/ Social Epistemology /
Can humans understand the god among them? If there were a god? among them.
I want to scribble a few notes. I’d need several life times to do the subject justice: or, I’d need to encounter at least one person who understood more than two percent of what I was talking about to have a chance of saying it right, no matter how many life times got squandered.
Only stunted imaginations believe they could “prove” anything.
Proof is always based on a set of assumptions at least some of which are not only unproved but unprovable.
It’s hard enough for us to understand a hug from a chimp: do we really think we can understand the god?
or the genius?
or the mutant? (Or the moron?)
Or the god’s sacrifice?
Or the god’s demand for adoration?
I see that Pythagoras was capable of reason. I believe I am capable of enough reason to see that Pythagoras was capable of reason. and Kepler. I see that Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Mandelbrot were capable of enough reason to see that Pythagoras was capable of reason. Though I couldn’t prove it.
St Paul talks about reason, maybe Jesus did too: was Paul capable of enough reason to see that Pythagoras was capable of reason? Was Jesus capable of enough reason to see that Darwin was capable of enough reason to imagine Eve biologically as well as mythically?
These days I don’t believe Paul was capable of enough reason to tell Eve from Adam.
Scientists (and novelists) for the last generation or so have hypothsized a woman living around one hundred and fifthy thousand years ago whose femaleness ovulated in secret: Eve, the mother of our species. Adam would not have known when she was fertile. Eve’s mother would not have known when she, Eve, was fertile. Eve herself didn’t know. When Eve’s mother entered estrus every ape in the troop knew she was fertile: her vulva would have swollen, flared a bright red, wafted ripe vagina fragrance all over the neighborhood. Adam and every other male lined up to take a turn. Other apes wouldn’t have queued up for turns: it would have been helter-skilter free-for-all.
So: Eve’s mother was of the old species: flagrant ovulation; Eve was the first, first we can sensibly hypothesize, of a new species, Homo sapiens, who could ovulate in secret.
Meantime, I straddle points: Was communication possible between Eve and her mother?
Back to biology: Adam didn’t respond to Eve once or twice a year; Adam responded to her every minute of every hour of every day. We call it love. We call it monogamous (or mostly-monogamous) coupling. Eve’s fertility wasn’t broadcast; it was laser-beamed: one female, one male-target. Poor Adam had to tup Eve a few times a week if not a few times a day. Then he had to run off and fetch food sufficient for her and her nursing of Abel. Formerly Adam only had to feed himself!
Simultaneously, communication: When Eve talked, insofar as Eve talked, would Adam have understood what she was saying? (Kepler’s students didn’t know what he was saying: did Kepler’s boss? the guy who’d hired him? Did Kepler’s superior at the school understand a word he said?
Jesus had disciples, at least twelve: don’t forget Mary. Did Peter understand what Jesus said? Did Peter understand what Mary said? Mary Magdaline? or any other Mary? Did Judas?
(I love the Kazantzakis novel where Judas is the only one to understand half of what Jesus said!) (Jesus said to Judas that that was why it had to be Judas that betrayed him: betrayal by Peter (who did, also, betray him) wouldn’t have had the same heft, the same oomph.
Anyway, I trust you see that I’m casting doubt not only on the reliability of communication but on the possibility of communication. And that relates to the problem of what meaning “proof” can have in a species in which vocalizations are common but communication doubtful: maybe Pythagoras could have knocked Jacob Bronowski’s socks off, as he then knocked mine off, but so what if all we do as a result is melt the arctic, pollute the seas.
My Sunday school encouraged me to believe that we all understood Jesus, that Peter and Mary and Paul and Pilat all understaood him: that the problem was one of sin, not of intelligence.
Btw, I imagine Jesus praying as much as a Muslim Arab prays, praying to God. I imagine God talking to Jesus whether or not Jesus was praying. But: can I prove that God understood Jesus? Can I prove that Jesus understood God? I can’t prove that Adam understood God. or Noah. or Abraham!
Moses: did God lock him out because of his stellar understanding?
Wait: back to the subject of whether who understands whom: the teacher teaches the kid Pythagoras’ theorem. Of course the kid doesn’t understand it. Neither does the teacher. Neither does the teacher, or the kid, understand that neither the teacher nor the kid nor Keploer’s boss understands Pythagoras’ theorem.
Btw, that guy who set fire to Pythagoras’ school, the jealous guy, the one passed over: could Pythagoras prove that he didn’t understand the theorem? Could I prove that Pythagoras didn’t understand the guy?
I sent my creation story to Harpers: after having sent it to Playboy, Esquire, the New Yorker, the Atlantic … Willie Morris’s Harpers staff later told me that they liked it, accepted it, wanted to publish it soon. But Mailer’s four-letter shanahigans got them all fired, all Morris’ decisions reversed: so: it was a reject, again.
Still: can I prove that Willie Morris understood it? No. Neither can I prove that he or they didn’t.
My PhD committee interrupted my presentation of my thesis on Shakespeare. Did they understand what I was saying? I can’t prove that they didn’t. I can’t prove that Pilat did, or didn’t, understand what was at issue with Jesus overturning the money tables.
Imagine God at Judgment: imagine that the priests would actually shut up and let God speak. Imagine that they wouldn’t interrupt, at least for the first five minutes, whether or not they were understanding.
Can you imagine that?
Now imagine that before five minutes pass, God says That’s enough: I’m putting you all in hell. I’m putting you in hell because not three of you understood three things that Jesus said, or Og before him, or Francis since, or Ivan Illich, or Paul Knatz …
If all the priests then interrupt will it become as though God hadn’t said it?
I don’t think God has troubled to speak since forty-five years ago. Why bother? He knows what will happen.
And putting us in hell too is a waste of time: leave us alone, we’re putting ourselves there, almost as fast as possible.
Notice, Eve altered how she advertised her fertility. She didn’t hire a lawyer, bribe a judge, she didn’t call a cop. There was no political coercion enforcing Eve’s claim on Adam. No courthouse, no church. She did her own fishing. If the hook didn’t stay set, Adam was free.
Still I can imagine Adam’s maintaining his habit of attraction to Eve even after she’s ovulated her last egg. Her social security was volunteered by the tax payer.
There are problems, I know, with much of what I’ve started babbling above. For example, I say I don’t think God has spoken to man for the last forty-five years. (He spoke forty-five years ago every time Ivan Illich opened his mouth, and also when I offered the Free Learning Exchange. Ah, but since then. He’s spoken to me, several more times: I think; but I can’t prove it. As my senses deteriorate I’m not sure what I’m seeing, or hearing, or understanding: or believing.
Careful now though: I don’t go so far as to admit that there’s any possibility that everything the government says, or the media, is anything but lies, lies, lies.
I’ll babble some related things under Christian Complicity.