Mystical consciousness compared to sense and intellection

The mystical awareness can be divided from both sense and intellection:


a.) Common with animals. We not only share sense organs with animals but are in many ways inferior to them in sense power.  

b.) Limit of possible information: No being is aware of all possible conduits of information, and it is doubtful that one could be.

c.) The concrete/ particular nature of object. 

d.) Inability to summon the object of sensation. If you want to sense something, it needs to be present in the environment.


a.) Unique to persons. Animals are clever, and are certainly more than machines, but any evidence of purely abstract objects or scientific concepts is entirely lacking. The rational numbers, Hilbert spaces, natural vs. artificial right, modus tollens, the Ontological argument, etc. all seem to involve objects that non-human animals are oblivious to.

b.) Intrinsically unlimited information. The intellect knows being and non-being, good and evil, true and false, objective and subjective, valid and invalid, nothing and thing, etc., all of which are a priori categories for any possible mode of information. They would not need to alter with additional sense information – say if we evolved pit-viper sensation or the ability to see gamma rays.

c.) Universal character of object. 

d.) Able to summon object known at will. If we know the Pythagorean theorem, a valid syllogism, justice, etc. then we can summon the very thing known up at will.

Mystical Consciousness

a.) Not common with animals. It’s too tied to notions like significance, insight, meaning, and the totality of all things.

b.) Intrinically unlimited information, though not of an intellective character. This is, however, not in the same sense as intellection. Being is given to us as infinite in an indefinite fashion that requires greater development, analysis, and examination. But the unlimited character of the mystical does not call out for this sort of supplementation by further rational discourse.

c.) Object neither simply universal nor particular. The mystical experience can abound in concrete images, but they are always qualified by the one who sees them as unlike the concrete images seen in the plain light of day. Like a dream consciousness where one sees his elementary school but he knows it was his living room, the mystical vision abounds in burning bushes that aren’t burning, voices that can be mistaken for thunder, a drape that was angel, etc.

d.) Unable to summon the object at will. A mystical experience involves intuition or direct experience of the object. That said, there are techniques meant to cultivate the power of this direct intuition: yoga, centering prayer, mystical theology, Sufism, Shamanism, the use of DMT, sensory deprivation, etc. Whether these techniques are beneficial or mortally sinful does not change the goal they are striving for.

Hell and desolation

In preparing for a public debate about the possibility of a hope for an empty Hell, I was struck by just how absolute its desolation is. It is too horrible to think that you could end up so lost that even your own mother would not mourn your loss.

The paradox of the inexplicable

If we leave off talking about brute facts and talk about inexplicable facts – since “brute” is nothing but “inexplicable” dressed up as a boogeyman or mythological totem – then we immediately run into a paradox: to call something inexplicable is to give an account of it, but this is precisely to give an explanation of a thing. And so “inexplicable fact” seems to suffer from a contradicio in adjecto.

True, we have resolved paradoxes like this before – Augustine struggles mightily in both Confessions and De Doctrina with a parallel riddle of ineffability, i.e. we call God ineffable only by speaking about him – even speaking about him at length. Theologians, however,  have a whole heap of explanations for the paradox: the transcendence of mystical knowledge, the lumen fidei, a generic account of illumination, apophatic theology, the division of reason and revelation, a Jamesian account of the integrity of mystical experience, etc. etc.. But what exactly resolves the paradox of inexplicable facts? It seems these can only make sense in the context of a theory that can make sense of explaining things as unable to be explained.

Outside of a theory, we are unable even to account for the word “inexplicable”. Obviously, it involves some denial of the possibility of explanation, but is this denial privative or merely negative? Is the absence a falling short of a standard or of something due, like “injustice” or “involuntary” or is it a mere statement that one thing does not apply to another?

Minimally, any theory of inexplicable facts has to find a way to divide an explanandum from an explanans. But it seems at least a necessary postulate of one who identifies a thing to be explained that there be an explanation, and a failure to find one is not usually taken as evidence for the absence of one, to say nothing of the much stronger claim that one is impossibleIn fact, given the problem that the whole question is one of possibility or impossibility, its seems impossible to resolve outside of some theory. It would seem extraordinarily difficult – though fascinating – to prove that anything is impossible to explain. At any rate, it certainly isn’t just given as possible from the outset.

So doesn’t it seem that the inexplicable would have to be an object of proof? How else would we divide it from the not-explained, or (more problematically) from the incorrectly explained? If this is right, we can only appeal to inexplicability on the basis of reasoned argument – we cannot simply postulate it or set it down as a hypothesis that someone else must rule out.  A fact might be given to sense or experience as unexplained, but it cannot be given to mere experience as inexplicable. And so the very possibility of some X being inexplicable has to be established by argument, not viewed as possible a priori.

Possibility, actuality, and time

For Aristotle, the very reality of the potential or possible is posterior to the act, so much so that, among temporal beings, if there never will be an actual X then X is impossible. “Never to be actualized possibility” is, for him, an oxymoron.

This would seem to be provable. All possibilities are possibilities for some term, but this term just is the act. Again, if a possibility is for a term, this term is either itself possible or actual. If possible, then this repeats ad infinitum. Therefore actual. To allow for this actuality, we have to posit something not limited to time, for example, an idea or a scientific law. I’ve called it elsewhere an intentional field.

Actuality gives reality to possibility, but it does not do so by existing first in time, but by giving structure to the process of development in time. Actuality is thus not merely temporal (for it does not pre-exist in time) nor outside of time (for it is to be actual in time) but trans-temporal. So far as something is limited to time it is possibility of one sort or another.

Thus, time as such is, on Aristotle’s account of it, a potency without an act. We refine this to mean time so far as it limits things to time.

(Time, considered in Einstein’s block universe, is not the whole of actuality, but only actuality as limited to time. The transtemporal structure – which includes the scientific law if law is law is real – is not captured in the block.)

Here we have a purely ontological sense of omne quod movetur ab alio movetur. Changes involve possibilities, but these are ontologically dependent on transtemporal actualities.

Time itself on Aristotle’s account is a source of corruption. The sense – unexplained by him – might be that corruption occurs to the extent that the actuality can no longer dominate or control the merely temporal possibility.

Notes on the fifth postulate

– To be picky about it, it’s a postulate about forming triangles: two interior acute angles will meet if extended. Nothing is asserted about what will happen if they are equal to or greater than two right angles.

-Suspicion: the Greeks were either allergic to, or attuned to the difficulties of dealing with infinites. We are much more cavalier about infinity and use it to define everything in mathematics. This shift from finite to infinite mathematics is worth a closer look. There are deep questions here about the relation of the indefinite to the defined; the potential to the actual; the background to its objects.

-Still, for Euclid, the whole intelligibility of the acute angle is in relation to the right. We miss this since for us angles are understood in relation to the acute, that is, to 1 degree. (Though radian measurements are in relation to pi; or perhaps 2 pi.)

-Non-Euclidean geometries arise from questioning the fifth postulate; but they arise in physics from questioning what a straight line is. For Euclid, it is a line where all the points lie evenly on it. I can make no sense of this other than to say that all the points line up, that is, in looking down the barrel of the line one sees only a point. But then we can actually observe that what counts as a straight line will change depending on the sort of massive bodies we put in space. This was exactly the experiment Eddington did to prove relativity. What you see right in front of you, and what you therefore walk straight towards if you move towards it, changes depending on what bodies are in space.

-The question, then, is not just of the fifth postulate but the first one: what exactly is involved in drawing a line between two points? In a space with absolutely nothing in it, we know what this means, but a physical equivalent of this could have neither lines nor points.

-And no, a division into intelligible matter and sensible matter will not preserve Euclidianism. If, in real life, we found that lines drawn parallel banged into each other when extended outward, we would find a way to incorporate this into geometry as such. Geometry is not so idealized that it could ignore what works and what doesn’t in the actual world. If we moved more quickly or worked with much more massive objects, geometry as such would incorporate time values and dynamic spaces.

– All questions of scale are essentially relative: a large cosmos or a small atom are the same as a small mountain or a large seed.

-Still, it’s unclear to what extent sciences can slough off relational designations, not just for convenience, but even in principle.

Why call merely inexplicable facts “brute”?

Calling a fact brute is a curious mix of the obvious and utterly obscure. In the philosophical discussions of the last few years, it means just “an inexplicable fact”, and so it does no more than negate the possibility of an explanation, or at least to negate any explanation by extrinsic causes (like agent causes). The word “brute” even frequently becomes the focus of attention, and so there are actually articles that parse degrees of brutishness or describe facts as relatively brute. But why focus on such a seemingly arbitrary word when “inexplicable” would do just as well?

Brute seems more like an idol or a totem. The brute is what is irrational and overpowering – the bête noire that lurks in the background. Brute is meant to give a fundamental character to things as just there but not as manifest or self evident. The mind sees nothing but is simply bound or overcome by a force that makes no sense and is incapable of doing so.

Brute facts thus seem more like a mythology, or at least a total view of explanation. The idea is that explanation itself at some point breaks down, becomes ridiculous, or no longer functions while at the same time there is some given that must be held to. There is, however, another crucial element – for the failure of explanation cannot be a mystery, that is, a sublime or superintelligible reality. “Bruteness” indicates a harshness or violence against the intellect, a frustration in the reaching for a goal while the solemn and lofty character of mystery is a direct negation of this sort of frustration.

And so we hang onto brute because it alone conveys the dark mythology of fundamental frustration.

Optimism as the flipside of moral evil

For human beings, moral evil requires knowing some action is evil while thinking about only the way it is good. This sort of willful ignorance also opens the possibility of an inveterate optimism, i.e. to stand in the face of an evil while thinking about it only as a sort of good. William James collects all sorts of testimonies from people like this in Varietieswhere he gives the paradigm case of Walt Whitman.

This raises the question of the objectivity of evil, for the convertibility of goodness and being means that it is possible for there to be a being that we cannot see as evil but impossible for us to see an evil that we cannot see as a good. There is an intrinsic ambivalence to the judgment or experience of evil that cannot be universalized to the experience of good. But the possibility of gratuitous evil – an evil that cannot be seen as valuable or beneficial to life – requires just such a universalization.

If this is right, then the argument from evil involves a very serious mistake about the nature of good and evil, since the AFE can rest only on gratuitous evils, which require a transcendental pessimism equal to the sort of optimism we see in Walt Whitman. But such an equality requires an objective parity between good and evil which does not exist.

How does the parable of the Good Samaritan answer the question?

Christ tells the story of the Good Samaritan as a response to the question “who is my neighbor?” where “a neighbor” is “one I’m bound to love.” But how is it an answer?

One reading is that it is a critique of the question. The one asking understood the those to be loved or not loved as categories set down in advance, whereas the parable understands that a person is made lovable by our choice. Love is not the sort of thing that first calculates who it will include and exclude and then chooses to cultivate warm feelings for the in-group. Love just breaks forth – the Samaritan is “moved with pity”, i.e. his response is an immediate, intuitive urging, and a bursting forth from the heart, not a calculative and deliberate evaluation of his tribal relations or religious obligations.

It’s unclear if the questioner gets the point. In response to Christ’s question “Who was neighbor to the man” he says “the one who had pity on him”. The response has a haunting ambiguity. On the one hand, it can be taken as a refusal even to say the name “Samaritan”. Dallas Willard gives this interpretation, i.e. that the Jewish questioner finds it all but physically impossible to call a Samaritan his neighbor. Another reading is that the Jew completely gets the point, a recognizes that there are no longer Jews nor Greeks (nor Samaritans) but that a neighbor now just is “the one who has pity”. Briefly, We can wonder whether he does not say the word “Samaritan” out of disgust and refusal to see them as neighbors, or out of a realization that, from here onward, love has broken down all attempts to limit itself to anything less than all persons.

The predication of equality and transcendence

Consider two ways for members of a multitude have the same name predicated of them. One the one hand, they might be members or parts of a class. In this sense, 12, 4, and 6 are even numbers, democracies and oligarchies are governments, lithium and uranium are elements, etc. The defining note of these is equality – each is just as much a a part of the genus as any other. On the other hand, there is the way in which a scholar and an beginner have knowledge or the way in which Aristotle’s friendship of virtue is related to the friendship of pleasure and utility or in general the relation that any paradigm case has to its inferiors and subordinates. In these sets, the first member has all that the other members have but in a higher way; and it has something more beyond this. The virtuoso has all the skills the beginner has, but in a more perfect way and with something in addition.

Call the first the universality of equality and the second the universality of transcendence. Thomists should recognize in this an application of St. Thomas’s idea of universality of predication and causality applied to formal causality. When the form in question is the act of existence, it gives rise to the division between creature and creator, and among creatures to the division of sorts of life: the angelic, human, animal/plant, etc.  This dovetails with Augustine’s argument in the Confessions that ascent through the levels of being is characterized not by leaving behind what one transcends, but finding it in a higher and more perfect way with more besides.

This idea is usually tacitly overlooked and causes serious damage. The idea that “heaven” involves leaving behind the earth, or the desire to escape the world is, at best, a very defective half-truth. Thinking heaven leaves behind earth is like thinking that a friendship of virtue would have to be unpleasant or thinking that a piano virtuoso would be unable to play Chopsticks or Hot Crossed Buns. How the immaterial can relate to the material in this way is no easy feat of imagination, but it’s true all the same.

Realism 2

Realism is the idea that the known exists apart from the knower. Two possible realisms are (1.) the world could exist even if human beings could not. And (2)  such a world is impossible, even though the world did in fact exist before human beings. I favor the second account, and I’ll call it realism 2.

According to realism 2, the world is different and exists apart from human beings, but is nevertheless essentially the proper object of a human mind. A world where human beings were impossible could not exist for the same reason that a nail or a screw made out of Jello could not exist. Nails could exist before a building, but only if they are made out of the sort of stuff that could hold a building together; and in the same way a material universe could exist before animals and men, but only if it could be known by them. I stress that this possibility is intrinsically constitutive of the universe itself (otherwise, we have merely option 1).

This last opinion is one way to steer a middle course between idealism and realism. With the idealists, we insist that the world could not exist without a human mind to know it; with the realists we insist that it is separate in being from the human mind.

One argument for the truth of realism 2 is that what we call the world admits of a unity among things that have only an accidental relation to each other. I look out and see in a single glace a snow pile, a parking lot, a car, a patch of sky, and a blanched-out star. There is no per se relation between all these things, and yet they are just given as a single world to me. From the point of view of clear analysis, all this is just thrown together at random, and yet it is a single real whole. It is therefore real in relation to something that creates a unity among things that have only an accidental unity. But this is the work of an intellect.

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