Living Things and Dead Things

Dead                     -             Alive
Concept                -             Idea
Man                      -             God
Machine               -             Organism
Closed                  -             Open
Convergent           -            Divergent
Simple                  -            Complex
Limited                 -            Unlimited
Conscious             -             Unconscious
Known                 -             Unknown
Intentional            -             Accidental
Left hemisphere   -             Right hemisphere

Concepts are devices with which we hold the world still. They are structures that we stand upon and live within; and when viewed from 'Middle World' they seem solid enough.

However, walk a little further out, or dig a little deeper, and their supposed solidity is thrown into question. When viewed from outside Middle World our structures are not as consistent, or as solid, as they first appear.

By believing in our structures - that they are solid, real - we are able to create grand illusions: vast organisations, towering buildings, complex bureaucracies. It is through putting our faith in the idea of permanence - through taking our games seriously, and our stories literally - that we have been able to construct the monumental edifice of Modernity, with its many rewards.

Perhaps this is one reason why traditional societies, like the Blackfoot - who were less inclined to view things as static, or solid - did not build such edifices. They did not take things seriously enough.

Whereas the scientistic approach tends to see mysteries - things that are ill-defined - as problems to be solved, a traditional approach would be more likely to leave the mystery alone. The insoluble problem becomes instead a fertile symbol, unceasingly giving rise to 'fantasy and reflection.'

Schumacher calls those problems that can't be solved 'divergent.' A divergent problem is formed by the interplay of opposites, both of which call for recognition. We can see this interplay as a form of 'opponent processing', where a desired outcome is achieved via the tension of opposites. To treat a divergent, complex problem as convergent and simple, is to only recognise a single pole of the opposition - it is, in a sense, to deny the validity of the opposition.

Foundational myths of traditional cultures remained to some degree present and alive. For the Pintupi, such stories didn't take place in the past, rather they occurred in the 'The Dreaming', a kind of timeless alternative reality whose events and figures are always proximate. Contrast this with the myths of modernity - our scientific theories - which are constantly, and necessarily, outmoded; and which are always, therefore, insufficient

The Idea is the unity that has fallen into plurality by virtue of the temporal and spatial form of our intuitive apprehension.

The concept, on the other hand, is the unity once more produced out of plurality by means of abstraction through our faculty of reason;

the latter can be described as unitas post rem, and the former as unitas ante rem.

Finally we can express the distinction between concept and Idea figuratively, by saying that the concept is like a dead receptacle in which whatever has been put actually lies side by side, but from which no more can be taken out (by analytical judgements) than has been put in (by synthetical reflection).

The Idea, on the other hand, develops in him who has grasped it representations that are new as regards the concept of the same name; it is like a living organism, developing itself and endowed with generative force, which brings forth that which was not previously put into it.

Now it follows from all that has been said that the concept, useful as it is in life, serviceable, necessary, and productive as it is in science, is eternally barren and unproductive in art. The apprehended Idea, on the contrary, is the true and only source of every genuine work of art.

The generation, in other words the dull multitude of any time, itself knows only concepts and sticks to them; it therefore accepts mannered works with ready and loud applause. After a few years, however, these works become unpalatable, because the spirit of the times, in other words the prevailing concepts, in which alone those works could take root, has changed.

Only the genuine works that are drawn directly from nature and life remain eternally young and strong, like nature and life itself. For they belong to no age, but to mankind; and for this reason they are received with indifference by their own age to which they distained to conform; and because they indirectly and negatively exposed the errors of the age, they were recognized tardily and reluctantly.

Now, if the purpose of all art is the communication of the apprehended Idea, this Idea is then grasped by the man of weaker susceptibility and no productive capacity through the medium of the artist's mind, in which it appears isolated and purged of everything foreign;

further, if starting from the concept is objectionable in art, then we shall not be able to approve, when a work of art is intentionally and avowedly chosen to express a concept; this is the case in allegory.

An allegory is a work of art signifying something different from what it depicts. But that which is perceptive, and consequently the Idea as well, expresses itself immediately and completely, and does not require the medium of another thing through which it is outlined or suggested. Therefore that which is suggested and represented in this way by something quite different is always a concept, because it cannot itself be brought before perception.

Hence through the allegory a concept is always to be signified, and consequently the mind of the beholder has to be turned aside from the depicted representation of perception to one that is quite different, abstract, and not perceptive, and lies entirely outside the work of art. Here, therefore, the picture or statue is supposed to achieve what a written work achieves far more perfectly.

[...] certainly no great perfection in the work of art is demanded for what is here intended; on the contrary, it is enough if we see what the thing is supposed to be; for as soon as this is found, the end is reached, and the mind is then led on to quite a different kind of representation, to an abstract concept which was the end in view.

If in plastic and pictorial art we are led from what is immediately given to something else, this must always be a concept, because here only the abstract cannot be immediately given. But a concept can never be the source, and its communication can never be the aim, of a work of art. On the other hand, in poetry the concept is the material, the immediately given, and we can therefore very well leave it, in order to bring about something perceptive which is entirely different, and in which the end is attained.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.234-7, 240

We continue the iconoclast habit and destroy images in religion and literature through allegory and in psychology through conceptual interpretation. (This kitten in your dream is your feeling function; this dog, your sexual desire; this great snake coiled in the corner is your unconscious, or mother, or anxiety.)

The image is slain and stuffed with concepts or vanishes into an abstraction.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.70-1

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. 

I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

[J.R.R. Tolkien]

Calling a story an allegory is intellectually lazy, unless the author intended it to be so. It tricks people into forcing themselves to accept one possible explanation for any story, if it has a "lesson." 

 On some level it is also insulting to an author to suggest that their entire work is a one-to-one substitution to an actual event, unless it is strictly intended. Calling an Onion article an allegory wouldn't be insulting, as each article specifically tackles an issue of choice; it is a lampooning of one aspect of modern culture per article, and the whole production of works is great, because of the format. But it is intended.

LotR is often considered an allegory to WWII, and the Ring has been compared to nuclear weaponry or even nationalism. I personally don't find any of those interpretations to hold much merit, as they lack any of the metaphysical aspects of the object in question.

I mean, really, it's magic.

Some allegories really are timeless lessons in philosophy and folk wisdom and should not be discounted. No one argues the conversation that can result from discussing the Allegory of the Cave or any of the Parables.

However, these allegories all have an intended purpose and point to them, as well as a specific audience that is intended to hear them. To reduce the entirety of the story of LotR into one lesson or one point is reductive.

'Why did Tolkien hate allegory?' 

[...] men, that is to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains [...] It is the power of suggestion that one most misses, I thought, taking Mr B the critic in my hand and reading, very carefully and very dutifully, his remarks upon the art of poetry.

Very able they were, acute and full of learning; but the trouble was that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other.

Thus, when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump to the ground - dead; but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life.

[Virginia Woolf]
A Room of One's Own, p.117

Critics who want to escape from the mysteriousness of the work try to replace it by the intention they ascribe to the artist.

A few years ago, Robert Klein argued that it is no longer possible to judge a painting or sculpture without knowing who made it and in what spirit. When we look at a contemporary painting in a gallery, we search for the artist’s name and the title of the painting, if it has one. We do this not out of mere helplessness or curiosity but in the hope of seeing the work as the fulfilment of an intention.

What Klein meant, I think, was that the work of art now persists chiefly as an indication of an intention; it is as an embodied intention that it can best be studied. It is comforting to be in the presence of intentions we understand because the considerations of psychology and economics aren’t at all mysterious—discussion of them is easy.

You’ll recall the incident, a few years ago, when the Tate Gallery paid good domestic cash for a work called 'Equivalent VIII', a load of bricks laid on the floor by the artist Carl Andre. Andre’s intention was far more interesting than the bricks or the order in which he assembled them.

'I sever matter from depiction,’ he said, ‘I am the Turner of matter’. He meant that in choosing bricks, metal plates, or bales of hay, he chooses things that are associated with particular uses, and he diverts them from those uses so that he can give them intrinsic existence.

(Andre's materials have not already become what their manufacturer wanted them finally to be: as, for instance, a car-mirror (Joseph Bueys) or a lavatory seat (Duchamp).)

Normally we look at things mainly for their use; we deal with them as we deal with the wallpaper in our rooms, we would notice it only if it was gone, torn or daubed with black paint.

Carl Andre wants much the same result. Looking at his bricks, we see them as such, as objects: the artist has forced us to pay attention. He doesn’t claim that there is anything sacred in the bricks themselves, or even in his way of disposing them.

Andre regards the artistic event as a combination of the artist’s intention and our way of receiving it. Is there anything against this? No, except that art in this sense can have no history other than that of its intention.

Once we have taken the point and resolved to amend our lives accordingly, there is nothing more to do. Like any one of Andy Warhol’s films, it is not necessary to see it, it’s enough to understand that it is there, and why.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 36

The way I think about making exhibitions is less about having an argument I’m trying to prove to the world - that this is the right way to think, or to see - it’s more a hypothetical story that I’m trying to tell.

I’m trying to keep it as open as possible, to provide lots of different entry points for different audiences. I’m not interested in trying to hammer away at people's perceptions to make sure they only see it one way.

I do an exhibition because I want to know what the show is about, and if I already did know what it was about then I would not find much interest in doing the show, because it just becomes an exercise in illustrating an argument I’ve already figured out.

For me its more exciting, and more alive, to [not know what it’s about].

[Anthony Huberman]
'Anthony Huberman on For the Blind Man…' 

While the Western world, and particularly Western science, converts the world into a series of concepts that can then be manipulated in the mind, such concepts do not come so easily in the Blackfoot language.

Their philosophy deals with relationships to individual things rather than to collections of similar objects, or ideas into fixed concepts.

Likewise names of things are not fixed. A person's name will change several times during his or her lifetime and to reflect particular deeds and attitudes. Neither is there a fixed concept of personality.

Indeed, while we find multiple personality to be a mental aberration, the Blackfoot would view someone who believed they had only a single self, more or less fixed for life, as missing out on the richness of life's possibilities.

In place of fixed laws and organizations the Blackfoot have networks of relationships with all living things, including rocks and trees, as well as compacts that were negotiated by their ancestors with the spirits and energies of the cosmos. In a world of flux each person has an obligation to renew these relationships and compacts.

And so the Blackfoot world is one of ceremony and responsibility and the recognition of life's basic impermanence. How different their vision of reality is from that which has created our vast organizations, multinationals, and government bureaucracies.

As yet the deeper meaning of quantum theory and process reality has not permeated into our general culture. However, the world of the Blackfoot does show that a society can function in a world of process.

[F. David Peat]
From Certainty to Uncertainty, p. 69-70

The contextual versus abstract distinction is illustrated by the different use of symbols by each hemisphere.

In one sense of the word, a symbol such as the rose is the focus or centre of an endless network of connotations which ramify through our physical and mental, personal and cultural, experience in life, literature and art: the strength of the symbol is in direct proportion to the power it has to convey an array of implicit meanings, which need to remain implicit to be powerful.

In this it is like a joke that has several layers of meaning - explaining them destroys its power.

The other sort of symbol could be exemplified by the red traffic light: its power lies in its use, and its use depends on a 1:1 mapping of the command 'stop' onto the colour red, which precludes ambiguity and has to be explicit.

This sort of symbolic function is in the realm of the left hemisphere, while the first type belongs to the realm of the right.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and His Emissary, p. 51

Any work of art which is simply a copy, simply a piece of knowledge, something which, like science, is simply the product of careful observation and then of noting down in scrupulous terms what you have seen in a fully lucid, accurate and scientific manner - that is death.

Life in a work of art is analogous with - is some kind of quality the work has in common with - what we admire in nature, namely some kind of power, force, energy, life, vitality bursting forth.

That is why the great [works of art] are called great, because we see in them not merely the surface, not merely the technique, not merely the form which the artist, perhaps consciously, imposed, but also something of which the artist may not be wholly aware, namely the pulsations within him of some kind of infinite spirit of which he happens to be the particularly articulate and self-conscious representative.

When this is lacking, when the whole thing is wholly conventional, done according to rules, done in the full self-conscious blaze of complete awareness of what one is doing, the product is of necessity elegant, symmetrical and dead.

This is something to do with the notion of depth [...] According to the romantics [...] what I mean by depth, although they do not discuss it under that name, is inexhaustibility, unembraceability.

[...] in the case of works which are profound the more I say the more remains to be said. There is no doubt that, although I attempt to describe what their profundity consists in, as soon as I speak it becomes quite clear that, no matter how long I speak, new chasms open. No matter what I say I always have to leave three dots at the end.

'Can the sacred be seized?' asked Friedrich Schlegel, and he replied, 'No, it can never be seized because the mere imposition of form deforms it.'

[Isaiah Berlin]
The Roots of Romanticism, p. 98-9, 103-4

A thing explained is a thing we have no further concern with. - What did that god mean who counselled: 'know thyself!'? Does that perhaps mean: 'Have no further concern with thyself! become objective!'- And Socrates ? - And the man of science'? -

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 80

The question arises of whether agriculture is, in fact, an industry, or whether it might be something essentially different. Not surprisingly, as this is a metaphysical - or meta-economic – question, it is never raised by economists.

Now, the fundamental 'principle’ of agriculture is that it deals with life, that is to say, with living substances. Its products are the results of processes of life and its means of production is the living soil. A cubic centimetre of fertile soil contains milliards of living organisms, the full exploration of which is far beyond the capacities of man. 

The fundamental 'principle’ of modern industry, on the other hand, is that it deals with man-devised processes which work reliably only when applied to man-devised, non-living materials. The ideal of industry is the elimination of living substances. 

Man-made materials are preferable to natural materials, because we can make them to measure and apply perfect quality control. Man-made machines work more reliably and more predictably than do such living substances as men. The ideal of industry is to eliminate the living factor, even including the human factor, and to turn the productive process over to machines. 

Alfred North Whitehead defined life as 'an offensive directed against the repetitious mechanism of the universe', so we may define modern industry as 'an offensive against the unpredictability, unpunctuality, general waywardness and cussedness of living nature, including man'.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 91

But the unity of principle found in organisms and evidenced in their form's growth, maturation, and development is not explicable through "mere mechanism," Kant realized. The causal connections implicated in intrinsic physical ends "involve regressive as well as progressive dependency"  and are a priori in the sense mentioned earlier. 

An organism is not a machine and therefore cannot be understood mechanistically precisely because machines lack formative power, that is, they neither produce nor reproduce themselves, nor do they self-organize. 

"Organization' and its cognates, such as "organism," Kant noted, refer to a structure wherein a member is not only a means but also an end; it both contributes to the whole and is defined by it. No machine exhibits this kind of organization, for the efficient cause of a machine lies "outside” the machine in its designer, and its parts do not owe their existence to each other or to the whole. A machine, unlike an organized being, exhibits solely motive power. 

Organisms, on the contrary, self-organize.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.47

Reason, system and comprehension kill as they "cognize." 

That which is cognized becomes a rigid object, capable of measurement and subdivision. Intuitive vision, on the other hand, vivifies and incorporates the details in a living inwardly-felt unity. Poetry and historical study are kin. Calculation and cognition also are kin. But, as Hebbel says somewhere, systems are not dreamed, and art-works are not calculated or (what is the same thing) thought out. 

Becoming has no number. We can count, measure, dissect only the lifeless and so much of the living as can be dissociated from livingness. Pure becoming, pure life, is in this sense incapable of being bounded. It lies beyond the domain of cause and effect, law and measure.

The artist or the real historian sees the becoming of a thing, and he can reenact its becoming from its lineaments, whereas the systematist, whether he be physicist, logician, evolutionist or pragmatical historian, learns the thing that has become. 

The artist's soul, like the soul of a Culture, is something potential that may actualize itself, something complete and perfect - in the language of an older philosophy, a microcosm. The systematic spirit, narrow and withdrawn (“abs-tract") from the sensual, is an autumnal and passing phenomenon belonging to the ripest conditions of a Culture. 

Linked with the city, into which its life is more and more herded, it comes and goes with the city. In the Classical world, there is science only from the 6th-century Ionians to the Roman period, but there was art in the Classical world for just as long as there was existence.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 95, 102

But, if the characteristics, or rather the characteristic, of extension - limit and causality - is really wizard's gear wherewith our proper soul attempts to conjure and bind alien powers - Goethe speaks somewhere of the “principle of reasonable order that we bear within ourselves and could impress as the seal of our power upon everything that we touch" - if all law is a fetter which our world-dread hurries to fix upon the incrowding sensuous, a deep necessity of self-preservation, so also the invention of a time that is knowable and spatially representable within causality is a later act of this same self-preservation, an attempt to bind by the force of notion the tormenting inward riddle that is doubly tormenting to the intellect that has attained power only to find itself defied. 

Always a subtle hatred underlies the intellectual process by which anything is forced into the domain and form-world of measure and law. The living is killed by being introduced into space, for space is dead and makes dead. With birth is given death, with the fulfilment the end. 

Something dies within the woman when she conceives — hence comes that eternal hatred of the sexes, child of world-fear. The man destroys, in a very deep sense, when he begets - by bodily act in the sensuous world, by "knowing" in the intellectual […] And with the "knowledge" of life - which remains alien to the lower animals — the knowledge of death has gained that power which dominates man's whole waking consciousness. By a picture of time the actual is changed into the transitory.

The mere creation of the name Time was an unparalleled deliverance. To name anything by a name is to win power over it. This is the essence of primitive man's art of magic – the evil powers are constrained by naming them, and the enemy is weakened or killed by coupling certain magic procedures with his name.  

And there is something of this primitive expression of world-fear in the way in which all systematic philosophies use mere names as a last resort for getting rid of the Incomprehensible, the Almighty that is all too mighty for the intellect. We name something or other the "Absolute," and we feel ourselves at once its superior. 

Philosophy, the love of Wisdom, is at the very bottom defence against the incomprehensible. What is named, comprehended, measured is ipso facto overpowered, made inert and taboo. Once more, "knowledge is power." 

Herein lies one root of the difference between the idealist's and the realist's attitude towards the Unapproachable; it is expressed by the two meanings of the German word Scheu - respect and abhorrence. The idealist contemplates, the realist would subject, mechanize, render innocuous. Plato and Goethe accept the secret in humility, Aristotle and Kant would open it up and destroy it. 

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 123-4

The soul is a deliberately ambiguous concept […] in the same manner as all ultimate symbols which provide the root metaphors for the systems of human thought. 

Symbols, as we know, are not completely within our control, so that we are not able to use the word in an unambiguous way, even though we take it to refer to that unknown human factor which makes meaning possible, which turns events into experiences, which is communicated in love and which has a religious concern. 

"Matter” and “nature" and "energy" have ultimately the same ambiguity; so too have “life,” “health.”

[James Hillman]
Suicide and the Soul, p. 43-47

[…] where we are concerned with phenomena on a grand scale and with colossal movements, nothing is more precise than a vague word.

[Giovanni Papini]
Il crepuscolo dei filosofi, 56


What is it - the Soul?

If the mere reason could give an answer to that question, the science would be ab initio unnecessary […] this is no notion, but a name, a prime-word like God, a sign for something of which we have an immediate inward certainty but which we are for ever unable to describe.

We are dealing here with something eternally inaccessible to learned investigation. It is not for nothing that every language presents a baffling complexity of labels for the spiritual, warning us thereby that it is something not susceptible of theoretical synthesis or systematic ordering. Here there is nothing for us to order.

Critical (i.e., literally, separating) methods apply only to the world-as-Nature. It would be easier to break up a theme of Beethoven with dissecting-knife or acid than to break up the soul by methods of abstract thought.

Nature-knowledge and man-knowledge have neither aims nor ways in common. The primitive man experiences “soul,” first in other men and then in himself, as a Numen, just as he knows numina of the outer world, and develops his impressions in mythological form.

His words for these things are symbols, sounds, not descriptive of the indescribable but indicative of it for him who hath ears to hear. They evoke images, likenesses (in the sense of Faust II) – the only language of spiritual intercourse that man has discovered to this day […]

Certain ineffable stirrings of soul can be imparted by one man to the sensibility of another man through a look, two bars of a melody, an almost imperceptible movement. That is the real language of souls, and it remains incomprehensible to the outsider.

The word as utterance, as poetic clement, may establish the link, but the word as notion, as element of scientific prose, never.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 300

The archetypal anima expressed through the voice of Diotima would seem to want to shift the phallus-penis mystery from the level of insoluble problem to that of symbol - an object for and source of continuing fantasy. 

In this way it becomes a creative symbol and a symbol of the creative, since it unceasingly gives rise to psychic fantasy and reflection.

[James Hillman]
The Myth of Analysis, p. 65

To convert the creative mystery into a problem for solution is not only indecent but impossible. 

The analysis of creativity would mean laying bare the nature of man and the nature of creation. These are mysteries concerning whence we have come, from what we live, and whither we return. They do not yield to analysis, to an explanatory psychology. 

We may speculate and fantasy and with our logos tell a tale, that is, confabulate a bit, bringing a mythologem as contribution to "creativity” in celebration of it, communion with it; but we will not attend its sacrifice (were this even possible), not its ritual dismemberment by psychological analysis. Therefore, there shall be no definition, which limits and cuts, but rather amplification, which extends and connects. 

[James Hillman]
The Myth of Analysis, p. 30-1

Helmholtz observed, in a lecture of 1869 that has become famous, that “the final aim of Natural Science is to discover the motions underlying all alteration, and the motive forces thereof; that is, to resolve itself into Mechanics." 

What this resolution into mechanics means is the reference of all qualitative impressions to fixed quantitative base-values, that is, to the extended and to change of place therein. It means, further - if we bear in mind the opposition of becoming and become, form and law, image and notion — the referring of the seen Nature-picture to the imagined picture of a single numerically and structurally measurable Order. 

The specific tendency of all Western mechanics is towards an intellectual conquest by measurement, and it is therefore obliged to look for the essence of the phenomenon in a system of constant elements that are susceptible of full and inclusive appreciation by measurement, of which Helmholtz distinguishes motion (using the word in its everyday sense) as the most important.

To the physicist this definition appears unambiguous and exhaustive, but to the sceptic who has followed out the history of this scientific conviction, it is very far from being either. To the physicist, present-day mechanics is a logical system of clear, uniquely-significant concepts and of simple, necessary relations; while to the other it is a picture distinctive of the structure of the West-European spirit, though he admits that the picture is consistent in the highest degree and most impressively convincing. 

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, p. 377

With a convergent problem, as already mentioned, the answers suggested for its solution tend to converge, to become increasingly precise; they can be finalised and written down in the form of an instruction.

Once the answer has been found, the problem ceases to be interesting: a solved problem is a dead problem. 

To make use of the solution does not require any higher faculties or abilities - the challenge is gone, the work is done. Whoever makes use of the solution can remain relatively passive; he is a recipient, getting something for nothing, as it were.

Convergent problems relate to the dead aspect of the Universe, where manipulation can proceed without let or hindrance and where man can make himself 'master and possessor', because the subtle, higher forces, which we have labelled life, consciousness and self-awareness, are not there to complicate matters.

Wherever these higher forces intervene to a significant extent, the problem ceases to be convergent.

We can say, therefore, that convergence may be expected with regard to any problem that does not involve life, consciousness or self-awareness, which means in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy, in abstract subjects like geometry and mathematics, or in games like chess. The moment we are dealing with problems involving the higher Levels of Being, we must expect divergence, for there enters, to however modest a degree, the element of freedom and inner experience.

Looked at from another angle, we see the most universal pair of opposites, the very hallmark of life: growth and decay […] These basic pairs of opposites […] are encountered wherever there is life, consciousness, self-awareness.

As we have seen, it is pairs of opposites that make a problem divergent, while the absence of pairs of opposites (of this basic character) ensures convergence.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.144-5

If some physicists now think of God as a great mathematician, this is a significant reflection of the fact that 'instructive science' deals only with the dead aspect of nature.

Mathematics, after all, is far removed from life. At its heights it certainly manifests a severe kind of beauty and also a captivating elegance, which may even be taken as a sign of Truth; but, equally certainly, it has no warmth, none of life's messiness of growth, and decay, hope and despair, joy and suffering.

This must never be overlooked or forgotten: physics and the other instructional sciences limit themselves to the lifeless aspect of reality, and this is necessarily so if the aim and purpose of science is to produce predictable results.

Life, and, even more so, consciousness and self-awareness, cannot be ordered about; they have, we might say, a will of their own, which is a sign of maturity.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.122-3

Custom concerns the ordinary and unexceptional; memory, the extraordinary and unexpected. Custom surrounds itself with silence, a hushed air of veneration; memory, with oratory, disputation, dialectic.

Societies that set a high value on custom take little interest in their own origins, whereas societies unified (and divided) by memories cultivate a founding myth that remains a point of moral reference and recalls men and women to an awareness of their civic obligations.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.131

Don’t lose sight of the founding myth - keeping it in mind keeps the culture flexible and vital. When it is forgotten then customs lose their meaning and become empty, dry routines.

In Australia one finds the dream tracks, or songlines, made by the Ancestors when they walked the land.

And, recalling that time is neither linear nor an arrow, we should realize that this time of the dreaming of the Australian Aborigines is not something that exists only in an absolute past, nor should dreaming be associated with our Western sense of what a dream is.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.266

Narratives have a strange temporal nature. Their function is not primarily to remember the past, but to re-enact past events as present events.

The meaning of the narrative lies not in the fact that it is supported by some important piece of history, but in the metre and rhythm of its present telling.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.128

If language is closed off, if it is formalised into a stable system in which meaning is fixed, it will die, or was dead to start with. A living language is in a state far from equilibrium. It changes, it is in contact with other languages, it is abused and transformed.

This does not mean that meaning is a random or arbitrary process. It means that meaning is a local phenomenon, valid in a certain frame of time and space.

Since every language also has a history - a history co-responsible for the meaning of terms - meaning is more stable than one would think, even within the context of a model that values flux and proliferation. Words bear with them the traces of previous meanings that cannot be discarded at will.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.124

Whether you are examining past societies or living and acting within one today, it’s important to distinguish between live and dead players.

A live player is a person or well-coordinated group of people that is able to do things they have not done before. A dead player is a person or group of people that is working off a script, incapable of doing new things.

A player will also die if their tight coordination is replaced by formal structures, which can happen as members of an organization change. If you’re constrained by formal structures, it becomes harder to go off script, and this won’t be adaptive enough. Remember, however, that tight coordination can be achieved by just one exceptional person.

[Samo Burja]
‘Live versus Dead Players’

Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

[Chief Seattle]
'Chief Seattle's 1854 Oration'

If the sign, the signifier, is completely absorbed by meaning, by the signified, then language loses all its magic and splendour. It becomes purely informational; it works instead of plays.

Eloquence and linguistic elegance also derive from the luxury of the signifier. Only through the overabundance, the excess, of the signifier does language appear magical, poetic and seductive:

“This overabundant order of the signifier is that of magic (and poetry)… The long work of joining signifier and signified, the work of reason, somehow brakes and absorbs this fatal profusion.

The magical seduction of the word must be reduced, annulled. And it will be so the day when all signifiers receive their signifieds, when all has become meaning and reality.”

What is mysterious is not the signified but the signifier without the signified. Magic spells do not convey any meaning. They are empty signs, so to speak. That is why they appear magical, like doors that lead nowhere.

Ritual signs cannot be assigned a determinate meaning either. Thus, they appear enigmatic. As language becomes increasingly functional and informational, the overabundance, the excess, of the signifier diminishes. Language is disenchanted.

Pure information is nothing magical. It does not seduce. Language develops its magnificence, its seductive power, only thanks to the overabundance of the signifier.

The culture of information has lost the magic that comes from the empty signifier. We now live in a culture of the signified, which dismisses the signifier, form, as something external. Our culture is hostile to pleasure and form.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.61-2

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