The Peripatetic Hologram

In an earlier post I alluded to the position of the process philosopher, viz., that everything is actually in everything, in much the same way that the entire hologram is in each of its several parts, and therefore that we live in a holographic universe. This of course implies, as Buddhism teaches, that the essence of the universe is nothingness. In fact anyone who practices meditation of any form is susceptible to receive this very strong impression. But because of the confusion and discord of the age, it is easy to overlook the pearl of wisdom, the diamond in the rough, if you will, which accords the proper emphasis and interpretation to this teaching.

Modern philosophical scholarship posits a kind of opposition between Plato and Aristotle. It is said that Aristotle is the more empiricist of the two, because he rejects the theory of the forms which asserts that the ultimate realities of the world subsist apart from individual material things. Therefore Plato is regarded as the great mystic who looked to the world beyond the senses, in contrast to the almost materialist Aristotle. In fact, however, not only does Aristotle conclude that the ultimate reality does indeed subsist apart from the material cosmos (in the Metaphysics), but in reducing his ontology to a matter of modern chemistry or biology, we miss the note of mysticism hiding in plain sight in the Peripatetic School. For it ought to be considered a profound mystery that the universal lies within the particular, and therefore that the human soul which receives the forms of the things it knows becomes—does not mirror, but becomes—all things. Taken together, namely, the fact that God is transcendent and the potential identity of the soul with everything, as an object of meditation, the vanity of the world and its numinous quality can be clearly distinguished and understood.

The “hologram” encountered in contemplative states occurs when the intellect more or less perfectly receives the form of the object of its wonder. The act occurs through and with the senses but does not terminate in them. Any created thing that God’s grace enables us to contemplate in such a way will be revealed to us as a vanity, because there will lie a vast emptiness at the very fount of its existence, an infinite lack of self-sufficiency or self-causation. In this precise respect the object, whatever it may be, is perfectly one with every other created thing. And the soul, having the capacity to become all these things, is lifted above itself and even made to perceive the vanity of its “own” being. Such a perception is “gnosis” or “scientia” or knowledge.

Gnosis thus defined, since it pertains to the world, is attainable through natural means (but still not without the actual grace of the Holy Ghost). However, in a confirmed Catholic, the virtue of knowledge occurs as a supernaturally infused gift. The Angelic Doctor writes (Pt. II-II, Q. 9, Art. 1):

Grace is more perfect than nature, and, therefore, does not fail in those things wherein man can be perfected by nature. Now, when a man, by his natural reason, assents by his intellect to some truth, he is perfect in two ways in respect of that truth: first, because he grasps it, secondly, because he forms a sure judgment on it.

Accordingly, two things are requisite in order that the human intellect may perfectly assent to the truth of the faith: one of these is that he should have a sound grasp of these things that are proposed to be believed, and this pertains to the gift of understanding, as stated above (Q. 8, A. 6): while the other is that he should have a sure and right judgment on them, so as to discern what is to be believed from what is not to be believed, and for this the gift of knowledge is required.

And further (A. 4):

Right judgment about creatures belongs properly to knowledge. Now it is through creatures that man’s aversion from God is occasioned, according to Wis. xiv. 11: Creatures … are turned to an abomination … and a snare to the feet of the unwise, of those, namely, who do not judge aright about creatures, since they deem the perfect good to consist in them. Hence they sin by placing their last end in them, and lose the true good. It is by forming a right judgment of creatures that man becomes aware of the loss (of which they may be the occasion), which judgment he exercises through the gift of knowledge. Hence the beatitude of sorrow is said to correspond to the gift of knowledge.

Bereft of the understanding that knowledge is not about saving the appearances, but is about becoming perfectly united to the thing known, we are no longer in a position to judge the old traditions of the world, what among their treasures is true and what is false. I think that this is equivalent to the overriding point of Wolfgang Smith’s anti-scientistic writings, but in expressing my point of view I have endeavored to avoid the more dangerous formulations of mystical gnosis that threaten to lead one astray, and which invariably are communicated at large only when civilization stands over the precipice of a spiritual cliff.

In any case, it is absolutely necessary to view Aristotle as a mystic, and even as a kind of Platonist: however, unlike his teacher, the Philosopher understands the presence of the universal in the particular, that is, the transcendent within the immanent, and thus (in the understanding) the all within the one. Not that Plato would have denied this profound truth, however, he failed to arrive at a definition of it. Thus Plato failed to arrive (in this case) at a philosophic level of truth and therefore wrote rather as her suitor than her possessor. For a true philosopher is a mystic and more than a mystic; for not only does he know, but he is wise, even absolutely speaking, able to judge all matters from the highest principle. But a good Catholic is even more than a philosopher, because his wisdom flows not through the medium of natural reason but directly from something infinitely greater.