The Limits of Knowledge (2)

the human being — time and death

Existence is time.[1] It’s not coincidental that time caused us to look at being-here separately from abstract “being” and ask what it otherwise would not have occurred to us to ask, why do I die, or “Why does being-here seem to end?”

My life is both temporal and temporary.  There’s a connection between the two.  It seems the very nature of the modulations of existence is to find better ways to be-here, to survive and extend survival.  The vitality displayed by matter’s energy is not a leisured aesthetic creativity, an unhurried pastime.  There is an urgency here that derives from a conatus, a drive to survive, that is integral to a developing universal entropy that results from the energy expenditure of any “thing,” whether it be the hydrogen fusing into helium in stars or the respiratory activity of the cells of the human brain.  Entropy is the exhaust from combustion — the smoke that is the sign of fire — the tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to move toward a state of uniform inertia through the expenditure of energy for the performance of work.  Work is energy applied in the endeavor to survive. The aggregation and integration forged by matter’s energy is part and parcel of the “downhill” flow of the existential cataract initiated at the big-bang that drives the Universe to produce its effects — like the eddies and vortices that spin off in a raging current.  These pyramidal vortices (one vortex cumulatively building on another and another) are an anti-en­tro­pic phenomenon — they struggle against dissolution, to survive — even though they add to universal entropy as a result.

My life is the inner force of existence because it is matter’s energy.  It is driven in the direction of perdurance in an obsession to continue the dance of presence.  Time is the effluence of my own presence.  As my existence perdures from moment to moment — as each “now” molts into the next — it emanates time as the sweat of its creative labors; the vapor trail of its endless explorations.  I embrace my being-here, and so I embrace time.

The transcendence over death, not only through evolutionary integration but also with other communitarian strategies like daily alimentation and organismic reproduction, harnesses even as it recapitulates the patterns and primordial energies let loose within the first second of the big bang.  The energy that drives my hunger for existence, is the energy of matter itself.

We live in a banquet of existence.  We are not self-sufficient.  We are dependent on the entire material matrix within which we evolved.  In our lifetime, each human organism consumes in sustenance probably 40 or 50 tons of the matter’s energy — in the form of carbon — of other living things who must die in order that we might live.  Add to that another 50 tons of oxygen continuously drawn in from the atmosphere and utilized together with carbon in the cellular combustion we call metabolism.  At death we return our “stuff” to be used as food by others as part of an endless cycle of interchange within the one organism produced and energized by the cascade of existence.  Matter’s energy is a totality.

At a certain magical moment, also, the very cells of my body, by utilizing another communitarian tactic, combine with another’s to create a new identity — my daughter, my son — which is automatically granted a full allotment of time, slipping under the entropic radar of death.  How was this miracle accomplished?  The living cells are mine, but their age and accumulated karma are erased.  Death is cheated, fooled, outwitted.  The new individual with my cells, my DNA, eludes the death they were otherwise destined to endure.  Do we share this adventure in survival with love and gratitude? … Only if we understand!

But if we mis-under­stand — if we originally mis-interpreted that moment of crisis, the perception of death, as the cessation of what’s really there, we are quite capable of turning this banquet of sharing into a selfish grab-bag where the desperate “eat drink and make merry” in a display of bitter disillusionment against a morrow of imagined nothingness.  It is precisely the fact that “I” am metaphysically insignificant except as an integra­ted function of matter’s energy that opens me to a new dimension.   I realize that what is really there and really important is the matrix, the universal “stuff” of which I am made, the homogeneous substrate of which all things are made, the single organism of which we are all the leaves and branches, and which will go on in other forms endlessly.  It was with those micro-threads of existence that I was woven.  The primacy here, as always, belongs to the stuff of existence, the matter-energy of the universe.  It is material energy “congealed” in me.  And in short order, the same existence will use “me” to do something else in a constant search for survival — existence.

So time is the expression of process; it is the measure of groping and the tracks of creativity.  It marks the work in progress of evolutionary development.

endless or “eternal”

The re-cycling is endless.  Isn’t that the same as “eternal,” and doesn’t it imply transcendent, necessary, absolute etc., all those abstract, essentialist characteristics derived from the “concept of being” that we rejected in chapter 1?

No.  Endless is not “eternal” because endless is open and empty.  “Eternal” is closed, fixed and finished, full and complete; “eternal” is the absence of time.  Endless, on the other hand, is time … time without end; it contemplates development without term, a presence that is forever thirsty.  “Eternal,” is synonymous with unchanging, impassible and immutable, Pure Act, pure stasis, without a shred of unfulfilled potential — perfect.  It’s a completely foreign concept to us, pure conceptual projection.  We’ve never experienced anything the least bit like it.  For us, being-here as we know it is an endless phenomenon that throbs always with unrealized potential, with an ever perceived emptiness seeking to be filled and asking for nothing but more time.  We have never encountered existence in any other form.  Its current modality is always in the process of becoming, apparently without limit, itself — existence.

Being-here in our world, is endless becoming.  It’s all we know.  Where, then, do we get the notion of a fixed and finished “eternal”?  I believe it’s another of our fantasies based on the requirements of the imaginary ancient “concept of being.”  Existence, matter’s energy, as found in the real world, however, is a function of power — potentia as Spinoza discerned insightfully — potential; it is focused on survival and constantly ready to change tactics in order to achieve it.  Matter’s creative power is the drive to exist (survive) by extruding new forms out of itself creating time.

“Eternal” is unthinkable.  Endless is not.  We can understand endless perfectly because it’s no different from time itself.  To conceptualize “endless” requires no more insight than imagining present moments, “nows” in an open-ended flow into the future.  In our very own awareness of ourselves-exist­ing, which is the unfolding of our personal presence in time, we actually experience this pheno­menon most intimately as our own sentient selves.  We experience ourselves in a temporal flow into a potentially endless future.  To experience temporal flow is to experience that part of “endless” which will always be here — the present moment, “now,” the only part of “endless” that ever … and always, exists.  To experience one’s own presence in the here and now is to experience, in a sense, everything, because it is to experience all that reality is, or ever was, or can ever be.

We are reminded that for the 14th century mystic Johannes Eckhart, “now” was the most sacred of all locations, the center of the universe.  It was precisely where “God,” he said, who exists in an Eternal “Now,” was actively sharing “being” with creation in an effluence of love and self-donation.  If you want to touch “God,” he said, you can only do it “now.” The fact that “now” — the present moment — is the only moment that really exists and that, at the same time, it goes almost universally unattended, may be a measure of exactly how alienated from existence we are.

Can we say that our conception corresponds to the emphasis on living in the present moment promoted by the Buddhist, Thich Nat Hanh?  The Bud­dhists insist their counsel is a discipline not a doctrine.  They don’t speak about metaphysics, “being” or existence, so we can’t say for sure.  But for the Buddhists, as for Meister Eckhart, the present moment is all there is.  We are-here only in the present moment.  To live in the present moment is to embrace the impermanence, the “emptiness” that drives reality always to the next moment, creating time.

[1] The similarity of this proposition to Heidegger’s thesis expounded in his Being and Time is only semantic. For H. time is the pulse and measure of Da-sein’s anguish of being-toward-death, which alone brings Da-sein’s authentic care to bear on the beings-in-the-world. In my conception, on the other hand, I make every effort to exclude the subjective factors. Time for me is foundationally a physical property exuded by the physical perdurance in existence of a physical entity — matter’s energy.
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5 comments on “The Limits of Knowledge (2)

  1. Noel McMaster says:

    “We are dependent on the entire material matrix within which we evolved”.

    This dependency to me spells information received, information which has been received by me (us) – “received’ and “evolved” are the same tense.
    “Received” from where, from whom? And in such a way that makes a difference in me (us), which amounts to a communication. I (we) am (are) communicants in a great Self-Communication which reaches me in time which itself has a beginning according to the scientific equations of which I have read, though I am not at all well versed in them.
    We hear so much of that first minute after the Big Bang!
    So the Big Bang was the beginning of the Self-Communication which eventually led to me (us).
    The singularity of the Big Bang moment was the moment of the Self-Communicator’s giving creatively of his/her chosen “redundancy” to time, a redundancy which would be gradually decoded in time stochastically and confirmed (received) by the Self-Communicator, who by the definition of time is “otherwise”. Such is the evolution of the “entire material matrix”, all the way to me (us) who from the gift of becoming a communicant represent(s) the crossing of a human threshold confirmed creatively by the Self-Communicator.
    Thus we continue on in evolution, adding faith in ‘other’ exemplars who have gone before us witnessing to their own faith in another who gave himself to death within the evolutionary wisdom of “change and die” for personal futurity symbolised by resurrection.

  2. tonyequale says:

    Noel, hi!

    Thank you for your observations. I think there is much in what you say that may indicate a confluence in our visions, but it depends on how certain words and phrases are interpreted.

    (1) “information received” seems to emphasize “thought” and “ideas” and is reminiscent of the Thomist sense of the primacy of intellect over will. But I believe that the primacy, if we were to continue to use this mediaeval terminology, belongs to will. I would also add that “will” may be understood in a way that may be equated to “desire.” If you mean that the “form” that is “in-formed” is that what is received is received as an embrace is received by what is embraced, then I might agree, otherwise … “otherwise.” In the beginning there was a self-embrace. That is what is transmitted. “Information” in this sense is a metaphor.

    (2) “communication, Communicator” etc The use of the root “to communicate” in these various places seems to confirm and reinforce the primacy of ideas and thought (and Mind) in the assignment of ultimate structure to Natura naturans. But if, like information, communication be accepted as a metaphor for the transmission of desire expressed obliquely according to our intellectual predilections, again, I may agree. Otherwise, I do not. Mind, thought, ideas, are subaltern to the overwhelming desire to be and to be me. That is what the “Self-Communicator” “communicated.” Not ideas. In the beginning there was not Mind, but esse in se subsistens. And it is esse expressed as conatus – the desire to be (me) — that is the energy that matter radiates in all its forms and features.

    We may very well agree on all this.

    Tony Equale

    • Noel F McMaster says:

      Appreciate your response, Tony.

      My use of ‘information’ was in keeping with the digital world of today and its dependence on ‘materiality’ for communication.

      Towards a meeting of minds – I try to greet each day with an exclamation; Freedom unfathomed giving gratuitously, with wisdom profound projecting stochastically and movement manifold building holistically, opening us to the Spirit of Love and Truth.

      Blessings,

      Noel.

  3. Christina says:

    Tony,

    Heidegger’s Parousia-Apousia/Presence-Absence take on existence is similar. He does distinguish between being and substance, which you conflate as one. Though, you give matter’s energy both the ousia (being) and the substance … why create only to exist through something?

    Forgive me, but …

    My life is just an object through which ‘matter’s energy’ acts and perdures through time? Time is emanated through my existence? Yet, existence is time?
    What on earth?!

    So, ‘I’ don’t exist. ‘I’ am just a tool through which ‘existence’ is constantly driven to obsessively “continue the dance of presence.” If you say that and I say nothing exists outside of the Lord … aren’t we kinda just saying the same thing, using different words?

    Are you interchanging the term god with time? Time doesn’t CAUSE us to look at death any more than a concept of god can CAUSE us to. Why do you need something outside (or in your philosophy something within you but still unknown to you) of yourself to ‘show you the way’ to understanding life? I think it would be easier to just call this matter’s energy/time/existence/survival concept … GOD.

    How is the word ‘being’ more abstract than “being-here” when used the same way? Are you trying to incorporate 4 dimensional space-time ‘existence’ in this idea? I am guessing you want to distinguish ‘being’ as a term used with an abstract god between ‘being-here’ as a term used with the more ‘real’ matter’s energy.

    Eternal and endless … interchangeable words in poetry.
    Your use of TIME to differentiate these two similar concepts is confusing.

    I do see, maybe ,what you mean by using time as an equivalent to god (or whatever term you want to use for this concept) …
    Mankowski — 4 dimensional space where time becomes the 4th dimension.
    although we know that time cannot be an equal to the other distance variables.
    Time is a measurement of movement … it is not absolute and always a relevant measurement. Most importantly it wouldn’t exist without that which it measures, distance (space) and with regard to velocity, the movement of one object relative to another. It in a way, time transcends the 3 dimensions of time and space … since it is a ‘judge’ of how we interpret and ‘see’ 3 dimensional space and the intersections of vectors. Time cannot exist outside of the ‘continuum’ … it exists because of the continuum … In a way it could relate to your existence/life/matter’s energy.

    What if god … just wanted to be known? Do you ‘exist’ if you’re not known by ‘life’? What if you can only be ‘seen’ and felt (known) through your creations? I know you don’t want ‘god’ to have a soul but I want life to be more than survival. Beauty and love in the creator and the created. How very Greek of me!
    I am surprised you haven’t looked into pagan nature worship … the ancient goddess. Since the divine was in everything, your concepts are similar but your theology is more complicated, maybe more than is necessary. Some ‘truths’ can be simple. Too much abstraction about LIFE can’t be good for LIVING a good one.

    Christina

  4. tonyequale says:

    Cristina, hi! Nice to hear from you.

    I will make my responses between your comments.

    My life is just an object through which ‘matter’s energy’ acts and perdures through time? Time is emanated through my existence? Yet, existence is time?

    I don’t say exactly that. What I point out is that time is an idea of ours; it does not “exist.” What exists is matter’s energy in some aggregated integrated complexification — what White-head called a “concrescence.” It’s what Aristotle called “substance.” It’s a “thing.”

    Things exist from moment to moment. Their insistence on existence into the next moment exudes a succession of apparitions which our minds conceptualize as “time.”

    So, ‘I’ don’t exist. ‘I’ am just a tool through which ‘existence’ is constantly driven to obsessively “continue the dance of presence.” If you say that and I say nothing exists outside of the Lord … aren’t we kinda just saying the same thing, using different words?

    Yes. I am trying to point out that our being-here is simply a participation in the existential en-ergy of matter. If you are willing to concede the possibility that THAT energy is the energy of LIFE of which mind is an emergent form, then I can easily see how you might call it “Lord” and conceive of all things as participants in that existential energy analogous to a Thomist participation (but without the idealism and dualism). Yes.

    Are you interchanging the term god with time? Time doesn’t CAUSE us to look at death any more than a concept of god can CAUSE us to. Why do you need something outside (or in your philosophy something within you but still unknown to you) of yourself to ‘show you the way’ to understanding life? I think it would be easier to just call this matter’s energy/time/existence/survival concept … GOD.

    No. If anything is “God” in my system, it would be matter’s energy which is existential (i.e., it is an energy focused exclusively and tirelessly on being-here-now. Time “causes” us to look at death because the sequential nature of existential moments is a function of entropy terminating in the cessation of energy that appears to take away existence. The temporal (and temporary) nature of matter’s energy (which is responsible for its obsessive focus on avoiding death) becomes the principal factor that defines life because it determines how we spend our time.

    How is the word ‘being’ more abstract than “being-here” when used the same way? Are you trying to incorporate 4 dimensional space-time ‘existence’ in this idea? I am guessing you want to distinguish ‘being’ as a term used with an abstract god between ‘being-here’ as a term used with the more ‘real’ matter’s energy.

    “Being” in my system refers to an abstract concept derived from the contemplation of all possible existences, even those that I have not experienced. It is the product of an idealist dualism which takes for granted that there are things that exist that are not experienced, like “spirit.” Existence, on the other hand as I define and use it, means the same as matter’s energy. It is an “act” as Aristotle might say, an energy, a dynamism, not a thing. But it is experienced. There is nothing that exists that cannot be experienced because all is material energy and my body correlates to material existence in all its forms through its emergent faculties. The distinction is important because the living dynamism that is material existence originates from the Source itself which is not some alien “spirit” whose characteristics are diametrically opposed to mat-ter. “God” in the dualist system cannot be naturally experienced because “He” is pure spirit and nothing made of matter has anything in common with “God.” All contact is a question of revelation and the creation of a new “spiritual” humanity “supernaturally” modified for the purpose. But there is no evidence — by definition — of “spirit” because spirit cannot be experienced by matter. Spirit in all cases is an inference. Therefore the “being” of which spirit is a part is itself an abstraction derived from an imaginary construct, not something universally experienced.

    Eternal and endless … interchangeable words in poetry.
    Your use of TIME to differentiate these two similar concepts is confusing

    I thought the distinction as I define it was quite clear and unambiguous. Eternal is timeless. Only endless is compatible with a temporal, temporary sequential succession of existential “nows.”

    Time is a measurement of movement … it is not absolute and always a relevant measurement. Most importantly it wouldn’t exist without that which it measures, distance (space) and with regard to velocity, the movement of one object relative to another.

    No. I say that time, primordially, is my internal experience of the “nows” of my own existence as they molt each one from the previous. I experience my own existence as a rolling continuum of successive “nows” each of which is the only thing that ever exists. And it is that temporary “now” that is the defining experience of my cosmo-ontology, the datum that reveals the significance of everything that is. For matter’s energy acts only “now.”

    I know you don’t want ‘god’ to have a soul but I want life to be more than survival. Beauty and love in the creator and the created.

    You speak as if “beauty and love” were “spiritual” things, when in fact they are material. It is the way we experience what impacts our bodies in all their senses. Calling them “spiritual” is an inference — a dualist projection based on prejudice.

    Tony

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