Story-Time Blues

Montreal, December 7, 1998

As he lowered his head and stepped out of the cramped cabin, Emile was struck by the full force of the tropical heat and humidity, as well as by the fumes from the hot prop engines of the eight passenger plane which had just brought him down from the cool blue heights above. He paused briefly before stepping down the rickety gangway, surveying the thick dark jungle enveloping this slender slit of beige which had attracted his buzzing transport like an open wound attracts a fly. The jungle always awakened shadowy feelings in Emile which sometimes fed upon themselves to the point of disorienting him, ... but not this time. He quickly put his mind back in gear, and in a matter of minutes had collected his backpack and was headed along the familiar dirt trail for the village.

On a densely forested part of the trail, roughly midway between the airstrip and the village, a tribeswoman with a strange and distant look in her eye emerged from nowhere, presumably entering the main trail from a concealed tributary, and came towards him. She was carrying a farm and all her things on her head and when Emile asked her where she was going, she replied that she had just heard news that she had never heard before, ... she said that she had heard the news that a villager had cut off his head and had it in his mouth eating it.

Emile, nonplussed and for an instant a bit 'spooked' by the strange sight and story, smiled to himself and continued on towards the village. At the point where the trail emerged into the farmed clearing which surrounded the village, he saw a skull in the middle of the trail which looked somehow animated, in the manner of one those holographic images in Disneyworld, as if a snake or something alive had crawled in and was hiding inside of it. Nervously Emile blurted out loud; "What is this? How did you get here? To his astonishment, a voice seeming to come directly from the skull replied; 'Talking brought me here'.

Emile could no longer 'put it all together' and wondered whether he had had one too many beers on the long flight, or whether he had entered into the web of some kind of ju-ju activity. He shook his head like a dog shaking the water from his pelt after a swim, took a deep breath and continued on into the village, making a beeline for the familiar rusting 'coca cola' sign, the only designator of the fact that the particular shack that it was nailed to was the village's one and only store. Emile went inside, orienting himself by the whites of the proprietors eyes which were presumably domiciled within an ebony body, though its limits were no longer discernible in the faint illumination of late afternoon sunlight which managed to creep into the dark interior of the windowless structure through several small cracks in the walls Emile bought himself a quart of 'Tusker' beer and shared what he had seen and heard on the trail, with the usual crowd of locals who habitually hung about the store, sitting on the rusted folding chairs and rotting picnic table which stood in front of it, just as they had so many years ago when Emile was last there.

Though he heard no 'talking drums', it was no more than a minute or two after giving an account of what he had seen, that Emile was visited by the local Chief, who anxiously interrogated him about his experience. And as soon as Emile had 'killed his Tusker', he, the Chief with his ever-faithful bodyguard, and a small band of rather frightened adventure-seekers went back out on the trail, in search of the speaking skull. They soon found it, and Emile again asked the skull 'how did you get here?', ... but this time the skull said nothing, and the Chief, feeling he had been made a fool of, ... that Emile had 'set him up' in front of his people, motioned with his rather evil looking eyes to his 'bodyguard' whose machete whooshed through the air, severing Emile's head cleanly from his body and sending it bouncing along the dirt trail like a fallen coconut, .... where it came to rest upright, standing like a sentry over the pool of blood which spurted and spilled out of never- before-seen-arteries in its fleshy pink neck-trunk in a last ditch attempt to deliver oxygen to its now terminated client.

When the Chief and the now terrorized curiousity seekers had left, the skull asked Emile's head, 'how is this?' ... 'how did you get here?', and Emile's head responded 'Talking brought me here'. .... the skull responded, 'I told you to keep your mouth shut.'

. . .

So what were you, the reader thinking as you read the above? .... that Emile was in a dream? ... that the Emile who was writing this email note to you had 'lost it?'

The above story is a variation on the 'talking skull' African story-telling theme which, as Roger Abrahams ('African Folktales') points out, is a 'story about story-telling'. Meanwhile, the mainstay of the impact of this type of story is in the 'spoken word', rather than the written word. The power of story in tribal Africa and in other aboriginal cultures, was not just about sharing explicit knowledge on the objective matters of life, it was also, and perhaps moreso, about 'creating bonds and bringing about personal and social transformation'.

As Abrahams notes, we in the modern (western) world, tend to discount what is going on in the 'geometry' of the folk story or myth; i.e. in story which is 'neither a record of reality, nor pure fantasy' but which captures 'stories that happened at the beginning of time.' Instead, "We tend to think of folktales as the purest of fiction, so self-contained and logical in development that they are lit from within and need no explanation."

But such stories, by means of their subject-object dependent 'geometry', allow one to share 'experience' and not just objective knowledge. "This is the way of the small community worldwide, for the well-being of the group resides in the sharing of this kind of knowledge [ i.e. experiential or 'ontogenetic' knowledge], through which family and friendship networks are woven into the web of community."

As we approach Y2K, it is apparent that what we have been doing of late, rather than 'weaving webs', is to implement ever-larger mechanical structures which extend and mechanicalize things from the micro to the macro and from the local to the global. What this exclusionary emphasis on mechanical structure amounts to, as has been pointed out by psychiatrists such as Ronald Laing, is a 'denial of experience'.

How does this happen? ... how do we 'deny experience'? .... even as we intensify our efforts at knowledge-sharing.

That's what this story-email, as was the 'talking skull' story, is all about, and both tend to run against the grain of our modern preference for stories which are 'self-contained and logical in development [so that] they are lit from within and need no explanation'. So this explanatory remark set the stage explicitly for this explicit-and-implicit 'inquiry' in the context of the space-time geometry of knowledge and experience.

The mythic dimensions of a story, come from the juxtaposing of reality and fantasy in such a way that the listener (or reader) must 'bring a multitude of real or imaginary experiences into connection in his mind'. Now the multiple simultaneous perceptual aspect here is very important and I would suggest to you that it departs from our western cultural affinity for putting things into a form where one only has to deal with two things at one time; ... 'subject' and 'object'. The western way is to build up knowledge and understanding from constructs based on this 'binary' or 'two dimensional' way of looking at the world. This is the point that books such as 'Flatland' seek to make, and they must use 'satire' or some other trickster device, other than direct technique, to communicate on this dimensionality point, because the medium of language that we are using, .... this subject and object splitting medium, ... is only capable of 'two dimensional' concepts when used in its fully explanatory 'self-contained' or 'lit from within' mode. And you can't very well discuss the pro's and con's of two dimensions versus three dimensions in a medium which is only capable of two dimensions.

We're not only talking about language here, we're talking about 'modes of perception and inquiry' and we're talking about the difference between 'rules' (two dimensional explicit rules) and 'principles' (multi-dimensional implicit principles).

When and as your mind tries to 'make sense' of the 'talking head' story, it is not working in rational (two dimensional) mode, but in multidimensional mode. What it is trying to do, in fact, is to bring into connection in the mind, more than two things which are in motion, and this goes beyond the capability of mathematical physics and rationality.

How so, you say? ....

This is the famous and fundamental 'three body problem'. When Newton struggled to put the principles (i.e. 'rules') of nature into mathematical form, he realized that one could only handle two objects at a time in this manner. Note the phrase 'at a time' because it is crucially important. In fact, what Newton actually said [1] is given in historical accounts such as the following; "[Newton] looked briefly (in Propositions 65 and 66 in the 'principia') at the problem of three bodies. However [he] later said that an exact solution for three bodies "exceeds, if I am not mistaken, the force of any human mind.""

What Newton intended here was that an exact solution for three bodies "exceeds, ... the force of any human ratiocinative faculty", a mode of intellection which is inherently based on conceptualizing reality in terms of (a) a euclidian spatial ensemble of 'things', whose reciprocal disposition (intervening space) is inert and void, and (b) by an arbitrary and independent 'linear' time dimension

What we are forced to use (what we unthinkingly turn to using) when confronted with a three body dynamical problem, is our intuition. Intuitive intellection is a top-down bringing into connection in our minds of the three or more things in motion, which is inherently based on conceptualizing reality in terms of a non-euclidian space-time flow of geometrical-physical patterns of things ALONG WITH their reciprocal disposition (intervening space configurations). This is a mode of perception wherein 'space' is seen as a full participant in real phenomena.

So Newton's statement on the three body problem, which associates the human mind with 'ratiocinative intellection', is 'incomplete' and Einstein has completed it, by saying " ...the human faculty of visualization is by no means bound to capitulate to non-Euclidian geometry'. Thus implying that the three body problem, while it is a problem for the rational mind and for mathematical physics (rule-making), is not a problem for the intuitive mind. Every time we 'tune' to harmony, whether it is in terms of musical chords or in the graceful movement of the limbs of a dancer, we are mastering problems which are well beyond the capabilities of ratiocinative intellection and mathematical physics.

The only way in which the three body problem could be avoided; i.e. could be kept from nullifying the cartesian dream of analytically solving all manner of problem, was seized upon by Newton, and this was by the device of 'freezing time'.(i.e. by the device of calculus of 'fluxions' aka 'time derivatives'). If one could stop time, and consider the instantaneous position and momentum of the ensemble of things one was interested in, then one could work things out mathematically and rationally. Underlying this device, however, is the assumption that the observations in frozen time are exact (but they cannot be according to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) and that space is Euclidian (i.e. that space is exclusionarily occupied by either 'things' OR by void) and that time is independent of space (i.e. that 'things' exist in their own right as 'dinge an sich') out of the context of 'time'.

While we take it for granted, we make the same assumptions in language via the notion that the subject is a tangible thing and is independent of the object. And for this same reason, language is incapable of dealing directly with more than two bodies simultaneously. That is, the combination of a single subject-and-object pair constitutes an 'issue' and our language is capable of addressing only one issue at a time. In terms of knowledge and stories which are 'lit from within' or explain themselves in a 'stand-alone' manner, then, these must be built, from the bottom-up, by construction which involves the sum of numerous issues taken one-at-a-time. (note the appearance of the 'at a time' constraint again).

There is a philosophical problem here which has been pointed out by Wittgenstein [3]. in that this method of building things up from single issue discussion does not give us the 'synoptic' view; i.e. it does not give us the three dimensional view of landscape and environmental container. Instead it gives us only a kind of route map connecting all of the frozen-in-time subject and object views which, though they may be re-animated in linear time, do not speak to the issue of 'reciprocal disposition' and three dimensional environmental container.

There is clearly a unity to be found in nature which transcends this type of linear, two body-at-a-time structure, and this unity is manifest in the form of three-or-more body co-resonant dynamics (harmony) which can neither be described in terms of the equations of mathematical physics (e.g. the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica of Newton), or in the direct stand-alone terms of language. In other words, there is a unity in nature which transcends fixed, exclusionary logic-based generalized explicit 'rule structures'. Instead of 'rules' which describe specific subject/object context, to share our understanding of the higher dimensional, co-resonant unities in our reality, we must move up to 'geometrical principles', or 'geometrical-physical theories' as Einstein refers to them.

The sharing of higher dimensional co-resonant order is facilitated by the type of story-telling which 'uses the listener', inducing him to 'bring things into connection in his mind', ... inducing him to use his feelings and experience to determine whether he is intuiting the appropriate ordering principle or appropriate 'geometric-physical theory' which accounts for whatever is happening not only in the literal and explicit story-context foreground but also what is happening geometrically in 'reciprocal disposition space'. For example, in the Emile-talking-head story, is Emile dreaming, is the author nuts?, ... is the story alluding to something about 'my' (the reader's) life, or what? This is an 'experience sharing' story or a 'tacit knowledge sharing' story which induces the reader to come inside and be a feeling participant in the story so that rather than 'rationally understanding' the message, he 'experiences' the message and takes it back out with him. The 'experience sharing' story thus has a very different geometry from a 'knowledge sharing' story or 'explicit knowledge sharing' story.

The 'reciprocal disposition' space-time geometry associated with the explicit foreground story context includes the 'implicit' messaging which is often referred to as 'subtext', 'author intent' etc. and extends on beyond the personal to the community intent, ... the cultural intent, and the anthropic intent.

This 'implicit', 'reciprocal disposition' space has the geometry of inclusionary spheres within spheres, as in the solar system and the inclusionary ring geometry observable on the severed trunk of a tree. This inclusionary volumetric geometry cannot be handled 'explicitly' by 'rules' or by linguistic 'explanation' because it involves encoding based upon three or more simultaneous 'bodies in motion' or 'substories' (it draws on multiple geologic layers at the same time, as Vygotsky says). This is the nature of 'experience' and 'implicit memory' in that it is 'visualization' which brings together perception of the present interwoven with perception of multiple substories from the past, and the rich 'weave' or 'web' is what constitutes 'experience'. An explicit treatment, such as stand-alone explanation constitutes a 'story-medium' which is 'lit from within', is innately two dimensional and not sufficiently comprehensive to act as a vehicle for the conveyancing of multi-dimensional experience.

The past, present and future are NOT mutually exclusive as we tend to draw them on a two dimensional sheet of paper using 'time-lines' or historical sequences annotated by date which proceed linearly up to a point referred to as 'the present', and on the other side of which comes speculation or causal projections on the future. It is only our KNOWLEDGE of the past and present which is mutually exclusive, .... our EXPERIENCE enfolds the past and the present in an inclusionary manner, much as the sphere within sphere images of our ontogeny may be seen in the same geometry as the fertilized ovum or zygote which evolves by subsuming itself, by its 'head' eating its own 'head' and growing larger and wiser, .... its new and larger story subsuming its older smaller story without destroying it but by building out over it. In this inclusionary way of looking at things, the future is the 'containing environment' or 'yin-space' which pulls reality into existence, rather than the future being a causal structure imposing itself bottom-up style, like a cathedral undergoing bottom-up construction whose foundations are seen as history and whose rising spire, advancing and encroaching ever deeper into unwritten territory in the blue sky above, is seen as the advance of the present into the future.

Our western culture, and the current 'knowledge management' movement in business, tends to focus on two dimensional 'explicit' knowledge and to deny 'experience'. It's story-telling tends to feature stories which are 'lit from within', and which would have us 'use the story' in a 'best practice' sense rather than having the story 'use us', as Jean Houston observes in 'Of Story and Myth' ('Search for the Beloved'), i.e.;

"Resistance to Story is a great and present reality for many. The seductive lure of homeostasis, the steady hum of the even keel, urges you to 'stop the world and get off.' This resistance is supported by your culture and your tribe, which are often quick to remind you to follow the tribed and true.

A great deal of current 'positive thinking' is premised on selecting, by means of affirmation and visualization, only that aspect of your story that relates to your apparent prosperity and getting what 'you' want out of life. The problem with this is: Which one of the polyphrenic 'yous' is doing the wanting? Which 'you' is being used and which of the 'yous' is getting abused? Those denied aspects of yourself, shadow and all, are having their stories rendered impotent and unseen. Inevitably they will rise in revolt. And then, suddenly, you will have to make many desperate and mindless affirmations against shadow forces that you earlier affirmed do not exist."

So we seem to be living within a culture and era (2500 year long era) where we selectively embrace the 'explicit' and eschew the 'implicit', where our stories are for our 'use' and so become two-dimensional and commensurately reduce our dimensionality. From this explicit-only stance, we want to deny the enveloping latencies which pull us into the future, which would have us subsume ourselves, to become the life that we are reaching out for. Such denied latencies or imaginings, as Houston points out, tend to come back and demonize us in more incarnate form.

But it's not only human experience which we are denying by this obsession with the 'explicit' and its innate euclidian two-dimensionality, it's nature's experience as well.

For example, when Emile reads travel 'stories', he tends to let himself be used; i.e. he allows his mind to be driven by the story, rather than seeing the story as a smorgasbord from which he can select the tasty bits he 'wants'.

Imagine for a moment that you are Emile, reading the following excerpt from a travel 'story' about touring California by motorcycle; ...."Day 13 San Francisco - Monterrey (150 miles). Roll south along the Pacific Coast Highway, the famous Route 1, past Santa Cruz and into the coastal grandeur of the Monterrey Peninsula, whose crescent shaped bay and cypress groves have been celebrated by poets, authors and artists. In the evening, take in the Carmel shops, and the wonderful ambience of the bay, before retiring to your hotel room.

The thoughts induced in Emile's mind come from the 'reciprocal disposition' space implied by the story blurb, ... he thinks of his love-at-first-sight (when he was in his teens) for the Monterrey pine or 'pinus radiata', ... the 'misshapen' ones which stand right along the coastline and exposed to winter storms, their cylinder within cylinder ringed growth structure being sculpted by years of attempting to spread and extend their branches in such a way as to reduce the stress from gale force winds. Their uniquely specific environment-enfolded experience having been a 'soul-making' one which aesthetically overprints their structure and their graceful, multidimensional co-resonant response to wind gusts. Each tree is unique, yet overprinted by a common suite of geometric patterning and principle. There is no way to mechanically re-assemble one of these salty-dog Monterrey Pines from a list of rules or equations, ... understanding them is instead a question of high dimensional geometric principle coming from 'reciprocal disposition' which transcends explicit structural definition.

But if the tree reeks of experience, what about the forest? As Chilean poet Pablo Neruda says, "If you haven't been in a Chilean forest, you don't know this planet.", .... the implication is that the experience of the planet is encoded in the forest and one has to enter into the forest to share in that planetary experience.

Unfortunately, our culture's obsession with explicit knowledge seems to be mirrored by its obsession for the growth of material possessions. While Neruda speaks of his appreciation for the experiential aspect of nature, his fellow countryman, Chile's President Eduardo Frei has said; "We must not let the environment stand in the way of economic growth."

So what's the explicit story on the denial of experience in the domain of trees?

"Today more than half of the world's original forest cover is destroyed, the remaining is mostly degraded, and only 22 percent remains as "frontier" forests, defined by the World Resources Institute as "large intact natural forest ecosystems capable of providing a safe habitat for all of its indigenous species." Just 3 percent of the world's remaining frontier forests are in the temperate zone, and one-third of the threatened temperate frontier forests are found in Chile."

While on the explicit knowledge sharing front, we can say, and do, that ... "Every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man, and, to accord other organisms such recognition, man must be guided by a moral code of action." (World Charter for Nature, adopted by United Nations General Assembly 1982), but as McLuhan and company have said, ... the medium is the message, and our medium has become very two-dimensional. We have put the 'rational' in a primacy over the 'intuitive' and are perceiving our reality, not as a continuous web of life which connects us with nature and each other, but in an unnatural rationalist and mechanical 'flatspace' structure of global proportions.

So where are we within this little email story? .... Is it 'using you', or are you 'using it' to perhaps affirm your naturalist or materialist views? Is it successfully doing its job in the domain of explicit knowledge sharing, or is it inducing in your mind 'tacit knowledge', .... the sharing of common experience?

I suppose, if it is doing what it needs to be doing, it is doing like the man who cut off his head and was eating it, ... subsuming itself and reader so that the exclusionary and two dimensional notion of 'OR' is transcended and the story becomes a dual conduit for inducing inclusionary experiential sharing as well as explicit knowledge conveyancing.

Maybe the idea of a 'talking skull' and things and stories which consume themselves is not so stupid after all? Maybe that's what the aboriginal myth is saying, that we have to keep evolving, ... keep being reborn to ever larger stories if we are to stay away from the 'purification' branch of the approaching bifurcation spoken about in the Hopi myth, ... to continually become 'larger' than our two-dimensional judgements so that we can cooperate in a multidimensionally connective 'web of life' manner instead of competing on a binary switched win/lose basis.

Perhaps that was what Edna St. Vincent Millay was implicitly trying to get at in the following lines from 'Huntsman, What Quarry?';

Upon this age that never speaks its mind,

This furtive age, this age endowed with power

To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar

Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find

What swims before his prow, what swirls behind---

Upon this gifted age in its dark hour,

Rains from the sky a meteoric shower

Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.

Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill

Is daily spun; but there exists no loom

To weave it into fabric; undefiled

Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still

Upon this world from the collective womb

Is spewed all day the red triumphant child.

. . .

When Man is gone and only gods remain

To stride the world, their mighty bodies hung

With golden shields, and golden curls outflung

Above their childish foreheads; when the plain

Round skull of Man is lifted and again

Abandoned by the ebbing wave, among

The sand and pebbles of the beach, ---what tongue

Will tell the marvel of the human brain?

Heavy with music once this windy shell,

Heavy with knowledge of the clustered stars;

The one-time tenant of this draughty hall

Himself, in learned pamphlet, did foretell,

After some aeons of study jarred by wars,

This toothy gourd, this head emptied of all.

. . .

.... think I'll go for the talking heads, myself, .... how about you?

* * *

[1] (Excerpt from a WWW history of mathematics) "In the Principia Newton also deduced Kepler's third law. He looked briefly (in Propositions 65 and 66) at the problem of three bodies. However Newton later said that an exact solution for three bodies exceeds, if I am not mistaken, the force of any human mind.

It is important at this stage to examine the problems which now arose. Newton had completely solved the theoretical problem of the motion of two point masses under an inverse square law of attraction. For more than two point masses only approximations to the motion of the bodies could be found and this line of research led to a large effort by mathematicians to develop methods to attack this three body problem. However, the problem of the actual motion of the planets and moons in the solar system was highly complicated by other considerations.

Even if the Earth - Moon system were considered as a two body problem, theoretically solved in thePrincipia , the orbits would not be simple ellipses. Neither the Earth nor the Moon is a perfect sphere so does not behave as a point mass. This was to lead to the development of mechanics of rigid bodies, but even this would not give a completely accurate picture of the two body problem since tidal forces mean that neither the Earth nor Moon is rigid.

The observational data used by Newton in the Principia was provided by the Royal Greenwich Observatory. However modern scholars such as Richard Westfall claim that Newton sometimes adjusted his calculations to fit his theories. Certainly the observational evidence could not be used to prove the inverse square law of gravitation. Many problems relating observation to theory existed at the time of the Principia and more would arise.

[2] First of all, an observation of epistemological nature. A geometrical-physical theory as such is incapable of being directly pictured, being merely a system of concepts. But these concepts serve the purpose of bringing a multiplicity of real or imaginary sensory experiences into connection in the mind. To 'visualise' a theory, or bring it home to one's mind, therefore means to give a representation to that abundance of experiences for which the theory supplies the schematic arrangement. In the present case we have to ask ourselves how we can represent that relation of solid bodies with respect to their reciprocal disposition (contact) which corresponds to the theory of a finite universe. There is really nothing new in what I have to say about this; but innumerable questions addressed to me prove that the requirements of those who thirst for knowledge of these matters have not yet been completely satisfied. So, will the initiated please pardon me, if part of what I shall bring forward has long been known? (Albert Einstein, "Geometry and Experience", an Address to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin on January 27, 1921).

[3] Wittgenstein who claimed that his philosophical works were "struggles against the limits of language" (Ankaempfen gegen die Grenzen der Sprache') speaks to this limitation issue as follows; (excerpt from the 1995 published "Wiener Ausgabe" overview collection of his letters and thoughts);

"There is a truth in Schopenhauer's view that philosophy is an organism, and that a book on philosophy, with a beginning and an end, is a sort of contradiction [Elsewhere Wittgenstein quotes Heraclitus "everything is in flux" on this same problem of being forced to capture a complex continuing dynamic by 'parts']. One difficulty with philosophy is that we lack a synoptic view. We encounter the kind of difficulty we should have with the geography of a country for which we had no map, or else a map of isolated bits. The country we are talking about is language, and the geography its grammar. We can walk about the country quite well, but when forced to make a map, we go wrong. A map will show different roads through the same country, any one of which we can take, though not two, just as in philosophy we must take up problems one by one though in fact each problem leads to a multitude of others. We must wait until we come round to the starting point before we can proceed to another section, that is, before we can either treat of the problem we first attacked or proceed to another. In philosophy matters are not simple enough for us to say 'Let's get a rough idea', for we do not know the country except by knowing the connections between the roads. So I suggest repetition as a means of surveying the connections."

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