Friday, May 5, 2017

My Significant Other is the Kosmos : Return of the Aestheticf Jedi Part 4 - Oops?

OK, now we have established another element in our exploration of the aesthetic moment, the element of process.  Which of course implies time,continuation, movement...and dare I say, development.  Kind of sounds like evolution, doesn't it?  And to use my borrowed metaphor in a previous posting, the aesthetic moment did not happen, it's HAPPENINGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG...

Hmmm....aesthetics as an element of evolution?  Physiosphere to biosphere to noosphere, rocks to roses to Rumi, as I have suggested in the past.  We've all seen those magnificent images taken by the Hubble telescope, described by some scientists as Deep Time.  How is it  that those images are so...beautiful?  Just a bunch of rocks, really, when it comes down to it.  And yet those apparently lifeless masses of hydrogen and helium and the rest of the periodic scale are somehow saturated with aesthetics (For those inclined toward cynicism this statement may suggest anthropomorphic projection.  I would suggest they ponder the fact that bears in the wild have often been observed sitting passively watching a beautiful sunset - bearopomorphic projection, perhaps?)

So, we might say evolution itself is an aesthetic process.  And evolution is certainly development, an unfolding change toward more complexity, toward a broader or deeper  or higher state (whether hydrogen atoms to stars, acorn to oak tree, human fetus to human adult).  Implied in this is the notion of a beginning, that place in time when a new process emerges to travel its course through time - the Big Bang, the Spring rain that goads the acorn, the sperm crashing into the egg.  Aesthetic processes also have beginnings.  How do they come about?

You might remember my story of reading 'War and Peace', and the subsequent process of creative unfoldment that emerged in my own development.  The reading was certainly the impelling energy, but in fact it was that day listening to the radio that was the true beginning, the catalytic moment if you will.  What did I sense in that 30 minute rendering that convinced me to read the novel, which in turn steered me to the creative life that is to this day 40 years later still unfolding?

Value.  Somehow in that skillful radio reading I sensed value - not quantitative or instrumental value, but qualitative value.  And this was more than just the value of a delicious meal, or an entertaining movie, or a good read.  This was what I would call a hyper-value.  From Buddha to Plato to Kant we've had names for these hyper-values - the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.  These hyper-values are so powerful that even a sniff of them seizes our attention.  They are what the philosopher Steve McIntosh labeled "value attractors".  They attract us through our desire (eros) for just these hyper-values of truth, beauty and goodness, whether we are conscious of that desire or not (and the unconscious part of that eros for value is what always catches us by surprise when it suddenly bursts through the veil of our personal maya).  In that short reading of Tolstoy's work I sensed the truth of the relentless ugliness of war, the good of our empathy with its tragic victims, and the beauty of the heart-felt rendering that Tolstoy had brought forth.  I caught a sniff, and that was enough to turn a young, 20-something lost soul in a new direction, to allow a new process to emerge.

I'd like to share with you another such catalytic moment, one that might just give you a little sniff of what I'm talking about.  You might remember in the beginning postings of 'My Significant Other is the Kosmos' I spoke of an existential crisis of meaning that I was plunged into in my fifties.  I had, so to speak, lost the scent, and indeed lost all sense of who I was, why I was here, what was I doing here.  Nonetheless I managed to cowboy-up and proceeded on a fog-bound search for... who knows?.  I read a lot of philosophy in those days, and came upon multiple references to an author I was unaware of, Ken Wilber.  One day I was in the philosophy stacks of the Denver Main Library and came upon several of Wilber's books.  Picking up the thickest one, titled 'Sex, Ecology, Spirituality', I opened to the introduction and read the first page.  I'm going to quote that first page here:

"It is flat-out strange that something - that anything - is happening at all.  There was nothing, then a Big Bang, then here we all are.  This is extremely weird.

To Schelling's burning question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?," there have always been two general answers.  The first might be called the philosophy of "oops".  The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it's all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens ---oops!  The philosophy of oops, no matter how sophisticated and adult it may on occasion appear - its modern names and numbers are legion, from positivism to scientific materialism, from linguistic analysis to historical materialism, from naturalism to empiricism - always comes down to the same basic answer, namely, "Don't ask."

The question itself (Why is anything at all happening?  Why am I here?) - the question itself is said to be confused, pathological , nonsensical, or infantile.  To stop asking such silly or confused questions is, they all maintain, the mark of maturity, the sign of growing up in this cosmos.

I don't think so.  I think the "answer" these "modern and mature" disciplines give - namely, oops! (and therefore, "Don't ask!) - is about as infantile a response as the human condition could possibly offer.

The other broad answer that has been tendered is that something else is going on: behind the happenstance drama is a deeper or higher or wider pattern, or order, or intelligence.  There are, of course, many varieties of this "Deeper Order": the Tao, God, Geist, Maat, Archetypal Forms, Reason, Li, Mahamaya, Brahman, Rigpa.  And although these different varieties of the Deeper Order certainly disagree with each other at many points, they all agree on this: the universe is not what it appears.  Something else is going on, something quite other than oops......

This book is about all of that "something other than oops".

Did you catch the whiff, the little tug of the value attractor in those opening paragraphs?   I certainly did.  I checked out the book and plowed through its 600 plus pages of text and 300 plus pages of end-notes in four or five frenzied days.  When I was done I rediscovered that woozy feeling of being here and simultaneously being somewhere else, that feeling I had encountered upon reading 'War and Peace' so many years before.  It was a profound aesthetic moment that instigated a process that, again, is still in motion.


To be continued...