Category Archives: Religion

Redrawing the knitbone

I’ve been playing around with the knitbone image again.

In case you’ve never been subjected to one of my rhapsodies on this topic, “knitbone” is a folk name for comfrey, a plant remarkable for the depth of its taproot.

A comfrey taproot can burrow a ten feet or more into the soil deep under the ground draws nutrients up to the surface.

Gardeners traditionally plant comfrey throughout their gardens. When comfrey drops its lush depth-nourished leaves into the soil, it fertilizes all the surrounding shallower-rooted plants.

The name “knitbone” comes from comfrey’s medicinal application. When pulverized and applied to a wound, it helps the body heal. It can help a bone knit itself back together.

I have emotional history with this plant. When Susan was pregnant with Zoe, we had an herb garden in our back yard. Our midwife was excited to learn that we were growing comfrey. She used it to make a knitbone poultice to help Susan recover from labor. We cared for this plant and received care from it.

Symbolically, knitbone attests to the nourishing power at the depths of understanding, and to the duty of those of us who work at the depths to bring what we find up to the light of everyday practicality.

Ex infinitio

Genesis does not begin with nothingness. Creation is not ex nihilo.

Genesis begins with more than everything. Creation is ex infinitio.

As with scripture, so it has been in that already-in-progress life inside which you awoke, from the chaos of infancy.

Somethingness — toomuchness — is primal. In the beginning is chaos.

Nothingness is abstract. It is an advanced abstraction that, once it possesses us, is thrust beneath the primordial toomuchness — an artificial ground, upon which we cannot stand, but within which we stiffen ourselves in epistemic rigor mortis.

Inside this self-inflicted vacuum we stiffly tumble end-over-end, nowhere, vacuous.

An infinite welter and waste is articulated by spirit.

Objects emerge from the encounter of subject and chaos.

Light against dark against mottled grays? Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa against a muddled mixture of suffering and comfort.

Division of this and that — always against the undivided all. Definition of this, in contrast that — both always against the irrelevant field of everything else.

We define against infinitude, but infinitude is so omnipresent we confuse it with nothingness itself. Just as you, sitting wherever you are, focusing on whatever focal object occupies your attention, define the object of your attention against everything else.

Every subject emerges in the midst of undifferentiated chaos.

You did. I did. Our infant subjects learned to recognize our first given objects.

When we learned new subjects, new given objects emerged. Our mathematical subject learned that one apple and one block shared a characteristic: one. And one block and another block shared something with one apple and another apple. From chaos came quantities of whatever.

We learned the subject of manners. We learned to say “please” when desire emerged and to say “thank you” when desire was gratified. We learned the subject of morality. Some actions were rewarded, some punished.

Every subject articulates new given objects. Those objects are articulated from chaos.

Then there is the sheer bullshit of social construction. You take a class on Derrida in college and get it in your head that you can invent reality. If you practice your bullshit invention long enough it will become familiar. If you force other people to adopt your bullshit long enough, they too, will see it as familiar.

What this does, of course, is alienate us from what we experience.

Soon, we are so alienated, we can see images of slaughtered and raped human beings and just view it all as political abstraction. It’s all just concept play.

We are like the little German boys who followed the first World War like a sporting event, described by Sebastian Haffner:

For a schoolboy in Berlin, the war was something very unreal; it was like a game. There were no air raids and no bombs. There were the wounded, but you saw them only at a distance, with picturesque bandages. One had relatives at the front, of course, and now and then one heard of a death. But being a child, one quickly got used to their absence, and the fact that this absence sometimes became irrevocable did not seem to matter. As to the real hardships and privations, they were of small account. Naturally, the food was poor. Later there was too little food, and our shoes had clattering wooden soles, our suits were turned, there were school collections for bones and cherry pits, and surprisingly frequent illnesses. I must admit, all that made little impression. Not that I bore it all “like a little hero.” It was just that there was nothing very special to bear. I thought as little about food as a soccer enthusiast at a cup final. The army bulletins interested me far more than the menu.

The analogy with the soccer fan can be carried further. In those childhood days, I was a war fan just as one is a soccer fan. I would be making myself out to be worse than I was if I were to claim to have been caught up by the hate propaganda that, from 1915 to 1918, sought to whip up the flagging enthusiasm of the first few months of the war. I hated the French, the English, and the Russians as little as the Portsmouth supporters detest Wolverhampton fans. Of course, I prayed for their defeat and humiliation, but only because these were the necessary counterparts of my side’s victory and triumph.

What counted was the fascination of the game of war, in which, according to certain mysterious rules, the numbers of prisoners taken, miles advanced, fortifications seized, and ships sunk played almost the same role as goals in soccer and points in boxing. I never wearied of keeping internal scorecards. I was a zealous reader of the army bulletins, which I would proceed to recalculate in my own fashion, according to my own mysterious, irrational rules: thus, for instance, ten Russian prisoners were equivalent to one English or French prisoner, and fifty airplanes to one cruiser. If there had been statistics of those killed, I would certainly not have hesitated to “recalculate” the dead. I would not have stopped to think what the objects of my arithmetic looked like in reality. It was a dark, mysterious game and its never-ending, wicked lure eclipsed everything else, making daily life seem trite. It was addictive, like roulette and opium. My friends and I played it all through the war: four long years, unpunished and undisturbed. It is this game, and not the harmless battle games we organized in streets and playgrounds nearby, that has left its dangerous mark on all of us.

It may not seem worthwhile to describe the obviously inadequate reactions of a child to the Great War at such great length. That would certainly be true if mine were an isolated case, but it was not. This, more or less, was the way an entire generation of Germans experienced the war in childhood or adolescence; and one should note that this is precisely the generation that is today preparing its repetition.

The force and influence of these experiences are not diminished by the fact that they were lived through by children or young boys. On the contrary, in its reactions the mass psyche greatly resembles the child psyche. One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir the masses.

Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a child’s understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later.

From 1914 to 1918 a generation of German schoolboys daily experienced war as a great, thrilling, enthralling game between nations, which provided far more excitement and emotional satisfaction than anything peace could offer; and that has now become the underlying vision of Nazism. That is where it draws its allure from: its simplicity, its appeal to the imagination, and its zest for action; but also its intolerance and its cruelty toward internal opponents. Anyone who does not join in the game is regarded not as an adversary but as a spoilsport. Ultimately that is also the source of Nazism’s belligerent attitude toward neighboring states. Other countries are not regarded as neighbors, but must be opponents, whether they like it or not. Otherwise the match would have to be called off!

Many things later bolstered Nazism and modified its character, but its roots lie here: in the experience of war — not by German soldiers at the front, but by German schoolboys at home. Indeed, the front-line generation has produced relatively few genuine Nazis and is better known for its “critics and carpers.” That is easy to understand. Men who have experienced the reality of war tend to view it differently. Granted, there are exceptions: the eternal warriors, who found their vocation in war, with all its terrors, and continue to do so; and the eternal failures, who welcome its horrors and its destruction as a revenge on a life that has proved too much for them. Göring perhaps belongs to the former type; Hitler certainly to the latter. The truly Nazi generation was formed by those born in the decade from 1900 to 1910, who experienced war as a great game and were untouched by its realities.

This was written before the Holocaust. Here is an account from Hannah Arendt on the moral reasoning of one of these boys, grown up into a nice abstract adult:

The member of the Nazi hierarchy most gifted at solving problems of conscience was Himmler. He coined slogans, like the famous watchword of the S.S., taken from a Hitler speech before the S.S. in 1931, “My Honor is my Loyalty” — catch phrases which Eichmann called “winged words” and the judges “empty talk”… Eichmann remembered only one of them and kept repeating it: “These are battles which future generations will not have to fight again,” alluding to the “battles” against women, children, old people, and other “useless mouths.” Other such phrases, taken from speeches Himmler made to the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and the Higher S.S. and Police Leaders, were: “To have stuck it out and, apart from exceptions caused by human weakness, to have remained decent, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written.” Or: “The order to solve the Jewish question, this was the most frightening order an organization could ever receive.” Or: We realize that what we are expecting from you is “superhuman,” to be “superhumanly inhuman.” … What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique (“a great task that occurs once in two thousand years”), which must therefore be difficult to bear. … The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. elite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around; as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!

Life is to be lived in reality, and reality is given to us intuitively in myriad ways. If we receive it, our reflections on it will keep us in relationship with reality.

We can obscure replace reality with words. We can focus on words and play with them. It will all be quite amusing and pleasant. But we will alienate and we will be alienated.

Uniqueness, universality and the social region

What is unique to each of us is intimately connected with what is universal to all of us.

The connection is intimate but it runs a long and intricate circuit through everyday, practical life.

Let us call this intimate, intricate circuit the social region.

In good times, the social region mediates between uniqueness and universality and provides us roles and identities that do justice both to our uniqueness and to universality. Because it mediates uniqueness and universality, we find social existence tolerable and sometimes worthwhile.

In bad times, the social region imposes upon us roles and identities which suppress our uniqueness and eclipse our relation to universality. Social existence alienates us from ourselves, and from universality beyond socially given commonalities.

Cut off from our uniqueness, individuals are reducible to identity. Cut off from universality, reality is socially constructed.

Cut off from everything apart from social existence, tormented by their alienation, social activists work tirelessly deconstruct and reconstruct society, in order to win the recognition, power and resources to which those of their identity are entitled. They win and win and win. But with each victory they feel less and less victorious. And the social region, as it tries to do more and more of what it cannot do, becomes more and more alienated and alienating.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The supreme example of such a technology is religion.

And ironically, another example is… magic.

We do not even know what either of these technologies exist to do.

But we go on knowing, anyway, with “the sublime confidence of the ignorant.”*

This addled age is a cargo cult of history.

Credit to Freddy DeBoer for the hilarious expression: “the sublime confidence of the ignorant.”

This article, by the way, is about the unfounded belief that a normal, intact personality lurks beneath the outward personalities of the severely autistic.

This exhibits the same disastrous mental move I have observed in vulgar understandings of the subconscious. Somehow, fully-formed but unspoken beliefs lurk beneath the surface of consciousness, forever trying to bob up, despite our frantic efforts to push them back under, away from our awareness.

Both are the result of an incapacity to think subjectivity-first.


Something incomprehensible is happening to us.

It is happening to all of us, all at once, and each of us, personally.

It is happening so rapidly, so pervasively and so totally that the change is, as yet, incomprehensible.

It is happening immanently, in every minute detail of our individual and collective lives, but it is obviously also happening transcendently: something portentous is going on elsewhere, beyond, and manifesting here, now, personally.

The whole itself is disturbed, and life is saturated with signs of the disturbance.

Some read the signs as the creaks and groans of decaying institutions, preceding total collapse. Some read them as clues of secret scheming of a malevolent totalitarian cabal, while others diagnose this reading as precisely the kind of paranoid theories concocted and propagated by totalitarian populists. Some read the signs as Gaia making final preparations to heal herself of the destructive parasite we have become. Some interpret these signs as an approaching futureshock of exponential proportion. A post-singularity artificial god will purge us from the planet. Some read the signs as the harvest of evil seeds planted centuries ago — a long overdue reckoning — a humanist ultio dei. Others see it all as prophesied trials and tribulations finally coming to pass.

Different faiths, different metaphysics, different elsewheres, different beyonds — different accounts, different explanations. But for all their differences, they all point to a common phenomenon: our shared sense that the fabric of reality is unraveling.

It manifests as uncanniness. We are all collectively and individually anxious about everything-all-at-once. Most of us fixate on one or several particular foci. But the themes and things upon which we focus our angst are just condensations of something in the air. That something defies focus. It demands something else.

The something-in-the-air that everything-all-at-once is not calling us to action.

It is calling us to a reorientation to subjectivity.

We can no longer be naively objective. Mere objectivity will no longer deliver us.

We must learn to comprehend our own subjectivity, and the supersubjectivities in which we participate.

Who are your supersubjects? Or rather, to which supersubjects do you belong?

And do your supersubjects answer to anyone higher than themselves?

Some do, some don’t.

Most don’t.

May your wanting be wiser

I was looking in Susan’s copy of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and saw that she wrote in the margin “May your wanting be wiser.” She says she learned it from Rabbi Jeff Roth.

I find it strange how everyone assumes they are, in the state they are already in, qualified to define what a better world should be. And it seems the less experienced an activist is and the more distorted their faith is, the more passionate they are about reshaping the world to match their ideals.

Unless you are wise and your wantings are wise, your vision of a better world will be unwise. If you think you must repair a broken world in order to repair your own brokenness, your vision is broken and your repairs will only make things worse.

Make yourself better, then you will be able to make the world better.

Remedial phenomenology

For the last couple of months I have been re-grounding myself in Husserl’s phenomenology. The work I am interested in doing is phenomenological, but it is not, itself, phenomenology. By returning to Husserl, I hope to arrive at the point of departure for my project. I am interested in approaching philosophy as a design discipline, both in the form of the philosophy (writing, visuals, practices designed to impart a particular faith) and in its substance (the life afforded by adoption of the faith). To make matters weirder, the faith itself is designerly. Obviously, it is a synthesis of philosophy, design and religion that profoundly scrambles the current meanings of philosophy, design and religion.

Natural as opposed to what?

I’ve used the word “natural” to four very different ways, and each is defined against a different opposite. These are each

The first two are the boring obvious ones.

  • Natural versus manmade. Is it from the wilderness, or is it from our own hands?
  • Natural versus supernatural. Does it obey the laws of nature, or does it follow the laws of something or someone beyond nature? Note: I understand there are less vulgar notions of supernatural, but for the present purposes, let’s use the vulgar sense.

The second two (to me, anyway) are more interesting.

  • Natural versus unnatural. Does something subjectively feel as though it spontaneously participates in nature or does it seem alienated from it and at odds with it? This could be subdivided into any number of categories, depending on the perceived location of the unnaturalness. For example, it could be one’s own self (“this action feels unnatural”) or in a perceived or conceived object (“that light looks unnatural”).
  • Natural versus phenomenological. Am I regarding some phenomenon in solely terms of the object given to my perception or conception, or am I understanding the phenomenon also as a subjective act of perceiving or conceiving some given object? And I will always add: and if conceived differently, will reveal a different given object.

These latter two are at the heart of my philosophical design work.

Can phenomenological freedom be used skillfully to suspend one natural way of perceiving in order to reconceive reality (or nature, if you prefer) in another way — a way that is shockingly unfamiliar, yet just as natural as the old one. A new comprehensive praxic gestalt clicks into place, replacing the old “everything” gestalt.

This is a non-supernatural account of metanoia, and it suggests that philosophies rooted in phenomenological reflective practice can be a kind of genuine religious practice. If one is willing to pay the necessary exorbitant price, one can radically reconfigure one’s own subjectivity, objectivity and subject-object relations.

For a long time I was planning to call my perpetually unwritten book on this subject Second-Natural. I was also playing with another title The Ten Thousand Everythings.

Now I am leaning toward calling it Enworldment.

Phenomenological prayer

Reality is an articulate whole we inhabit.

Reality is myriad interacting things among us.

Reality is participation with our fellow inhabitants.

We participate in realities beyond our comprehension.

Interacting things unite and divide.

The whole can rearticulate in shocking ways.

Reality is not what we think it is.

Things can be otherwise.

We are not who we think we are.

Metanoia and the triad

A problem is coming into view for me.

For the last two decades, it has seemed true to me that we have three fundamental factors that shape our being:

The first factor is intuition, and intuition’s “object”, everyday, immediate givens — those real entities we encounter and interact with in the course of our practical lives. Do we have a clear conception of these givens, that allows us to relate this particular given to other givens? Or is our intuition purely tacit recognition that lies dormant in oblivion until it spontaneously recognizes and responds to some given, and then recedes back into oblivion? All encounters with entities around us, whether conceived or merely recognized, are given to experience. Intuition is the faculty of immediate givenness.

The second factor is will — our own motivated response or nonresponse to what we experience. Do we ignore or attend? If we attend, do we merely observe or do we respond? If we respond, do we respond subjectively by adjusting our understanding or attitude, or do we try to respond objectively by changing that which we experience? Or do we do both at once, and interact — alternating fluidly between acting upon and being acted upon? All response, whether ignorant or attentive, whether observational or active, whether inward, outward, or both is will.

The third factor is metaphysical attitude — our sense of reality and our own place in it and our relationship with it, to it, within it. In fact, it might be the essence of our metaphysic what preposition we prepose when relating self to beyond-self. This metaphysical attitude is an implicit faith, which might or might not be articulated as a metaphysical doctrine, and that articulation might be a faithful expression of the implicit faith or it might be in conflict with one’s implicit faith, which means it is held in bad faith.

This is my best understanding of the great triad. The source of intuitive givens is Earth, who is Prakriti, who is Shekhinah, who is the Virgin. The source of reality within whom we exist is Heaven, who is Purusha, who is Keter, who is YHWH. Between is Man, who is the Ideal Person, the polycentered heart of the world, and the schlub who is each of us.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught: “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other : ‘The world was created for me.’”

If we manage to change our metaphysical attitude, it changes also our intuition and our will. I am talking here about metanoia.

This is not the same thing as coming to authentic articulation of a faith that was misrepresented in bad faith.

Nor is it that more common, much worse reverse case, where we adopt a bad faith that allows us to make coherent articulates sense of things, and share it with others around us — but at the cost of fidelity to our implicit faith and our intuitions. We gain the world(view) but lose our soul (our intuitive and metaphysical connection with reality). This bad faith dooms us to clearly and compellingly positing things rooted neither in our experience nor in our sense of reality.

I am talking about shift in how we tacitly situate ourselves in reality, due to a shifted tacit understanding of reality, a shifted tacit understanding of self and a shifted tacit understanding of relationship between this new self and new reality.

My problem is: In the metanoia experience of rebirth as a new person in a new reality, is it better to think of it as new conceptions — new receptive faculties affording new realities to which, before we were oblivious due to lack of receptive faculties? Or rather, is it registering novel ordered stabilities emerging from the chaos and instability of unordered experience, which we did receive but could not order?

Is metanoia more like being blind but now seeing? Or is it more like becoming able to make out murky forms we see in the shadowy fog? I’ve been inclined to see it as the former.

Stiff-necked fuckups of God

The appropriators of Hebrew scripture and faith read all the terrible things the Jews say about themselves or relate God saying of them, and rejoice in their own superiority.

These successor religion believers could never act like those vicious patriarchs in Genesis, or the wicked persecutors of prophets, or those hypocritical Pharisees.

The secular inheritors of the Judeo-Christian morality beg to differ. All those various religious fanatics of the past did all kinds of injustice and violence in the name of God. They were clearly out for themselves, and using God as a way to delude themselves and others.

But the modern secular moralists, having rejected all the sketchy doctrines of the past, could never act like those fanatics and mistake themselves for moral when acting in their own self-interest. They’ve found ways to objectively, methodically, scientifically neutralize their deepest biases and motivated reasoning. And therefore, they alone ought to teach and administer justice, and those who oppose them should be suppressed.

To me, those people capable of recognizing and acknowledging their wisdom failures are wiser than those who still have not discovered the unwisdom in their wisdom — (not to mention the injustice in their justice, the unfairness in their fairness, the violence in their compassion, the error in their truth, and so on) — still have some collective growing up to do.

I’m sticking with the stiff-necked fuckups of God.

Wisdom and Golden Rule Prime

I am clearly in a serious perplexity. It is very painful, but the pain feels promising. It is manifesting as increasing impatience at being condescended to. Some are people who seem to me manifestly unqualified to condescend. They know something important, but they seem unaware of how much remains beyond their understanding, and how crucially important that beyond is. Others are possibly qualified. They might have important knowledge beyond mine, but I’m frustrated with our relationship — but perhaps because they are perplexing me with something as-yet inconceivable to me. The interference between the two possibilities is jamming me up. Plus I have some scary medical stuff going on, and that’s intensifying my already excessive intensity.

Here is my current attempt at resolving this perplexity…

A while back I began reflecting on the Golden Rule, and came up with the idea of Golden Rule Prime.

At its surface, the Golden Rule is a pretty terrible rule. Do to others as you would have others do to you. So you would have others serve you the disgusting food they themselves would like to eat, or have you listen to the terrible music they prefer? Who would want that?

But if we note that very fact, and run it back through the Golden Rule again, we get something much better. What would we like better? We would like others to serve us the food we ourselves like, or play the music we ourselves prefer. This iteration of the rule is Golden Rule Prime.

But even Golden Rule Prime is not quite right. Maybe we are not hungry, even for our favorite food, or maybe we are not in the mood for any music however much we normally love it. What would we like better? If we run this back through the Golden Rule again, we get something even better. We would like someone to check with us on what we want and then respond to what we tell them, or something along the lines of asking and responding to the person, instead of speculating or guessing. That would be Golden Rule Double Prime.

With each iteration the Golden Rule yields a deeper principle, approaching a moral asymptote, which I believe is absolute and not attainable. And with each iteration we presume less that we know better (or ever can know better), and put ourselves more on equal footing with others — who we must involve in our decisions if they are to be good ones

I am inclined to see wisdom as a function of this approach. How many Primes can you actively intuit in your dealings with others, how aware are you of the remaining unclosable distance between your own understanding and the intersubjective reality of the situation, and how ready are you to involve others in your effort to reduce that distance?

True — but it could be truer

I just had one of those creative conversations, where I was moved to say things I didn’t know I knew.

I found myself saying, “Intersectionality is true in a deep sense. Our existence is radically intersectional. But it is not an intersection of social categories. It is an intersection of love relationships  — participation in transcendent being in which we experience our personal being.”

I also related this with an old thought: “In my meandering journey through atheism, I learned to disbelieve in many different notions of God. Though I’ve found an understanding of God I cannot even doubt, my past atheisms all survive in me. I still disbelieve in every one of my rejected notions of God.

“Years ago, when my daughters came to me and proclaimed their atheism, I asked them what it was they disbelieved in. They would explain, and I’d say ‘Wonderful! Definitely refuse to believe in that!'” To have a healthy faith, it is important to disbelieve everything you find unpersuasive

I also realized last week, talking with another friend that the notion of institutional racism is rooted in a legitimate intuition that there are institutional personalities. Our participation in these collective forms of being — these egregores — do, in fact, change how we perceive, think and respond to the world, and not always for the better.

But to change the collective personality of an organization requires profound structural changes — changes in how participants in the organization interact and exchange service with one another. Attempting to change the mindsets of all the people within the organization, and worse, doing so through coercive means, will only create new forms of institutional oppression.

The organization must be redesigned to make people naturally want what is better for everyone. The most effective way to change an organization’s personhood is service design.

A conversation with yet a third friend gave me a third insight. Identity crises are an essential part of young adulthood. In youth, we outgrow the roles we are given by our parents and seek new ones. And this role is almost always a category of some kind or another that we share with others we see as our people.

My friend reminded me how, in our profoundly musical generation we adopted music genres and specific bands as our identities. When we met someone else who loved our music we knew something about their ideals and behavioral norms. We were very protective of these identities, scorning poseurs who tried to appropriate our style. If we’d found a way to defend the boundaries of our identities with coercive force, perhaps we would have done it. But adults barely noticed what we were doing and even if they had, they would never have indulged our feelings of ownership over the borrowed foundations of our selfhood.

Young people today favor different categories, and unfortunately many of these identities have been politicized and are enforced by nominal adults in positions of authority.

But it is important to remember, those who are still in this stage are doing their best to establish their selfhood. We cannot condemn them for that. But as adults we have a responsibility to help them mature past this stage.

Participation, theory, wisdom and love

Etymologically, to comprehend means to grasp-together.

What does “together” comprise? It is the new object of knowledge together with the existing body of knowledge.

In comprehension, new and old knowledge are grasped together and integrated.

Not all forms of knowledge can be grasped together. Whenever we comprehend some matter, some remainder of the matter refuses to be integrated.

The remainder that is left out of comprehension we call “irrelevant”.

The remainder that remains, but which can’t integrate, we call “contradictory”.

The part of comprehension that is intentionally integrated through a mental assembly process we will call “synthesis”. Etymologically, to synthesize means to put-together. Syntheses are held together with logic, causality, hierarchy or other formal organizing principles. This is the stuff of theory, epistemology and logic.

The part of comprehension that is spontaneously integrated through spontaneous intuition is concept. Etymologically, to conceive means to take-together. What is conceived is taken-together as a given. This is the stuff of ontology.

Sometimes when we synthesize a new idea from an assembly of ideas, the new idea is spontaneously intuited as a whole, so we comprehend it both as a synthesis and as a concept. Or sometimes when we carefully examine a concept and disassemble it into components we find that the components are each intuitively conceived. The components can now be disassembled and reassembled both synthetically and conceptually. When we know this way, we understand through “analysis”. Etymologically, analysis means loosen-up.

When we are able to analytically loosen a synthesis up into concepts, then re-synthesize the parts into a concept whose conceptual sub-components remain visibly present as parts of a whole, our understanding is “articulate”. Etymologically, articulate means to separate into joints.

Ultimately, all understanding, whether conceived or synthesized or both, is developed up from givens, which, as explained above, are taken as givens. But we can only take what we have capacity to conceive. Anything we cannot conceive, even if it is real and actually present is inconceivable, and we are oblivious to it. Etymologically, oblivious means smoothed-over. When we are oblivious to something, not only is nothing there, but the nothingness is smoothed over, so nothing is missing. The thing exists, but to us, it is non-existent.

All of this is theoretical knowing. And it is only one kind of knowing.

Theoretical knowing that conceptual knowing is only one kind of knowing is one-third of wisdom. As philosophers would say it is a necessary condition of wisdom but not a sufficient condition.

Practically knowing how and morally knowing why conceptual knowing is only one kind of knowing is the other two-thirds of wisdom.

Wisdom is known in our hearts, felt in our souls and done with our strength.

But even wisdom is not enough.

Wisdom must also be wisdom that loves, because love is our participation in being in whom we are only part — an organ — together with others who, with us, are participants in a being who sustains us as who we are. When we love our spouse, this is our participation in the being of our marriage . When we love our friend, this is our participation in a friendship. When we love an organization, we participate in the life of a group who sustains who we are as a person — a member — an organ of this living whole.

These wholes in whom we participate are inconceivable and incomprehensible in theoretical terms. We can certainly theorize about the limits of theoretical knowledge, as I am presently doing, and it can be helpful (which is why I am doing it) but it is insufficient.

Without threefold loving wisdom that not only conceives, but also does and feels, we are oblivious to the beings in whom we participate, and we remain oblivious to the Being in whom our own being and all being has being.

Obliviousness to the the Being in whom our own being and all being has being is atheism. We say with Bertrand Russell “I have no need for that hypothesis” without recognizing that belief in God not a matter of theory.

We must wisely love beyond the limits of ourselves, with the entirety of our hearts soul and strength, and this is actualized by loving our fellow participants in being and in Being.

Love versus alienation

Valentin Tomberg:

…To feel something as real in the measure of its full reality is to love. It is love which awakens us to the reality of ourselves, to the reality of others, to the reality of the world and to the reality of God. In so far as we love ourselves, we feel real. And we do not love — or we do not love as much as ourselves — other beings, who seem to us to be less real.

And what is the sense of unreality — of ourselves, of others, of the world, of God? That is alienation.

I could have sworn I wrote this already, but I can’t find it…

In Existentialism: A Reconstruction, David Cooper states that the entire purpose of existentialism is to overcome alienation. He identifies three kinds of alienation:

  • Alienation from one’s own self
  • Alienation from other people
  • Alienation from the world

And I add a fourth category of alienation:

  • Alienation from God (or, if you prefer, alienation from what is beyond our experience, but which involves and obligates us)

I believe all religion is essentially existentialist. But not all existentialism is religion, and this is a function of whether this last fourth category is included or excluded from the goal of one’s existentialism.


When I was first taught how to draw, the first lesson was showing us how us to slow down, attend closely and really see, instead of merely looking (as most of us do most of the time).

What is meant by this distinction between seeing and looking?

Looking is visually scanning our environment and categorizing whatever is identified in the visual field. It is seeing-as, where the seeing is discarded and the “as” is kept. Seeing is suspending the “as” and preventing it from occluding what is there to see if we slow down and pay close attention.

How did we effect this shift? We were taught the method of blind contour drawing. The teacher set an object before the class to draw. It was sometimes a pile of cloth, or a gourd, or a cow skull — something visually complex.

We were told to pick a part of the object to draw — a part with an irregular edge. We were directed to move our eyes slowly along the edge of the form, and as we moved our eyes, we moved our pencils. Like seismograph needles, as our eyes traced the object and followed its contour, registering each minute bump, pit and arch with both eye and hand.

We were told to pay no attention to what we drew. Once we placed the pencil point in the center of the sheet, we were not even supposed to look down at the paper.

At first, we were anxious. We knew we were producing atrocious drawings, and that nobody would even recognize what we were drawing, and we were right.

But this was not about making good drawings. It was about effecting the shift from looking to seeing. The activity caused us to become deeply absorbed in the object we observed. The absorption sidelined our speech. As we gained the ability to see the unique particulars of our object, and disintermediated our seeing from language, we gradually lost the ability to speak. After class, it would take fifteen or thirty minutes to shift back into the wordworld.

This is what it takes to draw what we see instead of writing what we are taught to re-cognize, categorize and scribe in memory when we move around in the world scanning for relevance. The world is there to see and — once we learn how — we can actually see it when we choose to stop looking for a moment.

We cannot see all the time. Even artists don’t see all the time, and they sometimes choose to focus their absorbed seeing, not on the world, but on the artifact they are crafting. But the originality of the artistic vision is rooted in the actual seeing.

An artist who only gets better at looking and scribing what they recognize will not draw a seen eye, but instead will only scribe a conventional hieroglyphs of an eye in a conventional hieroglyph of a face on a conventional hieroglyph of a person, in a world of conventional hieroglyphs, populated by conventional hieroglyphs, furnished with conventional hieroglyphs.

Artists who see might acquire new habits of looking and scribing. But when they scribe an eye, it is a hieroglyph of an eye they themselves observed. It is an eye as they, themselves, have come to see them. Their style reflects their own original experience of seeing.

As a young adult, I learned the art of spiritual blind contour drawing, an art known as Vipassana.

Instead of sight, the absorbing perception of Vipassana is feeling. Vipassana is a tracing of the contours of sensation on and within the body.

Through this art, I learned some direct and extremely disturbing lessons about existence. We are not who we think we are. Our thoughts are not what our thoughts claim to be.

Our thing incessantly recognizes and scribes whatever it looks at, and whatever it cannot look at it does not see. In other words, we think and think and talk and talk and read and read — and rarely slow down or stop to intuit. We fail to register the myriad nameless, unique particulars of which reality is composed. We skim for the categories and toss out the rest.

We are speed readers of the wordworld, re-generating the same thoughts by the same interpretation and logic we we trained to use long ago before we were even conscious. We see hieroglyphs, we write hieroglyphs, we speak hieroglyphs, we inhabit hieroglyphs. We are hieroglyphs.

We will remain imprisoned in hieroglyphia until we learn to see, hear, feel, smell, taste, touch and, most of all, intuit for ourselves.


On halos

If you know what to intuit for, the world is infused with halos of every possible tone. As with light, the gamut of intuitions trail off into the analogue of inperceivable nothingness of infravisible infrared and ultravisible ultraviolet. Intuitions, though, trail off into inconceivable nothingness of infraintelligible sub-ipseity and ultraintelligible super-alterity.

Or try another anomalogy: Just as layers of cool air and hot air produce shimmering mirages over sun-heated ground, halos are intuitive ripples that form at the boundaries of enworldments. Halos are opalescent membranes separating differing universe-sized modes of givenness — differing everythings, differing “ontologies”. But these everythings overlap, or, better, interlap. Each everything coincides, shares its objects in divine commonality. So boundaries or membranes are not spatial or even temporal, but intuitive, which is also a dimension.

If time is “reality’s way of keeping everything from happening right now,” and space is “reality’s way of keeping everything from happening right here,” intuition is “reality’s way of keeping everything from happening to me.”

Space is strangely nebulous; it constricts and expands for us. Sometimes it is a point as small as a subatomic particle, but sometimes it expands to embrace galaxies. Time is strangely nebulous. Sometimes it is focused on this exact instant, but usually time is roving about anticipating and recalling, constricting and expanding, stretching to an imagined moment of origin or terminus. Self is strangely nebulous. Sometimes it is one tiny, simple spark of consciousness — an intuition — but usually it is inter-blending with fellow intuitions, harmoniously or cacophonously, somehow creating a richer more complex sense of self. But self is also intuition, much as sparks unite as flames and flames unite as fire. The self roves across a field of moving intuitions who are sometimes I and sometimes excommunicated from I. And sometimes the I expands beyond the confines of the body. Sometimes the self moved by forces beyond itself, yet this movement seems voluntary. Self is also dimensional, containing the other dimensions as all dimensions do, by definition. Time contains space and self. Space contains time and self. Self contains time and space. Present I, present here, present now — our existential coordinate is the center of All, but everytime, everywhere and everyone is the center of All. “God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” …whose circumference is irreducibly nebulous.

To intuit halos is the precise analogue to intuiting spans of time and depths of space.

Artifacts from enworldmants beyond our own bear halos. Halos of benevolence, halos of sublimity, halos of uncanniness, halos of dread — halos of every tone in intuition’s infinitely variegated palate (sic).

These artifact were engendered elsewhere, belong elsewhere, promise elsewhere and — if one allows it, they can effect elsewhere.

Halos are and must be purely intuitive — the spiritual response of the unique within a self encountering the unique beyond the self. Halos defy prefabricated language. If we wish to name the types of halos we would have to assign each one its own proper name.

A genuinely haloed artifact carries the potential of reenworldment, and we intuit this.

But to actualize the potential — the promise — we must brave the perplexity of disenworldment.

If we are attentive every halo is permeated by dread. Sublimity is what gives halos their brilliance. Pure sublimity is blindingly brilliant.

Art intentionally intensifies halos to the furthest point of bearability.

Consumer entertainmentment mutes halos to their dimmest — to unthreatening, playful novelty.