Category Archives: Symbols and diagrams

Conceiving inconceivability

Any form of participation in a whole experienced solely from within (in which the participant participates as a part) of which we have only partial knowledge is, in itself inconceivable. Withinness topologically thwarts comprehension.

We cannot conceive the whole, but we can conceive the fact that we are participants in it, and we can conceive many characteristics of our participation. For instance, we can conceive things we might do or think or feel in response to our immediate encounter with fellow participants or parts within the whole. We can conceive that the whole exists, that we are situated within it, that it environs us, and we can understand how we participate in that whole as a part of it, even if we do not comprehend the whole in the conceptual way we comprehend objects in our environment or other kinds of things we can wrap our minds around.

We might even try to map what we are able to conceive from within and try to make what we are within conceivable.

For instance, if we are trapped in a labyrinth, we might draw a maze map that represents, from the outside, the space we are inside, so we can better comprehend it as a whole instead of as a connected series of situations. We transpose the multiple interior positions to a single exterior form. We evert it, and what remains inside now views an exterior representation of its situation and mentally re-situates itself outside.

We might even get so absorbed in the maze  that we forgets that it we still located in some space within the labyrinth and not on some dot marked on the maze, in the same way as we forget that our brain is something known by the mind, not the other way around.

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The first all-consuming perplexity I experienced reading Nietzsche resolved in an image of a mandala.

At the zenith of the mandala was a point I labeled “Solipse”. At the nadir was another point labeled “Eclipse”.

Next to Solipse I wrote “World-in-me” and drew a little circle with a dot at its center, with a caption “Ptolemy”.

Next to Eclipse I wrote “I-in-world” and drew another little circle with a dot on the periphery with a caption “Copernicus”.

In solipse, brains are found inside minds, along with every known thing. In eclipse, minds are produced from brains which exist at points in space.

This was the origin of my topological sense of understanding.

The perpendicular points between solipse and eclipse marked inflections between these two everted ways to situate self and world, moments where both situations become conceivable, perhaps together in ambinity, and for a time neither fully dominates, but co-exist in all-everting multistability.

From these two points we can see most clearly how the inside of an oyster shell is an everted pearl, Pandora’s box is everted Paradise, and Eden is the everted fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Here we can conceive both ultimate eversions simultaneously. We can use maps without forgetting where that map really is, but also move around in space and allow maps to deepen our understanding of our situation. Our minds are improved with knowledge of brains, but our knowledge of brains is improved knowing that all knowledge is mind-product.

Much later, moving along this wheel, at one of these ambinity points where inside and outside exist within one another, I intuited a beyondness of both, a ground of soliptic-ecliptic eversion that is both and neither. From that point on, I was religious.

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At the beit din before I went into the mikvah a rabbi interrupted me in the middle of an answer to one of their questions, and asked “Do you even really believe in God?” I said, “Yes; but in a way that is extremely difficult to explain.” She said “Very Jewish. Fair enough.” Fifteen minutes later I emerged from the mikvah a Jew with a new Hebrew name, Nachshon, after the general of the tribe of Judah who, according to legend, waded into the chaotic turbulence of the Red Sea all the way up to his nostrils, just before Moses split the waters into two halves, permitting passage from one shore to the other. Adonai eloheinu; Adonai echad.

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I need to think carefully how I might use the word “participate” in my topological conceptive vocabulary, which, as I mentioned yesterday, is built around con-capere words.

Participate shares the same root as concept, conception, conceive: capere “take”

part- “part” + –capere “take” – to part-take.

con- “together” + -capere “take” – to together-take.

 

 

Soul-shaping

 

A souls is a multistable dynamic intuitive system.

Insofar as it is a system that remains stable across changing conditions, a soul has a character, a personality of its own, enduring selfhood. To the degree a soul changes and adapts to conditions, a soul is responsive to the world.

At the extreme of selfhood is closed self, an intuitive system that no longer adapts or responds to the world, but instead uses the same intuitions the same way all the time. Only information it can comprehend is seriously entertained, and only conclusions that reinforce its workings are accepted. The soul maintains itself in a closed, circular state of autism.

At the extreme of responsiveness is the fragmentary self, an intuitive system that is so adaptive to its environment that it cannot find its own enduring selfhood within the changing configurations that its intuitions take as circumstances buffet it around. Its only hope for integrity come from the social environment. If the social environment gives it an identity and expects it to perform that identity, the soul responds obediently and then finds itself able to feel itself to be a self. But if the environment does not provide these reinforcements, the self is literally existentially threatened, and goes into a crisis. The soul has no internal means to maintain its own stable sense of self, and exists in a fragmentary state of borderline personality.

Under certain circumstances the closed selves and fragmentary selves can form an alliance. The closed selves adopt an ideology and ethical ruleset that, when performed, assigns stable identities to those who would otherwise live in fragmentary nothingness. The alliance requires strict adherence to roles and rules, and deviations from it, especially those which contradict the ideological conceptions and produce conditions that threaten its collective closed system, are treated as a collective existential threat. These alliances have low intolerance of stresses from beyond its ideological horizon, especially modes of conception incommensurable with the logic that holds its brittle system together.

When a person insists that selfhood is a superstructural artifact of social forces, that a person is reducible to the play of various identities, that social standpoints imprison us within limited understanding, beyond which there is blind belief in the testimony of others or disbelief and violence, this indicates participation in the closed alliance.

The overpowering need for selfhood in one particular conception, existentially threatened by rival theories or expressions of selfhood is the driving force behind all illiberalism.

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Liberal democracy requires selves of a different shape, neither closed circles, nor open fragments, but a synthesis of the two, which I symbolize as a spiral — multistable dynamic intuitive system that is stable but is, to a degree, open to realities that challenge its integrity. It does this by cultivating a dynamic stability that can shapeshift in response to different challenges of its understanding — that is, it can entertain multiple understandings, but which is ordered by a deeper integrity that sees multiplicity of understanding as intrinsic to the human condition.

This deeper integrity goes by the name pluralism.

Pluralism’s unique mode of understanding, which conceives inconceivability in a manner conducive to actually conceiving inconceivable truths, and in this, to continually reaffirm its own pluralistic integrity.

Not all citizens of a liberal democracy must be pluralists, but enough must participate in political and cultural life to prevent a closed alliance to form, and for illiberalism to drive pluralism underground.

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Hermeneutics is important in pluralism and in religion, because any deep act of understanding requires a soul to respond to a stable set of conceptions with a stability of its own, to re-form itself in an act of understanding. It must experiment with polysemic words and allow them to combine and crystalize in multiple ways, and then to respond selfully to these crystallization with its own intuitive order, and experience how it is to understand this text, this phenomenon, this design this way, and accordingly experience the world from this state.

Producing meaningful artifacts — whether objects, interactions, services, arguments, rituals, symbols — that order an understanding soul in a way that improves the experience of life is experience design at its profoundest level.

Gorging ouroboros chord

If you understand what you are trying to say, that is prose. If you are trying to understand something you are moved to say, that is poetry.

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Most of the time I am not a poetic person. I have, however, been in states of mind where I’ve written poems. Some of them have bothered me for decades.

Four of these poems were visual. They were simple diagrams that gave me the exit to perplexities I’d entered. A perplexity can be described as an urgently unaskable question or problem. Not only the resolution, but the problem itself is inconceivable, despite the fact that it is felt with overwhelming intensity. Normally, perplexities are resolved with words, but each of these four diagrams were visual resolutions of perplexities. The words came after the diagrams did the essential work.

In early 2020, just before the pandemic struck, I printed these four diagrams along with poetic meditations and prose commentary.

One diagram I considered, but excluded, is one I call “gorging ouroboros”.

Part of the reason I excluded the gorging ouroboros is I see it as a negative “apotropaic” image, maybe a visual warning. Over the years, the danger has come into clearer focus. I associate it with a kind of ideological feedback loop, where we are consumed with thinking thoughts about our thoughts and feeling feelings about our own feelings — but these thoughts and feelings are unaware of how much they begin and end within the self, and how thick, and ever thickening, how insular and ever insulating these self-reflexive layers have grown against transcendent reality.

I also wrote a poem that corresponds with the visual, but it appears I have never actually put them together into a single chord, which is strange, because they are obviously pointing to the same notion.

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In the end,
the trees will grow like snakes,
splitting and sloughing bark,
bending in coils of green heartwood;
and the snakes will grow like trees,
depositing skin under skin,
and in their turgid leather casings,
they will lie about on the ground
like broken branches.

Extending the autism spectrum

I see the autism spectrum as one half of a much longer spectrum, one that runs from the extreme pole of full autism (mind-blindness to others) to full borderline (mind-blindness to oneself).

A person (or group) unbalanced toward the autism end of this enlarged spectrum will proudly refuse to care what anyone else thinks. A person (or group) unbalanced toward the borderline end will feel existentially threatened by the thoughts of others, because the thoughts of others is the sole source of selfhood for the borderline personality.

The ideal, of course is the middle region, where we are aware of what others are thinking, feeling and intending, but we remain rooted in what we ourselves think, feel and intend. Even when we consider changing our views, we do so as ourselves, making an evaluation and decision.

This ideal is represented in my Geometric Meditations book in the symbol of the spiral.

 

 

Book

I’ve contacted some letterpress printers about making my pamphlet, which used to be titled The 10,000 Everythings, but has been sobered up into Geometric Meditations, which is a more precise description of how I use the content of the book.

One printer has responded so far, and suggested some changes that seems to have improved it. I looked at the book again this morning, and I am still happy with it, so it must really be ready. There is only one word in the book that I’m not sure about.

I am producing it as a chapbook, sewn together with red thread, signifying both Ariadne’s thread as well as the Kabbalistic custom of typing a red thread around one’s left wrist to protect from the evil eye. Both are intensely relevant to this project. I have to remember how much I use these diagrams to generate understandings and to keep myself oriented. It is the red thread that connects all my thoughts. So the utility and value of the ideas is beyond doubt. It is true that the form does look and sound somewhat pompous, but it is the best (prettiest and most durable) form for these concepts, so I have to ignore my anxiety about scorn and ridicule from folks who know too little or two much (a.k.a. “evil eye”). At least one angle of understanding yields value, and hermeneutical decency requires that it be read from that angle.

I am incredibly nervous about putting this book out there. I am guessing I’ll just box all the copies up and hide them with my Tend the Root posters.

Mishkan skies

I’ve had an image in my head for awhile, and I decided to be lazy and produce it in Adobe Sketch just to get it out of my head and in front of my eyes. Adobe Sketch has this cool animation feature and I think I almost like this image more as a clip. I have another, less distinctly previsualized mishkan image in my head and maybe I’ll do something similar with that. I want it to be a grid of colored threads and metal strips. It really should be a textile piece. I am feeling drawn to printmaking right now, so it could end up a metallic ink block print of some kind. I need a print studio.

Edit: Two Stories About Skin

He was evicted by an overwhelming need: He had to leave this place immediately. It was not a matter of escaping here; it was a matter of being there, a there unknown apart from its distance, a distance from which he could see his home whole against the sky, the distance prescribed to those who aspire to love.

He stripped some bark from a nearby tree. On the bark’s smooth inner wall he created a map. Then he set off to survey the edges of the world. As he traveled, he traced out his path on the map. As his map neared perfection, the dense concentric loops finally showed him an exit.

*

In the end,
the trees will grow like snakes,
splitting and sloughing bark,
bending in coils of green heartwood;
and the snakes will grow like trees,
depositing skin under skin,
and in their turgid leather casings,
they will lie about
on the ground
like broken branches.

(Original here.)

Drawing on every side of the brain

In high school, all my art teachers taught us to draw and paint the shapes our eyes “really” saw. We were discouraged from drawing the things we believed we were depicting — eyes, noses, vases, cow skulls, gourds, drapes — and encouraged instead to draw the shapes that were said to precede our objective interpretations. We did zillions of blind contour drawings. We drew and painted shapes instead of trying to model the dimensional forms we believed were there. It was an interesting experience. I learned to shift into a trancelike consciousness that made the visual world hyper-vivid, and disabled speech.

Toward the end of college I met a prickly teacher who demanded a different style from her class. Now we were to observe, analyze and model forms. She taught us methods for rendering various three-dimensional effects on flat plains, so we could translate the forms in space we learned to understand to what charcoal and paper could convey. It was an incredibly difficult shift, which I experienced as an undoing of years of skill development.

In the years after I did some other visual thinking development, but they were all remote from figurative drawing. I learned to compose pages and screens to aid in comprehending complex information. Shortly after college, I experimented with translating musical compositions into visual ones via the language of mathematical ratios. Most importantly, though, I developed an ability to collapse complexity into simple visual diagrams, which are tools for conceptualizing information, not only existing data, but for framing incoming data on an ongoing basis. They are visual hermeneutic tools. I philosophize visually first, and even when I translate the visuals into words, I keep wanting to retain the visual qualities, which might be why I’m tempted toward prosody. Not for the sake of sounds (or not primarily), but for the sake of structure. I want important thoughts to be expressed in linguistic crystals.

Now my job has me doing figurative drawing again, but in a style going driving me back further into those left-brained natural habits of seeing and drawing I worked so hard to break and replace in my teen years. Now I am sketching ideas with the goal of communicating complex ideas as simply as possible. It is somewhere between cartooning and writing in pictograms.

My life as a visualizer-thinker has led my on a tour through my brain and shown me how many ways we can bilateralize what we see and know.

Ancestors and siblings of process thought

While I’m scanning passages from C. Robert Mesle’s Process-Relational Philosophy, here are two more that inspired me.

The first passage appeals to my designer consciousness:

Descartes was wrong in his basic dualism. The world is not composed of substances or of two kinds of substances. There is, however, what David Ray Griffin calls an “organizational duality.” Descartes was correct that rocks and chairs and other large physical objects do not have minds, while humans do. In Whiteheadian terms, rocks are simply not organized to produce any level of experience above that of the molecules that form them. In living organisms, however, there can be varying degrees to which the organism is structured to give rise to a single series of feelings that can function to direct the organism as a whole. We can see fairly clearly that at least higher animals like chimps and dogs have a psyche (mind or soul) chat is in many ways like our own. This psyche draws experience from the whole body (with varying degrees of directness and clarity), often crossing a threshold into some degree of consciousness, and is able in turn to use that awareness to direct the organism toward actions that help it to survive and achieve some enjoyment of life. The self, or soul, then is not something separate from the body. It arises out of the life of the body, especially the brain.

The mind/soul/psyche is the flow of the body’s experience. Yet your body produces a unique mind that is also able to have experiences reaching beyond those derived directly from the body. We can think about philosophy, love, mathematics, or death in abstract conceptual ways that are not merely physical perceptions. Without the body, there would be no such flow of experience, but with a properly organized body, there can be a flow of experience that moves beyond purely bodily sensation. Furthermore, your mind can clearly interact with your body so that you can move, play, eat, hug, and work. There is a kind of dualism here in that the mind is not only the body but it is, in Griffin’s phrase, a hierarchical dualism rather than a metaphysical one. There are not two kinds of substances — minds and bodies. There is one kind of reality — experience. But experience has both its physical and mental aspects.

To my ears, this is a beautiful dovetail joint waiting to be fitted to extended cognition. “Rocks are simply not organized to produce any level of experience above that of the molecules that form them” but if a human organizes those rocks in particular ways, for instance drilling and shaping them into abacus beads, or melting them down to manufacture silicon chips, those rocks can be channeled into extended cognitive systems which in a very real way become extensions of our individual and collective minds. It is ironic to me that even at this exact instance, in typing out this sentence, a thought is forming before my eyes with the help of rocks reorganized as silicon chips which are participating in the “having” of this very thought. And if anyone is reading this and understanding it, my thought, multi-encoded, transmitted, decoded and interpreted by your own intelligence — rocks have helped organize this event of understanding! Humans help organize more and more of the “inanimate” world into participants of experience.

And now we are wading out into the territory developed by Actor-Network Theory, which asks, expecting intricately branching detailed answers: How do humans and non-humans assemble themselves into societies? I think the commonality within these harmoniously similar thought programs is their common rootedness in Pragmatism. It is no accident that Richard J. Bernstein saw pragmatism as a constructive way out of  the unbridled skeptical deconstruction of post-modernism, and that Whitehead, who acknowledged a debt to Pragmatism, is said to offer a constructive postmodernism.

The second passage appeals to my newly Jewish hermeneutic consciousness. This is a quote by Whitehead:

The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.

This, of course, is a description of the hermeneutic circle, the concept that we understand parts in terms of the concepts by which we understand them, but that our concepts are often modified (or replaced) in the effort to subsume recalcitrant parts. We tack between focusing on the details and (to the degree we are reflective) revisiting how we are conceptualizing those details. These are the two altitudes Whitehead mentions: an on-the-ground investigation of detail and a sky-view survey of how all those details fit together.

This is an ancient analogy. The Egyptians made the ibis, an animal with a head like a snake (the lowest animal) and the body of a bird (the highest animal) the animal of Thoth, their god of writing, the Egyptian analogue to Hermes. Nietzsche also used this image in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and that is where I first encountered it.

An eagle soared through the sky in wide circles, and on him there hung a serpent, not like prey but like a friend: for she kept herself wound around his neck. “These are my animals,” said Zarathustra and was happy in his heart. “The proudest animal under the sun and the wisest animal under the sun — they have gone out on a search. They want to determine whether Zarathustra is still alive. Verily, do I still live? I found life more dangerous among men than among animals; on dangerous paths walks Zarathustra. May my animals lead me!” When Zarathustra had said this he recalled the words of the saint in the forest, sighed, and spoke thus to his heart: “That I might be wiser! That I might be wise through and through like my serpent! But there I ask the impossible: so I ask my pride that it always go along with my wisdom. And when my wisdom leaves me one day — alas, it loves to fly away — let my pride then fly with my folly.”

And I have seen the Star of David as an image of the synthesis of atomistic ground-up and holistic sky-down understandings. And this is one reason I chose Nachshon (“snakebird”) as my Hebrew name when I converted to Judaism.

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(Eventually, I’ll have to try to connect process thought with my extremely simplistic and possibly distorted understanding of chaos theory. Eventually.)

Life is unfair

fairness

This scale is an attempt to diagram a framework I posted to Facebook.

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more people declaring that “Life is unfair.” I actually grew up hearing that.

I’m starting to believe this statement is the essence of right-wing politics. Degree of renunciation of fairness is what defines the right-wing spectrum:

Centrism views fairness as one legitimate political goal, but acknowledges practical limits to the degree of achievable fairness. Centrism sees over-reaching attempts at fairness to be artifacts of naive partiality with distorted self-serving conceptions of fairness. To the degree a centrist leans right, he sees increasing levels of unfairness as inevitable and acceptable.

Middle right believes that fairness should not enter the discussion. Fairness is an inappropriate goal for politics, and an inadequate framework for thinking about it. Politics should be thought about in terms of other dynamics (such as economics). These dynamics naturally produce a healthy equilibrium which are in fact the best possible political outcomes. The distorting lens of “fairness” demands that we “fix” precisely that which is not broken (and conversely, that we preserve the hacks intended to produce fairness, but which destroy natural equilibrium).

Hard right believes that inequality is necessary — that establishing proper rank is required for the health of a society. The strongest, or wisest, or smartest or the most righteous should have more power than the weak, foolish, unintelligent, vicious masses.

I can see the self-consistent logic and validity of these positions. But as a left-leaning person, I believe the elimination of fairness from political discourse is a disaster. To say “life is unfair” is to misrepresent a moral intention as a natural fact. It pretends to say “perfect fairness is not an achievable goal” but really means: “I have no intention of treating you fairly.” I do not believe I can credibly ask a person to trust me if I do not intend to treat them fairly.

But, with all that being said, here is a troubling question: can right-wingers actually trust the left to treat them fairly? Because being fair means making the question “what is fair?” an open question for discussion, and I am not at all sure this is the case with many Clinton and Sanders supporters, who seem to have already decided unilaterally for themselves what is fair.

When asked for the left half of the scale, I added:

Hard left wants to maximize fairness by ensuring that everyone has exactly the same resources. Middle left believes politics is essentially about achieving maximum fairness. Centrism, as it leans leftward, sees fairness as one key condition of freedom for all. Fairness and freedom will never be perfect, but we are obligated to pursue it.

Ambiliberalism

Since I read Mouffe a couple of years ago, I’ve become aware of the intensity and depth of my commitment to liberalism, defined as: “favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms… favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.”

I came to feel that liberalism ought to be viewed as a moral commitment, not an adherence to particular policies. A true liberal will treat all policies as means to an end to liberalism, and will discard any policy if shown to violate the goal of liberalism.

Currently this is not the case. Left-liberals align themselves with advocates of leftist policies without worrying nearly enough if their allies are committed to a liberal outcome. And the right is the same, if not worse. Libertarians allying with neoconservatives is nothing less than perverse.

It occurred to me that the language and framing of politics might be the cause of this, and that a reframing and clarification of language might enable new alliances along moral lines. So I made the Ambidextrous Liberal Manifesto.

But since the first iteration, a lot has happened. The USA has experienced an intensification of racial tensions. Reactions have been polarized and polarizing. Political correctness has returned to the left with a literal vengeance, after a decade long residence with the right, where it took the form of grotesque Freedom Fried nationalism. In Europe, hard-right politics is gaining ground with building momentum. In my personal life, I’ve been reading about liberalism, from the perspectives of thinkers who wrote in the wake of WWII, and who were responding to polarities more extreme than those we bemoan in the USA. Two of the most notable were Friedrich Hayek and Isaiah Berlin.

Consequently, I’ve found myself wanting to redraw my political landscape with increased dynamic range in a more universal gamut. So, here’s the latest. I am going to work it into a second version of the presentation, later, but I think it is in a state where its new meaning can be derived from the first version.

ambiliberal

Hermeneutical/rhetorical bow

This is a redrawing of a diagram I played with in 2009. It is meant to show the relationship of making and understanding and how it weaves between thinking top-down in wholes, and then bottom-up in terms of parts. It was originally inspired by learning (from Richard J. Bernstein’s Beyond Objectivism and Relativism) that the hermeneutical circle was based on a model from rhetoric theory.

hr-bow

Diagram du jour

This is pretty much a paraphrasing of what I’m always saying, one way or another, but I think it’s a relatively clear one. What I’m trying to do is to classify the different modes of understanding available to us to help us relate and unify our experience. In this diagram the darker, outer circles of why, how and what are the space in which we can feel the relevance of a problem and pursue understanding; the brighter inner circles of the venn diagram are the successful resolution of a problem through the exercise of various modes of understanding. At the center is totality as (as I believe) Levinas uses it, though without the moral overtones.

My view is that most us overemphasize episteme (the type of knowledge by which we comprehend objects), if we recognize the other forms of understanding at all. Even when we do, we tend to reduce them to the terms of episteme. In my view, sophia and phronesis are felt and responded, to aptly or not, according to the degree of one’s understanding. One’s ability to articulate the understanding has much less to do than with one’s ability to relate and respond (verbally or not) by the terms of and to the ends set by the understanding. Sophia and phronesis are essentially tacit forms of knowledge, which can find articulations, but precedes and exceeds the articulation of language.

These diagrams are the attempts of my own episteme to relate to the other faculties within my soul. And when I find myself caring about the form and content of these diagrams and then later catch myself working naturally according to the principles I’m attempting to show, I experience wholeness of purpose and coherence in the world. And if others experience my diagrams this way — or show me how I can improve them, or convince me that I ought to destroy them — I feel the potential of the world to be a home.

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I’m always looking for structures, but not because I think the structure is already there to be discovered. It’s because I think sanity requires these kinds of structures. I am perfectly willing to project a structure onto reality as if it is already in it, and see it there afterward. These structures are not tools I employ to help me see; they’re understanding itself, by which I see.

I’m enough of a skeptic that I do not care if a model is a discovery or an invention. What matters is that it is experienced as a discovery, and that the structure clings to my vision as if it is part of what I see, not a feature of my sight.