Phenomenal

‘A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house,’ said Jesus (Matthew 13:57). And as Peirce said, ‘so it is also with phenomena’: ‘most of us seem to find it difficult to recognize the greatness and wonder of things familiar to us’ (CP 5.65, EP2:158).
This year i’d like to honour some universally familiar things,
recognize the greatness of the artist
who can do that with words and other signs,
and work with the play of wonder all around us
here in our own house.
Let us not be distracted as usual
by the unusual
or the infamies of the famous.

Ear of the heart

Every religion, insofar as it subordinates the well-being of individual members to that of the group itself, tends to replace the inner law of conscience with outer laws which are applied to all indiscriminately. But ‘One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression’ (Blake, MHH, 24). In these conditions, a human conscience can turn to an esoteric subculture within it; otherwise the individual may be cut off from true fellowship when the exoteric religion loses its feel for the core experience which is the living source of its own laws, and the guidance embodied in them sinks to the level of superstition.

The esoteric side of scripture is not limited to early Christianity, or even to the Abrahamic religious tradition. As Steven Heine explains, it also appears in ‘esoteric Buddhist training that is characterized by intense subjectivity. This dimension includes the profound intimacy of the master-disciple relation based on intuitive insight and hermetism, as well as an aura of secrecy and inscrutability projected toward outsiders’ (Heine 2001, 8).

What i have called the conscience would correspond to the Buddha-nature in Buddhism, and in Persian Sufism to the Perfect Nature, the Angel who guides the ‘man of light.’ To paraphrase Henry Corbin, this relationship of guidance depends crucially on perfecting the individuality of each person, which cannot happen if that individuality is swallowed up in a collective being or will.

‘The power which is in thee,’ in each one of you, cannot refer to a collective guide, to a manifestation and a relationship collectively identical for each one of the souls of light. Nor, a fortiori, can it be the macrocosm or universal Man which assumes the role of heavenly counter-part of each microcosm. The infinite price attached to spiritual individuality makes it inconceivable that salvation could consist in its absorption into a totality, even a mystical one.

— Corbin (1971, 16)

It was the difference or polar tension between the Angel and the individual, or between universal and particular person, which made each of the pair meaningful. In this vision (as in the enactive model of cognition), the act of seeing is ‘an interaction, a reciprocal action’ (Corbin 1971, 140). You could even say that you are God’s secret and he is yours. As Ibn Arabi put it,

Ana sirr al-Haqq: ‘I am God’s secret,’ the secret, that is, which conditions the polarity of the two faces, the face of light and the face of darkness, because the divine Being cannot exist without me, nor I exist without Him.

— Corbin (1971, 129)

In Corbin’s account of Iranian Sufism, the true self is ‘the organ and place of theophany’ (Corbin 1971, 129).

This is the state of the ‘friend of God,’ of whom the divine Being can say, according to the inspired hadith, so oft-repeated by the Sufis: ‘I am the eye through which he sees, the ear through which he hears, the hand by which he touches … ’

… and, we may add, the mind by which he reads revelation:

the theophanic figure of the Angel of Revelation in prophetology … is here the Angel of spiritual exegesis, that is to say, the one who reveals the hidden meaning of previous revelations, provided that the mystic possesses the ear of the heart.

— Corbin (1971, 131)

From tenacity to inquiry

The way of inquiry – which includes (but does not end with) revelation, as explained in Chapter 6 – is essentially the last and best of four methods outlined by Peirce in his 1877 essay on ‘The Fixation of Belief.’

In the light of current usage, and considering Peirce’s own commitment to fallibilism, this title is remarkably ironic: both ‘fixation’ and ‘belief’ seem best suited to describe the first and crudest of the four, which he calls the method of tenacity. It consists of simply clinging stubbornly to whatever belief you already have and refusing to change it. Peirce concedes that this method ‘yields great peace of mind’; but it is quite incompatible with Peirce’s view of thinking as ‘necessarily a sort of dialogue, an appeal from the momentary self to the better considered self of the immediate and of the general future’ (SS, 195). Why should the ‘better considered self’ insist on deferring to an earlier stage in its own development?

Next is the method of authority, about which enough has been said in this netbook; it amounts to a method of collective tenacity, and public character constitutes its advance over the private method of tenacity. The third method essentially involves dialogue among reasonable people, i.e. those who admit their own ‘natural preferences’ and those of others as both valuable and questionable, and use honest reasoning to work toward a more universal and consistent belief system. This is certainly more promising than the method of authority in which some people impose beliefs on others, and is the best method available on questions that can’t be settled on factual grounds alone. But where observable facts are crucially relevant, it is much inferior to the method of science. This, Peirce’s fourth and highest method, is the collective public form of the meaning cycle itself. This way of inquiry is the only one which incorporates the best features of insight, reason, critical thinking and learning from experience.

Lifting the veil

Why must we see only through a glass darkly? We can understand this as a natural result of all cognition being semiotic – but Rumi explains it in different terms: it would not serve the divine purpose for us to see ourselves as God sees us.

Is there any place our King is not? But his sorcery has blindfolded the viewer.
He blindfolds your eyes such that you see a dustmote at midday, but not the Greatest Sun,
A ship at sea, but not the ocean’s waves.
The ship’s bobbing tells you about the sea, just as the movement of people tells the blind man that it is daytime.
Have you not read the verse, God has set a seal … ? It is God who sets the seal, and it is He who removes it and lifts up the coverings.

— Rumi, Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi 2633-37 (Chittick 1983, 59)

In the last of these verses, Rumi alludes to two passages from the Qur’án. The first refers to unbelievers being rendered blind and deaf by God/Allah:

Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering.

Qur’án 2.7 (Pickthall)

The second refers to the apocalyptic vision in Surah 50 (Qaf):

15So were We incapable of the first creation? No indeed! Yet they doubt a second creation. 16We created man— We know what his soul whispers to him: We are closer to him than his jugular vein— 17with two receptors set to record, one on his right side and one on his left: 18he does not utter a single word without an ever-present watcher. 19The trance of death will bring the Truth with it: ‘This is what you tried to escape.’ 20The Trumpet will be sounded: ‘This is the Day [you were] warned of.’ 21Each person will arrive attended by an [angel] to drive him on and another to bear witness: 22‘You paid no attention to this [Day]; but today We have removed your veil and your sight is sharp.’

— Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel. The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics) (pp. 340-341). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

The point here is that only God can remove the veils which He has placed over the eyes, hearts and minds He has created – and the resulting dis-covery would mean the end of the old habitual world and creation of a whole new one. In the meantime – that is, in historical time – God’s creatures must remain veiled from their own true nature. It is necessary for them to sleepwalk through their roles in the divine play, just as one must first be asleep in order to wake up (see Chittick 1983, 58-60). How would the play ever get performed if every role-player recognized herself as the whole show?

The ‘driving’ angel in Verse 21 of Qaf might recall the saying of Heraclitus that ‘Every beast is driven to pasture by a blow’ (Wheelwright 1959, 37). The ancient writer who quoted that fragment apparently understood it as referring to a divine blow (Wheelwright 1959, 57). In Peircean terms, the ‘driver’ might be identified with the Secondness which motivates inquiry and learning: no one learns unless his expectations are contradicted, more or less violently, by the reality beyond them. The ‘witness’ then is the voice of Experience itself.

Signs of apocalypse

According to the Liddell and Scott Greek lexicon, the word σημεῖον (derived from the older word σῆμα) was used in reference to conventional signals, ‘signs’ from the gods (omens or portentous events), and elements of reasoning (‘proofs’). The usual sense of σημεῖον in the New Testament, where it occurs frequently, seems to combine the ‘proof’ sense with the sense of ‘signs from the heavens.’ But the NT frequently warns us to beware of false prophets bearing great ‘signs’! In Matthew 24, the disciples of Jesus ask him what will be “the sign of his coming and of the close of the age” (σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος). His answer takes most of the chapter and includes various cataclysmic events; he also says (24:24) that ψευδοπροφῆται (false prophets) will arise (ἐγερθήσονται, the same verb used for resurrection!) and give great signs (καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα μεγάλα). But then will appear the sign of the son of humanity in heaven (24:30, φανήσεται τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν οὐρανῶ), the true sign.

And how does one know the true sign from the false? We don’t know the ‘day and hour’ when the Son of man will come, but according to the gospel, the coming will be as undeniable and irresistible as the flood of Noah’s time that swept everyone away (Matthew 24:39). In that light, how do we read the statement of Jesus to his contemporaries that ‘this generation will not pass away till all these things take place’ (Matthew 24:34)? The ‘proof’ of that theorem is left to the reader.