Posts Tagged ‘causes’

I suppose that, like most people, I grew up largely in a state of wonder.  I wondered constantly at the way the world is and how it came to be and how it might come to be.  Of course, a child does not articulate this wonder consistently, accurately and persistently ; it consists mainly in fleeting, silent questions which seem to come from nowhere and are soon gone, to be replaced by other thoughts.

But a few of these questions pop up often enough to become habits ; they are always there and, at first we are conscious of them.  But, as the habit entrenches itself, the questions become unconscious and, as such, simply form an influence on our character.  The point about unconscious thinking is that it shapes our character without our being aware that we are even doing it, and so we are largely unaware of why we are the way we are.

So it is, too, that while one person might feel attracted to being a mechanic (say) another is attracted to being a writer.  It is easy enough to infer that one has had some early encouragement towards mechanics, while the other has not.  But it also happens that some people develop interests which have been actively discouraged in early life.   And, in either case, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly what early thinking was going on.

For most of us, we are reasonably satisfied with our personality or character.  After all, it has ‘worked’ for us, hasn’t it?  We have largely enjoyed our lives.  But it happens that we do become aware of certain dis-satisfactions also ; in which case, we might feel inclined to take an interest in our character-formation.  Indeed, we might feel a need to undertake a little character-reformation.  And our starting point might well be with our unconscious thinking.

I remember from long ago  wondering why it is that some people tend to see ultimate reasons for things, while others see ultimate causes.  There is certainly a fundamental difference in the kind of thinking going on here, and many people take these things very seriously ; some even devote their lives to the study of ultimate things.  I guess that a person of a theological persuasion will be interested in ultimate reasons, while an astronomer (for example) will be more interested in ultimate causes.

It seems that a certain tradition has grown up within each way of thinking about the world.  The person in search of ultimate reasons looks mostly inward, while the one in search of causes looks outward.  Thus it is, perhaps, that the theological type sees evidence of his Ultimate Reason for things wherever he looks within his own mind and in its rational functioning.  On the other hand, the astronomer sees evidence of his Ultimate Cause wherever he looks outward into in the sky ; everywhere he sees evidence of the big bang, whether it be in the orderly arrangements of the stars or in the ‘debris’ from the great primal event itself.

Saint Francis was an inwardly-looking man:

God be in my head
And in my understanding

God be in my eyes
And in my looking

God be in my mouth
And in my speaking

God be in my heart
And in my thinking

God be at my end
And at my departing.

St Francis

Taken, I am told, from a Book of Hours – a 1514 service book used in Clare College, Cambridge

After Psalm 121:8 : May the Lord keep our going out and our coming in from this time on and for evermore.


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Having been in engineering for most of my life, I have also found the attractions of science to be almost irresistible.  There is something neat about it.  The scientist begins by making an observation and proceeds to ascertain the causes of it.  After many such investigations, and when sufficient data has been accumulated, he then feels confident enough to propose a law which will account for his observations.  And, using that law, he then feels able to make some predictions of a more general nature.

Let me say at once that I see nothing wrong with this method.  It is, after all, the foundation a good deal of our technology ; and that technology can be seen to work.  The weakness of science does not lie in its method but in attitudes towards it.  The method has proved so successful that it has seduced many into believing that it is the only valid method of describing the natural world.  So successful has it been that many, perhaps the majority, of people pour scorn on any attempt to devise another.  This is especially true, I think, of the people of the West.  But there are objections to it, and there are many of them, so they will need to be severely summarised.

In the first place, science investigates the causes of natural events ; but there is no mention of purposes.  A scientist will perhaps tell us what happens, but is silent on why a thing happens.  A scientist will tell us of a natural physical law, but offers no opinion on why the law exists.  Also there is the question of what is observed.  Out of all the events occurring in an experimental condition, only certain of them are selected for observation.  Thus science deals with abstractions, with simplicities ; and by its nature is partial in the data it considers worthy of investigation.

So, all in all, science as it is done now is successful in what it attempts to do ; but its methods are limiting and, therefore, it cannot offer more than an abstract view of the world.  Therefore it cannot provide complete knowledge of nature, however hard it tries.

The physicist, AN Whitehead offered this insight : science is the application of commonsense to an idealised world.  But the world is not ideal ; it is not a laboratory ; and there is much going on in nature that science knows nothing of.

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Perhaps it is time to lighten the early-year gloom and have a peep at another world.  Perhaps it is time for a fairy story ; a proper fairy story, not one of those contrived gloopy things all full of gossamer wings and funny hats.  Writing a proper fairy story is not nearly as easy as the children’s writers make out.  It requires discipline and knowledge – for it is about finding ways of entering Faerie, and that is a serious business.  One might say that Faerie is a state of mind ; but that is not strictly entirely true.  It is true to say that one must enter into a certain state of mind in order to gain entry to Faerie.

To gain Faerie it is not enough to enter into a particular state of conscious awareness ; one must also have the right state of heart and one must also have a purpose,- but that purpose is unlikely to be one’s own, though it might seem so.  There are a number of ways in, some good and some evil ; but all are perilous.

Faerie is not a ‘place’ in the conventional use of that word ; nor is it merely a state of mind ; it is certainly not a place of the mere imagination.  It is, perhaps, a way of seeing the world ; a way, indeed, of seeing a much bigger world.  So one does not have to travel far to find Faerie (or for Faerie to find one).  It can be found at the far ends of the Earth, but just as easily at the end of one’s lane ; or in one’s garden, however small or large.

In ordinary consciousness we are educated to believe very substantially that everything in nature has a cause but nothing has a reason.  In Faerie, everything in nature has both a cause and a reason ; and that partly explains why the Laws of Faerie seem so strange and arbitrary to us.  Faerie is primarily a moral place and its laws are moral laws.

It is a pity that people started to write fairy stories for children ; for a false picture has grown up from that.  The people and other creatures of  Faerie are not usually diminutive.  And they are not confined to their homeland ; some may enter our world at will, some by invitation only, and some are sent here.  Those of them who know our world will dress and speak as we do.  And they may be here to do good or to do evil.  But those who reveal themselves are generally here to do good, though they usually keep their business to themselves.

So, there you go.  Well, there you go a-writing about Faerie.  But, to understand more, it is better to read more ; and you could do no better than to read some of Tolkien’s books and essays (easily Googled).  On entering Faerie, he wrote, “One never knew what one would find, and the sheer beauty of even the smallest thing would overwhelm any mere human visitor, no matter how saved and sanctified.”  For Tolkien, Faerie is a sacramental understanding of life: Grace abounds, but we usually ignore it, being more enticed by the things of this world.

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