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Everything that happens, happens now.
Every moment has its momentum. You can guess what happens next: and you can guess wrong. Every moment has its spontaneity.
Time changes all things, sooner or later. Was there a beginning to all this changing, when the universe presented itself without a past?
Physicists say that the universe began about 13.8 billion years ago with a singular event called the Big Bang. Was that the beginning of time too? How could we tell if there was any time before that? We say that the universe has been expanding and evolving since then, because that explains what we now observe, including the traces of past events. To keep track of all this, we invent clocks and calendars and mark artificial slices of time on our records of events. A “year,” for instance, is the length of time it takes our planet to make a complete circuit of its orbit around our sun. Our planet has only been orbiting its sun for 5 billion “years” or so, but we don't ask how long a “year” was before the earth was. We just assume that every “year” has the same length, and that time has been continuously “passing” at the same rate, even when we calculate the age of the universe. But we don't ask: How long is time?
On a more local scale, we infer from the existing evidence that life forms on Planet Earth have been evolving for about 4 billion years – continuously evolving, despite the “punctuation” of geological eras, mass extinctions and other setbacks. More complex ecosystems and life forms have emerged and developed in more recent times. Humanity is a very late arrival on the scene, having appeared only a few million years ago at most (depending on how we draw the line between human and pre-human).
The languages we use to discuss all this have appeared even more recently. Almost all European languages, for instance, have apparently evolved from a Proto-Indo-European tongue, which can be traced back no more than ten thousand years. “Old English” is little more than a thousand years old. Much of our scientific “knowledge” about the cosmos has developed only in the past century or so. Cultural evolution is accelerating, and so is the expansion of the physical universe. Yet everything new in the universe we observe appears as a transformation of something older, going all the way back to the beginning of time, the beginning of transformation, which is still going on.
Ancient Greek has two words for time, chronos and kairos. The first refers to the passing of time, or to a measure of it, a period or “length” of time. The second refers to time as a context for conduct, an “opportunity” or “occasion” for meaningful practice. When in Thomas 91 Jesus criticizes the disciples for not knowing ‘how to read this moment,’ he is referring to the kairos: the Greek version of ‘to read this moment’ is δοκιμάζειν τὸν καιρὸν (Luke 12:56). Likewise in Turning Signs, to ‘live the time’ is to live the kairos. Since it is the context of practice, we might call it ‘pragmatic time,’ which is independent of chronological scale. A pragmatic moment does not necesarily have a definite length (or beginning or end), but it has the compelling presence of continuous practice.
We mark it up to measure it, but time as the continuity of presence has no length. Presence leaves no trace. Pragmatic time is immeasurable because there are no boundary lines between moments, between past and present or present and future. The latter flows and follows from the former, but the length of a moment could be infinite, or infinitesimal, or anywhere in between. Boundary lines or points of division, if they existed, would be breaks in the continuity of time. The same goes for a definite beginning or end of the continuum.
Peirce defined a continuum as ‘something any part of which itself has parts of the same kind’ (W3:68), in which ‘every sufficiently small part has the same mode of immediate connection with others as every other has’ (CP 4.642, 1908). He also pointed out that the flow of time is directly experienced as continuous (CP 7.535). But the Big Bang, being a singularity, is a discontinuity. Even if we can see all the way back to it, 13.8 billion light years away, we can't see past it. We can't say why it occurred, or what caused it – unless we imagine a universe prior to the observable universe in which it could have been caused.
We can investigate, and maybe learn a little, about why anything within the observable universe appears or acts the way it does, or why things happen the way they do. But this kind of inquiry can't tell us why a universe appears at all, or how it could “start from scratch.” Yet we humans seem highly motivated to ask that kind of cosmological question, and reluctant to take “nobody knows” for an answer. We would rather have stories of how it all began. Here is one scriptural example:
Every thing must needs have an origin and every building a builder. Verily, the Word of God is the Cause which hath preceded the contingent world – a world which is adorned with the splendors of the Ancient of Days, yet is being renewed and regenerated at all times. Immeasurably exalted is the God of Wisdom Who hath raised this sublime structure.— Bahá'u'lláh, ‘Tablet of Wisdom’
Buildings have builders, but in our experience, builders rearrange existing materials into the forms we call “buildings,” and they do this on purpose. They don't “start from scratch” in the sense of making something out of nothing. We can imagine a Creator who did start from scratch, and is therefore ‘immeasurably exalted’ above all human builders, and above the evolutionary ‘origin of species’ as well. But this leaves us clueless as to whether the universe was created on purpose as our buildings are. Does the Creator have anything in common with us creatures?
Anything which has been created is ‘contingent’ on the act or process of creation which produced it. When we think of the whole world, ‘this sublime structure,’ as being created, we think of its Creator as ‘immeasurably exalted’ above human creators, because this Creator can utter stars, planets, galaxies, sentient beings and buddhas as readily as humans utter words – all without having any visible or tangible form as humans creators do. An omnipotent being can do as it pleases, and more, since it can do without “pleasing.” It is not subject to the limitations of created, contingent or embodied beings, and is ‘thereby freed from all experience, all desire, all intention’ (Peirce, EP2:447).
Having no experience of what has ‘preceded the contingent world’ of our experience, we can only talk about it using metaphors such as Creator, Word and Cause which draw on our human experience for hints at what they represent. These hints being necessarily vague, the logical ‘principle of contradiction’ does not apply to them (Peirce, CP 5.448, EP2:351). Thus we may think of ‘the Word of God’ as the means of creation of the world, or we may think of that ‘Word’ as the act of creation itself, or as the Creator who commits that act, or as the logos of it all. Or we may merge all of these into one, as the Gospel of John seems to do: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’
In the ‘Tablet of Wisdom’ quoted above, the act of Creation is not relegated to the past but continues ‘at all times.’ Indeed, if real time is continuous, there is only one time. Does it (or did it) really have a beginning? Bahá'u'lláh's tablet tells us that
God was, and His creation had ever existed beneath His shelter from the beginning that hath no beginning, apart from its being preceded by a Firstness which cannot be regarded as firstness and originated by a Cause inscrutable even unto all men of learning.Perhaps this Firstness, like Peirce's, is inscrutable because ‘every description of it must be false to it’ (EP1:248). And like that irreducible element of the phaneron, it is not merely the first in a series of moments, but the Firstness of any moment, its immediate presence.
Everything existing in that moment ‘must have an origin’ because it ‘is what it is by force of something to which it is second’ (Peirce, EP1:248). To be ‘second’ to something else is to be ‘contingent’ on it. This Secondness is in the nature of existing things. For instance, every pearl was built up around a grain of sand by an oyster. Its existence is contingent on the grain of sand being in the right place at the right time, on the prior existence of the oyster, and so on, back in time to the origin of the universe (assuming there was one). Every step along the way is determined by the laws of nature operating on the current situation: that is the Thirdness of the moment, its continuity and connection with “other” moments. None of these moments are fully determinate – there is always some room for random or accidental changes – but we can get a general idea of the determining “laws” through inquiry. If we try to carry the inquiry further back, beyond the beginning, we find ourselves face to face with a mystery. But presence itself and the carrying forward of time are no less mysterious, even though they are under our noses all the time.
Being complex systems who must adapt our actions to the world we find ourselves in, we try to simplify our conceptions of the ‘forces’ which make things what they are and make things happen the way they do. Everything and every event owes its nature to the pattern that connects it with the rest of nature: the web of causes, conditions and consequences that determines what actually happens. The time (the kairos, the momentum of the moment) is the determinator. But just as we abstract “moments” from continuous time, we abstract facts from current and past events in order to comprehend causes.
That which is caused, the causatum, is not the entire event, but such abstracted element of an event as is expressible in a proposition, or what we call a “fact.” The cause is another “fact.”The simplifying tendency is essential to the guidance system of any sentient being; but humans are especially good at ‘abstracting elements’ from events in order to simplify our ideas of the patterns that connect them with everything else. We tend to overlook the limitations of this reasoning process, and thus to gloss over the complexity of interbeing. The whole truth about any event would have to take into account— Peirce, EP2:315
the totality of all the circumstances attending the event. This is, strictly speaking, the Universe of being in its totality. But any event, just as it exists, in its entirety, is nothing else but the same Universe of being in its totality.— Peirce, EP2:315
This is Peirce's testament to the reality of interbeing. Dogen also testifies to this: ‘there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth.’
When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and beyond understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and beyond understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being, are both time. Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.— Dogen, SBGZ ‘Uji’ (Tanahashi 2010, 105)
If time is the continuity of presence, we might as well say that being itself is time. Eihei Dogen called it ‘uji’, 有時, being-time.
The essential characteristic of uji is this: while all existences in all the various worlds are interconnected, each existence is unique in itself, and precisely because of this, we can speak of personally experiencing the living quick of time.‘Personally experiencing the living quick of time” is a translation of the expression gouji (吾有時). Another translation of Dogen's text says that ‘In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being (Tanahashi 2010, 106). Still another says: ‘Inasmuch as they are being-time, they are my being-time’ (Waddell and Abe 2002, 51).— SBGZ ‘Uji’ (Uchiyama 2018)
Even if you think of the past, present, and future millions of times, all time is this very moment, right now. Where you are is nothing but this very moment.— SBGZ ‘Daigo’ (Tanahashi 2010, 301)
Recognizing that the world is inside out, you know that your whole experience of the world – memories, perceptions, anticipations, intentions and all – is a performance of your bodymind. It occupies an individual subject/self whose existence is contingent on the reality of the world. For this subject, ‘Practice unfolds in the context of all of reality coming forth at this very being-time’ (Roberts 2018). The real world, beyond what we know of it and regardless of what we think of it, is also being created right now by coming forth as being-time. Our practice is included in that creation just as interbeing makes each of us what we are. We can think of ‘this very moment’ as the “eternal now” of continuous creation. We can also think of the world that is coming as ‘all of reality coming forth at this very being-time.’
The ‘personal’ experience of being-time is the lived moment of an individual subject. This being's consciousness and its “contents” are one and the same. Dogen speaks of it as 住法位, occupying one's dharma state or dharma position.
The individual moments, things, or events are called jū-hōi or “dharma positions.” A dharma position is a singular moment, state of being, or occurrence that has no fixed duration and about which we intuitively understand something of its particularity.When we practice together with all dharmas, creation evolves.Since a dharma position is interconnecting, interpenetrating, impermanent, and fleeting, it functions within the context of all other dharma positions. In concert, these dharmas practice together and make the world.— Roberts 2018
The moment of being-time, like Peirce's phaneron, includes all modes of being. Many philosophers, according to Peirce,
recognize but one mode of being, the being of an individual thing or fact, the being which consists in the object's crowding out a place for itself in the universe, so to speak, and reacting by brute force of fact, against all other things. I call that existence.But for Peirce, reality includes two other modes of being, namely Firstness and Thirdness – and we can ‘directly observe them in elements of whatever is at any time before the mind in any way’ (CP 1.23). He also referred to them as ‘three Universes of modes of reality’ (CP 4.549), or ‘three Universes of Experience’ (EP2:434).— Peirce, CP 1.21 (1903)
Nobody actually doubts either the presence of the present moment, its Firstness, or the continuity of time, its Thirdness: our experience testifies to their reality. Imaginary beings and fictional stories that depend on us for their origins also have their aspects of Firstness and Thirdness, but the pattern that connects existing things to each other (and to our practice) is not of our invention; it has evolved just as we have. ‘There can, I think, be no reasonable doubt that man's mind, having been developed under the influence of the laws of nature, for that reason naturally thinks somewhat after nature's pattern (Peirce, CP 7.39).’
The Firstness of the moment is its immediacy, indeterminacy, and spontaneity. The Secondness is its actuality, its otherness to the experiencing subject, its obsistence. The Thirdness is its continuity, its regularity – and its significance, its being a sign that mediates between object and interpretant.
Time is the medium in which our being is manifest. This medium is not different from this being.— Roberts 2018
Insofar as systems exist, they are not continuous with other systems, but contingent on them and on the “laws” governing their relations. By simultaneous presence with other beings in mutual interdependence, they practice together. Each subject plays with and against its others, and their habits co-evolve by mutual determination. Thus it appears that creation, like perception and cognition, evolves (grows, develops, .....) by differentiation.
Thought carves up creation into qualities (logical possibilities, or predicates) and “things” (subjects) which can bear those qualities or actualize those possibilities. By representing things and their qualities as subjects and predicates of propositions, and conjoining them (in marriage, as it were) as parts of itself, thought renders reality intelligible.
The mode of being of the composition of thought, which is always of the nature of the attribution of a predicate to a subject, is the living intelligence which is the creator of all intelligible reality, as well as of the knowledge of such reality. It is the entelechy, or perfection of being.CP 6.341, 1909 (continued in rePatch ·10)
Cognition begins by making distinctions; things emerge from the phaneron; their nature emerges from their relations with other things. When we see what we focus on, the object of our attention distinguishes itself from the visual field. To the extent that this ‘distinguishing itself’ is beyond our control, the object is real: such objects are not of our making, rather ‘Myriad things come forth and illuminate the self’ (Dogen, ‘Genjokoan’). In perceptual semiosis, the dynamic object determines the sign to determine its interpretant. Yet this is only one side of the continuous dialogue between Self and World. The other side begins with focusing, with attention creating its object by making distinctions according to the habits learned from prior experience. Within the hierarchical organization of the brain, predictions flow from the top down while the senses counter with “objections” to those predictions, sending news of prediction errors from the bottom up. According to the ‘predictive processing’ model of perception and cognition, these two streams influence each other to continuously modify the course of experience. In this way the self goes forth to explore the myriad things. Or as Dogen said in ‘Uji’, ‘The way the self arrays itself is the form of the entire world.’
Just as we can say that the world is inside out because one's experiencing of the world is the world of experience, we can say that dharmas practicing together make up the world in a double sense: they constitute the whole, while they also create it just as an author “makes up” a story. In the biological universe of discourse, this creation is called self-organization or autopoiesis. In the theological universe of discourse, we can say with Bahá'u'lláh that ‘immeasurably exalted is the God of Wisdom Who hath raised this sublime structure,’ because the Creator (personified as ‘God’) Who forms the world transcends any and all individual participants in it. Or we could say, as Peirce did,
The word “God,” so “capitalized” (as we Americans say), is the definable proper name, signifying Ens necessarium; in my belief Really creator of all three Universes of Experience.— EP2:434
Whether we speak of the Creator as an Entity or a Person or a Process does not really matter as far as the continuity of Presence and the reality of the Universes are concerned. Peirce's Ens necessarium is necessary by the same logic which says that ‘Every thing must needs have an origin.’ It is not based on reasoning from experience; rather reasoning itself is based on the instinctive assumption that there must be some reason why anything is the way it is, or why it exists at all. Is reasoning necessary? Then so is ‘God’ – and all facts are contingent on that necessary being.
According to Bahá'u'lláh (above), the ‘God of Wisdom’ is ‘immeasurably exalted’ above and beyond the universe we experience, the ‘contingent world.’ According to Peirce, the word “God” is ‘the definable proper name.’ A proper name normally denotes an individual person, place or entity which may be an object of one's attention. But no ordinary proper name is definable. You won't find a definition of your name, for instance, in any dictionary. Only those with some prior experience of you, direct or indirect, know which individual your name denotes. But God, being ‘immeasurably exalted’ above the ‘contingent world,’ i.e. the whole universe of existing individuals, can't be identified as one of them, as you can by your name. So, according to Peirce, the only way to establish the meaning of the name “God” is to define it as ‘signifying Ens necessarium,’ the necessary entity – the one Being which is not contingent on any other, but is the necessary ground of interbeing, contingency and regularity in the universe.
“Contingent” and “necessary” are both ambiguous words, but we can begin to approach their polyversity by thinking of them as opposites. Contingent events are those which will not necessarily occur. They are possible, but their actual occurrence in the future (like that of the pearl mentioned above) will depend on the proper conditions being in place.
The word “contingent” was imported to English from a Latin adjective meaning ‘touching together, contiguous, coming into contact or connection’ (OED). It is based on the verb contingere, which in turn is based on the verb tangere, ‘to touch.’ That brings out the Secondness of contingency: things which can ‘touch together’ must be tangible, must have opposable surfaces. The Latin word can also mean ‘befalling, happening, coming to pass.’ The English word may mean ‘happening or coming by chance; not fixed by necessity or fate; accidental, fortuitous, liable to chance and change’ (OED). Everything changes, but the chances of any particular change happening may depend on all sorts of factors both causal and casual. Hence the unpredictable and inexplicable side of everyday life, where control is an illusion – the Firstness of the “contingent,” its chaotic aspect.
In the traditional terminology of logic, contingent is opposed to necessary, just as accidental is opposed to essential in metaphysics. A fact, for instance, is ‘contingent’ in the sense that it is ‘not of the nature of necessary truth’; it is ‘true only under existing conditions’ (OED). Existence is the mode of being of things in the actual world, things that can physically touch one another or come into contact. But for a realist like C.S. Peirce, the real world is much more inclusive. Peirce's ‘God,’ for instance, does not exist, but like a Type or legisign, ‘determines things that do exist.’ ‘He’ personifies the reality of a higher mode of being, one that both creates and governs the realm of existence. Dogen and Bahá'u'lláh are also realists in this sense; and like Peirce, they tell us that one way to recognize that higher reality is to read the natural world attentively.
Look at the world and ponder a while upon it. It unveileth the book of its own self before thine eyes and revealeth that which the Pen of thy Lord, the Fashioner, the All-Informed, hath inscribed therein. It will acquaint thee with that which is within it and upon it and will give thee such clear explanations as to make thee independent of every eloquent expounder.That last sentence has a parallel in Dogen's ‘Mountains and Waters Sutra’ (‘Sansuikyō’), which begins: ‘Mountains and waters right now actualize the ancient buddha expression’ (Tanahashi 2010, 154). In semiotic terms, the phenomena of nature are dynamic interpretants of the signs uttered by buddhas when their practice is continuous with the whole practice of nature. Dogen calls this practice-enlightenment (修行, shugyō). In more theological language, some call it “union with God,” the self-subsisting Creator.Say: Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.— Bahá'u'lláh, ‘Tablet of Wisdom’
Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and all the living creatures He has scattered throughout them: He has the power to gather them all together whenever He will.‘He’ created diversity, the Otherness of ‘His’ creatures to each other (and to ‘His’ mode of being). The act of creating and ‘scattering’ them is a sign of ‘His’ power. Does ‘He’ also have the power to uncreate them all, to undifferentiate them, to cancel all existence and gather all things into one? If so, Peirce's ‘Evolutionary Love’ seems to have the same double power of creating and unifying, ‘at one and the same impulse projecting creations into independency and drawing them into harmony’ (EP1:353). Perhaps ‘the power to gather them all together’ means that the whole universe of existence can become, or reveal itself as, a single system extending through spacetime.— Qur'an 42:29 (Haleem 2005)
All we can learn from Nature is what we can infer from our experience of its diverse and interrelated manifestations. Our origin stories, like our guesses about what causes things to happen the way they do, spring from ‘the light of nature’, the instinctive impulse to make sense of our experience. But we can't test our stories about the Cause of the whole universe by observing or experimenting on things in the universe, as we do in our scientific investigation of causes. A deeper reading of the Mother Book of Nature requires us to turn it outside in, to experience a greater intimacy with Creation in all its Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness.
The Mother Book doesn't translate directly into human language, but the Word creating our world translates into human nature and its expression in practice, including verbal practice. The medium that connects us with the rest of nature realizes the Thirdness of the observable world in the work of signs.
The third element of the phenomenon is that we perceive it to be intelligible, that is, to be subject to law, or capable of being represented by a general sign or Symbol. But I say the same element is in all signs. The essential thing is that it is capable of being represented. Whatever is capable of being represented is itself of a representative nature. The idea of representation involves infinity, since a representation is not really such unless it be interpreted in another representation. But infinity is nothing but a peculiar twist given to generality. There is not anything truly general that does not actually make irrational existences conform to itself. That is the very heart of the idea.— Peirce to William James (June 8, 1903), CP 8.268
Nature's practice of evolution has its counterpart in the scientific practice of inquiry. On the ception side of the meaning cycle, generalizing from the particulars of experience to broader concepts is the cognitive aspect of the Creator's ‘power to gather them all together whenever He will,’ in the words of the Qur'an. We gather together all “creatures” into the word “nature.” The intentional use of conventional symbols to represent nature's legisigns, or regulations, represents an evolution of creative power. The art of using conventional symbols in unconventional ways to redirect attention is a further evolution, generating turning symbols.
All thought, whether ours or nature's, is in signs. We can think of Nature as God's thought, which comprises the signs making up the Mother Book. The ideal Reader of these signs, like Creation itself, like generative Reason, is always in ‘a state of incipiency, of growth’ – if we can call that a “state”! – and ‘never can have been completely perfected’ (Peirce, EP2:255, CP 1.615). In other words, she fits Peirce's description of a perfect sign as given in Chapter 13:
… the perfect sign is perpetually being acted upon by its object, from which it is perpetually receiving the accretions of new signs, which bring it fresh energy, and also kindle energy that it already had, but which had lain dormant.The ‘determinations’ which come to the quasi-mind ‘as events each one once for all and never again’ are moments in experiential being-time when it is ‘acted upon by its object.’ The ‘rules or laws’ of this mind are in themselves legisigns, and in the guidance system, habits. And speaking of Existential Graphs, which constitute a system by means of which we can ‘construct a diagram to illustrate the general course of thought’ (CP 4.530), Peirce confirms thatIn addition, the perfect sign never ceases to undergo changes of the kind we rather drolly call spontaneous, that is, they happen sua sponte but not by its will. They are phenomena of growth.This quasi-mind is an object which from whatever standpoint it be examined, must evidently have, like anything else, its special qualities of susceptibility to determination. Moreover, the determinations come as events each one once for all and never again. Furthermore, it must have its rules or laws, the more special ones variable, others invariable.EP2:545 (MS 283:279-83)
In our Diagram the same thing which represents The Truth must be regarded as in another way representing the Mind, and indeed, as being the Quasi-mind of all the Signs represented on the Diagram. For any set of Signs which are so connected that a complex of two of them can have one interpretant, must be Determinations of one Sign which is a Quasi-mind.CP 4.550 (1906)
Some of the spontaneous changes to this Quasi-mind, those not determined by the dynamic object, occur by means of metaphor. This term derives from the Greek noun μεταφορά and verb μεταφέρω, which means ‘carry over’ (transfer, transport). It is often applied broadly to any “figure of speech” which places a familiar term in an unfamiliar context, so that some qualities attributed to some familiar subject are “carried over” to a subject less commonly associated with those qualities. ‘The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another’ (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 5).
We often speak of “metaphorical” or “figurative” meaning as opposed to “literal” meaning, which is supposed to have a tighter grip on reality. Actually these terms vaguely represent the two ends of a single spectrum: “literal” usage is more habitual, while “metaphor” is more spontaneous, more creative, ‘poetic,’ imaginative. Yet metaphor is an element of even the most ordinary language, as you can see from the etymology of almost any word you care to look up. Nor is it limited to language.
Metaphor is not merely an instance of language, a special rhetorical device used for communication and persuasion. Instead metaphor is a fundamental mental capacity by which people understand themselves and the world through the conceptual mapping of knowledge from one domain onto another. The overwhelming ubiquity of metaphor in language, thought, science, law, art, myth, and culture illustrates that metaphor is an integral part of human life.Metaphor is certainly an integral part of philosophical thought, as Peirce affirmed:— Raymond W. Gibbs (1994, 207)
Metaphysics has been said contemptuously to be a fabric of metaphors. But not only metaphysics, but logical and phaneroscopical concepts need to be clothed in such garments. For a pure idea without metaphor or other significant clothing is an onion without a peel.This onion metaphor reflects Peirce's dictum that ‘thought, like an onion, is composed of nothing but wrappings’ (EP2:460, quoted in Chapter 2). Naming is creation, metaphor recreation. “A road” is a metaphor which may denote a ‘course of thought’:EP2:392
A road is made by people walking on it; things are so because they are called so.— Zhuangzi 2 (Watson 1968, 40)
Some symbols force us off the familiar path, urging us to find that there is more than one way to move in a meaning space, presenting the matter more intimately.
People can speak to us only a language which we already understand; each word of a difficult text awakens in us thoughts which were ours beforehand, but these meanings sometimes combine to form new thought which recasts them all, and we are transported to the heart of the matter, we find the source.This also applies to the kind of text Wallace Stevens called ‘poetry:’— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 207)
Poetry ‘must resist the intelligence’ in order to challenge intellectual habits and thus break through the cognitive bubble. It often uses common words to make uncommon sense, to provoke a ‘renovation of experience.’ This ‘renovation’ is not just a new experience added to the old, another bead on the string, but a transformation of experiencing, in the way that waking up transforms awareness of the world around you (or a dream transforms the sleeper's consciousness).
- Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully.
- Poetry is often a revelation of the elements of experience.
- Poetry is a renovation of experience.— Stevens 1957 (171, 177)
The ‘recasting’ of thought can be, as Stevens says, ‘a revelation of the elements of experience.’ Peirce's phaneroscopy, aiming to reveal ‘the formal elements of the phaneron’ (CP 1.284), is a philosophical parallel to this kind of poetry. This informs Peirce's investigation into ‘the heart of the matter’ of semiosis, the process of meaning or of ‘Thought’ in the widest possible sense.
Cosmic creativity, as free creative activity, as emergence, arises within the dynamic interrelation of the three Peircean categories. Human creativity, which has been seen to be evinced in retroductive activity, in the play of imagination, in metaphor, and in fact to permeate all levels of epistemic activity, can be understood as a uniquely specialized, highly intensified instance of the free creative activity characteristic of the universe within which it functions, and the conditions of possibility of human freedom in general, as self-directedness rooted in rationality, are to be found in the conditions that constitute the universe at large and within which rationality emerges.— Sandra Rosenthal (1994, 124)
As brain scientist Walter Freeman observed, ‘All that we can know comes through the imagination, which allows us to generalize and abstract to create the internal structures with which we act and understand’ (Freeman 1999a, 164). Peirce emphasized the creative aspect of semiosis in a 1909 letter to William James:
The Sign creates something in the Mind of the Interpreter, which something, in that it has been so created by the sign, has been, in a mediate and relative way, also created by the Object of the Sign, although the Object is essentially other than the Sign. And this creature of the sign is called the Interpretant. It is created by the Sign; but not by the Sign quâ member of whichever of the Universes it belongs to; but it has been created by the Sign in its capacity of bearing the determination by the Object.An entity which can be at once both determined (by its Object) and determining (its Interpretant) may be called a ‘medium,’ a ‘mind’ or a ‘sign,’ depending on the context. Its creative ‘capacity’ involves its determinability as well as its ability to determine. Semiosic determination is an irreversible one-way process: whatever is determinate can usually be further determined, but determination as an actual occurrence cannot be undone, any more than an event can unhappen. As a process, though, determination of a sign by its object can never be completed,
for it is impossible that any sign whether mental or external should be perfectly determinate. If it were possible such sign must remain absolutely unconnected with any other. It would quite obviously be such a sign of its entire universe, as Leibniz and others have described the omniscience of God to be, an intuitive representation amounting to an indecomposable feeling of the whole in all its details, from which those details would not be separable. For no reasoning, and consequently no abstraction, could connect itself with such a sign.‘The “Truth,” the fact that is not abstracted but complete, is the ultimate interpretant of every sign’ (EP2:304) – the unattainable end of its development. The connectibility of signs with one another is inseparable from their indeterminacy; for it is connection with other signs – all signifying the form of the relations characterizing their Object(s) – that determines the form of a sign's interpretant. Since the defining characteristic of a symbol is that it will be interpreted as representing its object, indeterminacy is of its essence. The meaning of the symbol, its significance, is constituted by its role in a living sign-system: it must be both determinable and capable of recreating that determinability in a more definite interpretant. It means to outgrow its meaning.CP 4.583 (1906)
A symbol is essentially a purpose, that is to say, is a representation that seeks to make itself definite, or seeks to produce an interpretant more definite than itself. For its whole signification consists in its determining an interpretant; so that it is from its interpretant that it derives the actuality of its signification.The reader's recognition of a sign as a symbol creates an expectation that it will mean something. It creates a meaning space to be occupied by the right form at the right time: ‘it is of the nature of a symbol to create a tabula rasa and therefore an endless series of tabulae rasae, since such creation is merely representation, the tabulae rasae being entirely indeterminate except to be representative’ (EP2:323). Choose any symbol in the endless series, and it ‘represents itself to be represented’ even as it represents itself to represent its Object. It presents itself by re-presenting itself continuously.Peirce, EP2:323
Take for example Saying 4 of the Gospel of Thomas, which you may recall from back in the first chapter:
(1) Jesus said, “The person old in days will not hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live. (2) For many of the first will be last (3) and will become a single one.”Suppose ‘the place of life’ is being-time itself, and the ‘becoming a single one’ of the many who ‘will be last’ is the ultimately intimate communion of subjects. Is this a plausible reading? That depends on how consistent it is with its double context, one side of which is the Gospel of Thomas, while the other is the time we are living. Does this interpretant help to renovate our experience, or connect with the primordial feelings at the heart of our selves and our mattering, while also connecting with the rest of this gospel?Thomas 4 (NHS)
The theme of unification recurs many times in the Gospel of Thomas. Saying 22, for instance, plays a more detailed variation on it, in another difficult text which begins with beginners in life:
(1) Jesus saw some babies nursing. (2) He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.”Here, instead of the ‘becoming a single one’ of Thomas 4, we have a description of the practice which will take us into ‘the kingdom’ – a practice of making the two into one, making eyes in place of an eye and an image in place of an image. It seems that re-presenting creation is a way of re-creating oneself, and thus entering ‘the place of life.’ This recreation is also the resurrection of the bodymind.
(3) They said to him, “Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?”
(4) Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, (5) and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, (6) when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, (7) then you will enter [the kingdom].”— Thomas 22 (NHS)
This transformation involves restoring one's self to its original Image, refashioning every aspect from the foot to the hand. This, in fact, is the resurrected body created in the present moment rather than at the end of time.— DeConick (2007a, 116)
And what is this body being recreated and resurrected? The prophet William Blake answers:
The Eternal Body of Man is The Imagination, that is God himself / The Divine Body / Jesus: we are his MembersThe imaginative arts, for Blake, awaken us to our membership in the Eternal Body, or as we might say today, our common embodiment. If the artist is a prophet, as Blake believed, then ‘Would to God that all the Lords people were Prophets’ (Numbers 11:29, as quoted by Blake in his inscription to Milton). According to Northrop Frye (1947, 19), ‘“imagination” is the regular term used by Blake to denote man as an acting and perceiving being.’ His Eternal Body is creation, manifestation, perception and practice rolled into one continuous process – one Big Current, which we could also call Nature as both created and creating.
It manifests itself in his Works of Art …
The whole Business of Man Is The Arts & All Things Common— Blake, “The Laocoön” (PPB, 271)
Some Scarce see Nature at all But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is So he Sees. As the Eye is formed such are its Powers.Then Nature too is ‘the place of life’ incorporating all three Universes of Experience.— Blake, PPB 677
This may seem a mystical idea, but it has its practical applications for community. The epistles of St. Paul, for example, present the image of redeemed humanity as membership in the body of Christ. Ephesians 2:14-16 tells us that the Gentiles who were alienated from Israel
have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.Likewise in Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (RSV). According to the Valentinian exegesis of Paul's epistles, the elect ‘celebrate the resurrection-life (which they received in baptism) as their present experience’ (Pagels 1975, 119). For them, baptism is a turning symbol; and marriage is another.(RSV)
The wedding (or bridal) chamber is a recurring symbol in the Gospel of Thomas (75, 104, 106), and in gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Philip. The Zohar and other kabbalistic texts likewise employ the idea of marriage or its consummation to symbolize the mystical union, and read the Song of Solomon in the Bible as an elaboration of that same symbolism, indicating the union of God with Israel, or of either with Shekhinah. We might likewise read it as the union of Self with Other, or of content with context, or .....
Returning to the infants in Thomas 4 and 22, perhaps they represent the “innocence” or ‘beginner's mind’ open to the originality – the Firstness – of turning signs. But as we have heard from Thomas 39, ‘entering’ into knowledge requires us to be not only innocent as doves but also ‘wise as serpents.’ Post-experience ‘innocence’ is not like pre-experience innocence. Once the primal “symmetry” has been broken, once we have the Secondness of this to that, self to other, outside to inside, the differences cannot be unmade. But the very making of a difference also creates a new relation between entities: now they can exist in reaction to one another, but also work together as parts of a newly differentiated whole. Perhaps we can rediscover or recreate the parts in their relation to the whole as well as to one another. Perhaps we can recover the source of their very presence, of their appearing, by representing them
as were they, isce et ille, equals of opposites, evolved by a onesame power of nature or of spirit, iste, as the sole condition and means of its himundher manifestation and polarised for reunion by the symphysis of their antipathies.— Joyce (FW2, 73)
The resurrection of the body is not only a reunion of the ‘polarised’ but also a recreation of the bodymind. In phaneroscopic terms, the quality of such recreation or representation might be called the Firstness of Thirdness. Peirce explains this in one of his 1903 Lowell Lectures, showing that the three ‘elements of experience,’ though all irreducible, are not all elementary in the same way.Secondness is an essential part of Thirdness though not of Firstness, and Firstness is an essential element of both Secondness and Thirdness. Hence there is such a thing as the Firstness of Secondness and such a thing as the Firstness of Thirdness; and there is such a thing as the Secondness of Thirdness. But there is no Secondness of pure Firstness and no Thirdness of pure Firstness or Secondness. When you strive to get the purest conceptions you can of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness (thinking of quality, reaction, and mediation), what you are striving to apprehend is pure Firstness, the Firstness of Secondness — that is what Secondness is, of itself — and the Firstness of Thirdness. …
A Firstness is exemplified in every quality of a total feeling. It is perfectly simple and without parts; and everything has its quality. Thus the tragedy of King Lear has its Firstness, its flavor sui generis. That wherein all such qualities agree is universal Firstness, the very being of Firstness. The word possibility fits it, except that possibility implies a relation to what exists, while universal Firstness is the mode of being of itself. That is why a new word was required for it. Otherwise, “possibility” would have answered the purpose. …
To express the Firstness of Thirdness, the peculiar flavor or color of mediation, we have no really good word. Mentality is, perhaps, as good as any, poor and inadequate as it is. Here, then, are three kinds of Firstness, qualitative possibility, existence, mentality, resulting from applying Firstness to the three categories. We might strike new words for them: primity, secundity, tertiality.— Peirce, CP 1.530-33 (1903)
At one point in his ‘Guess at the Riddle’ (EP1:275), Peirce identifies Firstness with indeterminacy, which (as we've seen above) is a necessary character of symbols. This creative aspect of tertiality (and of mentality) often appears as artistic “inspiration” (breathing in). Another common metaphor is the flow of water, the “water of life,” the flow of interbeing:… the pure inspiration flow leaves one with a sense of gratitude and wonder, and no sense of ‘I did it’ – only the Muse. That level of mind – the cool water … This is just the clear spring – it reflects all things and feeds all things but is of itself transparent. Hitting on it, one could try to trace it to the source; but that writes no poems and is in a sense ingratitude. Or one can see where it goes: to all things and in all things. The hidden water underground.— Gary Snyder (1969, 56-7)Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.— Coleridge, ‘Kubla Khan’… the central literary tradition, like the river Alpheus, goes underground for long periods and resurfaces unpredictably.— Frye (1990, 49)Regardless of the site we choose for our excavation, we shall always hit at the same ancient underground river which feeds the springs of all art and discovery.And if we listen closely, we can also hear it in the many rivers of Finnegans Wake or the Talking Heads' ‘Once in a Lifetime’ (1980) …— Koestler (1964, 391)
You create the space you inhabit by living the time.To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.— Thoreau, Walden, chp. 2The way-seeking mind arises in this moment. A way-seeking moment arises in this mind. It is the same with practice and with attaining the way.Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice.— Dogen, ‘Uji’ (Tanahashi 2010, 105)The end of all beginnings is to be found in this Day: Turn ye not a blind eye unto it.— Bahá'u'lláh, Tabernacle of UnityOne night when Dongpo visited Mount Lu, he was enlightened upon hearing the sound of the valley stream. He composed the following verse, which he presented to Changzong:Valley sounds are the long, broad tongue.
Mountain colors are no other than the unconditioned body.
Eighty-four thousand verses are heard through the night.
What can I say about this in the future?— Dogen, ‘Keisei sanshoku’ (Tanahashi 2010, 86)
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