A Discussion Between Cadell Last, O.G. Rose, Alexander Elung, and Alexander Bard
A Few Thoughts on a “Return to Metaphysics”
Can we think our being?
On October 20, 2021, Cadell Last, Alexander Elung, Alexander Bard, and myself engaged in a discussion on “returning to metaphysics.” It was a delightful conversation, and below are a few notes, thoughts, fragments, and elaborations, though in no way whatsoever is the below meant to be an exhaustive list. These are also working thoughts, so who know what I’ll think in a month from now…
1. ‘If a rose is a rose. it means nothing’ (Alexander Elung).
2. We need to think of ourselves as “meta-physicists” versus “metaphysicians” (Alexander Bard). We are not doctors, which I thought was a great point.
3. If the subject of a poem can be entirely put into words, it’s not a very good subject for poetry. Good art is always “pointing” beyond itself, but if it’s too vague the emotional and intellectual impact of this “pointing” doesn’t hit us, as is the case if the art is too “direct.” Thus art must “duomine,” to allude Graham Harman’s work: good art finds a balance between “undermining” and “overmining,” which brings to mind “art as cooking,” as alluded to in the discussion.
4. Perhaps instead of discussing “categories” we need to discuss “brackets?” “Categories” suggest completion and intelligibility (making us “lose sight” of the big picture), whereas “brackets” are temporary and “bracket out” something more. Perhaps we need to think of “the bracket of mammals” versus “the category of mammals,” per se? Of course, the language of “vectors” is also a key to solving “the dilemma of categories.”
5. The philosopher who is never nervous isn’t doing it right.
6. Pathos entails difference while logos is “toward” sameness, and logos is what we must use to grasp pathos, as mythos inspires us to attempt. We are a story and battle to the death.
7. We cannot think about our subconscious without making it something it is not. / We cannot consider our-selves without considering an-other.
8. We are never “complete,” but we also aren’t merely “incomplete” either. We are “(in)complete,” yet stuck with a brain that naturally wants to think of ourselves as “complete.” Considering this, we must work hard to achieve “self-understanding” that ultimately doesn’t prove to be “self-deception” (a “death drive”). Similar logic applies to “(meta)physics”: we must avoid being overly “materialistic” and overly “idealistic” while using brains which are biased in favor of materiality.
9. Rationality is naturally more “self-referent” than “other-referent,” but that means rationality is more ego-centric than other-centric (and so “anti-Hegelian,” per se). Relative to us, “the world” is “an other,” and that means rationality is not primarily in the business of “corresponding” with reality. If it happens to “correspond” with reality in its effort to establish “coherence,” that’s all fine and dandy, but that’s not the main goal of rationality (naturally, at least). Rationality is in the business of ideology, of creating “internally consistent systems,” which means coherence always comes first (and way first at that) — correspondence is just a nicety, like whip-cream on a sundae. We’ll happily take insanity if it feels stable.
10. Bard suggests that we should think of “the death of God” as “the death of a paradigm,” suggesting that we need to think of history in terms of Paradigms versus Ages. I find this framing very useful: we seem to have generally understood a need for something like this with the language of BC and AC (Before Christ and After Christ), but this was the only language we’ve ever used to suggest “a new paradigm.” It would seem to me we need to use much more language like BC/AC, perhaps BO/AO for Before Oil and After OIL, BI/AI for Before Internet and After Internet — and so on. Our calendars are too neat.
11. We cannot avoid categories — basically all thinking requires them, as discussed in “The Ubiquity of Categorization” by O.G. Rose — but we always need to be working to leave them behind. Similarly, we need to learn the art of “transitional metaphors,” but that will require us to understand why using “multiple metaphors” isn’t the same as mixing them (as discussed in “Transitional Metaphors Are Not Mixed Metaphors” by O.G. Rose).
12. Language is an opponent on our team. It’s as if we are the quarterback and language is the receiver, but the receiver doesn’t know the rules of the game. As a result, our receiver is constantly penalized, hands the ball off to the other team, and steps out of bounds right before making a touchdown. It’s “as if” language works for the other side, but really language just doesn’t know what’s it doing. Unfortunately, it’s the only receiver we’ve got.
13. A thing that is itself isn’t, as all things naturally try to be. To be is not to be: there is no question. The self self-consumes.
We Require Categories and Similarity to Function, but that Means Brains Are “Toward” Sameness and Death
1. The brain is in the business of “coherence” first and “correspondence” second, which is a problem, because that means the brain is in the business of establishing “stable states” and “internally consistent systems” more so than in the business of figuring out “what is true.” And yet the brain is all we have for figuring out the truth: it is a friend with who we must fight.
(This hints at why “The Dream of the Enlightenment” landed us in a world where conspiracies are everywhere — “rationality has been unbound,” per se. For more on, this please see “On Conspiracies and Pandora’s Rationality” by O.G. Rose, which arose out of a conversation with Lorenzo Barberis Canonico.)
2. Similarity is proof of difference, as difference is proof of similarity. Where there is similarity, there must be difference, for otherwise the things would be the same. Strangely, if two things are “the same,” they aren’t two at all, but rather “the same thing.” In this way, to move toward sameness is to move toward annihilation: it is a “death drive.”
3. There is no such thing as “sameness.” It is a “pure idea,” to allude to Hegel: something we can think about and be “toward” but not something we can find in reality. Problematically, that means to make “sameness” a goal is to be “toward” self-negation: it is a “death drive.”
4. To speak very generally, the brain “naturally” views difference as “a negative,” as something that needs to be corrected. This is because where there is difference, there is complexity, and complexity is hard to understand. Thus, the brain wants to reduce complexity as much as possible, and a way that the brain does this is through identifying “similarity” (via generalities, categorizations, analogies and the like — what can be associated with “epistemologies of representation,” to allude to Deleuze). And arguably this is necessary: if the “full complexity” of the universe struck the brain, the brain might lose its mind. To survive and make the world comprehendible, the brain needs similarity, but all similarity is “toward” “sameness,” and that’s a problem. Why? Because “sameness” doesn’t exist: it be “toward” a “death drive.” Seeing as the brain “translates” the universe of radical difference and uniqueness into terms of “similarity” to comprehend it, that means the brain “translates” the universe “toward” death, per se. We understand because we kill.
5. The brain’s natural dislike of diversity also helps explain why most political efforts in the name of “diversity” are ultimately just “skin-deep” and measured according to metrics which favor the political effort. To allude to Bonhoeffer, we like “cheap diversity,” but not “costly diversity.” It’s one thing to be around Christians who had different genders and ethnicities, but entirely another to be around people who think Christianity is foolish.
6. The universe is “all there is,” and thus we could generally say that “the universe is life.” If the “universe is radical difference and uniqueness,” that means “life is radical difference and uniqueness.” Thus, anything that seeks to be “outside” “radical difference and uniqueness” seeks to be “outside” of life, and what is outside of life? Death. Thus, in the brain “translating” life and the universe into “things life and the universe are not” in order to understand them, the brain is “toward” death.”
7. We are able to understand because we are driven “toward” death. At the same time, if there was no death, perhaps life wouldn’t be precious, so the same brain of ours that makes us “toward” death is also what makes life matter. We care about the things we think on because they die before us.
8. We ourselves are “radically different and unique” throughout our lives, and yet the only way we can understand ourselves is with a brain that “translates” difference into terms of similarity so that we can understand ourselves. Thus, our brains give us self-understanding through self-destruction.
9. I am a difference who understands through similarity.
10. “Sameness” is the opposite of “emergence.”
11. Rationality seeks similarity, for it seeks connection, “accurate modeling,” and the like. Rationality generally seeks to avoid contradiction, but how is that possible in a universe of “radical difference?” Well, by identifying ways that “things can go together” without conflicting with one another. In this way, rationality seeks “coherence,” but if the universe is “radically different,” how can that coherence ever “really” correspond with the universe? If the map isn’t the universe, seeing as the universe is all there is, what is the map? It seems to be something that shouldn’t be there that we need to know where we stand.
12. Understanding, rationality, the brain, knowledge — all of these are in the business of similarity and coherence while convincing us they are in the business of actuality and correspondence. If we fall for this trick, we fall for the “death drive.” It is the territory that is lost when it becomes a map, not the map.
13. We are ontologically paradoxical, but our brains are in the business of doing everything in their power to convince us that we are ontologically coherent. (Please note that I don’t use “paradoxical” to mean something binary, though the term does indeed lend itself in that direction traditionally, as Bard notes.)
14. Metaphysics, at least along the lines of Aristotle, has traditionally been a field of discovering categories (like “substance,” “form,” and “essence,” for example) with which we could understand the world around us. Aristotle argues in Physics that the world he observes is a world of constant flux and change, which begs the question, “If everything is always changing, how are ‘things’ possible at all?” From Physics, Aristotle logically ends up in Metaphysics, which meant at the time nothing more than a basic library designation: Metaphysics was just the section “next to” the Physics section. Now though, the term “metaphysics” conquers up a lot more associations…
Here, I want to focus on the point that Metaphysics is an investigation into “What makes things ‘still,’ per se, as themselves, in a world of constant change?” (And, as a corollary, “How do we know things as their ‘still’ selves?”) Generally speaking, experience is always of things that are “still.” For example, the cup by my computer is “staying a cup,” and yet we know that, from second to second, the cup is undergoing change. And yet there is a “stillness” to the cup, a strange reality that set Aristotle off to figure out why. For Aristotle, for the cup not to “change away,” there had to be something to “the phenomena we refer to as ‘cup’ ” in order for it to remain “there” in experience. Aristotle considered essence, substance, and form in search of explanations for this problem (and much more), though today these answers no longer suffice (though that’s not to say we aren’t in Aristotle’s debt for getting this far).
Yes, we experience people “moving,” but we don’t experience them “changing”: there is a “stillness” to entities. We know they change, and we also tend to conflate the terms “moving” and “changing,” which though I’m not saying is always a mistake, I am saying there is a difference between watching my hand move across my keyboard and watching my hand becoming a new hand from moment to moment. But our brains seem to be in the business of conflating “movement” and “change,” and with that we begin to think that the premise “things move from moment to moment” means the same thing as “things change from moment to moment” and so end the investigation. And making this mistake, we come to think that “all we need are categories,” for things do in fact seem to “stay the same” as they “move.”
As defined here, perhaps we could say that movement is physical, while change is metaphysical. As my hand moves to life my cup by the laptop, it is also changing and becoming something distinct. A thing is never the exact same thing between moments, but that’s not only because things move from moment to moment. A deeper change is (also) occurring, and it is on this point we can begin to understand not why Aristotle was wrong but why Aristotle is incomplete. Ultimately, this will get us into the topic of “A is A,” which is the main focus of (Re)constructing “A Is A.”
Things are what they are right now, but they are not what they just were. “A is A” is true relative to moments of time, but that means “A is A” is always an abstraction, for time is never a moment. If time stops long enough to make “A is A” fully applicable, time has ended, and thus “A is A” doesn’t apply (for being will be gone). In this way, “A is A” is always “toward” a world without time, a “stable state” — and this is a “death drive” (as has been discussed).
For our brains to be “toward” “A is A” means our brains are “toward” death (a mistake the conflation of “movement” and “change” contributes to) — thus the need to “reconstruct A is A.”
15. That all said from the last point, if we really saw the tree in front of us radically changing, we couldn’t function. If we didn’t experience physicality in the metaphysical way described by Aristotle, with “stillness,” life would be too chaotic for us to handle and/or for us to intellectualize. We must say what a thing “is” in order to refer to it and discuss it, which suggests that thinking would be impossible without (a sense of) “is-ness.” But “is-ness” is always problematic and at best “incomplete,” which would suggesting that at the foundation of all thinking is “something wrong.” What should we do with this truth? How should we live with it?
We must use something that could kill us if we used it wrong. Thinking is like driving a car, like playing with fire — like many things in life. We seem to treat thinking as nothing more than something we need to use “well,” but we define “thinking well” as “determining is-ness,” and by that we mean “determining the right category.” And so “thinking well” means “thinking in line with a death drive”: it is as if we define “driving a car well” as “driving fast.” Yes, “driving fast” is a part of driving well, but not the whole of it at all. Thinking “driving fast” is the whole of it, destruction would become inevitable, and so it goes with thinking.
We require “is-ness” and categorization to think, but just as soon as these programs begin to solidify “too much,” we must be ready to abandon them and move on to new “categories of is-ness.” And as soon as they begin to overly-solidify, we must repeat the process again, over and over. The only thinking is active thinking: the rest is “death drive.”
16. To review previous points, there must be enough similarity between things so that I can compare them and acknowledge that they are different. In this way, “difference” and “similarity” are always relating with one another — the problems start with “sameness.” If multiple things are “the same,” then there mustn’t be multiple things, for they are all actually “the same things.” Technically, alluding to Deleuze’s insight, there is no such thing as sameness, so all efforts for “sameness” must be (unintentional) “death drives.”
17. To understand the world, the mind seeks similarity, which means it is “toward” sameness, and that means the mind is “toward” death. The mind views difference as a negative, but I am different from moment to moment, which means my mind views me as a negative.
18. How can I live with a mind that views me as a problem?
(If I answer this question, either me or my mind have been solved away.)
The Vector Age
1. An investigation into the “experiential stillness” of things seems to have been a necessary phase in the development of our thinking. We couldn’t just “take change as everything” at the start and stay that way, for though we are now returning to an age in metaphysical thinking that emphasizes “difference” and “change,” we are not the same in our thinking as those who came before Aristotle, for we now relate to this radical change and difference dialectically. And the reason we are engaged in this “dialectical thinking” is because we have experienced “the incompleteness of stable identity” (“A is A”) and all the problematic consequences. We know better because we’ve now felt it, whereas earlier in history we could have only known it. The movement from “idea” to “experience” is perhaps a reason history has to progress in a Hegelian sense and simply can’t “be” finished once it has the “knowledge” of the truth. We simply don’t live out what we know: we live out what we feel.
2. What we need is not a “Theory of Everything” but a “Theory of Vectors,” as Elung discusses and the emphasis throughout the discussion on “dialectics” suggests.
3. Where there are vectors, there are dialectics. Perhaps we could discuss “The Dialectical Vector Theory of Everything,” but not “The Unified Theory of Everything.” What is unified is that which “change” and “movement” are similes, whereas vectors and dialectics make space for a meaningful distinction between “change” and “movement.” Also, as Cadell Last brilliantly discusses, the drive for a “(primordial) unity” is death.
4. Perhaps we could generally say that the 1950s to 2010s was a period in which we searched for radical unity between the different fields — “a theory of everything,” say between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics — but now we have finished with the Age in which we learned and experienced that this was not possible. Were these 60 years a waste? No, for “ideas are not experiences,” and we frankly don’t tend to learn or take a thing seriously until we “experience” it. We could “know” that “similarity” and “categories” could be taken too far, but until we collectively made that mistake (say in racism, nationalism, totalitarianism, etc.) and experienced the emotional impacts which resulted, we simply couldn’t make ourselves “practically” work through “theories of everything” into an age when we generally sought “vector theories” instead (to allude to Elung). Because ideas are not experiences and we must move into experience to actually learn and change, it would seem there are periods of time in which we must “pursue an error’ precisely to experience it as an error and thus “know” we need to change direction (this alludes to history as a series of paradigms, as Bard discusses). If “ideas were experiences,” perhaps history wouldn’t repeat and we could more fluently and systematically advance from paradigm to paradigm instead of stumbling along, convinced we know where we are headed as our feelings lead us in every other direction.
5. Perhaps history is a story where we must try things even if they are ultimately incomplete or false so that we fully know these avenues were not the answer: otherwise, we might always wonder if we missed something. Perhaps we must experience error, not just know it, for otherwise we’ll always be existentially insecure wherever we end up. This all suggests that “making mistakes” is necessary and inescapable, that “history must repeat,” for we must unfortunately experience mistakes (or times when we “go too far” in a given direction) to fully change. In this way, history is tragic, but please note that it is tragic because it is progressive. This is the balance I think Hegel wanted to establish.
In this work, in honor of Elung, I will refer to our age as The Vector Age.
The Problematic Language of Potentiality and Actuality as Hangovers from Aristotle
1. A common mistake, the language of “increase” and “decrease” could prove problematic regarding the relationship between “the potential” and “the actual.” Between the different “vectors” Elung discusses, there isn’t so much “increase” or “decrease” as there is a translation of equal ontological realities. Potentiality translates into actuality, as actuality translates into potential — the term “increase” and “decrease” suggest one is better or less than the other (a hierarchy), and even the term “actuality” (“actualization”) is problematic, for it suggests that “realized potential” is “more real” than “unrealistic potential.” Instead of the language of “actualized,” here, indebted to Elung, I’ll attempt to discuss “(the vector of) subsistence” (potentiality, metaphysics) versus “(the vector of) substance” (the realized, physicality).
Like “actualization,” the term “realized” to describe the physical versus the potential also contributes to thinking in terms of ontological hierarchy (as does the language of “presence”). This is because we associate “realization” with “intelligibility,” which suggests that potentiality is unintelligible. We furthermore associate “the unintelligible” with “the unreal,” and thus potentiality is treated “like nothing.” And once we somehow associate “potential” with “nothing,” all our troubles begin. We also tend to associate “unintelligible” with “nonsense,” and “nonsense” tends to be associated with “nothing,” further contributing to our problem.
It’s incredible how often words do our thinking for us (an insight expounded on by Bernard Hankins)…
If potential is nothing, then everything “comes from nothing,” and how in the world could that be possible? Another problematic association in our language that worsens our problem is the idea that “things” are “actual,” and thus “potential isn’t a thing.” If potentials aren’t things, then potentials are no-things, and that means “potential is nothing.” And so we arrive at our problem: all things emerge from potentiality, and potentiality is nothing, and thus “everything comes from nothing.” But here we have begun to suggest a way to avoid this problem.
We all know there is “no such thing as nothing,” and yet we proceed to talk about it constantly, for our logic has led us to an impasse: potential is nothingness and things thus come from nothing. But here is the key move: potentiality isn’t nothing at all, and potentiality is not “ontologically less” than actuality. Potentiality and actuality are equal: they simply trade-off between one another via translation.
The language of “potentiality” and “actuality” are hangovers from Aristotle, and though there is truth to the language (and I will no doubt fall back into using it), the language has caused us a ton of trouble. Instead of thinking of the universe as divided between “actuality” and “potentiality” (which leads us to thinking of the universe as divided between “things” and “no-things”), the universe is composed of equal vectors (as discussed by Elung in his Vector Theory).
Moving forward, I will refer to the collection of terms discussed in Point 37 as “Aristotle’s Language.”
2. If substance and subsistence are ontologically equal, just different, then this is further reason to think that “A is A” is an inadequate mental model for establishing identity. We’ve already established that time prove “A is A” problematic, but it’s also the case that the ontological equality between “substance” and “subsistence” further suggests that “the cat” on my porch cannot be fully modeled with the idea that “ ‘the cat on my porch’ is ‘the cat on my porch,’ ” for the unobservable subsistence of the cat is also “part of it.”
3. “Aristotle’s Language” is phenomenological, a description of how I experience being. Aristotle’s Language describes “the metaphysics of the subject,” and as such is indeed useful. I do indeed experience potentials “as nothing,” for I never experience “the potential of a cat,” only “a(n) (actualized) cat.” Furthermore, when I lift my hand, I “realize” a potential that, relative to the moment before I lifted my hand, was “like nothing,” for a world in which my hand was lifted at exactly 8:26AM was a world “that had no being” until I made it have being as such. And if I never lifted my hand at 8:26AM, it would have been “as if” the corresponding world never existed and never could have existed (and now cannot exist). (Problematically, “what is realized” always feels “as if” it “had to be realized” — what “is” comes across as “having to be” — materiality always “feels” determined, setting us up for error).
But here’s the problem, when I switch from discussing “the metaphysics of the subject” to discussed “the metaphysics of physics” — of the universe itself, of being — then Aristotle’s Language sets me up for all kinds of mistakes. To allude to Hegel, we could say that Aristotle’s Language is what consciousness made “for” itself to understand itself in physicality, and as such proved to be a very useful model. But we are now entering The Vector Age, and as such we need a new language to help us understand “the universe,” one I will again call “Vector Language.”
The terms “potential vs actual,” “presence vs absence,” “realized vs unrealized,” “intelligible vs unintelligible” — all problematic dichotomies we need Derrida to deconstruct — all of these describe the metaphysics of subjects (I even like to say “(meta)physics,” because the terms all suggest movements between actuality and potentiality), and in that context can be useful, but once we start discussed “the metaphysics of physics,” we need to switch to Vector Language that focuses on “subsistence vs substance,” for this language focuses on “translation” and avoids “ontological hierarchy.”
Now, “the metaphysics of physics” and “the metaphysics of subjects” exist on the same gradient, for physical reality gave rise to subjects, and since we exist as subject and “start off” by seeing everything through and according to subjectivity, it makes sense that we created “Aristotle’s Language” to grasp metaphysical truths and furthermore latched onto it. But we are now entering The Vector Age, and as a result we need The Vector Language.
4. “What’s really real” — the idea for a cat or a physical cat — is a matter of opinion, and also could reflect a bias to judge “the most real” relative to our moment in time. Perhaps the potential for “five cats” is realized two weeks from now, whereas right now we only have one cat. Is the potential for five cats ultimately “less real” than the one cat on our porch? No, not ultimately, and perhaps even “the five cats” are more real because there is a higher quantity of cats (which suggests a “higher quantity of reality,” per se). Considering this, we are never in a good position to judge what is “really real,” for we always bound to a single moment of spacetime and a single subjective perspective. All we can ever discuss is “what is really real to us” (perhaps using Aristotle’s Language).
We tend to associate reality with “amount,” “quantity,” “physicality,” and the like with “the real,” but all of these are biases that might contribute to our failure to understand the universe. We assume that where such descriptors are lacking, there must be “nothing,” and this leads us to asking, “How can nothing arise to something?” But, as we are exploring, this very question is erroneous: using VL, we should ask instead “How can subsistence arise to substance?”
5. “Actual cats” are indeed more real than “potential cats” to us, but the universe and completed spacetime disagrees. The question instead should be “Are subsistent cats more real than substantive cats?” No, they’re just different vectors (of the same thing).
6. Perhaps we could associate physics with actuality/substance and metaphysics with potentiality/subsistence. Since both make up the universe, the universe is “(meta)physical.”
The vector of subsistence is metaphysics.
The vector of substance is physics.
7. Vector Language is admittedly very strange, for the moment we as subjects try to talk about “the universe,” we are discussing “the universe to us” (a problem we also encounter when trying to discuss “the ontic”). This suggests two things: first, we must take whatever conclusions we draw about “the universe” with a grain of salt, and second we should realize that all discussions about “the universe” must ultimately lead back to us. We cannot simply discuss “the universe” and think we taken care of “the problem of us” in the same act: this would be the mistake of “explaining us” but not “addressing us” (as discussed in “Explained and Addressed” by O.G. Rose). We consistent of different vectors than does “the universe” (with the subject temporarily “bracketed out”).
This being the case, we perhaps cannot dispose of Aristotle’s Language entirely, for it does seem to be useful when applies to us and our experience. At the same time, we “overfit” Aristotle’s Language when we apply it to “the universe itself.” Perhaps we need Aristotle’s Language for us and Vector Language for the universe? Perhaps the following chart is a good guide:
Aristotle’s Language (AL) — — — — — — — — — — — — Vector Language (VL)
The subject ………………………………………………….The universe
As we move from left to right, we need to move out of AL into VL, but as we move from right to left, we need to move out of VL to AL. As conversationalists must decide if they will speak in French or Spanish before the discussion, perhaps it would be useful to establish at the start of a discussion on metaphysics if AL or VL will be used? Perhaps a lot of our trouble in metaphysics has resulted from us failing to realized that we need to establish “the common language” beforehand (relative to if the metaphysics will be “subject-focused” or “universe-focused”)?
1. With Hegel in mind, both Cadell and Elung mentioned how “negations” are not simply negative, but also open up possibilities. This is a strange idea which harkens back to Hegel, for if I erase a line on a piece of paper, haven’t I lost potential? It would seem that way, and relative to what we can observe, indeed, something has been lost. But where there is a loss, there can be “an opening.”
Relative to what we can experience, possible potential “seems to increase” as potential is realized, but relative to “what is below experience,” per se (“subsistence”), potential decreases. The idea for a cat doesn’t strike us as real, only the existence of a cat, but that is simply a reflection of our own ontological bias. We associate “increase” with “something we can see and observe,” but this is problematic.
The key is to understand that every negation increases possibility, and yet every negation is paradoxically “toward” a state where there is “nothing,” making negation seem to be a loss (please note that the language of “nothing” is a hangover from Aristotle). But this is a mistake due to how our minds perceive the world: we see the removal of a line as a “loss,” but the universe can see that negation as “gaining” space for new possibility and emergence.
To make the point, let’s look at this square:
This is a square, four lines I drew together. Now, consider the following:
We’ve removed the topic of the square, making a U-shape. This is a “negativity,” a removal, something the mind naturally sees as a “loss.” But now look what’s possible:
Look at these two new designs I can make! Because I removed the top of the square, new possibilities appeared (and far more than just these two designs). Note also that the U-shape entails the possibility for the original square as well: whenever there is a “negative,” what previously existed isn’t “lost” but returns to “subsistence” (and/or “potentially,” to use AL).
Alright, now image we removed two lines of the square:
The amount of possibilities just multiplied enormously. With two “negatives,” though it seems relative to my experience to be “double the loss,” what has been “opened up” is an incomprehensible number of new possible shapes.
Because we “seemingly lost something,” our options expanded, and so we gained enormously. And if I “negated” from the square a third line, I would gain even more. Considering this, we cannot so quickly associate “negative” with “loss,” a mistake which has hurt our metaphysical thinking. Tilling an old garden seems like a loss, but we know that we’re actually gaining the conditions needed for a new garden.
But now this brings us to why it’s so easy to mistake “negative” with “loss.” Consider the following:
See what I did there? I removed all the lines, and now there is only a “blank space.” What does that look like? Extraordinary potential, or nothing at all? Well, I see nothing, and that’s problem. Relative to my experience, the state where there is the most potential is the state where I perceive no potential at all. Considering this, as I “negate” something “toward” this state (that I experience as nothing), it’s easy to conclude that therefore “negations lessen.” It’s also easy to conclude that I remove possibility as I “negate,” not expand it, and with this all in mind, when I think about “before the birth of the universe,” I think about “the blank space” above and think about it as “nothing.” And so I arrive at an impasse…
“Negations” increase possibility “toward” a state of pure subsistence (and/or possibility) that I, locked in substance, necessarily experience as nothing. But “negations” never bring into existence nothingness: ultimately, both “negations” and “additions” are changes between subsistence and substance. There is no nothing, only change, which ultimately means emergence.
2. The erasing of a line of a square seems like a loss because a thing we once could perceive is now unperceivable, but what is lost is only “the ability to see something.” All the universe every does is equally translate substance and subsistence. To allude back to an early distinction, substance moves in(to) substance, as perhaps subsistence moves in(to) subsistence, but substance changes into subsistence as subsistence changes into substance. Subsistence “changes outfits” into substance and vice-versa.
“Movement’ happens in a vector. We “move to.”
“Change” occurs between vectors. We “change into.”
3. Though regarding the universe it doesn’t seem possible to “negate too far” (“toward” nothing), perhaps personally we can “negate too” much and “practically become nothing” (which could be a problem)? This is an elaborate subject that deserves a lot of attention, but it is possible that humans could suffer “negation” that proves to be “too much” (at one time, at least), which could prove overly negative. “Negation” opens potential, but humans must be conscious and mentally stable to realize that potential: if they undergo too much negation at once, they may not be up for the task.
4. Sub-stance is what is “standing under things holding them up” (following Aristotle), but note that “subsistence” doesn’t “stand under” substances; rather, it assists substances in being (the language combats dichotomies and dualism). The word “subsists” means “to exist,” and I really like how Elung uses the term. Substance itself subsists, whereas, suggesting trouble with AL, “actuality doesn’t potentialize.” Likewise, what “subsists” has some kind of “substance” (it must), even if it’s not a substance we regularly or easily can identify as one. I find this Vector Language much more useful than the language of “something versus nothing,” for that classic dichotomy is much more likely to cause confusion. The VL of “substance vs subsistence” though seems much more useful for escaping previous intellectual impasses (and always makes room for the language of “lack,” as discussed in “Lacks Are Not Nothing” by O.G. Rose).
5. Referring to Point 44, please note that if I started with a U versus a square, I wouldn’t have (even seemingly) “lost” anything. Loss is always relative. If I start with $0, make a $1000, and loss $200, I still gain $800. I didn’t “lose” anything at all; rather, I just didn’t gain as much as I could have. This is critical and will help us understand why the relation between subsistence and substance is translational versus a relation of “decrease/increase”: my $0 changed into $800.
The term “loss” is always a term that suggests comparison, and so what constitutes a “loss” is relative to what is being compared. If I go back and compare “now” to when I was just born, I have only gained money (for example). Sure, I’ve spent money, meaning I don’t have money I once did have, but relative to when I was first born, I have only gained material possessions.
Similarly, if we go back to the Big Bang, we have only gained substance: there has been no loss. Now, between two random moments of time, there could be “relative losses” of substance, but actually there has been no “ultimate loss.” Why is this important to note? Because often when we think about explaining the universe, we think first about “subtracting everything that exists” all the way down to nothing. We think about our origin after a process of radical subtraction and loss, which sets us up to think of the period before ethe Big Bang “as nothing.” But if we instead thought about the universe as “something we just didn’t gain yet,” then we wouldn’t be so quick to think of the start of the universe as “the universe minus everything.” Instead, we would think of the Big Bang as the moment when “everything was added,” and note how this strikes the mind differently.
The Big Bang wasn’t before everything, but rather it was when subsistence translated into substance. There has never been a “before” everything: everything just changes.
If I can add something to something, something must be there, but I can subtract to nothing. I can’t add to nothing, only subtract (to address a possible counter, I would argue that adding negative numbers is practically subtracting). Can’t I add to zero, say in “2 + 0 = 2?” Yes, but I can’t add to zero, meaning I can’t “arrive” at zero. And if I can add to zero, zero doesn’t exist: there is a “2” and a “+,” per se. Wait, what about “0 + 0 = 0?” Well, that equation practically doesn’t exist, for there is no nothing: it is a “pure idea,” to allude to Hegel.
Before the Big Bang is a state of “pre-addition” not a state “after radical subtraction.” Ontologically, there is no subtraction, which frankly means we are never actually “toward” nothing. We only “think” we are “toward” nothing, which means it is our thoughts which tempt us with a “death drive.”
Creation ex subsistentia
1. Let’s say there is 100 bits of universe out there, and 30 bits of it is substance while 70 bits are subsistence. A century later, there are 40 bits of substance and 60 bits of subsistence, then next century there is 10 bits of substance and 90 bits of subsistence (humanity didn’t do so well). Notice how there is always 100 bits of universe? The same amount of universe is always around, per se: there is no “fading into nothing” of the bits which are “subsistence.” The bits are always around, simply “translating” back and forth.
Is information lost when I translate the English word for “house” into French (“loger”)? Not at all, though it seems to be the case that information is lost to the English speaker. The term “loger” for someone who doesn’t know French is “unintelligible” and “nonsense,” but that’s the fault of the person not the word. Yes, there’s a sense in which “information is lost” in the translation, for “house” has different connotations and associations than does the term “loger,” but this information is externally added by the speakers. Connotations of “house” are not found in the definition of “house” itself: the connotations are “externally added” by speakers and also change between speakers. Thus, the only information that is lost is relative and/or conditional information.
When a line is erased, I lose the ability to see it — relative information is lost — but ontologically nothing is lost. “Relative to me” there is an ontological distinction between “a visible line” and “an erased line” (“a presence” versus “a lack”), but not “relative to the universe.” Because I cannot help but experience substance and subsistence differently, it’s easy for me to treat one as “more real” than the other, but this is not the case. Yes, “relative information” is information, but it’s not “ontological information,” per se, and that’s critical to grasp when discussing the origin of the universe. Even if the vectors of substance and subsistence are not “ultimately emerged from the same source” (that’s a matter I’m not sure about), “ontological information” is not lost between them. Ontology is never “increased or decreased,” only translated (via relation).
2. Once we fall into Aristotle’s Language (AL) and the dichotomy of “actual vs potential,” understanding the birth of the universe becomes very difficult if not impossible. In AL, only actuality can realize potential, so “a state of pure potential” is “a state of pure nothingness,” and nothing cannot arise to something. Potential cannot act on itself, but perhaps vectors can naturally translate between one another? (Do note how the second clause of that sentence doesn’t necessarily strike the mind as “impossible” as does the first clause — the language of vectors can help us overcome our “knee-jerk dismals.)
3. We never experience potential actualizing itself: we only experience actualities realizing potentials (a point which further contributes to us associating “potential” with “nothing”). Thus, we have “no reason to think” that “a state of pure potential” before the Big Bang could “actualize itself,” and so find ourselves at an impasse. Additionally, if “things” are “actual,” “potentials” cannot be things, and how can “non-things” do any-thing?
AL is phenomenologically useful, but “the logic of phenomenal experience” is the wrong logic to apply to “universal being” (even if it’s necessary here and there to make various points) The logic which makes one vector intelligible is the logic which may make another vector incomprehensible.
4. “Nothing” is a word that must always refer to “phenomenological experience,” not the universe. Once we begin discussing the universe, “nothing” is a word we cannot use.
5. Alluding to “Dialectical Ethics,” I think the points of this piece can be helped when we understand there is (actual) “is-ness,” only “such-ness” (to allude to Hume).
6. If we discuss the birth of the universe, we cannot avoid discussing Natural Laws. Where did they come from? What are they? Well, like David Hume, I think Bard is right: there are no Natural Law, just “habits” and “principles.” This is critical to note, because that means when a billiard ball emerges out of subsistence, the substance and principles of the substance arise simultaneously. The “habits” of materiality arise with materiality, and that’s obvious when we use the language of “habits” versus “laws.” The language of “laws” suggests something Platonic and pre-existing, suggesting again why it’s so often the case that we find ourselves fighting with words.
“Memories” don’t exist without people; “speed” doesn’t exist without things that can move; “love” doesn’t exist without hearts. We know this, and yet when it comes to “natural laws,” we struggle to understand how “nature” and “natural habits” could co-exist and co-emerge. Arguably, the entire dilemma of “Where do Natural Laws come from?” results from treating “potential as nothing,” a dilemma that hopefully this piece has already address. If there is a division between “potential” and “things,” then it’s easy to think of things as “coming out of” nothing (potential) “into” something else (existence), and thus for things to “come into” Natural Laws. The metaphoric imagery that appears in our mind when we think about potential tricks us, but if instead we thought about subsistence translating into substance, then the language of “coming out” and “coming into” doesn’t so readily fit. We don’t talk about “signified things” “coming out of” French “into” English: we understand French and English are equally valid forms of expressions, and that when I translate French to English, it’s not the case that the English “comes out of nothing.” French is a thing, as is English: what occurs is a translation.
Unfortunately, the moment a thing appears it’s “as if” the principles which that thing exists according to preexisted the thing and would exist if the thing didn’t exist (as discussed in “(Free) Will” by O.G. Rose). It “strikes us” “as if” things are trains and the principles they follow train tracks, and as we know train tracks exist before trains use them, so it’s natural to think the law preexist the things. But this is all an incorrect metaphoric structure that we ascribe to due to the trickery of phenomenological experience.
7. We arrive at a critical question: “How did the universe arise to itself?” To start, using AL, this question seems unanswerable: to ask, “How can potential realize itself?” is to basically ask, “How can a dog be a cat at the same time?” It’s contradictory, and to such contradictory dilemmas is basically fated to us all if we use AL to discuss “the universe.” This is where Vector Language is necessary, as we are in Elung’s debt for providing.
Alluding to King Lear, we know nothing can arise to nothing, and with “potential” and “nothing” linked in our minds due to AL, we know potential cannot cause itself into actualization. So let’s restate the question using VL: “Can subsistence arise in(to) substance?” Well, arguably we know it can, for we exist. Alright, fine, but what is in subsistence to make it arise to substance? A fair question, but we all know that substance can give rise to substance, for a chicken can lay an egg as a seed can grow into a tree. Since substance and subsistence exist on the same gradient, if substance can arise to substance, why couldn’t subsistence arise to substance? Things arise to things, after all.
By deconstructing Aristotle’s Language, I think we can start to shift the burden of proof from those who argue the universe can arise to itself onto those who claim the universe cannot arise to itself. This is the power of correcting language and VL: when we ask “How can something arise from nothing?” the burden of proof falls on those who believe the universe is self-causing, but things change if we ask “How can subsistence arise to substance?” We know from experience that substance arises to substance and that we as humans can come up with ideas that aren’t “in the world” that we then translate into actuality (we can make the idea for a story into a novel, for example). All around us, we see “movement in vectors” and “change across vectors” (imagination and materiality, for example): based on experience, we have reason to believe stuff can occur “in” vectors and “across” vectors. Why should the birth of the universe be such a mystery then? Perhaps the exact mechanisms of how the universe arose are unknown, but that it could arise shouldn’t be so foreign to us. But it is foreign because of Aristotle’s Language: by deconstructing that, we can start to make our origin more familiar even if not completely understood.
8. Stuck in AL, we automatically answer “no” when asked “Can nothing turn itself into a thing?” Similarly, we answer “no” when asked “Can potentiality actualize itself?” (it betrays experience and logic).
9. Alright, fine: reserving AL for subjective experience could help with the problem, but it’s certainly not an answer. How can subsistence turn itself into a substance? Well, it might have something to do with energy, because energy is why I’m able to move my hand and realize potentials into actuality. Frankly, a lot of this may all come down to “the law of energy conservation” and destructing Aristotle’s Language…but I’m not sure…
The conservation of energy states that energy is neither created nor destroyed, even in terms of an expanding universe. If subsistence is ultimately energy (or information), then energy can somehow arise to substances. I don’t know if energy ultimately is subsistence, but note how differently the question “How does the universe come from energy?” strikes the mind than “How does the universe come from nothing?” That’s at least a start, one we can thank VL for…
But wait, what about information? Aren’t there theories today that posit information is more fundamental than energy? What is the difference between “information” and “energy?” Are energy and information two-sides of the same coin? Is “information” a principle of energy (versus “law”) or the other way around?
I don’t know, and perhaps ultimately subsistence is a combination of energy and information, as ultimately substance is a combination of the same (perhaps “information” and “mind” go together somehow). This is a question I think Bard, Elung, Ebert, and Last all discuss powerfully and brilliantly.
10. Though I do not know what is subsistence, I do accept the premise that it is “not nothing,” and furthermore think the section on “negatives” above can help illuminate why subsistence can arise to substance (even if the exact mechanism is unknown). As lines from the square above are removed, the potential for what is possible increases, and likewise as substance in the universe is negated, the “power and range of subsistence’ increases. It is possible that as subsistence without substance increases, subsistence becomes “fuller” and more “active,” and at a certain point it might “burst” and simply have to give rise to substance (there is just too much potential/energy/information to contain).
In this way, the more we approach “pure subsistence,” the harder it is to approach, like a child pushing hard against a giant spring. The more the child pushes the spring in, the stronger the spring becomes, and eventually the child is on all fours trying to push the spring in more. And then the child can’t push anymore, and the force of the spring is all the stronger because of the child’s effort. And then the spring sends the child flying…
Similarly, as substance is “flung out” when it is first created, but then gradually with time it starts to undergo “negation.” The more “negation” it undergoes, the more it “pushes against” (the spring of) subsistence, and eventually the buildup of pressure is too great and “flings” the substance back. Then, new possibilities are realized, and the substance becomes something new because it was “negated.” Had it not undergone “negation,” the substance may have simply slowed down on “it’s way out” until it stopped and died. If this is the case, we don’t grow only by increasing distance: we eventually also have to come back.
Am I suggesting a model of the universe which expands and then contracts? Well, hard to say: even if things in the universe “expand and contract” somehow, I’m not sure about the universe itself (though that is theorized). Perhaps it does, but regardless, I think we can at least understand how the Big Bang occurred given that a state of “pure subsistence” entails so much “pressure” (as “builds up” with the square as I remove sides). Perhaps after the Big Bang the universe will expand forever — maybe not — but regardless I hope the modeling of “negation” offered in this work proves helpful.
That all said, I do think a model of “expanding and contracting relative to subsistence” can be helpful for subjects like me to think about “negation.” Maybe “expansion and contracting” isn’t the right language, but something like that is at play in light of Hegel’s “Absolute Knowing”: we are constantly journeying toward “ends” which reconstitute us and “hurl us back” anew. The present is a lived and passing future.
11. Can humans undergo so much “negation” that they “break the spring?” If this occurred, humans would die — perhaps how the mind moves between “substance” and “subsistence” is different from the universe. Perhaps we have to “negate” but not “too much” — but how can we know what constitutes “too much” before it is too late? Perhaps the possibility of “breaking the spring” is relative to the vector?
12. To express Point 58 another way, as substance heads toward subsistence, perhaps potentiality becomes more “active.” Action is translated out of subsistence into substance, and therefore the “activity” of subsistence lessens, but as substance returns to subsistence, subsistence becomes more “active” again.
13. Instead of the language of “change” and “move,” perhaps I should use the language of “create” and “change” — I’m not sure.
14. If substance and subsistence are vectors which somehow exist in a monad, they “move” into one another, but if instead they are essentially independent vectors, they “change.” I’m not sure which is the answer ultimately, though I do know that “relative to us” phenomenologically, vectors “change” into one another (movement occurs “in” vectors, but not between them). We can thus talk about vectors “changing,” but the universe may only know vectors as “moving” depending on if there is a monad.
15. But again, what is subsistence? There is where the debate about “hypertime,” as Bard discusses, comes into focus. Alex Ebert also works on this question extensively, and I’ve also enjoyed listening to both talk this problem out. Perhaps subsistence is just subsistence (axiomatic)?
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