Last week I posted a thought in which music in major and minor keys is used as an analogy for ways of thinking or of seeing. I did not develop the analogy; just hinted at it. Now I will develop it a little.
The sort of activity that tries to “turn minor chords into major chords” in this analogy is any activity where a naturalistic or scientistic world-view is imposed on the very framework of a discussion, so that a view which does not accept that world-view is prevented from even being expressed in its own terms. Here I am using the word ‘scientistic’ not for science, but for a philosophical position which puts analysis and dissection into low-level physical causes at the centre of all discourse, as if that were the most important thing, or only way of getting at truth.
It is not the only way, as any poet knows. We also get at truth by bringing together disparate images and ideas and juxtaposing them, like a collage, and inviting each other to see.
We also get at truth by allowing the natural world to impress us with its pure is-ness, without regard to how it works.
A great composer reaches into truth and distills it into music, somehow telling us something about mercy without even using words at all.
In all these examples, analysis into cause and effect is irrelevant.
The determination of fairness and justice in human affairs also resists being broken down into many small details and applying a formula. Here, analysis into cause and effect is only part of what is needed.
Of course a purely naturalistic understanding of things will recognise the richness of the natural world and of the human brain and of social interactions. It will say that that is full of interesting and fulfilling things to discover. It will also say that this collection of visible tangible stuff is all there is. This is an opinion that one can recognise, and one ought to afford it some respect. However, if someone has this opinion then they need to realise that they can’t expect others to explain them out of it using purely analytical language—the language of breaking things down into simpler things. This is because the type of explanation we want to offer involves the other kind of making sense: the type that brings disparate things together into a whole, and invites us to see.
We attempt this way of making sense again and again, and the whole that we thus begin to grasp is never fully satisfactory. It always points beyond itself. So we get this wonderful idea, the idea of a kind of infinity, or a meaning beyond what is expressible by anyone, a beautiful coming-together, a whole sense, one that we never capture but which we reach for and look to and recognize in gradually fuller ways. This whole sense is not primarily about bits and pieces and equations and so on; it is about love and compassion and beauty and justice and mercy and so on. But we can’t show each other this truth by first placing ourselves above it and dissecting it into simple bits and pieces, because that is precisely what it is not.
Now, one word for something that you look down upon, something you entertain with a view to whether or not it will serve you, is the word “hypothesis”. If you say something is a “hypothesis” then you are not sure if it is true, and you are going to decide if it is true on the basis of other things. But what if the thing you are trying to think about is the standard of truth itself? What if you are trying to think about that? Why, then you are not looking down at something, because you are not looking at something that can be looked down on.
So now we come back to my musical analogy. The one who insists that minor chords first be turned into major chords before the music be heard is someone who refuses to recognize this difference between what we assess and what assesses us. This is one who reframes everything into their own preferred language, sometimes doing this so immediately that they are quite unconscious of even the possibility of a mistake.
The classic, ultimate, and definitive example of this re-framing, this attempt to force a square peg into a round hole, is contained in the phrase “the God hypothesis”. This phrase takes the word which religion adopts for ‘that reality from which all learning comes’, and forces it into another role, a role which such a reality can never be in, the role of ‘hypothesis’. Saying “the God hypothesis” is like saying “the square circle” and it is even more like saying “this human slave”. It is like saying “this human slave” because as soon as you refer to someone as a slave, you have already failed to recognize their humanity. If you use the word “human” this way, then you are not using it the way other people use it; you have re-defined it to suit your own purposes. The phrase itself already betrays the mindset, the refusal to see what a human is. The same goes for the re-definition of the word “God” that has already gone on as soon as anyone says “the God hypothesis”. That phrase is not the language of learning or of understanding or of wisdom or of listening or intelligence; it is the language of dismissiveness and self-satisfaction. It is that blanket inability to learn which comes from deciding that you already know. It is the attempt to put reality itself at your beck and call.