Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 02: Behold A Man

He [a modern man] imagines that it is the response of our opinions that is relevant to the effect of media and technology in society, a ‘point of view’ that is plainly the result of the typographic spell. For the man in a literate and homogenized society ceases to be sensitive to the diverse and discontinuous life of forms. He acquires the illusion of the third dimension and the ‘private point of view’ as part of his Narcissus fixation, and is quite shut off from Blake’s awareness or that of the Psalmist, that we become what we behold. – p. 19, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, by Marshall McLuhan.

The truth of the statement, “we become what we behold,” although traceable through history’s changes in media and technology, can also be found in other ways and in other places. My psychology textbook, for example (pg. 89) defines perception as “a mental process that elaborates and assigns meaning to the incoming sensory patterns.” In other words, the world, in and of itself, is a fragmented and disordered mass of fragmented nothings.

Without perception of the world, one really can’t refer to any entity in the world, nor any quantity or quality of any said entity. The world is nothing until our mind takes hold of it, grasps it, and makes sense of it for us. Once formed, we use our percepts to interact with the sensed world. Without percepts, a man has no sense of his environment; a man without percepts is lost. In the very process of perception itself, as well as in the use of his perception to interact with sensible reality of which perception perceives, the process becomes a mirroring.

In this process of making sense, of perception, the percepts that were the stimuli that make up our world become part of man. Man’s percepts enter him. Man becomes his percepts. This is the scientific version of this truth, the psychological one. We can add to it that, from our percepts, we make our concepts. This is a fundamental insight of Zen-Buddahists, as well.

I said a moment ago that the truth of “we become what we behold” is traceable through media and technology. However, “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert of the changes in sense perception.” – p. 18 of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, by Marshall McLuhan. Therefore, man is generally as unaware of becoming what he beholds as he is of the process of perception itself. That doesn’t change the truth of this idea, applied to media and technology, found in Psalm 135: 15-19:

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.

With the idea in mind of becoming what we behold, imagine a man appearing from over the horizon. Man is made of heaven and earth. This perception of the appearance of a man walking on the earth and moving through heaven is our interpretation, or perception, of reality. We become our interpretations, which is why we are often unaware of them. That might explain the shocking reaction to the statement that we are made of heaven and earth. Despite its possible shock value, the Incarnation made this idea (that man is made of heaven and earth) plain enough. (The 6th century icon of the Transubstantiation, pictured below, illustrates the crown of the hierarchy if it.)

In other words, it is not only because we SEE heaven and earth that we are made of them. We are made of heaven and earth, because all things were made in and through the Word; “God made man in his own image, in the image of God he made him.” Our intellect is a piece of heaven (stated closer to the more empirically centered accounts of truth to which we are accustomed, our intellect is a piece of something heavenly). Our body is a piece of earth (quite actually). All things in heaven and earth will bow down to Him (through whom we were made like Him).

So, to sum up. God made man. God made man in His own image. Man made tools. The tools shape man. Through these tools, the history of the making of man can be traced. At this point, one might ask why the history of the making of man can be traced in his media and technology (his tools). The answer is simple; technologies are the extensions of man. The wheel is an extension of the foot. The garden tool is an extension of the hand. Speech is an extension of the mouth. The phonetic alphabet is an extension of the eye. The internet is an extension of the central nervous system.

This idea of technologies being extensions of man is why FIGURES appear in ancient buildings and in older cars or vehicles. The figures that appear are the configuring of the man who made them! Because man is made of heaven and earth, you see traces of them in man’s technologies. And, you see those traces in the same ratios and admixtures in which you see in man at any given time. In that sense, interpreting the history of heaven and earth is like listening to music (the relationships between sounds that you are hearing are all about ratios and mathematics).

In the context of the idea of interpreting the relationship between heaven and earth (in man) throughout the course of history, one must also keep in mind that man’s knowledge, ideas, and thoughts…are those of man. In other words, the course of change in man’s ideas is another means of tracing the truth of the statement, “we become what we behold.” You could say that man’s concepts are tools for grasping ideas or images of himself or the world. Human discourse is similar to technology in reference to this idea of the extensions of man. Textual discourses are extensions of and the makings of man. Also, similarly to media and technology, concepts in turn shape us. Also, like through media and technology, one can trace the history of heaven and earth through the course of change in man’s ideas or concepts.

As noted in the previous introductory post, our idea of heaven effects our idea of who we are. Throughout the course of history, the ratios and admixtures of the heaven and earth in man have shifted, adjusted, and been re-mixed in various ways. In other words, man’s relationship to heaven and earth, and, thus, his self-image, has changed with the course of history. I say his self-image has changed, but I mean to say that man himself has changed. His self-image, I think, has largely been unconscious, but man has himself shaped his own image. We can only get a glimpse of that fact and the means of its truth after the shaping has occurred. I will explore the aftermath of history in the coming blog posts of this series.

As a vast over-simplification, but for the sake of having something to grasp onto, I will make the following statement. At the beginning of history, man was primarily an earthly creature, whereas now, at the end of history, man is primarily a heavenly creature. To say it analogically, the course of history has slowly climbed the rungs of Jacob’s ladder. This history is that of man. The highlights of history, from the wheel to the internet, are marked by man’s ascent up the stairs of the Tower of Babel, which, of course, reaches to heaven.

The Tower of Babel is itself, quite literally, the pinnacle of pagan technology. A tour through the circumstances of history’s media, technology, concepts and ideas, and events, in the next posts of this series, will demonstrate my meaning. It will begin to answer the quest-ion, “Where have you come from?” From the top of the Tower of Babel, immersed in heaven, it is easy to say that heaven is “somewhere else.”

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