AN ESSAY FEATURED IN (RE)CONSTRUCTING “A IS A” BY O.G. ROSE
On Critical Distinctions and their Consequences
We’re explained when we know why we’re here, but we’re not addressed until we know why we’re here. A strange opening sentence, yes, and yet I would wager that you know exactly what it’s trying to articulate. Without a second thought, we know the difference between “here” and “here” — we’ve known it our whole life, every waking moment. We know that we were born, that we stay alive because we eat, that we travel through space because of our legs, and yet none of this feels like it’s addressing us (it feels “besides the point”). It’s explaining our physical composition, our need for energy, our body — but we are nowhere to be found in the explanation. And yet we live it — we’re always living explanations in which we cannot be found.
Am I saying that we’re ghosts in machines, spirits in bodies? Not really: I’m mostly just saying that we’re both here and here. We are in two places in the same spot at the same time. In logic, that’s a contradiction, and yet we do not negate out of existence like a mistake. Until we die, the universe doesn’t quickly try to rush in and hide us away. Instead, we’re like a child reading a novel who is “here” reading the book on the sofa and yet “there” in the story (the child is “here/there,” per se, to use language from “Absolute Knowing” by O.G. Rose). “Here/there” in this sense is a paradox, and this suggests why we are all ontologically paradoxes. We’re “here/here” and/or “here/there” — whichever language you prefer.
It often feels like most people have only ever told us why we’re here, not why we, in our particularity, are here (instead of someone else). Why are we in this body and not another spirit, another subjectivity? Perhaps it’s by chance, sure, for some subjectivity had to be in “this body,” but that still leaves us with a question: How should the “objective situation” of us being here, in “this body,” be addressed? We cannot escape this “here/here”-ness: our situation is “hard” and, indeed, object-ive (we are bound to an object that is “this body”). So what should be done? What are we going to do about it?
This kind of framing is rarely what people present us with when they want to help us figure out the meaning of life. Often, we’re told that we’re here because of Evolution and the Big Bang — we’re explained. And certainly, we need explanation, but does that explanation help us with “the situation” that we’re in? The “here/here,” per se, the constant surprise of us? No, it doesn’t, not at all.
We are all “thrown” into life, as Heidegger put it: we are born and have no choice but to be “here/here,” always struggling to tell “here” and “here” apart. We have these eyes; we have this face; we have these emotions — they’re there while we’re here. So, what are we going to do about it? That’s the question we all face. We look at our hands, feel our hearts, and ask, “What am I going to do about this?” This situation. This here stuck here. And so we look for help. We ask questions. We read books. And we are told about how cells come together to make life. We are told about the chemicals in our minds which make us feel what we feel. And our situation is explained to us, and we learn there is no exit. We ask how we should live with our situation, and we are told about how cells come together to make life.
We all know why we’re here. We were born; we walked here from our apartment; we moved here from Chicago — yes, I’m being tongue in cheek, but at the same time, I think this is an important point: “Why are we here?” is a question that, when we utter it, we’re not asking what it sounds like we’re asking. We’re asking, “Why are we here?” We’re after something beneath causality, something that grounds causality and makes it matter. We don’t just want a causal explanation which could apply to anyone just as well as it applies to us — an explanation that makes us accidental — but rather we want to be given an address, an address which could only apply to us right now, right here, and exactly as we are in this moment — a description which makes us essential. We want to be located, for we live in a world where everyone and everything feels lost. We want to be found, and yet when we ask teachers if they see us, we are told about how cells come together to make life.
Modern people struggle to see where we are as we stand right before their eyes. Mental illness, suicide rates, divorce — people are suffering, and it is this suffering which John Vervaeke refers to when he discusses “the meaning crisis.” What causes this crisis? Well, to put the case generally, I would say that we as a species deconstructed all our sources for “address” and left ourselves with “pure explanation,” which has proven inadequate (The Secular Age by Charles Taylor is a fair overview of this history of “disenchantment”). In response to the problems “pure explanation” has caused, we’re often just offered more explanations, and so our cures proceed to make the patient sicker. But with the loss of religion, art, philosophy, and the humanities in general, we seem to have lost the capacity to even “think the category” of “address,” and by extension that would mean we cannot even “think” the cure. All we are capable of thinking worsens what we’re trying to fix, and our hope that next time will be different keeps us trying.
“Why are we here?” — it is possible in our age of “pure explanation” to even understand this question? Or can it only be a noise, a distant cry? How will “the meaning crisis” end? We are here and here, particular and feeling unaddressed, but before discouragement overwhelms us, let us take heart: beauty is only found in the particular, in the radical “such-ness” of the actual world. Because each of us is “here/here,” each of us is situated exactly at the point where beauty can be found. Because we are stuck here, we can find something here that can be found nowhere else. Every manifestation of beauty is particular. We are each a beauty that’s chance to be known is found in us alone.
To elaborate more on “the meaning crisis,” the Frankfurt School was right: the world today, shaped by Neoliberalism and corporations, can feel general, flat, and without characteristics. This is a cost of “pure explanation,” for explanation tends to favor generalities and categories, rendering “particular trees” into “trees,” per se, and gradually under “pure explanation” all particularities become “expressions of categories” versus “expressions which ultimately exceed categorization.” Sure, when asked directly, we know “particular trees” cannot be fully captured in the category of “tree,” but slowly and gradually we “practically” live as if this is the case, habituated to “pure explanation.” As discussed in “Dialectical Ethics” by O.G. Rose, “is-ness” and explanation go together, while “such-ness” and “address” are linked. A world of “such-ness” is a world of particularities and specifics, and that is where “address” can “meet us,” for it is only ever you who is addressed. Humanity can be explained, but humanity cannot be addressed. Only you and me can be “addressed,” and so if we are to be addressed again, not just explained, we must return to a world of particularities and specifics. We must see what’s right in front of us, and if we don’t take the time to learn how to “see,” what hope is there that we’ll be “seen?”
To feel “explained but not addressed” is to feel like a cog in a machine, a number in a computer — a human but not a person. It is to feel objectified, like we are things which could vanish and take with us our very vanishing. “What are we, anyway?” we may try to ask, and, in response, we are told about Evolution and the Big Bang. We are told about our brains as if that will help us stop feeling out of our minds. And then the teacher moves on to the next question, as if we have been addressed, when we have only been explained away. And away we go.
Johannes Niederhauser brilliantly discusses the difference between “problems we can solve” and “problems we can only manage,” and Dr. Niederhauser warns that we live in a world today where generally everyone assumes that all questions can be answered and, as a result, made to vanish. We don’t even seem to have in our minds anymore a category for problems which we can “only manage,” and as a result we go around searching for problems that we can make vanish while ignoring the critical problems with which we must learn to live. To refer back to the main distinction of this paper, problems that can be explained are problems that can be solved, whereas problems that can’t be solved are problems we must address. We ourselves are such a problem, for we must be addressed.
We feel happy today but sad tomorrow; we feel in community one minute but totally alone the next. There is no guarantee that if we “get everything right” today everything will still be right tomorrow. “The problem of our very lives” will never leave us until we leave this earth, and then we won’t even be around to experience the change. We cannot be solved without ceasing to be, but horrifically that is exactly what our world of “pure explanation” has sought to do. It has explained us, and thus necessarily explained us away. Even if our bodies keep eating, smiling, and sleeping another fifty years, once we are solved, we are gone.
It is hard to relate where there is only explanation, and so it is not by chance that today we feel alone and atomized. Communities are pulling part; relationships are shallowing; we stand as strangers in crowds. Address feels like love, whereas explanation feels like association; address feels I/thou, whereas explanation feels I/it. We need to explain things, yes, but people also need to be addressed: they should not feel like “its.” We should feel like “us,” but our minds no longer possess a category necessary to make this possible. Can we change? Is it too late to be addressed?
Imagine you asked me, “How does inflation work?” and I answered, “Inflation exists because of the Big Bang.” Did I answer your question? Funny enough, monetary inflation wouldn’t exist without the Big Bang or carbon molecules, but though discussing these topics might help explain how inflation came into existence, the answer would not directly explain inflation rates at all. The existence of inflation rates requires the universe, so though it’s true in one sense we have to explain the Big Bang to explain interest rates, in another sense bringing in the topic is not appropriate at all (as I’d wager we all realize). Well, funny enough, we often do something similar with people — it’s just not so “vividly” wrong.
To answer a question, it is not the case that “any explanation” will do, even explanations which the entity in question wouldn’t exist without. Again, yes, there would be no economy without the Big Bang, and yet explaining the Big Bang doesn’t really explain (or “address”) the economy. In this way, we must make distinctions between what could be called “direct explanations” and “background explanations”: the Big Bang is in “the background” of the economy, making the economy possible, but explaining the Big Bang is “too far back,” per se, to function as an adequate explanation for interest rates. In fact, when you ask about interest rates, and I start discussing cosmetology, it can sound like I’m crazy. The same would happen if I started discussing the general history of money, which though “closer” to the topic of interest rates, still feels far too “distant” to adequately answer the question. I would likely still come off like I wasn’t listening to you, like I wanted to impress you with all my knowledge, and so on.
In Statistics, the language is used of “underfitting” and “overfitting” to discuss how well a model aligns with data. If I have a hundred dots of information and draw a line connecting them all, I won’t be able to find a trend: the model will be chaotic and useless, even if in some sense the model is “more accurate” because it connects all the dots. This brings us to “the map isn’t the territory” problem that I discuss often: a perfect map which described every detail of a territory would be useless, precisely because in being so perfect, the map would entail too much data and information to understand. In Statistics, there is a tradeoff between “accuracy” and “usefulness.” On the other hand, if a model “underfits,” that means it is too inaccurate to be useful, for even if a trend or “signal” is found “in the noise,” not enough data is included to assure that the trend has something to do with reality.
Considering this, for explanations to even feel like explanations, we need them to “fit,” not end up “over” or “under” what is appropriate (which requires a “philosophical skill of discernment” to determine, which isn’t easy to gain). In this way, we need “good explanations,” but even if we achieve this, “good explanations” themselves can still over- and under- fit if they don’t dialectically relate to “address.” This is what has happened today, I think: tricked by “autonomous rationality” (as discussed throughout O.G. Rose), the belief rationality can “complete us,” we have believed that our problems can be solved with “good explanations,” when really we require “good explanations dialectically relating to good addresses” (as will be explained). We have put all our eggs in one basket, and the basket broke.
Please do not mistake me as saying that it is easy to tell the difference between “an explanation” and “a good explanation”: arguably, it’s one of the most difficult tasks in the world. The whole history of science is seemingly a movement from “explanations” to better ones, and doing so has taken thousands upon thousands of hours of work. And there’s still work to be done, so we should be clear that gaining “good explanations” is very hard. But my point is that we have assumed that accomplishing this particular Herculean task is all we need to do, when really we must accomplish that task and find “good addresses,” which is also incredibly difficult. And then we must make the two relate dialectically and do so well — yet a third Herculean task. Is it any wonder then that we face “the meaning crisis” today? Our task is great, and it is made all the greater by our failure to even recognize it.
Graham Harman discusses “undermining” and “overmining” when it comes to grasping the ontology of a given thing, and Dr. Harman suggests that we locate “begins” not by breaking them down to their smallest particles or by building them up to their largest wholes, but instead by finding the right “dimension” or “plane” on which to situate them. To learn about cows, we cannot simply discuss atoms or elaborate upon the whole Animal Kingdom; rather, we have to “face” cows as they are in themselves in their there-ness. Yes, this may entail explanations about atoms and elaborations on the categories of the Animal Kingdom, but if that’s all we do, we’ll miss the cow: the cow will be left unaddressed.
A world of “pure explanation” is a world that is likely to over-fit/mine and under-fit/mine, because explanation is not “bound” by a dialectical need to “address” that keeps the explanation from going too far one direction or the other. Since explanation doesn’t generally exist in a dialectic with address in the world today, most explanations lead to us being explained away: we are and feel undermined and underfitted or overmined and overfitted. When we ask the “Big Questions,” we are told about our composition, our cosmological origin, our economic standing, our neurological chemicals, and our biological lineage, and strangely to be told about the Big Bang in these situations is to feel both simultaneously under- and over- fitted/mined. The Big Bang makes us feel small and irrelevant, and yet we also feel like we’re part of something so big and all-consuming that we vanish amidst it.
Whether a discussion of the Big Bang is a matter of under- or over- fitting/mining could be relative to who we ask, but the result is all the same: we feel explained away. Still, regarding the error of “explaining too much,” I will refer to this as a mistake of “overfitting” and “overmining,” for we are treating “explanations” as capable of “mapping onto all possible circumstances” (physical, phenomenological, emotional, etc.), which in turn suggests that there is “nothing more” than what the explanation posits, meaning there is “no reality outside the explanation” (Dr. Harman’s “overmining” ). On the other hand, a world of “pure address” would likely be a world of “underfitting” and “undermining,” for if we search for explanations for why our children have suffered, we might be told that “Adam fell,” for example, which even if true, can feel too distant and abstract to function as an adequate answer (even if the answer suggests an “underlining reality” which justifies everything which occurs). Maybe not for Christians, but the answer “Adam fell” runs that risk. Furthermore, the answer “Adam fell” only considers the world in terms of Christian theology: arguably, not enough “data” is brought into consideration from the realms of physicals, ethics, politics, economics, etc., to feel like a meaningful “signal” has been found (which thus makes the answer feel like it “underfits”).
If I am told there is “evil in the world because Adam fell,” I can feel like the address goes “through me” versus “land on me,” per se. The answer equally applies to any one and any possible suffering, and so though the answer is meant “for me” and is so directed, the answer goes through the target. It hits, but it keeps going. This is because I myself and my unique circumstances are not essential to the answer, only accidental (to use Aristotle’s language), which is similar to the mistake of “over-explaining” (which also makes humans “accidental”). But I think address in this way doesn’t really “address me away” like does explanation, for human subjectivity and human persons are essential to the possibility of “Adam’s fall.” The Big Bang could have happened and consciousness never arose, but “The Fall of Man” was impossible without consciousness (as would be every individual manifestation of sin in accordance with that Fall). “Pure explanation” pushes subjectivity out of the picture, whereas “pure address” treats subjectivity like the only relevant factor. The goal is to address us, to “hit the target,” but that only ever happens when address dialectically relates to explanation (as “address/explain”), which is also the only time when “explanation” means anything to us at all.
Much of our existential anxiety in life is a result of answers which over- and under- fit: we do not generally live in a world full of the philosophical skill necessary to discern which answers simply “fit.” Answers which “fit” explain/address, and please note that if this paper seems like I’m arguing that all we need is “address,” that’s because my emphasis is on “address” due to this being a world and “Age of Pure Explanation.” Ultimately, I think we dialectically need both: it’s just that our world is one where the dialectic is imbalanced on the side of explanation, causing “the meaning crisis.”
What do I mean when I say, “We need a dialectic of explain/address?” Well, I’m saying that we need to learn “the art” of when to transition from “explanation” to “address” and vice-versa: we need to know when to change the sense and meaning of our “Why?”-questions. Think of the child who asks “Why?” to every answer the child receives — has the world ever seen a more powerful deconstructionist? The child asks why the house is cold, and we explain temperature, and then the child asks why temperature works like it does — and soon we’re discussing the Big Bang and God’s existence. It’s arguable that there exists any “Why?”-question that doesn’t eventually lead us to the Big Questions if pursued long enough, and this reality is what the child reveals to us.
Children are unstoppable deconstructionists, and yet children are also in the running for the best philosophers — how can they be both? Well, it’s because we need “Why?”-questions to find explanations and addresses, but if no dialectic is ever introduced, then the “Why?”-questions must err on either the side of over- or under- mining/fitting. The problem with children is that they don’t tend to be mature enough to introduce dialectics, whereas the problem with adults is that they don’t tend to be child-like enough to keep asking questions or mature enough to introduce dialectics. Adults are usually more childish than children.
In our lives, there is a point at which “Why?”-questions must transition from an explanation about physical origin to an address regarding phenomenological experience (for example) — a critical move. If “Why?”-questions keep going on forever in either the direction of explanation or address, we end up either “explained away” (as “a collection of atoms resulting from a Big Bang”), or “addressed through” (as “a general sinner who inherited Adam’s Fall”). We have to be able to “weigh” and “discern” when we’ve received “enough explanation” and “enough address,” like a cook tasting to figure out how much more sugar should be added. There’s no hard rule beyond the rule that a balance is required.
As already pointed out, there is a real sense in which I can’t explain anything without going back to the origin of the universe, that every explanation is part of a chain that needs everything other part of the chain to achieve completeness. And yet it is not the case that by “describing this complete chain” of explanation that I will necessarily feel addressed, as it is not the case that by theologically “describing the Chain of Being” I will feel explained. Similarly, if I explain how a meteor is heading toward earth, my explanation won’t necessarily address what we should do about the meteor. In our world today, we’ve acted like explaining a meteor makes it disappear, but this is like a child who thinks he can vanish by closing his eyes. After all, we’ve been “explained away” — why wouldn’t a meteor be similarly vulnerable?
Not everything needs to be addressed, and not everything needs to be explained, but we are beings who are “here/here,” and so we need both. As discussed throughout the work of O.G. Rose, we are “ontologically lacking,” and explaining how this is the case will not alone address our “lack.” We are the meteor, and we are here.
Under “pure explanation,” we are still here but understood exclusively in terms of “here-ness,” meaning “I-as-here” is nowhere to be found. We are treated like just a body. We are “explained away.”
Under “pure address,” we are still here but understood exclusively in terms of “here-ness,” meaning “I-as-here” would be denied as we stood on and in physicality. We are treated like a ghost. We are “addressed through.”
An Age of Pure Address is one that treats address as explanation (with the emphasis on address), while an Age of Pure Explanation is one that treats explanation as address (with the emphasis on explanation). There is no distinction, and one is treated as doing the other in being itself.
A world like ours of “pure explanation” cannot hold any dialectical tension, and thus ostensibly must under- or over- fit/mine. It seems inevitable, in the same way that a world of “pure address” must do the same (erring on the side of “underfitting” and “undermining”). Borrowing a term from Computer Science, Dr. Harman discusses the need for “duomining,” which is generally a balance between under- and over- mining/fitting which actually “gets at” a given thing. It is a map which is “enough like” its territory to be useful, but not so “perfect” that we cannot understand it. To “duomine” is to “hold a thing” as itself in the right balance: we neither crush it (into itself) by closing our hand with too much explanation, nor do we let it fall (by itself) by tilting our open hand up with too much address.
Philosophy is about “holding,” and “holding” is about duomining, and duomining is avoiding the pitfalls of “pure address” or “pure explanation” in favor of both, which means we accept a life of active and dialectical thinking.
“The meaning crisis” is a result of the human race not being duomined.
Can we change?
Can we address ourselves?
Before moving on, it should be noted that the categories of “explain” and “address” are not defined apart by hard lines: there can be much overlap. For example, a given understanding of my depression could be 10% explanation and 90% address, as a scientific text could be 85% explanation and 15% address (and so on). Discerning the degrees and telling the differences could be a skill we need to develop, and it’s doubtful we’ll ever get to the place where we can calculate a breakdown into hard percentages (mostly, we’ll just develop a sense that a given understanding is doing more so one than the other). Furthermore, the percentage breakdown could change overtime as I gain new information.
For more of human history, the book of Genesis in the Bible was understood to be an “explanation,” but now, after advancements in science, we know it is clearly more so in the business of “address.” A thousand years ago, in an “Age of Pure Address,” Genesis simultaneously functioned as an address and explanation — the categories were blurred — and that was problematic, for Genesis was set up to be fragile (not that we could realize it, lacking the needed distinction). Now, arguably, Genesis couldn’t help itself — “religious explanations,” before science, were the best humanity could do — but had there been a meaningful distinction between “explanation and address” (which was perhaps not really possible until after science meaningfully defined itself as its own discipline and methodology), then the realization that Genesis was “incomplete” about the Big Bang would not have resulted in a dismissal of the whole Bible. The distinction between explanation and address could have helped us avoid overreacting.
Considering all this, a given thing’s status as an explanation or address (or a given breakdown between them, say 40% explanation and 60% address) can shift as new information is learned and discovered. Again, the categories and their application is not hard and fixed, but if we don’t even have the categories, we won’t even think about measuring and applying them rightly and “fittingly.” Ultimately, in order to feel “existentially stable” (as discussed extensively in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose), we need to find a relative “equilibrium” in our lives between address and explanation: we need “enough” of both (which seems highly unlikely for us to strike now, after Postmodernity, without the idea that “explanation” and “address” are distinct). This “equilibrium” can be associated with C.S. Pierce’s “fixed belief,” which I think is fair to say all of us naturally seek. Problematically though, we can become pathological and neurotic against anything that threatens our “equilibrium,” whether we’re an atheist confronted with the possibility that there might be some truth to religion after years of comfortably deciding otherwise, or a Conservative who reads a book that makes intersectionality seem righter than originally supposed. Again, considering this, there can be trouble if we can’t draw distinction between “explain and address,” as there can be trouble if we pathologically cling to any “equilibrium” we strike between explanation and address for ourselves. How do we avoid becoming pathological? Well, that is an extensive topic that gets into the whole “art of thinking,” which hopefully The True Isn’t the Rational trilogy can help us master. To start though, if we realize that our worldview is ultimately “incomplete,” that will help us not feel that “being wrong” is the same as being “totally wrong” — there is no need for an existential breakdown. But, again, this is a topic for another time.
As discussed in “Dialectical Ethics” by O.G. Rose, there is a critical difference between “is-ness” and “such-ness.” The “is-ness” of a tree entails ideas about it (say facts we’ve collected on its composition, our list of biological categories it falls under, and the like), whereas the “such-ness” of a tree entails experiences of it (say our touching of its bark with our fingers, listening to the wind run through the leaves, watching it grow up from a sprout, seeing which limb weakened and needed to be cut, and so on).¹
To learn the “is-ness” of a thing is to gain an explanation about it.
To learn the “such-ness” of a thing is to address it.
(We are an “is/such-ness,” per se, “here/here.”)
Please do not mistake me as saying in this paper that “explanation is bad” while “address is good”: such a simple binary won’t do.² Explanations can open up new possibilities of address, as addresses can open up new possibilities of explanation: the relationship is dialectical. A world of “pure address” was generally a world before Modern Science, and it would be hard to put into words how much we have benefited from Science. When we couldn’t “explain,” perhaps life felt more enchanted and personal, but life was also full of disease, death in childbirth, and worse. Today though, during “the meaning crisis,” we seem to be suffering the opposite problem: we are now an age of “pure explanation.”³ We understand what composes the universe but not why we should care; we know which chemical imbalances cause our depression but not why our depression isn’t a meaningful reflection of truth.
In terms of “how we relate to it,” we can think of a tree in terms of “explanation” and “address.” We can “explain” how it got there (we planted the seed), why it’s fifty years old (we’re sixty and planted it when we were ten), and so on. Alternatively, we can “address” what the tree has meant to us (we purchased the sapling with our grandmother right before she died), why we think its beautiful (we think of our grandmother whenever we see it, especially in the morning, which was grandmother’s favorite time of day), and so on. Similarly, in terms of “how it relates to us,” we can “explain” how the tree is useful because it provides shade, keeps the yard from being too barren, and so on. Alternatively, we can discuss how the tree “feels like it addresses us” in helping us feel like we’re part of a story (our family’s legacy), how it fills us with a sense of meaning and beauty (in being part of a story), and so on.⁴ In this way, the tree can both be considered in terms of “explanation” and “address,” and we can do so “relative to the tree itself” and “relative to the tree’s relation with us.” In this way, we can discuss explanation/address in at least four ways:
1. Explain how the tree got there, what composes it, and the like.
2. Address the motivations for why this tree was planted, what this tree means, and the like.
3. Explain why the tree is useful to us, why we decided to keep it, and so on.
4. Address why the tree makes us feel like life is worth living, why we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, and so on.
It’s a common mistake to conflate “address” and “explanation,” and to think that when we discuss “the beauty of the tree” that we’re explaining why the tree matters to us. Perhaps we all know “what is meant,” but the technical distinction between “explanation” and “address” is eventually lost in the conflated language.
The moment we discuss composition, origin, structure, survival — scientific and physical dimensions (“is-ness”) — we are explaining.
The moment we discuss meaning, motivation, significance, value — philosophical and metaphysical dimensions (“such-ness”) — we are addressing.
Everything that exists can potentially both be explained and addressed (though things far off in the universe that humans have never experienced may, at this very moment, only be explainable, though the religious may argue otherwise). Critically, to explain something isn’t to address it, as it’s not the case that addressing something explains it. If we address how a mountain makes us feel like God Exists, we do not explain what the mountain is or how it got there to strike us as providential. That said, the problem is that it’s very hard for humanity to explain the mountain without simultaneously weakening the mountain’s power to address us. Once we learn the mountain was ultimately a result of the Big Bang, it can cease to “point at” God and God’s love for us, and instead “points to” a universe that seemingly arose unconsciously by chance. The less “pointing” life does, the more life feels “merely explainable,” but this doesn’t necessarily mean that “God must Exist” if there is to be any possibility of addressing. We are not bound to the present moment of time; we are capable of memories and ideas; we are capable of projecting ourselves into stories we imagine. As “Absolute Knowing” by O.G. Rose discusses, we can live “here/there,” a moment like we undergo when we read a book and are “here” reading the book and yet “there” in the story. Also, as that paper discussed, this means that we need to prioritize “the subject” again, for “the subject” makes it possible for us to “point” and be addressed.
“Absolute Knowing” discusses “The Truth,” which is “everything that is the case” (alluding to Wittgenstein) and “The Absolute,” which is “everything that is the case plus us.” Hegel wrote brilliantly on how “the final enlightenment” cannot be a “stable state,” for the moment we learn “everything that is the case,” we transform it with our very subjective experience. Thus, The Absolute transforms the moment we reach it, which in turn transforms us, and then we transform The Absolute again — on and on. The journey never stops for Hegel: there is no “final Enlightenment,” only an ever-deepening process that is worth devoting our lives too. In this, for Hegel, “the end of humanity” is not explainable, for whatever we explain will be wrong the moment the words leave our mouth.
Explanations can be over us, whereas only I can be addressed. Where there is no subject, there can be no address, and so a world that only believes in The Truth is a world where address is gone. A world of “pure explanation” is a world that believes The Truth is all we need, but “the meaning crisis” unveils that we need to accept The Absolute. “The Ontic” by O.G. Rose argued that we of course require The Truth to reach The Absolute, for The Absolute is ultimately “The Truth + Subjects”: where The Truth is absent, so too The Absolute is missing. But it does not follow that The Absolute will be present in the room where we gather all the facts of all of existence, for it is possible that we lock ourselves outside the room. Where The Absolute is, there will also be The Truth, but where there is The Truth, there may not be The Absolute. Where Truth is gathered, we might be missing.
“We might be missing” — that’s how the world feels today. We’re not here. We’re gone. We have no meaning. We have not been addressed; we have not been found. We have been explained away. Subjectivity has been treated like an enemy, like something we need to overcome, and as a result the fact that the tree out front “was grandmother’s favorite” is irrelevant compared to the tree’s biological composition. We are made to feel that it doesn’t matter that the tree was grandmother’s favorite, which can suggest that grandmother didn’t matter either. All that matters in a world of “pure explanation” is matter, but in that world, all that matters doesn’t matter at all.
If we understood that a tree was grandmother’s favorite, but we didn’t understand what the tree “was,” our ability to enjoy it would easily be limited. It would be hard to understand the existence of the tree, and in abating that confusion, “explanation” can contribute to “address.” If the world was made by God and our “explanation” for it was “God made it,” there would also be the risk of finding out that “it resulted from the Big Bang” and thus feeling like our grasp on the world was foolish. Once this occurred, it would be hard to trust our metaphysical understandings, and anyone who tried to give us new metaphysics to help us feel addressed again would be met with skepticism. Perhaps rightly, but perhaps not.
Before Modern Science, humanity generally “blended” explanation and address, acting as if “an address” was an explanation in the same way that we today tend to act as if “an explanation” is an address. In the West’s past, we believed Genesis in the Bible was an “explanation/address,” per se, when really it was “only an address,” and thus we lived in an age of “pure address.” Really, Genesis was always just an “address,” but, realizing this, we went too far and started acting like the Big Bang was an “explanation/address.” Really, the Big Bang is “only an explanation,” and thus we now seem to live in an age of “pure explanation.” We ceased making one mistake, only to turn around and make the other. We stepped out of a ditch onto a road, only to slip off the other side.
Composition isn’t meaning; categorization isn’t memory; explanation isn’t address. And yet meaning without composition is fragile, as composition without meaning is empty; categorization without memory slips away, as memory without categorization is hard to resummon; explanation without address is meaningless, but address without explanation is imaginary. Whenever we’ve entertained “pure address” or “pure explanation,” we’ve suffered for it (as hopefully O.G. Rose has argued, “pure anything” is typically bad), and we’ve also struggled whenever we’ve treated “explanation” and “address” as similes. We need explanation and address, divided and distinctly informing one another. We cannot blend them, and we cannot have just one or the other. We need both dialectically, but not combined.
The humanities are generally “the arts of address,” while the sciences are “the glories of explanation.” But there is no glory in explanation if it feels meaningless, and there is no art in address if it’s too fragile to dance. If we are to achieve truth, beauty, and goodness, we will need both, and we will need to dance. Personally, I think our age is an age which lacks beauty, as will be described in The Fate of Beauty. Where we experience beauty, we feel the presence of address, and if indeed the fate of beauty is the fate of us, then our destiny is tied to if we can learn again the art of address.
The beauty of a sunset, our hunger for its “more-ness,” only ever comes from our experience of its particularity, its “such-ness”: few of us are moved by explanations of how sunsets come into existence generally, or elaborations on what composes them. And yet in a world that conflates “explanation” with “address,” it is easy to think that learning about how sunsets exist is the same as experiencing a sunset. But though the sunset couldn’t exist if it wasn’t possible to explain, learning the explanation doesn’t feel the same as addressing the sunset.
“What does it mean that something so beautiful exists?”
“What does it say about me that I find such an arrangement of colors and shapes beautiful?”
“What is beauty, and why does that arrangement of clouds and color express it?”
Beauty is always particularly manifested, so I don’t think it is by chance that “the death of beauty” in our world today has contributed to a loss of address. With beauty went particularity, and with particularity went the possibility of being found. A general world cannot be located; it cannot be given an address.
“Why are we here?” — we are born asking this question, and will die asking it, but that doesn’t mean we can live without “the sense of an ending,” the sense of a point, an answer. In the question “Why?” is embedded both the possibility of explanation and address, and we are creatures who need both explanation and addresses to feel fulfilled. After an Age of Pure Address and an Age of Pure Explanation, it is time for An Age of Both. Are we ready to answer the challenge of “Dialectical Life?” Hard to say, but this is the driving question of the whole trilogy, The True Isn’t the Rational.
If we were to gather all the explanations of everything in the world and stuff them into a room, and then we walked into that room, we would feel alone, and the room would prove forgettable. But if we walked into a room and were fully and truly present — could that glimmer through the transience be anything but eternal? Could we be anywhere but here?
To close, in Paradise Lost, the demons are considering how they will respond to their banishment from Heaven. One of them considers a final glorious rebellion against God, though there is no hope of success. Inevitably, the demons will be blotted out of existence:
For who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated night,
Devoid of sense and motion?
We would lose ourselves, it turns out: our Age of Pure Explanation is one in which we unknowingly launched a final and suicidal rebellion against ourselves while praying it would be glorious. Our brains have launched a war against our minds; the hearts in our chests have pumped blood without heart. Is it any wonder then that we feel “devoid of sense and motion?” Is it any wonder that life feels frozen, “swallowed up and lost?” We set explanation to war against address, and humanity is now like the boy in Wallace sitting next to a girl:
‘But sitting here beside this girl as unknown to him now as outer space, waiting for whatever she might say to unfreeze him, now he felt like he could see the edge or outline of what a real vision of hell might be. It was of two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent. There would be battle but no victor. Or never a battle — the armies would stay like that, motionless, looking across at each other and seeing therein something so different and alien from themselves that they could not understand, they could not hear each other’s speech as even words or read anything from what their faces looked like, frozen like that, opposed and uncomprehending, for all human time. Two hearted, a hypocrite to yourself either way.’⁵
A world without dialectics must either be a world where explanation and address fight and both lose, or a world in which the two look at each other, and life ends. The introduction of “explanation/address” can end “the meaning crisis,” but it will not be easy. For we must somehow embody an image with which T.S. Eliot ends The Four Quartets.
We must be fire:
purifying ideas to find truth, burning away nonsense, providing warmth.
And we must be the flower:
complex with our layers, radiant with our color, beautiful in our delicacy.
We must be one,
and we must not be consumed.
¹The concern of David Hume was that people established ethics on grounds of “is-ness” versus “such-ness,” and as a result ethics became a force of control and totalitarianism.
²For more on this topic, please see “Absolute Knowledge,” a discussion between Dr. Cadell Last and O.G. Rose, as can be found here:
³As hopefully the work of O.G. Rose makes clear, “pure anything” tends to be a problem: because of our A/B ontology, dialectics — endless tension and work — must be the way.
⁴Please note that when we feel “addressed,” we feel like “we know where we are” (and by extension “who we are”), suggesting that we are “given an address” (like a piece of mail): we know where to go.
⁵Allusion to The Pale King by David Foster Wallace.
1. As discussed in “Transitional Metaphors Are Not Mixed Metaphors” by O.G. Rose, if the universe is ultimately a result of “events,” which is to say if Physics, following x set of natural laws, arose to Biology, following y set of natural laws, then the metaphors used to describe “z while following x” will have to change if an “event” translates “z into following y.” This will seem liked “mixing metaphors,” but really this will be “a transitional metaphor,” and if we don’t have a category in our minds for that (perhaps due to English classrooms), then thoughts regarding “events” will be thoughts we will struggle to think. (For more on “events,” please “Return to Metaphysics: How to Think Our Being?”)
Dr. Gregg Henriques has worked tirelessly to create a “unified theory of knowledge” that addresses “the crisis in psychology,” and he does so by using metaphors of coins and trees. I find it brilliant how it all blends together, and it’s clear the transition from “coins to trees” is needed to describe “the events” which take place to give rise to “us.” The UTOK is very deep, and I will not do it justice here, but the point I want to focus on is that if we need a UTOK to feel addressed, then our bias against “transitional metaphors” could be contributing to our “meaning crisis.” Without a great “unified theory” (like the “mythic method” Joyce used to structure Ulysses), then we cannot fit all the data of our lives together, and this can cause existential suffering. To be “addressed” and not just explained, we need a UTOK, but that means we might need to deconstruct what we learned in English class.
2. As Daniel Zaruba notes, we look at a rose and say, “This is just atoms,” and so the rose is explained away, unaddressed, and then we look in the mirror.
3. If all we have is explanation, then the more we search for “the meaning of life,” the more we will be removed from the investigation, and what meaning can we hope to find then?