William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Do I Exist? (Does Russia?) Part I — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

p1

Do I exist? Great question. And does that rock over there really exist? Another great question. For idiots. Yet those are the two questions that have tortured all of the great idiots of the last 500 years in the Western philosophical world of ‘Enlightenment’. That, my friend, is Vladimir Solovyev’s distillation of all Western post-Enlightenment philosophy. He says that they are all either rationalists or empiricists. Among the rationalists we have Kant, Hegel, Leibniz-Wolff etc. And with the empiricists we can include Bacon, Locke, Hume, Mill, etc.

According to Solovyev, the rationalist asks himself if he can prove his own existence. The empiricist, on the other hand, tries to prove the existence of that rock over there. And since neither the object’s nor the subject’s existence can be ‘proven’, to the satisfaction of these same geniuses, the net result is paralysis. How convenient.

So what is the purpose of gazing at your (or your neighbor’s) navel? To reach paralysis, evidently. Or else, to avoid making real contact with yourself. Or that rock over there. And the resulting paralysis of this existential enervation is simply the byproduct of this endless loop of self-doubt.

So what does Solovyev mean by all of this? Simply that both forms of this type of thought, whether by faux reasoning or measuring, misses the salient point. And that point is this: if either you or that rock over there don’t exist (in the simple fashion that our senses present to us), then nothing matters. Why? Because at least half (if not all) of sensual reality doesn’t exist. Ergo, why bother? With anything?

Solovyev, as summarized by Egbert Munzer in his fascinating book Solovyev, Prophet of Western-Russian Unity is simply pointing out that by failing to take our sensory data at face value, we become unable to act upon that same input. Why react to that rock’s presence if you’re not sure if it really exists? Or if you really exist? In short, each of these approaches yields exactly nothing. Nothing rational, nothing measurable. Nothing, period. No wonder so many Western ‘thinkers’ deny the reality of free will. If you can’t act (because you can’t be sure you exist), what’s the point of the will? And what then is the difference between the East and the West?

Well, so what? What’s wrong with thinking about your existence? Or trying to measure what your senses perceive? Why, nothing is wrong with that, nothing at all. As long as you believe your beliefs. And doubt your doubts. And don’t confuse the two. So here is the handy man’s way out of this Western ‘Enlightenment’ conundrum of existential wondering if there is anything beyond your navel. See that rock over there? Now forget, for a moment, the paralyzing question of whether it really exists. And whether you really exist. Instead, just walk over there and pick it up for a second, eh? Now then, smack it directly into your forehead. Hard! When you wake up, you will be forever cured of the question of whether either of you actually exists.

Now let’s assume you’ve done this (and lived). What’s next? Philosophically speaking, that is. Well, in order to make any actual progress, now that the ‘will to paralysis’ is gone, we have to get down to business. And let’s forget about rocks, as objects that is. Let’s go for the whole enchilada. We know we are the subject. So let’s deal with the big object. That would be God. And let’s take Solovyev’s approach and see where it leads.

Solovyev’s way of understanding life was to see things as part of the All-One. No, not in a pantheistic way. Rather, in an organic way. Organic, in the original sense of the word. And the original sense of the world. In other words, the creation was One, and all the constituent parts were interconnected, each having an organic (that is, a systemic) role to play in the workings of the organism as a whole. But because he was not a pantheist, Solovyev didn’t believe that the individual parts of the whole lacked their own individual personality. He was not a Hindu. Or a Buddhist. Or a Confucian. Or any of those myriad Eastern mystical belief systems that reduced you to an indistinct drop of water in a vast impersonal ocean. Yes, he studied all of them. But he never took the bait.

No, he believed in the eternal uniqueness of each being. Think of it as your body, and each cell was not only unique, physically speaking, but mentally alive and unique as well. And possessed of its own will. Now we can see the problem of mankind better. We usually don’t feel like acting in a manner that benefits the entire body, versus our own particular desires. Imagine what our bodies would do if our cells acted this way. Wait—they do! That’s why we become dissipated, diseased, and dead. So, is this the fate of organic mankind? Actually, yes. Unless there is some kind of intervention. An external intervention. Why external? Because physicians do not heal themselves, do they? They die too, if I’m not mistaken.

Yes, I know. That’s pretty damned obvious, at least to those of us who aren’t physicians today. So let’s get back to Solovyev, and his version of spiritual (and thus mental) health. Which, if it is correct, should lead to physical health, right? So let’s look at philosophy as Solovyev saw it.

He said that the real danger in Western Enlightenment thought systems was that neither the rational nor the empirical approach allowed the subject and object to form a relationship with each other, thus resulting in true knowledge of each other. After all, if one or the other (or both) didn’t really exist, how could there be any interaction between them? And without interaction, how could there be any relationship, of any kind? Not only that, how could they ever become united? Or better yet, to realize their inherent and intended unity. After all, if we are all part of the All-One, isn’t that the goal? To become re-united, for the purpose of ‘peaceful co-existence’, as we used to say during the years of détente? Yes, you knew I would drag Russia into this, right Komrade?

Anyway, back to the task of correctly detecting what we (the subject) are, and what that thing over there (the object) is. And then we can establish (or re-establish) a relationship with it, for the furtherance of organic unity. Okay then, so in the example I’ve proposed, let’s define ourselves, now that we no longer doubt our existence. Well, it’s pretty simple. We are unique individuals, and we die. Therefore, we are not immortal. We are finite. On the other hand, the object I’ve proposed, (God), is also an individual, but He does not die. So then, we can now see the big difference. Immortality versus mortality. And let’s see what this implies.

If you are immortal, you must be infinite and omnipotent. You possess the power to resist entropy. That is, the power of death. This means that God is of an unchanging nature. Because the only change for Him would be death. Why is that? Well, if you are infinite and omnipotent, all potentiality and actuality is within your grasp. How could you possibly change? What could you change into that you didn’t already contain and subsume? So what does this have to do with anything? Simply this; God exists, unconditionally, as He is. He is Being what He is. He’s not becoming anything else. After all, if He’s infinite, what else is there that He could become that He isn’t already? Nothing. Been there, done that. Amen.

But we, on the other hand, don’t really exist unconditionally. After all, we didn’t exist prior to our parents, and we likely won’t exist (here, at least) in another 100 years. And that’s being optimistic. Yes, I know, I do seem to state the obvious, don’t I? But sometimes, or quite often actually, mankind avoids the obvious. So let’s allow Solovyev spell it out for us. He says that Man is always in a state of becoming. Man is not static. He doesn’t simply exist, as God does. Man changes, God doesn’t. And therein lies the whole tale. So let’s complete the equation, the equation that Western Enlightenment idiots can never grasp, because they can’t (or rather, won’t) get beyond the first premise. And the reason they won’t is because this premise leads inexorably to the conclusion. And the conclusion is a question, a question they don’t like. And they don’t want to answer it . And the question is this; what exactly are we becoming?

So let’s see where we are with this equation. Let’s state what we now know: God is Being, Man is Becoming. And now we are to that point where the unspoken question is literally screaming at us to ask: Being what? Becoming what?

Well, in God’s case, it’s simple, because He is simple. Why is He simple? Because He has no parts. He is One. So he can’t fall apart. Pretty simple. But is eternal being the finality of His essence? That He simply is? I say no. There is something beyond simple, unconditional Being. And so, let us ask, what exactly is He being? And the Christian answer is, He is being Good. Infinitely good, in the fullness of meaning. Eternally, infinitely, omnipotently Good. Now if you don’t believe in the existence of this version of God, you’ve got a problem. Why? Because whatever ersatz brand you do believe in has to fall short of what I’ve just described. Because I’ve already claimed every inch of that turf. By definition. What could be better than the ultimate Good? Good luck with Allah. Or Buddha. Or Confucius. Or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Or Darwin. Or yourself. Or whoever.

But this is only part of the equation. What about us? You know, mankind? Where do we stand in this cosmic comedy? And it is a comedy, you know. Because it has a good ending. But back to mankind, eh? Yes, we have our part to play as well. And since God doesn’t change, we get all the action parts, right? Yep. We are the actors in this play. And God is the audience. And the producer. And the cool part of this play is that we get to write our own lines. And script our own actions. That’s what this is all about. What are we becoming? What character will emerge from our own self?

So now, back to the question: what exactly are we Becoming? Now there are only two choices, you know. And here they are; we’re either Becoming Better, or Becoming Worse. And those two gradations are in strict relation to The Good I’ve described above.

So here is where Solovyev sees us. We, as conditional beings, are in a constant state of flux. And the ether of time is what allows us this flexibility, this freedom of will, and then of action. And the choice is ours, alone. What will we become? Will we become better, or will we become worse, as measured against the Golden Rule of The Unconditional Being?

Now this is where Solovyev takes us to the concept of God-Manhood in Solovyev’s Lectures on God-Manhood. The process of becoming a God-Man like Jesus. But whereas Jesus has always been God, in the fullness of that concept and Being, we have to become Him. Which will take forever, if we can even imagine such a thing. This is the purpose of infinity, from our point of view. Why is that? Well, scripture tells us that we are to become as gods, e.g. Psalm 82: 1-5.

Notice I didn’t capitalize that word ‘god’. And the reason is because, if we have chosen (by our actions) to become Better in this life, then in the next life, which is un-ending, we can continue this progression. And we have eternity to do it. An eternity to absorb the intricacy of the infinite. Which of course, we can never completely do. And how could we ever become ‘God-with-a-capital-G’? How could we? It’s physically and meta-physically impossible. But we can get close to it. And closer. And closer. And closer…

But this is no Sisyphean task I’ve described here. It’s not work, my friend. It is pleasure. Pure pleasure. Ahhhhh! And even though we know, from the outset, that we can never eat all the courses on the Big Buffet of Being, we’ll never have to stop eating. We never get full. And we never lose our appetite. And every bite of knowledge and wisdom is better than the last. Yet, on the other hand, if we chose to Become Worse in this life, then guess what awaits us in the coming eternal infinity? Better bring some Tums. Better bring a lot. An infinite amount, to be precise.

‘Yeah, yeah, so what?’ you say. What’s this got to do with Russia? Well, everything. At least, to Orthodox Russia. And is there any other kind of Russia? Which is to say, the Russia of President Vlad and Patriarch Kyrill. And as long as they are in the front seat of this Armata T-14, that’s everyone in Russia today. So what do I mean by this? Well, remember when I said that God is simple, and he does not change? Whereas we can and do change, continuously? And that it is our trajectory of action (and attitude) that determines our fate? Well, there’s the magic word, Komrade: action.

21 Comments

  1. Dude,

    Switch to decaf.

  2. Solovyev, as summarized by Egbert Munzer in his fascinating book Solovyev, Prophet of Western-Russian Unity is simply pointing out that by failing to take our sensory data at face value, we become unable to act upon that same input. Why react to that rock’s presence if you’re not sure if it really exists?

    Reminds me of the penultimate scene of Dark Star

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29pPZQ77cmI

  3. Love me some Dark Star references.

  4. Dude Briggs, it seems to me that many of the discussions in the comments section have been going down hill for some time, I often simply glance at the comments now. It seems there are more people on my do not read list than there are who make interesting comments. Oh well. I guess there is nothing you can do about that.

  5. “But because he was not a pantheist, Solovyev didn’t believe that the individual parts of the whole lacked their own individual personality. He was not a Hindu.”

    Respectfully, this statement reveals a lack of knowledge of so-called Hinduism (a better term might be ‘sanatana-dharma’ – the eternal constitutional position of a living being, i.e. the servant of God). From the perspective of the purely monotheistic Vaishnava theology, God is a personal individual, possessing infinite inconceivable potencies (shaktis). The finite living beings (jivatmas) are the manifestation of one of those potencies (tatastha-shakti). The jivatmas are simultaneously the same as, yet different from God. They are qualitatively the same as God who is infinite, but quantitatively infinitesimal (aham brahmasmi – “I am Brahman” – the same in essence only). These living beings can never become God, as some prominent schools of Indian thought propagate. For example, a fire has the potential to burn, and the tiny sparks also have this same feature. However, the fire is the source of the sparks, qualitatively the same as them, yet vastly different in terms of the ability to burn. This idea is known as ‘achintya bhedabheda tattva’, the principle of inconceivable (to a finite intellect) simultaneous difference/non-difference. After all, by definition, what is not possible for God?

    Unfortunately, the crypto-Buddhistic philosophy of Adi-Shankara (Advaita – non-dualism) seems to define, for many, the philosophical underpinnings of contemporary Hinduism, as your statement seems to indicate. Shri Shankaracharya had his own reasons for teaching his atheistic philosophy (a story for another day), however, a little research with an open mind will reveal the fallaciousness of this understanding of Indian theology/philosophy.

    There are a number of other points in your article that I would like to address, but time does not allow me to do so, presently.

  6. Did this author dwell too much on this scene from Animal House:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUOGxePBs50

    Or, perhaps, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who?

    As for the concept of becoming a ‘god-man’ (“The process of becoming a God-Man like Jesus. But whereas Jesus has always been God, in the fullness of that concept and Being, we have to become Him.”) — that is a very old concept associated with Gnostics, considered heretical in the Catholic Church, and to this day an appealing draw for any number of hucksters, including this one:

    http://www.ramtha.com/content/pdf/teachings/angels.pdf

    JZ Knight, continuing a California fad from the early 80s, still trance-channels Ramtha, for a pricey fee, before numerous still willing to pay to hear in-person a message every bit as goofy as that presented here. Somewhere along the way someone else started trance-channeling Ramtha (some warrior who died in Pompei and achieved supreme enlightenment), JZ sued, and then patented Ramtha. Literally patented Ramtha. And still paying people flock in hordes to hear her nonsense, enriching her by $$Ms.

    Some of her performances are available free on-line — every bit as entertaining as the stuff here!

  7. DAV

    Absolutely one of the best things from the show is the song!

    I was really disappointed in the Director’s cut when it came out.
    (The bottle music COULD have been dispensed with but
    I felt the bomb sequence that was cut was important to our
    understanding of the bomb – I see you can get both versions now)

    Hack
    Feel free to actually read the article yourself and respond to it rather
    than count on others to provide such impetus and maybe you read it
    and respond instead of responding to just the comments.

  8. Fr. John Rickert

    November 29, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    +JMJ

    Ken — The Gnostics may have held that position, but the position as stated in the post is not heretical to my knowledge. If you still disagree, please provide a reference from Denzinger, either DS or the newer version published by Ignatius Press.

    Here is what St. Thomas Aquinas says in the Office of Corpus Christi, Matins, Lectio 4: “Unigenitus siquidem Dei Filius, suae divinitatis volens nos esse participes, naturam nostram assumpsit, ut homines deos faceret factus homo.”
    “For, the only-begotten Son of God, wishing to make us sharers in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that, being made man, He might make men to be gods.”

    See, for example, divinumofficium.com for May 26, 2016. Or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 460.

    The opening part of the post reminds me of a famous incident mentioned in Boswell’s life of Samuel Johnson:

    After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”

    Finally, the story is told of the philosophy professor who placed a chair on top of the lecture room table and gave his students an exam with only one problem: Prove the existence of the chair. One student replied, “What chair?”

  9. DAV I did read the article and I only comment if I have some thing useful to add, if I don’t, I shut my mouth. I like reading comments if somebody has something interesting/intelligent to say, I like to find out what other people think.Lately it seems like there are more trollish comments here, people just responding to score ‘points’ or make sure everyone knows there position. As I said earlier oh well. Humility use to be a virtue, not so much anymore.

  10. Rickert — Have you, or the Catholic Church ANY authoritative references from within scripture itself that establishes that Jesus mission was to not only lead humanity to ‘eternal life’ but also to “make men to be gods”?

    Here’s a key quote from the Catholic Catechism:

    “”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”” (from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a3p1.htm)

    The true meaning to “become a son of God” or “that we might become God.” or “that he, made man, might make men gods.” [the latter two from the Vatican’s site) is VERY different from the sense of JZ Knight/Ramtha
    and
    that plainly stated by I. Watt.

    Making “men to be gods” is jargon more along the lines of Hosea 11.1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him,And out of Egypt I called My son.” (obviously a nation is not a “son of [anyone/thing]”), or 2 Samuel 7:11-16. Or Psalm 2, where a “son of God” is one anointed by God.

    I. Watt presents a mishmash, and in places is flat out wrong: “Well, scripture tells us that we are to become as gods, e.g. Psalm 82: 1-5.”

    Psalm 82 says nothing of the sort, not even remotely close.

    In the same paragraph I. Watt mentions Solvyev’s Lectures — those present a very different tale, but one that is consistent with Catholicism (e.g. see http://www.emory.edu/INTELNET/four_thinkers.html). Solvyev presents in key point:

    ‘Freedom leads a human being away of God, but only through freedom s/he can return to God.’

    Solvyev presents ‘God-Man’ in the context of Jesus as man & God, and that relationship to humanity. Watt presents Solvyev’s “God-Man” in the context of humans becoming “as god.” Huge difference that –

    Self-improvement/purification to gain closeness with God (Catholic Catechism & Solvyev) is a radically different concept than becoming “as gods” — phrasing which is reasonably interpreted as the same as becoming a god.

    Watt may have meant something consistent with Catholic doctrine, but his typical blather presents a very different objective — much much closer to the Gnostic nonsense of JZ Knight (or L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology for that matter). One can, with effort, “read between the lines” and maybe guess the intended meaning as consistent with Catholic doctrine … but the plain meaning of the words can also easily — and reasonably — be interpreted to be grossly heretical. Not only can it be so interpreted, it has been:

    Such incompetent use of language has, today especially, particular significance — such careless jargon as to become “as gods” begs the question, “which gods?”

    And that query leads in warp speed to Islam & associated extremism (not to Russia). Muslims in general, and extremists in particular, point to what appears to be blatant hypocrisy & contradictions within Christian doctrine:

    “I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever.” — Mark 3:28-29
    IMPLICATION: Jesus is not co-equal in the Trinity — one can reject him, etc., and be forgiven, but rejecting the Holy Spirit is forever unforgivable. These differing penalties for the same offense to different elements of the Trinity indicate those elements have explicitly different rank.

    “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.'” — John 14:28
    IMPLICATION: Jesus is also subordinate to his Father — he said so rather explicitly that the Father is greater. Elsewhere he says he & the Father ‘are one’ … but that context is one of delegated authority, which by its nature indicates a hierarchy as the one delegating has the higher rank/greater authority/power (e.g. Luke 10:22: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”)

    The above straightforward interpretations are cited by Muslims, routinely, as how idiot Christians worship a pantheon, a Trinity, postulated to exist — that is a mystery without logical explanation — based in large part on a committee decision (Council of Nicea) operating because of and under dictatorial political oversight (Constantine) … a Trinity that is suspiciously comparable to the Archaic and/or Capitoline Triads.

    That’s a typical Muslim perspective…and as it happens some of them are nearby, and they read & interpreted Watt’s words along the lines of a JZ Knight or L. Ron Hubbard.

    In other words Rickert, Watts good intent via his words might seem reasonable to some predisposed to perceive a particular interpretation, but clumsy incompetent use of language undermined that intent by conveying — clearly to at least a couple of local Muslims disposed to a particular different perspective (100 percent of those surveyed!) — that some idiot Christian (Watt) not only worships a pantheon of Gods, but he wants to join them as a deity himself, and, inspire others to try likewise. That’s the feedback I got (with smiles & snickers).

    Competent writing conveys a particular message across audiences — Watt failed here miserably — merely reinforcing whatever predispositions a given audience already has on what is a rather substantial bit of theological doctrine. The point isn’t if he’s right or wrong, the point is he’s undermining his own message — effectively being a sort of “anti-missionary.” When members of an opposing faith can point to a Christian writer’s work as evidence their right & the Christians are wrong, you know that writer is ‘doin’ it wrong!’

    Our statistician blogger needs to stick to topics of expertise and quit dabbling in areas where his output does more harm than good.

  11. Ken-
    Allowing that Watt used the 151 Psalm reference (vs the Douay-Reims Catholic 150 version), Psalm 81 reads thus:

    ‘I have said: You are gods and all of you the sons of the most High’. (verse 6).

    And I believe Watt makes it crystal clear that the process described can never achieve actual Godhood. He deals with this in explicit fashion in his reference to ‘little-g vs. capital-G God’. How much clearer does he need to be? He is simply describing the satisfaction of the process of getting better throughout an infinite existence. Hardly the stuff of heresy.

  12. Fr. John Rickert

    November 29, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    +JMJ

    Ken —

    Briefly, I was responding to your statement that Watt’s view is heretical, which it is not. For the Catechism, look at the editio typica in Latin, which is the definitive version. It has the quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas that I gave earlier.

    And what about Denzinger?

    I think that Briggs is commendable for being willing to talk about a variety of subjects here (e.g., education, the current political climate, philosophy, religion, among others) and this is one reason why I keep up with this blog. I hope he will not heed the siren song of overspecialization.

  13. What I have heard preached in most conservative evangelical Christian churches is not that we are to become ‘gods’ in any way, but that we are to try to become more like Jesus.

    I did recently attend a talk by a progressive Christian minister, and she laughed at even the idea of trying to become more like Jesus, answering that it is just like asking to ‘become more like the holy spirit’. I wanted to follow up and ask her if she thought Jesus was a man at all then, since trying to be like Jesus and follow his commandments seems to make sense if he was a man…?

  14. To Mr Watt, the United States just elected Donald Trump President of the United States. Russia will have to go on the shelf for a bit.

    Oh, probably not a great time for any wacky end-times sorta stuff either, if you don’t mind. I’m sure we’ll be having more than enough of that.

    JMJ

  15. Hack,

    DAV I did read the article and I only comment if I have some thing useful to add

    That’s nice. Why tell me and why is it something useful to add?

  16. DAV and HACK

    Hack thought my comment was yours since I first directed my comment to you and then to him.

    The way I read HACK’s original comment “I often simply glance at the comments now”, I misinterpreted it to mean just that. (And thus wasn’t really a useful comment at all.)

    Briggs

    You once told me that Blog Post attention is lost with pieces over 800 words. This baby came in at over 2250 words (that’s like a tonne of words – really heavy lifting).

  17. Thank you Mr. Watt, it’s always a pleasure reading your words here.

  18. Likewise, Mr Watt.

    However, I was a bit cautious about your:
    “So let’s see where we are with this equation. Let’s state what we now know: God is Being, Man is Becoming. And now we are to that point where the unspoken question is literally screaming at us to ask: Being what? Becoming what?”

    I think we need to make a real distinction between the substance (being) of a Man and the accidents that are of the particular Man… like stage of development, physical features, culture, and all that distinguishes the Man from other Men.

    Essentially, one doesn’t “become” a Man. A human zygote will usually “become” an old Man…… but only by a change of accidents; not of substance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑