Tuesday 23 April 2013

Forced to choose between impossibilities - a picture or a story?


Is reality one and static?

Or, plural and dynamic?


Or is it that mortality is change, corruption, decay and death; while eternity is stasis, unchangeing, immortal and perfect - but how then do we move between them?


How can be 'progress' (theosis) from changeableness and temporality towards stasis and eternity?

Slowing down, stopping, perfecting? But how is that progression - surely it is just death?


But if reality is progression, then activity is good.


Is reality a Picture or a Story?



Unknown said...

Serious writers like Pal Elmer More and Irving Babbitt discussed the relationship between the One and the Many extensively in the early years of the 20th century. It was a preoccupation of theirs, especially Babbitt. Apparently the challenge is to perceive the enduring one at the core of the flux.

Bruce Charlton said...

@U - That was also the medieval world view (except that the spatial positions were reversed) as described by CS Lewis in The Discarded Image (i.e. the earth and the sublunar as the realm of change, decay, death - the realm above the moon as eternal changeless perfection). In essence, this kind of division is Platonism.

But, while it is one kind of answer, it doesn't solve the problem of reconciling impossibilities - neither of which can be wholly true, but (it seems) one of which we must assume for any specific purpose.

Adam G. said...

I find both attractive, so I conceptualize our destiny as a hybrid between eternity and time, where we exist in both a timeless state outside time and within perpetual time also.

But I admit I have no idea how this could be possible.

The Crow said...

Reality is Reality.
Nothing anyone can do to it, or think about it, has any effect upon it.
It is what it is, and does what it does. Knowing this is so, puts one in touch with it, rather than being at odds with it.
One - in fact - becomes Reality, by leaving it be.
What is God?
God is Reality.

The Crow said...

A random revelation, to share, before it fades away...
Christianity enforces separation from God, by claiming intermediaries must intercede between man and God, thus inhibiting any approach to the Divine to several removes away from it.
(Ugh, that was clumsily-put).

The truth is considerably more simple and attainable.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

...eternity is stasis, unchangeing, immortal and perfect

I read in a book about St. Thomas' doctrine that God is unchanging but not static, because he is One and Three at the same time. There is in the Trinity a kind of 'motion' which is a perpetual overflowing of love. The Triune God creates, redeems, sanctifies, thus while not changing himself he is the source of movement, change, progression in all creatures. To damn oneself is to turn one's back to that progression and deciding to owe one's fate to oneself and not to God.

Wm Jas said...

The mystics are mostly in agreement that time and eternity, samsara and nirvana, are two different ways of experiencing the same thing.

The "book of life" is perhaps a helpful metaphor. A book is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and with a causal structure -- but at the same time the entire book exists at once, and every part of the story is permanently real.

Bruce Charlton said...

My own current view is that this is one of those choices we make, we live by either the idea of life as a picture, or a story.

Probably, ultimately, we cannot help but regard reality as a picture, unchanging - but this can be pushed back a little way or a long way, and include everything or just a few things.

For a Platonist or pure monist, the picture of reality includes almost everything and is located just behind a veil, almost palpable; for a Mormon/ pragmatist, the picture element might include much less, e.g. space, matter, and transcendental laws - and is remote; being located (as it were) behind God and the eternal spirits, a mere backdrop.

Matthew C. said...


Revealed religions (such as Christianity) put constraints on human behavior, especially in the sexual realm.

In the absence of those constraints, human society appears to run away with sexual license and shake itself to pieces.

The Crow said...

Well, Matthew: if one chooses society and/or sex as one's religion, what else could one expect?
Constraints may be placed upon oneself by oneself, if one is able to become responsible for one's actions.

Matthew C. said...


I am referring to the behavior of so-called mystics, of which I was one myself (and still am, but with the addition now of following the divinely revealed religion of God).

Mystics who do NOT follow strict religious laws seem almost invariably to end up as object-lessons, like this and this and this.

As far as I can see, only strict obedience to the laws of a revealed religion has ever kept human sexual behavior under control so as to support advanced societies with significant male / father contribution towards the raising of their children.

And that realization as to the necessity of religion for society and for many individuals (self included!) is why I suddenly found myself religious again, after two decades of non-religious mysticism.

The Crow said...

'Almost invariably', Matthew?
That's like saying rednecks almost invariably shoot people.
The problem with - as you say - 'so-called Mystics', is that anyone can so-call themselves that. Unfortunately, this is also true of 'so-called' Christians.

I used to self-identify as a Taoist, until I became sufficiently horrified by the hijacking of that term by practically any so-inclined Westerner, as a justification for their left-wing ideology. Again, like many so-called Christians.

I am happy for you if you find your current affiliation to work for you. Are you not happy for me, that I have found the way that works for me? It works very, very well indeed.

Just as you champion Christianity as the greatest possible thing, so do I feel that way about what I have come to. Only I have no unanswered questions, or moments of doubt.

Matthew C. said...


Like you said "it works for you". And I don't doubt it. There are certainly some people who don't need a rulebook.

But for society as a whole, it's extremely clear what we get in the absence of a rulebook. We get the wreckage and ruin of the sexual revolution. We get bankers and other politically connected businessmen buying off the political system and giving themselves free money from the government.

That is why Ultimate Reality periodically manifests itself in the form of a person and brings a book of rules for society. Because 95% of us as individuals need that to keep our ship from wrecking on the rocks. And society CERTAINLY needs this. This is not to gainsay our spiritual, mystical connection and union with Ultimate Reality, which is the core message of what Christ was talking about.

Also, I recognize the validity of other Folds, not just the Christian one.

The Crow said...

Good points, Matthew, and probably the best argument I've heard for Christianity.
This Ultimate Reality you mention: who would accept it, or even recognize it, today?
I feel there is no hope for humans as a whole. The whole is a ravening beast.

James said...

It's a story. Of course.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - ... is the right answer!

The Crow said...

Ha. It is neither. It is Reality.
Beyond any categorization or understanding.

A side note: does anybody notice how the harder one tries to decipher those annoying verification words required to filter comments, the more cryptic they become? I have discovered the necessary technique, so obvious once discovered, of allowing those words to explain themselves to me, effortlessly.