by Simon Smith
We apologise for the interruption in service last week. This was due to foreseen circumstances. And now, welcome back to the hottest series on the world wide web. The series in which the cosmos gets down and dirty with some seriously sexy symbolism. Oh yeah. Let’s get funky with it.
To see how this works, consider Huxley on a most potent force of nature. In his discussion of love among the birds and beasts, the many splendoured facets of human love, as manifest in human action and relation, are used as explanatory constructs, a via analogia that illuminates the meaning of animal behaviour and its causes. Huxley’s use of our emotional lives is analogical, of course; we cannot take literally his talk of ardent grebes, great tits, and blackcocks. As Farrer reminds us, he who psychologises animals is himself an ass. With only a ‘very ill-defined’ sense of what other animals’ “subjectivity” might be like, we cannot suppose that having emotions is the same thing for them as it is for us. Thus constrained, we apply the model of our own action and experience, so get the animal’s action and experience into focus by sympathetic appreciation. How else should we even begin to understand animal behaviour or the action of evolution on it? What other interpretative key is there?
Such natural passions figure large among the birds and beasts in my backyard, but the fundamental constituents of the cosmos are energy and process. That is to say, concepts such as ‘process’, ‘energy’, and ‘activity’ are the basic elements of our cosmological maps; and they too are borrowed from the logically primitive experience of being an active agent. For, as Farrer showed, the model of our own activity is essential if we hope ‘to give content to the general idea that it [whatever “it” is] does act’.
Thus, empirical metaphysics learned the lesson of empirical psychology. Before Farrer, the psychologist Jean Piaget, and before him, Feuerbach, found that the notion “object” originates in the child’s conception of “I”, the “I” objectified and projected.
This does not mean that our maps are constructed from simple anthropomorphisms. Rather, Farrer argued, we ‘erect a pseudo-genus of which “thing” and “self” are species’. We construct a model from shared or common factors; the most common being ‘interference capability’. This ‘pseudo-genus’ supplies the framework within which those realities may be understood. Crucially, this analogical erection is dynamic: it may go up or down depending on the nature of the interference. Insofar as any interference resembles my own, I must suppose it to be the expression of an agency like me; but only to the degree that it does resemble my own. Those that are recognisably personal – loving, linguistic, or merely logical, for instance – reveal themselves on the upgrade; the more so as they outstrip my capacity to undertake them. When dealing with birds, beasts, and the basic processes of the universe, however, those “higher” features of personal consciousness are ‘washed-out’ and ‘an indefinable discount’ paid. In seeking to comprehend such forces, that is, we downgrade the analogy accordingly.
As our interactions with, and understanding of, the world become increasingly sophisticated, our application of this graded model must do likewise. Complicated maths, the lingua franca of cosmologists conversing among themselves, is a prime example. Mathematics is a language; its terms as analogical as any other; its symbols, co-ordinates on our cosmological maps. Once again, we are not so naive as to suppose there is anything “out there” that precisely corresponds to them. Moreover, mathematical symbols and their configurations remain grounded in the analogy of our agency. The most basic calculations - on which the most complex ultimately rest - share the operative principle of all languages and substitute symbol for object. The very possibility of symbolising objects depends on being able to identify and re-identify the objects in question. This, in turn, depends on the capacity objects have for exercising ‘disturbance-effect’, to act on me and so distinguish themselves from me. For that, as suggested, is our criterion of real existence, what Buber might call the first ‘category of being’.
However, complicated maths plays a more important role in our story. For it is not merely a symbol system; it is a vitally important one which enables our explorations and explanations to reach into the darkest regions of the cosmos. In so doing, it exemplifies the ampliative extension of consciousness which is to come. This is because the cosmologist’s calculations are not just diagrams of the universe; they are diagrams of a diagram. The cosmologist’s mathematical maps are symbolic representations of a matrix of forces which is itself a symbolic representation constructed from analogies of our own activity.
Farrer described our ordinary conception of “the universe” as resembling a ‘linear diagram of historical developments chalked on a classroom blackboard’. The sciences have brought the image into sharper and, consequently, more poignant, focus. Our most advanced conceptions of “the universe” do not resemble such diagrams, they are such diagrams, mapped out in the hermeneutical imagery of mathematical equations.
Here, in the redoubling of our analogies, we see the defeat of simplistic anthropomorphisms, those lares and penates masquerading as “real beings”. Analogising our analogies elevates the analogising consciousness high above the realist’s household ghosts and gods; most pernicious of all, his Perfect Personal Agent.
Equally, it reminds traffickers in mathematical and other scientific models of the foundations of their own constructs. Moreover, the very “impersonalism” which, we are told, is the true character of the cosmos, is itself such a construct, one rinsed almost clean of any hint of personality; almost, but not quite, since the basic idea of activity must remain. This much we cannot do without; abandon action-concepts and the entire edifice of our understanding crumbles; we make a nonsense of both the diagrams and diagrammatising procedure which is scientific exploration.
“Impersonalism”, then, is an abstraction, a projection that is meaningful only because of the personal action from which it springs; the two cannot be coherently separated.
But this is not the end of the story. To fully understand Farrer’s via analogia, we must turn to philosophical psychology.
And you know what they say: philosophical psychology is the sexiest kind of psychology!
Remember to come back next week – or possibly the week after, given that it’s Christmas – for more wet and wild adventures, of:
Is That an Analogy of a Personal Cosmos in your Pocket or are you just Anthropomorphising?
Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature
 Huxley, J. New Bottles for New Wine (London: Readers Union Ltd., 1959), 213-232
 It is, perhaps, worth noting here that, while the word “love” roams free about Huxley’s article, unconstrained by parenthetical qualifications, the word “courtship” is more firmly anchored to its analogical origins with quotation marks.
 Farrer, The Freedom of the Will, 189.
 Farrer, Finite and Infinite, 67.
 Farrer, ‘Causes’ in Reflective Faith, 213.
 Buber, M. I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 43.
 Farrer, Faith and Speculation, 169.