Sunday, January 13, 2013
On the meaning of created things, and the emptiness of numbers
Meaning is not a relative thing; it either exists, or it doesn't. Already, when we use the word, we know that it exists; it is an a priori question, much like Heidegger's question of Being. In both cases, we know that there is such a thing; but we don't understand it very well. Heidegger appreciated such problems; he investigated the question of Being at great length in order to try and understand it. In the same way, one can question meaning; it occupies similar territory.
To argue that intrinsic meaning begins and ends with physical laws is not enough. Physical laws are rooted in mathematics, which is in itself a system of meaning. Although it may explain the logic behind interactions in the known universe, it can't explain their implications. It cannot, furthermore, explain its own implication. Meaning thus occupies a piece of territory that is higher, perhaps, than any other property of the universe besides Being itself.
One might argue that it is of an even higher priority to human beings, since every man searches for meaning in one way or another, although not every man searches for Being. Men assume they have Being (an assumption, it turns out, that is true only within limited parameters) as a given; the struggle for meaning is another question, never taken for granted, and leading to all kinds of interactions, both good ones and bad ones.
Essentially, my argument is that meaning cannot be imparted by the things themselves. Meaning emanates from a higher level. Meaning, in other words, is invested within God, within a higher set of principles at a higher level. Swedenborg argued that this particular set of higher principles, substantial forces, had at its pinnacle the force of Divine Love and Wisdom, which are congruent and simultaneous forces. Al 'Arabi, working many centuries earlier and within an Islamic, not Christian, theosophical and philosophical matrix, reached very similar conclusions.
Gurdjieff indubitably believed that man had the capacity to sense these higher forces, a capacity he implied was resident in man's higher centers. (This is not just hypothesis; it's a fact.) The lower forces of ordinary love and knowledge which pervade every aspect of human life (even scientists and atheists seek to know things, and fall in love) are reflections of those higher forces. Each manifestation on a lower level is, in fact, a mirrored proposition of an equally true thing on a higher level. (Swedenborg covered this subject, as well, at length in his fascinating chapter on levels in Divine Love and Wisdom.)
Here's the basic principle: Meaning cannot be imparted by lower forces, only by higher ones. A quartz crystal cannot impart the meaning of "quartz crystal" to itself. It takes a human being, a creature of a higher order, to do that. So if a man wants to search for meaning, he cannot search for the meaning of things within the things themselves; it always lies outside of them, as should be evident. The exact location of meaning, furthermore, is always in the perception of the conscious individual or force perceiving the thing— which lies at a higher level. perception, it turns out, is at a different level than that of what is perceived.
This conscious force of perception is actually an expression of the divine.
This means that every instance of consciousness, be it bug or be it Einstein, is actually the determinant of meaning; meaning arises as an inevitable consequence of the intersection between material and consciousness. If we take material as the ordinary world, and consciousness as God, perhaps it gives us an inkling as to why the universe was created: it was intended to create meaning, which is a property only earned through relationship, that is, a reciprocal exchange of substances.
Al 'Arabi plumbed the depths of this question in his exploration of the names of God; meanings, it turns out, are definable and consistent throughout the universe. The attributes of God (he claims there are 99) operate universally, and cannot be changed by arbitrary imposition of new systems. They are, in other words, roughly equivalent to our understanding of mathematics and physics; in a nutshell, they represent Gurdjieff's laws. The difference is that they impart not only a value system regulating physical forces; they also impart a set of emotional qualities to the universe.
These emotional qualities have, for us, familiar names: mercy, love, compassion, knowledge, wisdom, wrath, and so on. Each one imparts a different level of meaning on physical reality, which cannot be measured by instruments or numbers alone.
There are never going to be any instruments that can measure how much mercy has been expressed in an individual, a situation, or society. This is where science and atheism fail; and why they will never be enough to describe the meaning of created things.
The only instrument which can measure such things is consciousness.
May your soul be filled with light.