We have talked recently on the forum about story and "Big Stories," so I wanted to post something on a new book I just picked up:  The New Universe and the Human Future.  It's in a similar vein to the work of Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, and Michael Dowd: telling the story of the universe from the perspective of cosmological science, and issuing a call for renewed human self-understanding and ethical relationship to the planet and to each other.  I'll post some of my own thoughts on the book -- and on the role of "Big Stories" in postmetaphysical spirituality and the current movement to give "mythic-quality" voice to the scientific picture of the cosmos that has emerged through the collaborative efforts of individuals across the globe -- in a future post.  For now, if you're interested, I invite you to check out the authors' website, or to read the following excerpt from a review by Matthew Fox.

 

Voyage to Virgo from New-Universe.org on Vimeo.

 

~*~

 

What Hubble Could See

A photo of the Andromeda Galaxy by NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP).

 

"Joel and Nancy have looked hard and analyzed deeply the amazing findings of the Hubble Space Telescope and other instruments from the past two decades of explosive findings in cosmology. Here is one metaphor that they put forth for our understanding:

Imagine that the entire universe is an ocean of dark energy. On that ocean there sail billions of ghostly ships, made of dark matter. At the tips of the tallest masts of the largest ships there are tiny beacons of light, which we call galaxies. With Hubble Space Telescope, the beacons are all we see. We don't see the ships, we don't see the ocean — but we know they're there through the Double Dark theory.

They take on the literalists of science (who have so much in common with the literalists of the Bible) when they say:

If taken literally, scientific cosmology is completely misleading. There was no loud bang at the Big Bang, and it wasn't big. (There was no size to compare it to.) Metaphor is our only entrée into invisible reality.

I have often said that the most important things in life are metaphors, whether we are speaking of life or death, spirit or sex, love or body. And the universe too is metaphor and accessible by metaphor. All the prophets knew these things. Metaphor carries us on wings larger than despair, self-pity, talk of "selfish genes," and pessimism — all of which is so often a cover-up and escape from responsibility.

This is a book on ethics, a book about renewing our foundation for ethics. The authors talk passionately about the folly of our race as we face our own potential extinction and the extinction of this marvelous planet as we know it. They see our uniqueness not just in terms of this planet but also in terms of what we know about the universe. They urge us to "crack open our imaginations" and to wake up to the "accident" of our being "born at the turning point." And what turning point is that? It goes back to the fact of the rediscovery of how unique we are as a species: "It took a series of outrageously improbable events on Earth, plus multiple cosmic catastrophes to earlier species like the dinosaurs before humans could evolve.… Our level of intelligence (and higher) may be extremely rare" in the universe.

We Are the Self-Consciousness of the Universe

With our uniqueness comes a special responsibility, for if humans go down, like many primate species before us have, then something very precious will be lost in the universe.

From the point of view of the universe as a whole, intelligent life may be the rarest of occurrences and the most in need of protection…. We — all intelligent, self-aware creatures that may exist in any galaxy — are the universe's only means of reflecting on and understanding itself. Together we are the self-consciousness of the universe. The entire universe is meaningless without us. This is not to say that the universe wouldn't exist without intelligent beings. Something would exist, but it wouldn't be a universe, because a universe is an idea, and there would be no ideas.

We are living at a "pivotal" moment in the history of the universe for today we can "see" the entire history of the universe, but there will come a time when, because of the expansion of the cosmos, the past will no longer be visible; distant galaxies will disappear over the horizon. We are able to take in more galaxies today than ever will be perceived in the future. And, in our own local group of galaxies, because of gravity at work, there will be a blending of the Milky Way and Andromeda that will shut our descendants off from the rest of the universe. No wonder Joel and Nancy feel so called to sing the universe's story at this time.

The authors recognize our moral obligations to change as a species. With the human race now at almost 7 billion people, the inflation we have been undergoing is not sustainable. We could — and are — destroying our planet as we know it. This is why they call for an ethic of sustainability that is itself sustained by the wonder of the world we now know we live in, the universe at its pivotal moment. They point out how we do not know if there is other intelligent life out there but we do know what we have here. Moreover:

We randomly-alive-today people actually have the power to end this evolutionary miracle, or not…. Without human beings, as far as anyone knows, the universe will be silenced forever. No meaning, no beauty, no awe, no consciousness, no "laws" of physics. Is any quarrel or pile of possessions worth this?

We need to adjust to realities as we now know them. For example, talk of "space war" is beyond dangerous because if we launch just a truckload of gravel into space we will destroy not only all sophisticated weaponry but also the satellites that we all depend on for weather information, global positioning systems, and communication.

Enough Is a Feast

We must move beyond the inflationary period of economics, of judging things by growth of GNP. We have to realize that spiritual relationships can grow continuously — but economic ones can't. Joel and Nancy write:

Our drive for meaning, spiritual connection, personal and artistic expression, and cultural growth can be unlimited … if we valued them above consumer goods, then we would have a new paradigm for human progress. For our universe the most creative period, which brought forth galaxies, stars, atoms, planets, and life, came after inflation ended, and this could also be true for humanity. A stable period can last as long as human creativity stays ahead of our physical impact on the earth.

If this isn't a call for a simpler lifestyle I don't know what is.

What is right action? "The goal should be sustainable prosperity, which is perfectly defined by the Zen saying 'enough is a feast.'… Nonstop creativity will be essential to maintain long term stability."

This is a daring book. The authors take on the hypothesis of multiple universes and draw a stunning conclusion:

If the theory of Eternal Inflation is right, then our universe — the entire region created by our Big Bang — is an incredibly rare jewel: a tiny but long-lived pocket in the heart of eternity where by chance exponential inflation stopped, time began, space opened up, and the laws of physics allowed interesting things to happen and complexity to evolve.

Just as our Earth is an "incredibly rare jewel," so too is our universe, whether it has happened alone or is one among many. The authors of this book have not grown numb to awe and wonder.

The authors also take on the subject of God's causation when they ask this question:

Is this then at last the place to credit God as the literal first cause? That's an option. But rather than skipping lightly over eternity itself to paste in the idea of God 'causing eternity,' we might do better to think of the beginning as being just as unknown as the distant future, and ourselves, as true explorers, moving outward from the center in both directions. In cosmology both the distant past and the distant future are in a real sense ahead of us, the one waiting to be discovered, the other to be created.

As a theologian, I hear this as a clarion call to rediscover the apophatic Divinity, the God of Darkness, the pathway of letting go and letting be, the God who "has no name and will never be given a name" (Eckhart), where the alpha (beginning) and omega (ending) are both bathed in mystery and in darkness — a double darkness, we might say. It's a call for a transcendence that is not "up" so much as deep down, into the depths of things where all is dark, and all is silent and beyond naming, but where creation and new birth gestate in the invisibility of the cosmic womb, where all that dark sea and dark energy and dark matter dwells and even dark ships sail. A call to silence. A call to depth; a call to divine Nothingness. No-thingness. Only relations. Some micro, some macro. How amazing that we have the minds to study them! How grateful we all should be. John of the Cross: "Launch out into the depths."

There is wisdom and passion in these pages. There are sacred cows to let go of, inner work to do, and outer work to accomplish. But we have the tools. Do we have the will and the heart? Anyone who studies this book will be deepening and strengthening both. Read this book and grow your soul. Right behavior can and should follow."  ~ Matthew Fox.

 

[Read his full review here.]

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I had the second paragraph of the article on madness. I not sure if I personally would follow Lovecraft into his xenophobia, but I find the intersection between his concept of horror and the core ideas of Speculative Realism quite interesting. Jim put me onto this and I'll only getting to  it now. Clearly, though, there is another intersection here between this thread and the tread on horror. I am also currently researching Dark Romanticism, which has a direct relation to Lovecraft the "horror" novel.

 

What remains is for me is to weave these various streams I have listed here and then show, as per Edwards comments above, how all this can be related to what Hadot would call "spiritual exercizes."

ugly, ugly giant bags of mostly water: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paH97dYR6Lg
I notice that this post/thread is tagged "Big." :-)

Hi Balder,

Yes, the Abram material looks more promising. What is also interesting here, with respect to all of our sources, is how with each author, various strands are woven together while others are undone. Even in the sources I Iist here there is certainly no monovocal voice, but several voices with each voice at the same time making use of a kind of baroque 'counterpoint' of lines of thought. For example, Woodard, in his 'Dark Vitalism' refers positively to Bergsonian vitalism, while Lovecraft despised Bergson. At the same time the speculative realists, insofar as they are realists, appear to reflect, of all things, a turning back to Plato and a rejection of Kant, whose spectre looms, like the Shadow over Innsmouth, behind a plethora of thinkers -- from Hegel and Schopenhauer to Cassier, Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas, K.O. Apel, Wittgenstein, Strawson, Sellars, Kripke, as well as Derrida, Deleuze and the post-structuralists.

Balder said:

Kela, I haven't read the full essay yet, but I dipped into the beginning and the conclusion and believe that Abram is actually moving along the same line in his Becoming Animal text (taking the title from a common phrase of Deleuze).

 

The essay you linked concludes:  Philosophy, if it can truly return to the great outdoors, if it can leave behind the dead loop of the human skull, must recognize not only the non-priority of human thought, but that thought never belongs to the brain that thinks it, thought comes from somewhere else. To return to the train image from the beginning “a locomotive rolling on the surface of the earth is the image of continuous metamorphosis” (Visions of Excess, 7) this is the problem of thought, and of thinking thought, of being no longer able to isolate thought, with only a thought-formed structure.

 

Here are some relevant passages from Abram's text:

 

“I’ve written this book, a spiraling series of experimental and improvisational forays, in hopes that others will try my findings against their own experience, correcting or contesting my discoveries with their own.

This venture will start slowly, gathering energy as it moves. Simple encounters from my own life — encounters unexpected and serendipitous — will provide a loose, structuring frame for each investigation that follows. The early chapters take up several ordinary, taken-for-granted aspects of the perceived world — shadows, houses, gravity, stones, visual depth — drawing near to each phenomenon in order to notice the way it engages not our intellect but our sensing and sentient body. Later chapters delve into more complex powers — like mind, mood, and language — that variously influence and organize our experience of the perceptual field. The final chapters step directly into the natural magic of perception itself, exploring the willed alteration of our senses and the wild transformation of the sensuous, addressing magic and shapeshifting and the metamorphosis of culture.

Many of our inherited concepts (our ready definitions and explanations) serve to isolate our intelligence from the intimacy of our creaturely encounter with the strangeness of things. In these pages we’ll listen close to the things themselves, allowing weather patterns and moose and precipitous cliffs their own otherness. We’ll pay attention to their unique manner of showing themselves, attuning ourselves to the facets that have been eclipsed by accepted styles of thinking. Can we find fresh ways to elucidate these earthly phenomena, forms of articulation that free the things from their conceptual straitjackets, enabling them to stretch their limbs and breathe?”

 

"The phrase that titles this book, "becoming animal," carries a range of possible meanings.  In this work the phrase speaks first and foremost to the matter of becoming more deeply human by acknowledging, affirming, and growing into our animality.  Other meanings will gradually make themselves evident to different readers.  The phrase is sometimes associated with the late-twentieth-century writings of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995).  Like many other philosophers, I have drawn much pleasure from Deleuze's endlessly fecund writings, which are fairly brimming with fresh trajectories for thought to follow.  We share several aims, including a wish to undermine an array  of unnoticed, other-worldly assumptions that structure a great deal of contemporary thought, and a consequent commitment to a kind of radical immanence -- even to materialism (or what I might call "matter-realism") in a dramatically reconceived sense of the term.  My work also shares with his a keen resistance to whatever unnecessarily impedes the erotic creativity of matter.

 

Despite the commonality of some aims, however, our strategies are drastically different.  (One of my meanders through the backcountry will sometimes cross one of Deleuze's lines of flight at an oblique angle, but our improvised trajectories are rarely, if ever, parallel).  As a phenomenologist, I am far too taken with lived experience -- with the felt encounter between our sensate body and the animate earth -- to suit his philosophical taste. As a metaphysician, Deleuze is far too given to the production of abstract concepts to suit mine.  By choosing for my title a phrase sometimes associated with Deleuze's writing, I nonetheless find myself paying homage to the burgeoning creativity of his work, even as I hope to open the phrase to new meanings and associations."  ~ David Abram

kelamuni said:

http://www.continentcontinent.cc/index.php/continent/article/viewAr...

 

the link between lovecraft and speculative realism: both offer a critique of anthropocentrism.

Today I received the following interview with Ray Brassier from He-who-used-to-post-here-but-shall-remain-Nameless-out-of-respect-for-his-anonymity. http://kronos.org.pl/index.php?23151,896

 

It shares alot in common with the important essay by Wilfred Sellars that I posted above, "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man." Brassier uses the term 'manifest image' in the interview, showing its intersection with the Sellars essay ; it is also an indication of how important and influential Sellars metaphilosophical essay was and continues to be.

Brassier is an admirer the socalled 'speculative realists,' referred to in the Lovecraft essays linked above, but has some rather harse (and funny) things to say about those who call the 'group' a movement.

Brassier's interview could also be read in tandem with the book by Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, referred to in the thread started by xibalba. Brassier clearly subscribes to the "subtraction" view referred to and criticized by Taylor, when he talks about the chipping away at religion and mythology by science. But I don't think either Brassier or Sellars are as naive as the somewhat caricaturized version of the theory that Taylor presents: both acknowledge that science develops out of the common sense view, and Brassier notes the science and metaphysics are in some sense indissociable. Bur regardless of the ingenuity and erudition adduced by Taylor, I personally am not entirely convinced that there isn't at least an element of truth to the subtraction theory. I will reserve definitive judgement until I have given Taylor a more thorough read, though.

 

And so our present thread widens further to intersect with not only the horror thread but the thread on Taylor's contribution to the discussion on the possibility of a postmetaphysical spirituality. This thread truly is 'Big.' haha

Isn't it weird and wonderful how all these threads are interelated? It's as if there were some god or daemon directing the movement so that all become connected in the Big Oneness that governs all things. BAhahahaa.

 

 

ok, here's an odd one to be added alongside blumenberg and taylor: http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9806/reviews/anderson.html

Ray Brassier carves Edmund Husserl a new one; Brassier's prose is immensely entertaining: http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2007/07/13/ray-brassiers-aliena...

 

Brassier talks about, "...denouncing the hallucinatory character of privileged access..." hahaha. Gee where have I heard that before? He also refers to "infantile pathological narcisistic anthropocentrism." haha.

I beginning to think I've been channeling the same Shuggothic entity that Brassier has been channeling. haha.


I've not been able to keep up with contributing to this thread (in any substantial way) to the degree I'd like, but I wanted at least to just jump in with a couple general comments.  One, regarding the Lovecraft connection, I'm interested in this and will follow up on the essays in more depth as soon as I can, but a general observation (which I carry over from the Horror thread) is that Lovecraft seems to embody an urban, "Modernist" mindset to the extent that his horror trades on sort of a genteel sense of repulsion by all things scaly, slimy, pre-human, or non-human.  My sense of his work is that, while he steadily chips away at anthropocentric hubris and pretension to be the "center" or in control of the cosmos -- which always exceeds us, and which represents a radical "other" -- he nevertheless leaves us in the "center" to the extent that the only world we can "handle" or know in any meaningful relational sense (without going mad) is the human world.  Beyond this, as I just mentioned, his human world remains a profoundly anti-natural world: we exist on a little urban human island, surrounded (and locked in) on all sides by an unknowable and repulsive 'nature.'


This is different from the sense of kinship and continuity with the greater-than-human world celebrated by writers like Berry, Swimme, Dowd, Primack, Abram, etc. (that we've been discussing here).  I like Lovecraft's work to the extent that it reminds us that there may be a great deal "out there in the wild" that is not amenable to or assimilable by human consciousness, but his view is one-sided and I think there is value also in the expanded sense of participatory relationship that comes through in the work of Swimme or Abram, for instance.


As noted in Ferrer's book, The Participatory Turn, there are two types of participation: embedded and enactive.  We stress the "enactive" side of participation here a lot, which is one reason I have started to emphasize "story" and "Big Stories" here recently, since I believe the latter relates more to the "embedded" strand of a participatory view.  Embedded participation communicates a sense that humans are organically continuous with, and meaningfully integrated within, a living and responsive cosmos.  This view prevailed in various premodern and Romantic "Big Stories," and I think Swimme, Abram, and others are trying to articulate that story anew, in a way suitable for our new historical conditions. 


I take the Big Stories of Abram, or Swimme, as useful contributions to a postmetaphysical spirituality, but not as fully representing it.  To use Wilber's terms, the Big Story of embedded participation is a story of communion; whereas enactive participation involves a greater sense of agency, to the extent that the world of distinctions a subject experiences is called forth, at least in part, by the history of that subject.  This is not separable from the embedded view, though, since that history is already a story of embedded participation. 

Yes, as I said above, I don't think I share in Lovercraft's xenophobia and possibly incipiant misanthropy. As I also said there are various threads being referred to here, and for present purposes, I am only really interested in Lovecraft's conception of the cosmos vis a vis man, the idea that the universe is not necessarily imbued with cosmic love.

Balder said:


I've not been able to keep up with contributing to this thread (in any substantial way) to the degree I'd like, but I wanted at least to just jump in with a couple general comments.  One, regarding the Lovecraft connection, I'm interested in this and will follow up on the essays in more depth as soon as I can, but a general observation (which I carry over from the Horror thread) is that Lovecraft seems to embody an urban, "Modernist" mindset to the extent that his horror trades on sort of a genteel sense of repulsion against all things scaly, slimy, pre-human, or non-human.  My sense of his work is that, while he steadily chips away at anthropocentric hubris and pretension to be the "center" or in control of the cosmos -- which always exceeds us, and which represents a radical "other" -- he nevertheless leaves us in the "center" to the extent that the only world we can "handle" or know in any meaningful relational sense (without going mad) is the human world.  Beyond this, as I just mentioned, his human world remains a profoundly anti-natural world: we exist on a little urban human island, surrounded (and locked in) on all sides by an unknowable and repulsive 'nature.'


This is different from the sense of kinship and continuity with the greater-than-human world celebrated by writers like Berry, Swimme, Dowd, Primack, Abram, etc. (that we've been discussing here).  I like Lovecraft's work to the extent that it reminds us that there may be a great deal "out there in the wild" that is not amenable to or assimilable by human consciousness, but his view is one-sided and I think there is value also in the expanded sense of participatory relationship that comes through in the work of Swimme or Abram, for instance.


As noted in Ferrer's book, The Participatory Turn, there are two types of participation: embedded and enactive.  We stress the "enactive" side of participation here a lot, which is one reason I have started to emphasize "story" and "Big Stories" here recently, since I believe the latter relates more to the "embedded" strand of a participatory view.  Embedded participation communicates a sense that humans are organically continuous with, and meaningfully integrated within, a living and responsive cosmos.  This view prevailed in various premodern and Romantic "Big Stories," and I think Swimme, Abram, and others are trying to articulate that story anew, in a way suitable for our new historical conditions. 


I take the Big Stories of Abram, or Swimme, as useful contributions to a postmetaphysical spirituality, but not as fully representing it.  To use Wilber's terms, the Big Story of embedded participation is a story of communion; whereas enactive participation involves a greater sense of agency, to the extent that the world of distinctions a subject experiences is called forth, at least in part, by the history of that subject.  This is not separable from the embedded view, though, since that history is already a story of embedded participation. 

There is one last strand that I wish to bring to light before I retire to reflect on the material and that concerns the "philosophy of the subject" and its critique. As is well known, the 20th century has seen an entire range of assaults upon the conception of the subject -- from Heidegger and Wittgenstein's parallel deconstructions, to structuralism, the critical theory of the Frankfurt school, and finally to the post-structuralists particularly Derrida, Foucault and Baudrillard. (Note, for example, how the theme of the critique of the subject informs and shapes the following article :http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/ )

The "philosophy of the subject" is also one of the central themes of Habermas' conception of a "post-metaphysics," our namesake here.

There are many approaches to the critique of the subject, but the most profound, and interesting imo, is that of Levinas. Levinas imagines an all consuming "I" that absorbs everything into itself and imagines everything in terms of itself. Levinas critique had a powerful influence on Sartre's later conceptions of the self, which amount almost to a mea culpa if I read him right. Sartre also sees this same all consuming "I" in the work of Hegel and Heidegger in the form of their idea that we understand ourselves by contrasting ourselves with others, particularly cultural "others" (Cf. here Herodotus conception of history as the description of other "races.") In this regard the conception of the "I" becomes central to Europe's own conception of itself, to its history of colonialism, to its judging of the rest of the world in terms of itself, and its sense that the rest of the world should confrom to its normative standards.

 

In any case, here is an essay describing Levinas' account of the "I": http://www.theologicalclowning.org/pete3.html

 

well, actually, sellars' essay figures prominently in brassier's book nihil unbound.  check this out:http://theeveningrednessinthewest.wordpress.com/2009/04/16/%E2%80%9... I'm just gonna HAFTA buy this book.

kelamuni said:

Today I received the following interview with Ray Brassier from He-who-used-to-post-here-but-shall-remain-Nameless-out-of-respect-for-his-anonymity. http://kronos.org.pl/index.php?23151,896

 

It shares alot in common with the important essay by Wilfred Sellars that I posted above, "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man." Brassier uses the term 'manifest image' in the interview, showing its intersection with the Sellars essay ; it is also an indication of how important and influential Sellars metaphilosophical essay was and continues to be.

Brassier is an admirer the socalled 'speculative realists,' referred to in the Lovecraft essays linked above, but has some rather harse (and funny) things to say about those who call the 'group' a movement.

Brassier's interview could also be read in tandem with the book by Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, referred to in the thread started by xibalba. Brassier clearly subscribes to the "subtraction" view referred to and criticized by Taylor, when he talks about the chipping away at religion and mythology by science. But I don't think either Brassier or Sellars are as naive as the somewhat caricaturized version of the theory that Taylor presents: both acknowledge that science develops out of the common sense view, and Brassier notes the science and metaphysics are in some sense indissociable. Bur regardless of the ingenuity and erudition adduced by Taylor, I personally am not entirely convinced that there isn't at least an element of truth to the subtraction theory. I will reserve definitive judgement until I have given Taylor a more thorough read, though.

 

And so our present thread widens further to intersect with not only the horror thread but the thread on Taylor's contribution to the discussion on the possibility of a postmetaphysical spirituality. This thread truly is 'Big.' haha

Isn't it weird and wonderful how all these threads are interelated? It's as if there were some god or daemon directing the movement so that all become connected in the Big Oneness that governs all things. BAhahahaa.

 

 

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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