Category Archives: Symbols and diagrams

Mishkan skies

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

Edit: Two Stories About Skin

His eviction notice arrived in the form of an overwhelming need to get out. He had to leave this place immediately. It was not a matter of escaping here; it was a matter of being there, a there unknown apart from its distance, a distance from which he could see his home whole against the sky, the distance prescribed to those who aspire to love perfectly.

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

*

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

(Original here.)

Drawing on every side of the brain

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

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

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

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

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

Ancestors and siblings of process thought

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

The first passage appeals to my designer consciousness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Life is unfair

fairness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambiliberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

ambiliberal

Hermeneutical/rhetorical bow

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

hr-bow

Diagram du jour

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

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

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

*

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

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

Christian cred

Think about these statements:

“Bear with me.”
“Please hear me out.”
“It will all make sense in the end.”

Why are these requests necessary? When are they made?

To what feeling in the listener is the speaker responding?

What kind of appeal is being made? Do we owe it to another to give him a full hearing?

When is the appeal denied? Is it a matter of credibility?

What is the experience of denial?

*

To read the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament is to experience the most pluralistic religious vision ever recorded, from the most accutely and radically pluralistic people who ever lived. In what other scripture is the same story is recounted three different times from the point of view of three different people? It would have been easier and more obvious to collapse them into one univocal account, but instead the three experiences, three meaningful visions were presented together in a three-in-one synopsis – syn– (together) –opsis (seeing). [* See note 1 below]

I like to think of pluralism as a kind of parallax vision, that allows us to see hyper-dimensionally. With one eye you see a flat picture. With two eyes working in concert we see depth. Our so-called “inner eye” draws out the dimension of meaning. With a pluralistic synopsis we see meaning together – we share meaning and have community. We gain understanding, which the Greeks called synesis.

*

By the time Jesus began teaching his distinctively Jewish universal vision of life, the Jewish tradition had survived and overcome numerous cultural crises. They had dominated and been subjugated, had won their home and lost it. They knew belonging and alienation, and they knew both sides of power.

Most importantly they knew that knowledge of experience means to know an experience from the inside. Experiencing is inseparable from that which is experienced, and this means, to use a common visual analogy, that  experience is inseparable from its vision, as how the world looks from that experience. (One of my favorite Jewish thinkers, Edmund Husserl called this “intentionality”: seeing and seen are inseparable, as are hearing and sound, feeling and sensation, etc. [* See note 2 below].)

The Jews knew better than anyone that power is something that can be seen, but even more, it is a way of seeing – of life and the world as a whole. Power has its own kind of vision. When an emperor sees himself, or his court, or a rival power, or he looks upon a conquered enemy or slave, that emperor sees something radically different than the slave regarding the same situation. Power is something different, powerlessness is different. A palace, a body, a tree, a poem… everything is the same in a sense, but things are deeply different. The same goes for a stranger, expat, wanderer, outcast or outcaste.

Out of necessity, the Jews had to develop a way of preserving themselves as a tradition within these conditions. That meant living on a line between provoking attacks from the outside and simply dissolving from cultural self-indifference or self-disgust. They had to internalize their strength. They had to find dignity in their vulnerability to escape the indignity of weakness.

There was no way such a response to such a universal problem was going to stay contained within a small ethnic tradition forever. Whether it was Jesus or Paul, somehow the radical insights of Judaism went universal.

*

A series of words derived from the Latin word credere, “believe, trust”:

  • Credit
  • Credential
  • Credence
  • Creed
  • Credo

A series of words derived from the Old English word agan, “believe, trust.” :

  • Own
  • Owe
  • Ought (originally past tense of “owe”)

A series of words derived from Latin auditor, from audire, “to hear”:

  • Audit
  • Audition
  • Auditorium
  • Auditory
  • Audio

*

An example of divergent accounts from two of the Synoptic Gospels (which some scholars believe were adapted from yet another lost Gospel, “Q”, possibly a compendium of sayings similar to the (in)famous Gospel of Thomas).

These two passages are taken from Jesus’s famous Lord’s Prayer, his instructions on how to pray.

Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Luke 11:4: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word used was opheilema. [* See note 3 below.]

In Luke 11:4, the Greek word was hamartia, which means literally “missing the mark”.

*

Out of time. Darn. I’ll finish this post if there’s any interest. [* See note 4 below.]

—-

* NOTE 1:  To call the New Testament inconsistent as some atheists do is to miss the point. To argue over which meaning is the right meaning as the fundamentalists do is to betray the point. To behave as though a plurality of possible meaning implies that all meanings are equivalent and that it is meaningless to discuss them… to go skeptical on that basis, and to ask cynically, rhetorically “what is truth?”… to wash one’s hands of the responsibility to engage dialogically in pursuit of understanding… that’s complicity in the conflict.

* NOTE 2:  Intentionality in Husserl’s sense is a core religious insight, expressed in a variety of forms, from the Jewish Star of David, to the Chinese yin-within-yang and yang-within-yin, to the Greek Janusian herms (with Hermes’s head fused to the head of a goddess, often Aphrodite), to the Hermetic hermaphroditic Androgyne, male on the right, female on the left, sun on the right, moon on the left. Listen for the inside-outside symbolic structure and you’ll find it everywhere. This capacity to hear and understand the form-language of symbol is what I believe is meant by “having ears that hear.”

* NOTE 3: Opheilema seemed like it might have a connection with the name “Ophelia” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if there was an etymological connection. According to Wikipedia, “the name ‘Ophelia’ itself was either uncommon or nonexistent; the only known prior text to use the name (as “Ofalia”) is Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia.” It seems fairly obvious the name is a combination of opheilema and philia, love – “love debt” – love unrequited.)

* NOTE 4: Etymology of “interest”: ORIGIN late Middle English (originally as interess): from Anglo-Norman French interesse, from Latin interesse ‘differ, be important,’ from inter– ‘between’ + esse ‘be.’ The -t was added partly by association with Old French interest ‘damage, loss,’ apparently from Latin interest ‘it is important.’ Also influenced by medieval Latin interesse ‘compensation for a debtor’s defaulting.’

Another version of the same diagram

I’ve been struggling with the same inchoate problem since early 2006. It appears to center on the meaning of the I Ching trigrams, but in fact the I Ching has only provided a form for approaching the problem. The interest I’ve have in the I Ching has been a by-product of struggling with this problem.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my interest in trigrams seems to move in step with my interest in pragmatist philosophy. I think what the trigrams mean is best accounted for in pragmatist terms. The trigrams are better understood in terms of how they are used than by what they represent. The use of the triads is unification and stabilization of the experiential flux. The trigrams are a typology of interpretive schemas used to unify experience.

Securing reality

This quote by C. S. Peirce always belongs with this diagram:

“Philosophy ought to imitate the successful sciences in its methods, so far as to proceed only from tangible premisses which can be subjected to careful scrutiny, and to trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibers may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected.”