Sunday, December 13, 2009

Modern Emanation

Emanation is...
Emanation is the streaming of existence from some single source. It is the sun lighting the moon, and the moon flooding the earth and reflecting in the sea water of the bay. That water must be our soul, fluid and always moving.

In the moonlit water I watch myself until we get far enough from shore to use the motor. Then the boat tips up, and the air fills with the faint smell of gasoline. We leave the harbour. I lose sight of the moonlit beach as we go out into the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

During the Christianization of the Western world and the collapse of the Roman empire, there was a philosopher named Plotinus. He studied Plato and Aristotle, and taught them to his pupils. Plotinus wanted a certainty separate from the crumbling ideals of the crumbling empire in which he lived. So he fixed his sight on the Philosophers ideal, the immutable one. This is Plato's Good, Heraclitus' logos, Parmenides Being, and the water of Thales.

Plotinus says that the One is the well-spring of all things, and that all things are part of the One. Think of the Universe, then the galaxy, then our solar-system, then the place you are right now. These are different levels of particularization but it is all the Universe. The One is like the Universe. Plotinus says that the One thinks of itself and from that gives rise to particularization in the form of the Active intellect. The Active intellect contemplates it's existence and as such gives rise to Anima Mundi, the world soul. The world soul at each particular point is one of us. The souls of creatures are just the world soul experienced from particular points of view. Now the souls of creatures thinking themselves give rise to the material world, but the material world cannot give rise to anything because it is too particularized to contemplate itself.

Plotinus wrote the Enneads. His manner of thinking and writing is highly esoteric so although I gather that exploring them is worthwhile it is also nearly impossible. Even his students, after having spent years studying under him, could not always figure out what he was going on about.

Apparently emanation comes into conflict with evolution. This is obviously false: Emanation is a non-temporal process. We can deny it on the ground that it is bizarre, and on the ground that souls do not exist, but we cannot deny it on the ground that things evolve. The issue is that of causal process. Evolution requires causality. But the material emanation obviously displays change, which we can observe and categorize. The fact that scientific knowledge is not on this view considered as real philosophical or religious knowledge is a ground for irritation but it does not necessitate conflict.

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