Saturday, December 13, 2008


The personal is an epistemological category along with all the others, the empirical, the logical, the mathematical and so on. It is the most complex epistemological category which we are capable of understanding. It is far more complex than the mechanical, the statistical or whatever mathematical category we choose, because it combines intelligence (not to say reason) and unpredictability - in a word, creativity. We do not have to understand the universe mechanically; indeed, if we understand the universe only mechanically, we do not understand it at all; we misunderstand it. We feel obliged to understand it mechanically because of our model-making, tool-making intellect and because of the consensus which we can force on the basis of models that appear to be able to demonstrate their authority mathematically. But let us not confuse issues: the mechanism that we believe in on the basis of these models is a feature of the models themselves and not of that which is modelled. The models do not prove that the universe is a machine; they simply prove that the best models we can make are machines. This confusion of model with what is modelled is at the heart of all the rational confusions that have plagued our civilisation for millennia.
Nothing obliges us to conceive of the universe as a machine except our tool-making intellect. We can conceive of the universe just as well through the category of the personal, as a person, a creative, impenetrable person whom we cannot grasp but whose activities nevertheless can appear to us meaningful, after the event. We cannot, of course, model a person, not even a human person, even though we can still understand what we are talking about.
The universe of science is not creative and unpredictable. The mechanistic universe of science, because it has to be predictable, cannot be creative; it cannot model creativity; and can have no room for creativity within it, precisely because creativity is unpredictable though meaningful. Mechanism implies repeatability; repeatability is the only meaningful property of a mechanistic universe. Creativity and unpredictable intelligence are features not of machines, but of persons. Of course, we can abandon, or claim to abandon any attempt to conceive of the universe as a whole. If we do this we are left with a dissatisfying, patchy universe in which islands of comprehension have no connections with each other and no view of the whole in symbol is possible. No understanding of our position as persons within such a universe can be obtained, precisely because we are persons.
But if we wish to conceive of the universe as a whole, we are almost obliged to use the category of the personal to provide a link between the pieces, because if these pieces are not linked intelligently, they have to be linked mechanically. We certainly have to use the category of the personal if we wish to locate the human personality – our own – within the universe that we inhabit. Of course, we can fall back on the old device of chance or randomness to supplement our mechanism. But no-one is really convinced by this since everyone is aware that this is just a method of smuggling in a kind of god (Fortuna) without admitting the fact in order to account for the rise of creative nova out of chaos. Every advance due to chance then becomes a lucky hit – so many lucky hits in fact in the history of the world as it is known to us that credibility is strained to its furthest limits. Such improbability is diluted and rendered harmless by the appeal to vast reaches of time; and the latest wheeze of proposing that everything possible will in the end happen because there is an infinity of actualised universes, tries to show that improbability is simply a local view of what is actually inevitable.
But with all of these alternatives to the simple postulation of universal creative intelligence, the sense of desperation becomes more and more obvious.

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