Reason Itself: The Parasite Upon Irrational Physical Events & The Colony of Memes In the Ecology of Cerebral Cortices


“In any event, my topic is not really the philosophy of mind, though by this point it may seem as if I have forgotten that. I am concerned not simply with the mystery of consciousness but with the significance of that mystery for a proper understanding of the word “God.” I admit that I have taken my time in reaching this point, but I think defensibly so. My claim throughout these pages is that the grammar for our thinking about the transcendent is given to us in the immanent, in the most humbly ordinary and familiar experiences of reality; in the case of our experience of consciousness, however, the familiarity can easily overwhelm our sense of the essential mystery. There is no meaningful distinction between the subject and the object of experience here, and so the mystery is hidden by its own ubiquity.

One extremely good way, then, to appreciate the utter strangeness of consciousness — the hither side, so to speak, of that moment of existential wonder that wakens us to the strangeness of all things — is to consider the extraordinary labors required to describe the mind in purely material terms. We have reached a curious juncture in the history of materialism, which seems to point toward a terminus that is either tragic or comical (depending on where one’s sympathies lie).

For a number of “naturalist” theorists it has become entirely credible, and even logically inevitable, that the defense of “rationalistic” values should require the denial of the existence of reason. Or, rather, intellectual consistency obliges them to believe that reason is parasitic upon purely irrational physical events, and that it may well be the case that our nonexistent consciousness is only deluded in intentionally believing that there is such a thing as intentional belief. Or they think that what we have mistaken for our rational convictions and ideas are actually only a colony of diverse “memes” that have established themselves in the ecologies of our cerebral cortices. Or whatever. At such a bizarre cultural or intellectual juncture, the word “fanaticism” is not opprobrious, but merely descriptive. We have reached a point of almost mystically fundamentalist absurdism. Even so, what is really astonishing here is not that some extreme proponents of naturalist thought accept such ideas but that any person of a naturalist bent could imagine that his or her beliefs permit any other conclusions.

If nature really is what mechanistic metaphysics portrays it as being, then consciousness is, like being itself, super naturam, and that must be intolerable to any true believer in the mechanistic creed. Materialism is, as I have said, the least rationally defensible and most explanatorily impoverished of metaphysical dogmas; but, if materialism is one’s faith, even reason itself may not be too great an offering to place upon its altar. If one is to exclude the supernatural absolutely from one’s picture of reality, one must not only ignore the mystery of being but also refuse to grant that consciousness could possibly be what it self-evidently is.”

End quote. 

David Bentley Hart, “The Experience of God

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