Friday, 7 September 2007

The Golden Spiral

What I love about the golden spiral is the way it unifies the subjective and the objective:
On one level it is a phantom of the human mind, extracted from nature where it is presented to the intellect as a mere potential; not present, but an abstraction waiting to be realised. On the other, its beauty represents everything that is wonderful about the natural world, the organic perfection which can be represented numerically but only experienced through direct aesthetic means.

The root of the golden spiral is in number: the spiral itself was discovered by the manipulation of the Fibonacci Sequence. It demonstrates how the mechanical processes by which human intellect categorises form and seeks to limit objectivity, themselves contain the seed of beauty; for beauty itself is representative of subjectivity.

The debate rages on as to whether numbers are real, preexisting the human mind (preexisting matter itself?), or whether they are 'invented' by humans as a result of our experience of the world, but our knowledge of the golden spiral rests wholly on the articulation of number. Only later did we find nature also utilising the simple harmony of the patterns Fibonacci discovered.

Tne golden spiral represents the eternal relationship between abstract and effulgent. The fullness, the irreducible organic gestalt of objective reality generates in the human mind the need to abstract into universal forms and numbers; it is this mechanical numeric form which creates harmony and beauty as subjective experience. The tripartite, dialectical relationship between object, form and subject, or between matter, universal and mind. Discovered first within number and then within nature, prompting the question 'from whence does it originate?' The answer of course is that all exist within an eternal relationship. To place one aspect as temporally - materially - prior, and then claim the others as entirely generated, entirely caused by it, is to make an ontological/teleological prejudgment which assumes the importance of material temporality over, for example, logic.

The Moving Stairway

Is it madness to say of an escalator that it has language embedded in it? It is a creation of the thinking, rational element of the world (the noosphere, as Teilhard de Chardin named it), and as such it is an articulation and expression of our human-cultural paradigms. It manifests human conceptuality and exists solely for a teleological demand within human society.

The escalator belongs - in every aspect apart from its material nature - to the structures of the human mind. It has been created based on an idea, a purpose which was conceived by an individual, in order to serve a need present within society. Its genesis is not within itself but within thought. It is essentially a means of transport, but within its essence, its being, is a communicative act directly from one mind to another.

An apple holds no such message-bearing elements. It exists for itself and is utilised by humans to satisfy a need. But this role is secondary to its existence and nature. A moving staircase has its essence outside of itself, its essence resides in the noosphere as a communication of its intended usage. Its essence necessitates understanding, it demands human intellect for without human society it has no nature: Of itself it is nothing. Dead, inert and meaningless, an unnatural collection of molecules; something which cannot be produced via natural process and can have no end via natural process except decay.

And much, very much of the world we live in is the same. So much of our day to day lives are sunk within social conceptuality, we do not see beyond our miniscule cultural horizons. An escalator is just an escalator. We see the essence, we see the noosphere's concept, we do not see the reality. We forget there is anything beyond our cultural paradigms. Maybe this isn't a bad thing. Probably intellect demands that letterbox apprehension. The more we filter and abstract the more precisely we can think and further our human endeavours. But surely there is something to be said for the ability to stand outside and accept the madness of human culture; to appreciate the objective from some other perspective than the one we normally live in?

Why the Everyday World makes Sense

Some people seem quite confused by the discrepancies between microscopic (quantum) reality and macroscopic (everyday) reality. The fact that the quantum level doesn't follow our normal logic has caused a lot of trouble for scientists (and only slightly less for the general public).

How can a level of reality, that we experience in our everyday lives, make perfect sense when it is generated from a completely illogical, counter-intuitive level beneath it?

The answer has to do with the way we are looking at the problem: macroscopic reality must make intuitive sense. Our minds have developed precisely in order to form predictions about the everyday world. We experience reality at the level of tables, chairs, grass and human actions willed by other minds. Our grip on the world is at the macroscopic level, and over the millenia individual consciousness has developed in order to understand the world at the level where it is active. Our sensory apparatus filters and interprets the world, applying forms and categories to the seething mass of undifferentiated data which bombards us. From this, we isolate and extract narrative threads which allow us to act effectively in the world. We cannot dispute that there are other events going on that we fail to comprehend. There are other narrative streams which simply don't fit into our minds, which don't make it through the logic filter, and so we don't connect isolated events which, seen from another dimension of thought, would be a clear process of cause and effect.

For example, we think in only one temporal direction. We find it exceedingly difficult to view cause and effect running from the present to the past. But doesn't this say more about our minds and the way they work, than about reality itself?

The reason the quantum world doesn't make sense in the same way the day-to-day world does, is not because of a structural shift between two levels of reality; it is because our minds suddenly reach 'home-ground' when we return to the everyday world.

The big question which this is leading up to, of course, is of the relationship between 'objective reality' and the subjective experience. But this is a topic for another blog.

Rationalism and Religion

I'm still struggling with the difference between rationalism and religion. Both doctrines use something we call 'metaphysics' and there's been a constant struggle between the two sides to claim particular words and concepts. The history of human development has been a constant bickering over how we understand reality.

The problem is, that there is metaphysics; and then there is metaphysics. It seems to me that the term is used indiscriminately to apply to two areas of thought which should be absolutely separate . It would be best to call one logic, and the other spirituality. It is unfortunate that the term applies as valid to the two equally. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that concepts generated within the one discipline can almost always be translated into the other with very little difficulty, although their implication is far from identical.

Terms like 'eternal', 'spirit', 'absolute' find use in both - and when a clearer definition is sought to clarify the nature of these concepts, we find ourselves still at a loss to understand of which area the speaker is referring. The idea of a non-physical entity - any non-physical entity - leads us into the same trap. Is the 'soul' an independent, real thing - or is it a word we use to refer to a quality we experience of someone? The word is still in common parlance as a metaphor. But what is the actual referent?

It has been argued that the majority of philosophers have in fact been talking of the 'realm' of logic: Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Leibniz, Wittgenstein...all were talking of no 'religious' qualities: they sought merely to describe the difference between the material world outside of us, and the world of thought inside of us. The problem comes when philosophy and religion meet, and thinkers such as Maimonides attempt to explain religious concepts by means of philosophical concepts, and thus identify the two. Now, this blurs the line and we know longer know whether in fact there is a real difference between the religious God and the Absolute of the philosophers (although the distinction between the concepts should be intuitively clear to us); between the Soul of religion, and the Spirit of philosophy (or even the simple idea of a person's 'essence'); or between the angels and the metaphorical message-bearing elements of manifestation attested by Maimonides.

Are these concepts identical? Kierkegaard definitely didn't think so. An autonomous non-physical reality has no place in philosophy, but it is the essence of religious metaphysics, which postulates beings and actions which are real in precisely the way we are, while having no material presence. But where does the use of metaphor begin and end? Do the intelligent, the rational of today, understand the power of myth as metaphor for the logical concepts of philosophy and all the soft mind-based experiences of meaning? Was anything else ever meant by these words? Many still believe in the literal truth of angels, a personal God, and the afterlife. Are these people merely fools, those who cannot exercise logic enough to grasp the concepts behind the terms and so naively create a supraphysical realm which is clearly not 'there'? Of the Abrahamic faiths, no scripture talks of ought but this world we inhabit. The metaphysical interpretation has always come after, 'on top' of what is talked of in the holy books.

My problem is this: Surely one must be correct. If we explain away the difference by saying that one is metaphor for the other (as Hegel did, and Averroes and Maimonides before him), then that still leaves us with a literally corect understanding and a literally false one. If religion is a mythical, 'dreamlike' description of philosophical truths, then philosophical logic must take a higher place than religious revelation.

And in doing this, we strip God of any personhood whatsoever: by rejecting the anthropomorphic imagery in favour of a logical Absolute, we are effectively destroying the fundamental humanness offered by religion - and this is what so often has caused the downfall of rationalism, whether in Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or even Hinduism.

But truth must lie somewhere. Is it again too much of an anthropomorphism to demand that the universe has a conceivable structure that is graspable by humans? Or is it precisely this element of mystery, that mere mortals cannot perceive the whole of reality except from within our limited subjective experience of it, is it precisely this fact that makes being alive so unpredictably special?