Aboutness and Austerity

The more I learned, the more I suspected science had no idea what it’s about. I don’t mean it lacks in dictionary definition or purpose; these can and have been ascribed to it in droves. I mean that dictionary definitions and connotations have no place in science. Everything is just matter and energy, after all. What is a proton or electron about? What is the strong nuclear force about?

Then I realized, aboutness isn’t in the proton; it’s in me. But then I realized that I am also only matter and energy, a bunch of things like protons that aren’t about anything. I read more and found out that “being about” something is meant to be an emergent property, which is a nice way of saying that we don’t know where it comes from, but it appears to coincide with lots of matter and energy bouncing off each other or whatnot. “Aboutness” is illusory in the outside world and exists only in our brains, which are very complicated hunks of matter we don”t understand, and the only place where something can be about anything else. So whatever science is about, it’s all, mysteriously, in our heads.

It is a touchstone of scientific skepticism to declare no supernatural powers have ever been demonstrated. Still, it’s hard to know how scientific skepticism can be about this without resort to a supernatural explanation. There is no concept of “supernatural powers” or “scientific skepticism”; there is only matter/energy and special matter/energy in brains. Suppose the natural is defined by that whose mechanism science can empirically demonstrate. In that case, the skeptic’s very question reflects powers unrecognized by science, and James Randi should have paid himself the money.

(Perhaps the mechanism of the “miraculous” is unprovable because it’s similarly what a person, not non-choosing matter/energy, is about. And there may be a Person whose favorite choice is being about us, which entails a neutral meeting ground so that we have the opportunity to be about Him. And if that’s not love (love is a very intense form of aboutness also totally waved off as the science of the future), then I really don’t know what I’m on about.)


If there is no aboutness, then there is no love. If I am not in some way about my beloved but merely another hunk of matter/energy fulminating and gearing into new configs, we can never be together. We can only be technically similar as we are separate, my matter in one shape and yours in a complementary one. It is unclear who or what is beholding or bearing this similarity, as they themselves would need to be about the similarity. And so our relationship really rests on an un-culminated infinite regress, our love what a theoretical third-party observer who could be “about” would unite us with. He, in turn, would need a fourth-party observer, and so on and on, like putting the matter to a vote and more and more congressmen walk into the hall and never stop.

Without “about,” all “similarity” or “connection” is an illusion arising from profound and irreparable loneliness. The G-d who creates such a universe would taunt us with a totally unexplained and inexplicable mental capacity for construing “aboutness,” with no real base-level metaphysical power to bear or possess your beloved. Surely if G-d wouldn’t “taunt” us with fossils, and there really were dinosaurs, aboutness (which seems infinitely closer and more common than fossils) must reflect some base reality? But this is folk wisdom, and science exists to disabuse us of our experiences by telling us what we’re really about.

If anyone actually submits to the regime of “aboutness for me but not for thee,” or any other denial of base intentionality, the emotional effect is what I’ll call austerity.

The austere servant can’t be about G-d; they can only ever fit into a certain external and superficial standard and mold others to it. Since no opening of my heart to G-d is really possible because my heart (and brain) are just created hunks of stuff dancing their mysterious emergent dances on their own, there is no ordering of effects.

There is no reason why the superficial good deed should reflect some actual soul state of connection; in some sense, there are only deeds. Without aboutness, even a feeling of love is a deed. After all, the deed is a word spoken with the breath of the world, and a word is a thought brought forth from privacy. A thought is a self brought into self-interaction. The self is just a node situated by what it’s about and not about, what we could call “love” and “fear.” But if there’s no “aboutness,” then being about something is just a technical state of affairs, no different from moving a coin. So there is no real reason to attach the coin’s motion to any particular feeling; there is only will and manipulation at every level. There is no authenticity; there is only the achievement of a “desirable” state of affairs, whether that state is a feeling or an action. In short, the very concept of authenticity, of the superficial reflecting and conveying some profound reality, is lost.

Without authenticity, where some things are mere communication of yet deeper (deeper = more-directly-about!) things, all that’s left is austerity. While we usually parse austerity as severity, scrimping, the harshing of the mellow, I put it to you: Is there any form of harshness that doesn’t derive from an insecurity about the external state of things? Who is harsh with others and with themselves because the aboutness is out of alignment? On the contrary, “harshness” toward aboutness is nothing but a manifestation and demand of love—Where are you? Why are you not here with me? Real austerity doesn’t believe you can be here with me because we are inherently apart. It just wants to know why you are failing to conform to the most desirable set of circumstances!

You are erased. There is no life from the outside.


“Aboutness,” of course, is another word for Pnimius – the doctrine of inwardness, the notion that things have an inside and not just active, verbal, mental, emotional, and intellectual outsides. It is the notion that there is something else in addition to mere causality, a cause of causes, an inversion of reality, in which manifestation is grounded in something else.

Aboutness lets us be about G-d, which is the deepest and most profound of all human states in that it unites the two infinite edges and, by the power of aboutness, reduces all circumstance to nothing. It strips all concealments (for no concealment is actual concealment if it’s seen to be about!) and lays bare the ultimate inwardness of all things. In that place, there is no austerity.

The magic of aboutness lets us live from the inside rather than from the outside.

G-d knows me, but “from the inside.” The commandments we are commanded to keep, but from the inside. The Torah we are to study, but in a way that it’s what we’re about, like real human beings, rather than as a willed manipulation of circumstance.

We are charged to change everything, yes, but from the inside. We must transform this world, but not with the austere and alienated lever-pulling or compulsion of policy or group dynamic. From the inside! Yes, the outside matters and matters profoundly, and that’s why the world is here, but outsides only matter (rather than simply exist by fiat) from the inside.

We are to love each other, and as we already know, the only way to honestly do so—to truly connect and not merely contort alone—is from the inside. The “inside” is also called faith, “the “outside” knowledge. To live from the inside is for knowledge to be about faith, for faith to be the deepest truth of knowledge. “From the inside” means that the separation becomes the bridge given the axiomatic connectedness of all things.

If we’re about G-d and each other, we can discover endless triumphant forgiveness within. The state of sin and violation can then exist only “from the outside”. “From the inside,” all evil is contextualized by our participation in it. We can always fix what we do; we can one day set aside all this distraction and be together.