jctv: 29.06.2015 HOME







A worrying but helpless proliferation of metaphysics or what my diary is about...


(This piece started as a single sentence, but grew a little with every time I revisited it, I apologize, not for the fun I had in writing it, but for the fact that it is here at all, you can, should you want to, skip straight to the next heading, or do something else entirely)

Our language, as an instrument of our negotiative apparatus, demands that, in description, we highlight this or that aspect of an event and ignore others. We cannot put everything into words at the same time. That is a pleasurable efficiency and simultaneously a necessary weakness of language depending on what you are looking for.

We use language to model our world in relation to our use of it and so negotiate our place within it. This requires focus and focus is well served with a frame containing a more or less well-defined logical space that allows for the composition of relationships, including a centre of attention, a periphery and any possible relative position. It also includes, although the word ‘includes’ is a strange word to apply in this context, a space outside of that frame.

This space outside is given at least twice. The fist space outside of the frame concerns that which is within the space of the picture, but beyond our view of it; it is what is implied beyond the frame, the horizon and the occluding edges, even beyond what the picture is about, but nevertheless what is within the space of the picture, a virtual world if you will, in which anything that is imaginatively possible, is possible.

The second concerns the space outside the frame which is the space we inhabit and from which we engage with the picture we have before us. It is not at all clear that we are concerned with two distinct spaces especially as this second space is at least as large as the universe with everything in it and restricts itself only to what is possible (something of which can be suspected and hoped for), what is the case (which is, properly speaking, unknowable) and what is thought to be the case (which works best if we are sensible about things).

We talk about this and ignore that because we at least feel ourselves to be in charge of what matters to us, and are blissfully unaware of what we do not know. That is how we are able to say that this or that is the case. But our language does not demand that we isolate any one aspect of an event. Rather, the assumption is that much can be left out of the logical space of the picture as either overly familiar, unknown or irrelevant to the matter in hand. Such considerations determine what is in a picture and what is left outside. Frames do not cut off what is outside of them; in fact they form the junction between what is within the frame and what is outside of it. But they do demarcate that junction like a hedge between two neighbours. Frames are the political, economic and judiciary boundaries of our attention; they are eminently contestable.

The wish to isolate and reduce things to single operative principles, theories, essences or genetic beginnings, is a peculiar function of a more conscious decision to adopt the paradigm of a peculiar kind of philosophical outlook. Here the frame is made to behave more aggressively; it pretends that a picture with a frame is sufficient unto itself. It never is of course.

Nevertheless, in this way we are able to conjure up beginnings so as to be able to say, ‘here is where it all started’ or ‘that is when it all ended’. That we then have to qualify such statements with weaker statements because we know that beginnings and endings are never so clear-cut, is comfortably ignored.

Fairy tales have found a modus operandi for this problem with the sentences: ‘A long, long time ago, there lived…’ ending with ‘And so… they lived happily ever after.’ Time stretches further than either end of the story and this is made clear. Both allow beginnings and endings to be no more than what they are, beginnings and endings of a story.

Stories have beginnings and endings, the world as a transformative maelstrom does not, or, at least, we have never come across a sign of such a beginning, not even in the projective theories of a big bang or genesis. The theory of the Big Bang might explain the geneisis of our universe, but not of the system that makes the genesis of our universe possible. And God must have come from somewhere before he started doing his seven day workshop in design.

We find it useful to reduce things to simple singularities, single principles, theories of everything, etc.  We give such strategies of isolation and reduction different names but they all come down to various analogies to what we do in the kitchen with our food. We do much to ensure the ‘purity’ and ‘quality’ of ingredients, we boil down this, cut away that, extract the other, distil whatever to arrive at the real, the root, the essence, the principle the basis.

This we then proceed to mix according to a recipe only to end by beating to a pulp or pureeing the product in order to be left with something new that can be seen as one.

All that is hypostatised metaphysics, useful to come up with a great meal. However, all those purities, bases, and essences are all part of the transformative maelstrom. When things are boiled down, distilled and so forth, they are transformed from what they were into something else.

They renegotiate their being in being made. If we find it useful to call them by names to distinguish certain processes, then that is perfectly legitimate and very useful, but don’t be fooled. Reality is one whole, but on a scale and in a way that we cannot possibly fathom except through reductive analogies. What is a wave? IS it just the energy, is it the water? Is it the sound? How is a wave a thing?

Our ignorance is a necessary condition of our being: we are limited if undetermined creatures. Even if we were omniscient, we could not possibly be confident about it. Or, to put it in another way, even if we did know everything, we could not possibly know that we did. Which shows that it is impossible and paradoxical to know everything. It is a paradox for God to sort out. How does He know that He knows everything? In other words what does it mean to say: God is perfect?

The concept ‘reality’ as we use it to distinguish certain things from others that are, supposedly, not real, is not much of a category; it is primarily used to feed our use-based prejudices regarding these things. Those who, ill-advisedly, want more, could model each possible mode of existence and ask themselves not whether something exists, but how something is part of reality, that is, how it exists, what part it plays if you like.

That which has no mode of existence at all, necessarily stands outside of what we can think and express through language. It has no existence and no way of coming to presence in us or in anything else. If anything is made of iron in logic, surely that is. A consequence of this is that each mode of existence is itself a full and sufficient mode of existence that is ever the product of these transformative processes working upon whatever is there at all possible scales. (there are quite a few).

There are no layers in existence, just modes, each of them as fully existent as the other. There is also no pre-given hierarchy in existence, except the one that we devise for our own use. There is no more or less in existence, existence is not even binary, with which I mean that you cannot even properly say that this exists and that doesn’t. There is only that which exists, and that is all there is. There are no leftovers regarding existence.

‘That’ which does not exist is so completely not there that it doesn’t even make sense to say that ‘a’ does not exist; for if ‘a’ does not exist, we would have no ‘a’ to show for its non-existence. When we say ‘a’ does not exist, what we properly mean is that we cannot ascribe a certain mode of existence to it, but we can ascribe to it another mode; something may not exist as a tangible thing, but may exist as an idea. I.e. whenever we say this or that does not exist we acknowledge that it has another mode of existence, perhaps as idea or description.

What we have to contend with, is a chaos of existence, in which everything tangible, thinkable and describable exists and to which we bring a conditional order for our own purposes. We divide light from darkness, we divide the waters to bring forth the land, grab dust to make creatures endowed with a life of their own and then chill out for a while.

In this way we might say that essences are products of our involvement with the thing that they are the essence of, as well as a whole lot more. Essences are themselves things, as independent of the thing they are an essence of, as I am independent of the landscape I traverse through while on a pleasant walk. Essences remind us of their raw material, but are in no way less than, or subservient to, their raw material or their original. Everything is itself and everything exists fully. A rose is a rose is a rose, and perfume is perfume is perfume.

An idea exists as an idea, a toaster exists as a toaster and as all sorts of other things, such as a heavy object to throw at people when they disagree with you. A schedule exists as a schedule and much beside. We supply the value judgment, the significant architecture.

Similarly we can say that principles are all very well as a way to make sense of the world, as long as their conditional nature is expressly and explicitly taken account of. A mathematical model of quantum mechanics is just that, a mathematical description of what happens with which it is possible to make predictions. There is no deeper or more mystical relationship to it, even though we might feel tempted to think there is. So we allow beginnings and ends to make sense of what is happening to us, even though none of us has ever seen a beginning or an end in anything but a weak and conditional sense.

Perhaps we should, in describing ourselves, as the subject of experience, revisit Wilhelm Dilthey’s critique of historical reason. Even though he got it wrong, he and his tradition, from Kant and Schleiermacher to the later holists and hermeneutists, got at least one thing right and that is that the part and the whole have an interesting relationship: things are inextricably knotted and no amount of swords with Great Alexanders attached to them will change that. Alexander the Great did not show himself at his Greatest in that particular story, not in my book anyway.

The necessity of this rigorous and exacting holism is what my diary is all about, its stories and descriptions highlight but do not isolate, at least that is certainly not their purpose and if they are found to do so, they do so on the basis of the reader’s judgment. The diary entries pick out this or that and bind these to other observations on the tacit assumption that much is left unsaid and anything that is said form a new whole, its own thing. They never try to reduce an experience to some principle or essence; they only ever produce a story with a thought, sliced from life and prepared for consumption.

The stories are certainly portraits of an event, but they are also more than that, they are themselves small works that, once produced and published begin to lead their own modest lives as pictures with at least three spaces extruding from them. In this way they become part of and add to, a life, as it forms itself with memories shaped, organised and stored both in me and my environment. This diary is my life as it connects to the world in the form of a story.



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