Truth and humanity.

by metacognizant

This blog will be a quotation from Fr. Robert J. Spitzer’s book, New Proofs for the Existence of God. I enjoyed this section so much, I decided to share it with you guys. I highly recommend buying this book.

The [Human] Desire for Perfect Truth

Let us begin with a clue that is manifest every day in the conduct of children who persistently query, “Why is that?” One give an answer, and they ask the further question, “Well, why is that?” This seems to go on indefinitely until an adult brings it to an end. This process reveals that children (indeed, all of us) recognize the inadequacy of partially intelligible answers, and that true satisfaction will only occur when complete intelligibility has been achieved.

Another clue concerning this desire for complete intelligibility may be found in some intellectuals’ “despair of the truth.” History is replete with examples of brilliant men and women trying to find the perfect and unconditioned in philosophy, science, and mathematics, but there always seems to be some unanswered question that gets in the way of perfect intelligibility being fully manifest–a flaw in what could otherwise have been a perfect system. These disenchantments have, on many occasions, brought the brilliant from the heights of complete self-confidence to the depths of protecting invalid ideas and systems beyond their time. Again, the problem is not with the thirst for truth and knowledge, or love of the process of inquiry, but rather with trying to extract perfect and unconditional Truth from an imperfect and partially intelligible world.

Human beings are not seeking merely pragmatic knowledge (e.g., “How can I get more food with which to live?”), they seem to want to know just for the sake of knowing, and seem to be endowed with a desire for complete explanation. They recognize when they have not arrived at this point, indicating that they are already beyond the answer at which they have arrived. Human beings have the remarkable capacity of knowing that they do not know, yet one must ask, “How is this possible unless they already have some awareness of what is beyond what they already know?”

The reader may recall a discussion of this point after the Longeranian proof for the existence of God (in Chapter 4, Section III [of the actual book; I’m trying to give a verbatim quote]). Longeran contends that he (and any others who could affirm it for themselves) have a “pure unrestricted desire to know” that arises out of what he terms “the notion of being.” The reasoning for this may be summarized in eight steps:

1) In the process of human cognition and understanding (see Chapter 4, Section I), one of the major questions that seems to evade a natural explanation (an explanation from the natural world–the world of empirical data, finite data, and finite acts of understanding), namely: “Since every question reveals an awareness of the incompleteness of what we understand, and since this, in turn, entails an awareness of intelligibility beyond what we understand, and since we ask questions about everything we understand, how can this ‘awareness of intelligibility beyond everything we understand’ be explained?” How can we be aware of something beyond everything we understand? Longeran might phrase the question as: “How do we have sufficient awareness of what we do not know in order to have a pure unrestricted desire to know?” That is, how do we have an ongoing knowledge of the incomplete intelligibility of every restricted act of understanding (which grasps only restricted intelligibility) sufficient to ask questions unceasingly until complete intelligibility has been reached?

2) The only seeming explanation is that we know our understanding is incomplete, and if we did not know that it was incomplete, we would not ask any further questions (“What?” “Why?” “How?” etc.). We would be very content to know our names, and to respond to biological opportunities and dangers–nothing more. It is the awareness of “something more to be known” at the very moment when something is known that drives the further question.

3) Longeran affirms that he has a pure unrestricted desire to know, that is, he desires to know all that is to be known; and that he has the capacity to ask further questions when he has not yet grasped “all that is to be known.” The same holds true for myself, and I will speak only for myself at this juncture, because I would like the reader to affirm for him or herself the same judgments that I have made in the process of coming to know the pure unrestricted desire to know, and the notion of being, within myself.

4) Now, the question arises, how could I have the power to ask a question every time I understand something that does not meet the expectation of “all that is to be known”? It would seem that I would have to have some awareness (at least a tacit awareness) of “all that is to be known” sufficient to know that whatever I have grasp has not yet met this objection. Thus, I might move from analytical geometry, to the calculus, to non-Euclidean geometries, to the tensor, and know that the tensor does not adequately describe the whole of mathematical intelligibility–and it truly does not. Similarly, I can attain an understanding of space-time fields, electromagnetic fields, quantum fields, the grand unified field, etc., and realize that the grand unified field still does not exhaust all that is to be known–and it truly doesn’t. This applies to every area of inquiry and every field of knowledge, and I would know if my idea did not explain everything about everything–I would know.

5) The question again arises, how would I always know that there is more to be known when I have grasped even the highest ideas through the highest viewpoints? How would I know that those ideas and viewpoints did not explain everything about everything? How do I know what qualifies for an explanation of everything about everything? How can I have a “pre-knowledge” (an awareness) of the explanation of everything about everything sufficient to keep asking questions, and to know what will fail to meet the objective of an explanation of everything about everything? This last question contains the clue to how I could have a pre-knowledge of “everything to be known.” I must have a tacit awareness of “what is sufficient to qualify for an explanation of everything about everything.” Obviously, I cannot explicitly know all the contents that I do not know; but I could have a tacit awareness of what would be sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything. This would explain how I could reach very high viewpoints of mathematics, physics, and metaphysics, and still know that I did not have an explanation of everything about everything–and even have a sense of where to turn to find such an explanation.

6) What could be the origin of this awareness? It cannot be a natural source (empirical data, finite data, or the contents of restricted acts of understanding) because the tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything” is always beyond every “intelligible reality which leaves a question unanswered,” and every restricted intelligible always leaves a question unanswered. Therefore, the tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything” is always beyond any restricted intelligible. Its source must therefore be an unrestricted intelligible–that is, the Idea of complete intelligibility, which is the content of an unrestricted act of understanding. The Idea of complete intelligibility, then, would seem to be the source of my tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything.”

7) Even though the Idea of complete intelligibility is the source of my tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything,” I cannot say that I understand this Idea, because, as is clear from the Longeranian proof (Chapter 4, Section II.D), the Idea of complete intelligibility is the Idea of “unrestricted intelligibility in relation to the whole of finite intelligibility.” Now, the understanding of this Idea can only occur through an unrestricted act of understanding which I, evidently, do not have. (Aside from the fact that I can affirm this for myself, an unrestricted act of understanding must be unique–see Chapter 4, Section II.C–and I would not be that unique Reality.) Therefore, even though the Idea of complete intelligibility would seem to be the source of my tacit awareness of “what is sufficient for an explanation of everything about everything,” I cannot have understood if (because It is understandable only by an unrestricted act of understanding).

But how can this be? Longeran uses the terminology of “notion” (“the notion of being,” or what I would term “the notion of complete intelligibility”). What is a notion if it is not an understood idea? It is a presence to consciousness–not a presence that is held or controlled by my consciousness, but one that is held or controlled outside of my consciousness while still being present to it. Now, if I don’t understand this presence, then how am I aware of it? I must be aware of it as something on the horizon; as something beyond my understanding, but, nevertheless, something that can act as a backdrop over against which I compare the ideas I have understood. This would explain how I would know that there is more to be known at the very moment I have understood something new, and would explain how I would know that the tensor is not the complete explanation of mathematics, and that mathematics is not the complete explanation of intelligibility itself. I am comparing it to a backdrop that is so much more than the highest possible viewpoints, so much more than any restricted intelligible, so much more than any content of a restricted act of understanding (no matter how high the viewpoint).

Now, as I said, I do not understand, hold, or control this Idea; it is, as it were, held and controlled for me as a backdrop to compare the intelligibility of the ideas that I have understood. But what is holding and controlling this Idea for me as a backdrop? I must adduce that It would be Its source, namely, the unrestricted act of understanding.

8 ) But this would mean that the Idea of complete intelligibility, that is, the content of an unrestricted act of understanding, that is, the divine essence, is present to me as a horizon, that is, as a backdrop that can be compared to every intelligible content I grasp through my restricted acts of understanding. The presence of the divine essence, therefore, must be the impetus for my awareness of incomplete intelligibility, the impetus for every question, the impetus for every act of creativity.

If the divine essence were not present to me, I would only be capable of recognizing objects of biological opportunity and danger, such as food, snakes, my name, affection, etc., but nothing more, for I would not ask questions about intelligibility (such as “What?” “Why?” “How?”–which penetrate the nature of reality). My curiosity would be limited to biological opportunities and dangers, to discerning the mood of my master, to detecting whether an herb might be poisonous or a creature dangerous. Intelligibility (the nature of things, heuristic contexts, “What?” “Why?” “How?”) would be quite beyond me–totally unrecognized by me. Therefore, I would not have a pure desire to understand–let alone a pure, unrestricted desire to understand. Without the notion of complete intelligibility (the presence of the Idea of complete intelligibility, the presence of the divine essence), I would find fulfillment through a fine piece of meat and ignore the tensor.

9) Yet the presence of the divine essence does not ask the question for me; it does not create for me. It provides the crucial datum of incomplete intelligibility that incites me to ask the question–but I do not have to answer this question, I do not have to seek an answer; I don’t even have to ask the question. I can behold incomplete intelligibility, and instead of pursuing its invitation, eat a bon-bon and watch a rerun on television. If I let myself ask the question and freely pursue the answer to it, then I will truly detach data from the empirical residue and truly situate its intelligibility within the new repository of understanding in my consciousness, and thereby create and understand ideas that are lovely to behold in themselves and also may have application to the world for some good end. The presence of the divine essence does not do this for me; it simply incites and invites. The question, the seeking, the understanding, the creation, and the freedom intrinsic to it all–God allows that to belong properly to me–a co-creator, as it were, in His image.

A particularly powerful demonstration of the notion of complete intelligibility was given in the domain of mathematics by Kurt Godel [a note: Godel’s name has two dots above the “o,” but I don’t know if that character will display correctly on this blog. For purposes of this entry, assume that every time you see Godel’s name, it has two dots above the “o.”] in 1931, and was revised by John R. Lucas in 1961, and by the eminent physicist Roger Penrose in 1989. In brief, Godel showed that there will always be unprovable propositions within any set of axiomatic statements in arithmetic. Human beings are able not only to show that consistent, unprovable statements exist, but also to prove that they are consistent by making recourse to axioms beyond those used to generate these statements. This reveals that human thinking is not based on a set of prescribed axioms, rules, or programs, and is, by nature, beyond any program. A deeper explanation of Godel’s theorem may be helpful. Stephen Barr, summing up the Lucas version of Godel’s argument, notes:

First, imagine that someone shows me a computer program, P, that has built into it the ability to do simple arithmetic and logic. And imagine that I know this program to be consistent in its operations, and that I know all the rules by which it operates. Then, as proven by Godel, I can find a statement in arithmetic that the program P cannot prove (or disprove) but which I, following Godel’s reasoning, can show to be a true statement of arithmetic. Call this statement G(P). This means that I have done something that that computer program cannot do. I can show that G(P) is a true statement, whereas the program P cannot do so using the rules built into it.

Now, so far, this is no big deal. A programmer could easily add a few thing to the program–more axioms or rules of inference–so that in its modified form it can prove G(P). (The easiest thing to do would be simply to add G(P) itself to the program as a new axiom.) Let us call the new and improved program P’. Now P’ is able to prove the statement G(P), just as I can.

At this point, however, we are dealing with a new and different program, P’, and not the old P. Consequently, assuming I know that P’ is still a consistent program, I can find a Godel proposition for it. That is, I can find a statement, which we may call G(P’), that the program P’ can neither prove nor disprove, but which I can show to be a true statement of arithmetic. So, I am again ahead of the game…. This race could be continued forever.

[Italics are Spitzer’s]

Since human beings can indefinitely prove propositions that are not provable through the axioms from which they were derived, it would seem that human intelligence is indefinitely beyond any axiomatic or program-induced intellection.

Godel’s proof shows that human thinking is not only always beyond axioms, rules, and programs (to which artificial intelligence is limited), but also capable of genuinely originative creativity (that is, capable of thinking without deriving or making recourse to any prior axioms, rules, or programs). If hardwiring and programming cannot produce such originative creativity, what can? Longeran’s notion of being may prove to be the only tenable explanation–that is, a notion of complete intelligibility that stands as a horizon or backdrop to human understanding, inviting it, as it were, to go beyond what it understands, to the goal of complete intelligibility.

Since, as was said above, the source of the notion of complete intelligibility would seem to be the Idea of complete intelligibility (which can only occur the an unrestricted act of understanding), Longeran and other philosophers [Spitzer cites Karl Rahner (1968), Emerich Coreth (1968), and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington (1928).] have implied or asserted the presence of the divine essence (God) to human consciousness. For them (and for me), God not only exists, but is present to each and every one of us in every act of originative creativity. Even though God does not create for us, He is the invitation to and the condition necessary for originative creativity. This grounds the belief in human transcendentality (the presence of a “soul”).”