Some thoughts on mysticism

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

Hello Moshe,

I’m sorry I haven’t replied to you earlier. I wanted to sit with your question. And I could sit with it a great deal longer.

Mysticism for me is the deepest feeling for and orientation to the whole, yet sensitivity to the parts that comprise it (in each part is the whole), to the relationship between whole and parts, to their infinite complexity and unceasing motion – and that awareness is essentially ineffable, yet intuitively understood.

If you remove ‘feeling’, ‘the ineffable’ and ‘intuition’ from this statement you have the description of a relationship that bears comparison with the first words of Lenin’s ‘On the Question of Dialectics’ – ‘The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the ‘essentials,’ one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) or dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).’

My comparison is appropriate, because mystical philosophy, as Marx acknowledged (particularly its Germanic current culminating in the philosophy of the ‘German Proclus’, Hegel), is the philosophical core, stood by Marx on its feet, of dialectical materialism.

Lenin went on: ‘the correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science.’ This can be simply demonstrated – if you hold a rock in your hand, you hold a unity. While it looks utterly still – in its composition, in its parts, it is in unceasing motion. The contradictory motion of those infinitely divisible parts is the very thing which results in the apparently stable unity you hold in your hand (I am reminded of Plotinus’ profound and profoundly poetic position regarding his One – that it is the greatest activity in the greatest stillness).

And the interaction of this rock, this material composition, with the greater, infinite material whole will one day result in the passing of the form and contents of that stone into other material structures.

Thus everything passes, and only matter (objective reality) driven by the (theoretical) absolute of change remains.

While capitalist ideologues treat mysticism like pornography as they secretly study and draw from it, claiming, as true patriarchs, that their appropriations are the result of the most rigorous conceptual ‘reason’, materialists should be proud of their philosophical heritage and continue to mine it for more philosophical gems.

Intuition’ is one such. I believe it is a form of reasoning far more holistic and connected to our ‘emotions’/our ‘feelings’, our ‘sense of self’ than is the reason of language and concept. The latter, while its benefits and the achievements made with it are obvious, comparative to intuition (which is always functioning in the background), is plodding.

An example: suppose you were to walk around a corner while another did the same thing walking towards you. You bump into each other. Your eyes meet. Without doubt you would both have an instantaneous wealth of thoughts and feelings so rich and complex that thinking linguistically in and of that moment would not only be an impediment, it would be an impossibility.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), ‘Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’, marble, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), ‘Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’, marble, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Yet the thoughts and feelings you both have in those few seconds will be formative, evidence of a type of reason which I think is central to our sense of self.

When the monotheist prays to God – ‘God, give me guidance’, they are calling on that other form of reason which requires emotional ‘stillness’ to be heard and listened to. They speak of ‘stillness’ and ‘listening’ at such times.

It is a flux of reason that draws on their life’s experience, on their spiritual connection to the world, on all that comprises them.

‘Spirituality’ – a concept I rejected for many years – for me is the feeling for and knowledge of profound material connectedness.

Intuitive reason is like ‘another’ to that of our usual, linguistically conditioned self.

There is certainly nothing of the patriarch to it, yet if you fail to listen to that ‘voice’, you do so at your peril. You will be like the man in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket – reading all the labels, unable to choose, looking for an impetus and answer only in words, his linguistic ‘self’ disconnected from that other, deeper, more holistic, intuitive ‘self’.

In this unity of self (both linguistic and intuitive) and the world is to be found the unity of both mystic and materialist – it is one, unwilled yet profoundly dialectical, profoundly ‘poetic’ world.

When I am presented with any problem, I first try to intuit a way forward or a solution, then I apply my ability to reason linguistically. And although the results are usually different (my intuition seems consistent with necessity – which supports my understanding of intuition), I play those two results against each other to arrive at my answer.

These are a few of my thoughts on the subject of mysticism.

What are some of your thoughts on the subject?

Best regards,

Phil

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Images: 1st/2nd

The Sydney Morning Herald – where journalism outdoes science

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First Horizon-Scale Image of a Black Hole

Washington; AP, with Liam Mannix, ‘Humanity stares into black hole abyss’, The Sydney Morning Herald  12.04.19

‘…The black hole is about 6 billion times the mass of our sun and is in a galaxy called M87. Its “event horizon” – the precipice, or point of no return where light and matter get sucked inexorably into the hole – is as big as our entire solar system.

Myth says a black hole would rip a person apart, but scientists said that because of the particular forces exerted by an object as big as the one in M87, someone could fall into it and not be torn to pieces. But the person would never be heard from or seen again.’

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The Tarantula Nebula

Tarantula

Sorry, my mistake.

The-Tarantula-Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula

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Images: top/bottom

It won’t be long before pilots will be doing this

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Astronomy, formal and dialectical reason

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Formal reason:

‘Since fire is the rapid acquisition of oxygen, and since oxygen is a key indicator of life, fire on any planet would be an indicator of life on that planet.’

Dialectical reason:

To consider this statement dialectically, one would think creatively – of the relationship between destruction and creation. Hegel did this from the idealist perspective –

‘Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite. We have before this (§80) identified Understanding with what is implied in the popular idea of the goodness of God; we may now remark of Dialectic, in the same objective signification, that its principle answers to the idea of his power. All things, we say – that is, the finite world as such – are doomed; and in saying so, we have a vision of Dialectic as the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, Remark to §81, 118

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13q

 

13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

For the Neoplatonist, as discussed (4., 10.7, 10.9.1, 11.3.11.8, 13.6.5.1), there are two types of knowledge, discursive, that which separates and ‘unified’ or speculative. Plotinus believed that the intellectual object is the activity of thinking itself. Knowing that object, that activity of knowing, equates to (Divine) Mind’s knowing (itself). In the activity of knowing, the object must be diverse. The activity is driven by difference and the knowing is perspectival. Thinking is movement – Divine Mind gives birth to objects as the embodiment of its outgoing creative power and in its contemplative recollection of and desire to unite with the One.

Hegel believed that every content is something that thought has given to itself and Cusanus also believed that we know through our productive intellectual activity, a reflection of God’s activity. Cassirer wrote

Cusanus sets up and defends his basic view of knowledge, when he explains that all knowledge is nothing but the unfolding and explication of the complication that lies within the simple essence of the mind 1

Cusanus described that process

the mind both distinguishes all things and unites all things, [doing so] by means of a marvellous two-way progression in which (1) Divine and Absolute Oneness descends by stages in and through intelligence and reason and (2) the perceptible-contracted oneness ascends through reason unto intelligence.2

For the Neoplatonist, true knowledge is not only the knowledge of God, it must be an intellectual system – what Hegel described as ‘science’. He wrote in his Phenomenology that

knowledge is only actual, and can only be expounded, as Science or as system3

Redding noted the centrality of prose-poetic devices to Hegel’s ‘science’

Hegel employs forms of expression for the presentation of his own philosophical thought that are redolent with the type of imagistic and figurative locutions supposedly at home in religion. Moreover, the actual imagery employed seems to refer to the type of trinitarian version of Christianity that can seem antithetical to those forms of Christian thought that lent themselves to the sort of “demythologization” characteristic of the enlightenment attitude to religious doctrine. Such factors as these make it easy to portray Hegel’s philosophy as a type of irrationalist mysticism, or at least as a disguised theology with a content from revealed religion, and thus aligning him more to the spirit of the Counter-Enlightenment than the Enlightenment.4

Cassirer points to the roots of this in German culture

In the mystical theology of the fifteenth century two fundamental tendencies stand sharply opposed to each other; the one bases itself on the intellect; the other considers the will to be the basic force and organ of union with God. In this dispute, Cusanus sides emphatically with the former. True love of God is amor Dei intellectualis; it includes knowledge as a necessary element and a necessary condition.5

On the extent of possible knowledge, Armstrong wrote

Plotinus insists…that the One or Good is beyond the reach of human thought or language…Language can only point the mind along the way to the Good, not describe, encompass, or present It. As Plotinus himself says (VI.9.3), “strictly speaking, we ought not to apply any terms at all to It; but we should, so to speak, run round the outside of It trying to interpret our own feelings6

Proclus was consistent with Plotinus on this, but, with his henads, he also began to blur what was ‘god’ and where the limits of knowledge lay. Dodds wrote

(Prop. 115 [Every god is above Being, above Life, and above Intelligence]) seems to make it plain that whereas Plotinus puts ‘all the gods’ within nous (V.1.4), the divine henads are to be placed in the first of the three traditional ‘hypostases’ and not (as Vacherot, Simon and others assume) in the second. But it must be admitted that Pr. is himself responsible for a good deal of the confusion which exists on the subject, in that he frequently speaks of such entities as Eternity, Time, the (a word in Greek), and even the sensible world as ‘gods’, and of gods as ‘intelligible’, ‘intellectual’ or ‘intra-mundane’.7

Cusanus wrote that human reason cannot comprehend the infinite but it does proceed in finite steps on the basis of the entities it creates – ‘conjectures’, ‘surmises’ or ‘symbolisms’

as God is the Creator of real beings and of natural forms, so man is the creator of conceptual beings and of artificial forms that are only likenesses of his intellect, even as God’s creatures are likenesses of the Divine Intellect8

The ‘mind’ is the form of a world of conjectures – aids that we use towards a truth beyond reason. Truth is enfolded in infinite ‘Mind’. Our concepts share in that truth as never-ending approximations as they unfold – we can only know truth in its ‘otherness’. Just as we are unable to know the absolute truth of God, so we are unable to know the world with ultimate precision.

It would seem clear-cut, as Hopkins tells us, that for Cusanus we cannot know God, the Absolute – we cannot attain the complete knowledge Hegel claimed his philosophy gives us. But we are dealing with a highly philosophical mysticism in which nothing is simple or, as Hegel would put it, nothing is to be judged by the method of Verstand, by the method of mere analysis and what seems to be so.

Neoplatonism is a dialectically functioning whole of intertwined constructs conceptually centred on the process ‘God’. Recognising these aspects enables one to explore beyond the literal, surface meaning of Cusanus’ words, to how he advised we can know God, and to understand the ways in which Hegel developed on that method to attain knowledge in his own philosophy.

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Notes

1. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 57
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 1,4,16, 170
3. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit. 13
4. Paul Redding, ‘Some Metaphysical Implications of Hegel’s Theology’, paper given to the conference Hegel and Religion, University of Sydney, September 14-15, 2010, 1
5. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 13
6. Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, op. cit., vol. I, xv
7. Dodds’ Commentary in Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 161
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 7, 794

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Lenin: the recent revolution in natural science, and philosophical idealism – part eight

A massive star in NGC 6357

A massive star in NGC 6357

“Matter has disappeared” (continued)

The opinions expressed by Bogdanov in 1899 regarding “the immutable essence of things”, the opinions of Valentinov and Yushkevich regarding “substance”, and so forth – are similar fruits of ignorance of dialectics. From Engels’ point of view, the only immutability is the reflection by the human mind (when there is a human mind) of an external world existing and developing independently of the mind. No other “immutability”, no other “essence”, no other “absolute substance”, in the sense in which these concepts were depicted by the empty professorial philosophy, exist for Marx and Engels. The “essence” of things, or “substance”, is also relative; it expresses only the degree of profundity of man’s knowledge of objects; and while yesterday the profundity of this knowledge did not go beyond the atom, and today does not go beyond the electron and ether, dialectical materialism insists on the temporary, relative, approximate character of all these milestones in the knowledge of nature gained by the progressing science of man. The electron is as inexhaustible as the atom, nature is infinite, but it infinitely exists. And it is this sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature’s existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 243

The first image (a 180 degree panorama) sent from another planet (Venus). Venera 9, 1975

The first image (a 180 degree panorama) sent from another planet (Venus). Venera 9, 1975

Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater, Mars, 2011

Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater, Mars, 2011

Philae on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 2014

Philae on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 2014

Flying past Neptune’s moon Triton

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Part eight/to be continued…

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th

Into nature? Got a thing for drama? It’s waiting…

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This Halloween, take a tour with NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration site of some of the most terrifying and ‘mind’-blowing destinations in our galaxy. In this image, the nightmare world of HD 189733 b is the killer you never see coming. To the human eye, this far-off planet looks bright blue. But any space traveller confusing it with the friendly skies of Earth would be badly mistaken. The weather on this world is deadly. Its winds blow up to 5,400 mph (2 km/s) at seven times the speed of sound, whipping all would-be travellers in a sickening spiral around the planet. And getting caught in the rain on this planet is more than an inconvenience; it’s death by a thousand cuts. This scorching alien world possibly rains glass—sideways—in its howling winds. The cobalt blue colour comes not from the reflection of a tropical ocean, as on Earth, but rather a hazy, blow-torched atmosphere containing high clouds laced with silicate particles.

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From the chalice of this realm of spirits

Dark Dunes on Mars (Horizontally Compressed)

Dark Dunes on Mars (Horizontally Compressed)

from the chalice of this realm of spirits

foams forth for Him his own infinitude.

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Our ‘minds’ are images of Infinite Art

Two cosmic jets beam outward from a newborn star. Half a light-year span across Herbig-Haro 24, 1,300 light-years away in Orion B molecular cloud complex.

Two cosmic jets beam outward from a newborn star. Half a light-year span across Herbig-Haro 24, 1,300 light-years away in Orion B molecular cloud complex.

‘…every mind…is a perfect and living image of the Infinite Art.’

Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de Mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 1450, in Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1996, 531-589, 13, 149

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