Accidental exploration

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.

Blake, ‘Proverbs of Hell’


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.

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.

Hofstadter/FARG (1995, 308)

Primal flow

The sacred text is what the sacred river is currently reading, the streambed of consciousness.

(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.

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).

Qur’án 2:25 (Yusuf Ali)

Art as recreation

In his book Art as Experience, John Dewey argues that having an experience always involves both acting and perceiving, both doing and feeling, and the esthetic experience is the most ‘integral’ kind, moving toward the ‘closure of a circuit of energy’ (Dewey 1934, 42). It involves a receptivity, but perception itself is ‘an act of the going-out of energy in order to receive’ (55). This is true for both the artist and the beholder of a work of art.

For to perceive, the beholder must create his own experience. And his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent. They are not the same in any literal sense. But with the perceiver, as with the artist, there must be an ordering of the elements of the whole that is in form, although not in details, the same as the process of organization the creator of the work consciously experienced. Without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art.

— Dewey 1934, 56

Dewey contrasts this act of ‘recreation’ with the ‘recognition’ which dismisses the object perceived as something already known and not worthy of the more active attention it would take to learn something new about it. Regarding the work of art as a sign, its object is the ‘form’ in which the ‘elements of the whole’ are ordered. Its interpretant, as the recreation of the beholder, is another sign of that object, though it will differ in other respects from the creator’s experience.


The pattern that connects (Bateson) is also the pattern that creates, the sign that determines the form of existing things or systems. We discover these patterns by observing that similar beings have similar origins.

All natural classification is then essentially, we may almost say, an attempt to find out the true genesis of the objects classified. But by genesis must be understood, not the efficient action which produces the whole by producing the parts, but the final action which produces the parts because they are needed to make the whole. Genesis is production from ideas. It may be difficult to understand how this is true in the biological world, though there is proof enough that it is so. But in regard to science it is a proposition easily enough intelligible. A science is defined by its problem; and its problem is clearly formulated on the basis of abstracter science.

— Peirce, CP 1.227 (1902)

In biology, the genetic ‘idea’ is more recently called the genotype, and we now have a better understanding of its role in producing organisms classified by phenotype. But many biologists still do not see these as types in the Peircean sense, which here he calls ‘ideas’:

All classification, whether artificial or natural, is the arrangement of objects according to ideas. A natural classification is the arrangement of them according to those ideas from which their existence results. No greater merit can a taxonomist have than that of having his eyes open to the ideas in nature; no more deplorable blindness can afflict him than that of not seeing that there are ideas in nature which determine the existence of objects.

— Peirce, CP 1.231 (1902)

Thinking Through the Imagination

John Kaag’s 2014 book Thinking Through the Imagination explores the imaginative side of cognition in a manner complementary to Turning Signs, drawing upon Peirce’s insights regarding esthetics and abduction, and upon recent neuroscience to explain how these creative aspects of mind are embodied in the functional dynamics of the brain. Continue reading Thinking Through the Imagination

Inner authority

Peirce observes that ‘one of the main purposes of studying history ought to be to free us from the tyranny of our preconceived notions’ (EP2:114). The same goes for the study of scriptures; the purpose of revelation and discovery alike is to free us from confinement in a cognitive bubble. Turning symbols can liberate us in this way, but only if we can free ourselves from our preconceived notions of their value and authority, and give due respect to artistic and cultural creativity. Continue reading Inner authority