This post supervenes my recent post On Some Happy Corollaries of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems (so you might want to review that post, and the earlier posts it cites in turn, in order to find yourself quite oriented in what follows (sorry, dear reader: not everything is TLDR)).
There is much talk in traditional cosmology of a stack of heavens above our own, and likewise of hells below. The hierarchy of angelic choirs echoes that stack. Most pagan pantheons feature such hierarchies of gods, with a Most High God above all gods, whom they worship, and who lives in the Highest Heaven which is above all the heavens. There is talk too of other worlds parallel to our own (such, e.g., as Jotunheim in the mythic scheme of the Vikings), that might communicate with each other (as at Ragnarok, when the giants of Jotunheim make war upon the men of Middle Earth and the gods of Asgard), so as to form a world of worlds.
That sort of talk struck me at first as fantastic, and so relatively irreal – despite its irresistible odor of concrete factuality, and its ubiquity in the traditions of Earth, and thus its uncanny tinct of credibility. There is also the difficulty that there is a certain beauty in the notion, that cannot be found in the flat idea that our world (however generously conceived (as with the various sorts of branching cosmoi proposed by this or that metacosmology)) is all there is. Then at last there is the ancient conviction of the Great Chain of Being, no link of which might be concretely missing if any part of the chain were to find concrete instantiation.
Paul speaks of being caught up to the Third Heaven, to be sure. And given his background as a dour and radical critic of the Christian revelation, a persecutor who was doing his damnedest to kill as many Christians as he could, his account bears some weight of credibility. Paul did not want to become a Christian. On the contrary. He had dedicated his whole life to destroying the cult of Jesus. And he had a terrific education, both Greek and Hebrew. No more perfect skeptic can be imagined. So, yeah, there’s that. He’s a formidable mind, not easily swayed by flim flam or flummery. But I mean, come on, right? Who goes to another world? Probably Paul was recounting some phantasm, which might have been true in some sense, maybe. But still it was an hallucination, right?
On the other hand, this is Saint Paul we are talking about; the guy who – like many other Christians of his era, and ever since – went willingly to his death on the conviction that his experiences of a nature superior to our own were *totally reliable.* Paul *knew* he was right. There was not a jot of doubt in his mind about what he had witnessed. His only doubts were about his own adequacy to the reality he had seen. If we are going to jettison Paul’s account of his ascent – sparse though it be – then we are going to have to jettison Paul entirely.
Now, I have had such experiences. Whether they were like the experiences of Paul, I cannot of course tell; he is too cagey about them, and so for good reason shall I ever be. But, I can say certainly that they were not of this world. It’s the other way round: of their reality, this world is a smoke and a shadow, a vague and partial manifestation. I cannot more precisely characterize them without hazard of falling into impiety; without, i.e., introducing untoward noise of Earthly language, that confused, and so profaned. Better to be rather too vague than to strain at an impossible precision. But here’s the thing: there is no question in my mind that what I in them suffered was orders of magnitude more reliable and true than any of my quotidian experiences – and what is much more, far more valuable than all Earthly life. To repudiate them for the sake of my life here below – or, a fortiori, for the sake of a philosophical scheme founded only upon considerations and evidence arising strictly from within our own parochial cosmos – would be like selling my patrimony for a mess of pottage.
Still, as to the reality of other worlds from a purely philosophical perspective – as distinct from the massively empirical perspective of my own life – I held all that in abeyance, and in no little tension, for many years, until I read JR Lucas on Gödel. Then only did I begin slowly to see just how those supernal worlds I had without possibility of doubt certainly tasted could be understood to be as concretely real as our own – or even, as saints and philosophers from Plato to Lewis have insisted, far more real.
In his The Freedom of the Will, Lucas notices that a true Theory of Everything in our cosmos [a TOE] – an exhaustively comprehensive logical calculus that, implemented as an algorithm, would generate from this or that set of causal inputs a set of outcomes consistent with what we actually observe from the inputs we have ourselves generated experimentally – would have to be consistent – would, i.e., have to be incapable of expressing contradictions in its own terms, so that it could be a coherent and intelligible theory in the first place. It would, what is far more, have to be logically complete, so as to be a TOE: it would need to be able to demonstrate in its own terms all the truths it was capable of expressing. He reminds us then that Gödel has demonstrated forever that any such consistent and complete logical calculus is logically impossible: any logical calculus that is competent to express at least the truths of basic arithmetic consistently is able to express true propositions that cannot be demonstrated under its own terms.
E.g., the proposition, “this theory is a TOE.” No TOE can explain itself. For, that would amount to circular reasoning. So, no consistent and complete TOE is possible.
Thus the project of empirical science cannot ever be completed; for, no system of natural law that specifies the order of our cosmos can be completed, by any agent whose own acts are ordered only by that system of laws. The same goes for any agents of any cosmos. Any TOE in our own cosmos – or in any other – would stand in need of completion by some theory supersidiary thereto, competent to demonstrate the truth of the propositions that its subsidiary logical calculi could truly express, but could not on their own terms demonstrate.
Now, the first most important consequence of all this is that there can be no complete account of our cosmos that does not recur to some supernature. On Gödel, *any* consistent TOE of our cosmos has no option – if it is to be completed – but to recur for demonstrative support to superordinate logical calculi – which themselves, being like the logical calculus of our cosmos incomplete in their own terms, implicitly invoke mundane domains supersidiary to their own. And this is just as true for the logical calculi of all such superdomains as it is of the logical calculus of our own (which, to be sure, I do not at all doubt is out there, nomologically operant at and upon and indeed within every occasion of our cosmos (so that mutatis mutandis we get a cosmos, together with all her subsidiary worlds, such as those of our own lives)).
So much for philosophical naturalism. It’s dead. Indeed, it was stillborn. It was never possible in the first place.
Excursus: I note in passing a delicious consequence and concordance of grammar. NB first that linguistic grammar is just as indicative and so just as dispositive of reality as any other kind of item among our empirical data. For, the grammar of language is but a department and derivate of the grammar of being. Where language (however we define it) and reality disagree, no social life – which is to say, no life of any sort (for life of every sort is social) – can for long (for, i.e., more than a few iterations (sc., the game of Telephone)) hang together (Telephone is hilarious; is all humor somehow telephonic?). Our traditional linguistic grammar is the survivor of countless tests against the grammar of reality. So, linguistic grammar is just a sort and index of the ontological grammar that informs it, and that it then (by our daily offices) informs. Linguistic grammar, then – albeit, only of the most traditional, the most tested sort – is a reliable and veritable index of truth.
An aside – an excursus within an excursus – the grammatical relation of subject to object is basic, not just to speech, not just to thought, but to being, and to becoming. “Doctrines” that purport to transcend it end only by supporting it, and so repudiating themselves; for they all depend upon it, and cannot be expressed other than in its terms. This is why the veritable mystical insights of such disciplines as most schools of Vedanta (excepting dvaitadvaita) must be expressed in a language that radically controverts their nondual metaphysics, which deny the reality of the subject and the object of experience (dvaitadvaita accords with the traditional grammar of all languages). Their exponents cannot make sense of them under the terms of any language to which they might revert; on the contrary, given any language, the metaphysical doctrines of such schools are absurd. They are, rather, reduced to asserting that there is no such thing as sense to be made, or anyone to make it.
I exaggerate a bit perhaps – Perennialists have labored mightily, and not altogether unsuccessfully, to explain nondual metaphysics in such a way as to reconcile them to our experience – but really it boils down to not much more. Carried to its ultimate implication, apophasy as of the most strict Buddhism and Vedanta is absolute ignorance. It is not after all even possible to propose apophasy other than by some cataphatic act. This is as much as to say that pure apophasy is not possible; and that is as much as to say that non-being is not possible.
Ditto for diction. Words pick out reals, or else mislead us toward our doom. Thus the crucial importance of the Confucian Rectification of Names: of the primordial office of Adam, in virtue of which he was before the Fall charged with the duty of naming his fellow creatures, and so of discerning among them according to their characters.
Consider then (as again a tangent) the enormity of the SJW sinistrification of names. It’s Babel all over again, amped up to a whole new level. God save us.
Here then is the lovely consequence of concord between “merely” (tace, you nominalists) linguistic grammar and the grammar of being: a superdomain of some domain ordered according to a logical calculus is the realm of a superdominion. It is a lordship, with – as grammar would indicate – a lord.
Note then that the Dominions, or Dominations, are, of course, a choir of angels.
That all seems rather recondite and abstract, until you get to this: in every one of its moments, our world concretely expresses a logical system of natural law that, as consistent (so that the world can hang together coherently), cannot be complete in itself, and so must have been derived from and inhabit some more spacious and more competent system of law supersidiary to its own; some system of supersidiary law, i.e., that characterized and ordered a supersidiary and environing actual world.
An actual world, supersidiary to our own, that environs and so orders all the occasions of our cosmos?
Propositions of any logical calculus superordinate to that of our own world could not after all of themselves exert nomological, ordering causal power. For that, their concrete angelic instantiations are needed: an utterly abstract, totally ideal idea is not itself alone a mover; no agent, no agency; so, no motion of any sort. An equation on the page is inert. It is a record of action, and a proposal thereto, but not a motive or urge thereof. It arrived on the page in the first place only because men noticed that it formalized what they had experienced as a regular motive or urge to action in fact, and so as an order of that action. The formalization of a natural law is then but one of its relicts, and fossils. The law itself is ontologically active only insofar as it characterizes the regular action of concrete actors.
The clear implication: the natural law of our cosmos is active only insofar as our cosmos is a department of some other more expansive cosmos, of which the natural law of our own is but a sort or subdepartment.
So much for the prolegomena. Now perhaps we are ready to address the meat of this topic (I hope that comments here will indicate whether we are indeed ready), which I hope shall sufficiently elucidate why the notion it proposes, of a stack of actual worlds, has been for me a philosophical skeleton key. But that meat I shall save for a subsequent post.
Afterword: That the logical calculi internal to this cosmos are inadequate to reality in its fullness is indicated by the absolute inadequacy even of relatively inconsistent (and therefore possibly complete) natural language to the description of mystical experience – a shortcoming of all words that all genuine mystics have insisted cannot be overcome (even when they have gone ahead and tried to describe their mystical experiences). The inadequacy of all words to mystical fact is reflected in the caveat urged by all religious thinkers, that we cannot take the terms of religious language to mean quite the same things they normally denote. And it is only fair to admit that Perennialist apologiae for traditional nondual metaphysics have urged the same caution.