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The philosopher … is a perpetual beginner, which means that he takes for granted nothing that men, learned or otherwise, believe they know.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, tr. Smith, xv)
This quotation is an excerpt from Merleau-Ponty's preface to Phenomenology of Perception as translated by Colin Smith (1958). The immediate context is about the phenomenological practice of ‘reduction’ which, for the philosopher, includes reducing what he takes for granted and ‘stepping back’ from his habitual relations with the world. Here is a bigger piece of Merleau-Ponty's avant-propos, translated this time by Donald A. Landes (2012):
Because we are through and through related to the world (rapport au monde), the only way for us to catch sight of ourselves is by suspending this movement, by refusing to be complicit with it (or as Husserl often says, to see it ohne mitzumachen [without taking part]), or again, to put it out of play. This is not because we renounce the certainties of common sense (certitudes du sens commun) and of the natural attitude – on the contrary, these are the constant theme of philosophy – but rather because, precisely as the presuppositions of every thought, they are “taken for granted” (« vont de soi »), and they pass by unnoticed, and because we must abstain from them for a moment in order to awaken them and to make them appear. Perhaps the best formulation of the reduction is the one offered by Husserl’s assistant Eugen Fink when he spoke of a “wonder” before the world. Reflection does not withdraw from the world toward the unity of consciousness as the foundation of the world; rather, it steps back in order to see transcendences spring forth and it loosens the intentional threads that connect us to the world in order to make them appear; it alone is conscious of the world because it reveals the world as strange and paradoxical.
… we must – precisely in order to see the world and to grasp it as a paradox – rupture our familiarity with it, and this rupture can teach us nothing except the unmotivated springing forth of the world. The most important lesson of the reduction is the impossibility of a complete reduction. This is why Husserl always wonders anew about the possibility of the reduction. If we were absolute spirit, the reduction would not be problematic. But since, on the contrary, we are in and toward the world (nous sommes au monde), and since even our reflections take place in the temporal flow that they are attempting to capture (since they sich einströmen [flow along therein], as Husserl says), there is no thought that encompasses all of our thought. Or again, as the unpublished materials say, the philosopher is a perpetual beginner. This means that he accepts nothing as established from what men or scientists believe they know. (Cela veut dire qu’il ne tient rien pour acquis de ce que les hommes ou les savants croient savoir.) This also means that philosophy itself must not take itself as established in the truths it has managed to utter, that philosophy is an ever-renewed experiment of its own beginning, that it consists entirely in describing this beginning, and finally, that radical reflection is conscious of its own dependence on an unreflected life that is its initial, constant, and final situation.Socrates is supposed to have said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Merleau-Ponty observes here that the examination of life itself is grounded in an unexamined (‘unreflected’) life. Its ‘unmotivated springing forth’ is essentially Peirce's Firstness; reflective ‘stepping back’ from our habitual relations with the world ‘reveals the world as strange and paradoxical,’ or as our Chapter 5 turns it, inside out. [next]— Merleau-Ponty 1945 (tr. Landes, 2012)
phenomena that are perfectly familiar to all mankind. Because these are founded on common observation, Bentham gave them the collective designation Cenoscopy, which I adopt as expressive of my own opinion of the basis on which these sciences, which are otherwise called Philosophy, rest.Cenoscopy then ‘embraces all that positive science which rests upon familiar experience and does not search out occult or rare phenomena’; for Peirce this, rather than metaphysics, is the real “first philosophy,” or at least ‘is better entitled (except by usage) to being distinguished as philosophia prima than ontology’ (EP2:372). Synthetic philosophy, on the other hand, ‘has been called philosophia ultima’ because it ‘embraces all that truth which is derivable by collating the results of different special sciences, but which is too broad to be established by any one of them’ (EP2:372).— Peirce, MS 601 (c. 1906)
In other words, the philosophical inquiry reflected in Turning Signs aims at both the primary (or primal?) and the ultimate – the alpha and the omega. Actually only the cenoscopic part should be called “inquiry,” or heuretic science as Peirce called it. He placed synthetic philosophy ‘at the head of the Retrospective Sciences’ (EP2:373), i.e. those which find new connections among observations previously made rather than making new observations of their own. But the reliance of cenoscopic inquiry on ‘familiar experience’ does not make it easier to practice, because it requires critical common sense.
The method of cenoscopic research presents a certain difficulty. In commencing it we are confronted with the fact that we already believe a great many things. These beliefs, or at least the more general of them, ought to be reconsidered with deliberation. This implies that it should be conducted according to a deliberate plan adopted only after the severest criticism. Indeed, nothing in cenoscopy should be embraced without criticism. Each criticism should wait to be planned, and each plan should wait for criticism. Clearly, if we are to get on at all, we must put up with imperfect procedure.This is roughly equivalent to Merleau-Ponty's observation about phenomenology: ‘The most important lesson of the reduction is the impossibility of a complete reduction.’ [next]— EP2:373
Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.— Thoreau, Walden, chp. 18
We still and always want waking.— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989, 593)
And then. Be old. The next thing is. We are once amore as babes awondering in a wold made fresh where with the hen in the storyaboot we start from scratch.— Finnegans Wake, 336
It is only by taking fresh looks at situations thought already to be understood that we come up with truly insightful and creative visions. The ability to reperceive, in short, is at the crux of creativity.[next]— Hofstadter/FARG (1995, 308)
As the time is not other than appearing, appearing is the arrival of time. What is it that appears? Appearing appears.[next]— Dogen, ‘Ocean Mudra Samadhi’ (Tanahashi 2010, 381)
Time is not a renewable resource. [next]
It is so difficult to find the beginning. Or, better: it is difficult to begin at the beginning. And not try to go further back.— Wittgenstein (1969, #471)
Philosophers of very diverse stripes propose that philosophy shall take its start from one or another state of mind in which no man, least of all a beginner in philosophy, actually is. One proposes that you shall begin by doubting everything, and says that there is only one thing that you cannot doubt, as if doubting were “as easy as lying.” Another proposes that we should begin by observing “the first impressions of sense,” forgetting that our very percepts are the results of cognitive elaboration. But in truth, there is but one state of mind from which you can “set out,” namely, the very state of mind in which you actually find yourself at the time you do “set out” — a state in which you are laden with an immense mass of cognition already formed, of which you cannot divest yourself if you would; and who knows whether, if you could, you would not have made all knowledge impossible to yourself?You can't divest yourself of the immense mass of cognition (knowledge, beliefs, ..... ) implicit in your present state of mind. But from that mass you can try to extract, or rather abstract, the simplest and most elementary features that must be implicit in any possible state of mind or of cognition, regardless of any other features it may have. This effort is what Peirce calls phaneroscopy, because it necessarily involves observing the phaneron, ‘the total content of any one consciousness (for any one is substantially any other), the sum of all we have in mind in any way whatever, regardless of its cognitive value’ (EP2:362). [next]— Peirce (EP2:335-6, CP 5.416)
In Genesis 2 Adam, being created in the image of God, gives all creatures their true names (see Eco 1998, ‘Languages in Paradise’). The original act of naming is the revelation which turns the use of the name into recognition.
The designation of objects never happens after recognition, it is recognition itself.A 1934 essay by Edward Sapir explains this in terms of a ‘psychological characteristic of language’:— Merleau-Ponty 1945, 183 (tr. Landes)
while it may be looked upon as a symbolic system which reports or refers to or otherwise substitutes for direct experience, it does not as a matter of actual behavior stand apart from or run parallel to direct experience but completely interpenetrates with it. This is indicated by the widespread feeling, particularly among primitive people, of that virtual identity or close correspondence of word and thing which leads to the magic of spells. On our own level it is generally difficult to make a complete divorce between objective reality and our linguistic symbols of reference to it; and things, qualities, and events are on the whole felt to be what they are called.— Sapir (1949, 8-9)
A proper name, when one meets with it for the first time, is existentially connected with some percept or other equivalent individual knowledge of the individual it names. It is then, and then only, a genuine Index. The next time one meets with it, one regards it as an Icon of that Index. The habitual acquaintance with it having been acquired, it becomes a Symbol whose Interpretant represents it as an Icon of an Index of the Individual named.EP2:286
A proper name, then, is not literally an index, but merely a finger of speech. Moreover, as argued in Chapter 14, ‘remembering is more like recreation than retrieval.’ It is symbolic, although memories involve both iconic and indexical signs.
If our view of memory is correct, in higher organisms every act of perception is, to some degree, an act of creation, and every act of memory is, to some degree, an act of imagination.— Edelman and Tononi (2000, 101)
The indexical function of a proper name – especially a divine name – resists being swallowed up in its symbolic function, because that function compromises the direct apprehension or experiencing of the object so named. When apprehension is diluted by comprehension, the name loses its ‘magic’ for the community which shares that apprehension; so they are naturally apprehensive about sharing the word with outsiders. (See James N. Baker, ‘The Presence of the Name: Reading Scripture in an Indonesian Village,’ in Boyarin 1993.) This psychological tendency is probably at work in every esoteric tradition, as well as in the phenomenon of “taboo.” [next]
In the buginning is the woid, in the muddle is the sounddance and thereinofter you're in the unbewised again, vund vulsyvolsy.[next]— Finnegans Wake 378
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.Roger Ames offers an intimological account of ‘Daoist naming’ which seems well suited to anticipatory systems and their developing relationships with other subjects:
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Naming as knowing must have the provisionality to accommodate engaged relationships as in their “doing and undergoing” they deepen and become increasingly robust. Such knowing is dependent upon an awareness of the indeterminate aspects of things. The ongoing shaping of experience requires a degree of imagination and creative projection that does not reference the world as it is, but anticipates what it might become.[next]
In the Classic of Mountain and Seas, an ancient “gazetteer” that takes its reader on a field seminar through unfamiliar lands, the calls of the curious animals and birds that are encountered are in fact their own names. They (like most things) cry out what they would be. And having access to the “name” of something is not only a claim to knowing it in a cognitive sense, but more importantly, to knowing how to deal with it. Naming is most importantly the responsiveness that attends familiarity. Hence such knowing is a feeling and a doing: it is value-added. It is naming without the kind of fixed reference that allows one to “master” something, a naming that does not arrest or control. It is a discriminating naming that in fact appreciates rather than depreciates a situation.— Ames, Roger. Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation (pp. 45-46). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Entering is the basis. The basis is from beginning to end.— Dogen, ‘Bukkyo’ (Tanahashi 2010, 286)
God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages.[next]— Thoreau, Walden, chp. 2
Because the sphere of knowledge of enlightening beings is utterly pure in its essential nature, it is outside the net of all conceptions, it is beyond the mountains of all obstructions. It appears in the mind and sheds light on beings who can be guided, according to their mentalities, when the time is ripe for their development.It is outside the net, yet appears in the mind when the time is ripe. Its purity is its Firstness. Time and development are its Thirdness. [next]— Cleary (1984, 1372)
But we should also recall that the more primary meaning of the word keter is “circle”; it is from this meaning that the notion of the crown is derived. In Sefer Yetsirah, the most ancient document that speaks of the sefirot, we are told that the sefirot are a great circle, “their end tied to their beginning, and their beginning in their end.”— Green 2004, 39
Zohar 1:21a expands on this in connection with the letter א (alef):
Within thought – who can conceive an idea? Understanding fails to even pose a question, much less to know. Ein Sof contains no trace at all; no question applies to It, nor conceiving contemplating any thought. From within concealing of the concealed, from the initial descent of Ein Sof, radiates a tenuous radiance, unknown, concealed in tracing like the point of a needle, mystery of concealment of thought. Unknown, until a radiance extends from it to a realm containing tracings of all letters, issuing from there.The creatures here are those of Ezekiel's vision, who reappear in the Apocalypse and in Blake's Four Zoas. Daniel Matt's notes explain that the alef is considered here as consisting of a first and last yod joined by a vav, just as Shekhinah (‘also pictured as a point’) is connected to the supernal or primordial realm by the six sefirot below Binah. [next]First of all, א (alef), first and last of all the rungs, a tracing traced by all the rungs, yet called ‘One,’ to demonstrate that although containing many images, it is only one. This is certainly a letter on which above and below depend. The beginning of the א (alef) is a single secrecy of the mystery of supernal thought. The expansion of the celestial expanse is entirely concealed in the beginning, for when א (alef) issues from that expanse, it issues in the form of mystery of the beginning of thought. The middle of the א (alef) comprises six rungs, mystery of all those hidden, supernal creatures suspended in thought.— ZP I.161
A spark of impenetrable darkness flashed within the concealed of the concealed, from the head of Infinity — a cluster of vapor forming in formlessness, thrust in a ring, not white, not black, not red, not green, no color at all. As a cord surveyed, it yielded radiant colors. Deep within the spark gushed a flow, splaying colors below, concealed within the concealed of the mystery of Ein Sof. It split and did not split its aura, was not known at all, until under the impact of splitting, a single, concealed, supernal point shone. Beyond that point, nothing is known, so it is called Reshit, Beginning, first command of all.— Zohar 1:15a (ZP I.107-9)
With this we might compare Charles Peirce's speculations about the beginning of time, starting around 1888 with his ‘Guess at the Riddle’:
Our conceptions of the first stages of the development, before time yet existed, must be as vague and figurative as the expressions of the first chapter of Genesis. Out of the womb of indeterminacy we must say that there would have come something, by the principle of Firstness, which we may call a flash. Then by the principle of habit there would have been a second flash. Though time would not yet have been, this second flash was in some sense after the first, because resulting from it. Then there would have come other successions ever more and more closely connected, the habits and the tendency to take them ever strengthening themselves, until the events would have been bound together into something like a continuous flow.Ten years later, in his Cambridge Conferences Lectures, Peirce argued that if time is a continuum, its “beginning” or “end” can only be imagined as an ideal point infinitely distant from the present. If either actually occurred, it would be a secondness, a discontinuity; but a continuumW6:209
must be assumed to be devoid of all topical singularities. For any such singularity is a locus of discontinuity; and from the nature of the continuum there may be no room to suppose any such secondness. But now, a continuum which is without singularities must, in the first place, return into itself. Here is a remarkable consequence.Of course it does not return into itself at any determinate point in ‘evolutionary time’ – nothing that has actually happened can happen again – so it must ‘begin again’ continuously. [next]
Take, for example, Time. It makes no difference what singularities you may see reason to impose upon this continuum. You may, for example, say that all evolution began at this instant, which you may call the infinite past, and comes to a close at that other instant, which you may call the infinite future. But all this is quite extrinsic to time itself. Let it be, if you please, that evolutionary time, our section of time, is contained between those limits. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that time itself, unless it be discontinuous, as we have every reason to suppose it is not, stretches on beyond those limits, infinite though they be, returns into itself, and begins again.CP 6.210, RLT 264
How can anyone hide from that which never sets?[next]
Τὸ μὴ δῦνόν ποτε πῶς ἄν τις λάθοι;Kahn CXXII
The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something— because it is always before one's eyes.) The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. —And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.— Wittgenstein (PI I.129)
We don't know who discovered water, but we're certain it wasn't a fish.— source unknown
The veil of habit hides the Firstness of the phenomenon, generalization dissipates the force of discovery, percepts are overgrown with perceptual judgments. Yet ‘there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed.’
It is easier to discover another such a new world as Columbus did, than to go within one fold of this which we appear to know so well; the land is lost sight of, the compass varies, and mankind mutiny; and still history accumulates like rubbish before the portals of nature.— Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.[next]— George Orwell (1946)
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.— Revelation 6:14 (KJV)
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.— Revelation 21:1 (KJV)
Variation on a theme of Rumi (Nicholson 1995, 49-50): Sleepers between dreams, and mystics even when awake, are free of sorrow and joy, fame and gain, personality and self-consciousness, decision and justice and judgment. The trumpet-blast of Resurrection calls them back from that state, calls souls back to their bodies and their world, calls the formless back to form.
According to Mircea Eliade (1949, 85), the ancient New Year ceremony marks the recreation of the whole cosmos; indeed for ‘archaic man’ (primal humanity), any real beginning regenerates reality through the ‘annulment of time’ and history. Death is the prelude to this recreation, just as the new moon begins its return toward the full.
The death of the individual and the death of humanity are alike necessary for their regeneration. Any form whatever, by the mere fact that it exists as such and endures, necessarily loses vigor and becomes worn; to recover vigor, it must be reabsorbed into the formless if only for an instant; it must be restored to the primordial unity from which it issued …And then the original creation happens again for the first time. And yet, ‘whenever any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual’ (Blake, PPB 551). The apocalypse is at once Judgment Day and Recreation Day.— Eliade (1949, 88)
Matthew 19:28, King James version:
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσίᾳ] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.In the Revised Standard Version, παλιγγενεσία (literally, beginning again) is translated ‘in the new world.’ At this end of time, any Judgment is the Last, but in the beginning is the Word, where any verbum, verb, term, rhema is the First. [next]
Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,The living sign is set that he may be spoken against, bringing out the contrast between the falling and the rising. The Judgment is not imposed from the outside but is spoken from the heart; it is the heart which is, in the end, revealed by its actual response to the Word or Sign.
and for a sign that is spoken against
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.— (RSV)
Every actual judgment – that is, every judgment that is acted upon or embodied – is the last judgment that can be made at that moment, for it cannot be unmade or its consequences called back. [next]
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.
But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.— Isaiah 65:17-18 (KJV)
Likewise continue thou to ascend through one Revelation after another, knowing that thy progress in the Knowledge of God shall never come to an end, even as it can have no beginning.[next]— The Báb, c. 1850 (1976, 91)
The World-Honored One said, ‘When one person opens up reality and returns to the source, all space in the ten directions disappears.’Eihei Dogen said,
When one person opens up reality and returns to the source, all space in the ten directions opens up reality and returns to the source.EK 2.179
To suppose that practice and realization are not one is a view of those outside the way; in buddha-dharma they are inseparable. Because practice within realization(For an alternate translation of this passage, see Okumura and Leighton 1997, 30.) [next][translator's note: Japanese, shojo no shu; literally, ‘realization on top of practice’]occurs at the moment of practice, the practice of beginner's mind is itself the entire original realization.When giving instruction for zazen practice, we say that you should not have any expectation for realization outside of practice, because this is the immediate original realization. Because this is the realization of practice, there is no beginning in practice.— Dogen, Bendowa (Tanahashi 2010, 12)
This old rock planet gets the present for a present on its birthday every day.— Annie Dillard (1974, 103)
Innocence sees that this is it, and finds it world enough, and time.— Annie Dillard (1974, 83)
If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.— Shunryu Suzuki (1970, 21)
Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.— Annie Dillard (1974, 82)
Mindfulness is remembering to come back to the present moment. The character the Chinese use for ‘mindfulness’ has two parts: the upper part means ‘now,’ and the lower part means ‘mind’ or ‘heart.’— Thich Nhat Hanh (1998, 64)
What has gone? How it ends?Begin to forget it. It will remember itself from every sides, with all gestures, in each our word. Today's truth, tomorrow's trend.Forget, remember!— Finnegans Wake, 614
Yet's the time for being now, now, now.[next]— Finnegans Wake, 250
The relation between thought and word is a living process; thought is born through words. A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow. The connection between them, however, is not a preformed and constant one. It emerges in the course of development, and itself evolves. To the Biblical ‘In the beginning was the Word’, Goethe makes Faust reply, ‘In the beginning was the deed.’ The intent here is to detract from the value of the word, but we can accept this version if we emphasise it differently: In the beginning was the deed. The word was not the beginning – action was there first; it is the end of development, crowning the deed.— Vygotsky (1934, 153)
Continuous practice that actualizes itself is no other than your continuous practice right now. The now of this practice is not originally possessed by the self. The now of this practice does not come and go, enter and depart. The word “now” does not exist before continuous practice. The moment when it is actualized is called now.[next]— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Gyoji’ (Tanahashi 2010, 333)
What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of language.
What can be shown, cannot be said.— Wittgenstein, Tractatus (4.121, 4.1212)
Dogen, in one of his Shobogenzo essays, tells the story of a Chinese poet who realized the intimate truth upon hearing the sounds of a valley stream flowing in the night. He wrote the following verse:
The sound of the valley stream is the Universal Tongue,
the colors of the mountains are all the Pure Body.
Another day how can I recite
the eighty-four thousand verses of last night?(tr. Cleary 1995, 116)
Who would presume to comment on this? I will close for today with a bit of Henry David Thoreau, from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:
A good book is the plectrum with which our else silent lyres are struck. We not unfrequently refer the interest which belongs to our own unwritten sequel to the written and comparatively lifeless body of the work. Of all books this sequel is the most indispensable part. It should be the author's aim to say once and emphatically, “He said,” ἔφη. This is the most the book-maker can attain to. If he make his volume a mole whereon the waves of Silence may break, it is well.It were vain for me to endeavor to interpret the Silence. She cannot be done into English. For six thousand years men have translated her with what fidelity belonged to each, and still she is little better than a sealed book. A man may run on confidently for a time, thinking he has her under his thumb, and shall one day exhaust her, but he too must at last be silent, and men remark only how brave a beginning he made; for when he at length dives into her, so vast is the disproportion of the told to the untold, that the former will seem but the bubble on the surface where he disappeared. Nevertheless, we will go on, like those Chinese cliff swallows, feathering our nests with the froth, which may one day be bread of life to such as dwell by the sea-shore.(ed. Bode 1964, 226-7)
and history, which is yet to begin,[next]
will exceed this, exalt this
as a poem erases and rewrites its poet.
— Milton Acorn, ‘Knowing I Live in a Dark Age’
In the process of living, attainment of a period of equilibrium is at the same time the initiation of a new relation to the environment, one that brings with it potency of new adjustments to be made through struggle. The time of consummation is also one of beginning anew.— John Dewey (1934, 16)
If one can begin, ever, there is nothing against beginning often; I mean developing new and further conceptual patterns that are not logically derivative from the earlier concepts alone. But neither is it necessary to have sheer gaps which don't enable one to think, except with either these or those concepts. The continuity between concepts is such, rather, that the new developments further inform and precision the earlier ones. Terms are definable and derivable in terms of each other.— Gendlin (1998, note 15)
The Vico road goes round and round to meet where terms begin.— Finnegans Wake 452
Vico was the 18th-century scholar whose theory of the origin of language fascinated James Joyce, and whose cyclic model of history became the framework of Finnegans Wake. And by the way, one of the Wake's recurring episodes is the discovery by a hen of a mysterious letter buried in a midden-heap, riddled with holes and stains. Five years after the death of Joyce, the letter was dug up yet again: the Nag Hammadi Library.
The names of things are fixed by custom, habit and history. But symbols are subversive as they turn, breaking what's fixed and fixing what's broken. Likewise the habit of living seems eternally intent on breaking and fixing itself. [next]
We are vigilant for the new and the variable. But attending to what varies and not to what abides means that we see only a contingent aspect, when we believe ourselves to be seeing the whole.[next]— Mark Turner (1991, 64)
At the beginning of the movie, they know they have to find each other. But they ride off in opposite directions.— Laurie Anderson, ‘Sharkey's Day’
The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination. – And this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation. For this compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction.— Wittgenstein, Preface to the Philosophical Investigations
I fear I may be producing the impression of talking at random. It is that I wish the reader to “catch on” to my conception, my point of view; and just as one cannot make a man see that a thing is red, or is beautiful, or is touching, by describing redness, beauty, or pathos, but can only point to something else that is red, beautiful, or pathetic, and say, “Look here too for something like that there,” so if the reader has not been in the habit of conceiving ideas as I conceive them, I can only cast a sort of dragnet into his experience and hope that it may fish up some instance in which he shall have had a similar conception.— Peirce, EP2:122
But I must remember, Reader, that your conceptions may penetrate far deeper than mine; and it is to be devoutly hoped they may.If I were you, who would be reading this sentence? [next]— Peirce, CP 4.535 (1906)
There is another aspect to the hope placed in randomness: to a program that exploits randomness, all pathways are open, even if most have very low probabilities; conversely, to a program whose choices are always made by consulting a fixed deterministic strategy, many pathways are a priori completely closed off. This means that many creative ideas will simply never get discovered by a program that relies totally on ‘intelligence’. In many circumstances, the most interesting routes will be more likely to be discovered by accidental exploration than if the ‘best’ route at each junction is invariably chosen.— Hofstadter and FARG (1995, 115)
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.[next]— Blake, ‘Proverbs of Hell’
Like any text (or any life), Turning Signs is woven out of path-crossings; like any conscientious researcher, i've done my best to point toward some of the paths i've crossed with other authors. Wherever i have drawn upon specific “sources,” i've documented them in the parenthetical way standard in the sciences of the time. But the more pervasive an idea becomes in one's thinking and reading, the less point there is in citing “sources” for it.
Some of my “sources” may go uncited simply because their thoughts have sunk so deeply into mine that i can no longer trace them. However, all the sources of which i have been conscious during the writing are listed in the reference list at the back of the book. (The quote marks around “sources” are reminders that a text like this one is not and cannot be assembled from others, any more than your body is assembled from preexisting parts. Rather, each quotation or reference marks a point where another line of thought has crossed paths with this one. (‘Strictly speaking, every word in the book should be in quotation marks’ (Gregory Bateson (1979, 108)).))
Long after inserting this Bateson quote into my draft, i found what amounts to an explanation of it by Michael Polanyi. As he explains it, using quotation marks in this way calls the usage of the word thus marked into question.
We may place a word in quotation marks, while using language confidently through the rest of the sentence. But the questioning of each word in turn would never question all at the same time. Accordingly, it would never reveal a comprehensive error which underlies our entire descriptive idiom. We can of course write down a text and withdraw our confidence from all its words simultaneously, by putting each descriptive word between quotation marks. But then none of the words would mean anything and the whole text would be meaningless.More generally: there is no belief that can't be questioned, but in practice you can only question one at a time, because the questioning process itself requires the rest of your belief system to function implicitly. [next]— Polanyi (1962, 251)
(1) Jesus said, “From Adam to John the Baptizer, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John the Baptizer, so that his eyes should not be averted. (2) But I have said that whoever among you becomes a child will know the kingdom and will become greater than John.”The first verse raises many questions. Whose eyes should not be averted? Why should anyone else's eyes be turned away? Turned away from what? But the second verse also raises questions: What's so great about becoming a child, and how does that lead to knowing the kingdom?— Thomas 46 (NHS)
Matthew 18:3 says that ‘Except ye be converted [στραφῆτε], and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (KJV). The root of στραφῆτε (‘be converted’) is the verb στρέφω, turn, which is also the root idea of ‘convert.’ How can an adult be turned, or turn himself, into a child? Does this turning reverse the normal development of a child into an adult? Or is it a recovery of the “beginner's mind” which is often lost in development?
An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn't the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he'll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can't learn why.— Annie Dillard (1974, 19)
We all begin as beginners, as startlings. The infant ‘aims to learn,’ and that ‘original intent’ of learning from experience is what it takes ‘to be a philosopher, or a scientific man,’ says Peirce. But, says Dillard, some ‘taught pride’ diverts us from that intent, and we learn to fake it instead, to act as if we already know. This is what happens to the “scientist” as he learns to play the complex social role which his profession is supposed to fill. But to be a real scientist or philosopher, says Peirce, he needs ‘the sincerity and simple-mindedness of the child's vision, with all the plasticity of the child's mental habits.’
Dillard says: ‘I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood.’ She implies that a “scientist,” instead of exploring, pretends to explain the neighborhood to the neighbors. But maybe, for the “pure” or childlike scientists, that's only a front which they use to finance their explorations. Maybe their real question is neither where nor why but how. How does exploring happen, or learning, or pride?
Maybe the scientist (as opposed to the philosopher) has to specialize in order to offer some answers, and maybe some get so insulated in their specialism that they think they own their neighborhoods. But that doesn't stop us using their maps and models for our own explorations. We're all specialists in living a particular life – but you, O beginner, O child who has somehow learned to read, are the sole heir of all that mapping, and all the specialists are working for you. It's your turn to begin. [next]
Traditions are transmitted to us from the past, but they are our own interpretations of the past, at which we have arrived within the context of our own immediate problems.— Polanyi (1962, 160)
According to Borges (1964, 201), ‘every writer creates his own precursors.’ This tells us something about the reading of time. Eugene Gendlin gives one explanation of it:
There are two pasts: An event can be remembered as it was. But a human event is always also how it implies further events. Since it does not contain these as finished events, it requires them to happen before it becomes what (we then truly say) it was. Therefore explicating makes two pasts, both truly.[next]— Gendlin (1992a, 65)
(1) The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us how our end will be.”
(2) Jesus said, “Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is the end will be. (3) Blessed is one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”NHS
Compare Analects 11.11:
Chi-lu asked about serving the spiritual beings.
Confucius said, ‘If we are not yet able to serve man, how can we serve spiritual beings?’
‘I venture to ask about death.’
Confucius said, ‘If we do not yet know about life, how can we know about death?’(Chan 1963, 36)
If we want to serve God, how do we know that we aren't already serving God's purpose without knowing it, as the followers of Bokonon believe?
We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that brought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.I never finished this book (Turning Signs) either, but i don't know whether it would count as a kan-kan. I have my beliefs about how humanity is organized, and have tried to articulate some of them, but i can't see my own mission from outside of it. Every guidance system is situated, and every player sees the game, or the play – or God's Will – from within that situation, and not as a supreme being would see it. For us (sentient beings) collectively, the only ethical certainty is that our acts will have consequences beyond our intentions, and we will have to live with them as long as we live. We are at best beginners, even to the end. [next]— Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Cat's Cradle, Chapter 1
And the answers? Sometimes the answers just come in the mail. And one day you get that letter you've been waiting for forever. And everything it says is true. And then in the last line it says: Burn this.— Laurie Anderson, ‘Same Time Tomorrow’
All created things have the nature of destruction. This is the last statement of the Transcendent Lord.[next]— Shakyamuni Buddha (Thurman 1995, 93)
History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.And when we do wake up, and the curtain falls on all the struts and frets we call history, what does this mess finally mean?— Joyce (Ulysses, 42)
The gods did this, and spun the destruction of peoples, for the sake of the singing of people hereafter.One day, in all probability, there will be no people to sing. Why not sing now then? For all you know, your chance may be the last.— Odyssey, VIII
Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.— 1 Corinthians 10.11
This, the time you are living, is the end of history. This is where it was all heading: that you should see it now like the moon in a dewdrop. The responsibility to make some sense of it can't be passed off to eternal or future beings. For them as for you, it will not be the future when they live the time. Even in contemplation, making sense takes time – time and a body. The readiness is all, the readiness to read the signs; and the readings are signs again. Even the Book of Revelation was and is a reading.
We have noted that the last book in the Bible, the one explicitly called Revelation or Apocalypse, is a mosaic of allusions to the Old Testament … What the seer in Patmos had a vision of was primarily, as he conceived it, the true meaning of the Scriptures, and his dragons and horsemen and dissolving cosmos were what he saw in Ezekiel and Zechariah, whatever or however he saw on Patmos. … For him all these incredible wonders are the inner meaning or, more accurately, the inner form of everything that is happening now. Man creates what he calls history as a screen to conceal the workings of the apocalypse from himself.— Northrop Frye (1982, 135-6)
The apocalypse is the way the world looks after the ego has disappeared.— Frye (1982, 138)
The mind that has been authentically transmitted is: one mind is all things, all things are one mind.[next]
Thus, an ancient teacher said, “If you realize this mind, there is not an inch of land left on earth.”
Know that when you realize this mind, the entire sky collapses and the whole earth explodes. Or, if you realize this mind, the earth raises its surface by three inches.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Sokushin zebutsu’ (Tanahashi 2010, 46)
(Stoop), if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of signs (please stoop) in this allaphbed! Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its world? It is the same told of all.— The Restored Finnegans Wake, 14
Drawing nearer to take our slant at it (since after all it has met with misfortune while all underground), let us see all there may remain to be seen.The act of meaning the sacred text involves collision and collusion with the limits of language.— Finnegans Wake, 113
Beware lest ye be hindered by the veils of glory from partaking of the crystal waters of this living Fountain.— Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas ¶50
But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: “Why, this is what we were fed with before,” for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein companions pure (and holy); and they abide therein (for ever).[next]— Qur'án 2:25 (Yusuf Ali)
With the light created by the blessed Holy One on the first day, one could gaze and see from one end of the universe to the other.— Zohar (ZP I.45)
The light created at the very beginning is not the same as the light emitted by the sun, the moon, and the stars, which appeared only on the fourth day. The light of the first day was of a sort that would have enabled man to see the world at a glance from one end to the other. Anticipating the wickedness of the sinful generations of the deluge and the Tower of Babel, who were unworthy to enjoy the blessing of such light, God concealed it, but in the world to come it will appear to the pious in all its pristine glory.‘The world to come’ is a common translation of the rabbinic Hebrew ha-olam ha-ba, which ‘is often understood as referring to the hereafter’ (Daniel Matt, ZP I.44). But Matt translates it as the world that is coming: ‘In Kabbalah “the world that is coming” often refers to Binah, the ceaseless stream of emanation, who engenders and nourishes the lower sefirot’ (Matt, ZP II.81). To put it another way, the streaming is time regarded as Presence – the here now, not “the hereafter” – and its ceaselessness is eternity. [next]— Haggadah (Barnstone 1984, 16)
The universe is, as it were, an awakening Mind. Now just as we say this man has such and such a character, not because of any ideas he has this minute present, but because under suitable circumstances such ideas are bound to be evolved by him, so the universe may be said to be governed by a God insofar as it is bound more and more to conform to the ultimate result of the evolution of pure ideas. But the sole Ancient of Days is Continuity in the abstract, a spontaneity which might be assumed to be very slight, though it is probably enormous.As to the continued existence of the soul after death, the general idea of Continuity, if unreservedly accepted, hardly permits us to doubt it. The difficulty is, that there is no positive evidence in favor of it. It seems, however, easier to account for such defect in other ways than by a breaking off of consciousness. That the second element of consciousness, the reactive consciousness, ceases when external stimulation ceases, is certain. We see it in sleep. But the mind does not cease to exist in sleep; and many persons perform their most difficult operations of thought best in their sleep. They wish to ‘sleep upon’ a difficult question. There is no more reason to suppose that death at once causes the annihilation of mind. Whatever may happen later, at first it can be nothing but a sleep. To be awakened, the soul must in some way be acted upon. But there our information ceases.— Peirce, unidentified fragment (NEM, introduction to Volume 4, xxiv)
There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussofthlee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the[next]— end of Finnegans Wake
As for the Present instant, it is so inscrutable that I wonder whether no sceptic has ever attacked its reality. I can fancy one of them dipping his pen in his blackest ink to commence the assault, and then suddenly reflecting that his entire life is in the Present,— the “living present,” as we say,— this instant when all hopes and fears concerning it come to their end, this Living Death in which we are born anew. It is plainly that Nascent State between the Determinate and the Indeterminate …It is also what Buddhists call ‘birth-and-death’ (shoji), and the impermanence which according to Dogen is the buddha-nature.— Peirce, EP2:358
The determination for enlightenment is the seed of all elements of buddhahood … it is like an all-encompassing net, taking in all beings who can be guided.The determination (or aspiration) for enlightenment is the turning sign whose final interpretant reveals the nascent buddha-nature. How long does this revelation, this realization take? As long as the time.— Avatamsaka Sutra (Cleary 1984, 1476-8)
The ‘principle of the identity of man and Buddha’ (Bielefeldt 1988, 165) has informed a wide variety of Buddhist practices through which sentient beings might overcome, here and now, the delusions masking that identity. The prophetic writings of Blake develop a parallel idea in three themes: first, ‘the loss of the identity of divine and human natures which brought about the Fall … second, the struggle to regain this identity in the fallen world which was completed by Jesus; and, third, the apocalypse’ (Frye 1947, 270). In Night the Ninth of The Four Zoas (subtitled ‘The Last Judgment’), we learn that all dominator gods are really distorted images of fallen Man. If they resist this recognition of their true nature and try to assert ‘their Dominion above The Human form Divine,’ they will be ‘Thrown down from their high Station,’ and in the apocalypse (after a protracted struggle in the subconscious) will resume their true function
In the Eternal heavens of Human Imagination: buried beneathLikewise in the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’Bardo Thodol, we are tasked to recognize the terrifying wrathful gods as projections of our own fears, and thus to overcome our own delusions and recover our true form. [next]
In dark Oblivion with incessant pangs ages on ages
In Enmity & war first weakend, then in stern repentance
They must renew their brightness, & their disorganizd functions
Again reorganize till they resume the image of the human,
Cooperating in the bliss of Man, obeying his Will,
Servants to the infinite & Eternal of the Human form.
Is it not late? A late time to be living? Are not our generations the crucial ones? For we have changed the world. Are not our heightened times the important ones? For we have nuclear bombs. Are we not especially significant because our century is? – our century and its unique Holocaust, its refugee populations, its serial totalitarian exterminations; our century and its antibiotics, silicon chips, men on the moon, and spliced genes? No, we are not and it is not. These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other.— Annie Dillard (1999, 30)
The story is not ended, it has not yet become history, and the secret life it holds can break out tomorrow in you or in me.Tomorrow? Why not today?— Scholem 1946, 350
… and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.— John 15:27 (RSV)
In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.Can you bear witness to that? Why not? You've been here from the beginning.— John 1.1
And certainly you've heard this one before:
We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.— T.S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’
The scroll is rolled up, and rolled out again: e-volution. The seed unfolds itself: de-velopment. These are time-lapse views of dis-covery, re-creation of original nature that was, and is, and will be, revealed and concealed in its implicit intricacy. [next]
Of making many books there is no end.And sometimes no beginning. Those with too much to say, it seems, do not write. Isaac Luria, when asked why he didn't put his teaching into a book, is said to have replied,— Ecclesiastes 12:12
It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received, and how can I put it down in a book?Of passing many sentences— Scholem (1946, 254)
Once the whole is divided, the parts need names.Sometimes
There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop.— Tao Te Ching 32 (Feng and English)
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