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This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·10 (the reverse side of Chapter 10·) of Turning Signs as of 8 September 2018. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere. Tip: You can also search this page or the whole netbook or the gnoxic blog for any term.
All flow of time involves learning; and all learning involves the flow of time.— Peirce, CP 7.536
Only in the stream of thought and life do words have meaning.— Wittgenstein (1968, #173)
Nanyue, who would later become Zen Master Dahui, first went to meet Huineng, the Old Buddha of Caoxi. Huineng said, “What is it that thus comes?”
Nanyue studied this lump of mud all-inclusively for eight years and finally presented a move to Huineng: “I understand now. When I first came here, you instructed me: ‘What is it that thus comes?’”
Then, Huineng said, “How do you understand it?” Nanyue said, “Speaking about it won’t hit the mark.” This is the actualization of all-inclusive study, the realization of eight years [seven years and some months].
Huineng said, “Does it depend on practice and realization?” Dahui said, “It is not that there is no practice and no realization, it is just that they cannot be divided.”
Then Huineng said, “I am like this, you are like this, and all the buddha ancestors in India are also like this.”
After this, Nanyue praticed all-inclusively for eight more years; counting from beginning to end, it was an all-inclusive study of fifteen years.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Henzan’ (Tanahashi 2010, 610)
Great is the power of the wheel of teaching of the enlightened:All cognition is recognition, a recursive process, but one that advances with every turn as long as the question is open: What is it that thus comes? The taken-for-granted meets the given-for-taking and you hear what no one has heard.
It is turned in the whole world, and turned in an atom.— Dogen (Cleary 1995, 54)
Presence is temporary, knowledge and memory are temporal. There are no coded symbols filed in the brain awaiting access; the only physical tracks laid down by learning or experience are changes in connectivity. Remembering and recognition are the activation, the actual following, of those tracks, which always happens in parallel with many other ongoing processes in the brain. Memories as traces of past processes are implicated in those processes, and we can explicate them only by means of external signs which have their own implications. Personal history, like the historical or scientific consensus, is a product of externalization.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.Experiencing is the little current within the flow of time trying to make sense of history – like tears in rain, as Roy Batty said.— Laurie Anderson, ‘From the Air’
Emergence has in an orderly way moved from protons to philosophers. At this level there is a kind of closing of the loop, because philosophers think about big bangs, protons, and all the other hierarchies connected by emergences. The emerging world turns inward and thinks about itself. As George Wald once said, a physicist is the atom's way of thinking about atoms.— Morowitz (2002, 183-4)
All human creation comes back to that point of transition when we begin manipulating existence guided by the partial revelation of that very existence. We only create a sense of good and evil as well as norms of conscionable behavior once we know about our own nature and that of others like us. Creativity itself – the ability to generate new ideas and artifacts – requires more than consciousness can ever provide. It requires abundant fact and skill memory, abundant working memory, fine reasoning ability, language. But consciousness is ever present in the process of creativity, not only because its light is indispensable, but because the nature of its revelations guide the process of creation, in one way or another, more or less intensely. In a curious way, whatever we do invent, from norms of ethics and law to music and literature to science and technology, is either directly mandated or inspired by the revelations of existence that consciousness offers us. Moreover, in one way or another, more so or less, the inventions have an effect on existence as revealed, they alter it for better or for worse. There is a circle of influence – existence, consciousness, creativity – and the circle closes.You must reap before you can sow. (Else where will you get your seeds?)— Damasio (1999, 315-16)
The actual universe is a thing wide open, but rationalism makes systems, and systems must be closed.William James made this remark in the first lecture of his 1907 series on Pragmatism, which was an attempt to remedy some of the defects of ‘rationalism.’ A century later, both science and religion are still struggling with the legacy which defined humankind as ‘the rational animal.’ But this remark by James does not take into account the fact that nature makes systems too. We are rational in that we make reasons, religions, sciences and external guidance systems in order to make sense of the world – but if these systems must be closed, it's because their makers share this property of closure with all complex adaptive systems. It takes a closed system to conceive of the actual universe as ‘a thing wide open.’— William James (1907)
Using boundaries, systems can open and close at the same time, separating internal interdependencies from system/environment interdependencies and relating both to each other.Moreover, the ‘openness’ of our universe that we value most – its ability to support living, learning and evolving – is realized in it by the closure of natural systems, specifically teleodynamic systems.— Luhmann (1995, 29)
The primeval (chemical) stage of the evolution of life on earth seems to have involved autocatalytic closure (Kauffman) or closed ‘hypercycles’ (Eigen and Schuster, cited in Maynard Smith and Szathmáry 1999, 48; also Merrell 1996). The emergence of the cell membrane reinforced this closure physically and made it portable, so that the autocatalytic networks were not limited to confined spaces (Morowitz 2002). This self-definition was further reinforced by rigid cell walls, which prevented the cell from exploding due to internal pressures; but further evolution (from prokaryotes to eukaryotes) depended on the replacement of the cell wall with other means of holding oneself together, because the wall prevented the exchange of larger particles, so that symbiosis was impossible with the wall in place. The development of cells with nuclei and organelles (semi-independent internal structures) began with some form of symbiosis, and led in turn to multicellular organisms like ourselves. The internal processes of the cell must be separated from the open universe in order to interact with it (Maynard Smith and Szathmáry 1999), yet must be selectively open to interchange. ‘Considered materially, as a system of matter and energy, life is recognizable by its partial separation from the environment by way of a membrane’ (Margulis and Sagan 1995, 85). Loewenstein (1999, 281) explains why the closure must be partial in order to support homeostasis.
According to Rosen (2000, 183), ‘a system that is both open and autonomous … must have the property that the flows from environment to system, and from system to environment, are determined by what is inside the system’ (Rosen 2000, 183, his italics). It is
thereby rendered relatively independent of environmental state. That is, it acts as a homeostat. This homeostatic independence from ambient environmental conditions is a ubiquitous characteristic of organisms; it serves in effect to close the system from certain environmental conditions, but only at the expense of opening the system to others.More on forms of closure from John Collier, ‘The Dynamical Basis of Information and the Origins of Semiosis’:— Rosen 2000, 184
Naturally autonomous systems have a dynamical cohesion that is actively maintained by processes of various kinds, i.e. they are substantially dynamically self-maintaining. Autonomous systems have many functional properties that preserve system properties through cycles of interaction, both internally and with the environment. These cycles are typically complex and self-reinforcing. They must achieve both process closure and interaction closure. Process closure concerns the fact that an overall process must achieve self-reinforcement by supporting system viability, and hence the continuing system capacity to carry out that process. If the system is to achieve overall process closure the elements of the system must interact with each other and with the environment in particular, circumscribed ways. This is interaction closure. This closure is essential to self-regulation, and distinguishes autonomous systems from systems like rocks that maintain their integrity merely through strong bonds that tend to isolate them from other systems, and from systems like gases, and liquids that are more open than solids, but do not have any closure of environmental interaction required for self-regulation; they remain independent only at the whim of environmental contingencies. To maintain themselves, autonomous systems must display an internal coherency of processes; namely the processes must interrelate flexibly so as to preserve the whole organised complexity that underwrites control of that very responsiveness and adaptability. Their functional properties must be so integrated that they are able to maintain an active independence. Unlike other kinds of natural systems (e.g., mechanical systems like the solar system, systems governed by local interactions among parts like rocks, and systems maintained by boundary conditions like gases in a chamber) autonomous systems are dominated by these global functional constraints. Although autonomy is a property at the ecological level, in the sense that the closure conditions for its definition make essential reference to the environment, it “belongs” to the autonomous individual in the sense that what makes the difference to autonomy lies in the individual. To sum up, autonomy is dynamical self-maintenance with closure conditions of processes and interactions.in Taborsky (ed.), Semiosis. Evolution. Energy: Towards a Reconceptualization of the Sign.
Aachen: Shaker Verlag, 1999, Bochum Publications in Semiotics New Series. Vol. 3 (1999): 111-136. Accessed from philpapers.org/rec/COLTDB-2
… two features seem to characterize systems that maintain themselves in stable configurations far from equilibrium. The first is that such a system must be characterized by processes that cycle the materials among its different components. The second is that the rates of these processes must be determined by feedback mechanisms. These are necessary to keep the different processes in balance with each other so that the overall amounts of material in each component do not change in time. Both of these features characterize the processes that go on in spiral galaxies.However, this does not mean that galaxies are alive. In the terms coined by Terrence Deacon (2011), autocatalytic cycles are morphodynamic, necessary but not sufficient for the emergence of life, which requires teleodynamics. Deacon's diagram (2011, 270) shows teleodynamics nested within morphodynamics, which in turn is nested within homeodynamics, of which the second law of thermodynamics is the main governing principle. (Since ‘an increase in entropy is a decrease in constraint, and vice versa … the second law can be restated as follows: In any given interaction, the global level of constraint can only decrease’ (Deacon 2011, 228-9).)— Smolin (1997, 124)
Deacon (2011) also points out that ‘autocatalysis’ might better be called a ‘reciprocally catalytic loop,’ since it is constituted not by a single reaction that catalyzes itself, but by (at least) two reactions each of which produces a catalyst for the other. DNA ‘replication,’ which is characteristic of life on this planet, is a special case of ‘autocatalysis,’ according to Deacon, since DNA does not replicate itself but participates in a reciprocal reproduction loop with other elements within the cell (Deacon 2011, 438).
Before any systematic interpretation, the description of the known facts shows that the fate of an excitation is determined by its relation to the whole of the organic state and to the simultaneous or preceding excitations, and that the relations between the organism and its milieu are not relations of linear causality but of circular causality.— Merleau-Ponty (1942, 15)
The idea of circular causality in complex systems goes back at least to Kant, whose Critique of Judgment prefigured current concepts of self-organization and autopoiesis (Thompson 2007). His stipulation that the parts of an organism ‘combine into the unity of a whole because they are reciprocally cause and effect of their form’ (Thompson 2007, 134) anticipates the concept of circular causality as explicated by Walter Freeman. For Kant, ‘the fact that organisms are so complex, so full of feedback loops in which each part is “cause and effect of itself” means that we cannot possibly describe them as machines’ (Depew and Weber 1995, 104).
Kant is sure that the collapse of functional processes into mere mechanical effects will never be reached in analyses of organisms. His point, however, is that whenever we see it, we must be willing to reject what he called external teleology, which collapses into mechanical cause and effect, so that the genuine inspiration we can derive from the internal teleology of organic integrity will not be exposed to ridicule.— Depew and Weber (1995, 104)
Lacking the tools of nonlinear dynamics, Kant saw no way to ‘naturalize’ these ideas. He argued instead that our investigation of organic nature is guided by ‘a remote analogy with our own causality’ (Thompson 2007, 137) and is therefore grounded in teleological thinking. To put it another way, we have to see other organisms as guided from within because we ourselves are.
Darwin's theory, ‘in which external rather than internal causes do most of the explanatory work’ (Depew and Weber 1995, 110), was an attempt to bring biological (evolutionary) theory within the respectable pale of Newtonian science. Despite its success, it now appears to be a stepping-stone to a more comprehensive theory recognizing organic unity as collaborating with myriad mechanisms, by means of operational closure, to determine how systems live and move.
Before he could construct his equipment and make measurements with it, Coulomb had to employ electrical theory to determine how his equipment should be built. The consequence of his measurements was a refinement in that theory.If the theory has to be replaced instead of refined, then we have a scientific “revolution”; but even a revolution is (in practice as well as etymology) just a turning again or re-turn when seen from a more long-term perspective. Kuhn's paradigm is not just a theory but an ‘achievement’ which encapsulates the whole cycle of theory-application-experiment-measurement. All parts of the cycle are renewed, including the kind of evidence that is considered relevant to the theoretical question. ‘Normal science’ aims at greater articulation and precision in applying the ‘paradigm’ to ordinary problems; but ‘extraordinary problems … emerge only on special occasions prepared by the advance of normal research’ (Kuhn 1969, 34).— Kuhn 1969, 33-4
Maturana and Varela (1992, 28) also explain scientific explanation as a circular process. More specifically, Varela described his ‘neurophenomenology’ as ‘the circulation between a first person and an external account of human experience, which describes the phenomenological position in fertile dialogue with cognitive science’ (Varela 1996, 333). This ‘circulation’ can also be described as a movement ‘back and forth’ – as for instance Edelman does when dealing with the connection between ‘our neural model’ and ‘the experienced properties of a conscious subject’: ‘I believe that the issue is best clarified by stressing the neural mechanisms first, and then going back and forth between phenomenal issues and these mechanisms to show their consistency with each other’ (Edelman 2004, 60). This procedure differs from neurophenomenology mainly in that Edelman, unlike Varela, gives priority to the third-person view. But of course it doesn't matter where you start in a circular process.
Varela and his collaborators have also spoken of a ‘necessary “circulation” between everyday experience and scientific experience’:
On the one hand, everyday experience provides the sensuous, material contents from which and with which science must work. On the other hand, the scientific analyses built from these contents contribute to the formation of our life-world and provide important leading clues for phenomenological analyses of how our experience of the world is genetically and generatively constituted.— Thompson (2007, 34)
We often symbolize ‘the present’ as a point on a timeline, an instant located between past and future. Presence, though – experiencing – is a moment thicker and vaguer than a point, and the past as presently represented, the fact of what happened, is but a trace of what actually happened.
Our picture is of cognition as a continuing stream of cognitive cycles, overlapping so as to act somewhat in parallel. Because any single cognitive cycle can only become conscious at any given instant, their parallelism is constrained in such as way as to maintain the seriality of consciousness. We conjecture that a full cognitive cycle might take a minimum of 200 ms. But because of overlapping and automaticity, which shortens the cycle … as many as twenty cycles could be running per second. Working-memory tasks occur on the order of seconds, indicating that several cognitive cycles may be needed for any given WM task, especially if it has conscious components such as mental rehearsal.
Although we describe an iterating cycle from step 1 to step 9, in many tasks the cycle might begin with step 8, starting from an action that will enable some particular perception. That is because human beings are active, curious, and exploratory creatures, in which much input is interpreted in the context of ongoing activities.— Baars and Franklin (2003, 169)
The 9-step cycle proposed by Baars and Franklin is only one variation on the cyclic theme represented in our meaning cycle diagram and the Rosen diagram. Freeman (1999b, 150), Edelman (2004, 79, Figure 10) and many others include such diagrams which are topologically similar, varying mostly in the number, arrangement and labelling of subloops. Freeman's diagram of the action-perception cycle features a brain-body loop within it, and within that, reafference, control and spacetime loops.
Edelman's diagram of ‘causal chains in the world, body, and brain’ (2004, 79, Figure 10) is also cognate to the Rosen diagram. It shows brain and body acting into the world, causing ‘world signals’ which interact with ‘self signals’ in the ‘dynamic core,’ enabling ‘higher-order distinctions or discriminations’; this neural activity then modifies our action patterns. Since ‘the world is causally closed,’ consciousness itself does not cause anything to happen, but is entailed by the distinction-making neural activity, as ‘the entailed phenomenal transform with its qualia consists of those distinctions’ (2004, 78-9).
Both Freeman and Edelman quote the remark of William James (1879) that consciousness appears to be ‘an organ added for the sake of steering a nervous system grown too complex to regulate itself’ (Freeman 1999b, 155-6; Edelman 2004, 84). But as Freeman points out, ‘consciousness is not provided by another “organ” (an add-on part of the human brain) but by a new hierarchical level of organization of brain dynamics’ (156). In his model, the nervous system does regulate itself, by means of circular causality, which works both bottom-up and top-down. Consciousness does not initiate any impulses toward action, but as these arise from the microscopic neural activity, the higher-level ‘global operator’ takes advantage of the delay introduced by the complexity of cortical functioning to damp most of these impulses and amplify a selected few, and thus it constrains the very microscopic processes that constitute it.
Both Freeman and Edelman emphasize the variability of this process: unlike a computer, a human brain does not reliably produce the same ‘output’ when given the same ‘input.’ Edelman remarks that the ‘very richness of core states provides the grounds for new matches to the vicissitudes of the environment. Those matches are stabilized through the workings of the brain as a complex system’ (2004, 85). The richness (variability) of the ‘core states’ underlying consciousness provide the same service for the organism that ‘overhead’ provides for an ecosystem in the Ulanowicz model – or that ‘prophecy’ and creative imagination provide for a culture.
Now in genuine Thirdness, the first, the second, and the third are all three of the nature of thirds, or thought, while in respect to one another they are first, second, and third. The first is thought in its capacity as mere possibility; that is, mere mind capable of thinking, or a mere vague idea. The second is thought playing the role of a Secondness, or event. That is, it is of the general nature of experience or information. The third is thought in its role as governing Secondness. It brings the information into the mind, or determines the idea and gives it body. It is informing thought, or cognition. But take away the psychological or accidental human element, and in this genuine Thirdness we see the operation of a sign.In order to purify the concept of genuine Thirdness, we ought to drop from it any ‘accidental’ elements that might cling to it because they are associated with the common experience we call “thought” or “cognition.” So let us abstract (or prescind) from that phenomenon the formal essence of genuine Thirdness. When we do this, what we see is ‘the operation of a sign’ (i.e. semiosis). But “sign” is another word which, in common usage, may be associated with elements accidental to genuine Thirdness rather than essential to it. If we wish to find what is really elementary to representation, and thus to genuine Thirdness, perhaps we ought to have a more technical term than “sign” for the first correlate of a genuine triadic relation.— CP 1.537 (also quoted in Chapter 7)
… I must begin the examination of representation by defining representation a little more accurately. In the first place, as to my terminology, I confine the word representation to the operation of a sign or its relation to the object for the interpreter of the representation. The concrete subject that represents I call a sign or a representamen. I use these two words, sign and representamen, differently. By a sign I mean anything which conveys any definite notion of an object in any way, as such conveyers of thought are familiarly known to us. Now I start with this familiar idea and make the best analysis I can of what is essential to a sign, and I define a representamen as being whatever that analysis applies to.Once again, Peirce begins with the familiar concept (“sign”), and tries by analysis to extract (or prescind) what is essential to it by subtracting its ‘accidental human element.’ To distinguish this more precise concept of the ‘subject that represents’ from the more familiar concept of “sign,” Peirce calls it representamen, a term virtually synonymous with ‘sign’ but more analytically exact for logical purposes. Peirce had been using the term in this way for decades – it even appears once in his ‘New List of Categories’ (1867) – but he would later come to regret this, as he admitted in a letter drafted to Victoria Welby in July 1905:— CP 1.540
I use 'sign' in the widest sense of the definition. It is a wonderful case of an almost popular use of a very broad word in almost the exact sense of the scientific definiton. … I formerly preferred the word representamen. But there was no need of this horrid long word. … My notion in preferring “representamen” was that it would seem more natural to apply it to representatives in legislatures, to deputies of various kinds, etc. I admit still that it aids the comprehension of the definition to compare it carefully with such cases. But they certainly depart from the definition [of sign given earlier in this letter], in that this requires that the action of the sign as such shall not affect the object represented. A legislative representative is, on the contrary, expected in his functions to improve the condition of this constituents; and any kind of attorney, even if he has no discretion, is expected to affect the condition of his principal. … I thought of a representamen as taking the place of the thing; but a sign is not a substitute.After this, with a few exceptions, Peirce abandoned the use of ‘representamen’ as a synonym for ‘sign.’ The continuation of his 1903 Lowell lecture shows that even while using the term, he was aware that this usage had some disadvantages:— Peirce to Welby (SS 193)
… I define a representamen as being whatever that analysis applies to. If therefore I have committed an error in my analysis, part of what I say about signs will be false. For in that case a sign may not be a representamen. The analysis is certainly true of the representamen, since that is all that word means. Even if my analysis is correct, something may happen to be true of all signs, that is of everything that, antecedently to any analysis, we should be willing to regard as conveying a notion of anything, while there might be something which my analysis describes of which the same thing is not true. In particular, all signs convey notions to human minds; but I know no reason why every representamen should do so.So ‘a sign may not be a representamen,’ and as Peirce said in the ‘Speculative Grammar’ section of his Syllabus, ‘there may be Representamens that are not Signs’ (EP2:273). The pitfalls of polyversity, it seems, are only papered over by inventing technical terms which are more exact and ‘scientific’ than ordinary terms. In most of his semiotic writings, Peirce compromised by pairing the terms ‘sign’ and ‘representamen’ in contexts which make it clear that they are virtually interchangeable, as he did in the Lowell lecture (CP 1.540) quoted above. Here are some more examples taken from his various definitions of the concept:
A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign.— unidentified fragment, c. 1897.
A sign, or representamen, involves a plural relation, for it may be defined as something in which an element of cognition is so embodied as to convey that cognition from the thought of the deliverer of the sign, in which that cognition was embodied, to the thought of the interpreter of the sign, in which that cognition is to be embodied.— ‘On the Logic of Quantity’ (MS 16, 1895?) [PM]
Indeed, representation necessarily involves a genuine triad. For it involves a sign, or representamen, of some kind, outward or inward, mediating between an object and an interpreting thought.— ‘The Logic of Mathematics’ (CP 1.480, 1896)
The principles and analogies of Phenomenology enable us to describe, in a distant way, what the divisions of triadic relations must be. … no part of this work has, as yet, been satisfactorily performed, except in some measure for the most important class of triadic relations, those of signs, or representamens, to their objects and interpretants.— ‘Nomenclature and Divisions of Triadic Relations’ (EP2:289, CP 2.233, 1903)
A Sign is a representamen of which some interpretant is a cognition of a mind. Signs are the only representamens that have been much studied.— ‘Nomenclature and Divisions of Triadic Relations’ (EP2:291, CP 2.242 1903)
A Sign, or Representamen, is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object. The triadic relation is genuine, that is its three members are bound together by it in a way that does not consist in any complexus of dyadic relations.… this, and more, is involved in the familiar idea of a Sign; and as the term Representamen is here used, nothing more is implied. A Sign is a Representamen with a mental Interpretant. Possibly there may be Representamens that are not Signs.— ‘Syllabus’ (EP2:272, CP 2.274, 1903)
All of the above make it clear that the sign, or representamen, is one correlate of a genuine triadic relation. Some later semioticians have chosen to emphasize the triadicity of semiosis by means of a terminological distinction between sign and representamen which is entirely different from Peirce's. This post-Peircean distinction was then attributed to Peirce, for instance by Winfried Nöth in his Handbook of Semiotics (1990, 42):
Theoretically, Peirce distinguished clearly between the sign, which is the complete triad, and the representamen, which is its first correlate. Terminologically, however, there is an occasional ambiguity because Peirce sometimes also used the less technical term sign instead of representamen…. Once, Peirce even speaks of the ‘sign, or representamen’ …But as we have seen above, this pairing of the terms as synonymous is the usual practice in Peirce, not the exception. Nöth does not cite even one specific example where Peirce uses the term ‘sign’ to denote ‘the complete triad,’ and none of Peirce's dozens of definitions of sign actually do this.
There is one passage in the late Peirce which does say that ‘Signs … are triadic’ (CP 6.344, 1909). The ‘triad’ here, however, is not sign-object-interpretant but subject-predicate-copula: a sign is triadic because it ‘denotes a subject, and signifies a form of fact, which latter it brings into connexion with the former.’ The context of this statement sums up Peirce's late view of thought and its Thirdness as achieving completeness or perfection in the triadic composition of a proposition:
The mode of being of the composition of thought, which is always of the nature of the attribution of a predicate to a subject, is the living intelligence which is the creator of all intelligible reality, as well as of the knowledge of such reality. It is the entelechy, or perfection of being.Here sign is virtually synonymous with proposition, which does incorporate a triad of functional components. Those components had been classified by Peirce in 1903 as sign types (icon, index, rheme etc.), but nothing less than a proposition (or dicisign) is complete enough in itself to have a genuinely triadic internal structure, or to convey information. Just as genuine Thirdness involves Secondness and Firstness, the proposition involves both index and icon. Peirce had expressed this earlier (for instance in ‘New Elements’) by saying that icon and index were ‘degenerate’ relative to the symbol, which in that context is virtually synonymous with proposition. But it is precisely the involvement of iconic and indexical functions that makes a sign informational, and thus constitutes its genuine Thirdness. This enclosure of triadicity within the complete sign as ‘entelechy’ is, we might say, the implicit closure of semiosis.
So, then, there are these three modes of being: first, the being of a feeling, in itself, unattached to any subject, which is merely an atmospheric possibility, a possibility floating in vacuo, not rational yet capable of rationalization; secondly, there is the being that consists in arbitrary brute action upon other things, not only irrational but anti-rational, since to rationalize it would be to destroy its being; and thirdly, there is living intelligence from which all reality and all power are derived; which is rational necessity and necessitation.
A feeling is what it is, positively, regardless of anything else. Its being is in it alone, and it is a mere potentiality. A brute force, as, for example, an existent particle, on the other hand, is nothing for itself; whatever it is, it is for what it is attracting and what it is repelling: its being is actual, consists in action, is dyadic. That is what I call existence. A reason has its being in bringing other things into connexion with each other; its essence is to compose: it is triadic, and it alone has a real power.
Signs, the only things with which a human being can, without derogation, consent to have any transaction, being a sign himself, are triadic; since a sign denotes a subject, and signifies a form of fact, which latter it brings into connexion with the former.CP 6.341-44 (1909)
As for that which we inspire in thee of the Scripture, it is the Truth confirming that which was (revealed) before it.— Qur'án (Pickthall) 35:31
Once a text has become sacred in a community that reads prophetically, any new discoveries or revelations in that domain are most likely to appear as fulfillments of scripture. The established text confers authority on the new, while the new text confers new (fuller) meaning on the old. Consider for instance the story told in John 2, when Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple:
And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.First the disciples remember Psalm 69 and connect it with the acts of Jesus; this both fulfills the already-sacred text and confirms the act of Jesus as sacred. (The synoptic gospels also have Jesus quoting Jeremiah and Isaiah at this point.) Thereupon the words of Jesus himself become sacred, which entails that even though they are not rightly understood at the time of utterance, they are ‘remembered’ so that their meaning can be clarified later. In this sense, the sacred text is believed before it is understood, and the ‘intended meaning’ of Jesus' words is constructed (or reconstructed) from the later events which can be retrospectively mapped onto them.
Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
But he spake of the temple of his body.
When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.— 17-22, KJV
The sacredness of the text and the meaning of it reinforce each other in positive feedback loops; for instance, the opening of John 2 (‘On the third day’) resonates with the overtones of the Resurrection because the three-day interval is associated with it. Note also that the interval between the death and resurrection of Jesus is given in the Gospels as roughly 36 hours (traditionally, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning), so that it takes some creative wording (i.e. counting Friday as ‘the first day’) to reconcile it with the ‘three days’ of which Jesus speaks here. All of this reflects the religious reader's impulse to fit the historical event to the text and vice versa – a special case of the reader's motivation to find that mutual fit between text and experience that we call meaning.
All was of ancientry. You gave me a boot (signs on it!) and I ate the wind. I quizzed you a quid (with for what?) and you went to the quod. But the world, mind, is, was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever, man, on all matters that fall under the ban of our infrarational senses fore the last milch camel, the heartvein throbbing between his eyebrowns, has still to moor before the tomb of his cousin charmian where his date is tethered by the palm that's hers. But the hour, the smiting, the day of decision is not now. A bone, a pebble, a ramskin; chip them, chap them, cut them up allways; leave them to terracook in the slowth of the muttheringpot: and Gutenmorg with his cromagnom charter, tintingfast and great primer must once for omniboss step rubrickredd out of the wordpress else is there no virtue more in alcohoran. For that (the rapt one warns) is what papyr is meed of, made of, hides and hints and misses in prints. Till Ye finally (though not yet endlike) meet with the acquaintance of Mister Typus, Mistress Tope and all the little typtopies. Fillstup. So you need hardly spell me how every word will be bound over to carry three score and ten toptypsical readings throughout the book of Doublends Jined (may his forehead be darkened with mud who would sunder!) till Daleth, mahomahouma, who oped it closeth thereof the. Dor.Mixed with all the references here to writing, printing and paper we find two books lurking: the Qur'án revealed by the Prophet Mohammed, and Finnegans Wake itself, ‘the book of Doublends Jined.’ The circularity of the Wake means that our story never ends: the closure is ongoing: tension must remain unresolved while we live (since equilibrium is death): revelation continues beyond the last prophet: the Mother Book must bear 70 readings, each closing the current gap between World and Mind while projecting the entelechy into the future.— FW2 (The Restored Finnegans Wake) 16
A present without a future, or an eternal present, is precisely the definition of death; the living present is torn between a past which it takes up and a future which it projects. It is thus of the essence of the thing and of the world to present themselves as ‘open,’ to send us beyond their determinate manifestations, to promise us always ‘something else to see.’ This is what is sometimes expressed by saying that the thing and the world are mysterious. They are indeed, when we do not limit ourselves to their objective aspect, but put them back into the setting of subjectivity. They are even an absolute mystery, not amenable to elucidation, and this through no provisional gap in our knowledge, for in that case it would fall back to the status of a mere problem, but because it is not of the order of objective thought in which there are solutions.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 388)
The indefinitely unresolved tension is not so much subjective as semiotic, for as Floyd Merrell writes,
‘living’ Peircean signs ipso facto exercise, and will continue to exercise, some degree of autonomy; if not, they would not be ‘alive.’ But rather than mere islands unto themselves, they are also to a degree perpetually open to their environment …. There is constant give-and-take, disequilibrium, imbalance, tension. The process is ongoing. This tension of tensions there will always be: a tendency toward symmetry, equilibrium, balance (‘death’) versus an opposing tendency toward asymmetry, disequilibrium, imbalance (‘life’). If ‘death’ were to reign supreme, then there would be only crystallized stasis. On the other hand, if there were only ‘life’ and nothing but ‘life,’ then pure chaos would erupt—Nietzsche's eternal return, nothing new under the sun—within which ‘life’ as we know it, and perhaps as it can only be known, could not continue to sustain itself. There must reign, in the final analysis, disordered order, ordered disorder: being always becoming, and becoming never quite becoming authentic being.— Merrell (1996, 186)
Our intelligence cannot wall itself up alive, like a pupa in its chrysalis. It must at any cost keep on speaking terms with the universe that engendered it.Yet some kind of isolation or closure must be part of the meaning cycle, just as the pupa in its chrysalis is part of the life cycle of the butterfly. Insulation enables the part to enliven the whole. Paul was ‘separated for the Gospel of God’ (Romans 1.1; see Pagels 1975). The tension between biologically private and sociophysically public – a gap which may be leaped in an esoteric space such as Corbin's ‘intermediate world’ – generates the transforming power of meaning.— William James, A Pluralistic Universe, Lecture V
Dogen situates ‘turning inward’ within the cycle of turning the dharma wheel and the dharma wheel turning:
To study the way of enlightenment is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.If on the other hand we get wrapped up in the self and its private concerns, enclosed in what Zen masters call the ‘ghost cave,’ we end up ‘conversing with shadows dire’ like Blake's Theotormon.— ‘Genjokoan’ (Tanahashi 2010, 30)
Once the fateful decision has been made, the words have left our lips of the body's deed is done, the act is released into the flow of life. Its reverberative effects will, to some degree, reconfigure both ourselves and the world in which we encounter the next moral dilemma. The acts we commit now thus form the conditions under which future choices will have to be made.By their fruits we know them; the inevitablility of their consequences is what makes them meaningful. Nagarjuna's ‘contract’ is cognate with the ‘covenant’ of the Abrahamic religions: their binding nature is what makes our freedom meaningful.Although an act is germinated in the privacy of one's thoughts, as soon as it enters the public domain it cannot be retracted or recalled. Nagarjuna declares thatActs, like contracts,
Are as irrevocable as debts—
Ensures fruition.— Batchelor (2000, 79-80)
But the meaning of pleroma also branched in unexpected directions during the 20th century. C.G. Jung initiated this departure in a strange neo-gnostic piece that he wrote in 1916 and later described as ‘a sin of his youth’: ‘Seven Sermons to the Dead’ (printed as an appendix to Jung 1963). From this, Gregory Bateson picked up the term and used it as a complement/opposite to creatura, the realm of life and mind. ‘In Jung's pleroma,’ says Bateson (1979, 106), ‘there are no differences, no distinctions,’ while creatura arises from the mental act of carving pleroma into entities. Pleroma is the mechanistic world of Newtonian physics – ‘that nonmental realm of description where difference between two parts need never be evoked to explain the response of a third’; it is ‘the world in which events are caused by forces and impacts and in which there are no “distinctions”’ (Bateson 1972, 456). Thus we have ‘two worlds of explanation’ which might also be called the physical and the mental. Tracing this usage from early Christian times through Jung to Bateson demonstrates how radically the meanings of terms can change, especially when they are used to distinguish between kinds of worlds.
Developed in this way, Bateson's concept of the ‘mental’ (like Peirce's conception of thought as Thirdness) encompasses far more than what goes on in the human cranium, without losing any of its rigor. Thus he gave a scientific grounding to what Shunryu Suzuki (1970) calls big mind. Sentient beings are subjects who respond to stimuli rather than being affected by forces; the energy for the response is supplied by the responding organism. In the creatura all effects are brought about by difference – which cannot be localized. When a difference actually makes a difference, a circuit is closed thereby; and as Bateson (1979) pointed out, a switch in a sense does not exist when its circuit is closed. Likewise, when the subject/object distinction vanishes, the ‘self’ is annihilated – an experience referred to by the Sufis as fana.
According to a recent study published in Science by Harvard University psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, almost half our waking thoughts have little relation to what we’re currently doing. Although in general it’s clearly useful to be able to think about things that aren’t present here and now, and although mind wandering in particular can facilitate creative problem solving, it is also linked to negative emotions and unhappiness. As psychologist Jonathan Smallwood and his colleagues have shown, negative moods lead the mind to wander. As Killingsworth and Gilbert discovered, people are less happy when their minds are wandering than when they’re focusing on what they’re doing. Furthermore, although people are more likely to mind wander to pleasant topics than to unpleasant or neutral ones, people are no happier when thinking about pleasant topics than when they focus on the task at hand, and they’re less happy when they mind wander to neutral topics than when they focus on their current activity. As Killingsworth and Gilbert conclude, “a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”Even when you think about what you are doing, instead of focusing on doing it, your mind is beginning to wander … unless you focus philosophically, becoming a beginner.— Evan Thompson (2014, Kindle Locations 7177-7190)
Life is distinguished not by its chemical constituents but by the behavior of its chemicals. The question ‘What is life?’ is thus a linguistic trap. To answer according to the rules of grammar, we must supply a noun, a thing. But life on earth is more like a verb. It repairs, maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.— Margulis and Sagan (1995, 15)
We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.Even “change” is a noun, as if change were a thing. But what is such a thing made of?— Norbert Wiener (1954, 96)
The something in transit which we have recognized as necessary to the constitution of a change is to be defined only in terms of the particular manner of its ‘passing.’ For example, the bird which flies across my garden is, during the time that it is moving, merely a greyish power of flight and, generally speaking, we shall see that things are defined primarily in terms of their ‘behaviour’ and not in terms of static ‘properties.’— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 320-1)
The illusory nature of the usual view consists of its positing of essences which have attributes, or fundamental components which are assembled in the construction of the object. This way of organizing experience is of course very useful in many situations – that's why it is the usual view – but it breaks down under persistent analysis. Eliminate all attributes and you find no essence remaining, just as there is no meaning without context. “Fundamentals” turn out, on deeper examination, to be “founded” on something else. Since what appears essential or fundamental changes when you change your orientation toward the object (or subject), we can say that nothing is permanent, or that all things are empty.
And here's a physicist's version of the concept, from David Bohm (1975):
… the notion of something with an exhaustively specificable and unvarying mode of being can be only an approximation and an abstraction from the infinite complexity of the changes taking place in the real process of becoming.— Bohm 2003, 32
The Buddhist model of co-dependent origination (interbeing, sunyata, emptiness, ..... ) is sometimes presented in circular form (e.g. Thich Nhat Hanh 1998). One aspect of this is world/self interaction, here presented in a form virtually identical with our ‘meaning cycle’:
If we look at the relationship between the individual and its world, we see a kind of circularity of conditioning power, whereby the world conditions the individual, who acts, and this action in turn circulates back into the world to change it and motivate it. The motion, however, is simultaneous, and the world is an extremely active place of unimaginable change. Buddhists have always insisted, with Aristotle, that to exist is to exert conditioning power on others.Enlightening beings ‘turn the dharma wheel’ in order to liberate all beings from this conditioning by raising awareness of it.— Francis H. Cook (1989, 24)
And this sort of circle, according to which language, in the presence of those who are learning it, precedes itself, teaches itself, and suggests its own deciphering, is perhaps the marvel which defines language.… In a unified whole of this kind, the learned parts of a language have an immediate value as a whole, and progress is made less by addition and juxtaposition than by the internal articulation of a function which is in its own way already complete.In the same way, science does not advance by addition of completely new knowledge (Kuhn 1969), but by the transformation of a knowledge which is already complete as a guidance system for continuing inquiry, yet incomplete with respect to the questions which are still open. Likewise the evolution of bodily form: each organism is complete and ‘perfect’ enough to live and reproduce, yet the lineage keeps on perfecting its form as it carries itself forward in an evolving world.— Merleau-Ponty (1960, 39-40)
The hermeneutic circle is also embodied in perception, i.e. in reading the world:
Even if in the last resort I have no absolute knowledge of this stone, and even if my knowledge regarding it takes me step by step along an infinite road and cannot ever be complete, the fact remains that the perceived stone is there, that I recognize it, that I have named it and that we agree on a certain number of statements about it. Thus it seems that we are led to a contradiction: belief in the thing and the world must entail the presumption of a completed synthesis—and yet this completion is made impossible by the very nature of the perspectives which have to be inter-related, since each one of them, by virtue of its horizons, refers to other perspectives, and so on indefinitely. There is, indeed, a contradiction, as long as we operate within being, but the contradiction disappears, or rather is generalized, being linked up with the ultimate conditions of our experience and becoming one with the possibility of living and thinking, if we operate in time, and if we manage to understand time as the measure of being.Merleau-Ponty's ‘completed synthesis’ is Edelman's ‘closure’; ‘time as the measure of being’ recalls Dogen's ‘being-time’ (‘Uji’). The physical side of all this is explicated in Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 385)
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.— Mark Twain's Journal (Dec. 30, 1902)
The hermeneutic circle is called a ‘circle’ only because it repeatedly brings you round to revisit, reinterpret and recreate the same text. But where it takes you between visits to that single text would not look like a circular path if you could diagram it; it would look like a strange attractor, or perhaps like someone wandering about in a network. And of course it would take many more than two dimensions to properly portray this itinerancy.
The circle also has a tendency to become a hermeneutic spiral, especially in a scriptural work such as the Báb's commentary on the Qur’anic Sura of Joseph:
The work itself is the result of a re-ordering of the basic elements of the scripture of Islam that have been internalized and transformed by the apparently opposite processes of imitation and inspiration to become finally an original “act” of literature of a genre we would like to call gnostic apocalypse.… Taken as a whole, this commentary by the 25-year-old merchant from Shiraz represents a text within a text within a text which strives to interpret itself. It may be thought to offer an example of an attempt to transform what became known much later as the hermeneutic circle into what might be called a hermeneutic spiral.— Lawson 2012, 141
The very word revolution indicates recycling – like the cycles of the natural world, ‘persisting indefinitely in time. Looked at from an imaginative point of view, their renewal is an image of resurrection into eternity’ (Frye 1947, 211). Frye is referring here to Blake's sense of history, which is somewhat more evolutionary than his cosmology appears at first glance.
Thus history exhibits a series of crises in which a sudden flash of imaginative vision (as in the French Revolution) bursts out, is counteracted by a more ruthless defense of the status quo, and subsides again. The evolution comes in the fact that the opposition grows sharper each time, and will one day present a clear-cut alternative of eternal life or extermination.But in the presence of time, the alternatives are already clear: the closed circle of birth-and-death, or the opening of the dharma eye.— Frye (1947, 260)
Gershom Scholem (1946, 7) refers to the ‘mythical epoch’ as the first stage in the historical development of religion, a stage that
represents the world as being full of gods whom man encounters at every step and whose presence can be experienced without recourse to ecstatic meditation. In other words, there is no room for mysticism as long as the abyss between Man and God has not become a fact of inner consciousness.This ‘abyss’ is created by religion, according to Scholem, and mysticism is the attempt to close it.
Mysticism does not deny or overlook the abyss; on the contrary, it begins by realizing its existence, but from there it proceeds to a quest for the secret that will close it in, the hidden path that will span it. It strives to piece together the fragments broken by the religious cataclysm, to bring back the old unity which religion has destroyed, but on a new plane, where the world of mythology and that of revelation meet in the soul of man.On the other hand, Newberg et al. (2002, 90), citing Joseph Campbell, speak of ‘the awe-inspiring distance normally perceived between humans and their gods’ as ‘the fundamental problem that all systems of mythology must address.’ For them, religion does not create the Human/God gap, but instead aims to organize and institutionalize the mythology which addresses a gap that is ‘normally perceived.’ This appears to reverse the order of creation as Scholem sees it. These contrasting accounts at least reveal the polyversity involved in the use of terms like “myth,” “religion,” “mysticism,” “gods” and “God.”— Scholem (1946, 8)
totally abstracted from the “environment” within which the money economy is actually embedded – there are no connections between the money flows and biophysical reality.… Worse, the implied simple, reversible, mechanistic behavior of the economy is inconsistent with the connectivity, irreversibility, and positive feedback dynamics of complex energy, information, and eco-systems, the systems with which the economy interacts in the real world.When such a simplistically closed model operates in collusion with imperious demands for ‘growth,’ the result is accelerated degradation of the planet – a result neither predicted by the model nor intended by its users.— William E. Rees (2002)
Likewise, a belief system that is not open to alternatives is closed to learning.
Two diverse descriptions are always better than one.— G. Bateson (1979, 157)
We have to learn what we can, but remain mindful that our knowledge not close the circle, closing out the void, so that we forget that what we do not know remains boundless, without limit or bottom, and that what we know may have to share the quality of being known with what denies it. What is seen with one eye has no depth.— Ursula Le Guin, Always Coming Home, 29
We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.— Tagore, Stray Birds 75
It is very helpful to look deeply into the nature of our perceptions, without being too sure of anything. When we are too sure, we suffer.— Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 179)
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.— Tao Te Ching 71 (Waley)
Certainty closes down one's mind and heart.— Robert Theobald (1992, 60)
Certainty is immunity to dialogue, just as death is immunity to experience.— gnox
Stay us wherefore in our search for righteousness, O Sustainer, what time we rise and when we take up to toothpick and before we lump down upown our leatherbed and in the night and at the fading of the stars! For a nod to the nabir is better than a wink to the wabsanti.— FW2, 4-5
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