10/23/07

Incomprehensibility: Unconditional versus conditional approaches

The world is unknowable. It is vast and various beyond mapping by our puny brains. We just don’t have enough neurons. Our little ways of knowing can’t possibly be ramose and detailed enough.
So we, as functioning animals, needing to focus on time and space, come to terms with this limitation.
Religion is the unconditional coming to terms. “There is an over-arching personality, paying attention to us. Its mechanisms are destiny, ritual, propitiation and special pleading.”
Intellect is the conditional coming to terms. All explanations are contingent. Every statement implies “all other things being equal”, which never are. Its mechanisms are artificial logic, causality, muddling through. The best we can hope for is a working relationship with the practical world.
No matter how fast we fill up our memories and order our understandings, the carpet of reassuring explanation is rolling up behind us as fast as it unrolls in front of us. Sometimes there is a temporary imbalance between the two rates of rolling, but there’s no hope for nailing down one end. Great reasoners and great rememberers might have an order of magnitude more carpet unrolled, but that’s nothing in the face of just the universe we think exists, let alone the possibility that our universe is an atom in the blood stream of some individual. Nothing we know precludes that.
These two paths have considerable overlap at times. Theodicy, casuistry, materialist politics, mother wit, these are blends of the conditional and the un-.

Every understanding I have is severely local and conditional. It depends on very artificial, non-existent stability. Even our own most rational explanations like physics continually discover this parochialism. Now we find that measurements of space and time that served well through the nineteenth century, don’t apply to other scales. Quantum realities, interstellar distances and physics kicked out the little prop whereby we assumed that the “laws” of physics apply equally everywhere.

So if there is true religion, I guess there’s a good chance the Manicheans have it: Satan must have created everything of this world, given how reassured we are about what we know. A diabolical illusion.

1 comment:

I love said...

I like your carpet analogy.