Monday, September 27, 2010

Truth on the Surface

So much of the modern search for truth has been an attempt to get to the root causes, the bare essentials. This causes that which causes that; this is a function of this which is a function of that; this makes up this which makes up that--in other words reductionism. The idea being that if we understand the most fundamental laws and building blocks of life, the galaxy, the universe etc. that we will understand everything more fully. But as we focus on the fundamentals, on the essentials, and attempt to deconstruct surfaces as nothing other than mere eventualities of something else 'more true', the truths of the surfaces themselves become lost. I would argue that surfaces can be just as, if not more, true than those 'fundamentals'.

We all know what it means to view or experience beauty, but if you take a painting by Michaelangelo, a composition by Mozart, or a film by Kurosawa and deconstruct it scientifically, which you can do, all that remains is a sterile set of facts. In this process of breaking down the beauty you will have lost the beauty because the beauty is contained in the surface, in the harmony, in the composition, in the way the various elements of a piece play on one another to yield something greater. Similarly you can reduce human beings to nothing other than a collection of organs, and then a collection of living cells, and then a collection of atoms, which are composed of subatomic particles. So you could say, correctly in a sense, that we are nothing but a collection of particles and energy operating under certain physical laws. So the question is whether or not 'beauty' is merely a human delusion, something that we experience but which has no real meaning or ontology. The question is whether or not humanity is merely a particular collection of particles that we have chosen to delineate from other particles. The question is whether or not the parts that make up the whole are really all that there is, or whether the whole is something actually and meaningfully different from the sum of its parts.

This is the achilles heel of the scientific 'rationalism' of the Enlightenment. It can't account for beauty, it can't affirm humanity as anything other than a collection of particles, and it can't find any basis for values. But our fellow man, beauty, truth, justice, love; all of these things are self-evident truths that we all experience and are familiar with. Granted, these are truths that are contained in surfaces, but they are truths all the same. Where common sense and every day experience are successful at revealing these truths a rigorous scientific reductionism remains impotent.

And, if you're a Christian, you are familiar with truth contained in surfaces as the foundation of your faith is contained in the particularities, idiosyncracies and physical, human personage of Jesus Christ. In his bodily death and bodily resurrection. Not in some other-worldly essence or 'fundamental', not really in any set of precepts, but in a particular first century Jew. Who was certainly a collection of particles, cells and organs, but who was just as certainly something more than that.

1 comment:

  1. Why can beauty only exist in one dimension? You see a work of nature, a flower perhaps. Besides the beauty that we see superficially, a scientific understanding of such an object can give us an appreciation for the things that make up the flower, such as cells structure, and also the processes by which the flower came to look the way it does. In my view, understanding the 'how' and 'why' of a certain thing does nothing to detract from its beauty, rather, it adds to the experience.

    On reaffirming humanity:

    Evolutionary theory tells us that we are, in some small way, related to all life that has every existed on this planet. This establishes a very real connection between me, you, and every other human being ( among other things) that have come before us We are brothers in the truest sense of the word. In short, scientific naturalism reaffirms humanity because it has no choice. We share an undeniable connection to each other.

    You say that if we deconstruct something beautiful, then we lose that which was beautiful, but why is that necessarily the case? If a person, for example, understands the processes which create the feeling we call 'love' does that in any way diminish the feeling we get when we look into the eyes of the person we care about?

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I'm actually an aspiring poker player who watched your youtube videos and came across your twitter and blog. It's cool to see that you can step outside and speak on other things.

    Take care.