Wednesday 9 June 2021

What is the meaning of degeneration, illness, disease and ageing?

Although the specific meanings of life are specific to specific persons (each in their specific situation) - there is a metaphysical level of understanding of why there is illness, and why there is ageing - and what their functions are, in a general sense. 

At an ultimate level; this reality (incarnate mortal life on earth) illness and ageing are inevitable; because this is a reality dominated by entropy. That is: there is a tendency for creation to return to primal chaos. 

In this reality - degenerative change is inevitable; hence illness, disease, ageing (and, sooner or later, death).  

So in this sense it can reasonably be stated that there is No meaning to illness, disease, ageing. It is something that Just Happens; as a property of the world we live in...

Thus far considered; entropic change is both inevitable and anti-creation, therefore A Bad Thing. 

But in fact we are looking upon entropy from the far side of creation. We live in a created reality - our starting point is of creation in-being: creation manifested. 

This means that chaos from here is not the same a primal chaos. Primal chaos was neutral - it had no meaning; but chaos from the standpoint of creation is the destruction of exactly that creation which enables us to ask the questions. 

If primal chaos is amoral - because morality cannot exist until there is creation; then to return to chaos is a moral act - it is indeed the destruction of the possibility of morality, and therefore anti-moral

So - here we have a conceptualization of illness, ageing and death as evils; as the destruction of God's creation; as the destruction of Good and even the possibility of Good.  

Yet there is yet another perspective. This acknowledges that creation is ongoing. That God's creation is actually a create-ing. 

So that disease, ageing and death as they actually occur do so through the medium of God's creating. 

This means that we never perceive 'raw entropy' but only the combined effect of entropy with divine creation. Our world is a mixture of the spontaneous consequences of dis-integration and the continual synthesis of creation.

In yet other words; God's creation in this world operates on the raw material of entropy; so that everything we actually perceive is compounded of both... 

And therefore partakes of divine purposes and meanings

What the whole things adds-up-to is: there is always meaning and purpose in the phenomena of degeneration, illness, disease and ageing

But what that exact meaning and purpose are, is contextual on the individual life in which they occur - depending on the particular nature and circumstances of that life. 

And therefore the particular meaning and purpose of some particular instance of degeneration, illness, disease or ageing (why do I have chronic and worsening arthritis, why is my knee swollen, why does it hurt?) is knowable only to someone who has sufficient particular knowledge...

And this particular knowledge must include not only physical but also spiritual aspects; seen in an ultimate context that encompasses resurrected eternal life in Heaven. 

So, the meaning of a specific health/age-adversity in a specific person is typically knowable only by that person - and even then, only when that person is able to relate it to the needs of this mortal life in relation to immortal life. 

This can crudely be summarized in the question: "What is this trying to teach me?" or "What should I be learning from this?"

And it should not be expected that the real answer be one that we can express to other people, or even one that we can express in language - the answer might well be a word-less and direct apprehension of some-thing. 

What is vital is that we learn it - not that we can tell others, or even ourselves, precisely what it is we have learned. That is a quite different, and secondary, matter. 


William Wildblood said...

In a sane world the gradual winding down of the physical and mental faculties would point an individual in a spiritual direction but because we reject the spiritual we constantly fight this and try to restore or pretend we still have youth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Agreed. My intention is to explain why this might be, and why the winding-down (despite having 'bad' or neutral causes) should fundamentally be understood as for our personal benefit.

My understanding is that - for as long as God is maintaining us alive - there are important spiritual things that we *could* be learning - potentially including some very simple things indeed (which may need to be learned by non-human, even 'non-alive' 'mineral', Beings), e.g. to do with the reality of creation - and the choice of whether to join with creation, or oppose it.

Apparently, many modern humans are now operating with such a low (or rather, inverted) spirituality, that what they most need to learn may be at a basic, 'sub-human' level - yet may make the difference of salvation.

Serhei said...

My mental image of primal chaos is that it is about equally fecund and barren. Both 'growth' and 'decay' are unending and automatic, balancing out to accomplish nothing lasting. In mortal creation the 'growth' has been made intentional and, to the extent that it is the responsibility of mortal Beings of all species, it is outpaced by 'decay' which has been permitted to continue automatically (as well as being added-to by Beings who intentionally further decay). Then, in the intended final state of the world, an intentional form of growth outpaces any residual decay.

James said...

This made me wonder if genetic entropy / mutational accumulation is also acting at a civilisational level in a parallel manner - that perhaps civilisations are being prompted to become more spiritual in their mature/later stages? I'm not sure the parallel works, because it suggests that civilisations must have a finite lifespan, which presumably happened because they fail to maintain that spirituality that made them grow. In any case, thank you as always for the blog post!

HofJude said...

That there is a clear purpose and meaning in aging and possible fatal disease is proven by the effort "they" are now making to induce people to avoid it by dying with dignity through more or less socially forced suicide -- and when necessary, murder, at the hands of impatient heirs, government health authority, or healthcare "provider."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Serhei - I suppose that strictly there is no creation in chaos, and the idea that there is a balance of growth and decay comes from our consciousness contemplating it in imagination. Without an observing consciousness... well, it can't really be imagined and indeed does not exist except as unknowable negative.

I'm not altogether happy with the above - which is the argument of Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom and Barfield's Saving the Appearances. It is the conclusion of a metaphysical model of thinking, which necessarily presupposes that which is then denies can be supposed! - but I think it is on the right lines, and has the right spirit - that knowability is partly due to the knower: both required.

And the usual modern-science practice of talking about 'reality' as if it would be exactly the same whatever the observer or with no observer, is a fundamental error. Thus Barfield said that mainstream physics stuff about the history of the universe before life is meaningless - an artefact of extrapolating our own consciousness back into a time when we have assumed it could not be.

In my deepest metaphysical moments I can see what Barfield meant, and that he was correct.

Bruce Charlton said...

@James - I think that something similar happens at the civilization level; in that evil often accumulates and feeds upon itself - and then God (in his continual creating) uses this situation to provide situations from which Men may learn 'lessons' valuable for their eternal resurrected life.

(The lessons of life are only applicable among those who intend to choose Heaven - because that is what the lessons are For.)

@HoJ - Indeed. I think it is the intention behind this kind of policy which is the sin - the idea that 'society' can and should be the arbiters of death based on a balance of 'Quality of Life' (which is nowadays calculated, numerically, on the basis of surveys!). This entire way of thinking is an implicit denial of the Christian purpose of life.