Ep. 21 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Martin Luther and Descartes

Episode 21 - Martin Luther and Descartes

My Notes:

  • Scientific Revolution: Scientific description of reality had effect that most of sensory experience is illusory in nature
  • Galileo; math as the language of reality. Discovery of inertial motion.
  • We become odd islands of meaning and purpose in a vast ocean of meaningless purposeless motion
  • Aristotlean idea that structure of experience and reality conform has been ruptured. Trapped behind veils of illusion, disconnected from the world
  • God become more a matter of will.

Martin Luther

  • Influenced by tradition of self as radically self negating, inner conflict at the core of spirituality
  • Influenced by Augustine’s ideas of self-depravity and our inability to achieve mystical union with God unaided
  • Paul’s ideas about our inner conflict parallel inner conflict of God’s love and anger towards us
  • Luther terrified of God’s wrath
  • As the self is enfolded and obsessed with itself cut off from God and reality
  • Self-destructive process that he sees as the essence of the self
  • Pride and rebellion against God: we are intrinsically self-obsessed in self-aggrandizing and self-destructive obsession
  • ex: we have patterns of behaviour that are self-destructive

( Oh yes!)

  • Step back, make an effort to change, break the pattern, then against your will, caught in the same destructive pattern again.
  • Deep truth in Luther - unconscious cognition can be beset by these parasitic processes that have a life of their own and can consume us.
  • Luther convinced can’t do anything to save himself.
  • Leads to interpretation of Paul at odds with Catholic church:
    • Not saved by faith alone. Faith becomes complete acceptance of God’s saving grace
    • Sense of participatory knowing gone - sense of what it is like to be you , your sense of self is illusionary, reduced to the acceptance of a proposition. Not based on argument because that would be mind participating in your salvation
    • Means that what have to radically accept is nothing you can do
    • From God’s side: God’s act of saving you is arbitrary: nothing you do.
    • Look at debate between Luther and Erasmus. Erasmus proposed synergy. Luther rejects that. God’s saving is completely arbitrary
    • God’s will supersedes his reason
    • Arbitrary act of will that saves us.
    • Irony: Luther trying to rescue us from fact that we are obsessed with ourselves, source of deep suffering. In his endeavours to deal with that leads to we are inherently worthless
    • Arbitrary unearned regard.
    • Leads to narcicism.
    • Being trained to see ourselves as wretched, only solution is unearned positive regard
    • See it in our social media.
  • Luther protests against the Catholic church. Different doctrine of salvation
  • Church thinks it’s tradition matters for human salvation
  • Luther: history and tradition don’t matter. He is trapped by his own mind. All that matters is individual conscience: (knowing yourself)
  • One thing we know is ourselves
  • Luther refuses to recant vaporizes individual conscience as final authority spiritual life
  • Cult of authenticity, being true to yourself is the ultimate authority. The connection to reality has been superseded by being true to yourself. Cultural grammar training us in narcissism
  • Says monasteries should be shut down
  • Institutions: Knowledge: Universities. Wisdom: monasteries
  • Monastery places premium on self transcendent: that’s the grand illusion for Luther
  • Sin of pride.
  • If lose the participatory sense of faith, then idea of self-transcendence disappears. Monasteries being shut down
  • Universities now need something else - transform people’s lives: State

(really?)

  • Knowledge not linked to wisdom but politics.
  • Bacon: knowledge is power
  • Loss of all the psychotechnologies of wisdom
  • Don’t know where to go for wisdom: Sapiential obsolescence of our knowledge
  • Knowledge being bound to the machinery of state and politics
  • Hard to distinguish politics from knowledge.

Protestant Reformation

  • Priesthood of all believers. No mediator between you and god.
  • Luther argues everyone has equal spiritual authority
  • Rejects hierarchical structure
  • Proposes democracy in the church
  • But thinks no democracy outside of church
  • Peasant revolt in Germany, sides with the Princes
  • Outside the church don’t know who saved and not saved. That’s where God’s wrath. Have to keep in check. Dark aspect of Luther
  • Beginning of separation of church and state
  • Further drives secularization of the culture
  • Problem is nothing can do to know that you’re saved. Leads to anxiety
  • Can work hard to do well in the world. If succeeding in the world sign God approves: Protestant Work Ethic.
  • Don’t use wealth to promote myself - that would be a sign of pride.
  • Advent of capitalism.
  • He thought everyone would read bible the same way
  • What shocked Luther is that Protestantism quickly fragments. When give people no authority other than on conscience, separate from tradition, idea that they will all agree is a ridiculous idea
  • What happens, and what continues to happen today, is ongoing fragmentation of Protestantism
  • Narcissism of small difference
  • Have to find that piece of evidence that shows you are unique. That shows God chosen you, unearned specialness
  • God withdrawing. God become more an arbitrary will in a world that is a battle of will
  • Shakespeare: Plumbing the depths of the Human psyche - how absent God is from that world
  • Supernatural absurd and thwarts human activity
  • Protestant reformation is fundamental for grammar of how we understand ourselves.
  • We still carry that grammar around. Have to work hard. If we don’t work hard will be revealed how worthless we are. We hunger for that unearned positive regard. That mark of uniqueness that shows we are chosen from the damned. Adored for simply who we are.
  • Scientific revolution, advent of capitalism, Protestant reformation all mutually reinforcing one another. Science cutting off from the world, PR orphaning from history, YOU have to bear it all, all while being told don’t have the resources or capacity to do it.
  • You’re a nothing that has to bear it all.
  • Time of a lot of existential dread.

Pascal :

  • Mathematical genius
  • Looks out at the cosmos: those infinite spaces terrify me.

Descartes:

  • Wants to take this grammar of the scientific recvolution, math as the marker of reality, wants to come up with on his own, solution to this emerging meaning crisis
  • Invents a new psychotechnology, powerful, internalized to our cognition
  • Lying in bed, looking at the tiles, fly around the room. Notes that if he counts the number of tiles can come up with three numbers plot wherever fly is in the room: invents cartesian graphing: x,y,z
  • Takes algebra and invents graphing
  • Standardized strategy for information processing
  • Graphing is epitome of science. One of the most powerful and pervasive psychotechonolgies
  • Analytical geometry, any geometric shape can be converted into an algebraic equation
  • Equations capture reality.
  • Radical idea: we can grasp the world with equations
  • E=mc2 captures something deep about the world.
  • Enormous power at our fingertips
  • Seems to suggest puts us in touch with fibre of reality - but not from experience, not participatory : propositional, abstract, symbolic
  • Brings radical idea: thinks this is how I can understand the meaning crisis.
  • Meaning crisis for D is a lack of, search for certainty
  • Confomity in the Aristotlean sense, parspectival conformity replaced by propositional certainty
  • Math gives certainty, cuts through all the illusions
  • Descartes thinks the answer to the crisis is to transform our minds into machines of certainty. Minds that will only work mathematically and logically in terms of equations
  • Turn myself into a machine that represents the world through abstract symbolic propositions, and manipulate those propositions
  • Address the anxiety of the age to adopt a method that turns us into computer.
  • Reasoning reduced to computation
  • If can make our minds into computational machines will give us certainty
  • Cartesian grammar: we seek certainty, we won’t believe anything until it’s certain.
  • Luther: we must accept it without any evidence or reason
  • Both pathological: if remove people’s agency with how they come to their beliefs you undermine any meaning in life they might possess
  • Pursuit of certainty: science can’t provide certainty
  • Descartes method results in increased sense of disconnectedness.
  • Failure of the project of certainty

Hobbes

  • What this means is that cognition is computation
  • Ratiocination
  • Takes a new idea: matter is a substance. It resists my will.
  • Matter is inert, resistant, really there. Push on it.
  • Matter is real: what if built a material machine that did computation
  • If can make such a machine will have made a mind: he’s proposing artificial intelligence.
  • Hobbes kills the soul