Comments & Reflections on Philosophy, Science, & Politics

by on October 1st, 2006

I. Autumnal Observations

With the advent October comes the inevitable recognition that winter will soon be upon us, and since that leads to the death of another year, reflections upon the preciousness of time in our lives become paramount. That recalls Shakespeare’s LXXIII sonnet, which is so thoroughly suffused in the richness of the season with the unavoidable metaphoric implications of the tenuousness of our own lives:

That time of year though mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

In me though see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west;

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me though see’st the glow of such fire,

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.

This though perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well, which though must leave ere long.

II. Perception & Ultimate Reality

Appropriately encapsulated in Albert Einstein’s quest for the Unified Field Theory, or what is today called (with a predictable element of the prosaic), the Theory of Everything (TOE), was the battle between our senses (i.e., appearance) and “reality,” which philosophers from the Pre-Socratics through the so-called Enlightenment and into the 20th century’s indulgent foray into post-modernism have struggled to discover.

Einstein wrote that the attempts to lay bare the fundamental structure of the universe have been “purchased at the process of emptiness of content.” A theoretical concept is emptied of content to the degree it is divorced from our sensory experience. Indeed, if we expunge all the impressions which our senses provide and memory stores, nothing is left. That is what Friedrich Hegel meant by his cryptic assertion that “Pure Being and Nothing are the same.”

The question, of course, is whether the mathematical sophistication our physicists currently bring to these challenges will ever parse the opacity of ultimate “reality.” It’s intellectually facile to fall back upon the kind of observation by the great Danish physicist and Nobel Prize recipient, Niels Bohr, who wrote that “we are both spectators and actors in the great drama of existence,” because that tells us remarkably little about whether we humans are foreordained to remain epistemologically circumscribed

It’s a kind of philosophical application of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle–i.e., the very act of observation, which is to say the application of our human intellectual capabilities, to discover what, if anything lies at the heart of ultimate reality, is fated to produce flawed results because it will inevitably only have fidelity to our human constructs that ensure it is grounded in the kind of vocabulary that is ineluctably self-referential.

III. From Physics & Philosophy to Religion

The renowned Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper, who died in 1997, moves this evolving discussion into the world of religion. He writes:

The meaning of sight is the perception of reality. However, the “concupiscence of the eyes” does not seek to perceive reality but rather just to see. Augustine notes that the “lust of the palate” does not attain satisfaction but only results in eating and drinking [among other less mentionable activities]; the same holds true for curiositas (curiosity) and the “concupiscence of the eyes.”

In his book, Being and Time, Martin Heidegger wrote:

The concern for this kind of sight is not about grasping the truth and knowingly living within it but is about chances for abandoning oneself to the world.

The degradation into curiositas of the natural desire to see can thus be substantially more than a harmless confusion on the surface. It can be the sign of one’s fatal uprooting.

It can signify that a person has lost the capacity to dwell in his own self; that he, fleeing from himself, disgusted and bored with the waste of an interior that is burnt out by despair, seeks in a thousand futile ways with selfish anxiety that which is accessible only to the high-minded calm of a heart disposed to self-sacrifice and thus in mastery over itself: The fullness of being.

IV. The Chris Matthews Show

It wouldn’t be right to finish without a cursory political review, and the liberal love-fest on today’s Chris Matthews’ show provides us with a nearly perfect target. That stated, it’s not recommended for the faint of political heart because this panel is the quintessence of the liberal echo chamber, a resilient bell jar that admits no self-criticism, reflection, much less an opinion that doesn’t fall neatly into the liberal play-book.

The panel included Cynthia Tucker, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, David Gregory, NBC’s White House correspondent, a female editor at Vogue, and Joe Klein, the Time columnist.

Their “view-from-the-Potomac analyzes, whether of the war in Iraq or Bob Woodward’s newly released book, State of Denial, were smug and self-assured if low wattage observations that merely confirmed for any skeptics in the audience their preordained consensus.

It would have been assuming had Matthews had the temerity to invite Lawrence Wright into that liberal lions’ den, because the intellectual carnage would have been a joy to witness. Wright’s book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, is an intellectual tour de force, that is richly researched and is the best antidote to contemporary liberalism’s impenetrable ignorance in the area of national security.

Philip Mella