Reading the World-Word & intellectio divina

In all of your rambling, though you travel every path, you will never reach the boundaries of the soul, so great is its Lógos.

When Heraclitus issues the characteristically inspired dictum above, he lends his voice to the Lógos whose order it is that this pre-Socratic Ephesian should be amongst the first to declare it. Heraclitus continues:

Although this Lógos is ultimate, yet men are unable to understand it – not only before hearing it, but even after they have heard it for the first time. That is to say, although all things come to pass in accordance with this Lógos, men seem to be quite without any experience of it…

Thus, Heraclitus becomes one of the heralds of the doctrine of the Lógos. The essence of this doctrine is that the human soul and the world both participate and reveal the same Lógos “[in accordance to which] all things come to pass.” To experience the Lógos is to recognise that reality is not an impenetrable mechanism constructed by a transcendent Watchmaker, nor is it a phenomenal representation of a transcendental “thing-in-itself,” nor is it a super-complicated amalgamation of virtual particles and wave-equations. Instead, the human soul and the world are related essentially, as intellect to intelligibility. As a text has the potential to mean, so the reader has the potential to understand. These potencies are reciprocally lending. Thus, as the sun creates the eye so that the light itself may become visible, so intellect and world each achieve completion in the other. In this way, the world-word is waiting for the human being to pronounce it.

The doctrine of the Lógos, first enunciated by Heraclitus, unfolded during the era of high philosophy in Greece and achieved a grand synthesis with the Semitic tradition in the warnings of John the Baptist, and in the writings of John the Evangelist (who, like Heraclitus, was also a resident of Ephesus). The Lógos is eternal, and therefore the doctrine of it persists to our day, in spite of several centuries of nominalistic contravention in the name of scientific understanding. The latter is often spectres in sheeps’ clothing, as it were, or rather schematic maps mistaken for true territory. In the most concrete sense: what is speciously conceived of as knowledge has very little to do with the Lógos, but rather specifically countermands it under the pretence of real comprehension. We might call this oppositional impulse “the doctrine of ignoramus et ignorabimus.” As several examples of the latter, one might cite the Nominalism of the medieval Schoolmen, Humean Scepticism, Kantian Transcendental Idealism, and Emil du Bois-Reymond’s notion of “the seven world-riddles” that he exposed before the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1880. First amongst these riddles was “the ultimate nature of matter and energy,” which the proponents of this world-conception nevertheless set forth to this day as the very fundament of reality. Though the naïve scientific optimist would expect that a great deal of progress should have been achieved in regard to de Bois-Reymond’s world riddles, this would be incorrect. Instead, this “ultimate nature” appears only to have receded on the horizon of human apprehension, as evidenced by the experiments into the quantum mechanics of atomic and superpositional particles in the last century. Physicist Stephen Weinberg summarised the paradoxical post-modern condition in 1993 when he wrote that “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” Only an age whose technological arrogance had rendered it utterly deaf to the teaching of the Lógos would imagine that “comprehension” and “meaninglessness” are not mutually exclusive.

Given an appreciation of the general state of knowledge today, that astrology has been almost entirely replaced by astronomy amongst mainstream academics and thinkers will no longer appear as an historical happenstance. Instead, such a change appears as a natural expression of the anti-Lógos trend of conflating nomenclature for understanding, or attempting to divorce the word from its meaning. It is symptomatic of our moment that one may consult the most excruciatingly-detailed maps of star clusters in unfathomably-distant galaxies, and yet “remain quite without any experience” of the Lógos that surrounds one immediately. The speech of our nearest cosmic neighbors is also ignored even as we continue to probe them with spacecraft and radio-telescopes. In essence, humanity has forfeit meaning for nomenclature, experience for calculation. The same trend expresses itself in diverse fields, and in truth, we should really call biology “bionomy,” since the taxonomical system of Linnaeus is at its basis an elaborate system of nomenclature, which only seems to be more than that because it dazzles the onlooker with its magisterial Latinate register. Psychology too would be more appropriately understood as “psychonomy” when one considers that most of its schools are content to codify various possible disorders and neuroses without the slightest inkling of their philosophical or cosmic context, not to mention that some of its schools even operate under the ideal of practicing “psychology without a soul” (e.g. F. A. Lange, the Behaviourist movement, etc…). Even Carl Jung, arguably that discipline’s most gnostic figure, remained nevertheless a devoted Kantian (at least in his public disclosure) through all of his inquiry and thus upheld a rigorous epistemological dualism between the phenomenal experience of archetypes and their unknowable metaphysical nature. Plainly stated, to conceive of an unconscious that is the source of conscious experience stands in fundamental contradiction to the doctrine of the Lógos because it uses the capacity for conception itself to conceive of, and define as unknowable, that very capacity which it takes to be its own cause. The only sound conception of an unconscious would posit it as a language one had not yet mastered, or a book one had not yet opened. One would relate to it, therefore, not as “the unconscious,” but as “the-not-yet-conscious;” the “conscious in potentia,” thus implying that consciousness of it might subsequently become actual, but unconscious qua unconscious does not exist.

In light of the ignorabimus dicta above, and in spite of the truly astonishing advancement in breadth of knowledge that humanity has achieved over the last millennia (and especially in the centuries since the Scientific Revolution), such progress has come at the expense of depth in understanding. One can confidently identify a defining trend of modern intellectual development as coming to know more and more about less and less. This is a pithy expression of a general process that is the result of approaching all fields of knowledge through abstraction and analysis. By abstraction, one means to designate that intellectual operation whereby a single aspect of a given being is isolated from its context. This operation in itself is necessary for the deed of cognition as such. It quickly leads to perplexity, however, when these abstractions, whose natural habitat is the healthy intellect, are subsequently hypostasised into physical reality. In practice, it is almost always the value-laden and qualitative aspects of a given being or object that are discarded as “Secondary qualities” (Galileo Galilei and John Locke) or “subjective epiphenomena” (the majority of modern physicists, philosophers, and neuroscientists). Following this process of isolating the measurable aspects of a given being, one then conceives of the remaining abstraction as though it were the same as the integral original. In other words, these chimerical pseudo-entities are often taken to be more real than the actual entities that were their source and without which the former could not have been derived in the first place. Thus, the usual result of abstraction is a world of calculable ghosts, since only the quantitative aspects of being are given epistemological credence. If this seems natural to our sensibility, it is only because we have become so accustomed to our theories that we imagine them to be facts. The organising ideas through which we see the world become ideologies in the moment they are not experienced from their own side.

With the term analysis in this context, one means to designate the tendency of modern thought to compulsively anatomise what is whole into its atomic constituents. This is undertaken with the arbitrary assumption that the discrete components of a given being or phenomenon are more real than the being or phenomenon itself as it immediately presents. Perhaps the most revealing demonstration of the error in such a way of thinking is for the reader to reflect on her own activity of reading these very words. In the same instant one attempts to penetrate behind the written language in the hopes of discovering something more real than the words on this page, one has been seduced by the same ignis fatuus that deceives so many of the cleverest modern minds. Understanding is the result of experiencing what is apparent with increasing intensity and from multiple perspectives, not from ignoring what is manifest and expecting to achieve knowledge through extension, by anatomising it.

As indicated above, we stand collectively today in the condition of ignoramus et ignorabimus. Knowledge, for modern consciousness, is only nominally so. It is really “meaningless comprehension,” or “comprehension of meaninglessness,” either of which is obviously no comprehension at all. It is pure extrapolation and extension with no regard for the world’s intensive dimension, without which the former could not for a moment exist. “How did it come to this?” one may wonder?

In the same way that the fragment of Heraclitus above signalled the revelation of the Lógos in the evolution of human consciousness, so the words below from the year 1605 signal a nascent impulse that would soon set itself in definite opposition to it. In The Advancement of Learning, Lord Bacon of Verulam, father of the scientific method, pens the following ex cathedra proclamation:

Natural Science doth make inquiry, and take consideration of the same natures [as Philosophy]: but how? Only as to the Material and Efficient causes of them, and not as to the Forms.

Thus, of the Four Causes delineated by “the master of those who know,” all but those which are sensible, accidental, and quantifiable are discarded with the advent of the Scientific Revolution. In other words, the new learning will concern itself only with external and mechanical relation and ignore all those relations that make the world-processes intelligible. To briefly recapitulate Aristotle’s conception of the four modes of causality, one may imagine a statue of the Archangel Michael. The Material Cause is precisely the matter of which the being is constituted. This statue happens to be made of iron and thus iron is the Material Cause. The Efficient Cause appears as the force that was marshalled in order to effect the realisation of Material Cause; in this case, the sculptor’s brawn supplied the Efficient Cause. The Formal Cause was the design, or the intelligence that informed the application of this force. In this case, the Formal Cause was the idea of the archangel as it stood the sculptor’s mind. Lastly, the Final Cause is same as the purpose of all art, which is ultimately ineffable as the Divine Name, but approximately: to make manifest the spiritual ideal in perishable matter, and reciprocally, to render matter transparent to the light of the idea. In short the Final Cause of art is the imitatione Elohim et Christi.

After this short explanation of Aristotle’s conception of causality, we can reconsider the significance of Lord Bacon’s decree. The scientific method that Bacon sets forth shall concern itself with the accidental causes at the exclusion of the essential ones. Specifically, the Formal and Final Causes will forthwith be ignored by scientific inquiry. This by edict of Lord Bacon and in the interest of “advancement of learning.” Importantly, Formal and Final Causes are the modes of causality that make senses of astrological relations. Without an understanding of Formal causality (or causa exemplaris as St. Aquinas expressed it) and capable only to conceive of causality in terms of matter and force, one is compelled to resort to all manner of speculative contortions and intellectual acrobatics to make sense of planetary influences, which any rational mind is bound to discard immediately. With this constraint on one’s conception of causality, anyone who fails to regard astrology as a pseudoscience has de facto capitulated his reason to arbitrary mysticism.

One could not, within reason, regard the father of formal logic, Aristotle, as a nebulous mystic. Nevertheless, in his treatise De caelo, the great philosopher writes unequivocally that “we are inclined to think of the stars as mere bodies . . . completely soulless…whereas one ought to think of them as acting and living.” Obviously Aristotle had considered the conception of stars as mere bodies and rejected it. Thus, it will not do to discount Aristotle’s conclusion as the pronouncement of a primitive mind. Rather than rejecting Aristotle’s view on the grounds that it does not according with the view espoused by modern scientists, we must seek to understand the thought-process that gave birth to such a conclusion and consider the possibility that Aristotle understood certain aspects of the world which our modern standpoint obscures.

The principles of Formal and Final causation, as we delineated above, offer one example of a thought-process that could provide such an insight. Aristotle’s conception of hylomorphism offers another method to understand how the human soul participates the planets, and also how modern science adopts an apriori stance of refusal towards considering this relationship. Simply put, every being has two aspects: “Matter” and “Form,” as hyle and morphe are ordinarily translated. These principles basically express the Material and Formal Causes above, respectively, though with an added dimension of potentia (Greek dynamis) and actualitas (Greek energeia or entelekheia). Matter is not to be imagined, in the manner of Democritus, as indivisible little pellets of substance, nor in the manner of modern physicists, as probability equations. Rather, matter, in the Aristotelian conception, is the be conceived of as potential, possibility, or latency. The Philosopher’s own word for this aspect was dynamis. The recognition of this word’s English cognate lends new resonance to Nietzsche’s famous enunciation: “I am no man, I am dynamite!” The dynamic latency of the soul springs to life in reality when it is fructified by a Form, or a morphe, or a causa exemplaris. In this way, we can conceive of the archetypes of astrology lighting the fuse of our experiential potential, and also patterning the latter according to their Forms.

To understand the fact of the Lógos is to conceive of multitudinous facts as letters in this original and ultimate Word. In essence, it is to recognise that the world is intelligible. The latter is precisely what all anti-Lógos doctrines deny. Scholastic Nominalists, for example, imagine that things exist eo ipsis, to which they could then attach accidental designations. In this regard, they fail to recognise that it is only in virtue of the original intelligibility of the entity in question that allows them to recognise it altogether. Thus the “true name” of a thing is precisely the idea of it, its species intelligibilis, without which there would not be a recogniseable thing to give subsequent names to in the first place. David Hume, in a similar festival of anti-logic, arbitrarily determined to ignore causal relations in the single place where they presented themselves—his intellect—and then concluded that the former were unreal because of the simple fact that they failed to manifest according to his absurd expectation that they should appear precisely were they can not (i.e. uninterpreted sensory observation). This is no less illogical than to claim a text is illegible merely because one refuses to read it. Similarly, and in an Idealistic elaboration of Humean Skepticism, Immanuel Kant posited an epistemological divide between reality and experience of it, failing to recognise that experience is the manner in which reality presences itself. As Heraclitus indicated, the Lógos of the soul has no boundaries, and neither does the Lógos of the world. Thus they are coincident. An hypostasis of “things-in-themselves” outside of experience confounds the principle of sufficient reason; one outsmarts oneself, as it were. In a letter to his secretary, Johann Eckermann, Johann W. von Goethe described the tendency of the learned to seek the essence of a being everywhere other than where it most immediately discloses itself:

But as a rule men are not satisfied to behold an Urphänomenon (i.e. “original” or “archetypal phenomenon”). They think there must be something beyond. They are like children who, having looked into a mirror, turn it around to see what is on the other side.

Goethe’s metaphor necessarily strikes a resonance with Plato’s Parable of the Cave, and therefore a few words may be in order on this subject. As Goethe’s fellow Romantic polymath S. T. Coleridge once remarked, “all men are born as either Platonists or Aristotelians…” though not necessarily good ones, he might have added. Indeed, in the Kantian Idealism and Humean Skepticism above, we find representatives of distorted Platonism and Aristotelianism, respectively, in the typical forms of their ametropia. The former is pathologically far-sighted in that it tends to overlook what is obvious in attempts to descry a transcendent reality beyond appearances. Decadent Aristotelianism, by contrast, tends towards intellectual myopia in that it fixates on the sensory half of a reality that is whole, each part reciprocally lending. As we noted in the first paragraph of this exposition, the doctrine of the Lógos reveals that the world is essentially intelligible. In this regard it is a text. In principle, which is to say, what makes a text a text, is that it possesses the potential to mean. The reader, conversely, possesses the potential to understand. Each latency, however, becomes actual only when it is taken up my its counterpart. Thus, the text’s meaning occurs in the reader’s experience. Conversely, a particular text actualises the erstwhile potential understanding of the reader. Intelligibility is in potentia what understanding is in actualitas. Decadent Aristotelianism, which assumes such titles as Skepticism, Nominalism, Empiricism, or Scientism, etc…mistakenly cleaves to the textual aspect of reality, supposing withal that the letter explains itself. This is incorrect, however, because letters are mere scratchmarks except in virtue of the word that constitutes their Formal and Final cause, which is to say, the word that they indicate—their species intelligibilis. Conversely, a word depends on letters to supply its Material Cause. Misunderstood Platonism overlooks the latter, fixating on the intellectual aspect of reality and ignores that it is precisely the textual counterpart through which its spirit finds expression—the techne that provides for the realisation of the telos or entelechy.

Supposing that we read with the eyes alone, errant Aristotelianism overemphasises the letter of the Lógos; the How of its articulation. This tendency inevitably leads the lover of wisdom to a splintered demise on Scylla of particularity. Misapplied Platonism, by contrast, overemphasis the Formal aspect of reality—its What—and imagines our intellectual literacy to depend only on our eidoi, or “Ideas.” In this confusion, it is liable to lose itself in the Charybdis of abstract ratiocination. The truth includes both processes in a single negotiation: we read with our eidoi, through our eyes. A wedding of these complements is the true lectio divina, which is also intellectio divina. Thus we read the Lógos in the dawn of the lumen gloriae.

To correct this tendency of epistemological shipwreck, we may critically examine the archetypal act of perception, which is the say, the genetic pattern from which all experience is born. Just as one will not recognise a word unless one recognises it, which is to say, one knows it as a particular reflection of an universal form (forma is Latin for the Greek eidos), so all experience consists in precisely such a marriage of matter and form. More precisely, perception is to restore a unity that was provisionally separated into two aspects because of the nature of the human cognitive process. Just as any physical standpoint implies an above and a below, so the metaphysical standpoint that is the human condition divides a unified reality into sensible and intelligible aspects. Truth does not lie in a penetration into the former nor in an hypostasis of the latter. Matter enforms the Idea and the Idea informs the matter. Perception is the recognition of the one living in the other. The inestimable Romantic poet and scientist expresses a similar sentiment in verse in his poem “Epirrhema:”

In the contemplation of Nature,
Always view the one and all:
Nothing is within, nothing is without;
For what is inside, is also outside.
So seize without delay
That sacred open secret.
Delight both in the true appearance,
And the serious game:
No living being is a solitary thing,
But always a multitude.

Goethe thus announces himself as a philosopher of the highest caliber, and as a mouthpiece of the Lógos in the lineage of the philosophers of old. In their own works, Plato and Aristotle offer models for how individuals of one or the other of the dispositions that Coleridge delineated may compensate for specific proclivities to imbalance. Aristotle complemented the concrete matter of his works by presenting it in an especially abstract form. Plato, by contrast, despite his concern with abstract principles, conveyed this content in an exquisite and concretely poetic manner. Both of these great thinkers demonstrate the consubstantiality of self-knowledge and world-knowledge and thus establish themselves as disciples of Sophia and prophets of the Lógos.

This reunion of the inner and the outer is precisely the utility of the astrological model; the latter is techne to what the former is as entelechy. To become an astrologer is to apprentice oneself to the heavens. The macrocosmic Lógos is spelled out in the sky, the planets wander in circuits of potentia. The world-word is written in the starry firmament, but it is waiting for the human being to pronounce it.

Works cited, thanks to:

Aristotle. De anima.

Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Difference between the Divine Word and the Human (De Differentia Divini Verbi et Humani).

Bakewell, Clyde. Sourcebook in Ancient Philosophy. New York, 1909.

Barfield, Owen. Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. Wesleyan University Press, 1928.

Bortoft, Henri. The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way Toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature, Lindisfarne Press: New York, 1996.

Crick, Francis. Of Molecules and Men. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966.

The Astonishing Hypothesis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Dennett, Daniel, Allen Lane, ed., Consciousness Explained. New York: The Penguin Press, 1992.

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

Eagleman, Daniel. The Brain: The Story of You. New York, NY: Penguin Random House. 2015.

Eccles, Robinson. The Wonder of Being Human. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1985.

von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. Faust, (1831) trans. A. S. Kline. Poetry in Translation, 2008.

“Metamorphosis of Plants.” Goethe: Scientific Studies; the Collected Works, Vol. 12. Edited and translated by Douglas Miller. Princeton University Press, 1995.

Heraclitus. Fragments. (No. 45, No. 1).

Kelly, Edward E. Irreducible Mind. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield; 2007.

Laureys, Stephen and Tononi, Giulio (eds.). The Neurology of Consciousness: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropathology. Salt Lake City, UT: Academic Press; 2008; xi.

Lindley, David. “Response to Robert Lanza.” USA Today. 9 March, 2007. Accessed 29 November, 2015.

McDaniel, Stan V. “Book review of Matthew Colborn’s book Pluralism and the Mind: Consciousness,Worldviews, and the Limits of Science. Charlottesville, VA: Imprint Academic; 2011.” Journal of Scientific Exploration. 2012.

McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary. Yale: Yale University Press, 2009.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. (1945) trans. Donald Landes. Routledge, New York, 2012.

Nagel, Thomas. “Is Consciousness an Illusion? The New York Review of Book, 9 March 2017.

Overbye, David. “Free will: Now you have it, now you don’t.” New York Times online. January 2, 2007.

Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden. New York: Random House; 1977.

Steiner, Rudolf, The Philosophy of Freedom: The Basis for a Modern World Conception (1894), trans. Michael Wilson,

London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1964.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche (Viking, 2006).

Weinberg, Steven. Weinberg, Steven. Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature (1993).

The First Three Minutes. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1993.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process & Reality. New York: Macmillan Company, 1929.

Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan Company, 1925.

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