Explain Away

Within Modernity, the extremes work to negate or destroy the centre. Knowledge of the atomic level undermines the everyday world because we assume that the former is more 'true' than the latter, which then becomes a mere illusion. 'Nothing but' reductionism shifts truth to the extremes, and asserts that the only way to solid ground is by digging ever deeper.

Within Tradition, on the other hand, the extremes work to enrich and deepen the centre. Tradition extends truth to all levels, from the everyday to the Quantum. The extremes are sacred zones, only to be explored by the initiated.


Sweet is the lore which Nature brings:
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things: -
We murder to dissect.

[William Wordsworth]
The Tables Turned

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

[Steven Weinberg]
The First Three Minutes, p. 154

Should our only reaction to a diamond be to explain that it is just carbon, and to a rainbow to point out that it is just water […]?

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.70

Descartes, the father of modern rationalism, insisted that 'we should never allow ourselves to be persuaded excepting by the evidence of our Reason', and he emphasised specially that he spoke 'of our Reason and not of our imagination nor of our senses.’

The method of reason is to 'reduce involved and obscure propositions step by step to those that are simpler, and then, starting with the intuitive apprehension of all those that are absolutely simple, attempt to ascend to the knowledge of all others by precisely similar steps'.

This is a programme conceived by a mind both powerful and frighteningly narrow […]

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.17

Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? […]

The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation […]

Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.

Perhaps I am asking impossibilities. Perhaps, in the nature of things, analytical understanding must always be a basilisk which kills what it sees and only sees by killing. But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it.

What I most fear is the reply that I am 'only one more' obscurantist, that this barrier, like all previous barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed. Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination - the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds.

Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before.

There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis - incommensurable with the others - and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind. Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost.

But you cannot go on ‘explaining away' for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on 'seeing through' things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.

It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through' all things is the same as not to see.

[C.S. Lewis]
‘The Abolition of Man’, Selected Books, p.428-9

Experience means to us an activity of the intellect, which does not resignedly confine itself to receiving, acknowledging and arranging momentary and purely present impressions, but seeks them out and calls them up in order to overcome them in their sensuous presence and to bring them into an unbounded unity in which their sensuous discreteness is dissolved.

Experience in our sense possesses the tendency from particular to infinite. And for that very reason it is in contradiction with the feeling of Classical science.

What for us is the way to acquire experience is for the Greek the way to lose it. And therefore he kept away from the drastic method of experiment; therefore his physics, instead of being a mighty system of worked-out laws and formula that strong-handedly override the sense present ("only knowledge is power"), is an aggregate of impressions - well ordered, intensified by sensuous imagery, clean-edged - which leaves Nature intact in its self-completeness.

It would never have occurred to a Classical physicist to investigate things while at the same time denying or annihilating their perceivable form. And for that very reason there was no Classical chemistry, any more than there was any theorizing on the substance as against the manifestations of Apollo.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol.1, p. 383, 394

According to one most recent theory, which integrates Einstein's relativity, purely mathematical entities that on the one hand magically spring forth in full irrationality, but on the other are ordered in a completely formal system of algebraic "production,” exhaustively account for everything that can be positively checked and formularized regarding the ultimate basis of sensible reality.

This process was the intellectual background to the atomic era's inauguration - parallel, therefore, to the definitive liquidation of all knowledge in the proper sense.

One of the principal exponents of modern physics, Heisenberg, has explicitly admitted this in his book: it is about a formal knowledge enclosed in itself, extremely precise in its practical consequences, in which, however, one cannot speak of knowledge of the real. For modern science, he says, “the object of research is no longer the object in itself, but nature as a function of the problems that man sets himself”; the logical conclusion in such science being that “henceforth man only meets himself."

Not only has [science] gradually freed itself from any immediate data of sense experience and common sense, but even from all that which imagination could offer as support. The current concepts of space, time, motion, and causality fall one by one, so to speak.

Everything that can be suggested by the direct and living relationship of the observer to the observed is made unreal, irrelevant, and negligible.

It is then like a catharsis that consumes every residue of the sensory, not in order to lead to a higher world, the “intelligible world” or a "world of ideas," as in the ancient schools of wisdom, but rather to the realm of pure mathematical thought, of number, of undifferentiated quantity, as opposed to the realm of quality, of meaningful forms and living forces: a spectral and cabalistic world, an extreme intensification of the abstract intellect, where it is no longer a matter of things or phenomena, but almost of their shadows reduced to their common denominator, gray and indistinguishable.

One may well speak of a falsification of the elevation of the mind above human sense-experience, which in the traditional world had as its effect not the destruction of the evidences of that experience, but their integration: the potentizing of the ordinary, concrete perception of natural phenomena by also experiencing their symbolic and intelligible aspects.

[Julius Evola]
Ride the Tiger, p.135-6

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