What are you supposed to do?

Cut off learning and there will be nothing more to worry about.

Dao De Jing 20 (Ames)

Suppose you have no mission to accomplish,
no reason for being here,
nothing to learn from it all.
What difference would it make?

You still have things to do, places to go,
obsessions to absorb your energy,
just nothing to be proud or guilty of.

You play your part unwritten,
unlearn your lines,
dissolve your problems.

Suppose this is it.
Can you stop supposing?

The primal point

Arthur Green points out that in Kabbalah, wisdom (Hokhmah) is also primordial teaching (like Buddhist dharma) which is a ‘twin process’ with God’s creation of the world.

As the primal point of existence, Hokhmah is symbolized by the yod, the smallest of the letters, the first point from which all the other letters will be written. Here all of Torah, the text and the commentary added to it in every generation—indeed all of human wisdom—is contained within a single yod.

— Green (2004, 40)

Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.

— Islamic hadith (“tradition”) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or the Imám Alí

‘The ignorant’ here includes you and me and all sentient beings subject to explicit knowledge, whose complexity conceals the implicit knowledge by representing it as multiplex. As Voltaire is said to have remarked in a different context, ‘the multitude of books is making us ignorant.’

Another hadith quotes the Imám Alí as saying that

All that is in the world is in the Qur’an, and all that is in the Qur’an is condensed in the first chapter of the Book, and all that is in the first chapter is in the basmala [first verse], and all that is in the basmala is in the bā’ [first letter, ب], and I am the point under the bā’.

(Lawson 2012, 102)

We might read this as a reference to the extreme compression of meaning found in turning signs. They seem to have a magical quality of turning meaning inside out, as it were, so that a single verse says it all: rather than serving as one of many particles in a vast System, it seems to be the point around which the System revolves – the I of the cyclone, in which Author and Reader are one with Scripture. As Northrop Frye puts it (1982, 208-9), ‘Ideally, every sentence is the key to the whole Bible … every sentence is a kind of linguistic monad.’

The Zohar (1:21a) speaks of ‘primordial light prevailing on the first day’; in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi El’azar said that ‘With the light created by the blessed holy one on the first day, one could gaze from one end of the universe to the other’ (ZP I.159).

The whole Truth

In his 1818 preface to Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Arthur Schopenhauer told readers that his whole book was really ‘a single thought,’ which he could find no shorter way of imparting. Despite the linear order imposed by the book format, the real order connecting the parts was ‘organic’:

every part supports the whole just as much as it is supported by the whole; a connexion in which no part is first and no part last, in which the whole gains in clearness from every part, and even the smallest part cannot be fully understood until the whole has been first understood.’

— Schopenhauer (1859, xii)

His advice to the reader, therefore, was to read the book twice. My advice to the Ideal Reader of Turning Signs is to take the whole thought of the Obverse as context for every point to be presented on the Reverse (and here in the Universe).

Here we have another turn of the hermeneutic circle. But if the ‘single thought’ of the book cannot be expressed in a single sentence, or indeed in any shorter form than the book itself, how can any actual reader see it as a single thought? Can you really see it all at once? This question applies to the meaning cycle in all its guises, because it arises from the very nature of signs, which according to Peirce are of virtually unlimited size and complexity.

Giving to the word sign the full scope that reasonably belongs to it for logical purposes, a whole book is a sign; and a translation of it is a replica of the same sign. A whole literature is a sign.

— Peirce, EP2:303

Nor is the question limited in scope to books, or even to language in all its forms. Every sign is ‘connected with the “Truth,” i.e. the entire Universe of being’ (Peirce, EP2:303). A complete and explicit model of the connections would take up no less meaning space than that Universe itself, ‘perfused with signs.’ But a model working implicitly can be represented by the smallest possible sign, which will then show simply the wholeness of the “Truth.”


The body of the world which is broken into pieces is the body of the god. As the Christians say: others bequeath to their heirs their property, but he bequeathed himself, that is the flesh and blood of his body. The fall is the Fall into Division of the one universal man.

— N.O. Brown (1966, 21)

Literally, the Bible is a gigantic myth, a narrative extending over the whole of time from creation to apocalypse, unified by a body of recurring imagery that ‘freezes’ into a single metaphor cluster, the metaphors all being identified with the body of the Messiah, the man who is all men, the totality of logoi who is one Logos, the grain of sand that is the world.

— Frye (1982, 224)


A thing may be said to be wherever it acts; but the notion that a particle is absolutely present in one part of space and absolutely absent from all the rest of space is devoid of all foundation.

— Peirce (CP 1.38, c. 1890)

According to Swimme and Berry (1992, 28),

to speak of a proton as a separate particle restricted to a certain patch of space-time is to speak of its microphase mode of being, a valid though limited understanding. The macrophase mode or presence of the proton includes all particles with which it is correlated, which includes all those particles it has interacted with at any time in the past. Since the universe bloomed from a seed point, this means that a full understanding of a proton requires a full understanding of the universe. The fireball manifests itself as a quintillion separate particles and their interactions, but the nature of each of these particles speaks of the universe as indivisible whole. No part of the present can be isolated from any other part of the present or the past or the future.


The shorter the scripture, the more it says to the deep reader. For instance the very compactness of the Sefer Yetzirah contributed greatly to its seminal nature as the primary source of so much Kabbalistic symbolism. ‘Everyone found in the book more or less what he was looking for,’ as Scholem (1962, 34) says. Likewise you can find your turning symbol in the fragments of Heraclitus, the Tao Te Ching, the Gospel of Thomas, or Dogen’s ‘GenjoKoan’, if you read them recreatively.

For Thomas Traherne it was the Cross: ‘There may we see the most Distant Things in Eternity united: all Mysteries at once couched together and Explained’ (First Century 58). The Cross is, of course, the point of Crossing, or of fixation or final determination – or, as the icon of extension, the monad pulled in the four directions at once, the point turned inside out.