Sunday, October 5, 2008

UNIVERSE? WORLD? SUBJECTIVE? OBJECTIVE?

There is a theory in Particle Physics called 'The Many-Worlds Theory'. Some agree with it, some disagree, some find the arguments convincing, others don't. How peculiar! The Many-Worlds Theory needs no proving nor disproving: it is self-evident fact. Every man, woman and child is a universe. You may say to me, 'No, these are merely individual objects within one and the same universe'. I will ask you, 'What universe? Where? When? Whose?' You will perhaps say to me, 'the universe of science'; you may say, 'the universe of religion'. But I will reply to you, 'the universe of science, religion or any other world-view has no existence except as a cultural artifact, except on paper, if you like: it is a paper universe'. Perhaps it is on some other encoding device, but the point remains the same. I realise that that universe has no intrinsic value, no essential substance, just like paper money, even though, like money, it can be of enormous practical value. But to say that this paper universe is the only universe is arrant nonsense. Burn all the books in the world, abolish every trace of culture, science and religion from the world and from the mind of man and your universe has vanished. It no longer exists. Poof! Not even a vapour remains. However, the universe in the consciousness of every individual human being, the universe of pure awareness will continue to exist for as long as conscious matter exists, a different universe for each consciousness. There will be as many universes as there are consciousnesses. The midworld universe, the paper universe, the universe of science or religion, by contrast, is not THE universe, the only universe. It is a cultural accretion, built up in language, by consensus in the cultural space between the individual centres of awareness called ‘persons’. You may say to me, 'But the universe discovered by science would be discovered again if we abolished all science, it is the objective universe'. I would reply, 'No, another "objective" universe may well be discovered, but it would be different from the first, since its history would not be the same'. This relativity of the consensus-universe leads me to prefer the world 'world' to designate it, since the world is clearly something of our making.
The very concept of 'world' is something problematical, it is non-obvious. Its mode of existence needs investigation. It does not exist in the same manner in which the universe within the head of an individual exists. The word does not mean anything specific: it is an emotion, almost. 'The world' is the most general term which we can give to the sum total of our nameable sensory experience, actual and possible. However, sensory experience does not exhaust our experience. There is unnameable experience. There is inner experience, which is distinct from sensory experience only in its having no immediate vocabulary and linguistic consensus with which to anchor it with other minds. Now this inner or mental experience is only fleetingly and only with great and cautious qualification ours; and to call it ‘subjective’ in an attempt to deprive it of any reality except that of unique privacy and therefore to render it irrelevant is a profoundly misguided policy. It is only ours insofar as it is briefly associated with the point of view of our consciousness. For this reason, we give another more general term, the most general term we have, to the most general object of our experience; that term is 'God'. This does not denote an experience in the same way as the word 'world' denotes an experience; but it nonetheless denotes a reality that is more capacious than the reality of sense-experience, because it includes every other element of our experience, emotional, spiritual, ethical, social and so on. The world of science is an elaborate illusion created by an intense desire to believe certain things on the part of an influential group of individuals and turned into short-lived certainty by means of close observation and rigorous logic. Our ‘subjective’ world in its most general sense, along with all that we experience through the senses, all that we are both inwardly and all that appears to be given outwardly, what the world is and what we are both in what we call our 'self' and in what is not that self, all of this is God; and it is an immediate and self-evident experience. God is the given and to try and pronounce definitively upon what is meant by the word is futile.
Just as there can be no such thing as a static and eternally changeless self (for consciousness is change and development) so by that token, there can never be a static and eternally changeless world. Self and world are so completely interdependent that one can almost say that the principles of the one must be the principles of the other. It is only a short step from that thought to say that the ontological qualities of the one must be the ontological qualities of the other. Too much symmetry as a great man said, 'nuirait à la demonstration', but this essential symmetry of self and world is the foundation of all consciousness and therefore of selfhood. The universe is self-similar from top to bottom: each substance from atom to man to God is a monad that mirrors the whole, a reality that we experience under two aspects, inside and out. Leibniz' insight is not simply the invention of an overheated imagination; it is an archetypal insight vouchsafed by the very nature of the mind. To posit an eternal world apart from the mind - in our case apart from the self - is to posit a fiction of which we have no experience, and a fiction of which we can have no experience: a world is always the world of some self. It is the agreed upon world of a large number of selves that is more of a fiction than the lived world of the self. The consensus world, those who agree upon it agree, could continue to exist even if all those selves were abolished. The consensus world is a paper world and ultimately as fragile as that said substance. Such a world could hardly be imagined as continuing to exist for all eternity in the absence of the selves who created it. The fragility of any world created by consensus, by science or religion, and offered for belief by others is underlined by these thoughts; and it is this fragility of the world of our creation, the world that we wish to create and control but that forever eludes us, that gives rise to our despair. The real world is the lived world of our experience and of that we have only the most limited of notions. The best notion that we can have of it is that of an inexhaustible ocean of barely-imagined possibility that produced and sustains us.
Human intelligence is only an aspect of the universal intelligence, a minor aspect. But it is given to human intelligence to live within the universal intelligence - not in complete nor even representative understanding of it, but in permanent experience of it as grace.
'The self’ said Søren Kierkegaard, ‘is only healthy and free from despair when, precisely by having despaired, it is grounded transparently in God.' He also said, 'What feelings, understanding and will a person has depends in the last resort upon what imagination he has - how he represents himself to himself, that is upon imagination.' (Sickness Unto Death pp 60-61 Penguin Edition).

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