Capability and Readiness: the borderline between physics and metaphysics?

“The multiverse is no longer a model, it is a consequence of our models,” explained Barrau, who recently published an essay for CERN defending the concept.

I added the italics. Fascinating, huh? Way out there on the edge of “hard” scientific knowledge is acknowledgment of the edge of social scientific knowledge. “We first produce the world by symbolic work and then take up residence in the world we have produced” (James Carey, “A Cultural Approach to Communication” p. 16).
I love His Dark Materials, the trilogy by Philip Pullman. I extracted quotes galore from Book I, The Golden Compass, and Book II (The Subtle Knife) “You must play the serpent.” Seems I didn’t get around to posting selected quotes from Book III – ah, still on the “to do” list! 🙂
Should I watch the movie? In another life, perhaps I only see the film and never read the novels! “Your alter ego is simply a prediction of the so-called concordance model of cosmology,” says Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts (in the “stranger” article linked above). A critique of “the simplest known model that is in general agreement with observed phenomena” notes that more is still unknown, or unconfirmed, than is known. Most of the physicists who will engage me in conversation long enough will acknowledge that, as much as seems to be known, we still do not know that something else won’t turn up and change everything. 🙂 Nonetheless, they (like the rest of us humans) work with what we have.


The Intuitive Acupuncturist firmly pressed all five of her fingers around my tan t’ien: “You’ve got to feel that you’re connected, because you are!”
Tan t’ien: “refers specifically to the physical center of gravity located in the abdomen three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel.” Interestingly, the IA also mentioned the ming men, the location in the small of the back facing the tan t’ien. The ming men

“stands for ‘the door of life‘. Kai Ming Men means open the life door to stay alive. Ming Men as an acupuncture pressure point is located on your spine where is the most concave spot. To open Ming Men refers to convex “the small of the back” and make it bow out.”

Posture is important, with awareness of location within the body: “Ming Men is simply an area where, due to channel confluences, a person may be strengthened or weakened.”
I want to make a contiguous leap, now, between individual centering and group centering. Just as a person needs to balance around their own center of gravity, so do groups. Just as persons need to determine with their own consciousness how to relax into their purpose, groups have to establish some consensual acceptance concerning collective mission and task. I do believe we can do it!

“the rift of difference”

…the difference, according to Heidegger, is pain.

“Diviners,” writes Dennis Tedlock, “Stay close to ‘the rift of difference,’ as Heidegger calls it, even a small difference. They leave us between two points, or at both of them, and sometimes three.” (1983:254)

to lengthening our shadows (a toast)

We did it.

Maks, Pete, Renee and I rode the planet’s furthest tilt of precession, toasting the equator with cups of Holy Land Port Wine.

toasting sol.jpg

(I’m waiting on more knowledgeable friends to inform me that I’ve got “precession” wrong; just as they already have concerning the aphelion – which has little to do with seasons, after all. Not only had I confused the earth’s orbit around the sun with planetary tilt in relation to Sol (a common misconception I held until yesterday), Earth is actually closing in on the sun as I type! Perihelion occurs on Jan 3 at 00 Universal Time (UT), which translates (?) to 7:00 pm on January 2nd. Shall we partee?)

There were just over a dozen folk at the UMass Sunwheel this overcast morning. The air was crisp; happy. 🙂 My new factoid from the lecture provided by a graduate student from UMass’ Astronomy Department has to do with the relation of the sun’s orbit and the length of one’s shadow. At maximum tilt away from the sun (northern hemisphere), the angle (declination) of the sun’s highest point in the southern sky (calculate the azimuth) is so low that shadows lengthen. So, take me at 5’6″ and the angle of 23.44 degrees (“today’s” measurement according to a solar standstill applet). Plug these figures into a shadow length calculator and my shadow extends a wee bit over twelve feet and eight inches. That’s two and a third times my actual height!
Anuj, Don, Rajiv, Zixu (!) and Min filled out our cozy group. No one was kilt by any of my food, although Pete’s mini-mushroom pies garnered the most praise (my roast chicken held its own).
Conversation ranged from US politics (Huckabee?!) to automobiles (Toyota or Honda for longevity; and do your own mechanical work!), loads of other topics I cannot, err, recall), and a bit of philosophy as we counted down to 1:08 a.m. If we are living in a virtual world – a world of our own creation – does it matter or not how we play the game?

“The goal is always to make a nice tableau painting with the voice.
The more color I can find, the more shadow I can find –
the goal is always to make more nuance and colors.”

Italian opera singer, Cecilia Bartoli

maximal tilt and “the increasing light of a widening dialogue”

The primeval scene:

“The problem is not that light needs to be created, as in Genesis, but that it is hidden, enclosed in blue-green quetzal feathers (lv.26). In the Popol Vuh, the movement from hidden light to a false dawn to the rising of the morning star and of the sun itself is a lengthy allegorical counterpoint to the movement from incomplete or false approximations of human beings and their speech to a fully articulate and religious humankind. in Genesis, the story of light (first day) and of the heavenly bodies (fourth day) is all over before Adam is even created (sixth day), and the nearness of the divine is signaled not by light but by wind.”

Creation and the Popol Vuh (p. 268-269)
The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation
Dennis Tedlock 1983

Scientific background: an astronomy of the seasons. “The dates of maximum tilt of the Earth’s equator correspond to the summer solstice and winter solstice.” Watch a quicktime movie of the earth’s annual wobble. 🙂
Tedlock continues (pp. 269-271):

“The first quoted dialogue in Genesis – and here we come to the bottom of the hole, the canyon that separates the Judeo-Christian and Toltec-Quichean cosmogonies – is the disastrous dialogue between Woman and Serpent, and in the second dialogue God vents his wrath upon Adam. In the Popol Vuh, dialogue is a positive force, necessary before the creation can even be conceived, and it is the first step beyond the meaningless murmurs and flickerings of the primeval scene. The Heart of Sky – or ‘they’ who are the Heart of Sky – come to the deities of the sea (lv.36-41):

‘They spoke now, then they thought, then they wondered
they agreed with each other, they joined
their words
, their thoughts:
then it was clear, then they reached accord in the light,
and then humanity was clear. . . .’

“Here we have the description of a dialogue, and the first direct quotation in the Popol Vuh comes from the same dialogue. The first sentences of this first quotation are not commands but questions: ‘How should the sowing and dawning be? Who will be the provider, nurturer?’ (2r.6-8), and the discussion goes on from there. . . .
“In sum, the continuing growth of creation requires not a series of commands from a single source but an ever-widening discussion . . . in Quichean (and Mesoamerican) thought, dualites are complementary rather than oppositional, contemporaneous rather than sequential . . . the creation moves not according to the gusty wind of God’s will and the clandestine questioning of a miserable serpent, but according to the increasing light of a widening dialogue.”

living in liminality

I was challenged (by Robin), during my comps defense, concerning what I gain from distinguishing between dialogue and dialectic. Established philosophy considers the dialogic a subset of the dialectic. At the most abstract theoretical level, this is no doubt the case, but – as I tried to argue – the way academics use the term “dialectic” leads more to the re-creation of already-established hierarchies of relationships rather than to any kind of change in them. Constant labeling of “the dialectic” or application of “dialectical” to particular patterns reifies those patterns, re-constructs them in social reality.
The distinction between the dialogic and dialectic is apparent – and relevant – phenomenologically. Just as we discussed in class last night concerning categorical distinctions between “the everyday” and “the performative” – the crucial factors are agency and knowledge. In the everyday, we operate within the boundaries of accepted dialectics, take these as given and unremarkable (even if they suck). In the performative, the boundaries themselves are brought into view. No one knows what is going to happen as an effect or outcome of the performance. Will there be uptake? Fallout? Reification? Change?
The remarkable Xavante continually invent “new modes of interaction with dominant society.” Anthropologist Laura Graham argues their creativity is a direct outcome of the Xavante’s unique cultural form of performing dreams. These communal, marked performances reify the knowledge of Xavante empowerment and agency in the world. In effect, the Xavante confirm a dialectical structure that places themselves at the center of everything that happens – not as victims but as the cause of the circumstances. Their internal dialectic (of socially constructed, language-based, narrative performance) provides such a source of cultural (group) stability that the Xavante can engage in dialogue with a world of constant, unpredictable, and bizarre change. While we (outsiders to the culture) may perceive larger dialectical relationships that (in our version of reality) lend a dubious cast to the Xavante’s perception of reality: the fact of the matter is that

the Xavante are still Xavante.

The Xavante insist on dialogue with the rest of the world: keeping everybody guessing. 🙂
The relational liminality is the relevant difference between dialectics and dialogue. As long as we operate in a dialectical frame, we have confidence in structure. The form of the relationships is more-or-less known – even when we are caught off guard the logic is accessible. Our identity remains intact, and we can go on according to established habits and rhythms. If we enter the dialogic, however, the phenomenology shifts dramatically. Now, the future is wide-open. Not limitless, but the limits are beyond familiarity, the awareness of risk exceeds perceptions of safety.
At this point, conclusions are unapprehendable.

Why knot? Why not?!

Why Knot?.jpg
I was playing the other day. Often people ask me, “Why” (especially in relation to some thing I propose to do) and I often return the favor, “Why not?” The presumption behind the first “why” is that things are good enough as they are, why rock the boat? The presumption behind the second is that things could actually be better. The hinge has to do, I wager, with the unpredictability of change. Things could be better, or they could be worse! If the risk appears 50/50 (or more like 10, 20, or 30 “better” to the corresponding fear of 90, 80, 70 “worse”) then we’re led to the most common outcome, premised upon things being tolerable enough as they are, thank you!
In other words, why get all tangled up?

As if we aren’t already!

The homonymality of not/knot struck me with inspiration the other day, as I realized part of the question of “why” is a concern with winding up in a knot. I’m thinking not only of the most obvious, literal knot – all twisted and tied up together, but dynamically, in terms of social relations and time, i.e., dialogue or discourse?
My mind has been abuzz all semester with the concepts of physics as a means to illuminate group dynamics. This is not a new interest, by far, but as I become more familiar with definitions and principles, I become increasingly convinced that sociality can be described with similar concepts, albeit with somewhat less reliability. 🙂 Ain’t it grand that life and human individuality keep us always guessing?!

“Mathematicians also study knots, but they have different concerns [than those who study the literal versions]: which knots can be untied without cutting the rope, how many different knots are there and how can we tell if two complex knots are the same or different?” – Gnomen, h2g2

The challenge in human relations, no doubt, is to discern which knots to try to untie, and which knots to create and re-create, ever more securely.

“It is important to use a suitable knot for the task at hand” (Polenth, h2g2).

Just like fingerspelling?!

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.

Ok – so “new research” is apparently untrue, although there is something to be said for “the role of letter order on reading.” Matt Davis has compiled an impressive corpus of equivalents in at least thirty languages, along with references and commentary from original and follow-up research in this area of word-form research. The number of letters in the word has quite a lot to do with whether the mind can grasp it.

Naming Violence without doing more

This is the challenge.
Non-violent resistance, as a synonym for peace activism, still centers “violence” as the standard. The force of much anti-war talk revolves around violence as the anchor, providing energy that feeds momentum. I have been puzzling over this discursive looping for a long time: all talk is subject to perpetuating something. That “something” is wildly out of our control – because “it” is always mediated by interpretation.
I have been guilty, way too often, of getting caught up in layers of interpretation (“processing”) instead of maintaining discursive intentionality. In a dialogue, both/all parties recognize the inevitable looping, making conscious choices about a) when to discard the historical baggage and b) how to create the present interaction on preferred terms. Shared recognition is, I think, key to successful shifting. Recognition is not the same as acknowledgment: acknowledgment (disclosure) will be important on some matters to establish trust but is not always necessary. If depended upon overmuch, distrust will grow in response to apparent evidence that recognition can never be assumed.
stop the wall.jpg