The Upside Down Man

Montreal, February 9, 1999

Emile was restless and couldn't sleep. Without having to get up from his pull-out couch, which extended over to his small dining table, he reached over and poured himself a glass of wine. The still uncorked bottle was from his late night dining session, and it tasted amazingly good, kind of exotic even. His mind went back to the hemp store he had bumbled into, just down the street on Avenue du Parc, .... maybe some of the magic dust had been absorbed through his pores. His fitful mind moved on to question whether hemp pajamas would bring on more colorful dreams.

Refreshed, yet still tired, he pulled the earphones of his diskman over his ears, hit the button to re-start Powwaquattsi Manifesto, and was half asleep by the time his head hit the pillow.

It seemed like only moments later when he was awakened by the shrill sound of the wind and a rattling of a loose screen on the back door. He pulled on his jeans and his jacket and went to the door. Windblown leaf fragments and swirling dust hit him in the face as he opened the door, ... when the tears from the grit in his eyes cleared, he found himself looking out upon a gray and bleak wuthering heights kind of pre-dawn. On the hill opposite, a lantern or light swinging in the wind, just below the hill-crest, caught his eye. 'What lunatic would be roaming around up there at this hour and in this weather?', he muttered to himself.

The lantern waved again and there was a sound, ... a voice perhaps, muffled by the wind, and it seemed to convey a sense of urgency. Shit!, .. it was cold out there, .. . but Emile knew he was going to have to go and investigate. He went back and put on a couple of heavy sweaters and his thickest pair of wool socks, pulled on his goat boots and opted for his sheepskin jacket this time, ... then made his way slowly over to the hill.

Some of the gusts were strong enough almost, to make him lose his balance, but Emile knew most of the trails and was staying away from the steep edges.

The light had disappeared for the moment, probably obscured by the contour of the hill, since the leafless trees and dead undergrowth could hardly have blocked it out entirely. It was pointless in trying to listen for anything with the wind blowing as strong as it was.

As he approached the crest, he felt a sharp pain in his eye which brought him quickly to his knees, cupping his hand over his stinging eye to ease the pain. He guessed that he had walked into a protruding twig on a tree branch, even though he had been taking care to avoid just such an occurrence. His other eye teared-up in sympathy and it was several minutes before he felt like opening them up again.

And when he did, .... he wished he hadn't have.

To his surprise and confusion, he was nowhere near the crest, but in a valley where the ground rose up and away from him in all directions. His heartbeat quickened from the heavy hit of this disorientation and he hurried on up the slope, anxious to get to a crest where he could spot a familiar landmark and recover his bearings, and so dispel the nausea and anxiety which were rapidly mounting in him.

As he emerged from a thick patch of undergrowth, he spotted the outside light he had left on, and without even looking back, made a beeline for it. Back at the house, a quick over-the-shoulder glance revealed no further trace of the swinging lantern, and he let out an audible sigh of relief as he went back into the warmth, passing up the wine and pouring himself a large glass of neat scotch.

With his blood flowing and his vitality having returned, he headed for the computer to try to capture his feelings from this mind-bending episode, before they had a chance to fade.

As he started to type, he realized that his thoughts were not yet out of the warp, .... the hill he had been climbing was in the Parc of Mont Royal just outside his door in Quebec, but the terrain in his real or imagined meandering was that of Boxhill, England, where he had lived nearly twenty-five years before. A lightning storm in his brain brought him the realization that the coordinates of the lantern and the muffled voice corresponded to the location of the 'upside down man', ... the fellow who, at the turn of the last century, had insisted on being buried vertically, head down and feet up, as some kind of post-humous final comment on how he perceived the state of the world.

Uncontrollably, images began to form in Emile's minds-eye, of shadowy objects, spontaneously coming together, as if in a film on psycho-kinesis, ... first one by one, ... making 'clicking' sounds as they hit an obscure or invisible target, ... then in pairs or trios and finally in a mad cascade of flying objects and clickings, like a cloud of demented roaches, mounding around an invisible magnet-like attractor. Emile stared at this strange still-life mind-picture for some moments, .... then, ..... eerily and noiselessly, words came spilling out of the mound and down his arms, ...through his fingers, and phantom glyphs began to dance across the darkening screen..

"Rationality does not lead to an understanding of how the world works; ...imagination does. Rationality is an evolved skill, a skill for building things, ... like the evolved skill of a honey bee making hexagonal cells to store his honey."

The consistencies and connections were flooding into Emile's mind now, and his fingers could barely keep sight of the fast moving front of his thoughts. Yes,..... upside down, .. his whole thinking approach had been upside down. His rationality was not for understanding complex things like 'emergence' and 'evolution', it was precisely the opposite; .... his rationality was for building thought structures which were stable, and evolution-proof. What was up was now down and what was down was now up. Society was a rational structure designed to resist the horrendous forces of spontaneous evolution or 'emergence' and technology was the weaponry of this resistance movement.

What a beautiful gift from mother nature, if one thought of man in the humble terms of a naturally evolved son of mother nature. And what a disappointment if one thought in the anthropocentric terms of a special role for man, beyond nature and beyond evolution. Clearly a glass half-empty or half-full choice for man.

Emile remembered the old adage; "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." only this time the words which came were; "In the land of relentless morphogenesis, the iconic man is king."

Emile's fingers continued to dance effortlessly along the keyboard, ... "Feynmann had formulated Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in the most general way, to say "No equipment can be designed to determine which of two alternatives is taken, without, at the same time, destroying the pattern of interference". But of course, the 'interference pattern' is the very substance of morphogenesis or 'evolution', ... while the 'determining between alternatives' is the cornerstone of 'rationality', aka reductionism, analysis, causality. While the value-sense of this formulation is in terms of a limitation, of not being able to get at everything at once, ... it could just as easily be 'inverted' into a capability; ... "If you can determine which of two alternatives is taken, then you can eliminate the pattern of interference."

'Of course', thought Emile, ... the original version puts the value-emphasis on 'having one's cake and eating it too'; i.e. being able to see both rational structure and morphodynamics at the same time. Whereas, the latter version puts the value-emphasis on 'rationality' as a means of suppressing the out-of-control and unpredictable morphodynamics. And this morphodynamic suppression is achieved, as Emile knew full well, by synthetically splitting apart space-time to liberate 'things' from a continuous morphogenetic flow, and preserving them iconically so as to be able to control and manipulate them on a mechanical, linear time basis. In this manner, ensembles of fixed 'things' could be prevented from reverting to their 'space-time soup' and the incestuous and spontaneous co-evolution which went on in there.

The price of this iconizing split, however, is that time has to be deliberately managed in its own newly-independent right. Keeping things 'regimented' by rules or laws and marching along in linear time coordination, is what preserves their space-time liberation and prevents them from coming back like dogs in heat to resume their unseemly ontogenetic dance. As Wittgenstein said, 'Precise logical rules are not the result of our investigation, they are a requirement we impose on the investigation.' ("Die Kristallreinheit der Logik hatte sich mir ja nicht 'ergeben', sondern sie war eine Forderung."). Wittgenstein was telling us that our rationality does not inform us on how nature works, it instead, imposes our requirements on nature, and these requirements were, to stay away from that beastly business of morphogenesis. Hadn't Parmenides been disgusted with his own birthing process?

Had Feynmann been an evolutionary biologist, he might have renamed the Uncertainty Principle the 'Certainty Principle' and said; "Nature's creatures have evolved many wonderful and amazing abilities, and man, moreso than all others, has evolved the gift of being able to design and implement fixed and stable physical and virtual structures which are resistant to the ubiquitous natural forces of spontaneous evolution." He might have gone on the qualify that saying; "Used wisely and harmoniously, this ability can deliver physical and virtual structures of great benefit relative to man's ontogenetic needs and continuing evolution; ... evolution-resistant physical structures such as buildings, roads and technologies, and evolution-resistant virtual structures such as organizations, languages and books."

Feynmann and Heisenberg, instead of complaining about their rationality being fundamentally blocked from 'making sense of the whole', since their intuition and imaginations already equipped them with this capability, should have instead taken credit for their 'tool-making' role and progress; i.e. in coming up with a continuously improving 'line' of laws and principles which enabled the design and development of ever more evolution-resistant structures and organizations.

Emile stopped for a moment, as he realized just how successful this tool-making discipline had become and just how evolution-resistant some of the virtual, organizational structures produced by these tools had become, ... like the fundamentalists in politics, religion and science who were adhering strictly and literally to rational rules in an ontogeny-denying manner.

But here we were, back in upside-down land again, thought Emile. Rationality is the skill which allows us to build evolution-resistant structures, but it is at the same time the 'child' of evolution, and it seems absurd to allow it to usurp its own mother. That would be totally unnatural, unharmonic and really weird, like an Escher 'strange loop' drawing.

The zoomlens of Emile's mindframe receded back into its fisheye status as he asked himself, ... "How did this inversion happen anyhow?"

The viewframe went back to Heraclitus' - Parmenides' conflict of ideas, but this time he had an even stronger sense of man's perception of value in staving off the forces of evolution. Man had become very conscious of, and happy with his image, and hadn't he recently begun to capture the Gods in this same manly or womanly appearance? The Celtic General Brennus may well have laughed and commented on how childish it was when he first saw this in Delphi in 300 B.C., but history has since shown that it was no laughing matter. Clearly, the Greeks were sending a clear message; a message that we'd reached the apex in our evolution, so we'd better sit tight with it. The ideas of the absolute and the eternal were looking pretty darn timely and appealing. The time had come to declare a moratorium on evolution, and the 'Golden Age of Rationalism' would be the salute to this moratorium, a celebration of the liberation, by iconization, for all time, of 'things' from the dirty old morphogenetic swamp of space-time.

Emile knew that the early philosophers had recognized that the orientation to independent 'things' didn't come without 'strings' attached, ... strings like 'the burden of concreteness'; ... having to understand things in a rigidly 'thing' based way would mean that one would have to mechanically think out how the behaviors of the diverse 'things' in this rationality based approximation to reality came together to produce the complex phenomena presented to us by our senses. Not only would we inherit the burden of concreteness, of having to manage 'things' and mechanically coordinate them using a synthetic and independent 'linear time' reference, the gifts of intuition and imagination would necessarily have to be demoted to a backseat role. Intuition and imagination, in fact, were the arch-enemies of the eternal, ... of a suspended evolution, ... because they paid no heed to a rationally enforced separation of space and time and uncontrollably catalyzed the emergence of forms and structures.

Back in the 'now' of 1999, Emile could see that the Y2K problem was like a wakeup call from a long sleep. He could imagine hearing the familiar 'knock on the door' and the music of a happy and vivacious female voice;

"It's me-ee, ... I'm ho-ome!"

"Who is it?"

"It's me-ee, your mother, Nature."

"What's that leaking noise I'm hearing?"

"That's Evolution, I've brought her back and she's just trying out some of your evolution-resistant structures."

"Tell her to go a bit easy now, will you?"

"She says she's really impressed by your progress, ...their global extent and the cute filligree of interdependencies woven into them, but she's chuckling over the time-leaks."

"What's the bottom line, .... ten out of ten?"

"Rationality, ... my dear boy, ... surely your narcissism hasn't reached the point where you believed your evolution-resistant structures could attain perfection. Morphogenetic space-time won't stay split for ever, you know."

"I guess I kind of 'lost it' there for a moment, but I sure didn't expect all these leaks from slightly underspecifying some linear time input valves.."

"Your imposition of linear clockworks was the only way you could split apart space-time evolution, to build your evolution-resistant structures, ... but as your uncle used to say, 'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose''

"I know, I know, momma, .... I just got so obsessed with the damn things, I'm going to have to go back and take a refresher course in intuition and imagination."

"It's just like riding a bicycle, honey, ... it'll come back to you, ... don't worry."

Emile inhaled and exhaled deeply as he stretched and yawned. It had been a long night and morning. Yesterday, he had been talking about 'Semio-Physics', the physics of understanding 'signifying structures' or 'coherent patterns', as a 'new science', as a kind of a progression of rational or 'reductionist' science. Now he could see it in a very different light, ... a refresher course in intuition and imagination, ... as the antidote to a millenial-sized overdose of reductionism.

Emile poured himself the last glass from open wine bottle, pulled on the 'phones' and punched the button to restart 'the Powwaquattsi Manifesto'.

* * *

Return to '98/'99 Update Page and Index of Essays


photo by Peter Vince



Peter Labelliere was born in 1726 and, after leaving the 92nd Foot as a Major, he came to Dorking and became friends with the Duke of Devonshire. This friendship was reputed to have resulted in a pension of £100.00 a year and an invitation to spend a month every year at one or other of the Duke's estates. As he got older he became more eccentric and some of this has been put down to an unrequited love affair with one Hetty Fletcher. He followed politics closely and was a very religious man, to the extent that he would not allow his landlady's children to burn any paper containing the name of God or Christ. He spent the end of his life in lodgings in South Street, and when he died in 1800 [July 11th], he left two specific wishes which need to be complied with. Firstly, his landlady's two youngest children should dance on his coffin to show that there should be rejoicing at death and not mourning, but only the son would do this as the daughter thought it inappropriate [she just sat on the edge of his coffin]. His second wish was that he should be buried vertically, on his head, on the top of Box Hill. His reasoning was that, in a topsy turvy world, he would be the only one to end up the right way round! Needless to say his burial was well attended and for years afterwards, local people would celebrate the day by dancing and picnicking on by his grave.