Experiential axes of nature

-Physics takes us closer to nature on one axis only by taking us further away from it on another.

-Taylor bases his theory of the secular on the “buffered self” who is insulated from any intrusion of other intelligences. Concretely, this is accomplished by buffering ourselves from nature: we approach it though intelligence and clinical experiment rather than experience and co-existence; we leave the work of growing things, tending them, and killing some of them off to small groups of experts; we exempt ourselves as much as possible from natural rhythms and limits by electric lights, temperature controls, and our extension of motor and sensory powers by transport and communication, etc. We don’t need to denigrate one axis in the face of another, we simply need to drop the epistemic monism that makes us assume we have to pit one against the other.

-“What value is there in a buffered life? Do you want to believe in fairies?!?!” Sure, fairies don’t exist, but neither do test particles, ideal gasses, black boxes, frictionless surfaces, perfectly inertial motion, or a quantity of kinetic energy that is somehow both cause an effect of the same particular motion. Sometimes the non-existent is an indispensable light to seeing the existent. People who talked about fairies weren’t just entertaining themselves, nor are we.

-To see the existent. Our metaphors and analogs to understanding reality tend to come from the visual and tactile, but this throws an important axis of nature into the shadows. When we approach nature through the audible, its relation to the non-existent becomes crucial. Unless we remember what is no longer an object and anticipate parts of it that are not yet given audible objects cannot form a structured whole. The whole visual universe pretends to exist at once, as does the thing we grab. The audible whole demands Augustine’s distensio animi, i.e. a lived experience that has to go outside the given and existent into the world of the anticipated and lost, and tie it together to what is in front of us. Again, sometimes the non-existent is an indispensable light to seeing the existent.

-Disclosing things to a finite mind requires covering and backgrounding other things.

-We assume the pre-moderns were terrified by nature and so put gods behind it to make it tolerable. 200,000 years of neurosis, broken by industrialization!


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