Logos, Noosphere, Midrash, Gnosis

This analysis was prepared in response to an exchange with Aharon Varady, wherein various connections were pondered. This is all very informal, and very much a work in progress; feedback and criticism is encouraged.

 

Fiat Logos

Heraclitus’ use of logos seems to unite concept and representation, a form not uncommon in classical Greek thought. This concept can also be found in Pythagoreanism, which literalizes abstract mathematical concepts, forming them into concrete and real structures; or, from a Pythagorean perspective, simply reveals the role of these concepts in reality. Philo’s “logos endiathetos,” or the word remaining within, paralleled in many ways the Stoic “logos spermatikos,” the generative principle of the universe or the ubiquitous, active reason which animates the universe. The Stoics considered this principle to be literal and observable. Again, the connection presents itself: word/dialogue/linguistic principle as literal/representative of the Monad principle, or the Gnostic notion of Pleroma or First Thought.

Use of the term to refer specifically to the word of god begins during Hellenistic Judaism, in the Septuagint. Philo adopted the term, further complicating matters by assigning it a meaning closer to the principle of the demiurge, but, in the more matter-positive manner of much Judaic thought, also assigned positive importance to this notion, noting that an intermediary would be necessary to traverse between the divine and lower realm. Here we find the genesis of the term’s conscription into Christian theology, as Philo calls the Logos force “the first-born of God.” This context would eventually combine with the generative principle used in the Gospel of John to form the metaphysical conception of Christ as Logos seen at the end of John. This also reflects an effort by early church leaders, such as Justin, to make Christianity palatable to the non-Jewish Hellenistic population by conscripting a terminology they would comprehend.

Plotinus’ use of Logos as the highest form in his trinity uses some Gnostic emanation concepts. For Plotinus, there was a dialectic procedure involved in the three realms; the higher principle fed Logos into the lower, and the lower fed Eros back into the higher. One can see the influence of this notion in Philip K. Dick’s idea of the divine principle being both a sending entity at the beginning of time and a receiving (and course-correcting) entity at the end of time.

One can also see in Dick’s reworking of the Logos idea much of Jung’s own syncretic definitions, which incorporated the complimentary dualism of Eastern thought with the literalized principles of Neoplatonism.

 

Noosphere: Transcendence Without Intent

Teilhard’s concept of the noosphere is decidedly non-representative, in that the literal action of human thought contributes to literal action in the noosphere. It is a parity-based balancing principle, and in this sense is closer to the later Jungian conception of Logos. Again, the Dickian idea of what I think of as “Pitcher/Catcher” Urgrund finds some commonality here. But connections to earlier uses of the Logos concept depart at this point. The causal root of reactions in the noosphere is via human action. In some ways, the noosphere cosmogony is almost an inverted form of Gnostic emanation. It is instead a system whereby increasing complexity refines, compresses, and filters its way into a final form which resembles the Pleroma or Monad. It is time-inverse, and therefore ontologically inverse.

Once more, we can find some commonality in Dick. In Cosmogony and Cosmology, Dick writes of the universe very much in terms of transcendent final action, postulating that the collective actions of humankind contribute to the growth of god. In this estimation, we are both the womb of god and the birth of god, in addition to our eventual role as god after absorption.  This concept differs from the noosphere concept in two major ways; first, the Dickian approach utilizes religious language, though the actual semantic value of his use of “god” is debatably only formally religious. Second, Dick’s vision still involves initial intent and creation by an entity or force, describable as “pre-God,” and presents our actions as contributions to that greater process. Teilhard incorporates no such sense of externally enforced purpose in his noosphere; the “goal” is only the such because it is the inevitable outcome, and we are positioned ahead of it in time. The Omega Point is both the equivalent and opposite of the Monad in that it will be “everything,” but does not exist at present.

The noosphere idea revolves around the idea that “Living systems are dissipative structures that create internal order by expending energy in exchange for a local reduction in entropy.” (via Wikipedia). This strikes me as quite similar to Plotinus’ understanding of the Logos within his exchange-system; here we find, by a circuitous route, Logos and Order filling the same role once more.

 

Midrash: Malleable Mysticism

As an exegetical process, Midrash is distinct from either the Logos or Noosphere concepts. However, in its conception of the literal power of “the word,” as well as how it perceives the interactive potential of idea and reality through “the word,” it does find common ground with both the Logos concept and the noosphere idea.

Midrash connects to esoteric Christianity, Gnosticism, and Pythagoreanism in its understanding of truth as both embedded in reality and difficult to find. In Midrash, the truth is not simply hidden; rather, as Heraclitus says, “The nature of things is in the habit of concealing itself.” Pythagorean cosmology seeks to mine for truth in mathematics and contemplation, Gnostic traditions through the gift of gnosis and the interpretation of it; Midrash sets aside a certain freedom not always available in other areas of Jewish theology, in order that a deeper kind of contemplation can occur – one which does not demand that each step be correct, so long as the process leads to insight. Once more, we see echoes of this approach in Dick’s ever-shifting set of theories.

Aggadic interpretations are particularly linked with the spirit of early Gnostic writing. There is a complex and nuanced approach to literal and figurative realities, which both discourages overt literalism and also potentially equates the literal and the metaphoric. The freedom inherent in this process is reminiscent of the Gnostic tradition of reinterpretation, an element I consider central and essential to Gnostic thought.

In connection to the noosphere concept, Midrash shares a central conceit: that thought, or Logos perhaps, is able to continue producing new information through a sort of feedback system which interacts with human intellect. In Teilhard’s concept, the intellect in the noosphere IS originally and partially reflective of human thought, and yet, through permutation with other facets of human thought, may be able to generate new knowledge, perhaps even in an exponential manner. Midrash posits that further interaction with the word reveals interconnection and multiple levels of meaning; essentially, the act of testing the linguistic and theoretical elasticity of the word, one may extract a fuller concept of the word itself. By delineating the space around an object, the object can be mapped.

 

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2 Responses to “Logos, Noosphere, Midrash, Gnosis”

  1. “make pallatable”? Or are we butting up against the limits of language and interpretation from one language/culture/mindset to another?
    I (uselessly) wonder how different PKDs reaction to, or interpretation of his vision would have been, had he had a different vocabulary to respond to it.
    Thank you for your post.

    • You’re absolutely right; I think it did have to do with those factors being more-or-less un-translatable. I tend to think that much of what happened to these ideas (proto-Gnostic, pre-Socratic, etc) through history has to do with that same limit. “Palatable” isn’t quite right.

      I wonder the same about Dick, but I tend to think he would’ve benefited most greatly from clarifying and really defining his terms; he had a lot of great ideas at his disposal, but almost all of them have a thousand shades of meaning, and he utilizes almost as many over the course of his Exegetical material in particular.

      Thanks for your response!

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