|obverse Chapter 8·||Turning Signs (Contents)||References||TS blog|
This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·8 (the reverse side of Chapter 8·) of Turning Signs as of 17 September 2017. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere. Scroll on! Tip: You can also search this page or the whole netbook or the gnoxic blog for any term.
To Tao all under heaven will come as streams and torrents flow into a great river or sea.— Tao te ching 32 (Waley)
Say: All things are of God.— Bahá'u'lláh, Book of the Covenant
All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.— Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
(from each equinoxious points of view, the one fellow's fetch being the other follow's person)— Finnegans Wake, 85
No man is good enough to govern another without that other's consent.— Lincoln
all the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting.Meanwhile the sacred tree at the center of the nation's hoop had disappeared from the vision.— Neihardt 1932, 29
The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.
What bird has done yesterday man may do next year, be it fly, be it moult, be it hatch, be it agreement in the nest.— Finnegans Wake 112
The collective, communal belief system is organized by and for what we call common sense. But this consensus-building (or rebuilding) process depends crucially on the self-controlled efforts of community members: hence the dynamic tension between individual and communal belief systems.
The circumstance that each person is defined by and identified with a specific locus in a network of relations guarantees that selfishness is self-defeating. On the other hand, too much conformity to laws or patterns of behavior that ignore the specific circumstances of that locus can defeat (or at least anesthetize) the community guided or constituted by those laws.
Consider this remark by Edmund Burke (‘Preface to Brissot's Address’, 1794):
Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
If the divine sense of humor has such a lethal edge, maybe it would be better for us humans to laugh at ourselves, and let the gods look elsewhere for amusement. Certainly we have lots to laugh at. Even Burke, if we take him as claiming to know what the gods laugh at, is recklessly risking his own wreck.
By the way, this quotation is often attributed to Albert Einstein; indeed i first came across it as Einstein's and didn't discover its real source until, in the process of researching this book, i searched for the specific source of it. I also discovered that the story about Mark Twain as a cub reporter may be apocryphal: it's widely replicated around the Internet, but i've found no reference to it which gives an original source in Twain's works (or anyone else's). But perhaps these are just examples of the way that stories and proverbs work their way into the ‘common stock of knowledge’, leaving the original creator's intentions behind as they take on meaning from common everyday use.
Learning is a natural process of pursuing personally meaningful goals, and it is active, volitional, and internally mediated; it is a process of discovering and constructing meaning from information and experience, filtered through the learner's unique perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.When we consider learning as a constructive process, we think of experience and information as the material inputs to the process. But the other side of the learning coin is a process of integrated differentiation, like the development of a bodymind from a single cell. In this process we learn by making distinctions within the phaneron; and the ‘bits’ of information which appear as inputs in the construction model are really products of the analysis which we do in order to describe the process.— American Psychological Association, 1993 (in McCombs and Whisler 1997, 5)
As a social being, the inhabitation of your time is the interhabitation of our time, communal time.
An individual confronts an artifact or cultural practice that she has inherited from others, along with a novel situation for which the artifact does not seem fully suited. She then assesses the way the artifact is intended to work (the intentionality of the inventor), relates this to the current situation, and then makes a modification to the artifact. In this case the collaboration is not actual, in the sense that two or more individuals are simultaneously present and collaborating, but rather virtual in the sense that it takes place across historical time as the current individual imagines the function the artifact was intended to fulfill by previous users, and how it must be modified to meet the current problem situation.These imaginative acts of assessment need not be self-conscious acts – in fact they are often no more conscious than the act of constructing a sentence in conversation. In order to carry cultural traditions forward in this way, the subject must be conscious of the situation in a (perhaps) uniquely human way, but not necessarily meta-conscious of her acts as such. In some cases of ‘sociogenesis’, as Tomasello calls it, the collaboration is not virtual but actual, with two or more individuals interacting in ‘real time.’ This is in fact the prototypical situation; virtual collaboration does not develop at all if a child is deprived of real-time collaboration with caregivers.— Tomasello (1999, 41)
This is the essence of the human dialog which generates cultures and persons. Our collaborative practices of guided and guiding interaction with each other, or with artifacts as described above, are what i call intimologies. They weave the network of connections that we call a community.
On a purely perceptual level, the brain does the same thing when it ‘fills in’ the blind spot which is inherent to the structure of the retina. Just as there is no blank area in your visual field, even when you close one eye, no discontinuity in the consensual world appears to you: the sense you make of the world must on the whole appear seamless. To the non-participating observer, it is clear that the construction of consensus is hard work and the results dubious and impermanent. It is not surprising then that an established order tends to rely on unquestioned and unquestionable authority as a short cut through, or substitute for, the hard work of consensus-building. An authority figure offers an anchor, a point of stability, when the world of experience threatens to slide into chaos.
Human beings, fearing their own transience, have always associated value with permanence and preferred to put their trust in those who were ready to claim an unchanging truth.But the value attached to permanence is ever at odds with the value attached to life and consciousness, for these are dynamic and impermanent.— M.C. Bateson (2000, 135)
But the collision with external reality can lead to conflict as well as growth (or instead of growth).
Since the boundary is a necessary part of the semiosphere and there can be no “us” if there is no “them,” culture creates not only its own type of external organization but also its own type of external “disorganization.”— Lotman 1990, 142
The power of ‘joint contruals’, when they overcome differences to achieve unity of purpose, is celebrated in Thomas 48 (Meyer):
Jesus said, ‘If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, “Move from here,” and it will move.’Here conflict resolution appears as ‘magical’ in its effects as ‘faith’ is said to be in other gospels (Matthew 17:20, 21:21; Mark 11:23; Luke 17:6).
Man's destiny on earth, as I am led to conceive it, consists in the realization of a perfect society, fellowship, or brotherhood among men, proceeding upon a complete Divine subjugation in the bosom of the race, first of self-love to brotherly love, and then of both loves to universal love or the love of God, as will amount to a regenerate nature in man, by converting first his merely natural consciousness, which is one of comparative isolation and impotence, into a social consciousness, which is one of comparative omnipresence and omnipotence; and then and thereby exalting his moral freedom, which is a purely negative one, into an aesthetic or positive form: so making spontaneity and not will, delight and no longer obligation, the spring of his activity.James was the father of Henry James the novelist and William James the philosopher and psychologist. Later (p. 10) in his book Substance and Shadow, he refers to the ‘perfect society, fellowship, or brotherhood among men’ as ‘the Social principle’ – which Peirce identified as the foundation of logic. Peirce also expanded on this theme in ‘Evolutionary Love’ (1893):Henry James the elder (1863, 6)
… We are to understand, then, that as darkness is merely the defect of light, so hatred and evil are mere imperfect stages of ἀγάπη and ἀγαθόν, love and loveliness. This concords with that utterance reported in John's Gospel: “God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should through him be saved. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already.… And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and that men loved darkness rather than the light.” That is to say, God visits no punishment on them; they punish themselves, by their natural affinity for the defective. Thus, the love that God is, is not a love of which hatred is the contrary; otherwise Satan would be a coordinate power; but it is a love which embraces hatred as an imperfect stage of it, an Anteros—yea, even needs hatred and hatefulness as its object. For self-love is no love; so if God's self is love, that which he loves must be defect of love; just as a luminary can light up only that which otherwise would be dark. Henry James, the Swedenborgian, says: “It is no doubt very tolerable finite or creaturely love to love one's own in another, to love another for his conformity to oneself: but nothing can be in more flagrant contrast with the creative Love, all whose tenderness ex vi termini must be reserved only for what intrinsically is most bitterly hostile and negative to itself.” This is from Substance and Shadow: an Essay on the Physics of Creation.What James calls ‘morality’ seems equivalent to Peirce's ‘self-control,’ which enables taking responsibility for one's actions. That this ‘moral freedom’ should ideally be ‘exalted’ into the form of ‘spontaneity’ and ‘delight’ sounds more like Blake than Peirce, but is reflected in Peirce's classification of the ‘normative sciences,’ where ethics depends on esthetics, just as logic depends on the Social Principle.— EP1:353-4, W8:184-5
Peirce's semiotics, like the rest of his philosophy from 1870, grew out of the logic of relatives.
The great difference between the logic of relatives and ordinary logic is that the former regards the form of relation in all its generality and in its different possible species while the latter is tied down to the matter of the single special relation of similarity. The result is that every doctrine and conception of logic is wonderfully generalized, enriched, beautified, and completed in the logic of relatives.Thus, the ordinary logic has a great deal to say about genera and species, or in our nineteenth century dialect, about classes. Now, a class is a set of objects comprising all that stand to one another in a special relation of similarity. But where ordinary logic talks of classes, the logic of relatives talks of systems. A system is a set of objects comprising all that stand to one another in a group of connected relations. Induction according to ordinary logic rises from the contemplation of a sample of a class to that of the whole class; but according to the logic of relatives it rises from the contemplation of a fragment of a system to the envisagement of the complete system.CP 4.5 (1898)
In reality, every fact is a relation. Thus, that an object is blue consists of the peculiar regular action of that object on human eyes. This is what should be understood by the ‘relativity of knowledge.’In his Cambridge Lectures of 1898 (RLT), Peirce explained to an audience of non-logicians how he had developed De Morgan's relational algebra into the logic of relatives which led to his Existential Graphs. These in turn provided the logical basis for most of his work after 1900.CP 3.416 (1892)
As Robert Theobald (1997) pointed out, our success (in exploiting resources for our own purposes) is now the greatest obstacle to our well-being.
Is there such a thing as progress toward a greater connectedness in this expanding universe?
Every day some connections are made, and some are broken.
We can only imagine where it's all going.
Only you can imagine what we're all doing.
Science consists in actually drawing the bow upon truth with intentness in the eye, with energy in the arm.The more the bow is bent, the straighter the flight of the arrow.— Peirce, CP 1.235 (1902)
Arthur Koestler (Barlow 1991, 97) says that ‘when the organism or body social is functioning steadily, the integrative and self-assertive tendencies are in a state of dynamic equilibrium – symbolized by Janus Patulcius, the Opener, with a key in his left hand, and Janus Clusius, the Closer, jealous guardian of the gate, with a staff in his right.’ A ‘state of dynamic equilibrium’ would be contradiction in terms if it didn't refer to a continuous interplay of two opposing tendencies. This ‘state of equilibrium’ is one manifestation of the requirement for a living organism to maintain itself ‘far from equilibrium’ (Prigogine) where ‘equilibrium’ would mean the entropic state devoid of all energy flow.
The consensual model constructed by a culture or society is referred to by Berger and Luckmann (1966) as ‘the symbolic universe.’ The culture maintains itself by making sure that its members see this universe as a ‘reality’ prior and external to their practice; and much of their practice goes to maintaining this virtual reality (or this illusion, as an alien observer might call it). But if the culture succeeds too well in closing its universe to actual realities or new information, it begins to die of self-suffocation.
Unquestionably, highly complex environments belong to the conditions of possibility for forming communication systems. Above all, two opposing presuppositions must be secured. On the one hand, the world must be densely enough structured so that constructing matching interpretations about the things in it is not pure chance; communication must be able to grasp something (even if one can never know what it ultimately is) that does not permit itself to be decomposed randomly or shifted in itself. On the other, there must be different observations, different situations that constantly reproduce dissimilar perspectives and incongruent knowledges on precisely the same grounds. Correspondingly, one can conceive of communication neither as a system-integrating performance nor as the production of consensus. Either would imply that communication undermines its own presuppositions and that it can be kept alive only by sufficient failure. But what, if not consensus, is the result of communication?The result, according to Luhmann, is to make the system more sensitive to ‘chance, disturbances, and “noise” of all kinds.’ Communication ‘can force disturbances into the form of meaning and thus handle them further.… By communication, the system establishes and augments its sensitivity, and thus it exposes itself to evolution by lasting sensitivity and irritability’ (172).— Niklas Luhmann (1995, 171-2)
Communication then presents challenges to the integrity of the social system – challenges which open its collective cognitive bubble to chaos and thus enable it to grow by incorporating matter from outside. The system informs itself by turning noise into signal, enabling it to modify its own habits. But the whole process depends on representation of ‘dissimilar perspectives’ on the same object of attention.
It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which distinct societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.The worlds in which distinct language-using individuals live are also ‘distinct worlds.’ But by recognizing others as living in distinct worlds, we acknowledge a meta-world which includes all those worlds and the distinctions between them, and we acknowledge the reality of that more inclusive world – the world in which it is true, independently of anyone's acknowledging the fact, that those worlds are distinct. And at every level of the holarchy, the unexpected can punch its way through the language-woven bubble of a personal or ‘social reality’ from outside that holon, that network of habits. When that happens, no one really doubts the reality of the intruding fact (though some may choose to ignore it). The only question is whether the language can incorporate it into the personal or ‘social reality’ or not, so that the holon can adapt to the more inclusive reality.— Edward Sapir, 1929 (1949, 69)
Whenever we are confronted by surprising facts or unintended consequences of our actions, we are presented with a learning opportunity. But since we like to feel ‘in control’ of our lives, we often avoid or ignore these opportunities, choosing instead to defend our beliefs against the facts. We are so good at selecting the facts that confirm our beliefs, and ignoring or denying the others, that we have developed an enormous capacity for self-deception. If we keep it up long enough, we can no longer see the difference between fact and opinion; argument becomes a battle of competing opinions, where the strongest (or loudest) wins. Unless we have a healthy respect for truth and a deep sense of our own fallibility, we have no defense against this kind of self-deception. Nor do we have any defense against those who would manipulate our beliefs for their own purposes.
Truths can be expressed only with symbols – and our ability to use symbols gives us the ability to lie. ‘A symbol is defined as a sign which is fit to serve as such simply because it will be so interpreted,’ but since our actual reading of any linguistic symbol is crucially governed by our language-using habits, symbols are ‘particularly remote from the Truth itself’ (Peirce, EP2:307). How informative symbols are for us depends on how they relate to the reality beyond our habits. When we recognize patterns in nature well enough to anticipate (with some degree of accuracy) what will happen in a given situation, we are tuned in to the habits of nature itself – of which human habits are a small and subordinate part, though crucial for humans. Our most systematic way of arriving at common beliefs about natural patterns is the communal quest we call science. But scientific method is just a more rigorous and public version of our common-sense way of critically assessing our own beliefs about the world.
- To make the reflection that many of the things which appear certain to us are probably false, and that there is not one which may not be among the errors, is very sensible. But to make believe one does not believe anything is an idle and self-deceptive pretence. Of the things which seem to us clearly true, probably the majority are approximations to the truth. We never can attain absolute certainty; but such clearness and evidence as a truth can acquire will consist in its appearing to form an integral unbroken part of the great body of truth. If we could reduce ourselves to a single belief, or to only two or three, those few would not appear reasonable or clear.Peirce, CP 4.71 (1893)
Much of our consensus may be confabulated, embodied in fables which, like our intentions, are sustainable insofar as they are not in open conflict with the truth. But until we reach the end of experience, the evidence isn't all in. We can never be sure that the cognitive bubble will never pop. We can however be sure that it will always be complex.
Every attempt to simplify the bubble is likely to lead to greater complexity. When a new guess (hypothesis) appears, we're better off knowing that it's false than relying on it as provisionally true (which is the nearest we can get to knowing that it's true). The scientist therefore is eager to pop any bubble that can be popped, especially one we are partial to.A hypothesis is something which looks as if it might be true and were true, and which is capable of verification or refutation by comparison with facts. The best hypothesis, in the sense of the one most recommending itself to the inquirer, is the one which can be the most readily refuted if it is false. This far outweighs the trifling merit of being likely. For after all, what is a likely hypothesis? It is one which falls in with our preconceived ideas. But these may be wrong. Their errors are just what the scientific man is out gunning for more particularly. But if a hypothesis can quickly and easily be cleared away so as to go toward leaving the field free for the main struggle, this is an immense advantage.Peirce, CP 1.120
- Susan Haack (1998, 107) compares the scientific enterprise to ‘working on an enormously complicated crossword puzzle.’ Whatever words have already been filled in furnish clues (and constraints) for filling in others. Of course, with a crossword puzzle, the structure of the whole is given, while in science we can only guess at it, until our guesses are confirmed enough to make other guesses possible – as for instance the periodic table of the elements, once its structure had been worked out, enabled chemists to predict the characteristics of elements which had not yet been isolated. Fulfillment of those predictions, in turn, reinforces our faith in the periodic table.In sciences in which men come to agreement, when a theory has been broached, it is considered to be on probation until this agreement is reached. After it is reached, the question of certainty becomes an idle one, because there is no one left who doubts it. We individually cannot reasonably hope to attain the ultimate philosophy which we pursue; we can only seek it, therefore, for the community of philosophers. Hence, if disciplined and candid minds carefully examine a theory and refuse to accept it, this ought to create doubts in the mind of the author of the theory himself.— Peirce, EP1:29Scientific findings are not accepted because somebody says “This is acceptable,” much less because somebody says “I accept this,” regardless of who says it on what occasion or from what office. They are just accepted or not, and the only way we can tell if they are accepted is by finding out whether or not they actually function in the relevant intellectual community as premises or presuppositions used in further inquiry.Joseph Ransdell, ‘Peirce and The Socratic Tradition’ (www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/aboutcsp/ransdell/socratic.htm, 1 June 2011)
- ‘All experiences are subjective’ (Bateson, 1979, 33) – yet they differ in mode. ‘In an observational mode one is detached from that which is the focus of attention; in a non-observational mode one is immersed in it’ (Gallagher and Marcel, in Gallagher and Shear 1999, 281). The mode of experience proper to scientific experimenting isolates the observer's attention from her intentions. This practice only occurs within the intersubjective context of intentional consensus-building; but the intent to observe isolates attention temporarily even from that, since the process degenerates if the experimenter allows his preferences to interfere with his observations.
Immersion in the social context of science requires the very detachment from the Other, from the dialog partner, which is most inimical to communal practice generally, and to religious practice in particular. This is perhaps why someone who is known to be an acute observer of behavior tends to make people nervous (as Bennett Berger remarked, in his introduction to Goffman 1974).
The scientific method of isolating phenomena from the rest of the world (and especially from the investigator's intent) is rarely of use in testing the more intimately guiding principles. For that we need a bigger science, a fuller empiricism that includes both participation and observation.
- ‘Let us not concur casually about the most important matters,’ said Heraclitus (Kahn XI, D. 47).
‘The first thing that the Will to Learn supposes is a dissatisfaction with one's present state of opinion,’ said Peirce (EP2:47). (Dissatisfaction with someone else's present state of opinion, on the other hand, is more conducive to contention than to learning.)Each time I find something worth saying, it is because I have not been satisfied to coincide with my feeling, because I have succeeded in studying it as a way of behaving, as a modification of my relations with others and with the world, because I have managed to think about it as I would think about the behavior of another person whom I happened to witness.Anything worth saying is informative because its dialogic involves all three ‘persons’ (first, second and third) in its dissatisfaction.— Merleau-Ponty (1948, 52)
- Metaphorically, the collective/cultural bubble is to the individual cognitive bubble as the ancient city wall is to the cell wall, each being an autopoietic construct which defines the community or system. Heraclitus pointed this out long ago:The people must fight for their law as for their city wall.I translate το φρονέειν here as ‘Thought’ (rather than ‘thinking’) in order to denote a universal (‘divine’) process in which all things are involved, rather than a psychological process that is supposed to happen inside of individual thinkers. This is consistent not only with other fragments of Heraclitus, but also with Peirce's view ‘that our thinking only apprehends and does not create thought, and that that thought may and does as much govern outward things as it does our thinking’ (CP 1.27, 1909). In another context, he related this to scientific thinking as a communal activity:
Speaking with understanding they must hold fast to what is common to all, as a city holds to its law, and even more firmly. For all human laws are nourished by a divine one, which prevails as it will, suffices for all and surpasses them.
Common to all is Thought (ξυνόν ἐστι πᾶσι τὸ φρονέειν).— DK 44,113-14; Kahn LXV, XXX-XXXI; Wheelwright 80-81.There is no reason why ‘thought’ … should be taken in that narrow sense in which silence and darkness are favorable to thought. It should rather be understood as covering all rational life, so that an experiment shall be an operation of thought. Of course, that ultimate state of habit to which the action of self-control ultimately tends, where no room is left for further self-control, is, in the case of thought, the state of fixed belief, or perfect knowledge.The ‘circle of society’ is ‘of higher rank’ in this respect, that ‘all the greatest achievements of mind have been beyond the powers of unaided individuals’ (EP1:369). But in another respect, this ‘loosely compacted person’ depends on individual organisms for access to experience – its ‘only teacher’ – just as a biological population or species depends on the survival and reproduction of individuals to continue and evolve. Every means of inquiry is based on making contact, or connecting, with the reality which is independent of conventional belief. Yet the system which makes inquiry possible is made of the connections which constitute the community. The individual who devotes himself to inquiry can do so with integrity only by working both with and against the conventions of the society which he inhabits; and insofar as that society is healthy and evolving, it embodies a diversity of habits.Two things here are all-important to assure oneself of and to remember. The first is that a person is not absolutely an individual. His thoughts are what he is ‘saying to himself,’ that is, is saying to that other self that is just coming into life in the flow of time. When one reasons, it is that critical self that one is trying to persuade; and all thought whatsoever is a sign, and is mostly of the nature of language. The second thing to remember is that the man's circle of society (however widely or narrowly this phrase may be understood), is a sort of loosely compacted person, in some respects of higher rank than the person of an individual organism.— Peirce, EP2:337-8
- A human individual is both a member or part of Humanity and a whole embodiment or instance of Humanity. (In logical terms, these are the collective and distributive senses of ‘humanity,’ respectively.) A typical community is a larger part of Humanity than an individual, but is less human, less personal – does not embody Humanity as completely.
A corporation is still less human, though it may be deemed a ‘person’ for legal purposes. Modern corporations are degenerate persons, legal fictions created for a specific and very limited purpose, namely to maximize financial profits while minimizing risk for the shareholders. In order to develop real personalities they would have to learn from their interactions with others, as genuine persons do – interactions based on empathy. But the growth and development of empathy is entirely different from what economists call ‘growth.’
Many myths, legends and comprehensive works of fiction, such as Blake's prophetic books and Finnegans Wake, portray the cosmos as a reflection or expression of the human bodymind, and the history of humanity as the biography (or the dream) of a universal Human Being. This represents a mythic/artistic blending of the collective and distributive views of Humanity, of human bodymind.
In the mythic dimension of science, the ultimate community of inquiry is more than just humanity: it is the whole system of all living beings, the cast of characters of God's dream.
- Belief is what weaves the cognitive bubble and holds it together. But the point of the weaving is to know that it's a bubble; that the stuff of which it's woven, and the weaver too, are always with us, making us, being us.
It's bubbles all the way down, and all the way up.
- By the lights of Peirce's pragmaticism and ‘critical common-sensism,’ common sense includes beliefs that we don't actually doubt, even though we can't produce evidence for them, because they are implicit in sense-making. Pretending to doubt such beliefs can lead to all sorts of metaphysical nonsense, as Peirce points out (EP2:335-8, for instance). Now, no normal human doubts that other humans, and other organisms to the extent that they have humanlike nervous systems, experience and feel the presence of their worlds, each from its own point of view, just as you (dear reader) do. This belief is just as essential to the physical, biological, and psychological sciences as it is to every other communal enterprise.
- The dialog with nature aims at mapping the territory through which we move individually and collectively. Science in its pure and public form is all about building a common sense of the way things are, one that will stand up to the test of experience. As Peirce put it, ‘all the followers of science are animated by a cheerful hope that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to each question to which they apply it’ (CP 5.407, 1893). Of course we also hope that the answers to these questions will be consistent with one another, so that the belief system would be a perfect whole if the investigation could ever be completed. Truth would then be the cognitive bubble that will never be broken from the outside.The ‘absolutely’ true, meaning what no farther experience will ever alter, is that ideal vanishing-point towards which we imagine that all our temporary truths will some day converge.Peirce's remark quoted above about the ‘cheerful hope’ which animates investigators is the 1893 revision of a sentence in ‘How to Make our Ideas Clear’ (1878). The earlier version had said that ‘all the followers of science are fully persuaded that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to every question to which they can be applied’ (EP1:138, W3:273). The replacement of a ‘fully persuaded’ conviction by a ‘cheerful hope’ reflects both the maturing of Peirce's fallibilism, and his insistence that optimism is healthy, even when we have not the slightest reason to believe that we will ever arrive at complete knowledge or full certainty. This ‘hope’ or ‘persuasion’ is an essential part of our guidance system, not a testable prediction – something we imagine, not something we know.William James (1907, 583)If someone says that he knows something, it must be something that, by general consent, he is in a position to know.— Wittgenstein (1969, #555)
- Tragedy, as Aristotle saw, affirms recognition, brings an insight home to the community of the theatre, of theoria.The tragic affirmation … has the character of a genuine communion.… Tragic pensiveness does not affirm the tragic course of events as such, or the justice of the fate that overtakes the hero but rather a metaphysical order of being that is true for all. To see that ‘this is how it is’ is a kind of self-knowledge for the spectator, who emerges with new insight from the illusions which he, like everyone else, lives. The tragic affirmation is an insight that the spectator has by virtue of the continuity of meaning in which he places himself.— Gadamer (1960, 132)Some time very presently now when yon clouds are dissipated after their forty years shower, the odds are, we shall all be hooked and happy, communionistically, among the fieldnights eliceam, élite of the elect, in the land of lost of time.— FW 453
- The transmission of a tradition is its continuity in practice, which is intimacy itself.
As Dogen said to his community, ‘We must eat rice with the mouth of the assembly; our vitality must be the strength of the assembly’ (EK 8, shosan 6, p. 481).
Our self-control must be the self-control of the community, which guides our present path into the future. We never know how long that path will persist.
The individual, knowing that he will die, can take comfort in the belief that the community (and therefore his contribution to it) will continue after his death. But he can't be sure of that; the community is only relatively more permanent than he is. Better then to take refuge in the path rather than the destination; or better, in what Peirce called ‘the great principle of continuity’, by whose light we see that ‘all is fluid and every point directly partakes the being of every other.’ To get this point is to get Dogen's point that impermanence is the buddha-nature.
- Says Blake's Los,I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another MansYet even to say this, indeed to communicate anything, is to work within a linguistic system which has evolved, and is thus created by no ‘man.’ Like any self-modifying system, this one strives to align itself with whatever System really guides the evolution of its context.
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to CreateJerusalem 10:20-1
- Science is communal cognition, which aims at learning a Truth independent of anyone's and everyone's belief, and takes on theories as provisional steps in that general direction. Religion might be defined as communal practice, or the practice of community; a religious belief is real to the extent that it actually guides interpersonal practice.
Science is the quest for truth, which can only be recognized by the consensus of the community. Religion is the aspiration to a higher connectivity, through recognition and practice of the deeper connections between beings. The tension between them is rooted in the difference between two modes of experience, which we might call observation and immersion. Both can be distorted by special interests or by adherence to habits of practice which obstruct recognition.
- A religious community is at least partially defined by the consensus among its members on certain habits of language usage. However, consensus across communities is harder to come by when habits of usage diverge – as they always do when communities are defining themselves by those habits.
The various uses of the word ‘religion’ itself will serve as an example. William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience (1902, 36) defined it ‘arbitrarily’ as ‘the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.’ It would indeed seem arbitrary to rule out anything that people do together as being ‘religious,’ given that public ceremonies and shared beliefs play such a major part in what we commonly call ‘religion.’ But James is no doubt reflecting the Protestant milieu in which he was operating, where the social institutions and collective practices associated with ‘religion’ are supposed to be derived from individual religious experience, and not the other way round.
Walpola Rahula, on the other hand, uses the term ‘religious’ precisely for those communal beliefs and ceremonies which are marginal to the Buddhist ‘Path’:… the Path … is a way of life to be followed, practised and developed by each individual. It is self-discipline in body, word and mind, self-development and self-purification. It has nothing to do with belief, prayer, worship or ceremony. In that sense, it has nothing which may popularly be called ‘religious.’ … In Buddhist countries there are simple and beautiful customs and ceremonies on religious occasions. They have little to do with the real Path. But they have their value in satisfying certain religious emotions and the needs of those who are less advanced, and helping them gradually along the Path.Rahula also (like most Buddhist writers) has little use for the concept of ‘the divine’ which is central to theistic religion. But when people say (as many do) that the Buddha Way is not a religion, it is the ‘popular’ rather than the Jamesian individualist concept they are referring to. Other writers (including Peirce) would reject an individualistic religion as oxymoronic; and some Buddhist writers have no problem with calling Buddhist practice ‘religious.’— Rahula (1974, 49-50)
As for the usage in this book, it assumes that there is no religion without a community – but since there is no selfhood without community either, there is no problem with referring to some ‘feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men’ as religious.
- ‘Religion is not about God,’ says Loyal Rue (2005). Why then do so many religious texts talk about ‘God,’ ‘spirit’ and so forth? This idiom is one way of speaking from the deepest core of human experience.
Any religious idiom provides a consensual way of drawing upon experience to enhance communal life. Only those who delve beneath the surface consensus and penetrate to the core of experience can speak from it. They are often lumped together as ‘mystics’ – and often singled out as heretics by the more conservative guardians of tradition.
- In one of his manuscripts, Peirce defined a science asthe life devoted to the pursuit of truth according to the best known methods on the part of a group of men who understand one another's ideas and works as no outsider can. It is not what they have already found out which makes their business a science; it is that they are pursuing a branch of truth according, I will not say, to the best methods, but according to the best methods that are known at the time. I do not call the solitary studies of a single man a science. It is only when a group of men, more or less in intercommunication, are aiding and stimulating one another by their understanding of a particular group of studies as outsiders cannot understand them, that I call their life a science. It is not necessary that they should all be at work upon the same problem, or that all should be fully acquainted with all that it is needful for another of them to know; but their studies must be so closely allied that any one of them could take up the problem of any other after some months of special preparation and that each should understand pretty minutely what it is that each one of the other's work consists in; so that any two of them meeting together shall be thoroughly conversant with each other's ideas and the language he talks and should feel each other to be brethren. (MS 1334, 11-14, 1905, quoted by Nubiola 2001)
Thomas Kuhn (1969, 210) likewise says that ‘scientific knowledge, like language, is intrinsically the common property of a group or else nothing at all.’ Peirce emphasizes the esoteric side of this inquiry: few among the general public are prepared to devote that kind of attention to it. Yet we have no pragmatic choice but to believe that the objects of that attention are in the public domain, observable by anyone who does take the trouble.If two people stand at the same place and gaze in the same direction, we must, under pain of solipsism, conclude that they receive closely similar stimuli. (If both could put their eyes at the same place, the stimuli would be identical.) But people do not see stimuli; our knowledge of them is highly theoretical and abstract. Instead they have sensations, and we are under no compulsion to suppose that the sensations of our two viewers are the same. (Sceptics might remember that color blindness was nowhere noticed until John Dalton's description of it in 1794.) On the contrary, much neural processing takes place between the receipt of a stimulus and the awareness of a sensation. Among the few things that we know about it with assurance are: that very different stimuli can produce the same sensations; that the same stimulus can produce very different sensations; and, finally, that the route from stimulus to sensation is in part conditioned by education. Individuals raised in different societies behave on some occasions as though they saw different things. If we were not tempted to identify stimuli one-to-one with sensations, we might recognize that they actually do so.
Notice now that two groups, the members of which have systematically different sensations on receipt of the same stimuli, do in some sense live in different worlds. We posit the existence of stimuli to explain our perceptions of the world, and we posit their immutability to avoid both individual and social solipsism.— Kuhn (1969, 192-3)
According to Dogen, the study of the Buddha-way is a group inquiry much like a science as described above by Peirce. In an early talk given for his fellow monks, he put it this way:Although the color of the flowers is beautiful, they do not bloom of themselves; they need the spring breeze to open.The conditions for the study of the Way are also like this; although the Way is complete in everyone, the realization of the Way depends upon collective conditions. Although individuals may be clever, the practice of the Way is done by means of collective power. Therefore, now you should make your minds as one, set your aspirations in one direction, and study thoroughly, seek and inquire.— Dogen, Shobogenzo-zuimonki (Cleary 1980, 794)
- Henry Corbin, writing about Iranian Sufism, develops a concept reminiscent of Uexküll's Umwelt:Orientation is a primary phenomenon of our presence in the world. A human presence has the property of spatializing a world around it, and this phenomenon implies a certain relationship of man with the world, his world, this relationship being determined by the very mode of this presence in the world.— Corbin (1971, 1)
This ‘orientation’ could also be called a guidance system, playing a role in a human life similar to that of theory in science – except that Corbin is dealing with a domain even more esoteric than a specialized science. He says that ‘we are concerned with primordial Images preceding and regulating every sensory perception, and not with images constructed a posteriori on an empirical basis’ (1971, 5). This ‘implies a break with the collective, a reunion with the transcendent “dimension” which puts each individual person on guard against the attractions of the collective, that is to say against every impulse to make what is spiritual a social matter’ (1971, 10). If we regard religion as a social matter, then Corbin regards ‘what is spiritual’ as involving a resistance to religion.
- A grand God's-eye view of human cultural history can be edifying, if you read it as a kind of poetry. So in that spirit, let's say that human guidance systems have evolved from cosmologies to technologies to intimologies.
Cosmologies offered an overview of the context in which we live, and thus of the meaning of life. But when cosmologies collided, conflict ensued, because the one assumption common to all was that there could be only one true logos of the cosmos. Then we realized that cosmologies were mythologies and that there were many of them, determined by cultural and psychological factors. Now a poet could say Let Us Compare Mythologies (the title of Leonard Cohen's first book).
At that point we could turn to technologies for the meaning of life, since by this time we had surrounded ourselves with an artificial cocoon, insulating ourselves from the natural context. If life is meaningless, we can damn well make it mean something, make a cultural context. But the long-term result of manufacturing context, as Thomas Berry (1988) pointed out, is to turn wonderworld into wasteworld.
Berry's solution is to restore cosmology to its proper place, using the technics of science to make it more realistic. My argument here is that we can only do this if we see cosmologies (and other belief systems) as intimologies, practices of dialog by which mythologies can self-modify. From the inside of such a practice we aim at describing an external reality; from the outside, we see an act of meaning in formation.
- … the world is richer than it is possible to express in any single language. Music is not exhausted by its successive stylization from Bach to Schoenberg. Similarly, we cannot condense into a single description the various aspects of our experience. We must call upon numerous descriptions, irreducible one to the other, but connected to each other by precise rules of translation (technically called transformations).— Prigogine, From Being to Becoming, 51
- A healthy social structure, like a language, has to be massively redundant in its representations of meaning. Otherwise the loss of a single element in the social fabric would be disastrous. This redundancy is maintained by mentoring, which uses quite a lot of our energy.Redundancy is expensive but indispensable. Perhaps this is merely to point out that life is expensive. Just to keep itself going, life makes demands on energy, supplied from inside and outside a living being, that are voracious compared with the undemanding thriftiness of death and decay. A culture, just to keep itself going, makes voracious demands on the energies of many people for hands-on mentoring.— Jane Jacobs (2004, 159)
- In order to ‘serve humanity,’ or ‘save all sentient beings,’ do you have to believe that such an entity as ‘Humanity’ is more real than you are?
A question like this revives the thousand-year debate between nominalism and realism (introduced in Chapter 12), by showing its ethical and social implications. Which has priority, the individual or the collective (the community, the state, ..... )? In biological terms, which really counts, the individual organism or the species? For Peirce, this was perhaps one of the most momentous of logical questions.But though the question of realism and nominalism has its roots in the technicalities of logic, its branches reach about our life. The question whether the genus homo has any existence except as individuals, is the question whether there is anything of any more dignity, worth, and importance than individual happiness, individual aspirations, and individual life. Whether men really have anything in common, so that the community is to be considered as an end in itself, and if so, what the relative value of the two factors is, is the most fundamental practical question in regard to every public institution the constitution of which we have it in our power to influence.Certainly the question is fundamental when it comes to political institutions. But as Northrop Frye pointed out (Chapter 8), you cannot escape the question by turning from secular politics to religion, for ‘religious bodies do not effectively express any alternative of loyalty to the totalitarian state, because they use the same metaphors of merging and individual subservience.’ States and religious bodies are the larger-scale systems which ‘contain’ individual humans; but suppose we consider the social evolution and spiritual progress of humanity over an expansive time scale while maintaining the spatial scale of the human bodymind. Then we can see each human individual as a current version of humanity rather than a minute cell in a huge organism. This would seem to be compatible with the following remarks by Frye, which continue from those already quoted in Chapter 8:— Peirce (EP1:105)In our day Simone Weil has found the traditional doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ a major obstacle – not impossibly the major obstacle – to her entering it. She points out that it does not differ enough from other metaphors of integration, such as the class solidarity metaphor of Marxism, and says:Our true dignity is not to be parts-of a body.… It consists in this, that in the state of perfection which is the vocation of each one of us, we no longer live in ourselves, but Christ lives in us; so that through our perfection Christ … becomes in a sense each one of us, as he is completely in each host. The hosts are not a part of his body.I quote this because, whether she is right or wrong, and whatever the theological implications, the issue she raises is a central one in metaphorical vision, or the application of metaphors to human experience. We are born, we said, within a pre-existing social contract out of which we develop what individuality we have, and the interests of that society take priority over the interests of the individual. Many religions, on the other hand, in their origin, attempt to be re-created societies built on the influence of a single individual: Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohammed, or at most a small group. Such teachers signify, by their appearance, that there are individuals to whom a society should be related, rather than the other way around. Within a generation or two, however, this new society has become one more social contract, and the individuals of the new generations are once again subordinated to it.Paul's conception of Jesus as the genuine individuality of the individual, which is what I think Simone Weil is following here, indicates a reformulating of the central Christian metaphor in a way that unites without subordinating, that achieves identity with and identity as on equal terms. The Eucharistic image, which she also refers to, suggests that the crucial event of Good Friday – the death of Christ on the cross – is one with the death of everything else in the past. The swallowed Christ, eaten, divided, and drunk, in the phrase of Eliot's ‘Gerontion,’ is one with the potential individual buried in the tomb of the ego during the Sabbath of time and history, where it is the only thing that rests. When this individual awakens and we pass to resurrection and Easter, the community with which he is identical is no longer a whole of which he is a part, but another aspect of himself, or, in the traditional metonymic language, another person of his substance.— Frye (1982, 100-01)
- The history of human society shows that population growth has tended to foster subordination rather than coordination in social guidance systems.
With the advent of agriculture, ‘high population density led to centralized authority and stratified societies, and a new mode of social organization emerged’ (Morowitz 2002, 168). Christopher Boehm (in Katz 2000) argues that the earliest human communities were egalitarian, morality being enforced by the group as a whole rather than specialized ‘police forces.’ As they grew bigger, especially after agriculture became established, need arose for central leadership, and it could no longer be controlled by group consensus; so the leadership became the controlling (governing) agency, with or without the consent of the governed. Religious and political groupings were indistinguishable in this respect until very recently. David Sloan Wilson (2002) gives a similar analysis.
Stuart Kauffman traces a similar development in biological terms, in ‘An Emerging Global Civilization,’ the final chapter of his (1995) book At Home in the Universe. Drawing upon work by Brian Goodwin and Gerry Webster, he begins with Kant, whowriting in the late eighteenth century, thought of organisms as autopoietic wholes in which each part existed for and by means of the whole, while the whole existed for and by means of the parts. [Goodwin and Webster] noted that the idea of an organism as an autopoietic whole had been replaced by the idea of the organism as an expression of a ‘central directing agency.’ The famous biologist August Weismann, at the end of the nineteenth century, developed the view that the organism is created by the growth and development of specialized cells, the ‘germ line,’ which contains microscopic molecular structures, a central directing agency, determining growth and development. In turn, Weismann's molecular structures became the chromosomes, became the genetic code, became the ‘developmental program’ controlling ontogeny. … In this trajectory, we have lost an earlier image of cells and organisms as self-creating wholes.— Kauffman (1995, 274)
Thus we have managed to conjure up ‘central control’ both above and below the scale of human bodymind. Some of the conflict between ‘science and religion’ in the twentieth century was really a struggle between partisans of these competing control agencies. But these conflicts can only distract us from the real question: Can humanity as a moral (guiding) agency self-organize, replacing subordination with coordination? Or will it take a central agency (religious or political) to unify humanity by imposing a ‘new world order’ upon it?
Wilson (2002) poses a related question. It seems that religions have evolved their current forms by competing with one another and with other social structures. But the next major transition would require them to give up the competition that has made them what they are. Can they do this? In political terms, can a community or a nation open itself to cooperation with others instead of closing itself off from others and trying to dominate them?
The same goes for science. In order for a truly comprehensive model to appear, must one of the competing paradigms win? Or can a new level of modelling emerge from dialog itself (without the partners to the dialog necessarily being conscious of that level)?… in the depth of social reality each decision brings unexpected consequences, and man responds to these surprises by inventions which transform the problem.Can we reinvent ourselves?— Merleau-Ponty (1964, 205)
- Let us swop hats and excheck a few strong verbs weak oach eather yapyazzard abast the blooty creeks.Thus begins the conversation between Mutt and Jute in the early pages of Finnegans Wake. It continues rather like a dialogue of the deaf:— FW 16Jute.— Yutah!That last word is not often heard in everyday English, but it suits the story here, as the primal meaning of its Latin root surdus is “deaf.” But then the notion of “hard of hearing” slips over (by way of stuttering, stammering and muttering) into “hard to hear,” and thence to “unintelligible” or “irrational,” and thence to “meaningless.” This diversity was documented by C.S. Peirce in the Century Dictionary:
Mutt.— Mukk's pleasurad.
Jute.— Are you jeff?
Jute.— But you are not jeffmute?
Mutt.— Noho. Only an utterer.
Jute.— Whoa? Whoat is the mutter with you?
Mutt.— I became a stun a stummer.
Jute.— What a hauhauhauhaudibble thing, to be cause! How, Mutt?
Mutt.— Aput the buttle, surd.
In his later work on logic as ‘the Basis of Pragmatism,’ Peirce used the word as a technical term applied to ‘the relation implied in duality,’ which ‘is essentially and purely a dyadic relation’ (EP2:382). A surd relation is the opposite of a dicible one. In less Latinate diction, you could say that a surd relation is “unsayable,” or perhaps “unreasonable.” It can be experienced but not really described.For the only kind of relation which could be veritably described to a person who had no experience of it is a relation of reason. A relation of reason is not purely dyadic: it is a relation through a sign: that is why it is dicible. Consequently the relation involved in duality is not dicible, but surd …Since all reasoning is in signs, a ‘relation of reason’ is triadic even if it seems to have only two correlates, two ‘subjects’ (like Mutt and Jute). It lacks the surdity of a ‘purely dyadic relation.’ But the only way our two ‘jeffmutes’ could enter into a purely dyadic relation would be to collide with each other, perhaps in a head-butting battle. The duality of their duel is clear enough ‘aput the buttle,’ but they do manage to swop hats and excheck a few verbs, thus making their relationship more triadic. If they both sound a bit “stunned,” maybe that's just the effect of taking turns at the bottle.EP2:382-3
Turning to genuine triadic relations, and thus to signs, we find that the Secondness of the dynamic relation between Sign and Object – or in communication, the duality between Utterer and Interpreter – must also be genuine, must be a ‘real’ relation, not a ‘relation of reason.’ As explained elsewhere, the element of Secondness or surdity must be involved in any honest attempt to understand, speak or hear the truth.
This may sound unsound or even absurd, but it is borne out by the twisted history of words themselves. If our language were entirely rational, for instance, the word absurd would mean “far from surd,” just as abnormal means “far from normal.” But in fact surd and absurd mean pretty much the same thing. Why? It's hard to say, surd.
As Peirce remarked in the Century Dictionary, absurd is ‘a word of disputed origin’ – there is no dispute about what it actually means in everyday discourse, but a reasonable account of how it came to mean that has to choose between two possible significations of the prefix ab-. If it means “away from” (as in “absent” or “abnormal”), then combining it with the Latin root surd could not generate the usual meaning of absurd. Some say that the -surd part might come from a Sanskrit root that sounds similar but means “sound” (rather than “deaf”). Then absurd could have meant something like “inharmonious,” and thence “unsound” in the sense of “unreasonable.” The other side in the dispute say that the Latin and English surd is the root, but the prefix ab- acts as an ‘intensive’ rather than a negative (as it seems to do in “aboriginal”), thus making absurdity even more unreasonable or nonsensical than surdity.
The point is that, whether we can explain it or not, the common sense of the word absurd is “contrary to common sense” (CD), because that is how people actually use it. Likewise actual facts, no matter how well known, always carry a residue of unspeakable or inexplicable surdity. ‘Facts don't do what I want them to,’ as Byrne and Eno put it. The element of Secondness in them keeps our knowledge real and our quest for Truth honest.
Next rePatch: Experiment and Experience →
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
|Turning Signs Contents||References||SourceNet||Obverse (Chapter 8·)|