The Meaning of Sublime Oblivion

This fragmentary text was found by priests of Kǎichè, May He Live Forever, Great Lord of the Last Empire, in the Year 220 AF. It was contained in a far north KHE resilience that had survived the Flame Deluge that ended the Age of Legends. Further excavations are now ongoing at the site, under the supervision and protection of the Guardian of the 7th Chimera Horde (Mosike).

Modern natural science has hacked away at the idea of a Designer God as more and more phenomena have fallen prey to rational explanation. All the arguments for God’s existence yet dreamt of sink under one paradox or another – cosmology through infinite regression, ontology through elementary logic, and teleology through evolution – the latter of which has even displaced God as the cause of directionality in universal history. While Darwin originally applied it to explain the development of the biosphere (the thin layer of flaura and fauna that covers the Earth), it has since been extended into the boundless past-and-future (Vernadsky’s and de Chardin’s theories of universal evolution). However, evolution is as hopeless as traditional objects of belief when it comes to explaining truly deep metaphysical questions…like why are we? Science can keep shaving away swathes of time in its quest to get closer to the Big Bang, yet it is unimaginable that pure positivism could ever explain the reason behind it.

The only possible resolution is to posit that the world of forms, the realm of mathematics, is not only a deeper reality than what we perceive – it is the only reality. What we perceive as spacio-temporal reality is but an extraordinarily complex, by our standards, mathematical object. This is an incredible claim which will doubtless be met with incredible incredulity. While proving it is impossible, it should be accepted as axiomatic, internalized in the same way that we accept that two parallel lines never meet in Euclidean geometry. Science over the centuries has rejected old folkish beliefs that matter was continuous and elemental (earth, fire, water, etc) and replaced them with evidence that space-time is made up of discrete, if very small, units – cells, atoms, ‘chronons’. There seem to be fundamental limits on observation into the worlds that lie hidden within Planck distances and in between Planck time. So if the universe is discrete, it can in principle be run by a universal computer.

Rebuttals hinging on subjective experience can be side-stepped; as Kant argued in the Critique of Pure Reason, space and time are merely forms of intuition by which we perceive objects. So it goes for “consciousness”, an evolved construct that manifests itself as an emergent pattern. Evolution itself can be modelled from surprisingly simple rules – a simple and graphic way of looking at this is to imagine the universe as a huge, universal cellular automaton. A cellular automaton is a grid with cells, whose states (e.g. black or white) change depending on their neighbours after each iteration to create a new generation. Some can create order and complexity out of initial chaos, thus fulfilling a key criterion of evolution.

A consequence is that all that might be, is – for the world of forms, which we shall call the Void, has all possible mathematical objects. To cite the chapter What Might Be Is from the ancient book Sublime Oblivion:

In a sense, the Void fulfils all the criteria of God. Null and unity, it transcends the human imagination, for human minds are finite in scope. It sidesteps the ‘who created the creator?” paradox, for it is. And was, and will be, though being outside Time, its directionality becomes meaningless. It is zero and infinity of cardinal infinity. What might be, is. All possible cellular automata, all of which can be represented by Turing machines, exist and are. The Void is everywhere, in every one of us, and nowhere.

[missing text] … The next two chapters explore the consequences. Chapter 30, Struggle and Suicide, makes a point that all in life and in history can be reduced to struggle (belief – the illusion of meaning) and suicide (nihilism – the absence of meaning). Evolution is nothing more or less than the dialectic between struggle and suicide, yet they are intimately related, since suicide is only reached through struggle, while suicide is a “rejection of reason and an embrace of struggle”. But what exactly connects the two?

From Chapter 110, Sublime Games

One of the ways humans are unique is in their appreciation of aesthetics; Dostoevsky remarked that ‘beauty is mysterious as well as terrible’, and according to Schopenhauer reaches its pinnacle in the form of the sublime, a concept of greatness beyond mortal imagination…

Schopenhauer saw beauty (pleasure through peaceful contemplation of a benign thing) rising to sublimity (pleasure through seeing a vast, threatening thing capable of undoing the observer) and reaching a terrifying crescendo in the ‘fullest feeling of sublime’ – knowledge of the vastness of the universe in all its dimensions and the consequent insignificance of the observer.

However, the spiritual dialectic in history has also expanded human consciousness to the realm of the sublime! The Claws of Cthulthu [science] have torn humanity from the absolute; this struggle comes to an end with the sublime soul, which recognizes the Void as the Sublime, one and same. At the end we have Trinity: Struggle and Suicide, and the Sublime, which is the relation between them.

The soul of struggle knows what is good and what is evil and strives towards the Sublime, but only reaching it through suicide – the casting away of illusions and reconciliation with an absurd world, when according to Camus, humanity’s striving for unity meets the cold, indifferent universe. There can be no salvation for the (post-historical) sublime soul, for which there can be no meaning and no understanding of what is good and what is evil (for those are the products of history) – the only final resolution is a rejection of reason and reversion to struggle.

A profoundly pessimistic philosophy, maybe even a kind of nihilist manifesto? – but only to those still in the world of struggle.

These views are their fortune, for they are not afflicted with the existential despair of the sublime soul, which yearns for unity (due to its incomplete break from the world of struggle). Yet they are also their loss – the sublime soul knows that contemplation of a dancing flame, the ungentle seas and starry sky has value of its own. After all, gaming is fun.

On the Apocalypse: The end of the world holds a certain fascination to many people, even a seduction. The word itself is derived from a Greek word that literally means a ‘lifting of the veil’, a kind of relevation to a chosen elect (and a wonder of the mystery that is an integral part of Orthodox Christianity). The act in itself is beautiful, appealing to the human aesthetic. The other side of it is the eschaton, which refers to the actual end of the world, typically in a sudden and violent cataclysm.

This, however, is sublime – pleasure in seeing an unimaginable vast, malignant object that threatens to undo the observer, according to Schopenhauer; or as per Kant, while beauty is “connected with the form of the object”, the sublime “is to be found in a formless object” of absolute, boundless greatness. While beauty could be understood, the sublime “shows a faculty of the mind surpassing every standard of Sense”. Thus, a rose is beautiful; a tsunami or a nuclear detonation is sublime. Schopenhauer saw the fullest feeling of the sublime manifested in contemplation of the universe, its immensity and the consequent insignificance of the observer (a point made in Struggle and Suicide is that this reaches its logical conclusion when the sublime soul internalizes the Void). Thus, appreciation of the Apocalypse is merely a function of how well-developed one’s sence of aesthetics is.

Hence there is a Trinity in the Apocalypse – the revelation (lifting of the veil and enlightenment), the supremely sublime end of the world itself and the relation between them, which is the apokalupsis eschaton – the revelation at the end of the world. It is the act by which beauty morphs into sublimity; a majestic sublimation that lays bare the great sublime in all its consummate transcendence.

Comments

  1. “The only possible resolution is to posit that the world of forms, the realm of mathematics, is not only a deeper reality than what we perceive – it is the only reality. What we perceive as spacio-temporal reality is but an extraordinarily complex, by our standards, mathematical object. This is an incredible claim which will doubtless be met with incredible incredulity.”

    It would seem to me that this claim isn’t so much incredible as it is meaningless; “mathematical object”, in this sentence, signifies nothing.

    • That is correct. A mathematical object is indeed “nothing”. There is only ever the illusion of meaning, but most people would find this idea to be incredible since they are too deeply anchored within the illusion to realize that the illusion is in fact an absence.

      • Could you elaborate? Most people are somewhat mystified by mathematics, which can quickly lead to statements that are strictly speaking nonsensical. Mathematics only describes the world insofar we can find isomorphisms between mathematics (a language used to describe numbers) and aspects of the world; assigning any other meaning to it (or even speaking about mathematical objects an sich) seems like sophistry to me. That is to say, saying that reality is a “mathematical object” means as little as saying that reality is a “colourful object”, or “indubitable object”, or “sexy object”. But then, I generally think that Zen is mostly an amusing exercise in silliness.

        I’d love it if you could elaborate.

        • From What Might Be Is:

          According to Plato, there exists a separate world of ‘perfect forms’ or ‘universals’ that is the highest and most fundamental reality; our world contains but their imperfect imitations. This concept can be best explained through mathematics. Even if some global cataclysm were to wipe out humanity, the Theorem of Pythagoras will linger on unperturbed on some transcendent plane, ripe for the picking by the next species to evolve abstract reasoning skills. This is because the squares of the shorter sides of a right-angled triangle will always equal the square of the longer side under Euclidean geometry. I will call this Platonic realm the Void, for it is indeed void; it is an abstract, all-encompassing region of nothingness, zero and infinity. All possible mathematical objects and their unions exist in the Void.

          We can reason that the Void is. But there is no fathomable explanation for how and why what perceive as “reality”, is (that is, “reality” as how we intuitively perceive it, as a thing-in-itself essentially different from the world of forms).

          All the arguments for God’s existence that I know of sink under one paradox or another – cosmology through infinite regression, ontology through elementary logic and teleology through evolution. Constructing an equivalence between Nature or reality, and God, is nothing more than an exercise in tautology dating from Spinoza and as such tantamount to atheism. Those who cite Darwinian evolution or Hegelian dialectics as the answer do not realize that they are nothing more than a Mechanism, as hopeless as traditional objects of belief at explaining the deepest metaphysical questions.

          Thus the only resolution of the paradox is to posit that our World is part of the same space, on the same metaphysical plane, as the Void, wherein dwell all possible mathematical constructs.

          Adjectives like “colorful” or “sexy” are just inventions of the mind, (limited) categories of understanding through which the human consciousness perceives objects / mathematical constructs.

          • According to Plato, there exists a separate world of ‘perfect forms’ or ‘universals’ that is the highest and most fundamental reality; our world contains but their imperfect imitations.

            Plato is most likely wrong. Reality informs our abstractions; not vice versa. For example, about mathematics, you say:

            This concept can be best explained through mathematics. Even if some global cataclysm were to wipe out humanity, the Theorem of Pythagoras will linger on unperturbed on some transcendent plane, ripe for the picking by the next species to evolve abstract reasoning skills. This is because the squares of the shorter sides of a right-angled triangle will always equal the square of the longer side under Euclidean geometry.

            The reason why the Pythagorean theorem is likely to be rediscovered is not that it is true under Euclidean geometry; it is that Euclidean geometry, and with it the theorem of Pythagoras, is a useful tool to describe the world. The fact alone that the theorem is a true statement in a formal system is not enough; there must exist some correspondence, an isomorphism, between elements of the formal system and the world. We must be able to map parts of the world onto the formal system.

            An example:

            Let’s invent a simple formal system. Let us say:

            (Axiom) AB
            (rule of inference 1) if xB is a theorem, then xBA is also a theorem
            (rule of inference 2) if xA is a theorem, then xAB is also a theorem
            - where x stands for any string of As and Bs.

            It is easy to see that “ABABABAB” is a theorem of this system; yet you would never say that if we were to perish, “ABABABAB” will “linger on some transcendent plane” if we were to perish, waiting to be rediscovered by another civilisation. That is because it describes nothing; the formal system describes nothing.

            The reason that the theorem of Pythagoras is likely to be deduced by another civilisation is that Euclidean geometry is such a useful tool for describing and manipulating the world (two actions which we can assume any intelligence would perform). The denizens of a non-Euclidean Universe would perhaps come up with Euclidean geometry (the same way we came up with theirs; by a slight variation of a proposition which seems to hold for our own world), but the theorem of Pythagoras would just remain a curiosity unless a meaning for it were found (just like we discovered that one type of non-Euclidean geometry describes the surface of a sphere).

            Mathematics, by itself, is meaningless. But, it does describe numbers (that is why it was developed in the first place), and numbers are things we use extensively in our lives to describe and manipulate the world. Mathematics gains meaning by virtue of the fact that there exists a correspondence between it and the way numbers seem to behave in our world; not vice versa. And interestingly enough, we now know (since Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, in fact) that mathematics is in complete, i.e. there are true statements of number theory which cannot be derived with mathematics at all.

            Finally, I think it is a mistake to think that numbers are somehow more abstract than colours, or for that matter, trees. As soon as you aim your attention at something in the world, think about it, talk about it, you generate an abstraction. When you point to a tree and call it a tree, you’re painting with the broadest possible brushstrokes. You are ignoring the fact that the tree consists of an untold number of cells, which consist of molecules, which consist of atoms, which themselves consist of subatomic particles, etc. You ignore the fact that the tree does not stay exactly the same for more than a picosecond (let us forget that the notion of “sameness” itself is a deep philosophical quagmire), and that you aren’t even experiencing the tree directly, but rather through a medium of photons. You do not have any of these things in mind when you point to a tree; you strip away everything but a vague notion of shape, and perhaps colour, and call that a tree. It is in no way different from stripping away everything but the notion of number. And, just like we can use language to talk about the trees of this world, we can use the language of mathematics to talk about the numbers of this world, too.

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