Information and spirituality

Shannon explicitly leaves aside much of what we mean by information when he formulates his theory. Meaning is completely ignored, but what remains is still an important element in information: novelty. 

Information is what I depend on another to get. If you send me a message like 2, 4, 6, 8… I quickly hit the point where I no longer depend on you for what comes next. If you send me < >MJJJ?”?>>kgkufy6-oh… then I am very dependent on you for whatever comes next. It’s this sense of “information” that leads to the paradoxical conclusion that the meaningless and random has “more information” than a meaningful sentence fragment.

In this sense, the information content of any physical medium is limited. Even in the random message above, you still had pretty-good-odds-for-a-lottery of guessing the next character (It had to be something typeable on a standard keyboard with English-language settings, for example.)

Plato’s theory of recollection argues that all learning is from previous learning and so is infinite. Aristotelianism arrives at the same conclusion by its hylomorphism: all limitation is from physicality or matter, and so the spirituality of mind makes it an unlimited being proportionate to an infinite source of information. What does this mean?

Infinite information would be perpetually surprising or novel – the amazement of the new could not wear off. The tour guides in the Grand Canyon don’t get to have the same rush of novelty as the tourists, but this is due to the limitations in physical objects. The Romantic exultation of the sublime was really exultation of novelty or of something inseparable from the novel, and so was an argument for human spirituality.

Cognitive neuroscience has also discovered the value of the novel. The bizarre and novel has always been away of increasing memory, because the brain seems built to look for it. Novelty is an essential element in triggering dopamine, in the sense that the amount released goes down with the familiarity or predictability of the stimulus. The inevitable lassitude, burnout, and boredom that results from acting as if physical pleasures could be infinite is a result of their intrinsically limited information content. Make orgasm a god, and it will soon be no more pleasant than sneezing; make a drug a god and you will soon only do it to stave off the pain caused by its absence. Physical pleasures only link up with the infinite to the extent that they can be a part of some spiritual good – the communion of persons, the fluidity and joy of discourse, the deepening of interpersonal bonds, etc.

Any two angels are more information rich than the physical universe. To see any one part of the physical universe allows you to predict another with greater accuracy than seeing one angel would allow you to predict another. After you go to heaven and see your first angel, you will see a second one and say “what is that”? (among the damned, the novelty of the same experience will only be in horror, which has its own novelty – think jump scares.) Even this image turns on the idea that they will be in different places, when in fact this part of the metaphor falsifies it.

At the summit of novelty is the triune God, made by the continual outpouring of divine cognitive and volitional possibility. God’s power is limited in what he can create, since creation itself has limitation, but the procession if the Arche into the Logos and the Life is entirely unlimited and novel. God alone is the Heraclitean river that one cannot be twice the same. There is no re-cognition of God as he processes into his cognitive and volitional persons, only the continual amazement of seeing him for the first time. Palamas is right that the essence of Trinity is unknowable, but this is not a darkness but the perpetual impossibility of re-cognition. One cannot say of the Trinity that it is just what he saw before.

The resurrection is into spiritualized matter that overcomes the limitation of physical information. This is why the physical body of Christ was not recognizable and was trans-dimensional, appearing at will and having a true physicality even while now “in heaven”. The assumption of his Mother was not the act of levitating her into orbit but of taking her entirely into this same trans-dimensionality.



Immortality and Plato, arg. 1 and 2

The first two immortality arguments in Phaedo are not so much trying to prove pre-existence as a conservation law of life.

1.) Life is neither generated nor destroyed but only changes states from embodiment to disembodiment. If death is life-separation, becoming a living substance is life-incarnation. Plato borrowed the myth-at-hand of an underworld as the to which the disincarnate go and from which they return, but Dawkins’ idea of life as a meme which is encoded in matter would work just as well. Something has to account for how information can be encoded in different formats, pre-existing and post-existing them all.

2.) Learning is recollection, and so always presupposes pre-learning. Learning is thus never generated from non-learning and so has a conservation law. Any production of a rational soul could not be an intra-natural act.

Simmias and Kebes raise the two main objections: life may not be relevantly similar to information but might be simply an accident of arrangement, i.e. life results from material without previously informing it. The lyre objection begs the question. The first string on a guitar both produces “E” and was produced to so make it, i.e. the luthier made the instrument with an idea of making “E” long before the instrument itself could do so. The objection, however, allows Plato to restrict the scope of argument (1). As formulated, it argues for an immortality of everything, but Plato restricts it in the response to self-directing (i.e. rational) life.

Conservation laws made from pre-existence leave open the possibility that perhaps nature is so constructed that things go from infinity to point X, after which they disappear (this is the tailor’s coat objection). But this overlooks that, for the living, life is existence.

Recollection without Pre-existence.

-Plato’s arguments for recollection show there is no first learning. Your life is already infinite. All learning is recollection, and so requires some previous learning, which requires some previous learning, ad infinitum.

Creation is to give a finite temporal beginning to what does not need it. If elements in fact only go finitely back in time then they were created since the conservation of elements does not demand that beginning. This is the Christian modification of Plato. In other words, Plato proves the conservation law of intelligible reality, and the Christian only insists that, in fact, intelligible reality started for you at time X.



First Way.

(This started as a thought experiment of what I would say if someone wanted a cosmological argument in under a minute. The obscurity is intentional.)

Say I want an account of motion. If I want to explain how we got animals, I’d have to place myself in an animal-less world and describe how we got the animal-filled one around us; so an account of motion involves placing myself in a motionless world and describing how I got the motion-filled one around me.

We describe such a world all the time – both abstract laws and kinetic energy are motionless in their own way, as is a block universe. But kinetic energy is whatever moves something, and to the extent that we see this as  concrete and physical it is hardly motionless. Abstract laws aren’t agents, and the block universe doesn’t exist at one time. So all these might be as close as we can get to the motionless world while staying within physics, but they point to a more fundamental explanation prior to physical interaction.

So time is relative to eternity.  Here’s the difference between the two: in time things exist without being all at once, and this generates serial differences that create a problem of locating where in some series something is or happens, which in turn requires setting up some sort of measurement system to solve problems like this (like clocks, calendars, day-divisions, etc.). In eternity things exist all at once. No serial differences arise and the measurement system is superfluous.

The common idea of both worlds is the “at once” or simul, which is neither temporal nor eternal and so is the common locus of both. The simul for things in time is a limit or abstraction from things that cannot have their whole existence in that limit; but for things in eternity the simul is where they exist wholly.  Since eternity relates to time in the simul as causal or explanatory it includes all that, in time, has been or will be. Both the fixity of the past and the contingency of the future are causally compossible in the simul of eternity.

Though the simul is the locus of time and eternity does not mean there is only one such locus. Following Relativity, there seem to be as many actual “at once” moments as there are actual observers.  Observation (which is fundamentally mind or consciousness) is therefore the gate between eternity and time. This leads us to expect a similarity between eternity and intelligence, since intelligence mediates eternity and time.


Recollection v. Abstraction

Plato’s defense of recollection is made in defiance of the doctrine of abstractionism. Plato is impressed by the fact that we get ideas not just from things similar to the ideas, but from things dissimilar to them. We form all sorts of ideas by negation, counterfactual reasoning, use of the principle of contradiction, fiddling around with conditions of existence, etc. Abstractionism therefore has a difficult time accounting for intellectual creativity.

Physical defined by the mental

The physical is testable, and so is defined by a mental act.

The testable (control vs. experimental) is a system where pre-arranged human action and inaction is the decisive difference, and so is defined by free choice.

To build a system for the sake of knowing assumes a commodious subordination of the physical to the mental, and a way in which knowledge is subordinate to physical things for the sake of its own ends.

Reason and choice both exist within a structure of non-rational drives, but this is beside the point. The success of the sciences has come from rejecting mental or supernatural causation of one kind while intensifying the connection between the mental and the physical on another axis. Mental causation will never be found within the explanation because we have made it the decisive factor allowing for an explanation of a scientific kind.

The gods of irony have therefore blessed us with nations of philosophers justifying the causal closure principle by an account of the physical that defines it intrinsically as “whatever is a possible object of science”, i.e. of a mental act.

Plato’s opposites argument

1.) If A and B are opposites, then coming to be A is from B, and vice-versa

If something tastes better it once tasted worse, if taller once shorter, if happier once sadder.

2.) Life and death are opposites, so just as (uncontroversially) death can only arise out of something once living, so… life can only arise from something once dead.

Objection: death is simply non-existence. So all the argument proves is that what comes to exist did not exist before. Big deal.

Response: But things don’t pass from life to non-existence. Ideal gasses, Don Quixote, square circles, etc. are all non-existent without being dead. The objection thus shifts from the scandal of a claim about a kind of non-existence to the blasé, but very different claim about non-existence generally –  which is clearly an ignoratio elenchi. 

3.) If things now living were once dead, one or more of these visions of the universe are true:

a.) There is an underworld for persons existing disincarnately and later incarnately.

b.) There is a wheel of life and karma turning infinitely and giving rise to multiple re-incarnations.

c.) Some version of Wisdom of Solomon 8:20 “being good, I entered into an undefiled body”. Souls are at least prior in causality to bodies, though they enter into them once and then do not return. Plato’s death-life staircase only allows one appearance in the world.

d.) Life is not reducible to mere physics but is somehow a subsistent or substantial order. It is therefore not exhausted by physical processes but is prior to them.

Romantic Naturalism

No one would confuse me with someone sympathetic to Naturalism, but I have deep sympathy with a Kantian or Romantic Naturalism.

For Kant, the phenomenological world was objective for being at least in part a result of the world as it is, though the limits of understanding are fixed by the phenomenological world. Kant and the post-kantians were then left to explain how a world could play an integral part in the explanation of the phenomenological world and yet be unknowable. The Romantic answer is that the world-in-itself was scientifically unknowable and yet given by aesthetic experience, which breaks beyond phenomenological experience by its awareness of the sublime. So every sort of ecstasy, whether through enthusiasm or pathos or rejoicing or despair were all supra-rational awareness of the world as it is in itself. This is why this sort of experience is the highest form of life. We systematize the cultivation of ecstasy through music, poetry, fine art, religion, literature, or, in general, though the “humanities” in opposition to the sciences. Philosophy and theology will always be an awkward fit in this science-humanities binary, but they are perhaps humanities that attempt to give some fundamental orientation to the world, though without ever being able to appeal to facts or universal laws.

If “knowledge” means consensus about and power over the known then it is knowledge over an object that is constituted by forms we make and put into it, and under such a description knowledge is science, though it is not of the world as such but of the world as made or fact. Getting beyond this phenomenological given means going beyond facts, but at least some modes of this involve an ecstasy which is experienced as seeing the world as it really is. Isn’t this the fulness of energia or entelikia that is actuality and operation? To put it in its ultimate 19th century form, isn’t the fulness of truth the fulness of life? But the fulness of life is the ecstasy of going beyond the phenomenological to the sublime, therefore etc. Truth is emotional in the original sense of the term, i.e. going out of oneself and beyond the phenomenological.

There was something worth keeping in all this, but the dualism was probably too fragile to sustain. The sublime is probably over-dependent on the merely novel, and so is not so much a meta-object as another phenomenological experience. Many actual meta-objects (definitions, abstractions, mathematicals, relations etc.) are not marked off by being either sublime or novel.


John 1, a literalish translation

The Logos has always been (ἦν) in the Origin (ἀρχῇ), and so both proceeds from (πρὸς) God, and is God.

All else is generated because the Logos has always proceeded from the Origin.

The Life was also present, and the Life is the one who now enlightens the human race, though this enlightenment occurs in an obscurity that cannot be dispelled.

Trinitarianism and philosophy

STA’s refusal to allow for a proof of the Trinity needs to be balanced against his claim that it functions as an explanatory hypothesis, with the former being as pointless and harmful as the latter is fruitful and necessary. The indemonstrability of the Trinity does not imply it has no explanatory role to play in metaphysics. While Trinitarianism is fundamentally liturgical and sacramental and we could never come up with the idea on our own, it is also the definitive light and revelation into personality, relation, community, common goods, transcendence, the reality vs. logical character of natures, knowledge, societal bonds, degrees of procession, paternity, friendship, the difference between principle and cause, the free-choice of creation, the simultaneous substance-relation character of creation, the fundamental character of love, the division and coordination of governmental power, the limits of categorical thought, etc.

Philosophy is independent of theology only in the way that science is now independent of producing technology. Rational thought went from an orientation of assimilating oneself to the transcendent to one of exploiting our transcendence of nature and our consequent power to control it. I don’t bring this up to critique either approach – these are the two wings of human knowledge – but to point out how human knowledge “in itself” will always have some extrinsic justification either in what transcends it or in what it transcends, which is how trinitarianism justifies reason in the same way that nukes justified atomic theory.

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