Why a Trinity is Essential. Part 2: Feeling, Believing, Knowing.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)

In looking at Creation, we developed an understanding that it is meaningless, if not impossible, for any less than three things to exist if anything is to exist at all. To put it another way, there can never be only one single thing, nor two; the bare minimum number of things needed to constitute existence is at least three. From this logic we asserted that a trinity, The Trinity, is essential.

To expound on the idea, we will proceed through three modes of sensing. The point is not so much to create an epistemology, psychology, or cosmology, but a way of making sense of relationships – relationships with others, within ourselves, and to The Trinity. We will examine the line of communication through three “levels” of sensing. First, ‘feeling,’ then we’ll grow an increasingly complex geometry as we build through “believing” and into “knowing.”

Feeling feelings

Touch is the most basic interface between two objects, therefore feeling as a sense is the ground floor of consciousness. In the last post, we imagined two people deprived of all senses except touch. We noted that in order to be conscious of one another, they have to physically touch. Our point was that to be conscious of an other, there must be some kind of connection between the one and the other. We described the interaction that connected the two entities as a line. The form of a line acted analogously to consciousness, and from there, we went on to say that consciousness is an ontological imperative.

We pick up there to now ask: what if only one person gets to have senses, and the other is deprived of all? Where does that then leave consciousness? If one entity is a rock and the other a person, when they touch the person clearly feels the rock, but what about the rock? What if both entities are rocks? Here, we’ll begin to also introduce subject/object relations to help define our levels of consciousness.

In our model, “feeling” does not necessarily concern itself with consciousness as humans experience it. In fact, as we’ll explain below, humans never really experience anything less than (and possibly never more than) belief. Feeling, the product of an act of touch, only deals with physical proximity and physical response as a formal consciousness. The surface is the location of touch, thus the locus of feeling. Therefore, feeling is a completely objective experience. That last statement seems completely counterintuitive, but it’s very intentional in this scheme. A few examples will possibly drive home the point.

Imagine a small rock sitting on top of another rock of similar size. To say the rocks are conscious of each other can only make sense by pointing to the fact that they do not dissolve into each other. (From the human perspective) their consciousness is synonymous with their physical property of being solid; both objects ‘feel’ solid to each other. An obvious, yet important point to make is that we do not know what a rock feels, only what it feels like. Our inability to have any interaction with a rock other than touch, is the core of what I mean by the term feeling.

Okay, that’s still a bit abstract, but hold the idea of the two rocks in your mind as we process this next, human, example. Imagine any of a million movie scenes: two people meet at a bar and are mutually attracted to one another. They share a few drinks and some light conversation, maybe some dancing, all driven by their immediate “feeling” of attraction to each other. Regardless of how the movie ends, if they spend the night together, when the morning dawns there is an awkwardness that comes from the realization of their mutual objectivity. While the characters naturally assume their individual subjectivities, each one’s objectivity is illuminated by the realization that the immediately preceding activities were purely surface driven. Each person’s actions were propelled by his or her feelings. A one night stand, especially a first night stand, is as meaningful as two rocks. (Of course, the romantic ideal necessitates that the fictional characters ultimately do develop a deeper relationship, regain their subjectivities, and the initial surface treatment was just a serendipitous act of fate… but that’s another conversation.)

The point here is that feelings are physical; the apostle Paul would use the word “flesh”. Feelings may be materially factual, but they are meaning-less. They are physical realities we cannot naturally avoid, but feelings only report quanta, not qualia. Rocks are solid – that’s a quantitative fact. But to know what solid means, we must switch to describing quality; for example, something solid is hard.

A quick Biblical example can be seen in what is often used apologetically for the physical resurrection of Jesus. Only a solid physical object, such as a human body which could not pass through stone, would need said stone rolled from the entrance of a sealed tomb in order to egress. A spiritual, non-physical being would not need the stone moved in order to leave…

The fact that feelings are purely physical means that we must keep them in check with higher order consciousness, a cross-referencing that we will call ‘belief’. But one last thing about feeling. Every feeling we are conscious of is the result of thousands of interactions, thus technically ‘beliefs’ in our model. Still, as we will see below, we cannot simply accept any singular feeling (physical sense or emotion) as truth. This is counter to a popular misconception in contemporary culture, which tells us that it is right(eous) to do what feels right. The problem here is that we often mistake what feels right, with what feels good, and often simply what we can feel. To be morally righteous, or even ethically or simply logically “right,” we must discern what we feel through the lens of what we believe.

To illuminate this, we’ll look at phenomena that problematize feeling while propelling us into the higher forms of consciousness.

Believing in Ghosts

Phantom pain is a phenomenon wherein someone who is missing a limb – an arm or leg, foot, or hand, etc. – continues to sense the missing appendage, often in the form of physical pain. We’re not talking about pain at the stump. Holding onto the example of a missing hand, we’re talking about pain in a hand on an arm that ends at the elbow – feeling pain in a hand that doesn’t exist. It’s as if the hand part of the brain is telling it’s carrier, “I hurt,” but the eyes part of the brain is saying “You don’t exist!” This paradox of feeling urges us toward the next level of consciousness: belief.

Contrary to a type of scientism that begets a type of materialism which rejects a metaphysics and claims that the only truth we can ever know is the material world, I believe that we can only know more than the physical world. I think we cannot simply feel any thing in a purely sensual way, nor truly fully know any thing in its entirety. Instead, we spend our days believing, or rejecting, the overwhelming majority of our experience.

In a previous post, I claimed that to break down the physical world would only result in smaller physical matter. By contrast, to arrive at a metaphysics, the material world must be added to itself. For the materialist, the problem with metaphysics is that it overtly indulges in belief structures. In our model, a metaphysics and belief are required for even approaching the knowing of truth.

If feeling can be described as a line, then belief would be a plane. A line is the joining of two points; a plane is the intersection of two lines. The simplest plane can be formed by three points: two points that each form a line with a third, shared point. But to solidify the plane, the first two points must also be joined, forming a third side and defining the area within a triangular plane. Just as two joined points create a one-dimensional infinity, three joined points produce a two-dimensional field (comprising not only infinite points, but also an infinite possibility of lines.)

To make this more concrete, let’s jump back to the example of phantom limb syndrome. The afflicted person feels pain. It is a real feeling. The feeling is a fact. But it is not the truth. If our person also has the sense of sight, she must resolve the inconsistent facts presented by two different feelings – feeling #1 of pain in her hand, and feeling #2 of seeing no hand. Here we see the triangulation between the brain feeling pain in a hand, the eyes seeing no hand, and the spatial location of the hand in question. Amongst this field lies an infinity of possibilities about the hand. Let’s name a few: 1) there is no hand, the person is suffering phantom limb syndrome. 2) There is a hand, the person is suffering a negative visual hallucination. 3) The person is dreaming. 4) The hand is unknowingly wearing an invisibility glove. We could go on, but we have gone far enough to promote our point. Somewhere within the plane of possibilities, the subject must rest on a belief about the hand. In common terms, beliefs are subjective facts are objective – we will hold to this distinction. (To quickly look back at our movie-based example of humans relations, the two individuals must form a relationship that is believed to be meaningful in order to regain their subjectivity.)

At this point, it’s good to remember this is only a model, a simplified analogy. But it gives us a ground for understanding our perception as it relates to knowledge. In the example of the missing hand, in personal relationships, and in all difficult-to-understand realities, we urgently want to move toward the final level of consciousness: knowing.

Nearing Knowing

If a feeling is a line, and a belief is a plane, then knowledge is a space. Even at it’s simplest, conscious knowledge is exponentially more complex than feeling or belief. Geometrically, the simplest space we can create would be a tetrahedron: a four sided polyhedron whose four faces are each a triangle. While, itself being named by only four points, it comprises six lines defined by four intersecting planes. Our sets now include six linear infinities, four planar infinities, and one volumetric infinity. The trick here is that any point, line, or plane perceived within this space is still only a feeling or belief. To possess knowledge, to know the truth, the entirety of the form must be perceived.

But, as an individual, to perceive the entirety of a 3-dimensional form is impossible. Perception happens in the now. The entirety of a line segment may be perceived, as may any complexity of 2-dimensional shape. But at any moment, from any singular perspective, some part of a 3-dimensional shape will be hidden.

“Yes, but one may just move around the object and therefore take in its entirety,” one may object. This is only partially true. Whatever part of the object is obscured must be conceived, not perceived. The conception is derived from past experience or future-looking conjecture. And now we realize that our sense of knowing has slipped right through our hands like vapor.

How? Simply put, but hard to explain, there is no empirical, provable way to confirm the reliability of the past (or future). As unlikely as it seems to common rationality, any moment could be the first moment, with all history preloaded into this moment – similar to how fully-grown fictional characters magically appear in scene one of a movie. The characters have no real history, but their pasts actually unfold as an aspect of the film’s future. The actuality of the past is, well, an act of faith. Likewise, history as a predictor of the future is not guaranteed. I would never bet that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but even if I did, there’s no guarantee you or I will be here to collect on the wager.

Faith presumes a coherence through time.

Back to our discussion of knowledge: the entirety of a form can only be conceived, not perceived. And to conceive of it is to have faith in its continuity through time. In order to resolve the belief about the phantom hand, a faith in the validity of the hand’s history and its future must be held. In order for the physical relationship of two people to be confirmed, for “the two [to] become one flesh, so they are no longer two but one flesh,” a lifetime of faithfulness must be adhered to.

Here, we run into the most peculiar result, though perhaps maybe it should have been expected. In order to fully experience a 3-dimensional form, we must also experience time. We have backed ourselves into a corner known to Einstein as the space-time continuum. Translated into the discussion at hand, namely how can we know something, to know a thing’s form in its entirety we must experience it through time. More precisely, we must believe it through time; we must feel it in many different yet relatable ways, through time. Ultimately, the longer we experience it, the more solidly it grounds itself as truth. Further, a shared history that is agreed upon by multiple subjects increases the appearance of validity.

In the previous post, we postulated a monad of sorts that necessitated a trinity as the essence of being and existence. We associated that primary, creative necessity with the Triune God known in the Christian Faith as The Trinity. In this post, we postulated a model for conscious (human) being and existence whose particulate structures are meaningless unless combined; once combined, unreliable unless taken as a whole; yet to be taken whole, only conceivable if taken by faith. Finally, for the individual to have knowledge of the Truth, to be right(eous), one must have a mutually subjective relationship with the Trinity; a Faithful Communion must be employed. In a way, it could be said that humans take part in a new creation by being in communion with the Trinity.

It is as if the image of a necessarily Triune God, is necessarily triune itself.

Why a Trinity is Essential

This is the beginning of a multi-part discussion. I hesitate to post it so early in the blog/podcast’s existence, but it is one of the main lenses that bent my light back into alignment with The Light. I began to develop it about 10 years ago, and it’s still not complete. It’s a super complex analogy in my head, but I’ll try to make it simpler out loud. I begin here on a long arc toward distinguishing between truth, belief , and feeling, in hopes of relinquishing relativism while promoting something akin to relational Christian theology.

Where two or three gather in my name, there also I will be with them.

Matthew 18:20

Let me just start off by saying that this one is going to be a doozy. It’s probably best to read this as creative writing. We’re going to explore creation from a pseudo-scientific-semi-mathematical perspective, then cram it down, no, expand it up to the Christian ideology. This is not apologetics or Big Bang vs Intelligent Design… But don’t let me over-explain it before I explain it. So, let’s go…

A Pointless Beginning

If we look at the Big Bang, the beginning premise is that at some point long ago, everything in our universe was crammed into a single point, which even my 8 year old knows was smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. This is where we will begin; I want to first explore the idea of a ‘point’.

A mathematical point is single location on a line or grid that can be described as a number or set of numbers, respectively. The issue here is that a point’s existence is reliant on a structure larger than it also existing. There must be a line or grid on which the number is defined.

Jumping back to the Big Bang, if the entire universe is contained within a point, on what grid could that point be defined? If the grid was held within that single point, we begin to run into a paradox, if not a full on contradiction. Without a grid, there would not really be a number to assign such a point. And who would be there to give it such a number? If the whole universe is contained in that point, there could be nothing outside of it to observe it. We’re beginning to get at the problem of a singularity of space-time, but before we go further or introduce an external observer, let’s unpack this a little more.

As I suggested in the previous post, I do not understand numbers as constituting a physical reality, only a linguistic sign. To abuse Jaques Derrida’s term differance, a sign can only exist meaningfully in relation to the traces left on it by all the other signs that are absent. Oversimplified: a word only has meaning because of all the other words that it is not. I include all this mumbo-jumbo to say that a singular entity cannot exist, or at best is meaningless by itself.

If, indeed, the universe ever was condensed into a single point, it did not exist at that point.

As far as I understand though, the Big Bang universe was not ever truly a single point, only a very small, very densely packed “pre-thing” or “non-thing.”

… … …

What about Biblical creation? Was it creatio ex nihilo, ‘creation out of nothing’? Did it, could it, have started from a single point? Was God alone before he created? Was there a God before Creation?

Let’s start by looking at Creation via language. First, we’ll look at Genesis 1, where God spoke everything into existence. Oops, Genesis doesn’t tell us how God created the universe, it just says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” While we assume this means the universe as we know it, it could be that there was already a universe of chaotic ‘stuff’ and God ‘created’ by assembling the chaos into the ordered cosmos we now know. This is how we (who are made in God’s image) create – we take raw materials and order them, shape them, into nameable (and usable) things. Maybe the ‘image’ in which we are created is to be creative. Is not one of the first commands to have dominion over the earth?

Our dominion in not over ‘nothing’, and we don’t create from ‘nothing’. Did God ever rule over ‘nothing’; did He ever create from nothing?

Biblically, it seems clear that there was at least a spiritual host, over which God reigned, before our creation: “let *us* make man in *our* image.” But if God (and possibly a heavenly host) created this universe, what was there before, in the beginning-beginning?

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1 ESV

Okay. Now we have at least 2 entities in the beginning: ‘The Word’ (presumably Jesus in some form?) and ‘God’ (the Father?). We’ll assume this “beginning” is The Beginning, before universal creation, because John goes further to say, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3 ESV)

Noowwww, we’re starting to get somewhere. And at the same time, we’re getting back on track toward answering the question, “is a trinity is necessary?” We have found two entities, and if we simply add to the Father and Son of John 1:1 the Holy Spirit of Genesis 1:2 (“[…]and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,”) we have our Trinity existing at, or more precisely, before the beginning of creation.

But this is basic Trinitarian theology, so why did I introduce all the stuff about geometry and linguistics? To prime us for seeing that a trinity, and by a short leap, The Trinity, is logically necessary for existence in general.

Going back to examine our first point: If a single point can not exist alone, what would allow it to exist?

Let’s visualize this real quick. Imagine there is one single point, and next to it, another single point. Now, what does “next to it”  mean when we are talking about singular points? “Next to it” is meaningless because we still have not defined a a space in which these points exist. But to add an entire space is going too far, too fast too furious. (Lucretius the Epicurean suggested a precreation universe filled with ‘atoms’ that where in what we may describe as a zero entropy state: they were evenly distributed and not interacting. Only after one of them swerved and touched another did they begin to pile up, initiating creation.)

Let’s look at that primary interaction. We can relate the two points to each other in a simple way: when the two points touch, they create a line. According to Wolfram “A line is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions […] uniquely determined by two points.” Not only do the two points determine the line, but the line is the medium between the two points. Here, we do not have space or even a grid; we can’t even define distance or time yet. We don’t really even have a line, only a line segment. But what we do have is a primary infinity – the line between the two points, no matter how apparently small, can in theory be divided and subdivided infinitely. We now have three entities – two points and a line – that act as a single unit but contain the infinite.

(We have twisted Spinoza. For him, what is most Primary (Descartes’ ‘Substance’) is not infinite in number, but infinite in essence. Further, in our model, because of the immediate emergence of three at once, I am tempted to argue that essence, existence, and being co-emerge simultaneously; that only because of our viewing angle do we perceive anyone of the qualities to be primary.)

Now we have a working metaphor for our un-mathematical ‘proof’: in order for any one thing to exist, at least three definable things must exist – the thing itself, a thing to which it can relate, and the relationship between them.  And as soon as these three things exist, an infinity of possibilities exists. Specifically, the infinite lies in the relationship -the line- between the two points. We could imagine the existence of any number of beings before the creation of our universe, but we cannot imagine any existence with less than three.

(That may be the most overly complicated love story ever.)

Seriously, it’s a pretty abstract idea to follow. Let’s imagine a more concrete scenario to get the picture. Imagine being alone in a room, completely blindfolded and wearing really good noise-cancelling headphones: you can sense nothing but your own body. If someone else came into the room under the same restraints, you may each think you were alone in the room. The only way to discover each other would be to physically touch. It would be as if the other person didn’t exist until there was a connection, a communication.

Creation of Adam – Michelangelo       (public domain)

Now there are many downfalls to our example, but it gets the point across. Two (or more) entities must touch/interact/communicate in some way in order to exist with each other. Even if we admit that existence is possible without connection (see Lucretius’s pre-creation state), when we take seriously the idea of differance we can stand firm on the idea that there is no meaning shared between two entities that do not interact. In my opinion, it is the touch, the interaction, the shared communion if you will, that is the foundation of existence and meaning.

The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci (public domain)

At this point, we become tempted to play the analogy game: one point could be God the Father, the other could be The Son, and the line between them the Holy Spirit. I like the analogy this way because it gives God and Jesus subjectivity, while the Spirit is the way they connect. But just as easily, this trinity could be ‘creator’, created, and their interplay. I also really like the idea of two subjects and a consciousness that emerges between them. Still more, the naming of any set of three may be appropriate, but the reality that a trinity is necessary allows for a trinity to be found in all relationships. We can, therefore, say that the existence of the form of the trinity is omnipresent.

Ultimately, it would be a mistake to place God or Christ or the Holy Spirit at any fixed point, as this leads us to idolatry. At the same time, a line seems too simplistic to me, and therefore I only use it as a simplified model for what I imagine to be perpetually moving, multi-layered, multi-dimensional fields of existence; maybe something like a multi-dimensional Venn diagram.

The illustration I’m proposing is a dialectical ontology of the divine. Returning to the analogy of the line, it is only by traversing the line, by moving between individual points along the path of the unity, that can we have meaningfully experience, whether of the Divine, the resurrected Christ, or simply the other. When we stop the movement of any point, we objectify it’s being, effectively killing it. All living beings continually emerge in their subjectivity by remaining fluid. As a most concrete analogy, our blood must pump throughout our bodies in order for us to stay alive.

Likewise, the “mystery” of God is not that we can never know Him, but that our experience of God is not static – it cannot be contained in a single nameable time, person, place, or thing. Recall the story of Moses and the burning bush: the fire did not consume the bush, it gave it meaning! As a side note, I have heard Hebrew scholars say that the name Yahweh tells Moses is better translated as “I will be who I will be,” as opposed to “I am who I am.” “Will be” denotes active becoming while “am” signifies only present-ness. I take them together to get, “I am and I will be.” I’m thinking ‘alpha an omega’ language here; with the point being that God, Jesus, and the Spirit are not present only in the beginning and end, but everywhere in between as well. The Trinity is present with us along a line-like path. We walk “the straight and narrow” to be in communion with God.

As Johnny Cash put it, “I walk the line.”

I will spend the next few posts building on this idea by developing a model of existence that shifts between three modes of sensing: feeling, believing, and knowing.