Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pragmatism and Pantheism: a Match made in Nature

I begin with the zeitgeist, with where our species is at in the early twenty-first century. Philosophical questions can be more or less responsible, depending on the extent to which they grapple with the background assumptions of the prevailing culture. Thousands of years ago, theocracy of one form or another amounted to the conventional wisdom. An empire governed the land and dictated the official myths, although underground folklore flourished in villages due to the lack of mass education. Today, though, we still live in the Age of Reason that began several centuries ago in Europe, in that science and technology are now the chief sources of human power. The respectable thinker today must therefore grapple with ideas that arise out of this “modern” milieu, and so we should begin with the naturalistic dismissal of miracle claims and of traditional religious myths. We start our philosophical questioning by deferring, to some extent, to scientists and engineers who have largely created the postindustrial world we take for granted.

From Naturalism to Pragmatism

Naturalism entails pragmatism in that one of the core assumptions of the myths that should be dismissed is anthropocentrism. Humility should be the most celebrated virtue, although technological progress and capitalistic self-centeredness are more likely to infantilize us. As we learn in High School science or philosophy classes, Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin removed us from our presumed central position in the universe, by showing literally that Earth isn’t geometrically central, that our planet revolves around one of trillions of stars and that we evolved along with all the other species that crawl, swim or fly. Once we absorb that humiliating lesson, we can no longer in good conscience take at face value foundational knowledge claims. In short, we enter the postmodern phase of hyperskepticism. In particular, we should doubt not just obsolete religious traditions, but the hang-over dogma of the correspondence theory of truth.

As the British say, we fancy that when we know something we’re in possession of an absolutely adequate re-presentation of the fact. If I know that the daytime sky is blue, my belief is supposed to agree with the fact. But that’s a dogma that’s every bit as silly as theism. Whether it’s implemented in a brain state or in a written or spoken statement, my “representation” of the blue sky is nothing of the sort. “The sky is blue” presents again the factual properties of the daytime sky just as much as a xylophone embodies a weed whacker. Granted, anything can carry information about something else in that if you read the tea leaves with enough of a detective’s ingenuity, you can learn useful tidbits about a cause from its effect. So if a brand of weed whackers happens to be manufactured by a company that also sells xylophones, the one might indirectly tell us something about the other. Likewise, having seen daytime skies many times and having retained memories of those experiences, the sky has a causal impact on my thoughts. Playing the role of detective, I can infer that the sky has such and such properties, based on the traces the sky leaves in my brain. But that doesn’t mean those traces are objectively adequate to the entirety of the facts, that my thoughts or statements about the sky capture the essence of what the sky is so that the latter is present once again in the representation. On the contrary, my folk conceptions are parochial and even a scientific explanation of the sky’s colour is all-too human for having the ulterior motive of instrumentalism. Scientific theories are formulated to empower our species at nature’s expense, the goal being to learn enough about natural causality for us to pacify the universe’s inhumanity. Our concepts carve up the world into digestible morsels, but just because we can’t fathom the sky in its noumenal aspect or understand what the sky is in relation to everything else in the universe doesn’t mean there’s no such inhuman fact that mocks the claim that our knowledge is empirically adequate.

So we should be pragmatic about human knowledge, because the Scientific Revolution should have taught us all to be humble and skeptical. This pragmatism means we should recognize that as far as we can tell, knowledge is part of an animalistic process: knowledge comes in the form of a map or model that’s used to achieve some goal. This is why scientism should be dismissed along with exoteric religions, because the possibility of nonscientific (noninstrumentalist or non-power-driven) goals makes for the possibility of nonscientific knowledge, given a pragmatic interpretation of knowledge. To say that knowledge is just a tool in the fulfillment of some goal needn’t then be taken as a betrayal of pragmatism, since the pragmatic picture of knowledge would likewise be just a tool. We needn’t presuppose a realist view of what it means to say so and so is real. As long as we remain humble, we can be tentative even in our philosophical generalizations, and so although language may push us to affirm what we propose to be true, we should remind ourselves that all our beliefs and statements are likely wildly biased descriptions.

Indeed, as the philosopher Kant showed, by definition any description will be prejudiced in the sense of being gratuitously motivated, because a description must be processed to be understood, in which case the description becomes something very different from what it’s supposed to represent. We call statements biased if they interject too much of the speaker’s personal baggage into the topic at hand to be candidates for objective knowledge. But if all statements reflect some human purpose, they’re at least partly reflective of that interest, and our interests typically have nothing to do with what we’re talking about if we’re talking about some objective fact. As we can put it only negatively, the essential reality of every such fact is that it doesn’t need us and is what it is as part of the world-without-us (of the world as it would have been if no intelligent species had ever evolved). If I’m talking about the sky’s blue colour, the sky is of course indifferent to our attempt to control nature by understanding its processes on the basis of our five senses and mammalian powers of reasoning.

From Naturalism to Pantheistic Mysticism

But the pragmatist doesn’t have the last word on naturalism or on our technoscientific zeitgeist. If we restrict our intellectual efforts to pragmatism, we end up with something like Richard Rorty’s submission to conventional wisdom. After all, since the pragmatist’s ideal is utility, and fitting into some norm or conforming to a standard is eminently more useful than being an alienated outcast, the pragmatist should defer to her culture. Thus, Rorty defended the liberal values of an American academic, calling for Western liberal “solidarity” as opposed to foundational metanarratives. Moreover, the pragmatist should have little trouble conceding the point of Pascal’s wager and surrendering her critical faculties for the sake of her happiness. Thus, her pragmatic naturalism may ironically compel her to abandon that philosophy in exchange for some religion that’s more socially useful.

In any case, while pragmatism is the best way of making sense of knowledge in naturalistic terms, we needn’t be taken hostage by the zeitgeist. That is, we needn’t take science or technology to be central to everything we do or say, and so we needn’t conceive of thoughts solely as instruments. As I said, there are nonscientific goals in life. In particular, there’s an aesthetic perspective which follows ironically from scientific objectivity. When we think objectively, our rational awareness detaches from our personal concerns and we take up the perspective of the world-without-us, as it were. From that impersonal, no-man’s-land view of nature, we readily come to regard all phenomena as works of art that have aesthetic value. After all, nature is constantly creating, sustaining or destroying forms. Thus, just as the pragmatic naturalist can be led to premodern theism, by way of a Machiavellian calculation, so too she can be led to a form of mysticism. Spinoza’s pantheistic vision of everything’s right place in natural substance was an early form of this mysticism. Schopenhauer and horror authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti take this naturalistic mysticism in more pessimistic directions.

The secular humanist likes to dismiss mysticism as woo or as obscure or feel-good gibberish in the service of some con to defraud the ill-informed public. And indeed there’s no shortage of such cons. But as all scientists and mathematicians who call for aesthetic standards of theoretical excellence appreciate, the sober instrumentalist, too, will inevitably confront the aesthetic dimension, just by her glorification of objectivity. Again, from the objective stance, we ignore our personality and our life-driven concerns as much as our humility and curiosity will allow, and the inhuman world will present itself to us in all its pointlessness and uselessness. Utility is subjective in that creatures want to be happy and so they search for means to that end. Although with enough ingenuity we can make use of anything, the usefulness of this or of that reflects only how some creature wants to use that thing. If your instrumental intention takes no account of the material’s objective properties, you’ll likely fail in your endeavour of turning the thing into a cog in your scheme, but usefulness itself is in the eye of the beholder. So when you bracket your concerns as the beholder, and you perceive the world paradoxically as a childish adult, being both na├»ve and informed, curious and modest, you let nature’s alien creativity wash over you. If at that point you have some modicum of intellectual integrity and some creative spark, you should feel a combination of pantheistic awe and horror. The universe will seem sublime and majestic, but also obscene and nightmarish.

The authentic religion for a naturalist or for anyone who’s reckoned with the spirit of our time would seem to call for a blasphemous, satanic faith in nature’s divinity. If natural creativity is the highest, most godlike power, there being no supernatural creator of nature, we natural beings that create artificial worlds in rebellion against the inhuman wilderness must be divine too. To see nature as the primary deity is to trust in irony and absurdity as the final words or as the seals on our coffin. This pantheism commits us to worshipping a monster. We become the tragic heroes who are disgusted by how the gods (natural forces) mock our humanity with their indifference. We rise above nature, using reason and our zeal for cooperating on massive humanistic projects to break the chains that held us to the lowly animal’s life cycle. While we’re not yet immortal, we’re clearly unlike the other imprisoned animals in our having seized control of the prison.

Combining Pragmatism and Pantheism

How, though, does pragmatism sit with this cosmicist, pantheistic mysticism? One thing the pragmatist and the pantheist should have in common is fear. The pragmatist calculates utilities and seeks to reengineer circumstances because the given world is imperfect and dangerous. Likewise, a vision of nature as a haunted museum of pointless, living-dead art should appall the mystic. Mind you, this leaves aside the leftist, hippie version of pantheism, according to which nature is beautiful and soothing as a mother figure. This feel-good, back-to-nature sentiment has been coopted by the business world, because the hippies who sold out their socialist principles were only ever consumers in the making. This is because they viewed nature not objectively but out of self-love. Nature had to reassure them that their laid-back lifestyle and psychedelic hunches weren’t reckless diversions from their revolutionary purpose of smiting the corporate overlords. Now that the hippies have been mostly replaced by yuppies, such as by the herd of Oprah Winfrey’s middleclass wannabes, New Age pantheism is just a flavour of consumerism. This celebration of nature is based on worship of the self, as is made plain from the “secret law of attraction,” which is that we get whatever we desire. Their version of nature is infantile in its animistic promise that helpful spirits and a divine, life-affirming power are omnipresent.

By contrast, cosmicist pantheism can begin, as I said, with objectivity, with detachment from the ego and thus with genuine humility. The easiest way to humble yourself is to realize that the world at large should terrify and disgust you. At any rate, healthy scientific curiosity will do the trick, since the depersonalizing aesthetic vision is next-door to objectivity. However you arrive at your humiliation, whether it’s through Job-like suffering or the practice of scientific skepticism, detachment, and alienation, once you’ve learned to take up the view from nowhere, from which your personal preoccupations seem strange and ridiculous, you likewise can’t help but dismiss the consumer’s culture of narcissism even when that culture is dressed-up as a New Age religion.

But to return to the point, doesn’t that horrific vision of nature’s aesthetic properties amount to knowledge of the universe’s noumenal, existential status, and doesn’t that conflict with the pragmatic conviction that all knowledge claims are tentative? My answer is that the aesthetic vision of nature amounts at best to negative theology and thus provides not knowledge but a religious experience that ought to turn us into existential warriors. Mystical knowledge would require an adequate concept of the entirety of nature rather than just the sense that you can strip away your presuppositions and ulterior motives when perceiving any particular thing. Just because we can acquire the sense that the universe is haunted by a nonexistent god, because of nature’s living-dead creativity, or just because we can choose to be alienated from any part of the world through objective detachment doesn’t mean we can identify the universe as a whole.

Knowledge, then, is a practical matter of achieving some goal, because our concepts are tools or otherwise motivated simplifications, but there’s also an eminently impractical mode of perceiving nature, one which casts us out of the world and gives us a taste of life’s absurdity. Theoretically, negative theology could have practical applications. For example, the alienated pantheist could sublimate her horror by producing cosmicist or existentialist art. Moreover, the experience of the world as horrific should impact our character and force us to grapple with the paradox of ethics. Still, the applications of this religious experience are unclear and indirect, whereas the complication in pragmatic knowledge is just that our best laid plans can have unintended consequences. Knowledge as the use of some map or model to achieve your goal by modifying the world is explicitly practical (goal-oriented), whereas there’s no obvious use of the objective mystical experience of nature as living-dead art. On the contrary, that experience informs us that all our goals are ultimately futile. The task of living with both naturalistic pragmatism and with respectable, postmodern pantheism is to approximate the type of posthuman, godlike creature that can dream up tragically-heroic aims in a fundamentally meaningless world.


  1. beautiful. a must read fr any and all new age snake oil peddlers everywhere :)

  2. There's an interesting book on that topic that I'm waiting to read--as in: it's sitting in one of the piles of books in my room. It's called, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, by Gary Lachman.

  3. Enlightening as always.I found this rant in particular to be well representative of your entire philosophy. I have been following your blog for a number of years now, and i can say you have been the greatest influencer in terms of my philosophical thinking. Personality when reading your rants i find myself with two conflicting emotions. The first is an appreciation of your insight and the amount philosophical inquiry necessity to formulate such views. And second,anxiety and depression. Not so much from the cosmic 'bleakness' that deprives from your philosophy, but rather,a sense that i may never be able to generate such wisdom you seemly so regularly formulate. Of course i understand that there is the element of experience, as yourself have been practicing philosophy for decades now i imagine. Yet, i can't but feel almost alienated by the depth of your thinking. I have this sense that i will never have the means to ultimately understand and provide any worth while philosophy, as my intelligence or genes will not permit me to achieve this higher order thinking. My attitude is similar to what once Socrates said, ''an examined life is worth living''. Now i will by no mean take that attitude to the same degree of Socrates, there is nonetheless a real sense of liberty that may be found in having ability to philosophize in a matter such as yourself.

    1. Well, thanks...I think. However, you should be in competition only with yourself, not with others, in attempting to understand the world. Your goal should be to understand the world in a way that makes sense to you. The more you read in philosophy and religion, and also the more heart-to-heart discussions you have with fellow travelers, the deeper your thinking will be.

      I recall having an all-night discussion on Leo Strauss, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and the neocons with a Kierkegaard student while at a philosophy conference in Liverpool. And I had plenty of other such exchanges while at graduate school. There's something to the old Greek view that philosophy should be done orally, in person, not by reading dusty old texts. Having an engaging philosophical conversation in person (preferably over beer) can do wonders in helping you formulate your views.

      I did indeed have to go through the wringer in studying philosophy, to be able to spout my philosophy now at will. Anyone can read books and learn to write, but I wonder whether everyone is made to master philosophy. What I mean is that philosophy may not be good for everyone's health. Maybe you could learn to express your ideas through some type of art or some other hobby. Otherwise, if you want to be able to think philosophically, you'll have to read and write lots of philosophy to build up your familiarity with various positions.

      I believe Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, and I wonder whether the converse holds true. Perhaps no life is entirely worth living, but the unexamined life (of the beta class of normies, if you like) has the lowest value. As long as we ponder the greatest questions and come to our answers, whether through philosophy, art, or some other way in our personal life, I think we'll have done our best with what we've been given.

    2. Thank you for your input Mr Cain. I am studying philosophy this year and your response has given me nuance which i ought to consider. Your words on oral communication in philosophy is something that heavily relates to me personally. It's almost daily that i talk to my father regrading matters of politics and philosophy, as did your other suggestion on philosophy not being good for everyone's health. I can say with first hand experience that philosophy can be emotionally and mentally taxing. I recall in one case were my parents become very worried about me as i had fallen into a deep depression and obsession about the question of free will. This question in particular shattered my naive assumptions i had about my beliefs, while I've have been interested in philosophy ever sense i was a young boy,i would say that's was manly because i was opinionated, and it was from this experience that i had been forced to take a more humble approach in my thinking and ever sense i lost that dogmatic confidence in my beliefs it sometimes pains me to contemplate issues which has great metaphysical or other philosophical ramifications, such experiences reinforces your point, but i do intend to train myself in taking in issues to a lesser mental and emotionally detrimental way. It is often times in thinking of philosophical issues that i get this ''feel'' for what i intend to say but lack the means to expresses it, not until after a philosopher comes along and happens to formulate the position in such a way that i feel is representative of my own position. It is from this that i fear that i may never progress beyond this point of thinking, and that the only means forwards would be to acquire something i may not have, i.e higher Intelligence or something of that nature. Of course maybe i am missing the bigger picture. The issue is not so much a matter of intelligence, but the periphery of oneself to the issue at hand. An example i think of is David Hume's is ought distinction. Hume's argument to me seems almost trivial in the sense that anyone could come to such a conclusion through essentially simple thinking, which to my knowledge, has not surface elsewhere throughout the history of philosophy. It wasn't that Hume was more ''intelligent'' per say but rather he obtained such a position through his philosophical lens of skepticism applied to the issue. Perhaps this is the reason for why even highly intelligent individuals may succumb to irrational thinking, as Hume himself said reason is the slave of the passions. Our hope then would to be obtain a perspective free from value judgments, a more cosmicist thinking as practiced by such as yourself. Nevertheless i digress. As a side note i would like to apologize for the over the top tone i produced in my first comment, my anxiety had gotten the better of me and i should of addressed you in a much more humble matter. I thank you for the time taken to address my concerns and for your work.

    3. I don't think "humble" is the right word. Did you mean to say "flattering manner" at the end there? I'm not good at taking compliments, so I wouldn't worry about that.

      I'm actually having an email conversation with another reader on a similar topic, about how to come up with big ideas. Here's a relevant part of what I wrote to him:

      "If you're having trouble finding your big idea or experience, maybe ask yourself what your favourite things are and consider why you like them. Try to find the connecting thread and be radical in reflecting on the applications and implications of the underlying ideas. I got my big ideas after studying philosophy in graduate school, but I might also have started from my habit of watching movies. I drew up a list of my favourite movies so it became plain what sort of movies I like, and that taught me about myself. What sort of person am I and how do I fit into society? That's a big part of my blog and philosophy, too. So how well do you know yourself?"

      David Hume did apply a skeptical lens, but I almost think "skeptical" is a euphemism for "satirical." He pushed empiricism the way a sycophant would push his dictator's creed. He may have been performing a reductio ad absurdum on empiricism, showing that that philosophy leads to absurd conclusions. Berkeley did the same thing, but for religious purposes. Hume may have done it just for a laugh. If reason is the slave of the passions, how seriously should we take philosophical arguments or empirical fact-finding? We fool ourselves if we trust in reason, since anything to do with values is beyond reason's scope, and underlying philosophical speculations is typically some intuition, emotion, or value assessment.

      I don't think Hume would say we should avoid value judgments. Remember that the posthuman viewpoint I explore would be supported by aesthetic criteria, since hyper-objectivity still makes everything seem like art. Also, the cosmicist should have a tragicomic sense of life, and that indeed makes for a wild swing of emotions. Intellectually-advanced individuals shouldn't think of themselves as bloodless robots, since they should feel disgust, pity, and awe. I suppose, though, it's not just a question of intelligence but of character.

    4. Your dialogue on the formation of big ideas seem to compliment my commentary on Hume in the form of one self's ideological and philosophical positioning to the issue. In that to be effective in developing ideas one has to found that analytical framework of interpreting issues. Your point on movies for example conveys this well, as movies carry with them a central overarching critique or endorsement of human ideas, and one can understand this critique and apply the overall ethos of the argument to a sort of method one can use to position themselves in understanding the world. Hence, Humes skeptical or even satirical lens was instrumental in developing his philosophy. I should also clarify that i didn't mean that Hume himself would recommend that we abandon value judgments ranter i was minoring your discussion of the ability of reason to apply in areas of human values. Thank you for the reply.

    5. I think we need an intellectual framework, but I'm not sure what that framework really is. It's not just a set of beliefs or ideas, since the "framework" likely includes fundamental experiences, memories, character traits, cultural or social commitments, and so on. Writing up our ideas is really a way of discovering who we are.

  4. "Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
    Most religious people I know admit they are religious, at least in part, for pragmatic reasons. But can you really choose what you believe? I can’t choose to believe in a personal God any more than I could choose to believe in Santa Clause. And there are insurmountable problems with Pascal’s Wager: if it’s taken to mean you should just ACT as though you believe, then you would be insincere, which is explicitly addressed as an unacceptable position by traditional Christianity. Then there is the fact that the Wager would apply to any sect of any religion - an obvious absurdity. So the only way to be “pragmatic” about religion is to not think about it too hard. Whoops! Too late!
    “Existential warrior” - I like it! I didn’t ask to be born, so I have the right to make my life my own. Nature and society present challenges; I decide how to respond. There is scientific evidence that those who have a passive attitude toward life - it’s something that happens to me - are more likely to be depressed, while those who have an active attitude - what’s important is how I respond to what happens - are less depressed. We can choose to make the best of it. Pragmatic, no?
    So, Anonymous, Cain is great, and if you learn something by reading him, you’ve gained knowledge - for free! - but don’t let his negativity get you down; there are other ways of thinking about the facts that he presents; just take it as food for thought, existential warrior.

    1. I suppose the negativity of most of my articles could be depressing, but when you clear away the conventional nonsense and self-deception, you should be left not just with despair or angst but with wonder. For example, once you see through the ruse of monotheism and you dismiss the prospect of a personal God that only trivializes the true, inhuman mystery of how impersonal Being could create or evolve itself, you should appreciate the need for absurdist comedy, since everything that happens is ultimately pointless, given our bias towards intended purposes.

      I'm not trying just to bring the readers down, but to help prepare us for the new kind of comedy and honour we'll have to specialize in to have any self-respect, assuming the naturalistic mindset continues to take over the intellectual field. We'll need to be existential warriors, which means we should be realistic about certain grim realities. That at least frees us from narrow, cheaply-flattering conceptions that provide a false sense of comfort.

  5. I agree with you more than I’ve ever agreed with anyone. This post and your comments after give a much less depressing impression of your philosophy than some of the things you’ve written in the past - I’ve been reading you occasionally for years and have at times I’ve thought, “I wonder if medication would help.” It seemed pretty grim at times.
    I’m not worried any more but let me posit that we should apply your (correct) principle that all knowledge is incomplete (and biased) to statements like “nature is horrific and pointless.” Nature has an astounding capacity to surprise us, and we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend we understand it. Materialists who say “it’s all just particles and forces” have more in common with those who say “it’s all God’s works” than they realize: both statements tend to shut down the wonder and curiosity that make life interesting.

    1. I agree that nature can surprise us, which is why I like to apply Rudolph Otto's idea of the holy as a terrifying but fascinating mystery, to pantheism. Indeed, in a number of places I've addressed the problems of antirealism and relativism, that is, the paradoxes that ensue when we're properly humble about the epistemic status of our deepest beliefs. Here are some quotes from a selection of relevant articles, linked to below if you're interested:

      "This, then, is how we ought to handle the ultimate questions in philosophy and religion, not with arguments or explanations, but with a demonstration of the fitting existential attitude, given reason’s limitations. A wise person would presumably acknowledge the wrongheadedness of the attempt to comprehend absolutely everything in a rational framework, and would go on to say that we can nevertheless relate to being in general either well or poorly."

      'We form representations to cope with stimuli. But even this sort of reductive, meta-explanation of symbols is parochial, because it indicates our insatiable curiosity and desperation to get to the bottom of our predicament: we overuse our rationality, which had evolved for a limited, social purpose, but because we’re programmed to love our life, we’re proud of our accomplishments, telling ourselves we’re the hero of our life’s story, and so we trust that our thinking matters to the world at large. We explain our explanations, telling truths about truth, going round and round in our investigations because we love to talk about ourselves.

      'Whatever the unknowable specifics of how enchanted Nature would regard our presumptions, we can safely assume that Nature would think us mad. What we call sanity, including the convention that we can use tools to know the truth about things, must be as foolish to Nature as this attempt to put ourselves in her shoes and to imagine what Nature would think if she could think in the first place. The gulf between our mindset and a fictional one that doesn’t really exist is, of course, unbridgeable, just as our symbols go nowhere, far from reaching out to let us “grasp” the truth.'

    2. "Perhaps our thoughts and utterances aren’t just instruments, but artworks, and perhaps all of nature consists of things created and destroyed, as the field of becoming. This metaphysical picture shouldn’t be thought of as true or false, for the above reasons. Instead, think of it as a poetic bet that honours the power of technoscience while not indulging in any anthropocentric delusion. At a minimum, as Heraclitus said, things in nature come and go. We too came and will go. Things everywhere are created and destroyed. Our technologies are creations of clever mammals created by a planet created by a star created by gravity acting on a nebula that was created by atomic and subatomic shenanigans. This means that aesthetics should take priority over semantics when we evaluate our judgments. Our worldviews are creations made of ideas. They are all therefore fictional, and the fictions can be more or less useful for various purposes, which is where aesthetics meets with pragmatism. But it’s not just our worldviews, our models, theories, philosophies, and myths that are works of art. Our reactions to the world that add up to the themes of our life are also our handiworks. Moreover, our perception of the world is a figment of the brain that interprets the inputs of the five senses. Put all this together and life becomes very like a dream, like a play or set of scenes that seems normal when stitched together but that unfolds strangely when viewed from a critical distance."

      And from the above article: "But to return to the point, doesn’t that horrific vision of nature’s aesthetic properties amount to knowledge of the universe’s noumenal, existential status, and doesn’t that conflict with the pragmatic conviction that all knowledge claims are tentative? My answer is that the aesthetic vision of nature amounts at best to negative theology and thus provides not knowledge but a religious experience that ought to turn us into existential warriors."