Complex                  -                    Simple
Chaos                       -                   Logos
Liquid                       -                    Solid
Unknown                 -                    Known
Unconscious            -                    Conscious
Random                    -                    Intentional
Equivocate                -                    Discriminate
Latent                        -                    Manifest


The world is infinitely complex. Our field of perception allows us to glimpse a small part of this complexity; and thus, in order to apprehend things we simplify them. Too much complexity produces anxiety, because it threatens to explode our tidy borders and neat definitions.

From an infinity of possibilities, we choose (in some sense of the word) these, and not those. Construction is synonymous with discrimination. A thing is only a thing because of all the things that it is not.

Always there is much left out; and sometimes the details we leave out may be important to our current context.

In this sense flexibility - the ability to renounce knowns in favour of unknowns - can be a vital asset, because it allows us to update our current models when needed.

However, flexibility must be balanced by stability. In order to function we need firm ground, and the predictability of familiar territory. Every system must have a steady state, a set of assumptions from which it operates.

Suppose there are entities A, B, and C, each differing from the other.

Each in turn, according to Hua-yen, is constituted by an indefinite number of the same ontological elements, a, b, c, d, e, f, g, ..., even though A, B, and C differ.

If we use semantic thinking, the signifier is always everything (a, b, c ...), whereas the significants differ, like A, B, C.

In order to explain this enigma, Hua-yen employs the aspects "powerful" and "powerless."

"Powerful" designates the presence of a positive, manifest, self-asserting, and controlling element; "powerless" denotes the opposite: passive, seclusive, self-negating, and subservient.

Among the infinite elements, one of them - a, l, or x, perhaps - becomes "powerful," while the rest of them are understood to be "powerless". 

Then, as A, L, or X, they are recognized in the daily world as different things [...]

In our daily life, only the "powerful" element manifests, so we human beings cannot resist focusing on differences; that means not noticing the "powerless" elements, though they are essential to the depth-structure of A, for instance, and support its manifestation.

Suppose that "I," for example, consist of a, b, c ... an infinite number of elements; and, among them, factors b, f, and k are "powerful" elements to make "I" express "my" eachness. So, if I exert those powerful factors actively, I may cause my existence to stand out, and, by so doing, I may be able to control others.

But if I think it through a little more, then actually I may die without being aware of my other infinite "powerless" elements. 

But if I were to live my eachness fully, I would be receptive, reclusively waiting. Then, when my "powerless" elements became activated, I would discover an eachness that is different from what I had known about myself until then.

In short, I would appreciate with surprise the autonomous emergence of eachness. This has quite a different feeling from creating one's individual nature by one's own effort.

In individualism, it seems quite reasonable that one develops individuality by following one's own intentions. However, little possibility exists to develop in a direction unexpected from what one already knows about oneself [...]

Such development is active and positive, to be sure, but you would have to say that it is restricted by the ego's judgment. In comparison, the Buddhist approach seems to be fulfilled if your path opens up in an unexpected direction.

[Hayao Kawai]
Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.102-3, 109

Kant, in the Critique of Judgment [...] argues that in a piece of chalk there are an infinite number of potential facts. 

The Ding an sich (thing in itself), the piece of chalk, can never enter into communication or mental process because of this infinitude. The sensory receptors cannot accept it; they filter it out. What they do is to select certain facts out of the piece of chalk, which then become, in modern terminology, information.

I suggest that Kant's statement can be modified to say that there is an infinite number of differences around and within the piece of chalk. 

There are differences between the chalk and the rest of the universe, between the chalk and the sun or the moon.

And within the piece of chalk, there is for every molecule an infinite number of differences between its location and the locations in which it might have been. Of this infinitude, we select a very limited number, which become information.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.455, 457-61

Kant argued that form is allied to purposiveness, and the aesthetic is our joy in the discovery of form.

Bateson argued that the sacred is the acknowledgment of gaps in the form which has been created by our purposiveness.

To conclude: think of a human (or a society for that matter) as a Subject, having purposes about Objects. We can map the aesthetic and the sacred onto that picture, as double inverses of this intentionality. The aesthetic is object-to-subject received and the sacred is subject-to-object conferred. Form is aesthetic, and the remembrance of the gaps in the forms is sacred.

[Lee A. Arnold]
Comment on 'Think Again'

[...] our mission is to recognize contraries for what they are: first of all as contraries, but then as opposite poles of a unity. Such is the nature of the Glass Bead Game.

The artistically inclined delight in the Game because it provides opportunities for improvisation and fantasy. The strict scholars and scientists despite it—and so do some musicians also—because, they say, it lacks that degree of strictness which their specialties can achieve.

Well and good, you will encounter these antinomies, and in time you will discover that they are subjective, not objective—that, for example, a fancy-free artist avoids pure mathematics of logic not because he understands them and could say something about them if he wished, but because he instinctively inclines toward other things.

Such instinctive and violent inclinations and disinclinations are signs by which you can recognize the pettier souls. In great souls and superior minds, these passions are not found. Each of us is merely one human being, merely an experiment, a way station.

But each of us should be striving to reach the center, not the periphery.

Remember this: one can be a strict logician or grammarian, and at the same time be a musician or Glass Bead Game player and at the same time wholly devoted to rule and order.

The kind of person we want to develop, the kind of person we aim to become, would at any time be able to exchange his discipline or art with any other. He would infuse the Glass Bead Game with crystalline logic, and grammar with creative imagination. That is how we ought to be.

We should be so constituted that we can at any time be placed in a different position without offering resistance or losing our heads.

[Hermann Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game, p. 81-2

But how can seeing a false reality be beneficial to an organism’s survival?

There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface.

Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not.

But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true.

That’s an interesting thing. You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I don’t need to know. That’s the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors.  

But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. 

And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you.

[Donald Hoffman]
'The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality'

Watanabe came to realize there is an unquantifiable number of shared properties between all objects, making any classification biased. Murphy and Medin (1985) give an example of two putative classified things, plums and lawnmowers:

"Suppose that one is to list the attributes that plums and lawnmowers have in common in order to judge their similarity. It is easy to see that the list could be infinite: Both weigh less than 10,000 kg (and less than 10,001 kg), both did not exist 10,000,000 years ago (and 10,000,001 years ago), both cannot hear well, both can be dropped, both take up space, and so on. Likewise, the list of differences could be infinite… any two entities can be arbitrarily similar or dissimilar by changing the criterion of what counts as a relevant attribute."

Unless some properties are considered more salient, or ‘weighted’ more important than others, everything will appear equally similar, hence Watanabe (1986) wrote: “any objects, in so far as they are distinguishable, are equally similar".

However, since there is an unlimited number of properties to choose from, it remains an arbitrary choice what properties to select/deselect. This makes classification biased. Watanabe named this the "Ugly Duckling theorem" because a swan is as similar to a duckling as to another swan (there are no constraints or fixes on what constitutes similarity).

'Ugly Duckling Theorem'

It's important to remember that rebellion -- in other words, the part of our value system that is determined by position, by dialectics, by reaction -- is a kind of collaboration with the things rebelled against.

For instance, right now I'm wearing a t-shirt turned inside out, because I've decided t-shirts with slogans or images on them are naff. I'm listening to a very abstract piece of music by David Toop, partly to erase or complicate the courtyard ambience of Michael Jackson hits and make the soundscape in my flat a bit "classier". In both cases, my stance is a collaboration with the "naff" things I'm deliberately snubbing. They become the ground to my figure, the thing that makes it connote. I really have to thank the people I'm rebelling against for "collaborating" with me in this way! Without them, I couldn't be me.

'Living in NKLN to keep PZBG alive'

‘My favourite music ,’ Cage has said, ‘is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.’

But he has something more in mind. What he repudiates is what I think we have to retain, the convention by which we think of life as a matter of survival, and think of the will as our best means of surviving.

Cage often quotes Meister Eckhart’s saying that ‘we are made perfect by what happens to us rather than by what we do’. Cage repudiates not only the will as a Darwinian insistence on survival but the particular rhythms which he associates with the exercise of will: assertion and denial, crescendo and diminuendo, tension and resolution, which are so much a part of traditional music.

‘Boredom dropped when we dropped our interest in climaxes,’ he has reported. Instead, he would give equal attention to everything.

Even in Modernist art and literature, there has long been an antipathy to the exercise of the will. André Breton's programme for surrealism involved not only chance and automatism as aesthetic procedures but a cult of passivity, the suspension of the will.

The repudiation of the will, as if it could be nothing but the will-to-power, has never been far from modern art [...] in some modern composers chance is invoked as a principle in much the same way as earlier composers invoked the Muse, to claim that the work of art comes not from the composer but through him. He is the instrument of the Muse, the authority of the work is not his.

The difference is that 'speaking for the Muse was to give voice to what all men share, or all would hear; speaking through chance forgoes a voice altogether - there is nothing to say.'

But it isn't really content that is hated, rather the will to deliver it.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 55-6

Pluralism in teaching arose in the Sixties, when students started resenting the official superiority of their teachers.

If you were teaching a course in advanced mathematics, you had no challenge of this kind. But if you were teaching a standard course in English or American literature, you could expect the claim that every Jack is as good as his master.

Stanley Fish and other teachers found it convenient to concede to the claim, and to convince their students by the power of their practice. If Fish gave a remarkably convincing interpretation of one of Milton’s poems, he could afford to let every student have his own interpretation, if he wanted it.

(As if to say: ‘I disagree with your interpretation of “Il Penseroso”, but the only thing that matters is your experience in reading the poem).

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 54-5

Disagreement - if it has a resolution in mind - suggests that common ground ought to be found. 

Either one party must concede their position and readjust accordingly, or a middle ground must be agreed upon. In this sense, disagreement reveals our entanglement: in seeking a resolution we show that we are interested in each other, and that we think it important that certain things are held in common between us. It is at these points of agreement that we come together, as components of something larger.

The postmodern spin is to say that disagreement needn’t be resolved - we needn’t find common ground; indeed, we ought to be free to wander where we like. If no-one shares my interpretation - and if I have no interest in sharing anyone else’s - then I wander alone. Hence no grand-narratives, no universals: there is no conflict - and so no-one is hurt - but there is also no communion. We remain separate units.

Disagreement suggests a collective ideal, a shared space that is always in the process of negotiation. 

You may think it should be this way, and I may think it should be that way; but what we share, in spite of our disagreement, is our belief in this communal space. We share the notion that we ought to commune, and we accept that in communing we may not get everything our own way. Our individual shape is compromised, at least in part, in favour of the collective.

What shall we call a thing anyhow? It seems quite arbitrary, for we carve out everything, just as we carve out constellations, to suit our human purposes.

For me, this whole 'audience' is one thing, which grows now restless, now attentive. I have no use at present for its individual units, so I don't consider them. So of an 'army,' of a 'nation.' But in your own eyes, ladies and gentlemen, to call you 'audience' is an accidental way of taking you. The permanently real things for you are your individual persons.

To an anatomist, again, those persons are but organisms, and the real things are the organs. Not the organs, so much as their constituent cells, say the histologists; not the cells, but their molecules, say in turn the chemists.

We break the flux of sensible reality into things, then, at our will. We create the subjects of our true as well as of our false propositions.

We plunge forward into the field of fresh experience with the beliefs our ancestors and we have made already; these determine what we notice; what we notice determines what we do; what we do again determines what we experience; so from one thing to another, altho the stubborn fact remains that there is a sensible flux, what is true of it seems from first to last to be largely a matter of our own creation.

[William James]
'Pragmatism and Humanism', Pragmatism and Other Writings, p. 111-12

The boundaries of a system are defined by the set of its interacting components [...] it is the investigator, not nature, that bounds the particular system being investigated.

[David S. Walonick]
'General Systems Theory'

Boundaries are simultaneously a function of the activity of the system itself, and a product of the strategy of description involved.

In other words, we frame the system by describing it in a certain way (for a certain reason), but we are constrained in where the frame can be drawn. 

The boundary of the system is therefore neither purely a function of our description, nor is it a purely natural thing. We can never be sure that we have “found” or “defined” it clearly, and therefore the closure of the system is not something that can be described objectively.

An overemphasis on closure will also lead to an understanding of the system that may underplay the role of the environment. However, we can certainly not do away with the notion of a boundary.

[Paul Cilliers]
'Boundaries, Hierarchies and Networks in Complex Systems', p. 5

Painters may paint "exactly what they see," but what they see is necessarily a highly idiosyncratic, mediated "part" of the landscape, and often not a part of any landscape or other part of the world at all.

Even the most faithful representation of the most elementary subject matter, as Ernst Gombrich has shown in Art and Illusion, is not simple representation. All painters necessarily employ a style, and this forces certain choices, decisions, and exclusions upon them; further, within that style each must make a large number of more specific decisions.

Every decision, no matter how general or specific, foregrounds some of the elements of one’s subject matter at the expense of others and is therefore responsible for the very creation of that subject matter.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 55-6

From within a particular practice, one is related to that practice, to truth, and to the world much as a child is related to its toy. We do not engage in such practices in the specific awareness that they are illusions, though we can know in general terms that illusions are necessarily present within them.

Painters do not work in the specific knowledge of which among the indefinitely many features of their subject matter they are leaving out of account, though they are often aware that they employ only one among many possible styles; nor of course can they change styles at will. Such thoughts don’t seem to function in the context: a painter simply tries to get matters right.

“It is not enough that you understand in what ignorance humans as well as animals live; you must also have and acquire the will to ignorance. You need to grasp that without this kind of ignorance life itself would be impossible, that it is a condition under which alone the living thing can preserve itself and prosper: a great, firm dome of ignorance must encompass you”

The will to ignorance, therefore, is not simply the tendency or desire not to know some things. It must also turn upon itself and become the will to not to know that one is failing to know many things in the process of coming to know one [thing].

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 69