Creative Piety

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By Robert Hanna and Otto Paans:

"In a closely related way, in the late 18th and 19th century, Goethe (especially in The Metamorphosis of Plants), the British Romantic poets, Henry David Thoreau, and the Impressionists all made the excellent point that being truly able to see what already lies right before one’s eyes in the fundamentally organic cosmos requires a special kind of cognitive humility, cognitive openness, and cognitive self-discipline: for example, resolving to live self-reliantly and simply, in the woods beside Walden Pond. Wordsworth, Shelley, and the early 20th century British philosopher Samuel Alexander aptly call that special cognitive attitude or standpoint natural piety.


There’s an analogous, parallel phenomenon in the formal sciences — exemplified, for example, by Cantor’s mathematics of transfinite or ‘transcendental’ numbers, which bears witness to higher-dimensional infinities, by Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which bear witness to the inherently non-logical character of mathematical truth, and by Tarski’s semantic conception of truth, which bears witness to Gödel-incompleteness and the Liar Paradox alike — that we’ll call formal piety.

Again, there’s another analogous, parallel phenomenon in the social sciences and political anthropology — exemplified, for example, by Wilhelm Dilthey’s notion of Verstehen, by what Wittgenstein calls ‘agreement (Übereinstimmung) ... in form of life (Lebensform) ’, and by what James C. Scott calls metis — that we’ll call social piety.

Similarly, there’s another analogous, parallel phenomenon in moral theory and ethics — exemplified by Kant’s notion of respect for human dignity — that we’ll call moral piety.

And finally, the correlate of all these in organicist metaphysics is what we’ll call metaphysical piety. For convenience, and to distinguish all these modes of piety sharply from religious piety — which (to mix metaphors) is a horse of a different color and a different kettle of fish — we’ll group them under the general term creative piety.

Creative piety is bearing witness to the essentially rich structures of organic formal systems, organic cosmological systems, organic social systems, organic moral and ethical systems, and organic metaphysical systems.

An essential feature of creative piety, in every one of its modes, is that it inherently involves taking a critical, reflective standpoint on some or another determinate domain of content, a standpoint that’s at once

(i) higher-dimensional—for example, generating a ‘transcendental’ third-dimensional point-of-view out of an array or spreadsheet of that content that’s otherwise merely ‘flat’ or two-dimensional,

(ii) synoptic with respect to the entire determinate domain of content—for example, seeing a landscape as a dynamic three-dimensional contour map from the vantage point of an airplane flying over it, and also

(iii) fully critical cognizant of the inherent boundaries or limits of that determinate domain of content — for example, its Gödel-incompleteness or Tarski-irreflexivity with respect to logico-mathematical truth, truth-definitions, or alethic self.


Just to give this standpoint a handy label, let’s call it organic meta-cognition. An important emergent feature of organic meta-cognition is that even though, as per element (iii), it always involves a critical recognition of the inherent boundaries or limits of some determinate domain of content, nevertheless, in view of elements (i) and (ii), it also yields a new kind of creatively unbounded or unlimited cognition of that bounded or limited determinate domain.


For these reasons, organic meta-cognition via creative piety should be sharply distinguished from the merely Turing-computable, recursive, rote generation of higher-order levels of content from lower-order levels of content, that we’ll call mechanical meta-cognition—for example, Russell’s theory of types..

All in all, therefore, achieving the special organic meta-cognitive attitude or standpoint of creative piety is a cognitive revolution. So in this way, for genuine progress in human thinking to occur, in any domain nonformal-scientific or natural-scientific, applied-artistic or fine-artistic, philosophical, moral, or sociopolitical — we must emancipate ourselves from the mechanistic worldview.


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