Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
> The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality.
What is the truth of symbols, as where a thing seems to reflect itself? That this is the time of the flood, for instance, yet not one physical—though on that, see our dreams and nightmares—but a metaphysical deluge; it is that the whole has been dissolved by a contrary tendency. A principle has emerged opposed to all prior and assimilated all according to its own form. This has created an inhuman order which is of man but in which he is not at home; it has no place for man qua man but only as structured by its particular nature. One might call this a mutilation of man, and maybe so, yet the details of this image are misleading. At most this is a cosmic indifference, even a sort of benevolent neglect. That is the attitude of our world to all it excludes. Yet this is sufficient to turn the world of men to water, land to sea; it is that we float here helpess amidst a thing foreign to our nature. This is an ordered disorder, rocked by waves in atmosphere determined by the economic climate. Thus we must tread water, stay afloat, etc.
The flood, or any symbol, then—what is it we find here? This seems to entail the return of something eternal; an order of repetition, that is, cyclical time. We might oppose the conception to that of order in Hegel. For him, all that was real was rational; it is was all according to the dialectical movement of history. Yet this line is necessarily linear and proceeds towards its inevitable culmination. History has an end and is characterised fundamentally by progress. This is a common enough dream today, and Hegel well captures the self-conscious sense of our age—or perhaps that immediately prior, as more today lose hope in progress. Yet the spirit remains among loud voices, and almost all still believe in solutions; and still many call for them. We partake in the ritual invocation of Hegel’s version of God when we seek to call to alarm an issue, thus we seek to alert the deity to a problem that it might grant a solution. We may not believe in miracles; we do believe in policy.
Thus the basic shape of the dialectical movement is apparent everywhere also, as Alex Jones has pointed out, and here it is more symbolism than the specific place provided for in Hegel’s grand narrative; it is truth as recurring form. This is, moreover, the recurring form of a relation; at which we ought hardly be surprised, as relations lie behind all knowledge. The thing is a bundle of relations, as recollected and imagined. The symbol is a bundle of times; it is a sign of eternal return, or a qualitative aspect thereof. We place faith in it to the extent we act as if it were actuality. Mostly this is unconscious, as forming the structure of imagined possibility; only that which somehow clashes will readily arise in any reflective sense. Thus our nature, mental and material alike—indeed, as intertwined, with the word as much an inward as outward sign—is conditioned by existence. This is the case as much for men as animals, as bios precedes logos and provides its necessary base.
Man alone partakes in the conceptual realm, and this each as an individual intertwined; although constituting as a whole, and understandable as, the common participation of men within a single world. Truly the only world in which they exist is that of the material, and here alongside the animals; yet they see also something further. The particular capacity of humans seems to be the ability to bind abstract forms in time. Of course, animals possess something very similar and so this line must be clarified. We might distinguish the two by seeing one as space-binding (animals and men) and the other as time-binding (men). Below these there are also those Korzybski refers to as ‘chemistry-binding’ (e.g., plants), of which animals and men are alike are various developments. This utterly basic element entails the necessity of contact; it is touch and proximity that operate here.
Beyond this immediate world of touch, that of perception and our sensory apparatus must be seen as little more than variations on haptic receptivity, that is, our apparatus is sensitive to the contact of varied particulars—light (eyes), for instance, vibration (ears) and chemical structure (nose and tongue). Beyond this world of immediate receipt, yet also in a basic sense within it, there is that of animals and men. Here the simplest are little more than reflex gestures embodied by some biological protocol. The individual may be constituted by several reflex arcs without forming a unified world. A world can be said to exist only to the extent that these are somehow integrated. This is the basic requirement, wherein aspects of the world are brought together as a world rather than actuality as constituted exclusively by ‘blind’ mechanisms. The world prior to this is only as acts upon, i.e., contact—and that which follows remains ever an exaptation of this original form.
The world, considered in its inward sense, is constituted only to the extent that it is integrated as a whole. This limit is simple: prior to this, only mechanisms were active and nothing corresponded in any proper sense to ‘a world.’ The world exists only as realised in activity—and there as world, as defined by an emergent complexity, rather than disparate firing of reflex arcs—and this first becomes possible with the integration of mechanistic representations as unified experience. This unity exists as the possibility of new knowledge it entails, and thus enables a variation of activity beyond that which proceeds by the blind mechanism of an isolated reflex arc. Thus we may see emerge more complex patterns than can be predicted by the simpler schemas previously present. Of course, within this the whole is primarily structured by habits, that is, more or less complex reflex arcs. The habit is akin to a reflex in proceeding prior to any reflective awareness; it can be considered as something like a second-order reflex, as proceeding on the basis of—or between aspects of—representations rather than initiated by the simple and immediate presentation. Thus conceived, habit may begin properly at a far earlier point than we might readily imagine.
Are we to consider the continuity in colouring of some specific rose, for instance, as a reflex or a habit? The stimulus has an effect, to which we respond regularly; it is the same for each. A habit, however, differs in its contextual contingency. The habit is of this world, a figure determined by the ground as integrated whole. Habits are not reflexes, though emerging from this root, as they proceed within this world as unified representation rather than by the purely material lines of a simple mechanism. We see the rose a certain way, which is a reflexive relation determined by biological structures, and then perhaps we think of someone, which is a habit. Of course, here we’re getting ahead of ourselves to speak thus of thinking of another. As yet the world contains no objects but only habit as the association of world with embodied activity. The line through to thought is established in that thought is but a subspecies of activity, that it thus emerges along these lines and remains within the foundation therein established. We may then define habit as a binding between outward and inward; it is an entanglement with the world, which thereby orders our activity—whether embodied or thought.
Thus we find order in the world, recognise this within ourselves and within others; it is generalised to all that is like but not us. This order is not itself constituted by our reflective awareness, indeed, our reflective awareness is in need of explanation in these terms. The meaning of a word, say, might be readily understood in terms of habits of speech and thought. This is easiest when considering the word as understood, as when uttered by another; but what of they that first speak? The habit is not merely between the sign and its form; it need also have, as seems obvious in hindsight, a habit between the form and its sign. This is a tendency to associate some aspect of the world with a given form, whether as thought or expressed—thus we speak of ‘habit,’ itself constituting a reflexive association of sign and form. This twofold direction seems the essential element in language, that we can thus float reflectively upon the whole as constituted by the totality of associations. Each of these takes the basic form of a symbol, as all meaning—whether thought or expressed, that is, produced or received—as the eternal return of a form; albeit always refracted by conditioning and circumstance.
We find, then, that the symbol is not unusual but rather constitutes the basic element of time-binding as the reflective capacity of man. This is the form of metaphor, which contains the truth in its etymology: to carry over or across. Thus there are habits and metaphors, as the metaphor is a habit which further carries across; it is separated one further from actuality—as habits were first in relation to the world, as against mere immediate reflex—and yet feeds back also into and via the same whole. This second aspect of our distance from actuality comprises reality, as it entails the world of things that is, objects as bundled tendencies abstracted from their particularity and carried across. We may see this as a further leap from the tendency of associations to generalise, wherein they move smoothly upon the basic topography; it is with metaphor that man comes to move within an abstract world, as the carrying across entails and enables this movement. Where the creature of habit responds to the world presented as an immediate whole, the creature of metaphor can traverse also the imaginary; it is thus that past and future exist, whereas prior all had existed only as and through the present as place.
Here we find new patterns in this plane, as in our carrying on hither and thither we come to trace out aspects of a deeper order which our images ever merely highlight; thus we comprehend in ourselves the structure of habits and come to understand something of the patterns operant within. We further find the same of outward reality, as in the symbols with which we started; or as with something so simple as the seasons. These are all of the same, that summer seems less divine is perhaps only for having been subsumed by our profane calendars. Such symbols—their eternal return, our faith—all this is at a basic level inexplicable within our own terms. The human order is merely parasitic upon this deeper layer, a substratum of habit beyond man; it is this obscure order that constitutes the truth of every return:
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth—i.e., the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
That order as man thinks it, therefore, exists merely as he imagines it, either to be realised with the assent of some higher power or as ultimately rejected by the same. Thus the truth of symbolism is, as all things, a matter of faith; ever dependent upon the steadiness of our hidden guarantor. Yet so much as we see rhyme in the conduct of men and as reflected in their constructions, so also there is much beyond. The point of symbolism, as against simple language, is that it directs us not to the inward truth of a form but asks instead we dance it out. This entails the contemplation of meaning as against its mere enactment as mundane habit; it is to take a form and hold it to the light that we might better see.