Thanks for Nothing!
Pender Island, October 11, 2004
Eastern thought places a lot of value and importance on nothing. Maybe we westerners, in our materialist pursuit are 'missing something'. If that something we are missing is nothing, how do we go about looking for it, and when we find it, how will we know we have found it?
In the early hours of this morning, I rolled myself a smoke and continued my reading of an essay given favourable review in Michel Bauwen's Pluralities/Integration newsletter, ... an essay by Robert Chia on the connection between 'Complexity Science' and Eastern Thought.
A few hours before, I had struggled for the n'th time to wordsmith, in a post on Victoria Indymedia, the 'Complexity Science' notion of how the behaviour of a collective is the meaning-giving 'reference ground' for how we see the behaviour of an individual within the collective. One of my frequent tacks for trying to share this is to take the example of driving on a crowded freeway. The inexperienced driver may safely navigate passage from A to B and think nothing of it, while his more experienced fellows that his motion interpermeated, would come away with stories of their collision avoidance skills being challenged as never before, ... the imagery being one wherein the assertive behaviour of the individual driver is, at the same time, taken together with and relative to the movement of his fellows, the source of the accommodative behaviour of the collective he is immersed in. The general situation being that each individual driver's movement is contributing, through its movement relative to its fellows, to the shape of the accommodating quality of the dynamical vessel within which the individual is uniquely situated and whose changing shape serves to guide and shape his individual movements.
The English language was just not built for dealing with 'Complexity Science' and particularly not for the self-referential geometry of 'relativity' wherein the individual's movement is guided by the shape of the enveloping movement that he is at the same time co-authoring, ... where one might say that the individual's dynamical influence is 'androgynic' rather than purely masculine assertive since his assertive action, ... relative to the assertive actions of his fellows, ... is the source of the feminine accommodative invaginating shape of space that guides his assertive penetration (interpermeation to be true to 'relativity') into the dynamic of the collective. If English words could only be 'complex', having both a 'real' and 'imaginary' aspect as in mathematics, rather than purely 'real', ... the awkwardness of trying to articulate pervasive, everyday complexity such as the two sided (assertive-accommodative) nature of collective-individual (i.e. 'social') codynamics might be alleviated. That is, complex numbers imply 'phase' and phase relations are purely relative and avoid having to absolutize 'the motion of an individual'.
Anyhow, I had an initial small chuckle, on seeing that Robert was with the Accounting Department of the University of Essex, since 'accounting' strikes me as one of those most reductionist of 'sciences', where everything must 'add up' in a strictly 'real' sense, ... though I recognize that accountants have got a creative streak that has been astounding the shareholders of large corporations (e.g. Enron),... just kidding, ... and I was reminded that the first 'Chaos Theory' conference (1994?) I attended was organized by Michael Van Breda of the Accounting Department at SMU (Southern Methodist University in Dallas), ... who maintained that an economy was always in a state of transformation and 'out-of-control' and the challenge in sustaining dynamical balance was not to be thought of in terms of 'control' but instead in keeping what was innately out-of-control 'moving-in-the-right-direction'.
But the big chuckle came later, after listening, for a change, to someone else's awkward attempts to convey 'complexity' wherein the dynamically behaving individual thing and the dynamical space of the collective that the individual thing is immersed in, ... are not discretely bounded, with respect to one another, but are a dynamical unity in the same way that the atmosphere that encloses the hurricane and the hurricane are a dynamical unity. If the hurricane's assertiveness pushes off from its invaginating feminine alter-self, ... the notion is that what is of primary interest is sûnyatâ, the 'pure experience' from which these masculine-assertive and feminine-accommodative/reactive dynamics derive, e.g. as in the awkward accounting of Chia;
"In Nishitani's analysis, an entity such as the self s presence is only definable in negative terms. What straightforwardly appears as the object X is only the difference between itself and the total field. Similarly, the `field' is itself only its difference from the object X. Nishitani's thinking thus resonates with Saussure's (1974) account of how the meaning of an individual word is attained and with Derrida's (1976) insistence that identity and `presence' are outcomes of djfférance . Hence, just as meaning in the Derridean sense never `arrives', Nishitani's being never arrives either. Bryson (1988) illustrates this through the example of the seed-flower constellation.
`The form of the seed is already turning into the form of the flower, and the flower is already becoming dust. The present state of the object appearing as the flower is inhabited by its past as seed and its future as dust, in a continuous motion of postponement, whose effect is that the flower is never presently there, any more than seed or dust' (Bryson, `The Gaze in the Expanded Field', in H. Foster (ed.) Vision and Visuality, Seattle, Washington: Bay Press).
This ceaseless process of deferral is best summed up by Nishitani in a series of aphoristic flashes that illuminate his texts in the same way that Sartre's other and Lacan's sardine can does. For Nishitani, `fire does not burn fire' nor does `water wash water'. The essence of fire is to burn, yet fire cannot burn itself. It cannot exist in self-enclosure or possess a simple identity. For fire to burn, it must extend beyond its enclosure to engage with the field surrounding it and only then can it perform its role as fire. Likewise, the essence of water is that it washes. Yet water does not wash itself. For water to be water as that which washes, it must percolate through to its dry surrounds so that only when it leaves its self-enclosure does it become water.
`Its existence comes to it when it has left water behind and entered what it is not. Its being is interpenetrated by what it is not: which is to say that things exist in the ways they do exist, under a mode of constitutive negativity or emptiness, sûnyatâ' (Bryson, ibid)"
Now, this kind of English language-stressing struggle to convey the complexity in everyday dynamics is not going to be heard during the US presidential debates, ... not for a few years at least,...neither does it appear to be the kind of stuff to source a lot of laughs (being the target of jokes is another matter). But the damn Buddha is always smiling, isn't he?
It was in Chia's conclusions, in reading a quote by Chuang Tzu, that one of the smiling Buddha's 'penny dropped' and it totally cracked me up. The quote was;
`They were upright and correct without knowing that to be so was righteous. They loved one another without knowing that to do so was benevolence. They were sincere without knowing that to do so was loyalty. They kept their promises without knowing that to do so was to be in good faith. They helped one another without thought of giving or receiving gifts. Thus their actions left no trace and we have no records of their affairs' (Chuang Tzu, Ch. XII)
The 'house lights went on' and I came home to the realization that my example of the 'friendly drivers' on the crowded freeway accommodating their own assertive actions so that the potentials for conflict could be subsumed prior to actualization 'left no record' of itself. This basic 'complexity dynamic' wherein we let our own movements or words sustain dynamical balance to subsume collision, conflict, embarrassment, depression, unemployment, hunger, ... to arrange it so that 'the notes' played by a fellow individual continue to be part of the symphony by the collective re-writing the symphony on-the-fly, ... leaves no record of itself,...since content is given meaning by context and while we normally think in terms of new meaning deriving from the content changing, the content can be 'left alone' and the context changed as a means of changing the meaning, it is all relative. When the commoner at the king's table drinks from the finger-bowl, and the king proceeds to do the same and is thus followed by princes and lords, ... then everyone looks good by the fact that the context has been re-written on-the-fly to sustain harmony between content and context.
In the freeway example, while we can only visually observe the assertive behaviours of individual things; the shape of the accommodative flowspace guides and gives meaning to the assertive EXPERIENCE of the INCLUDED PARTICIPANT is purely implicit. It is NOT mere probability that shapes the invaginating traffic flowspace whose opening guides the individual driver, since the multiplicity of assertive drivers is, at the same time, the invaginating flowspace, and there is a collective conscious awareness of this simultaneous assertive-accommodative reciprocity.
So, if I leave a note for my great-great-grandchildren saying that before 9/11, ... that is, before politicians took us into a purificationist 'war on terror' rather than into a 'healing initiative' to restore, revitalize and sustain community harmony, ... those instances where the accommodativeness of the dynamical space of the social collective subsumed the potentials for dissonance prior to their actualization were far more frequent than afterwards, ... this will have to be mere hearsay since no records are left behind. The source of the beautiful empathic conflict subsumation that sustains community harmony is 'simultaneous mutual influence' and cannot be reduced to causal contributions. Besides, when this subsumative sustaining of collective harmony occurs, there is no conflict, no stoppage, no inquiry, no accused, no victim, no perpetrator, no punishment, ... and no witness testimonies! That's the whole point, ... to behave as a collective in such a manner as to avoid all that stuff.
I imagined myself going before a judge in a court of law and saying; 'This really did used to happen all that time, but by its nature, your honour, there is no evidence for it because I am really talking about something that never happened, thank goodness, ... and neither can we identify who or what caused it since there was no tangible effect, that's the whole point, and if there's no effect, why look for a causal agent? The community dynamic was being rewritten on the fly so that notes played by individuals which would otherwise have been sour and out of step were kept in tune and fully in the swing of things.
I can visualize my dialogue with the court going very badly, with the judge saying;
"You say you are talking about things in the past that never happened, for which you yourself concede there is no evidence or witness testimony. Then you are talking about 'nothing'. And you are making accusations that 'nothing' is on the decline due to post 9/11 legislation and political initiatives such as the 'war on terrorism'. This is an insane waste of the court's time; case dismissed!"
and with me responding, as they drag me from the court;
"But wait, your honour, I was going to introduce as evidence 'The Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell, where she says;
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone ..."
But Chuang Tzu had more than a sense of humour and a Buddha smile, ... he was, as I am, 'thankful for nothing', thankful for the dissonance and conflict that never happened because 'we', the collective, have the co-ability to keep rewriting the script/music/choreography on-the-fly to keep 'us all' looking good.
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