The Choice

Montreal, September 9, 1999

Zeus: Emile, .... what do you make out of Heraclitus' remark; "Things taken together are wholes and not wholes, something which is being brought together and brought apart, which is in tune and out of tune; out of all things there comes a unity, and out of a unity all things."

Emile: Are you referring to its resemblance to quantum mechanics?

Zeus: Yes, and particularly to Richard Feynman's more general re-statement of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: .. "that one cannot design equipment in any way to determine which of two alternatives is taken, without, at the same time destroying the pattern of interference."

Emile: That's easy, ... Heraclitus was a natural born pool player and Feynman was not.

Zeus: What? ... what are you talking about?

Emile: Heraclitus is always saying that there is an inclusionary duality in nature which presents itself differently to us, ... that there is a 'simultaneous unity and plurality' in nature, ... something which every good pool player is aware of.

Zeus: Don't play games with me, Emile, ... tell me what you mean.

Emile: When you play pool, you must contend with both the 'shape' of the configuration, or 'whole', wherein things are brought together and brought apart in a harmonious or discordant way, ... and you must contend also with the mechanical dynamics of the plurality of balls which make up that whole. These 'are' and 'are not' the same thing.

Zeus: What do you mean they're not the same thing? ... the pattern of the whole is 'caused' by the mechanical dynamics of balls striking one another.

Emile: And if you move a ball and it does not hit another ball, ... what then?

Zeus: I see what you mean, ... the pattern of the whole is changed without there being any mechanical interplay between the elements of the plurality, ... the change is coming from the 'reciprocal disposition' effects, ... the geometry which relates each ball to the whole. ... but I still don't get your point about Heraclitus being the natural born pool player, and Feynman not.

Emile: Good pool players recognize two different modes of perception and good physicists only one. In pool, the sequential mechanical dynamics of the game, ... the preoccupation of the physicist, ... where you measure movements and interactions over elapsed time from one system state to another, ... is just one of two ways of looking at things, ... and the lesser of the two, to boot. The other way is to look at resonances within the space-time continuum, ... and this does not concern elapsed time, ... an abstract notion which depends upon the defining of 'beginning' and 'end' states, ... states which can never be specified in a resonant realm where the container is perpetually pregnant and invisibly poised to bypass your 'beginning' specification and give birth in the middle of your interval.

Zeus: Are you referring to the fact that the instant a ball changes position, the reciprocal disposition for each ball relative to the whole is simultaneously changed and new patterns are born out of old?

Emile: Yes, ... 'in the moment', there are patterns of reciprocal disposition which open balls up to movement or close them down. If we think of this in terms of flow, ... that is in terms of a flowing space-time continuum, ... if we put the ball configurations into a time-lapse movie, ... the open patterns of reciprocal disposition show up as zones of resonance or 'stationary configurations' which open up passage ways to the free movement of the constituents. This is the same throughout nature where the orbits in a planetary system or in an atom can be seen in terms of resonant zones which are a function of the 'containing' ensemble rather than being derivable from the behaviors of the constituents.

Zeus: Wait a minute, ... are you saying that the containing ensemble has properties which go beyond the sum of the properties of the parts?

Emile: Your words, Zeus, define a 'complex system', which so happens to be the general case in nature., .... so yes, .. that is precisely what I am saying, ... and I shall go farther and say that this 'emergent behavior' represented by resonant shapes in the container, ... induces 'coevolution' between the container and the elements in the plurality.

Zeus: This sounds like 'getting something for nothing', ... we put a bunch of things together and properties emerge which the parts can coevolve with and voila, ... we have the evolutionary force rising up out of nowhere, ... pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.

Emile: 'Self-referentiality' is a mysterious aspect of nature, ... we see it everywhere, ... in the evolution of fetus to infant, ... in plate tectonics, in the solar system,.... a kind of dynamic harmony of 'whole and part'. It is clearly more fundamental that a 'thing', ... a 'thing' is our own abstract invention, ... nature never divided itself up into things for us, ... and said, .. here you are, ... here's my 'parts' inventory.

Zeus: I see what you mean, ... as Heraclitus also said; "Upon those that step into the same rivers different and different waters flow . . . They scatter and . . . gather . . . come together and flow away . . . approach and depart." The direct character of nature seems to be evolutionary flow, and the notion of taking snapshots in time which give the impression of fixed and stable things, is a man-made abstraction ... it requires stopping the clock, ... an unnatural notion.

Emile: ... and an abstraction which we come to confuse with the properties of nature itself, and build an entire body of theory upon. But let's get back to the game of pool and we shall get a better look at this. If we compare pool to nature, ... then we could regard the most fundamental aspect of the game as being the continual flow of it, .... and regard the SEQUENCE of plays as being secondary, ... as being the artifact of where we stopped to take photographs. In other words, we could see the nature-pool game, firstly in terms of a space-time continuum, ... and only secondarily in terms of mechanical-causal sequences.

Zeus: I'll go along with you on this way of looking at it, ... as a kind of discretized view of natural flow dynamics, ... but let's not forget that we really do make the game happen in this causal sequenced manner.

Emile: Your use of the word 'really' would appear to presupposes some things, ... like tangible reality, right?

Zeus: Right.

Emile: So what you are telling me is that what you call 'real' depends, for definition, on the notion of fixed solid things rather than intangible flow patterns,... such a definition depending on itself is a tautology, ... right? And the fact that you choose this tangible reality as your base case does not mean that it is given as an absolute in nature, ... if we want to discover what reality is all about, ... we can hardly pre-define it and expect to be in honest exploration and discovery mode. The association of 'reality' with tangibility is simply an attitudinal choice by yourself. I'm sure you realize that other cultures have not made the same choice, ... the Australian aboriginals believe that they must continually 'sing' the tangible reality into existence, ... that the Indefinite or 'consciousness' is the primary reality while material reality is a secondary abstraction. When they die, they speak of 'going back', believing like Heraclitus, that; "Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living the other's death, dead in the other's life."

Zeus: I see what you're saying, ... and I recall Heraclitus' argument that those opposites which succeed, and are succeeded by, each other and nothing else, ... are essentially connected (pregnant with each other) are 'the same', ... as in night and day, and the billiard ball and its 'reciprocal disposition', ... its associated container-based 'shape' which it 'fills up', just as the day fills in the black hole of night. ... Nevertheless, one has to put a stake in the ground somewhere.

Emile: Precisely, ... and over history, we have used both choices of where to put that stake, ... by starting either with a base assumption of flow, ... a 'simultaneous unity and plurality' where the shape of the containing configuration and its resonances are most fundamental, ... the choice of Heraclitus, ... and by starting with a base assumption of 'things', ....a 'sequential unity and plurality' where the properties and behaviors of the elements of the plurality or 'parts' are most fundamental, ... the choice of Aristotle.

Zeus: I see where you're going, ... the flow assumption carries with it the notion of container-based resonant zones or 'shape' as well as accommodating the notion of things and mechanical cause, ... as in the good player's perception of the game of pool, ... but the 'thing' assumption drops out all the space-time phase information associated with resonant zones and 'shape'.

Emile: In other words, the sequential view sees the game as a series of mechanical-dynamical encounters between the individual element and the collective ensemble while the simultaneous view sees the game as a cooperative effort to open up resonant channels allowing each and every individual to move towards its purpose.

Zeus: Wow, ... that's a major difference in outlook, ... stemming from one miniscule assumption, ... of whether to build a view of reality on the basis of 'things' or 'container'. How on earth did we in the west get to go so far down the path of the less complete 'sequential' assumption?

Emile: Language.

Zeus: ... pardon me?

Emile: The phonetic languages are 'thing' based, ... so that in so far as language is used to build thought, ... it is going to build it upwards from the notion of 'things' and their mechanical dynamics. An understanding of motion within a resonant containing field is what we call 'experience' and it is implicit and cannot be directly expressed in a 'thing-based' language. So experience and language-based knowledge co-evolve in this same container-content geometry, ... as Vygotsky pointed out. And you remember what H.P. Stapp was also affirming;

"...we must simply accept the deliverances of consciousness as the place to start in consciousness studies. This contention is in accord with the quantum view in that our experiences are the basic realities. But in accepting this idea we do not have to start from scratch in order to tie our experiences into the vast pool of knowledge derived from the physical sciences: this connection is exactly what is provided by quantum theory. That was precisely the key move of Bohr and Heisenberg et. al., namely to recognize that science was actually about our knowledge, which is imbedded in our experience, and hence that the correct way to formulate physical theory was as a useful tool for making predictions about our experiences.This quantum viewpoint should satisfy the defender's of the idea that experiences are realities that must be dealt with up front as real`observables', for in this view experiences are the basic realities of the ontology, the epistomology, and the physical theory."

Zeus: And our 'experience' equates to this implicit view of, or engagement with, container-based co-resonances?

Emile: This is certainly what the pool player is thinking about, ... how can me and my friends nudge each other around around so that, in spite of our unique situations and our unique pathways to purpose, ... we can all move towards the fulfillment of our aspirations.

Zeus: But the poor pool player will focus only the causal mechanics of the situation one 'event' at a time, ... oblivious to the reciprocal dispositions effects which determine the shape of the resonant channels. He will put his 'knowledge' of 'what must be done' into a primacy over his evolving 'experience'..

Emile: That about sums it up, Zeus. The aboriginal, like the good pool player, chooses in favor of the simultaneous cultivation of resonant channels, ... 'whole-and-part harmonies', experience-over-knowledge,... so that all constituents of the ensemble can get to where they need to go, whereas the western whiteman, like the poor pool player, chooses in favor of the sequential optimization of individual mechanical dynamics relative to individual purpose, which amounts to a total 'free-for-all', and doesn't match with our observations of nature and evolution at all.

Zeus: But Emile, ... that white man's model sounds very much like the 'survival of the fittest' model which came out of Darwin's 'Origin of the Species'.

Emile: The notion of 'survival of the fittest' does not yet specify what is evolving, ... the unit of evolution, as they say. Some say the gene, ... some say the individual (species) and some the family, and some say that behaviors rather than physiology counts. Others maintain that all of these hold true at the same time and this cannot then establish 'cause'. But the mistake most people make, in this 'survival of the fittest' notion, is to assume that the 'individual' is the unit of evolution, ... but remember what Darwin said, in his chapter on the evolution of instinct, about difficulties therein; "This difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or, as I believe, disappears, when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, .and may thus gain the desired end".

Zeus: It does seem more than a mite incestuous to start building theory on top of our own categorizations within the theory, ... using theory-laden data as they say, and then fitting the theory to the data. It seems that starting from a designation of 'things' seen as detached absolute objects, ... which we know is not precisely the case, ... gives us headaches in a lot of places. And the 'survival of the fittest' would seem to lead towards less rather than more diversity doesn't seem to jibe with observation either.

Emile: .. Thus it would be far simpler to visualize evolution as the good pool player does, ... as being a property of the container, rather than its constituents, .... this would avoid having to build theory on top of inexact abstractions of our making such as 'gene',

'organism' or 'family'.

Zeus: ... Zounds! ... Emile, what you're suggesting is that 'things' are no more, no less than resonant channel backfill! If dropping the earth from center billing to 'a wanderer amongst the stars', as Kepler put it, ... was a blow to anthropocentric pride, ... what you're suggesting will demolish it!

Emile: What you're speaking of, Zeus, is an 'anthropocentric' viewpoint which only exists by virtue of imagining 'things' to be the most basic entity in our reality. When we see ourselves as detached 'things in their own right', ... then where else can we put our sense of self-worth? Aboriginals, on the other hand, see themselves as part of the whole, ... thus they don't have this anthropocentric problem which comes from the 'thing first' assumption. They feel that they ARE the container, ... they ARE resonant channel channel backfill, and this is good, because then one inherits the whole world and all its creatures as one's brothers.

Zeus: ... phewww, ... thanks for bringing that up, ... I was feeling my self-esteem rapidly dissolving into nothingness! .... Well, I must say, Emile, ... this is all beginning to add up, since modern physics has been saying that 'things' are secondary to the 'field' and even Michael Faraday said it, ... remember what Michael Gorman said in his book on discovery, ... Kepler would never have bought into Newton's making gravity a property of 'things', and when the same idea started to be applied to electricity, ... since attraction and repulsion also followed an inverse square law, Faraday went against the popular view and came out on the side of the 'container';

"This viewpoint [attraction being a property of matter] had its critics, among them Michael Faraday, who rejected both the primacy of matter and the notion that electricity operated 'at a distance'. The examples of Faraday's problem-solving processes described in this section are distilled from detailed, fine-grained cognitive studies by Tweney (Tweney, 1989a) and Gooding (Gooding, 1990a). "For him [Faraday], fields of force were the primary reality, and 'matter' a secondary or derived phenomenon. To understand his creative life, then, we must acknowledge his position as a revolutionary, as someone who demonstrates the practicality of a world view completely different from the prevailing one, and who does this, not by metaphysical argument, but by a series of compelling experimental demonstrations of such conceptual force that they could not be ignored" (Tweney, 1989a, pp. 94-5).

On August 29, 1831, Faraday found that a transient current was generated in one coil of wire wound around an iron ring when a battery was connected to, or disconnected from, a second coil wound around the same ring. This experiment did not appear 'out of the blue'. Faraday was engaged in a variety of experiments directed at transient effects. Faraday's electromagnetic experiments were part of a larger 'network of enterprises', a term coined by Howard Gruber (Gruber, 1981) to explain the way in which Darwin's diverse research interests connected, and also the motivations for his work. Darwin's work on topics like barnacles and pigeon breeding facilitated the development of his theory of evolution. Similarly, Faraday's efforts to take a variety of transient effects and make them visible were all part of his network of enterprises.

.... James Clerk Maxwell referred to Faraday as a "mathematician of a very high order" (Gooding, 1994, p. 4), even though Faraday rarely used equations. But Faraday did use what he called a 'rough geometrical method', a kind of mental modeling. . . . As Maxwell noted, Faraday provided "a method of building up an exact mental image of the thing we are reasoning about" (Gooding, 1994, p. 21). Kepler provided us with an example of a scientist who translated the results of his own mental modeling into equations. In Faraday's case, the equations were developed by James Clerk Maxwell, whose mathematical discovery played a critical role in the development of Einstein's theory of special relativity. "

Emile: Yes, that view which Gorman gives us of Kepler, Faraday and Einstein, of 'mental modellers' who consciousness came first and whose equations were the precipitates of their mental meanderings is a self-similar geometry to what they were actually advocating, ... that the 'container' is in the primacy and the explicit 'matter' is the precipitate of the container. As Thomas Kuhn noted in the 'Copernican Revolution', however, such basic notions as 'the material comes first' become deeply woven into the fabric of society, .. and do not give themselves up easily.

Zeus: And once again we seem to come back to Max Planck's suggestion that; "A new scientific truth does not win acceptance by converting it's opponents and making them suddenly 'see the light'. But rather the opponents eventually just die off, and a whole new generation grows up that is simply familiar with it."

Emile: Yes, what's required in flipping from the primacy of 'things' to 'container' is not just a 'change' but being reborn into a new and larger story where the old story of 'things' is now just a subsidiary part within the new story. It's hard to garner the needed 'traction' for making that kind of self-swallowing leap, particularly when one is pretty darned proud of one's current story.

Zeus: It seems you hit the nail on the head with this issue of pride. It is one thing to be proud of one's experience, which is co-evolutionary with one's environment and extends indefinitely back through one's ancestry, but it is quite another to be proud of one's knowledge of things, which is self-contained and doesn't speak to the essential role of shared or 'coevolutionary' experience. To be proud of what one knows is to suspend one's learning, ... suspend one's evolution and understanding.

Emile: Yes, the 'good pool player' must use his 'relational intelligence' to develop an understanding of his container in terms of himself as being 'co-resonant channel backfill'. As Heraclitus said; "Learning of many things does not teach intelligence; if so it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagorus, and again Xenophanes and Hecataeus." But what we see in our western culture is that while children explore their co-resonance with their container, ... they are quickly taught to abandon this experiential mode and to recouch their behaviors and beliefs according to the current selection of knowledge in their culture. Thus, 'father knows best', as they say, ... which could be a useful springboard for youth is applied in the form of guiding counsel, but if imposed so that it puts a lid on learning, ... it is a recipe for stagnation rather than evolution.

Zeus: This inverted valuing of knowledge over experience in our society seems to be at an all time high. Corporations are seeking to 'capture knowledge' from employees and putting it into repositories so that they no longer have to pay for those expensive 'experiential containers' otherwise known as 'people'.

Emile: Yes, they chew up the experiential container to get the precipitate out and then spit out the broken container, ... a kind of 'kill the goose who laid the golden egg' cultural practice. But that's not the end of it, ... there's a lot of Hesiod's on the loose who can't see the relationship between night and day, and not only are they not tuning in to nature's ethic of co-evolving resonant channels for all, ... they are riding roughshod over the fledgling resonances which try to form.

Zeus: Yes, where some people would use plans as rough guidelines to mark the presence of resonant space-time channels and hold their 'tuning in' to coresonances in the primacy, ... their relational intelligence in the primacy, ... others would regard the knowledge put into plans as absolute, ... turning off their relational intelligence, and marching forward like clockworks, ... thinking they are overpowering all resistant natural resonances, ... but instead, so roughly rattling the web of life they are strands in, that their own spitting onto their webbed container comes back and hits them in the eye. And all of this, because of a simple, historical choice as to which comes first, ... 'contents' or 'container'.

Emile: To be sure, ... and with the choice of 'things' over 'container', the child would deny the precedence of his own mother and attempt to best her, ... an Oedipal choice.

Zeus: This seems not to bode well for us, Emile, ... as I recall, ... in Greek mythology, at least in Homer's version, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, killed his father and married his mother without knowing either of them were his parents. When the truth of their relationship came to light, the mother hanged herself. .... The self-destruction of our container is the trend that we are trying to pull out of. But I know there are other versions as well, and the Oedipus story as recounted in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Coloneus differed from Homer's account in emphasis and detail. One of the most significant differences was that, in Sophocles's version, when the truth becomes known, Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile, haunted by an overwhelming sense of unredeemed guilt. What can this mean with respect to our future?

Emile: Zeus, we are back once again to this practice of projecting what will happen in the 'new story' on the basis of the premises of the old, which are not 'big enough' to comprehend what might happen in the new story. Have you forgotten our essay "The Profane Parent-Child Geometry of Western Scientific Culture?" where we examined the Oedipus myth through the eyes of an eastern culture which puts yin-container over yang-contents? Dr. Youqin Wang, a Stanford researcher, had alot to say about this topic in his essay, 'Oedipus Lex: Some Thoughts on Swear Words and the Incest Taboo in China and the West', ... his essay is an insightful examination of how 'cultural lessons' are transported differently via language and philosophical assumptions, in eastern versus western cultures.

Dr Wang pointed out that the Chinese literature, by contrast to the west, is filled with stories about filial love, which is kind of a reciprocal teaching/learning device to the Oedipus Rex myth; ... as Wang says; "The message of the story of Oedipus is a negative injunction: Do not do what Oedipus did! Do not commit parricide or incest! The message of these Chinese stories, on the other hand, is a positive one: Follow the examples of the filial sons! Be a filial son to your parents!" ... "The positive exemplar, when effective, inspires its audience, thus controlling primitive desires. Similarly, the negative example serves as a warning, thus repressing these impulses. "

... the point which Wang is making here, is that the Chinese story-lesson, ... like the aboriginals, ... is oriented to positive purpose, ... while the Western Oedipal imagery is kind of a shadowy, problem-oriented, causal threat; i.e. while the eastern message of pursuing the purpose of filial love induces an inclusionary harmonic pull, ... the western 'threat' raises the negative imagery that incest can cause cultural cancer and be otherwise hazardous to the health. This western 'causal' view ties back to the notion of a world of detached 'things' which one can either endeavor to possess, ... or to exclude. If one sees the geometry of the world, ... on the other hand, ... in terms of an 'inclusionary' container, it makes no sense to seek to 'exclude' or to 'possess', ... since it's all there together, in a container-content nesting geometry, ... and the challenge is then a relational one, ... to bring out the relational harmonies which bring constituents into coresonance with container.

Zeus: You have indeed jogged my memory, ... of the very different view of the Oedipal in the container-over-content cultures, ... and also the important role of language in sustaining the different geometries. As Dr. Wang also observed;

"The common Chinese obscenity ta me de which means "(fuck) his mother," is so popular and distinctive that the renowned writer Lu Xun once jokingly claimed that, just as the peony was his country's "national flower," ta ma de should be considered the "national swear word" of China." ... "Because of the important practical and symbolic roles mothers play in all societies, it should not surprise us that Chinese and Western cultures alike provide examples of common expressions that can be used to denigrate a son by insulting his mother. However, the above Chinese and English language illustrations of this type of swearing exhibit an interesting difference in emphasis. The object of the sexual assault in both cases is indeed the mother of the accused. Yet the one having sex with the female parent in the term motherfucker is often assumed to be the person being insulted; while the perpetrator of the assault in the Chinese case of ta ma de could very easily be taken to be the person delivering the insult, and is quite definitely not supposed to be the son himself. In other words, the American obscenity suggests or at least raises the possibility of incest, even though motherfucker is not usually interpreted literally. In contrast, the "equivalent" Chinese vulgarity has nothing to do with the mother-son incest taboo, and hence is not associated with any kind of family romance or Oedipal idea. " ... "It is reasonable to suggest, however, that the small special differences one can observe on the surfaces of a pair of languages, like the tips of icebergs, may indicate more profound differences operating in the depths of the two respective cultures. "

Emile: An important point, ... and one which illustrates just how intricate is the weave of basic notions of space-time into the linings of our cultural fabric.

Zeus: Emile, ... this story of inversion of the natural arrangment of container-over-content, when reconciled with historical and present fact, makes much sense, ... that our western culture, like a poor pool player, put 'things' first and thus restricted the view of reality to the mechanical- causal dynamics of things. Meanwhile, as we know from modern science, ... from relativity and quantum physics, ... the properties of the curved space-time container are more comprehensive than can be deduced from the behaviors of its constituents, ... as the good pool player is well aware. Thus, while the mechanical-causal actions of things are useful as a guide, ... one cannot shut off one's sensitivity to the co-resonances which are set up between the container and its parts. And similarly with experience and knowledge, ... for if we were to act out of knowledge first and experience second, ... how would we evolve our story, ... at the end of the day, we would discover, as John Lennon suggests, that; "Life is something that happens to us while we're busy making other plans." What's to be done here Emile, ... we seem to be have been digging ourselves in upside-down for the past three millenia, ...

Emile: Well Zeus, ... what comes to mind is what Tonto said to the Lone Ranger in that famous scene when they're fighting against an overwhelming force of hostile indians, and the Lone Ranger speaks first, saying; 'We'll never get out of this one alive, Tonto' ... and Tonto says, .. 'what you mean 'we', white man'.

Zeus; Very funny, but it so happens that whatever or whoever caused it, we're all in this thing together, ... and we need a strong plan to get us out of the hole.

Emile: There you go with those words 'cause' and 'plan' again, ... the last things we should be thinking of. I don't know about you, ... but I'm not about to be snookered by the abstractions of my own mind, ... I'm headed over to Bar des Pins to have a few longnecks with some of my fellow channel backfillers and work on my game of pool.

Zeus: A good choice Emile, ... which co-resonates with me too, .... Howzabout us channelling over there together.

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