Sunday, November 23, 2014

Journal of a Soul 68


A pencil mandala I drew today - an attempt at a pattern in geometric terms.
In my last post in this blog I spoke about our being a meaning-making species.  For us, it is not enough to experience life in all its vicissitudes and vagaries.  No, we have a deep drive to make sense of it, to see some shape or pattern in the course of our worldly affairs.  We believe that everything we do must be meaningful and have some purpose.  We in the Western world seem to be caught up in rationalizing even our moments of joy and sorrow by attempting to explain these by philosophizing, psychologizing, theologizing, sociologizing, anthropologizing and so on and so forth. That is, we try to superimpose the shape or pattern of our own take on philosophy, psychology, theology, sociology, anthropology and indeed any other "-ology" we may know upon those experiences.  Hence, my title.  

We are the shapers and pattern-makers of our lives.  Indeed, one of the core drives in humanity, it seems to me, is the drive to knowledge, or to know more.  We might even describe this drive as the infinite desire to know. (see the work of the Jesuit theologian and philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, 1906-1986) To me this drive seems to be as strong as the drive within us to love others and be loved in return.  In our desire to learn ever and ever more about our world and indeed about ourselves we have discovered much order in the universe - common principles of mathematics, physics, science and technology and so on. And yet despite all our knowledge there is so much more still unknown.  Further there is also much disorder and chaos around us that we are striving to understand.

In this regard, we have also become aware of the seeming randomness of things and the sheer apparent chaos of both the origins and nature of the universe.  So much so that today scientists are exploring this latter through the use of what they term chaos theory. Epistemologically, coming up with a theory of chaos is in itself by association of the very terms "theory" and "chaos" a way of superimposing order on chaos anyway.  In other words, we are searching for a pattern and order in chaos itself.  Now, that to me is simply mindbendingly wonderful.  Only we humans could come up with that. The WIKI has a wonderfully insightful article on chaos theory within which we read about what the author terms "spontaneous order in chaos" of which he writes: "Under the right conditions chaos will spontaneously evolve into a lockstep pattern." (See HERE ) 

In the field of knowledge we try to discover patterns that are there already in nature in general - such is very pertinent to the growth of all knowledge especially in the natural sciences in general - whether that be the theory of evolution, the discovery and definition of gravity, the discovery of electricity and so on and so forth.  The furtherance of knowledge in the sphere of the natural sciences obviously led to the growth of machines and technologies of all kinds. Likewise, empirical or clinical observances and experiments done with animals and human beings have led to the growth of medical knowledge both in its physiological and psychological aspects.  Scientists have a very simple but effective approach to knowledge in general, that is, that all conclusions offered must be based on the sound foundations of scientific method understood in an objective and unbiased fashion.  

I understand the scientific method as being somewhat open-ended in the sense of the Socratic declaration that we must always declare our ignorance first and not be too quick to jump to narrow conclusions.  No scientist should take a very narrow optic on things, but rather be open to being surprised by the wonder of the universe.  In this sense, I am arguing for an open-ended scientific method that in its practice rules out a narrow scientistic reductionism that reduces all mystery and wonder to mere materialistic or mechanistic constituents. I hasten to add here that as a believer in good solid science I also decry a sort of reverse reductionism - maybe an "inflationism" if I may coin a term - like the approach of fundamental religionists and creationists that seek to look at the mystery and wonder of the universe through an equally narrow optic of Biblical literalism. (Here, let me cite the work of The Institute for Creation Research, which lists a good number of apparently eminent scientists on its web page, but starts off with a very narrow premise, namely one of Biblical literalism. Now, how they can square their very unscientific first principles with science is beyond this writer. They are equally as fundamental as those scientists who preach a narrow scientism that has scant regard for any theology or even philosophy , no matter how well reasoned and academically well researched. (See HERE for information on creationism and its efforts to prove God from science.) In my opinion all good science, and any authentic quest for knowledge in any sphere at all, should start from a neutral and objective first principle, namely a sheer openness to describe as objectively and as clinically as possible what it finds before it.  Starting off from a position of "The Bible is literal truth and everything we seek to find must be viewed from this first principle or axiom" is self-evidently unscientific and indeed unphilosophical in the extreme.  Being a believer after-the-fact is more objective and authentic than being a believer before-the-fact in my opinion.

More than the Intellect

I return here, yet again, to an old chestnut that I repeat so many times in these pages, namely that the intellect is just a small, albeit important, element of what goes to make the human phenomenon.  Multiple Intelligences, a broad theory of the nature of intelligence, offers us an important perspective on the mystery of humanity and of the universe that humanity encounters.  This model was proposed by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner articulated eight incarnations of human intelligence: (i) the musical–rhythmic, (ii) the visual-spatial, (iii) the verbal-linguistic, (iv) the logical–mathematical, (v) the bodily–kinesthetic, (vi) the interpersonal, (vii) the intrapersonal and (viii) the naturalistic.  To these listed intelligences or kinds of intelligence he later suggested that existential and moral intelligences might also be worthy of being added.  Daniel Goleman, another pioneering and popular American psychologist, has spoken learnedly about what he terms our Emotional Intelligence (EQ). This particular take on the emotions equates more or less with Gardner's Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Intelligences.  There are many other scholars who argue for more intelligences, not the least of which is called Spiritual Intelligence (SQ).  All these categories of intelligence, of course, are an effort to give the lie to the reductionist (another of my favourite terms in these pages, which no doubt the reader is by now bored with to the point of nausea!) pigeon-holing of people by traditional IQ tests as spearheaded by the great 19th century psychologist Alfred Binet and his followers.

More rather than Less

Here is where the proof mentality of reductionists like Dennett and Dawkins and so on can be seen as delimiting. Such philosophers and scientists wish to reduce what the phenomenon of humankind may be to certain categories within a narrow vision of what science and indeed knowledge itself may be.  They would be working from a very narrow take on intelligence, I firmly believe.  They show scant regard for either a philosophy of science broadly understood or a broad take on epistemology. For them epistemology is largely a quaint take on linguistics that is nothing short of meaningless.  The "how" question features largely in their vocabulary to the detriment of the "why" question.  Indeed, some of their number positively avoid the latter question.

Again, Dawkins et al  seem to give short shrift to the concept of holism, that the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts, that the network or grid of connections in the universe just might be more rather than less.  Apologies if this journal of the soul is getting lost sometimes along the back-roads and sometimes veritable labyrinths of theology and philosophy, but once again if we are to take holism for what it truly means we must always stretch for what is more in the human person at all times and this may mean journeying down those by-ways as well as the more obvious highways. 

It is salutary to call to mind that the very term "mind" is in itself a commonly accepted one that refers to a very abstract reality that we intuitively assume exists.  We cannot see it or prove that it exists per se or in se and yet we believe it exists as it gives us a way of describing what the human phenomenon entails.  In fact, many of our human sciences are based on the assumption that it exists: psychology and psychiatry are two major ones that so depend.  We also assume that the mind somehow resides in the brain - at least that was the general assumption until in more recent years research has shown that the mind may also encompass much of the nervous system itself.  There are even those philosophers who maintain that all of human information is an extension of the human mind and so on and so forth.  Here, needless to say, we need to employ the fields of epistemology, philosophy of mind, the psychology of consciousness and so on again.

That anyone of us can assume that either we or our fellows within our various disciplines have a monopoly on knowledge or indeed on how we may find it is sheer arrogance in the extreme.  What's needed here, again, is a Socratic ignorance, or what St Augustine termed a "docta ignorantia", that is a "learned ignorance," an epistemology that leaves us open to greater discoveries and to the sheer wonder of the universe.

It is my argument here the the notions of personality, "the self,"the "soul," "the heart" and the "spirit" are all equally intuitive assumptions akin to that of the mind and symbolise realities we intuitively assume exist.   They are, in my opinion, equally valid working assumptions that make life more livable and more humane. Admittedly, they are terms that may be hijacked by the lunatic fringe which we will always have with us.  That they are easily so hijacked is no reason at all to jettison them from either our vocabulary or our deeper beliefs.   

A Hymn to the More 

A coloured mandala I drew today - the magic and mystery of geometry

Let me here end on a more poetic or soulful note.  Let me sing a hymn to the mind, to the self, to the soul and to the spirit, acknowledging their intuitive presence and their similarities and differences.  Let me sing a hymn which intuitively acknowledges their presence or at least my experience of their presence.  Let me sing a hymn to the "more" in humankind, to its possibilities, to its hopes and desires, to its limitless possibilities and to its dreams and visions of a better world for all, for a greater peace than that which we know now. The hymn that I sing is one that acknowledges so much beyond my limited and finite ken, that bows down in wonder as a minuscule dot on a minuscule planet orbiting a Sun that is itself minuscule in infinite space.  This is a hymn that notes that I am a grace-filled being that experiences his little life as a gift beyond his own making.  Truly mine is a poetic yet humble spirit gifted with a life I am so thankful to live.  My little mind is overwhelmed by the beauty and the wonder that surrounds it, a mind whose desire to know is infinite, that in stretching out its puny boundaries against the huge weight of the universe is awe-struck even that it exists to know anything at all.  This is a prayer of a small mind with an infinite desire to know.  It is a mind that prays the traditional prayer of the old sailors in Brittany long ago "Oh Lord, thy sea is so great and my ship so small."  This is a mind even that allows that this quoted prayer may be metaphoric and not literal, and yet it is a mind that needs to pray, that needs to acknowledge its littleness before the awesome mystery of life and of the universe.  This is a hymn to the "more" in the phenomenon that is human life. This is a hymn to the self that I want to be, to the dreams and visions of the True Self, of the Real Self that resides in the depths within.  This is a hymn to the "more" that is the soul whose home and habitat lies somewhere in the mists of mystery, in the highways and by-ways of an identity greater than the individual, whatever that might be.  This is a prayer that acknowledges the "more" of the great Spirit of the universe that astounds the little self  with its awe and beauty.  This is a hymn to those grace-filled moments of encounter with the "more" which some dare call God.                                                                                                                                          

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