves, eh Didi?" one can alter the focus with a simple act of will. There is little reason not to rejoice in the fact that on the way to the void there is much to see and many wayfarers with whom to share the journey, such as Mr. Wilson.

1:04 PM
Aristides said...

John P.,

First, I'd like to thank you for your thoughtful post. In many ways your views mirror my own.

Nietzsche always claimed that the proper symbol for reason is Uroburos, the snake that inevitably twists back to bite its own tail. I think this is beyond any doubt, a consequence of the Void as both condition precedent and condition subsequent of being in time. As you noted.

But this is not so for finite things. Microcosms are immanently accessible to reason precisely because Genesis is already presupposed. It is true that knowledge, even of a microcosm, can never be complete; but it is also true that relevant understanding does not depend on completeness. This is a basic tenet of information theory, and a basic truth of the world. To be complete, a theory of cell division would have to account for quantum electrodynamics in addition to cellular and chemical phenomena. However, to be efficacious--i.e. to be known or cosmically self-aware, as you put it--it does not. Information can be compressed by dropping redundancy, and yet the signal still gets through. Cosmic self-awareness and its attendant actualizations still occur.

Therefore, I am very confident in the prospect of ultimately understanding Man as Microcosm, even if we can never truly know Man's relation to the Void. A complete science of man is possible, though it is only recently back in favor. What's held us back is not the inadequacy of reason but rather an extremely daunting level of surface complexity which stems from the combinatorial capacity of the human mind and its manifest behaviors. Of course, Science needs to acknowledge its limitations, but it must do so without discarding its confidence. So long as its method emulates evolution--which is procedurally congruent to science--its confidence is justified.

But fundamentally you are right. Science can tell us that man, to avoid a cognitive phenomenon called despair (what Qutb called the "hideous schizophrenia"), must self-elect a submission to a particular metanarrative or purpose (i.e. get faith in the Kierkegaardian sense); and it can tell us that a society, once it's lost or exhausted a unity unto which it collectively submits (its soul in a Spenglerian sense), will eventually devolve and dissolve and factionalize around the quest for power.

What it can't tell us is a universally correct metanarrative, and the right unity. In fact, it warns against them because both history and evolution are complex non-abelian processes--neither predictable nor static.