︎ Art Objects
︎ Earth Ecology
“My electrons are your electrons”
Modes of Approach :: A Durational Practice
Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major
Bursting at the forefront of some mighty cosmic river.
Persisting at the tip of a blossoming spree –
Carriers of Deep Time:
This will be a journey, believe me.
Plurality and Unity calls for an Essential Ethics,
A Philosophy of Openness.
Experiment, Explore, Endeavor, Discover,
With all of us, we can do anything.
Practice, Durational Practice.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
I want to display the fundamental grounding.
The ground will always be moving.
Lets move with the moving grounding.
Lets feel grounded in the air.
This is a call to action.
The insights I find myself privy to feel like a glorious synthesis of the historical efforts of thought and action (inextricably connected). My endeavor to open up a realm of hope and wonder and powerful will as we perpetually bloom and shape the new terrain of our shared space is not a new idea. I aim to delicately present my understanding of how the universe has been talked about in the past, and explore carefully yet playfully into some speculatives. This study involves some grand notions of space and Nature, Earth and truth, enlightenment and the Human, and climaxes with unstructured yet deeply grounded diit ends with art and durational practice. All of our own ideas are held up because a shared reality sustains our endeavors together towards the depth, Poetry will be the realm I am for. It implies a newness, all the time. Poetry opens up the space reserved for unreserved expression by the most delicate means possible. The delicacy of poetry can shout a power so loud that the ground will shake. Poetry is the activity of the moving ground. It is in the tips of the deepest root yet, and the deeper the root grows the more expressive that push onward into the depth of the ground and shouts backwards up thrPoetry is the activity of playfully grounding our wonder we inhabit here. Our words are innovative tools and to invoke understandings, both pragmatic and supernatural. I want those realms to feel closer together, as essentially of the same all of us have always been products of our time, and every writer ever has onthe Buddhist tradition, especially Zen as presented to the west by Alan Watts, speaks of enlightenment as something we need never go searching for. Instead, the potential to establish sustained wonder exists in each of us. Enlightenment is simply something for us to recognize, to enact, to revel in, and to practice, now and ever. It seems almost silly that we are still so uncertain of the basics of our existential situation when in 1884 the American Pragmatist John Dewey wrote,
We see that man is somewhat more than a neatly dovetailed psychical machine who may be taken as an isolated individual, laid on the dissecting table of analysis and duly anatomized. We know that his life is bound up with the life of society, of the nation in the ethos and nomos; we know that he is closely connected with all the past by the lines of education, tradition, and heredity; we know that man is indeed the microcosm who has gathered into himself the riches of the world, both of space and of time, the world physical and the world psychical. (The New Psychology)
The depth of Dewey’s claim involves a history of movement and inter-related action, with each and every individual essentially “bound up” in a participatory blooming, all of which achieving its expression by way of the gathered “riches of the world, both of space and of time.” This gathering should invoke the image of outstretched hands, reaching into the depth and actively learning how to hold more in their grasp.
Even though Dewey shared such drastic insight a century and a quarter before, we still struggle to recognize the depth of the riches we have gathered. So much of western culture is stuck in distinction, hunting for one eternal objectivity, striving to find some absolute “Truth,” rather than embracing the varied universe of beings and one’s own ongoing, durational and essential dependence upon a world of others, acting amongst the same organic potential, though with practices as varied as jazz.
I’m fine saying I know the stone because I experience its very stoniness. That stuff there – that .. That stone. That is what that is! Hello stone stuff, you are very stony.
When you find yourself in an imposing intuitive space, and you see the depth
Here I want to take us on a roaring dive through the satori portal.
“Satori really designates the sudden and intuitive way of seeing into anything”(Alan W. Watts, The Way of Zen, p.161) Satori is a Zen word for the instant of awakening, which Alan S. Weiss so delicately frames as,
A pure intuition of the nature of things as an organic whole, including the spectator, the contemplator, man himself. It teaches that Zen is nature. Nature is not “forced” … but rather intuited for what it is, always in unity with the observer. (Weiss, Allen S.: Mirrors of Infinity:: The French Formal Garden and 17th-Century Metaphysics (New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 1995) p. 15).
The Satori Portal does not require an otherworldly leap, its path only points towards a transformation of understanding. It implies the achievement of a grasp upon a deeper, more foundational mode of approach than embodied before. Stepping through the portal is like digging a brand new groove into the Earth (Image 1) – our experience of the intuitive vision involves a real physical achievement (a groove can be associated with a new neuronal linkage in the brain that corresponds with our new understanding, and doing it once makes it so much easier to do again). But the space we enter as we step on to the other side of the portal is not like a static heaven. The perpetuation of an awakened grasp-of-the-depth requires an ongoing, durational practice. The ground will always be moving - lets step together onto a path that has yet to manifest, and try our best to sustain an understanding that banishes yet compassionately recognizes suffering. Our revelations will only make us more explicitly aware of the collective movement of the new world that blooms everywhere, together. Our awakened attitude must be enacted. This is a call to action.
I want to situate us in actuality. a space that requires a philosophy of openness and the durational activity of some essential ethics. I aim for a playful rigor. I strive for an achievable, though undeniably demanding theory of everything. The wild and remarkable complexity of cooperation that constitutes the body of the human creature and the supportive environment that we are immersed in is an achievement of this physical world - our bodies are ever-moving events that achieve their recurrence by a deep rooted involvement, a learned ability of material relations that endures through hard practice.
We are actively doing so many things that any study of being must also be a study of activity, achievement, expression, relation, and aim. The demanding and constant physical understanding necessary to endure being-in-the-world with other intrinsically related selves is something we know how to do without conscious effort, (our bodies are so complex and active!) and so we should feel awfully skilled. This coincidence of earth, a collection of space stuff capable of interacting in such complex, ever-shifting, supportive and balanced ways, is ever-developing into new situations of interaction.
Our step as rigorous and curious thinkers is aimed at grasping the full extent of our immersion in the universe. One of the most essential questions of existence consists of the wonder, “How should I hold myself in relation to the grand scheme?” The most satisfactory answer will involve of the times can come with aWith a solid theoretical grounding the development of an already-enlightened durational practice becomes basic. Here I hope to help us more fully grasp the depth of our roots in EARTH.
We are amidst crucial times, we should notice. Explicit, widespread conscious understanding of our potential plight has become devastatingly necessary. Humans these days can enact a greater influence on the world than ever before. Cranes and airplanes become casual extensions of our capabilities. We can now build and move ourselves, our structures, and our ideas in hyper-innovative ways. Our communal collection of information grows as the globalized world shares all the way around with greater speed, but our actions do not yet reflect an adequate understanding of what such an earth-wide community means. Specialization still dominates industry and professionalism, contributing to the disjointed movement into troublesome new terrain. We need not be hyper-critical of the past and the idiosyncratic methods of investigation of the many “distinct” disciplines of study. This careful empiricism makes way for vast wisdom once it is shared, and so much wisdom is now available to the world over. However, the commitment to the connections between the findings of our scientific community seems to be lacking. The synthesis does not yet seem widespread or explicit, and the world still seems confused, or certainly uncertain.
Activity will persist in many ways, and in such a medium of abundant energy (the universe that we are in and of), we strive for the answers that satisfy our inquiries. To feel all of one's questions answered seems a common goal, but to think one has found end-all answers is to quit short of the durational ongoing. To find an answer and to know it as a closed truth, as an end of inquiry, is to ignore the fresh world of the other that will always be moving.
The only closed truths I offer are of a different kind – I only know that newness exists, that there is no one answer that will satisfy the inquiry of the grand scheme. A conservative approach to the most casual or rigorous philosophy will fail. There are no ends, and so there are no mere means to an end. The Nature that surrounds, pervades, and potentiates existence is a relational space. There are participants outside of my own self in this one big thing that is happening, and our relations necessitate an inherency of value. Value exists by virtue of our own experiences amongst other experiencers. Innovative selves exist, and those selves are as they are by virtue of the others they are in relation to and the whole that grounds them all together. Alfred North Whitehead, first a mathematician, then a metaphysician with growing influence in contemporary philosophy, defines the pluralistic inter-fusion of subjects by saying “the many become one, and are increased by one” (Process and Reality, 21). A miraculous new friend named TOE, a teacher of enlightenment (his mother gave him the name “the one everything, my one everything), told me last night, “There is no other, and there is no other One.” The nature of these claims are meant to open space to the widest degree, and to necessitate the immersion of everything and everyone into the same one thing. We are in a bound up togetherness as constituents of the one shared world. Conservative claims will not stand – the reality of another's existence will not be restricted by one’s ignorant claim of truth. The notion of “oneness” implies an inclusivity that is not only pragmatically necessary, it is fundamental. This era of human understanding is so exciting because of our ability to consciously recognize the power of experience outside of ourselves, and the extent to which we are each shaped by the perceptions and expressions of those outside of us. There is no room left for the restriction of possibility.
The rejection of conservative philosophy does not at all entail the acceptance of un-reasoned or irrational theories. On the contrary, it entails a constant and rigorous quest for truths by means of the most insightful modes of approach. No one way will provide all answers. The value-ridden relational participation of selves in the universe will make sense of things in a variety of sharable ways. Our shared fundamental grounding means that we can, at least on an abstract level, understand another's point of view.
Here I want to help broaden the scope, to contribute to the communication between the disjointed; between those that might feel intrinsically distinct from one another to allow for the possibility of a great many more voices to be recognized and heard. I hope that together we will find something to hold on to for dear life while we spin out in the universe of wild and improvised happening. This is not a dead planet that houses trillions of isolated souls. This is not a staging ground for some “other” thing, place, or existence. This that we are experiencing, that we are in and a part of is not something we are simply observing alone. This is the one big thing actually happening. We manifest our selves by taking a stand, by acting, by doing, always amongst others that possess the very same basis; these are inevitabilities of being and there is no escaping the immersion.
With a proper freedom given to the possibilities of existence, this immersive beingness can proceed with hope. When we recognize our vast unity, we can recognize the extent to which we can rely on our unified capability. Reliability upon our common ground becomes something we can know.
The cultural landscape still has difficulty granting legitimate viability to many of the theories that articulate a participatory, “pan-experiential” universe of feelingness, but this makes sense considering the history of what has been visible as “truth,” and the philosophy that accompanies its movement amongst the co-existing power struggles between oppositional hunts for “truth in its purest form.” The “opposing” approaches of science and religion, idealism and materialism, mind and body, self and other are found ridden throughout our cultural discourse. These dichotomies are necessary and useful when synthesized, but that is the main point: they must be synthesized. Each of the focused investigations into facets of actuality can be applied to the grand understanding instead of sitting with a self-limited conservativism.
In 1919 Nicola Tesla wrote, “Science is but a perversion of itself unless it has, as its ultimate goal the betterment of humanity.” Tesla’s philosophy is clarified beautifully by another quote of his from the same year: “What we want now is closer contact and better understanding between individuals and communities all over the earth, and the elimination of egoism and pride... Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.” This enlightenment certainly recognizes “man” as fused with Nature, as an expression of Nature's great improvisation, as John Dewey so encompassingly said, “the microcosm who has gathered into himself the riches of the world, both of space and of time, the world physical and the world psychical.” And so science should thus be for the benefit of nature. There is no “self” that has not always already been immersed in the collective and collaborative movement of EARTH. We and our experiences are bound up with the physical/psychical durational process of blooming. The bloom of every individual “microcosm” is entirely and fundamentally held up, supported, enabled, perpetuated, actualized, etc. by the Nature that is the all-of-it-at-once. And so our rigorous scientific endeavors for the benefit of nature becomes an activity directed toward authenticity, toward understanding the essential and unavoidable relations, towards knowing by trust and commitment that at the bottom most breakdown of parts, no part ever exists in alone and distinct. The Buddhist notion of dependence-upon-one-another that is invoked by the image of leaning reeds will always be the truth - there will always be the support of a universe that is fundamentally an experiential space of “being-with.” The Tao is the undefined and unbiased notion of this very essence. Our ethical movement must be toward feeling naturally, relatively, relationally balanced amongst an improvising space of physical-mixed-with-interpretational relations. Our scientific understands must always remember that they are enabled primarily by the nature of Nature, and so our own benefit can never be thought of as distinct from that whole happening, the all encompassing, leaning on itself Nature. –- A rigorous investigation by the community of interested and able selves (amongst and of everything that makes that investigation possible) into what we can know with the lowest degree of uncertainty; that is what science is. Science is not where our investigation ends – we can apply its methods as a well-fashioned go-to tool, but we cannot be trapped by its one dimensionality.
Physics only studies what a scientist can see; the basis is empirical. It is incredibly hard to grasp the notion of the movement of the solar system without a telescope to help you to become aware of the planets. Until recently, all physics could see was a mechanical universe that moved according to unbendable physical laws. It is with a development of new tools that provide new means for grasping grand-scale ideas that our notions of space, and thus of reality have come to change. Einstein’s Relativity shifted our conception of the universe from Newton’s forever, but all it really did for our picture of space was to adjust it from seeing unbendable physical laws to seeing physical laws that happen to bend. For Einstein, the key to grasping the difference was by visualizing the adventure of the light beam. It was by some kind of empathetic, visualized, imagination of the experience of light that he grasped space in a new way. This remarkable and ultimately abstract application of the imaginative image is a potent tool we will come back to more and more as we delve deeper. This is where the playful rigor comes to dwell. Quantum evades the casual grasp because it presents to us a notion of space that has never been “seen” before. The quiet claims of Quantum; the desperate difference between our picture of space before and the matter as it quantumly seems; we are forced by our physics to reconsider the kind of space we see around us, and to attempt to grasp this new physical space by involving the experiential aspect of being as essentially bound-up with and as the physical.
To see this kind of space is to see feeling. This is no easy task. The scientific culture’s general discourse and research practices imply that the casual grasp upon space is still guided by our common vision of the eye - a potent perception that perpetuates the paradigm of the physical laws of mechanism and determinism. From this mode of approach, “Science manipulates things and gives up living in them,” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind). This may be our one biggest worry – the transformation of the actual world into a cold space of dead, inactive, non-feeling, mechanically pre-determined matter. “But it doesn’t need to anymore,” could be our edition to Merleau-Ponty’s cry - our insight into the truth is not absolutely restricted by the first impression on the eyes.
The human experience is undermined when scientific findings are interpreted without remembering that before science comes the scientist, a curious organism capable of investigating the shared world. It is by forgetting one’s already planted feet and hands that grip, and by giving in to an over-committed hunt for some “one final truth” (by means of science or “pure reason” most usually) that God comes to “die,” as Nietzsche painted it. The secular culture decays the sacred by granting legitimacy to certain modes of approach, and by rejecting other unquantifiable explanations because “experience is too fickle to determine any real truth,” or something like that. We have let some confused teachers talk to us in terms that reduced the significance and meaning of relational things (human and the vastness of support for the potential of the human) and thus our cultural goals are still misaligned with the ever-moving holistic collaboration of earth. This conservative, reductive attitude still haunts us. It is all too recent and common that we hear about the brain being studied in the way one might open up a computer, hoping to find one distinct circuit that correlates with one distinct emotion, and other such determined, simple cause and effect explanations for the irreducible complexity of fleeting and shifting experience. The fact of the matter is that there is something much more complex, more emotional, more experiential and improvisational going on in an organic body than there is in the circuits of a computer. Studying the brain is hugely important, but it becomes a waste of time when the premise is focused on a false goal. The real issue is a matter of priorities – our pragmatic cultural questions could ask, “What is it that we feel inclined to investigate? What are we actually trying to do?” It is time that we let the insights of science be applied as useful contributions to a human understanding, and thus an EARTH-ly understanding of what is to be known, and what is to be done.
The good philosophy will prevail with unlimited potential manifestations - to find it we must be willing to step back and reevaluate our own understanding of the essentials, of the fundamentals. “What I am trying to convey to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the impalpable source of sensations” (Cezanne). This endeavor into the roots is a cutting edge kind of activity. Merleau-Ponty recognized what Cezanne wanted to share - “But indeed only a human being is capable of such a vision which penetrates right to the root of things beneath the imposed order of humanity… and one sees how Cezanne was able to revive the classical definition of art: man added to nature” (From “Cezanne’s Doubt,” Merleau-Ponty).
But what is this artly activity of “man,” this new ability of humanness that Nature happened upon? What is this mysterious investigation that Cezanne calls us to endeavor into? They say Cezanne would sit for hours in front of his paintings without making a mark, waiting until he knew he had grasped the necessity of his task. And this was no basic task –
Cezanne did not think he had to choose between feeling and thought, between order and chaos. He did not want to separate the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear; … We see things; we agree about them; we are anchored in them; and it is with “nature” as our base that we construct our sciences. Cezanne wanted to paint this primordial world, and his pictures therefore seem to show nature pure… Cezanne never wished to “paint like a savage.” He wanted to put intelligence, ideas, sciences, perspective, and tradition back in touch with the world of nature which they must comprehend. He wished, as he said, to confront the sciences with the nature “from which they came.”
Merleau-Ponty, Cezanne’s Doubt (1948)
An authentic endeavor - to dig into the actuality without getting trapped making the same mistaken distinctions as the “ready-made alternatives suggested to him: sensation versus judgment; the painter who sees versus the painter who thinks; nature versus composition…” (M-P). The impressionists just before him emphasized the sensation, the impressions of the human experience. They painted against the academy, defined by a conservative rigor of approach that strove to ideally represent “things as they should be.” We can recognize the Godly principle of judgment in their style, attempting to define one true way of seeing and rejecting all others as bad art. The dualistic dichotomies have been stressed for too long. Cezanne’s art was an investigation into a true human union, a fusion, an applied science-of-nature that could not pretend there was any reason to distinguish or choose between the mind and the body, between “feeling or thought,” between “sensation or judgment.” He did not think the refined perspective or “purity” lay in representing “objects as they really are,” nor in just how they appeared at first sight - he reveled in the inquiry of what he could perceive of the actual world. He hunted the complex truth of things, he strove for a more all-encompassing sight.
This human achievement of following the roots so far down that we cannot help but shout out about what we’ve unearthed is the revelatory origin of the art experience. Heidegger refers to it as the “disclosure of EARTH.” So much of the cultural discourse of the roots, the discussion of the understanding of depth has been limited to what is called the “mind of the human.” From our different perspective, the grasp of the depth is an achievement of experience that becomes possible only with a welling-up of action also. What we come to understand is not something that feels isolated inside our brains. The unearthing of EARTH is something that happens for us by way of being-in-the-world, of being-with-the-world, of doing-amongst-the-participatory-activity. Our understanding of the depth of the roots, of EARTH, happens as an achievement of the physical, psychical, material EARTH itself. Life is of EARTH - It is what our being is constituted by. As a manifestation of EARTH itself, we cannot help but command our material presence in the world.
The achievement of an actively self presencing living body makes way for the bellowing out of truth. Being, by way of our physical possibilities and the inevitable accompaniment of experience of the physical, will share its magnitude in a fit of action. The energy of this place makes way for mighty expression, for an actively achieved presence. With the ability of breath and bark, the wolf howls forth the depth of its own being. It shares its being as a truth of EARTH, and the howl is shared with all that are themselves present. The howl manifests as a spontaneous burst of the undefined natural process, a welling-up-from-within that is always already a response to the community around. The howl all at once teaches its own profundity and is taught its limits of expressiveness - A playful test of the whim of ability. Once it begins the truth of the expression becomes something that no longer belongs to the welled-up wolf, but to the physical world it is with. wins. It begins and once it has begun the expression
An active grasp-upon-the-depth of the deeply shared world comes the bellowing out of truth. The physical achievements of a body that can grasp hold and wield parts of the world as extended tools of its our own ability makes this bellowing something that can last longer than just a call of the vocal. Every psychical experience of depth is constituted with a physical expression of the understanding. The expression of the un-earthed EARTH manifests as an activity that in some sense has already grasped the depth, and in another is in the process of making it more readily graspable. We must practice our investigations into the revealed space in order to prolong our grasp of it. The grasp upon the depth is a natural ability, but it is an achievement of doing - it is not simply a lasting grasp that is had all at once and that stays forever. Each time we take hold of this grasp on the depth of the relational space we dig some sort of groove, and the more we practice it, the deeper we dig the groove and the easier it becomes to fall into it once again later on. It is with the practice, the same kind as Cezanne looking for hours at Mt. _______, or the Buddha meditating, quieting the mind to better hear the subtleties of the duration, that we come to keep a hold on the depth of the truth. The practice is of learning to express (and thus to feel) the depth more frequently, and more adequately. The practice is an activity that strives towards an achievement, but the activity itself implies an incredible achievement already. The discovery of adequate expressions of truth-as-we-have-come-to-know-it happens through the activity of expression itself. Achieving an adequate or desired expression is a physical activity as much as it is a mental or perceptual one. The physical and the mental are tied together and act as the same thing, both constituting movement and being moved. A being of particular ability (human beings, (in our culture)) strives toward understanding the depth of the relational roots as the all-ness of Nature pushes onward through the duration. We may seem to experience the revelation of understanding in our minds, and we may attempt to show it as we have seen it, but the grasp of the depth in the mind is never fully realized without the physicality of the expression as a bodily activity of grasping. And it circles further, because the result of the activity, the “art thing” that has suddenly “shown up” imposes itself as part of the world that inspired the creative act in the first place. I imagine the cave painters recognizing the sacred relations between themselves and the horses or bison of the land. I can imagine them rubbing their pigmented fingers frantically on the walls with the skilled movements of the prehensile hand with little consideration of the task they had embarked upon. These actions of the moment are done in a fit of expressive necessity, improvised as a physical movement that reflects and responds all at once, as the manifestation of the expression itself. Regardless of what depth they aimed to show through their actions, the actions themselves are rooted in the physical movement, stemming from the inevitable expression of some grasp of the depth. As the expression of the action is manifested through the collaboration between man and stone, the depth of the grasp on the understanding of the miraculous relation between man and animal becomes present in a way that had never been seen before, not for the artist or any other fellow. Every expressive act is in itself a physical manifestation of sharing an understanding, and the physical existence of a material result shares itself in a way that is distinct from the expressive experience that manifested it. No experience repeats itself, and so suddenly a whole new realm of shared expressiveness by way of a worldly collaboration becomes possible through the experience of the “art” thing that all so suddenly “just shows up.” It’s existence, its own expressiveness shares itself in a way that only it can. The hand of the artist that was there before is there no longer, but everything is changed forever. The result of the expression; this “thing;” - it exists to be seen fresh and new waiting to be rediscovered by the artist and for the rest of the shared world. The revelatory experience that enacted such an expressive doing becomes a physical truth, a thing-that-is, a thing-that-speaks. The thing then acts to reveal what was revealed to the artist, and more. It becomes a tool for reflecting upon reflection, for acting upon action, for learning from what has been learned through the experience of self-expressive/worldly-expressive action (always a collaborative constitution).
We recognize the touch of revelation, the revelation of expression of EARTH-ly understanding
Such expression is more widely shared by working-in-the-world to enact tools for sharing – be that works of art, or words/pictures/symbols that share the truth without restricting it to the kind of experience that first manifested it. These “things;” artworks and words and symbols and actions are results of the desperate attempt to express the depth of an inter-relational space, and they take on their own life as tools to enable further revelations. Art just shows up. There is no “one way” to do this – thus we aim for a playful rigor while we strive onward into the new terrain of expression and insightful experience. Our recent rigor of the interdisciplinary approach helps us to understand the shift from nature “before” to a nature that feels the potency of astonishment, wonder, and awe, of relations and depth and of shared suffering amidst the chaos of frantic participation in a space of beings, and that acts accordingly to its relational understanding. The world becomes full of things that reveal themselves – everything is physical and thus imposes itself onto all of space so as to be heard, “THIS SPACE EXISTS LIKE THIS, I AM AS I AM, WE CONSTITUTE THE UNDERSTANDING OF EACHOTHER, WE WILL BOTH BE, HERE, TOGETHER.” The inspiration of the need for expression comes from experience in the world. Revealed “things,” “works and words, words as works” reveal the experience of the revelation of that which is.
At a climax of awareness, we recognize the need for a continually practiced activity of expressed revelation of relations. We can strive to express our understanding of the truth of depth as effectively as we can. The implications are hopeful and forward looking and full of novel potential for enacting new practices of relating (with all of the unconcealed beings, with all of EARTH). “Cezanne’s difficulties are those of the first word”(M-P, Cezanne’s Doubt). Our difficulties are of the words we have yet to use.
The over-due and most crucial insight of our times will be the re-grounding of the seemingly unrooted secular culture back into an understanding that “The whole universe in its different spans and wave-lengths, exclusions and envelopments, is everywhere alive and conscious” (William James, Pluralistic Universe). It is with good science and a cross-disciplinary sharing of insights that force these kinds of claims to the legitimate forefront of contemporary philosophy. This is a movement that brings science and other historically conservative approaches to the grand investigation down from their otherworldly Godish towers and back to their own physical, spiritual, inter-relational roots. These philosophies are not new, William James gave his Pluralistic Universe lectures in 1909, and Cezanne was testing the polyphony of vision, attempting to consider, capture, and compile the variety of slightly phenomenon as they came throughout his active and playful perception and expression around the same time that John Dewey was considering the complexity and variety of the innate blend of physical/psychical beingness in 1884. All the while, the ancient Buddhist principles run along side the movement of ideas in the west. The drastic and dangerous thing is that so few in the current culture are willing to commit to such an organic and active movement of the universe. The exciting thing is that I notice these incredible ideas expressed more and more frequently as the days go by.
The opposite view that rejects a global commitment to shared revelations of the depth of our inter-woven meanings and values is what makes the practice of damming rivers, of hogging and polluting water, of patenting native plant seeds, and of other unrestricted corporate, capitalistic freedoms possible. The philosophy that legitimizes capitalism is broken – its logic is based on a notion of essentially distinct individuals each seeking their own selfish well-being. It stems from an outdated physics and philosophy that still holds a ridiculous and dangerous sway over the public at large. We are feeling the unfortunate and frequently devastating results of this troubled mode of approach more and more. I feel the need to write with a tragic threat of calamity because our situation as an earthen family grows perilous as we continue to ignore or reject the intimacy of existence that so many people throughout history have tried to reveal. I strive for a caution in these beginning sentences just to retain enough legitimacy in the conservative and suspicious 2011 world to keep a reader of the pervasive opposing view interested in reading on. I will be as careful as I can, but the grand understanding that I want to invigorate requires practice and openness. Stay with me.
We are trying to affirm a Nature of subjects with distinct experiences, yet always unified. While there is certainly a real world that we can commit to as an objective truth, we need not parse it out into distinctions of objective finality. What actually is is always is-ing, regardless of how it may seem. We can trust truth, and it will work for us, even if we can never actually find some “one great truth.”
The ideology of the individual is a sort of root level theory upon which one's rationality of the “world as it seems” is supported. Such rationalizing is the process that determines the potential one believes to exist in the universe. Similar to a tree growing in the earth, roots that grip deep and feel nurtured by the living soil that wholly surrounds will nurture a healthy expression of the self above ground. Different ideological frameworks, which we can think of as essentially different notions of reality, will result from different rationalizations of the world. These differences in approach effect priorities, actions, and responsibilities from where they originate – the self. Every process of rationalization is different, and from different theoretical starting points come different practical endpoints. If we want to start thinking ethically already, our practical goal would be aimed at good. This becomes a responsibility of one that is able to actively seek a broadening of their ideological understanding. A more encompassing ideology is the same as an expanded consciousness, a greater awareness, or a more widespread root system, perhaps with a michorrizal network that really links everything up. Every epiphany is an ideological jump, and it is the same for satori, –- some sudden realization, a brand new insight that shakes the foundations upon which one rationalizes the world. One's own ideology is essentially shaped/formed/constituted by the ideas present in the culture that surrounds.
What experience and culture provides for us is a set of stories to act as models that we can relate our own narrative of our own self to.
Alan Watts begins his book The Way of Zen by emphasizing the different thought patterns, or rationalization processes between the modes of approach of the West and the East. The western movement has certainly been obsessed with developing what Watts calls “conventional knowledge, because we do not feel that we really know anything unless we can represent it to ourselves in words, or in some other system of conventional signs…”(Watts, 4). Thought it seems very natural to try to settle our hectic thoughts by finding correlative tools (words, numbers, etc.) that help us to grasp a settled truth, too great a commitment to these discrete, distinct, and abstract representations of things-as-they-really-are can result in a reduction of reality. “We experience more than we can analyze. For we experience the universe, and we analyze in our consciousness a minute selection of its details”(Whitehead, Modes of Thought. New York: Free Press, 1968). The “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” is something that Whitehead noticed frequently, and it consists of “(1) forgetting that our idea of a thing is based on only some of its aspects and ignores many other aspects that are equally “there” in the actual thing; and (2) mistaking the idea of a thing for the actual thing”(Hosinski, Stubborn Fact and Creative Advance, pg. 6).
Perhaps one of the most insidious of examples is the claim made in the most recent century that, because we cannot find the distinct “soul's center” anywhere in the body, it does not exist at all. This makes room for the claim that all desire, will, intention, and beauty is an illusion of pre-determined causal relations of matter. Soon we will see the history of the development of determinism as a philosophy, and the findings that do the most that any good science can do – render it most improbable. its demise by way of Quantum. We should keep such a deadening conclusion in our thoughts as a dangerous example of how an insufficient ideological grounding can affect one's view of reality and the potentials that exist within us.
This culturally shaped ideology of the individual cannot see beyond its own point of view until it is shown another way that works better. Terry Eagleton said that “absence of theory is just ignorance of theory,” and it is true – every individual holds for itself an interpretation of the world - If one commits conservatively to a single point of view without looking for more all-inclusive explanations, the theory will come up short. If such a theory is enforced culturally, there is no doubt that unnecessary suffering will ensue. Our present quest involves a delve in the essentials, a re-evaluation of many of the commitments we make every day as “humans” involved with “human things.” We need a larger frame through which to view the vastness because nothing can be left out. All is involved in the universal unfolding, in the relation and interpretation, and though it may be hard to formulate or grasp, the essential ethical question persists. To ignore it is to ignorantly condemn to suffering. As humans immersed in an improvising Nature and capable of such structured and coherent thinking, responsibility thrusts itself upon us to consider, and to care. The inability to notice the essential ethical nature of Nature is no fault of any one circumstance – complex consciousness and awareness are hard things to do, and the human creature that strives to share them is still such a fresh manifestation of these incredible achievements of the universe. Still though, the tools we need are present for us in relics of language of other cultures of the past, and in the grand scheme itself. “One who thinks in Chinese has little difficulty in seeing that objects are also events, that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities”(Watts, 5).
I am wholly convinced of the dramatic nature of our situation. When there are researchers like Bill McKibben who write books called The End of Nature, and EAARTH (the second “A” implying a new version of the planet we know and love as a result of crazy environmental calamity (This notion is not new to the post-millennium culture)) it glows clearer and brighter that a massive shift in the world's ideological basis is DANGEROUSLY NECESSARY. Don’t fool the realistic immediacy for anything even close to a dystopian philosophy, otherwise we would be
In a far off and speculative sense that we will better understand later in this paper, we need not worry too drastically. Some of Whitehead's good ideas involve the lasting “objective immortal” interaction of the universe – a physical actuality that will not forget that a human awareness is a possible achievement. And the creative advance is not one to quit or forget. The universe will persist, and the physical achievement that we recognize as the human being is a “stubborn fact” (Whitehead) many times over. What I wonder, and what we will not solve here, is whether an adequate awareness of our actual state of relation will enable the universe's ability to achieve such conscious understanding again. I mean to imply a modern day tangent, or parallel to some notions of the karmic cycle of death and rebirth into suffering that the enlightened Buddha escapes. The potential for such an enlightened experience certainly exists; we ourselves here and now are proof enough of that. But should the system that mutually sustains (Planet Earth), a system that consists of “cooperative means” rather than “mere means” for the ongoing becoming of enlightenment, break far enough.........
It is harder to build a biological system anew than to notice one's niche inside one that already exists, and to move with the movement as best one can. The earth is essentially involved in a creative process of achievement, and new modes of approach to the world as we notice it are developed on the macro and micro level all the time. The only way to sufficiently get on with it all in an adequately ethical way is to adopt a philosophy of openness – one willing to embrace the nature of Nature – a free improvisation that is restricted only by the necessary involvement of the one with the many, and to act authentically amongst. Brian Swimme, a cutting edge contemporary multidisciplinary synthesizer, frames our situation with adequate and necessary immediacy and hope when he says, “Humans have never been called upon to produce ideas at the level of planetary creativity”(Our Current Moment meme video series on global-mindshift.org). The “coincidental” possibility of life on earth shifted forever towards a more active creative planetary achievement when scientists learned that the temperature of the sun has risen 25% over the past four billion years. If the composition of earth consisted solely of passive dead matter, this change in the sun’s temperature would have overpowered our rocky planet’s thriving life into a firey oblivion. Instead, the earth has maintained a constant temperature capable of sustaining the miraculous life. WHAT AN ACTIVITY! The earth itself is certainly capable of such a movement with the times, so for us to rise to the challenge of that kind of creative problem solving might be the highest achievement of our existence as a planet yet. For this fundamental change in the way the globalized culture goes about to be actualized to the extent it needs to be, our consciousness must grow to include more of what is essential to our own essences as individuals, namely the everything, the fundamental grounding. EARTH, a space full up with intrinsic experiential, relational values; it is the deepest “being-with”; it consists of the fleeting experience of the “unconcealment of beings.”
Whitehead's emphasis lies both in the plurality of subjects in the universe, and the grounded unity of those subjects in a common physical potential. Plurality and Unity need not be contradictory. They need merely to be adequately grasped – But this is a complicated task,- were it easy, believe me, the world would have grasped it and would value it, and we would much more easily value each other and everything as we must in the new age. This philosophy fits the times, and as a meta-system for moving forward, it is adequate as the basis of action and interpretation. As Brian Henning, a notable Whitehead scholar responsibly points out, “Metaphysical speculation must remain as fluid as reality itself...”(The Ethics of Creativity), and as my goals are almost identical to his I am comfortable and glad to emphasize understanding that, “in seeking always to be adequate to experience, metaphysics must embrace its fallibility by continually revising its conclusions in light of new discoveries. Only in this way can it serve as an adequate basis for moral philosophy”(EoC, Henning, 3).
Metaphysics is the term that was used to define an investigation into the fundamental essences of being simply because Aristotle wrote of these kinds of thoughts after writing about physics. Meta implies a reference to itself, so metaphysics is in reference to physics, the “physics” of physics. The study involves questions such as “What makes physics work like it does?” In the contemporary culture a metaphysical approach seems out of style. This certainly involves a response to its essentially speculative nature. Humans these days seem to value hard evidence rather than imaginative considerations regarding what it is about the underground that makes the surface visible as it is. The thing we must realize is that imaginative insight, our capability for astonishing realizations, is a fundamental aspect of what we can come to know. Consideration of metaphysics seems a common result of consciousness doing its best to grow more and more conscious. We should understand the scientist’s hesitancy to engage with metaphysics. The history of metaphysical claims is ridden with positive assertions when only colorful suggestions and poetry seem appropriate. These historical speculations have become dangerous for us today because the philosophy has been argued based on incorrect scientific claims that made the same mistake of applying positive assertions when only a refinement of understanding is appropriate. Metaphysical claims are not by nature conservative, but some grasp on some kind of metaphysics will probably always be involved in the ideological root-web-theory that grows with our experience. I offer hesitancy in my words because it is possible to situate oneself amongst pragmatic reality authentically without bothering with speculative images of the essential conditions of existence. Michel Bitbol, a quantum scientist and Buddhist philosopher from the Academie of Applied Epistemologie knows, and so did Merleau-Ponty, that “the meaning of physics is to make us “make negative philosophical discoveries” by showing that “certain affirmations which claim any philosophical validity do not in truth have any”(Nature, M-P, p.100, with quotes from London & Bauer, La theorie de l’observation, p.51). This was the main premise for Bitbol when he spoke at the Mangalam Research Center in Berkeley about the philosophical relationship between quantum entanglement and the Buddhist understanding of essential dependence. He was clear that he would avoid metaphysics and only make negative claims, as it is all a good science can do. An experiment never actually affirms a hypothesis to be true, it can only rule out, within the confines of our tests, incorrect positive claims. His ideal solution was the “silent return of the Buddha,” a return to pragmatic ‘being’ as it seems, to dwelling, to durating, but with the awakened awareness of the inter-being nature of it all.
I value the scientist’s necessary commitment to disinterest in the name of good science, but I’ve always felt uneasy about Kant’s definition of beauty as being something we must regard with the same approach. Our experience is what provides the means to do science in the first place, and historically it is the deadening of experience in the world outside of our individual experience that gets us to our troubled place of the current moment. This is where science must realize the end of its strive to be self-sufficient and all-encompassing and a commitment to the thing that makes science possible in the first place must be made. This necessary movement of cultural priority is only a freshly legitimate possibility. It is worth doing a new metaphysics with loose openness as a pre-commitment because the old kind, based on outdated physics, persists without an adequate widespread replacement.
The universe always blooms into new terrain of potential. Lets embrace the potential that exists in our physicality and imaginative abilities and make of it what we know it can be. Correct me where you see fit, but I'll turn again to Whitehead as a basis: “The progress of philosophy does not primarily involve reactions of agreement or dissent. It essentially consists in the enlargement of thought, whereby contradictions and agreement are transformed into practical aspects of wider points of view”(Whitehead in response to critics of his writing.)
Lets push back our frame so that we can hold the widest truths in view as we endure the duration. We persist at the tip of a blossoming spree – ONWARD! ONWARD!
Just as the dialectical conception of nothingness gives relative substance to our notion of everythingness, or an experience of the darkest dark gives more vast importance to the light, I want to move through history and the ideologies of past times in order to provide the context for our contemporary thought. I do not mean to imply in the slightest that we must “get back to some place that we once were.” The “origin story” (Donna Haraway) that many have claimed as our only hope is a false and conservative one. The duration involves DRASTIC change of awareness and ability throughout time, and these things will not be forgotten or ignored. Any notion of history that approaches it as if there is one true interpretation of what has occurred is flawed. It is a delusion to imagine that one could know all of what “actually happened,” because such a claim would reject the alternative points of view that were inevitably participating in the “actual happening.” There are always alternative points of view, and these viewpoints will always command their influence on all that shared space. An interpretation of an event always involves the physical expression of such an experience also. There is a presence of every conscious interpretation there in the physical truth of things also. These experiences are always moving onward, into new awarenesses, into the novel relations of matter and energy of the future relations. It is useless to aim backwards without looking around at the present. It is fundamentally against the nature of matter/mind to regress in purity. It is with the past beneath our feet that we come to the situation now, and so we can and must learn from it, but it must be from an open and appropriately directed approach. Lets take what will help us from before as we burst into the terrain of the new.
The craziest thing is the complexity of the movement. We can understand the development of the earth/EARTH on multiple planes, and each only adds to the profundity: The movement of matter and energy, the congregation of it, the “self-organizing dynamics” that is life making way for life; The need for science, and its course back to reaffirming the fundamental aspects of the interpenetrating relations and the ease of questions, accepting them as unanswerable and yet already answered; The evolution of the consciousness of one’s situation in the world, involving the growth of what one feels a direct affinity with and the understanding that there is always already a direct affinity with the whole, even without a conscious awareness of it. It all forms circles, movement through and around, the eternal return, the spontaneous works, wholes, and portals…
All of these movements need to be considered: the duration of the grand cosmological process of unfolding (the bursting and the blooming); the achievement of the conscious-though-fleeting grasp of the depths of unconcealing/revelatory/sacred/rooted/art-ly experience; the conservative imposition of institutional religion and its dogmatic way of sharing the powerful spiritual experience; the rejection of the inadequate claims of the church by science, and the cultural hope for science to figure out once-and-for-all all the true answers; and all the while, the movement of philosophy, aiming to be guided by the most sufficient understanding of scientific discovery and spiritual groundedness, veering sometimes into the land of no ground, no roots, no feeling, no soul. The movement is all inter-woven and inter-influenced in essence, so lets practice applying some “non-linear dynamics” as we work our way through these histories.
Heidegger wrote, “The rootlessness of Western thought begins with” a Roman “translation of Greek experience into a different way of thinking” (Heidegger, OWA). I can’t resist going straight with Fritjov Capra’s own words to elaborate;
The roots of physics, as of all Western science, are to be found in the first period of Greek philosophy in the sixth century B.C., in a culture where science, philosophy and religion were not separated. The sages of the Milesian school in Ionia were not concerned with such distinctions. Their aim was to discover the essential nature, or real constitution, of things which they called “physis.” The term “physics” is derived from this Greek word and meant therefore, originally, the endeavor of seeing the initial nature of all things.
This, of course, is the central aim of all mystics, and the philosophy of the Milesian school did indeed have a strong mystical flavor. The Milesians were called “hylozoists,” or “those who think matter is alive,” by the later Greeks, because they saw no distinction between animate and inanimate, spirit and matter. In fact, they did not even have a word for matter, since they saw all forms of existence as manifestations of the “physis,” endowed with life and spirituality. Thus Thales declared all things to be full of gods and Anaximander saw the universe as a kind of organism which was supported by “pneuma,” the cosmic breath, in the same way as the human body is supported by air.
The monistic and organic view of the Milesians was very close to that of ancient Indian and Chinese philosophy, and the parallels to Eastern thought are even stronger in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus. Heraclitus believed in a world of perpetual change, of eternal ‘Becoming.’ For him, all static Being was based on deception, and his universal principle was fire; a symbol for the continuous flow and change of all things. Heraclitus taught that all changes in the world arise from the dynamic and cyclic interplay of opposites, and he saw any pair of opposites as a unity. This unity, which contains and transcends all opposing forces, he called the Logos.
The split of this untiy began with the Eleatic school, which assumed a Divine Principle standing above all gods and men. This principle was first identified with the unity of the universe, but was later seen as an intelligent and personal God who stands above the world and directs it. Thus began a trend of thought…
AH! Fine Fritjov, what a wonderful fellow. Don’t the Milesians sound a bit like William James? And Whitehead writes of the “concresence” of “actual occasions.” Everything influences everything. For Whitehead, “concresence” means an active “Becoming” of very real things (the actual occasions, also called actual entities) that are achieved as an objectively real occasion, and then pass into further becoming and new relations after an unspecified and essentially un-measurable duration. However, use of the word “things” might imply an image too simplistic and concrete for both of these philosophies. Instead of saying, “of things which they called “physis,’” we might as well say “of this that we call “physis.” We need not worry about dropping our commitment to “this reality” as it is, or can be, (with both physicality and psychicality as essentials) just because we no longer commit to “things” as eternal objects, or substances that persist without changing. “To exist is to change, to change is to exist.” Capra certainly does not overstate the close relationship between these ideas and those of eastern philosophy. Impermanence is a fundamental Buddhist truth, and while “some have taken the doctrine of impermanence as proof that all things are empty and without real substance, passing illusions constructed by the human mind… The doctrine of impermanence does not so much prove that all reality is illusion, rather it shows us that that the reality of things is in their changingness” (Pat Xu). Both the reality for any experiencer, and the physical reality that exists in essential relation, are of an ever-moving process. We should take this as an open truth.
We do not need to isolate the specific moment of the “split of this unity,” that Capra claimed the Eleatic school initiated. What we should understand is the broader psychology of the approach that rationalizes such thinking. Some major differences in logic enable the vigorous enforcement of dogmatism. The western church’s notions spoke of the other-worldly, a distinct and separate place - something other-Earthly. A place we could not already be. These claims, the very act of the language created the split between “what some could see and what many could not,” creating the idea of needing granted access to the full vision by way of one specific set of principles. This is entirely opposite the ideas of Buddhism that claim so basically that there is no search necessary! There have always been teachers, but these Only with a story that speaks of “things” as eternal substances that last as-they-are without changing can one legitimize a hierarchy of heavenly relations that grants “those few worthy souls” access to the saving grace while “those other kinds” are forever condemned as lesser beings. Born new was the philosophy of the “high and mighty human,” distinct from the impoverished and primitive “nature” below. These dogmatic, conservative claims can penetrate the psyche when enforced as a cultural truth and can actively restrict the potential achievement of the highest good on a psychological level.
This “trend in thought” persists, until the present time, where it must meet its dire end.
The essence of science began as folded within the curious investigative consideration of the “essential nature of things,” the “physis,” but its growing cultural impact began to be felt powerfully and necessarily in the “modern era” during the time called: THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION!
The rise of science dramatically shifted the cage of cultural legitimacy from the Church’s dogma to the discoveries made by the method of “objective” rigor that valued reason and careful empirical observation so very highly. It became the practice of science that allowed for the freedom of investigating and discovering more satisfying truths than the ones imposed by the Church or the mythical stories that other past cultures used to explain those great mysteries of the Sun, the Moon, space and time, experience, and other wonders. While the extent of the Church’s imposition onto the way scientific discoveries were to be interpreted by the public is a different research topic, we can keep it in mind. There is no doubt that certain conclusions we can now make about the world would have been impossible in the cultural environments of far off pasts. Fear of dangerous repercussions resulting from findings that countered the claims of the Church would have played into how scientists presented their ideas. The history of the use of fear as a tactic for religious control is rich and deep, and most unfortunate. It makes the best sense that something more rational would help clarify our deepening understanding of things.
The discoveries of the scientific revolution were loaded with cosmological implications. New astronomy provides the opportunity to reckon with new theories of space. A theory of material spatial relations provides the context for grasping a more satisfactory truth of the medium. Whatever our conscious-grasp of the medium, our understanding acts as our own ground of reality. A new theory changes everything.
Copernicus put forth the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe in a book called On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies (1543). Instead, he thought we were drifting through a huge space around the sun. It was a new “Heliocentric” paradigm that still imagined a purely circular movement of the heavens.
Galileo supported Copernicanism, still a somewhat heretical idea. He moved scientific knowledge forward enough to be granted “the father of modern science,” and other similar names. Sir Isaac Newton made for the biggest movement of them all, sharing Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. He removed all doubts from the heliocentric model, and established planetary laws of movement and a universal gravity, consistent everywhere. Newton’s universe moved like clockwork, where “things” acted like ever-lasting gears in absolutely definable and determined relationships. In Newton’s conception, everything happened in a step-by-step movement, with consistent and smooth motion across the board. Linearity. The wheel was the metaphor for movement, and simple mechanics was the model that, for the next 300 years, provided an “adequate” picture of reality.
Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace exemplified the potential of the delusion that committed to such a deterministic conception of Mechanics:
We must thus envisage the present state of the universe as the effect of its anterior state, and as the cause of that which will follow. An intelligence which for a given moment knew all the forces animating nature and the respective situation of beings that compose it, and if moreover it [the intelligence] was vast enough to submit these givens to analysis, embracing in the same formula the movements of the largest bodies of the universe and the lightest atom, then nothing would be uncertain for it, and the future like the past would be present to its eyes.
Pierre-Simon Laplace, Essai philosophique sure les probabilities (Paris: 1814)
For Laplace, the grandest of planets and the smallest of particles were all embedded in the same clockwork system of movement. From this mode of approach, everything had the unchanging essence of a substance, and the substances acted on each other as distinct things in specific and pre-determinable cause and effect relationships. “Schematism was supreme, and the air of finality was over all” (Dewey, The New Psychology, 1884). This determinism implies a deadened space, with no option of self-direction, WILL, or aim. In such a cosmos, the fleeting complexity of emotion and feeling could be ignored, reduced, or explained away by the deepest and highest knowledge of the pure “objective.” “Celestial mechanics” implies that humans had a really good grasp on how Nature actually works. The model of Mechanics is easy to understand - we see it function before our very eyes in our basic tools (wheels, gears, carriages and clocks). The problems come when our simple tools are used to describe the grandest of mysteries.
Rene Descartes was nestled right in with all of these scientific developments. His ideas have played a major role in the development of western philosophy. His influence cannot be ignored. Though many many people have used him as a starting point for critiquing how we could have gotten to our contemporary philosophical space, he was not all bad. The only way he could make sense of the human condition – this entire aspect of self, thought, memory, agency, and emotion – was to separate it from this mechanical worldview of the physical. At least he recognized that there was something else at work in his experience that could not be explained in mechanical terms. His philosophy is the definition of “dualism.” It created a fundamental distinction between the “mind” and the “body.” For Descartes, these two aspects of reality were completely different kinds of things. “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am” granted the mind its own existence, as something that could not be intrinsically refuted. The plain aspect of this “I” that we are capable of reflecting upon, “A thing that thinks. But what is that? A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses” (Meditation Two: Concerning the Nature of the Human Mind: That It Is Better Known Than the Body) grants meaning and value to the human being, while everything else remained in the distinct realm of mechanical non-feeling.
From that I knew I was a substance, the whole essence or nature of which is to think, and that for its existence there is no need of any place, nor does it depend on any material think; so that this “me,” that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from body, and is even more easy to know than is the later; and even if body were not, the soul would not cease to be what it is.
Descartes, from Damasio, Descartes Error
But this proclamation of distinct and separated realms of reality requires a major logical leap from the immersive, physical-as-mental, mental-as-physical cohesion of the grand Nature that seems more adequate to me. This chart helps to simply show how the distinction could have been substantiated in Descartes’ logic. God, “the omnipotent creator of the one principle,” or whatever other conservative titles “God” as a Catholic savior has ever been given, created the mechanical universe and everything in it in one fell swoop of initial conditions. Then he sat back to watch the simple cause and effect relations play out. Descartes’ basis rests in skepticism, on a trust in “God” over a trust in his own understanding of truth. His emphasis is in the potential for him to feel deceived, to believe something as true when in fact it is not. Instead of some alternative mode of approach that understands the depth of immersion with wisdom enough to know that, regardless of one’s specific conscious thoughts, the cohesive onwardness of the universe will persist with onward movement, he felt the need to clarify the deeper truths by other means. His ability to feel mistaken meant for him that there must be something else that was capable of deceiving. For Descartes, the great maker, “God,” granted this remarkable ability to feel and know. This granting by God is rather different from the idea of the mind being some illusion of a godless determined mechanics, or a natural achievement of the complexifying and improvisational congregation of matter in a cohesive local space (as Brian Swimme speaks of it today). In a TED talk, James Geary gave an interesting perspective on alternative connotation with the phrase “cogito ergo sum.” In latin, “co” means “together,” and “gito” is closely related to “agiter,” which to Geary meant “to shake.” “I shake things up, therefore I am,” exclaimed Descartes! “I can throw a wrench into the mechanics and watch how it unravels, similar to the way God did when he initiated the process!” we might imagine him saying. At least he granted that there IS such a thing as will, aim, and a valuable experience that cannot be reduced by the objective mechanics of the time.
This philosophy fits right in with that classic phrase, “Man is created in the image of God,” and all the other manifestations of that particularly troublesome and conservative “trend of thought” Fritjof mentioned. Descartes’ claims constituted the fundamental beginnings (by way of an act of language) of the “High and Mighty Human,” a new kind of being, distinct from Nature. Descartes’ philosophy legitimated the division between the human and the animal, granting inherent valuability solely to the human. This mode of approach has not persisted without its own set of horrors:
The (Cartesian) scientists administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference and made fun of those who pitied the creatures as if they felt pain. They said the animals were clocks; that the cries they emitted when struck were only the noise of a little spring that had been touched, but that the whole body was without feeling. They nailed the poor animals up on boards by their four paws to vivisect them to see the circulation of the blood…
(Leonora Cohen Rosenfield, From Beast-Machine to Man-Machine: Animal Soul in French Letters from Descartes to La Mettrie, (New York: Octagon Books, 1968), 54.)
Vivisection, a practice of cutting open and performing experimentation/observation on living animals (dogs at the very least!) sure helps us get down to the pragmatics of insufficient philosophies. And what about all the potential horrors that arise when we begin considering where to draw the line between human and non-human? AYE NO! There is limited success by way of this approach. Essential distinctions between substances (which is what “the individual” as an “isolated self” requires in its definition), and the conservative restriction of potential feelingness in other beings simply do not stand pragmatically, logically, ideally, or soundly.
There is no use in placing drastic blame on Descartes for the troubled movement forward. Without this culturally legitimized mode of approach we would not have learned what we have. Descartes left the depth of “mind” unrestricted by the reductive approaches that claimed a mechanical, determined Nature.
I may have implied some of these ideas, but I cannot resist putting some of the depth of Merleau-Ponty’s own writing in with these considerations, he is wonderfully insightful:
We have to go to these lengths to find in Descartes something like a metaphysics of depth. For we are not present at the birth of this Truth; God's being is for us an abyss. An anxious trembling quickly mastered; for Descartes it is just as futile to plumb that abyss as it is to think the space of the soul and the depth of the visible. Our very position, he would say, disqualifies us from looking into such things. That is the secret of Cartesian equilibrium: a metaphysics which gives us definitive reasons to leave off doing metaphysics, which validates our self-evidence while limiting it, which opens up our thinking without rending it.
The secret has been lost, and lost for good, it seems. If we are ever again to find a balance between science and philosophy, between our models and the obscurity of the "there is," it must be of a new kind. Our science has rejected the justifications as well as the restrictions which Descartes assigned to its domain. It no longer pretends to deduce its invented models from the attributes of God. The depth of the existing world and an unfathomable God no longer stand over against the flatness of "technicized" thought. Science manages without the excursion into metaphysics that Descartes had to make at least once in his life; it begins from the point he ultimately reached. Operational thought claims for itself, in the name of psychology, that domain of contact with oneself and with the world which Descartes reserved for a blind but irreducible experience. Operational thought is fundamentally hostile to philosophy as thought-in-contact, and if it rediscovers a sense of such a philosophy, it will be through the very excess of its daring; when, having introduced all sorts of notions that Descartes would have held to arise from confused thought—quality, scalar structures, solidarity of observer and observed—it suddenly realizes that one cannot summarily speak of all these beings as constructs. Meanwhile, philosophy maintains itself against such operationalist thinking, plunging itself into that dimension of the composite of soul and body, of the existent world, of the abyssal Being that Descartes opened up and so quickly closed again. Our science and our philosophy are two faithful and unfaithful offshoots of Cartesianism, two monsters born of its dismemberment.
Nothing is left for our philosophy but to set out to prospect the actual world. We are the compound of soul and body, and so there must be a thought of it.
Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, 11.
***The space of the soul is imbedded in the physical, and that is why it can feel so palpable. It space of the soul is not so much ephervesent because it occupys a realm of spirit that is only fleetingly available to us as an illusioned mind mysteriously generated somehow by a mechanical Nature. It is just that physical space is more ephervvecent then we may readily see without learning how.
Merleau-Ponty moves us so far forward that it is hardly worth considering the philosophies that followed shortly after Descartes. In a review of Fredrick Ferre’s book Living and Value, Leslie A. Muray consolidates for us:
[Ferre] traces what he describes as the increased arbitrariness of Western ethics. In his chapter on “Ethics and Knowing” (Chapter 3), he declines “… to parry in detail the sabres of Hume and Kant, Moore and Ayer, and their many followers,” and never permits the gap of modern skepticism to open in the first place. Throughout the chapter, Ferré depicts the connection between ethics and knowing, concluding that “prolonged attention to those flashing swords, it seems to me, gives them too much center stage, distracts attention from the solid epistemological ground on which ethics stands, namely, the continuities it shares with the rest of experiential, conceptual, and cognitive life.”
Leslie A. Muray, The Transformation of Ethics: A Response to Frederick Ferré, Curry College, http://www.ctr4process.org/publications/Biblio/Papers/Leslie%20Muray,%20The%20Transformation%20of%20Ethics,%20Response%20to%20Ferre.html
The problem is that these philosophers have opened up so many holes to fall into that we may never notice the whole that those holes are dug in if we attempt to fill them all in first. Without investigating these flashy swords too deeply, we should consider just a little bit about some other modes of approach because these subtle (and frequently dangerous) offshoots from the dualism of Descartes still bare “culturally legitimate” teeth.
Kant’s notion of the self was more of an activity that we as selves are performing than an eternal substance, but he was committed to the self as a subject, something that occupied a higher, other realm from objects. According to Kant, “things” (he is still thinking about substantive things, and subjects as fundamentally distinct individuals) in the world have “…only a relative value as means…”. For Kant the meaning of things in the material world is relative to the human subject, which is the only thing that has intrinsic value in itself, as an end. “So far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious and are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man…” (Kant, “Duties toward Animals and Spirits,” in Lectures on Ethics, trans. Louis Infield (New York: Harper and Row, 1963),239. I found this in Henning’s Ethics of Creativity). We see aspects of these false ideals manifested all over. Only by committing to the “high and mighty human” as the end, separate and unique from the rest of Nature, with everything else as a relative means to our end, could we have gotten to such a state of un-Natural distress.
Materialism and Idealism are two distinct philosophical systems that each commit to opposite aspects of Descartes’ dualism. Idealism (Hume was an idealist) commits fully to experience/the mind/the self, but says that experience is all that exists. It runs a dangerous course near an edge of a cliff that all too easily drops into the lame abyss of belief that the mental aspects of reality are all we can really know, and that the physical, material reality-as-it-seems only exists as it does by means of a mind that represents such things to itself. Drifting in the abyss with no ground in sight is where ‘solipsism’ lingers – a belief that nothing but one’s own personal self exists, isolated as the one true reality. The rest of this seemingly shared and relational space is a trick, a projection of the mind that is in fact entirely isolated in the singular actually existing being. What an absolutely terrifying idea. What I am trying to share is that nothing, not the grandest of one-ness nor the most isolated of distant microscopic quantum-conscious experiences, can be without the rest of the varied, plurally-experiencing universe. (Experience of self will always actually be a self in relation, or a self that consists itself of relations. Our experience of ‘self’ would be nothing without multiple “cell-f”s sharing in the activity. The cell-f inside the self, as a part of, as a constituting factor, as the crux, as a thing relied upon by the whole; the further we go the more we realize the expansion of the self to be a thing constituted by a potential of self-ness in all the things that we are, or will soon become us (we are new matter every year! We will never ever, ever, be an alone existence) Even amongst the many, we can grant our personal experience enough legitimacy without falling down troublesome holes.
William James may have been just slightly too quick to claim the essential psychic fact as something that solely involves self-awareness.
“Absolute insulation, irreducible pluralism, is the law. It seems as if the elementary psychic fact were not thought or this thought or that thought, but my thought, every thought being owned.” (“Stream of Consciousness,” Psychology). “On these terms the personal self rather than the thought might be treated as the immediate datum in psychology. The universal conscious fact is not 'feelings and thoughts exist,' but 'I think' and 'I feel.' No psychology, at any rate, can question the existence of personal selves. Thoughts connected as we feel them to be connected are what we mean by personal selves. The worst a psychology can do is so to interpret the nature of these selves as to rob them of their worth.”
Instead, the universal psychic fact can be thought of as the same kind of thing as a physical fact. It would consist simply of a being-in-the-world, durational, on going movement that might feel like some kind of perpetual familiarity-in-the-face-of, with congregations of inter-actives opening into communion and sharing what it is like until they all feel quite the same (as a cohesive feeling body). We feel what it feels like to be a group of intrinsically-sharing smaller selves participating together in an incredibly synchronized way. It is important to remember that our own personal experience of self worth, of the personal self and the valuable and powerful self-truth of the personal experience, is the fleeting potential that exists all over. Every physical thing shares this potential. The changingness of life makes its living amongst the open space, amongst the changingness of inanimate matter. Just so, even more interesting might be the notion that every psychic happening exists on the same ground as physical happening. As we go deeper we will see that the specific truth of objective physical facts may be just as impossible to isolate with absolute knowledge as a psychic fact is.
Materialism is a trend that commits itself most fully to a notion of absolute truth that may be discovered only in matter and material relations. The movement of materialism is legitimated in our culture because of the seeming ability really grapple with “physical fact,” while issues of ideas (idealism) seem much too fleeting to be considered “real” enough to care about. We dream of knowing the absolute truth about matter because of the same commitments that Laplace made.
“Static nothingness” creates the loss of grounding for the nihilist. The notions of nihilism, a bottom-most theory of ungrounded isolation, meaninglessness, and apathy is not an inevitable philosophy that results from our most sophisticated investigations. It raises its head within our culture because of a peculiar historical movement of ideas in the west. The philosophical presence of a nihilistic attitude is a cultural phenomenon, a result of the unchecked classification and separation of things in the world into absolutely distinct realms, each realm of diminishing importance from the one before.
After materialism goes into physicalism, and the paradigm shifts thanks to Einstein’s relativity
We find ourselves needing a new way of talking about things. We need different models and better stories that can stand as our ground-most pictures of the truth. Bergson & Duration. Heidegger & EARTH, being-with, being-in-the-world. Whitehead & Prehension.
I emphasize practice because in this current time we NEED to do things differently, and the only way we can work to adjust our activities is to work to adjust our approaches. In order to adjust an approach, one must work to adjust ones activities. The action informs the self, the self informs the action. When these are fused and recognized as movement, process, onwardness, time-being, then the activity of change can feel natural and recognized as necessary. When the depth of our being-with is committed to and practiced, the development of synergy is crucially natural.
We can keep an open mind about what “beginning” means, and just go forward from that giant bang, “the big bang” indeed.
“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” (Einstein)
We can’t reject the psychicality of reality. We can’t reject the physicality of reality.
Grasping immediacy makes all the difference. Grasping immediately makes all the difference.
Were thinking of the mind in terms of a physicality reality
“Another master was having tea with two of his students when he suddenly tossed his fan to one of them, saying, “What’s this?” The student opened it and fanned himself. “Not bad” was his comment. “Now you,” he went on, passing it to the other student, who at once closed the fan and scratched his neck with it. This done, he opened it again, placed a piece of cake on it, and offered it to his master. This was considered even better, for when there are no names the world is no longer “classified in limits and bounds’” (Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, 130).
I’m hunting for a post-romantic wholeness in which we can enact our own power towards goodness and wholeness without ever feeling like we need to actually grasp a static whole. THE GROUND WILL ALWAYS BE MOVING.
We are making our mark at the tip of a chaotic line. The line undulates and spreads wider as we move away from where we were, by means of those other beings in the world that experienced and interpreted my presence in some way.
The abilities that differentiate humans from the rest of nature are really just abilities that let us recognize the extent of our immersion in, as, and with nature.
The developments of the achievement of mind move with the developments of the achievements of matter.
Truth is, but what one person believes to be may not be for another. The pragmatics resolves that the useful hunt isn’t one that aims for absolutes, but one that understands truth to involve you and me, in actuality. As long as we ignore our collaboration, there may be feelings of contention.
The Sacred has always grounded the uncertain and fleeting glory of existence. Stories and objects function as pragmatic reminders of how the social groups that are an essential of humanity made sense of the grand happening. Artworks, before they were called “art” acted to summon the consideration of the sacred; to make necessary, or at least more readily available the sacred understanding. It was never an otherworldly place being summoned – the existence of an omnipotent man above was most probably not the initial hypothesis of ancient cave painters and language developers. These people were rather responding to the world as it was for them – their very own earthly experience would have been experienced in a profound way. The achievement of the profundity might be translated as the awe, the wonder, the beauty; and this feeling, along with the understanding that it is a shared and grounded potential that results from the earthly developments of EARTH, provides the fundament of the sacred. Sacredity is a revelation of EARTHLY family, of unity amidst the fundamental grounding. Art objects have always been practical things that provide the potent opportunity for such sacred revelations to be re-revealed, even in the most pragmatic of situations. The painters of caves would have done so spontaneously, and afterwards they might have run around with their arms in the air screaming, “LOOK! WE BOTH KNOW THIS THING – THIS HORSE; THIS BULL! AREN’T THEY INCREDIBLE!? WHEN I LOOK AT THEM MY ESSENCE FLUTTERS WITH SYNCRONICITY. THIS MIRACULOUS COINCIDENCE THAT INVOLVES BOTH OF US HERE, TOGETHER, IS POWERFUL FOR ME AND I WANT TO SHARE THAT POWERFUL REVELATION WITH EVERYTHING, WITH EVERYONE.” When art things are made “well,” they don’t just stand in for allowing such reflection, instead they impose the sacred into the space they occupy.
But the sacred can feel so ephemeral. Through years of power struggles and tangled messes of ideas and their articulations, the personal grounding felt as sacred awe and profound understanding began to be something imposed by powerful groups. The claims made in different historical times imply a shifting “cultural grasp” on reality through varying degrees of certainty and soundness. While Jesus was of the open most philosophy that emphasized acceptance and the greatest care, traditions and impositions that followed began to create a restrictive and conservative approach to “Religion” as we tend to think about it now. Instead of emphasizing truth as that which is present; truth as natural process and whatever its outcome may be, the Church ruled with conservative claims of origin stories and the imposition of fear that “explained the grounding” in dangerously restrictive, human-centric ways that must have felt unsatisfactory for multitudes of people.
It is the extent to which the conservative institutions such as the Church and the Art Elite installed their claims into the culture at large that we feel such a need to rebel against them. To impose any closure onto the discussion of the sacred or the beautiful is to commit the potent and psychologically lasting fallacy. We know beauty and truth to exist for us, that is the easy part. As soon those things are defined for us in quite specific ways, and those definitions are oppressively applied (politically or culturally), it becomes either easier to fall victim to their reign over one’s experience, or all the more necessary to reject the drastic fallacy. This may lead to the real anxiety, because the answers lie somewhere buried under the bullshit piled up by the reign of “the institution.” The sacred becomes inaccessible because “the Church” has had such a historically devastating monopoly over that realm talking or experiencing that the entire notion of unity and “goodness in the name of God” becomes expressly taboo.
Athiest’s aren’t opposed to God, or experiencing God any less than a devout religious person. They are simply opposed to the discussion of God as it has been culturally imposed by closed, conservative institutions. There is not enough room for the individual’s own creative and unique process and approach to existence when irrational rules of sin and appeasement are shoved down the throats of the many. The problem is that these ancient and outdated conservative notions are so embedded in us as expectations that we hold of the culture outside of us that it becomes dangerous to even begin a discussion about it. Some still believe in one big man in the sky, and some are adamantly opposed to the way religion has been discussed at all that they refuse to engage with the essential magnificence of metaphysical togetherness at all. We are left with odd divergences of thought and opinion that are only separated because of the fear that certain words may invoke an inadequate or illegitimate impression of us on others.
“Athiest” becomes a safe word, though it is essentially conservative itself because it is founded on rejecting a certain word (God). This rejection is most probably because of fear that surrounds the potential issues of misinterpretation that inevitably surround an ambiguous term like God, or Beauty. . Everyone wants to be taken seriously
Some truth of the matter is that we are achieving what seems like very incredible states
Introduction to the Practiced Approach
As long as the philosophy of separation, critical otherworldly judgment, or inaccessibility persists, the problems of a seemingly separated natural world will persist.
Only by committing to the “high and mighty human” as the end, separate and unique from the rest of Nature, with everything else as a relative means to our end, could we have gotten to such a state of Natural distress. And still, the Judeo-Christian tradition enforces the fear of a high judgment, as if there is another, higher, absolutely inaccessible realm that has us tethered like marionettes between the dead, determined, and still ground and the omnipotent puppet master creator above.
If we fully understand Dewey when he says that our “life is bound up with the life of society,” then the mode of approach necessary for society to feel alright while it continues on must already be present-at-handv. So the question becomes, what has shown up for us over and over that seems to support the practice of individual well being amongst a collection of interested, engaged, and bound-up community of individuals? Where is this shared tool? Or might it be something more basic than something we learn to use?5
Art and Nature
As soon as a certain level of conscious ability was achieved and the world of the individual became something that could be expressed and recognized in a variety of ways, we recognize the appearance of art.
People have discussed art for ages, and hardly any developments have been made in better understanding how it should best be applied or understood. And what does art do anyways, one might ask? What does art mean? What does art tell us? We never seem to be able to come to a clean objective answer, so we lack trust or explain away. Perhaps these confused attempts should tell us that we have been approaching this entire aspect of our world incorrectly. Regardless of how much we feel we understand art, it keeps showing up, and many feel mightily moved by things that culture may or may not call art. Most of the tough questions and concerns arise out of the same magnificent misunderstanding that surrounds the issue of “the high and mighty human.”
The troublesome Western philosophies I mentioned earlier, those that have helped lead to the idea of a separation between humans and Nature, of an ultimate judgment from an omnipotent entity, or an inaccessibility to an otherworldly truth are mostly only perils associated with the human. According to these still pervasive ideas, our rational, emotional, and aesthetic abilities are attributed to our “higher” consciousness, which has frequently been considered some kind of unique gift from above. But the human conscious self is not one that has descended from an otherworldly realm to this lowly material world. Our abilities and our experiences are a result of a natural development from the ground, with the ground. We are of the Earth, and so we should understand that our conscious ability is an achievement of being-in-the-world. Our potential is based within the potential of Nature. We should not assume that our phenomenal quality of experience is something unique to our individual self or even solely to the human race. Though our own experience can be said to be our own and to be absolutely unique, our ability to experience, to reflect, and to act are shared potentials. It is important to hold paramount that there is something that it is like for another’s experiencevi, and that by being “bound up with the life of” not just society, but with all of Nature, we should consider the quality of another’s experience to be tied up with not only our own, but the rest of it all as well. The awareness of this tied up, relative and influential world is an achievement that relies on uncountable influences and a particularly engaged and open mode of approach, always involved, always practicing.
Because the development of art seemed to occur alongside the drastic achievement of the human, and because we misunderstood the ground level of such an achievement for so long, it is easy to recognize that we must have been misunderstanding the notion of art as well. Once we notice that a great deal of Western philosophy has led down the wrong path, we begin to see all the trouble with ideas about art through the ages. Heidegger claimed that “The rootlessness of Western thought begins with” a Roman “translation of Greek experience into a different way of thinking”vii. The wonderful insight he provides in his analysis helps us to realize that this troubled “way of thinking”viii is not the only way. Regardless of where the trouble began, we notice now that we can think about things in a more basic, grounded way again. Vasari’s notions of the artistic “genius” endowed with some intrinsic ability greater than the average participant in the universe is wiped out.ix The higher ideal of Hegel’s spirit of the age is no longer so distant above.x Suddenly the core essences of reality are not something that we cannot have access to, or must be able to explicitly explain according to some separate and more objective principal. This development brings “how it really is” much closer to simply how it is, or how it seems to be. Our presence is grounded and we can feel at home wherever we are.
But it’s not as if the investigation into art was blocked by these off-the-mark philosophies of objective finality and “othering” idealism. The practice of art persists, even if we don’t know what that entails, explicitly. And it makes sense that Cezanne was testing the polyphony of vision, attempting to consider, capture, and compile the variety of sightly phenomenon as they came throughout his active paintingxi around the same time that John Dewey was considering the complexity and variety of the innate blend of psychical/physical beingness. The entire modernist tradition is a critique upon the classifications and designations that attempted to constrain art into one mode of potential expression, or one objective aesthetic, or one elitist notion of the valuable.
A phrase of David Ireland’s, also the title of an exhibition of his in Switzerland in 1991 goes “You can’t make art by making art.” This sentence is loaded with information, ideas, and action! The implications of this statement involve drawing a distinction between two basic notions of what art is or can be. The need for such a distinction suggests the need for an investigation into the core qualities of what it means to make art. Making “art” in the second sense of the phrase is a kind of activity that is defined by and restricted by the commodity based, “culturally elite” “art world,” and it seems as if Ireland wants to imply that this kind of making leads us down a path somewhere far away from where we may actually find Art. It was a troubled philosophy of bad metaphysics that paved the way for this kind of activity in the first place.
“You can’t make art by making art” implies a goal. If we can’t make art by making “art world objects” grounded only in commodity and elitism, how can we make art? And if what we usually see and consider to be art is not actually art, what is? This kind of understanding of Ireland’s phrase should not imply a conservative rejection of what has so far been called art. I think Ireland simply believes that there is something more valuable that can we can get out of art than objects to be sold or bought or rejected or disregarded. So, what kind of value does this real kind of art that Ireland alludes to have? He is a conceptual artist, and would be excited to know that his title just functioned as a piece in its own right. We just worked through a formal investigation of what the work could mean. We searched for its truth and found something that has helped to direct our search further. His statement implies a hunt for the origin.
Our aim is to discover an ontological basis with which to consider art in general, and to understand how art can apply to every day practice. Our hunt for common ground entails grasping a way to understand truth, and for Heidegger art is “truth setting itself to work.”xii
Conceptual art is about the idea; ideas form with things in mind. But any particular idea does not close up neatly in a small drawer to be put away in entirely until later, when we need such an idea again and we open the drawer. Ideas are achieved in a much looser way with far reaching relations, allowing for all kinds of linkages that allow for the development of ideas to flow from one to another in a varied and spontaneous way. Ideas become possible through actual experiential happenings (spatial, and emotional). It is through the always tied-up and never ceasing physical and mental process that ideas are manifest. They essentially involve learning from the past and drawing from it in a directed, forward looking way so that they can be acted upon in some manner that seems fit to us, based on our own experience. An idea will have an inevitable effect upon one’s world, considering these physical/psychical processes are in fact unstoppable. It is with the physical world in mind that we consider ideas.
Heidegger says “art is truth setting itself to work.” Truth is the unconcealment of what is. This laying bare of truth is a happening of unconcealing; it is “never a merely existent state”xiii of unconcealedness. Heidegger says that this unconcealing, this truth giving that a work of art can make happen is a result of the “setting up of a world, and the setting forth of the Earth.”xiv These are two things that a work of art does. It is by a mixture of these two, a sort of “strife”xv as Heidegger puts it, that the naturally concealed truth of Earth can be thrust to the fore of our own World by means of our exploration into the World set up by the work itself. And almost at the same time we can realize that the Earth, “irreducibly spontaneous…effortless and untiring” is where “man grounds his dwelling in the world,”xvi as well as where art grounds its own dwelling. It is because of Earth, “not to be associated with the idea of a mass of matter deposited somewhere, or with the merely astronomical idea of a planet”xvii, but rather as an essential and all encompassing Nature of manifesting potentials, that the truth in the world of the work and in the world of the human can be found, if only for a while.
When we are confronted with art it is easily approached with a curiosity - we are interested in our experience, which is essentially an experience of a certain kind, or quality. We are also interested in discovering truths. In this investigation we cannot take anything for granted. This investigation is one of learning, and of open receptivity. We approach a work from our own world. Our world is our own, and we experience our world as our own set of experiences, always developing, shifting, and flowing based on the development of our world through choices we make and opportunities that are provided to us in the space we find ourselves in. Other beings have their own worlds, unique to their own worldly experience, and the experiences of their world are concealed from us. These other worlds of experience are real, and their own interpretation of the world, and their actions that reflect this understanding, or misunderstanding, contribute to our own world, and thus to our own active interpretation. We cannot disregard another’s experience due to some misunderstanding that stems from some ideological or philosophical unrootedness, for any and all interpretation of the Earth is essentially of the Earth, and thus cannot be too far off the mark. This very fact implies a quality of experience that must be respected and considered, and it is precisely the world that the work of art opens that can accommodate every perspective applied to it, except for the one that does not apply itself to it in the slightest.
The world that the work of art acts to open up is huge, and can be thought of as an open space that can accommodate any application of thought towards it. It is a realm of all the conceptual relationships, and thus physical relationships, that might ever be made manifest by its existence. The physical actuality of a work, along with a consideration of the thought that can be applied to it, and the necessarily physical basis that thought occurs with, are themselves thrust forward as Earth. Earth is surely the grand Nature, the groundwork of possibility, made knowable by that which is. The world: yours, the works, or mine is grounded in Earth, and so the Earth can be understood as essential and eternal equipment that conceals itself because it is so good at functioning as our most basic grounding. We as humans are Earth. The world we experience is of the Earth, and it is the very same world that allows for the experience of the Earth that it relies on. Without the work of art, without this sphere of concrete, or for Heidegger; without the Temple who’s work was to establish a house for the Gods, certain world-forming truths such as stoniness, godliness, or presence in itself would not be manifest.
A variety of Ireland’s investigative works revolve around establishing and preserving things that are, things that were unnoticed, and thus preserved as works that act to assert their own being as something that is. In 1975 Ireland purchased and began to act upon an 1886 Victorian house at 500 Capp St, in San Francisco (Fig. 4) In the process of cleaning, of attempting to remove the traces of the previous owners, he began to notice aspects of the house’ very being in an art kind of way. His work was almost purely reductive – he wished to unconceal the powerful and essential aspects of the house that he found had been concealed, and in a sense forgotten, by the process of Earth’s own self-concealment and the passage on of individual worlds. But Ireland noticed that a core beingness of the house’s Earthy essence still pressed upon his world mightily, and he acted in order to let this world show itself. By stripping away all the paint and wall paper and preserving it in non-designed shapes that essentially did take form by his own hands, he enabled these layers of concealment of the bare wall to speak in their own right, with as little input from the “ideas” of the artist as could be. We should not ignore that it was he who did squeeze these remnants, but it was not his oppressive intent over material that led to such an unconcealment. His goal was not to oppressively adjust what the scraps of the unconcealed wall were; he simply wished to unconceal their essential beingness. And in the same act he was able to reveal the truth of the walls themselves (Fig. 5). His subtle act here was to cover the wall with polyurethane in an attempt to preserve the truth that was laid out for us by the wall itself.
Heidegger helps us to realize the groundedness of such thinking by once again taking us back to the Greeks. For the Greeks, the word “technê” is as close as they come to our notion of the artist or creator. The reference of technê involves no distinction between one who may have been a creator of art and one that today would more frequently be called a mere craftsman. But their use of the word would not have been to designate a strict position for these people in society, nor to lower one’s “rank” in the creative scheme. “The word technê denotes rather a mode of knowing”xviii and for the Greeks, knowledge comes from knowledge experienced, rather than knowledge explained in terms of objective reduction into common terms that do violence upon the fact of the experience itself. David Ireland’s action of unconcealing and preserving the walls of his house as art is an action that perfectly embodies the essence of technê. His actions are “a bringing forth of beings in that it brings forth what is present as such out of concealedness and specifically into the unconcealedness of their appearance.”xix The establishment of the need to acknowledge the wall as it is, within the realm of technê, is itself an act of creation. “To create is to let something emerge as a thing that has been brought forth”xx. It is fitting that we can in casual language refer to Ireland’s artistic act as one that simply unearths the essential qualities in things as they are – something we may have previously taken for granted or ignored.
And we know Ireland is interested in the durational development of such “creative” acts by his probing further into more common elements of experience. His commitment to the quality of the ever-changing light that enters the house as the sun passes overhead turns the very light that always surrounds and always influences into a work itself. The world of the light is one particularly committed to the Earth, and one so commonly experienced that it is by this example alone that we can best understand the concealment of the truth that Heidegger emphasizes the Earth is constantly engaged in.
So we can come to regard the act of unconcealing as an act of creation, and thus an act of creation an act of truth. When something is brought forth as a work, it is continually establishing itself as being as it is. It continually holds open its world that lets it stand out as something that is, and in its existence, as something that is in relation to other things. The being of a work not only lets us gain access to the Earth of itself, but by its own shining forth it casts a shadow upon the beings that are not yet themselves seen as works. As soon as we come to realize the beingness of a work by its own unconcealment, we realize that a work can act to illuminate those things that are not works by means of this dialectical development. When one thing is unconcealed for us as in truth, it becomes necessary that other things re-conceal themselves from our experience. When one thing asserts itself so magnificently as being a thing that it is, we can grant that it succeeds as being a great work. Once again, this happens by the Earth thrusting itself forward by means of the world that is opened by the work, which allows for the technê (as a noun to replace the concept of Artist) to recognize the essential beingness of that which is presented by the world.
The activity of technê is an investigation into Earth as it is in simplicity.
We must not forget that one of the most crucial aspects of this entire process is that this understanding of Earth-as-it-is is one grounded in our experience of it. There is always something that this unconcealment is like for whoever is forced to reckon with the work that shines forth. This unconcealment can never happen from a removed, disinterested place. The unconcealment of the Earth in any respect is also, by way of one’s own experience of it, the unconcealment of one’s own essential being that is integrated, involved, and ever-present in the very same Earth. For someone who only recognizes art in a specific or conservative way it would seem that an entire lifetime of potential truths can be missed when compared with the experience of someone who is constantly applying their natural creative ability to the world, noting the existence of this and that, and engaging with what it is like to know the miraculous, aesthetic truths that are most generally inevitable when a wide enough picture of the grand actuality of Earth is made to be unconcealed. There is no place for the rejection of a work in a world that is constantly striving to notice the eternal “jutting of the Earth” in and through one’s own world, or through the world of the work that is such established by our creative acknowledgement. As Heidegger already told us, the Earth is eternally thrusting itself spontaneously, effortlessly, and untiringly. Thus the potential for an experience of Art, of an acknowledgement that something is, either for ones own experience in actuality or for another’s by means of the imagination exists everywhere, all the time. And these kinds of experiences will matter as long as there is a collective of selves participating in the grand scheme. Although we have yet to “prove” the intrinsic interrelatedness of self-hood and consciousness with basic physical happenings, it seems safe enough for me to say that this kind of mattering that art manifests for the selves we do know of now will not soon dwindle or vanish.
Heidegger, Ireland, and the ancient Greeks are certainly not the only ones with insights into the essential reality of experience and of one’s own ability to recognize the essential beingness of things as they are, and to consider such awareness art. John Dewey writes elaborately of the collaborative existence of the artist with materials, engaged in an always-developing interplayxxi. For Dewey, this kind of interaction involves a balance between receptive consideration of that which is thrust upon us and an active application of one’s own being to the situation. The philosophy of Buddhism was never troubled by a distinction or separation between the self and the world. In The Way of Zen, Alan Watts writes, “Even in painting, the work of art is considered not only as representing nature but as being itself a work of nature”xxii. It makes great sense that Ireland claims to have been majorly influenced by this very book.
When it comes down to it, there is very little difference between the unconcealing of a thing as art and the unconcealing of something as sacred or miraculous. Both of these claims rely on the direct involvement between a self and the Earth partaking in a meaningful and connected relationship of mutual acknowledgement and engagement. The insights provided by Heidegger through words and by Ireland through things contribute crucially to a world that is amidst major change. Their ideas of receptivity, appreciation, acknowledgement, and integration are growing. The entire notion of art approached in this way relates crucially to the growing recognition of compassion, gratitude, and play as fundamental activities of the self in the world. But none of these things are all that easy to achieve. The activity of recognizing the Earth as it thrusts is, as most other activities, a practiced cultivation. Developments in the sciences, the arts, and the humanities continue to contribute more effectively to our ability to more easily grasp the abstract notion of a massive Nature of interrelation, but it seems we still have a ways to go. These words should act as an inspirational catalyst to approach the world as art, and to consider it with importance and with care. Our experience is something always happening, and we must always be practicing as best we can.
1 This metaphor that invokes sight is fundamentally related to visualization in the mind. This is something to reflect deeply upon. We will do more of that later.
Introduction to the Practiced Approach:
Thanks to Hubert Dreyfus’ lectures on Heidegger’s Being and Time, and the subsequent discussion of these philosophers Heidegger responds to.
ii Immanuel Kant, Groundwork For the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. H.J. Paton (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964), 428-64. As cited in: Henning, Brian G. The Ethics of Creativity: Beauty, Morality, and Nature in a Processive Cosmos. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, 2005. Print.
iii Dewey, John, The New Psychology: First published in Andover Review, 2, (1884) 278-289.
iv A reference to Heidegger’s “Being-in-the-world,” which we should certainly correlate with “life being bound up” not just with the life of society, but with all of life, and also all inorganic matter that exists as the ground basis from which life develops, and that functions as something essentially participated with and relied upon as a basis with which our own being is and always has been involved.
v One of Heidegger’s three basic ways of being: “availableness or "readiness-to-hand", occurrence or "presence- at-hand", as well as Dasein”(Dreyfus) the being that takes a stand on its own being – the being who’s being is an issue for it - in particular, though not limited to, Humans Beings.
vi Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat? does a nice job of developing a way of thinking about selves outside of us (or inside of us), and of the necessary reworking of how we might need to consider the idea of objectivity when considering a variety of selves with a variety of subjective experiences in a shared space.
vii Martin Heidegger. "The Origin of the Work of Art." 154.
viii Heidegger makes a request that his readers follow a “way of thinking” rather than paying particularly careful attention to each and every sentence. P.1.
ix Vasari’s biographical descriptions of artists as genius can be further explored in The Lives of the Artists (Oxford University Press, 1991).
x More to be found in Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art (Clarendon Press, 1975).
xi “What I am trying to convey to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the impalpable source of sensations.“ – Quoted from Cezanne in Merleau-Pontly’s Mind and Eye. More discussion surrounding Cezanne’s developments can be found throughout Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writing, specifically in Cezanne’s Doubt and Mind and Eye.
6Heidegger, Origin of the Work of Art
13 ibid 176
14 Ibid, 177
15 Ibid, 177
16 Ibid, 172
17 Ibid, 177
18 Ibid, 169
19 Ibid, 180
20 Ibid, 180
21 Ibid, 180
22 John Dewey, Art as Experience.
23 Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, 174.
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