Monday, December 31, 2007

III. Two Individualisms – The Noetic Dangers of the Digital-Only World-View

The exclusively digital approach to aesthetics, ethics, and politics is better known as postmodernism, pluralism, and multiculturalism. While this approach has been a necessary corrective to the analogical world view, if we take the digital view to its logical conclusion, and reject the analogical as a constituent part of the world, all it can do is create alienation – among different races, different cultures, between men and women, and, if we take Quine’s view that we never actually understand one another, among each and every individual. If we take what Quine says in a very limited way, he has a point, but an extreme view makes the mistake of thinking that if there is any noise – ambiguity – in communication, we cannot communicate; whereas information theory says we need noise if we are going to have any communication at all. An analogical view may lead us to collectivism, including communism, but an exclusively digital view leads to the alienation found in postmodern radical individualism. The consequence of this digital world view is postmodernists telling us we cannot understand one another. Men cannot understand women, and vice versa. Different races and cultures cannot understand each other, we cannot understand anything that happened in the past (this anti-historicism is related to the idea of breaking with the past, the consequences of which we have already investigated in our analysis of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting), and there is the suggestion that we cannot really understand each other. The consequence of this is an increasing fragmentation of society, creating warring factions (men vs. women, minorities vs. majorities, secular vs. religion), and increasing distrust among people. Many postmodern theorists have observed that one of the features of modern Western culture is its increasing fragmentation and alienation, a favorite theme of many Marxists. It is ironic that some of these same critics are the very people making the problem worse. If we cannot understand one another, we are incapable of projecting ourselves into another’s situation. While this is literally true in a factual sense, it is in another sense not true at all. We can and do have empathy for others, basing that empathy on related experiences. While I may not understand perfectly an intellectual woman’s complaint that most men do not take her seriously as a thinker, I do understand the sting of not being taken seriously, especially when I know I know more about a subject than the person who is not taking me seriously as a thinker. Only if we can place ourselves in another person’s situation can we develop the empathy needed to effect any sort of positive social change. Though most postmodernists would consider themselves Leftists – even Marxists – this rejection of empathy makes postmodernism act what they would typically characterize as extremely Right-wing, since they typically see the Right as being against free speech.

Studies have been done which show orangutans, a distant cousin, are capable of putting themselves into the minds of others. If food is placed out of reach of a caged orangutan, and a person is brought in with a bucket on his head and placed near the orangutan’s cage, without hesitation the orangutan will take the bucket off the person’s head, then physically point the person in the direction of the food. This shows the orangutan knows the person cannot see the food if the person has a bucket on his head. How could the orangutan know this if it could not project itself into the mind of the person with the bucket on his head? This is a cognitive feature only of the great apes, including humans, whose ability to do this developed even more with the advent of language. “One of the common ancestor species of all the living great apes and humans was the first in which individuals realized that others had viewpoints and knowledge different from their own, and could build up novel sequences of actions” (Richard W. Byrne, Tree of Origin, 169). This ability is why were are capable of telling stories – including fiction. To say we cannot (or should not) do this is to say we are (or should be) cognitively less complex than the other great apes. It is to place us on the cognitive level of monkeys. This attitude goes beyond being merely anti-human, to being anti-great ape. It is anti-language insofar as “Evolution of language would be impossible in a species in which individuals could not imagine that other individuals know things that they do not know themselves” (Byrne, 172). The consequence of this anti-theory of mind view for literature has been the creation of a shallow sort of minimalism that avoids letting the reader know about anything more than the actions of the characters, on this theory that we cannot know what others think – so the author should not bother to tell us what his characters think, since he cannot know what they think. If they think at all.

Postmodernism creates social ruptures, which means it is anti-social in nature. Barriers are put up between men and women. The radical individualism of postmodernism says there is an abyss of difference between men and women, while the collectivism inherent in the Franco-German individualist tradition, whose egalitarian individualism attempts to eliminate all difference, suggests there is no difference between men and women. Specifically, women have been told they should try to be more like men. This has created an identity crisis in many women. They are told by their culture (which has been influenced by the pro-masculinizing gender feminists) they should be one thing, and by their biology and psychology they should be something else. I fear American women will soon face a tragic crisis, one which can only be headed off if women are allowed by this culture to be women in the fullest sense, and not made into either men or relegated into some sort of submissive role, as we had in the past, and as we still find in many cultures around the world. Postmodernism, far from being a solution to this potential crisis, is only making the problem worse, in its own particular way. And gender feminism, by insisting that there are no fundamental differences in behavior between men and women, is only working to reinforce the prejudice that differences are inherently unequal – if not bad. Ironically, it is those feminists who perpetuate the belief that femininity is inferior. Despite what they think, it is not. American culture in particular is sorely lacking in femininity – not the cultural myths we once held about how women should act, but natural femininity, which can come about in a more inclusive, open culture – and this lack is primarily the fault of the gender feminists, who insist that men and women are fundamentally identical in behavior, that our genetic differences make no difference. This is creating the groundwork for a tragic situation, where women are pushed by culture to go beyond their own physis wihtout even trying to understand their physis (versus what we are told is their physis). One hopes we learn the outcome through works of literature, including plays and film, rather than within society itself.

This anti-social element is found not only in relations among men and women, but among races and cultures too. While I welcome the emphasis on multiculturalism, as it creates the potential for a much richer, more complex American (and world) culture, the way postmodernism practices it creates a number of problems. What, for example, are we to do with a culture that practices clitorectomy? Or oppresses women? Or practices genocide? Are we to just consider these a legitimate part of the rich tapestry of humanity? Postmodernism’s insistence that we cannot judge anyone – particularly other cultures – puts us in a serious dilemma in considering these situations. I think there are few out there who support genocide, but how can one come to say genocide is wrong if one does not make some sort of judgement, or insist there is some sort of universal we should be guided by? I asked Cynthia Haynes (a self-identified postmodernist) this question, and she told me the only thing she does not tolerate is intolerance. But isn’t the intolerance of intolerance itself a universalizing view? One assumes she (and other postmodernists) wishes everyone was intolerant of intolerance. But if one wishes for such an overarching view, one’s entire postmodern world view would collapse (of course, the very fact that postmodernism is a world view and, thus, a grand narrative, makes it collapse, imploded by its own hypocrisy). So it seems postmodern multiculturalism will not work. But I do not think we should return to a “melting pot” view either. Why could there not be a mixture of the two, maintaining cultural identity while at the same time integrating everyone into, for example, the American (or, better, world) culture? This view presumes, though, that there are more than two levels to society – the individual and the culture/state – which goes against the Franco-German philosophical tradition that has culminated in postmodernism. It is possible – I would go so far as to say preferable – that there be more than just the individual and her culture. Why can’t a person simultaneously be an individual, a member of a family (nuclear and extended), a member of a community, a member of a subculture, a member of some sort of organization (if not several), including churches, clubs, schools, etc., a member of an overarching culture, a citizen of a state, a citizen of a country, and a citizen of the world? If there are this many levels between an individual and the government, the government’s power over that individual is greatly weakened, and the influence of that government (and of any who wish to influence that government, the culture of a country through their influence on the government, etc.), is greatly weakened – which may explain why many pro-statist postmodernists oppose this view.

Aside from this, postmodernism’s anti-social view of humanity makes it very anti-human. Humans are a social species, as are all the species of great apes (even the apparently solitary orangutan will socialize when food is abundant), most monkeys, lions, elephants, dolphins, and wolves. A social species is different from a herd or schooling species, like antelope, sheep, or sardines, in that there is little to no bonding among the members of the herd. Individual members are less likely to come to the aid of unrelated or distantly related members of the herd, like social animals will. Social animals engage in much more complex behavior than herd animals. It seems postmodernists wish to make us less human by making us act more like herd than social animals.

In Individualism and Economic Order, F. A. Hayek points out the dangers found in the exclusively digital view – showing that it can and usually does lead to the analogical view (too fine a texture looks like a solid color). Hayek shows that taking the exclusively digital view leads to bad games (social systems, economic systems, government), since no information can be shared among players. A good game-system is one where communication – and, thus, community – is possible. Hayek suggests that there are two kinds of individualism, one based on rational philosophy, which started with Descartes and was further developed by Rousseau, Voltaire, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and by the existentialists, including Heidegger, Sartre, and de Beauvoir (though I am sure the last three would object to being considered in the “rationalist” tradition, their ideas did not really deviate much from those of Kant), and which I will call Cartesian Individualism (which is also the digital-exclusive view), and the other based on the Scottish philosophical tradition of David Hume, Bernard Mandeville, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and John Locke, and further developed by Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton (which is the digital-analog agonal view). Cartesian Individualism is based on the idea that man is rational, while the Scottish tradition does not see man as being fully rational, but also, perhaps primarily, influenced by his drives and wants and needs of the moment. These quite different views give rise to quite different forms of individualism. Perhaps the best way of explaining the differences would be to put the two traditions of individualism side by side in a table showing what Hayek sees as the difference between the two traditions, and the consequences of each of these traditions:

* Scottish (Digital-Analog) Individualism

the individual is found within the social, leading to free markets

man is not always rational, or even capable of always being rational – man also has impulses and instincts

since man is not rational, he cannot design or plan something like a society or economy

the individual participates in the social (cooperates) through being selfish

“If left free, men will often achieve more than individual human reason could design or foresee” (11).

It is not necessary to find good men to run the society, meaning anyone can play

it is not necessary for us to become better than we already are, making it easy to enter the game to play it

freedom is granted to all

no one group never always wins, which keeps people playing

reason is seen “as an interpersonal process in which anyone’s contribution is tested and corrected by others” (15)

inherently unequal people are treated equally

inherent inequality allows diversity

hierarchical – intermediates encouraged

* Cartesian (Digital-Exclusive) Individualism

radical individualism, leading (ironically (?)) to socialism

man is rational and has no instincts and can always control his impulses

since man is rational, he can create through planning the ideal society or economy

individual vs. the social – i.e., selfishness vs. cooperation – therefore need coercion

“social processes can be made to serve human ends only if they are subjected to the control of individual human reason” (10)

only the best can or should run society and make economic decisions – few can play

men need to be improved (presumably made more rational) before a good economy or society can be created – hard to play

freedom granted only to the good and wise

the “good and wise,” “rational” rulers always win – no reason to play the game

reason found in the individual, especially in certain “good and wise” individuals

people are made equal in actuality – thus, have to arbitrarily assign tasks

only State and Individual, thus flattening society – intermediates suppressed

We can see in this comparison that the Scottish form of individualism, by being digital-analogical, provides us with a much broader, more inclusive set of game rules. Anybody can be involved in the social and economic games – making these systems more complex, containing as they do more constituent parts acting in coordination and cooperation. Man does not have to be “improved” for the kinds of systems that would be set up using Scottish principles as he does using Cartesian principles (historical examples of attempts to “improve” man to make him more suitable for “rationally” designed societies include the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, the Terror of Revolutionary France, and the slaughters of millions in the Marxist states of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and Cambodia, just to name a few). In the Cartesian view, there is only one rationality, but in the Scottish view, there are many rationalities, which can often come into conflict. In At War With Time, Craig Eisendrath points out that

The field in which we operate is our democratic society. The ideal democratic system includes, of course, the various levels of government, but it also encompasses every other organized part of society, including the neighborhood, family, workplace, political party, voluntary or nongovermnental organization, transnational corporation, Internet, and a variety of multilateral organizations. Operating within such a spectrum of responsibility progressively demands the most that individuals can give. Instead of requiring full mastery at the outset, this system establishes conditions under which human beings can achieve their full potential, through their participation, their education, and their receipt of the benefits which the system can produce. (277)

One can make a rational decision about an immediate individualistic concern, one about a long-term individualistic concern, one regarding one’s family, one for one’s social organizations (i.e., churches, schools, businesses), one about one’s city, county, state, and/or country, one about one’s friends, one about strangers, etc. – all of which could come into conflict (something could be rational for the individual, but not for the family, etc.). This recognizes that individual decisions can and often do effect and affect others through the different levels of society between the individual and the state.

Scottish philosophy gives us far more complex social game rules than does the (analog-exclusive) rationalist philosophical tradition. One may think the rationalist approach would allow a given individual’s influence to extend throughout a society and create a more interesting game, but what it actually does is flatten out society, making it less complex, less interactive. A digital-exclusive world view leads, ironically, to an analogical outcome. “All unity is unity only as organization and co-operation: no differently than a human community is a unity – as opposed to an atomistic anarchy; it is a pattern of domination that signifies a unity but is not a unity” (Nietzsche WP 561). And Nietzsche’s perspectivism fits well into the Scottish philosophers’ opposition to the Cartesian view of the world, as

Nietzsche tells us that every interpretation and perspective is oriented toward the preservation and enhancement of a specific level of organization in life, from the individual to the group, the species, and life as a whole. Are the “subjects” of perspectivism, then, perhaps just these particular levels of life? In a sense, the answer is yes; for a particular perspective does represent the “point of view” of a particular type, group, culture, people, and so forth. Yet, once again, these perspectives are never encountered in isolation. That is, we never come across these perspectives independent of the individual human beings to whom they are attributed. And each individual cuts across all the various levels of life: human beings are individuals as well as members of communities, cultures, subcultures, races, classes, genders, nationalities, religions, political parties, and other groups. Thus, on the one hand, we always encounter perspectives within individual subjects, while, on the other hand, individual subjects are aggregates of these perspectives and their forms of life. (Christoph Cox, 130)

The postmodernists have taken up Nietzsche’s idea of perspectivism to further justify Cartesian individualism – but as we can see here, Nietzsche’s notion of perspectivism (“Insight: all estimation of value involves a certain perspective: that of the maintenance of the individual, a community, a race, a state, a church, a faith, a culture” (WP 259).) is much closer to the Scottish view of individualism than it is to the Cartesian view.

If we take the Scottish view that a person’s knowledge and interests are limited, making our actions limited to a tiny sphere of influence – our family and friends, our churches and schools and businesses, the intermediate social groups the rationalists suppress and the Scottish encourage – we see a highly complex society emerging, with the individual influencing the small social groups, the small social groups influencing the individual, and both interacting to influence larger social groups, which themselves feed back to the smaller groups. We have a series of nested hierarchies where each person acts as a digital element, acting in a digital-analogical way through the communication of information to other digital elements to create smaller cultural subsystems – the digital elements – of the larger culture. The same individual can have an effect on a school, a church, a business, and a local government, each of which will have larger effects on society at large. More people have more influence over society. And man does not have to be “improved” because the worst among us can be canceled out by the best. In what other country than the United States and other Western-style democratic republics does it really not matter who the President or Prime Minister is, since any mischief the American President may want to make is more often than not counterbalanced by two houses of Congress, a Supreme Court, and the voters’ opinions (these same voters who can vote the President out after four years if worse comes to worse, or vote in a different party during midterm elections)? These principles, upon which the free market is based, are “an effective way of making man take part in a process more complex and extended than he could comprehend” (Hayek, 14-5). One does not have to have perfect knowledge to participate. One can participate while having a considerable amount of uncertainty, and still do well. Which is good, since no man is omniscient. We can reduce uncertainty through education, increasing our own individual knowledge, but we will still be left with a plethora of things which we will never have the time to learn.

There needs to be a way for individuals, with their limited information, knowledge, etc., to enter into a highly complex game, to be able to participate in the game itself. The way to allow someone into a highly complex game is by simply not having barriers to their entering and playing the game in the first place. And, if you do choose to play, and to take large risks while playing, you should be able to reap a correspondingly larger reward. To have a good game,

any workable individualist order must be so framed not only so that the relative remunerations the individual can expect from the different uses of his abilities and resources correspond to the relative utility of the result of his efforts to others but also that these remunerations correspond to the objective results of his efforts rather than to their subjective merits. (21)

And the game must not be constructed of iron-clad laws, but of more flexible rules (though not too flexible, as those of pragmatism, nor too rigid, such as those of absolute principles, both of which, as opposed to the idea of general principles, would be unable to create a system, since principles are the strange attractors, and neither pragmatism nor iron-clad absolutes provide any sort of attractor). These are also good guidelines for creating works of art and literature, and for writing works of philosophy, theory, and criticism.

An example of good game rules are our “traditions and conventions . . . [which] evolve in a free society and . . . , without being enforceable, establish flexible but normally deserved rules that make the behavior of other people predictable in a high degree” (Hayek, 23). Most social rules should be those agreed upon and practiced by most of the people most of the time, enforced by subtle social pressures, not the use and threat of physical force. “In the social sciences the things are what people think they are. Money is money, a word is a word, a cosmetic is a cosmetic, if and because somebody thinks they are” (Hayek 60). They are rules because we agree they are – they are socially constructed. With these kinds of rules, those we find in the free market, we have various choices – while with orders or iron-clad laws, we get no real choices. This is what Nietzsche is getting at in “On Truth and Lies” when he says words are metaphors we have forgotten are metaphors, not Truth (words are not congruent with things – they are not attached to things through iron clad laws). Any choice is better than none. “It is better to have a choice between several unpleasant alternatives than being coerced into one” (Hayek 24).

A word of caution: just because the world has a socially constructed element, it does not follow that all the world is socially constructed. To claim it is brings us to the problems with pragmatism, where no system at all can be constructed. Hayek says pragmatism is “the preference for proceeding from particular instance to particular instance,” where the rule-maker “decides each question “on its merits””(1). With pragmatism, expediency and compromise lead us “to a system in which order is created by direct commands” (1). “Without principles we drift,” and we are led “to a state of affairs which nobody wanted” (2). Pragmatism makes it possible to change the rules with each move in the game – one could imagine some game master watching a game being played between two people, and changing the rules whenever he wished. This would lead to the game players in each move trying to gain the game master’s favor. They would end up trying to bribe the game master rather than paying attention to playing the game at hand. If this sounds like how too much business is conducted, with the government as the game master, we can see why. How much money do businesses waste trying to influence “pragmatic” government officials? With the use of basic principles, everyone is clear what the rules are and that they cannot – or, at the very least, are very difficult to – change. The game players concentrate on the playing of the game itself rather than coming up with strategies to influence some game master. With the use of general principles, the game master can all but be done away with.

As I have shown throughout this work, there are a set of “basic principles” as such that are not socially constructed, a reality that exists even if we are not around to observe it which we have to deal with (though our attitude toward it, meaning our perspectives on it, are certainly socially constructed and thus inherited and modified based upon that inheritance). This is physis. On this world we have increasingly superimposed, with the introduction of such technologies as money and writing, a socially constructed reality. This is nomos. This social reality, these social facts “are accessible to us only because we can understand what other people tell us and can be understood only by interpreting other peoples’ intentions and plans. They are not physical facts, but the elements from which we reproduce them are always familiar categories of our own mind” (75). We have this socially constructed reality because “we all constantly act on the assumption that we can . . . interpret other people’s actions on the analogy of our own mind and that in the great majority of instances this procedure works. The trouble is that we can never be sure” (64). Which is what makes it all a game in the first place. But if we want this socially-constructed reality to work best, we need to structure it scalarly as the rest of the world is structured – as a complex, dynamic emergent system. Physis, logos, nomos unified, self-similar, in agon.

Kundera and Hayek have given us strong evidence against taking an analog-exclusive (unity-only) or a digital-exclusive (pluralist-only) view. Hayek gives an alternative in his argument for a combination of digital and analog, of individual and social – and even of a naturalistic and a socially constructed reality – that create a hierarchy of social interactions. What he argues for is a social-economic system that is in fact a system – a dissipative-structure system scalarly similar to every other system found in the universe, with the principles/game rules as the strange attractors of that system. It is a social system that reflects Hutcheson’s definition of beauty – which should not be surprising. “Unity in plurality is a cultural outlook that fosters friendship and avoids wars and armed conflicts. It is an essentially peaceful worldview” (Fuchs, 45).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

II. Angels and Demons – The Noetic Dangers of the Analog-Only World-View

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Milan Kundera gives an excellent explanation of the tragic aesthetic-ethical-political ramifications of having an analogical view of the world, seeing the world as either continuous meaning or continuous nihilism, in his discussion of the different forms of laughter, demonic and angelic, in “Part 3 – The Angels, Chapter 4 (On Two Kinds of Laughter)”, which simply must be quoted at length to be fully understood:

To see the devil as a partisan of Evil and an angel as a warrior on the side of Good is to accept the demagogy of the angels. Things are of course more complicated than that.
Angels are partisans not of Good but of divine creation. The devil, on the other hand, is the one who refuses to grant any rational meaning to that divinely created world.
Dominion over the world, as we know, is divided between angels and devils. The good of the world, however, implies not that the angels have the advantage over the devils . . . but that the powers of the two sides are nearly in equilibrium. If there were too much incontestable meaning in the world (the angels’ power), man would succumb under its weight. If the world were to lose all its meaning (the devils’ reign), we could not live either.
Things deprived suddenly of their supposed meaning, of the place assigned to them in the so-called order of things . . ., make us laugh. In origin, laughter is thus of the devil’s domain. It has something malicious about it (things suddenly turning out different from what they pretended to be), but to some extent also a beneficent relief (things are less weighty than they appeared to be, letting us live more freely, no longer oppressing us with their austere seriousness).
The first time an angel heard the devil’s laughter, he was dumbfounded. That happened at a feast in a crowded room, where the devil’s laughter, which is terribly contagious, spread from one person to another. The angel clearly understood that such laughter was directed against God and against the dignity of his works. He knew that he must react swiftly somehow, but felt weak and defenseless. Unable to come up with anything of his own, he aped his adversary. Opening his mouth, he emitted broken, spasmodic sounds in the higher reaches of his vocal range . . . , but giving them an opposite meaning: whereas the devil’s laughter denoted the absurdity of things, the angel on the contrary meant to rejoice over how well ordered, wisely conceived, good, and meaningful everything here below was.
Thus the angel and the devil faced each other and, mouths wide open, emitted nearly the same sounds, but each one’s noise expressed the absolute opposite of the other’s. And seeing the angel laugh, the devil laughed all the more, all the harder, and all the more blatantly, because the laughing angel was infinitely comical.
Laughable laughter is disastrous. Even so, the angels have gained something from it. They have tricked us with a semantic imposture. Their imitation of laughter and (the devil’s) original laughter are both called by the same name. Nowadays we don’t even realize that the same external display serves two absolutely opposed internal attitudes. There are two laughters, and we have no word to tell one from the other (85-87).

Refer to “angel” as “Apollo” and “devil” as “Dionysus,” and one can see (if one did not already see) the connection between this idea and Nietzsche’s idea of physis being an agonal combination of Apollonian form and Dionysian formlessness. To be more accurate, the angelic are those who give preference to the Apollonian, neglecting the Dionysian, while the demonic are those who give preference to the Dionysian at the expense of the Apollonian. Each is trying to create an analogical world – the angels are trying to create a world of pure, featureless meaning, while the demons are trying to create a world of pure, featureless nihilism. Please note Kundera speaks of angels and the devil – not of God. A careful study of the Hebrew of Job shows that God and the adversary are referred to as being the same (God actually inquirers of himself about why Job loves Him). Perhaps, then, God is both Apollonian and Dionysian – physis, or Heraclitus’ logos, which is nomos as physis, the two mapped on each other without nomos extending itself beyond physis (In the beginning was the Logos – John 1:1).

In Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic, Eagleton has a chapter titled “Demons,” where he discusses Kundera’s idea of the demonic. Eagleton is a Marxist, which should put him on the side of the Marxist ethical-analogical Angels, but we find him criticizing the left’s “revolt against . . . brutal hierarchies by keeling spectacularly over into nihilism. The liberal belief in the sympathetic self, pressed too far, becomes an ‘Oriental’ scepticism of the very concept of selfhood. Leveling of this kind . . . is akin to what Milan Kundera calls the demonic” (198). We again hear echos of the Dionysian in Eagleton’s reference to the ‘Oriental,’ since Dionysus came to Greece from the East. “The demonic, or annihilating desire, is indifferent to the sensuous particular, which it seizes upon only to hollow out and surge on to the next” (247) – which one can see in Nietszche’s Twilight of the Idols, or, Doing Philosophy With a Hammer, – doing philosophy with a tuning fork, showing the hollowness of received ideas. But one does not leave the world hollowed-out. The Dionysian is only half of physis – or, if we accept that the Apollonian is itself divided up as we divided it up in chapter 2, the Dionysian is only the lowest fourth of physis.

Echoing Kundera, Eagleton points out that, “revolted by the over-stuffed meaning of the angelic, the demonic keels over into nihilism, leveling all values to an amorphous shit” (261). If the angels go too far with meaning, creating a shitless world of kitsch (which Kundera discusses at length in both The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Art of the Novel), the demons go too far in insisting that everything is nothing but shit.

In much of his fiction, Milan Kundera sees the angelic as a bland, ‘shitless’ discourse of wide-eyed idealism and high-sounding sentiment. The angelic is full of moralistic rhetoric and edifying kitsch, allergic to doubt or irony. The angelic for Kundera are those who troop merrily forward into the future shouting ‘Long live life!’, all grins and cheers, beaming and cart-wheeling. (Eagleton, 258)

The angels are, for Kundera, those who would create utopia – the Communists in particular. “Throughout the world the angels had occupied all positions of authority, all the general staffs, had taken over the left and the right, the Arabs and the Jews, and Russian generals and the Russian dissidents” (Kundera, BLF, 99-100), whose “hygienic disavowal of the unacceptable,” things that are “negative, ironic, debunking or unhygienic” (Schmidt, 259), lead directly to the gulag, especially among those who have within them a bit of demonic laughter, meaning those who wish to be in the world as a child playing. For the angelic, meaning is everywhere, in every thing. Eagleton points out that

Kundera also sees the angelic as a sphere in which there is too much meaning rather than too little. The kingdom of the angels is one in which everything is instantly, oppressively meaningful, in which no shadow of ambiguity can be tolerated. It is the up-beat world of official ideology, in which language comes to assume an authoritarian over-ripeness and everything is drearily legible and transparent. Kundera is thinking here mostly of the neo-Stalinism with which he grew up. Yet this world in which everything is glaringly on view, flattened and two-dimensional, is also one awash with rumour and innuendo, tell-tale traces, whispered treacheries. Nothing is ever quite what it appears to be, and calls for a constant labour of decipherment. (259)

The overly-angelic, by being overly ethical and thus purely analogical, manages to turn itself into the demonic. This is why angelic laughter is indistinguishable from demonic laughter.

In life, as in art, one can have so much fine detail that what you end up with is seeing nothing. It is this nothing that the demonic is about: “If the angelic is too solemn about meaning, the demonic is too cynical” (Eagleton, 259). We can see this historically if we accept Kundera’s premise that the Communists were angelic, and Eagleton’s premise in the chapter on Demons that the Nazis were demonic, insofar as both were utopian and socialistic, albeit one international, the other national, and in Eagleton’s suggestion that the capitalist United States is angelic (I do think Eagleton is overstating things more than a bit here, but I would agree to include most conservative culture critics, such as former New York mayor Giuliani, in this category), and the postmodernists/poststructuralists (including most leftist/avant garde artists and critics – the demonic is about seeing the world as shit, and much postmodern art reflects this view) are demonic, while both encourage rapid change. Both sides, the angelic and the demonic, are far too serious for the playful, novelistic Kundera. Not everything can have meaning – we cannot remember everything. Nor does nothing have meaning – we cannot (and should not) constantly forget everything. We have to forget the small things so we can remember those things that should have meaning for it. In order to have any meaning at all, not everything can have meaning.

If meaning is found everywhere, in every little thing, then the very word “meaning” itself loses meaning – the overly angelic leads us once again into the demonic. An analog world is featureless. But “things are more complicated than that.” And works of art and literature should be. To be able to see the details in something, there has to be space between the details, between the objects, for there to be any kind of individuality at all. To have Apollonian individuality (the “something” in Heidegger’s question in Introduction to Metaphysics, or the digital world I have been discussing), one has to simultaneously agonally have the Dionysian, or “nothing,” allowing things to be separated out, to dissolve into and emerge out of. This continuous flux, between meaning and meaninglessness, nonetheless allows us to keep laughing, since things we thought were meaningful can still turn out to be meaningless (this is demonic laughter), while at the same time, we can take apparently meaningless things or experiences, and fill them with meaning (bringing us angelic laughter). The former is what we get with comedy – the latter is what we get with satire. Of course, what brings laughter to some can be tragic for others – especially if something once considered extremely valuable and meaningful turns out to have no value or meaning whatsoever. It very much depends on your attitude toward the Apollonian element of physis, whether or not you are one of the angelic (where dissolving any of Apollonian physis into the Dionysian is tragic), or, instead, of a more novelistic, playful mindset (Kundera himself provides an example of this world view), where the Appolonian dissolves into and emerges from the Dionysian in tragic-comic art, such as the novel.

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Kundera investigates the tragic situation created by those who take the most extreme sides regarding the “true nature” of physis, the angelic and the demonic, further expanding on this idea first formulated by Nietzsche. Kundera, being a novelist, does not come to any sort of “conclusion” regarding the tragic nature of physis and our relations with it any more than Nietzsche had – he instead, and in Nietzsche’s spirit, only deepened the discussion in ways exemplified by his characters and the fictional and historical situations he develops. The Dionysian is problematized as much as is the Apollonian. The angelic may impose meaning on too many things, but Kundera’s complaints in his novel about the perpetual presence of music wherever one goes – when shopping, eating out, etc. – show that the Dionysian is also beginning to make itself felt a little too strongly. We remain under the constant and more immediate threat of dissolution into the Dionysian – and this can be just as dangerous (as Eagleton points out with the Nazi’s insistence on the exclusively Dionysian) as perpetually insisting on the Apollonian – of insisting that the world is exclusively analog. These are the ramifications of the old view of “universalism,” a view I oppose on the grounds that it is not an accurate view of the world, and that it was never really properly universal in the first place – since not everyone in the world should act like Europeans of the Modern Era.

The universal is contained in the particular just as the particular is contained in the universal. We are all human beings but the fact of our being human does not manifest itself in its abstraction but in the particularity of real living human beings of different climes and races. We can talk of the human capacity for languages but that capacity manifests itself in real concrete languages as spoken by different peoples of the earth. In other words, we realise language as a universal human phenomenon not in its abstract universality but in its particularity as the different languages of the earth. (Ngg Wa Thiong’o, 26)
If we are going to adopt a universalism, it should be something more like a natural classicism, founded in what is universal in every culture, past and present.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chapter 3: A Digital-Analog Universe: I. A Likely Story II – Through A Glass, Darkly

Complex dynamic dissipative systems consist of discrete elements acting in a continuous fashion through parallel processing. As systems containing discrete elements, they are digital (from the Latin digitus, for finger – that is, countable and separable, connected to the idea of a digit as a number). As continuous systems, they are analog (from “analogous,” alike; Greek ana, “complete” and logos “explanation”, “collection”, “discourse”, or “account”). We again have an agonal unity of opposites, a complete account simultaneously explainable only as parts, giving rise to greater complexity in the dynamic system arising out of their interaction. It is important to understand that the world is neither merely digital/fragmented nor merely analog/continuous in order to both have a clearer, more accurate understanding of the scientifically explainable parts of the world, and for aesthetic, ethical, and political reasons. There are important consequences for our aesthetics, ethics, and politics if we hold to this (or any) particular (meta)physical view.

If the world is merely digital, the parts cannot interact. If the world is merely analog, it is completely indistinct. If it is both simultaneously – analog-unified and digital-plural – it has communication, coordination, cooperation, and co-action among its parts. It has unity in variety, and is thus beautiful. But the question still remains as to whether or not the world really is beautiful in this way. So let us reconsider our likely story in these terms, ending this chapter by expanding it into the noetic realm of the arts and humanities.

Complex dynamic dissipative systems have the following features: they consist of discrete components which provide information to each other to communicate as they engage in Boolean (on/off, and/or) parallel processing, continually updating each other, creating a continuous system with more complex emergent properties than are discernable from understanding the parts of the system alone (S. Kauffman). On the level of quantum physics, packets of energy densify to high frequencies to interact with each other in more complex ways. Every interaction with its environment is a calculation – the packets of energy process the information in parallel (they do not merely take turns, as that would definitely take too long, considering the amount of matter and energy in the universe). Energy-matter would act Boolean – on/off, and/or – to give rise to atoms and other particles. One could imagine matter as being “on” and energy as being “off” – with every interaction, matter and matter, energy and energy, and matter and energy, having their own binomial choices (attraction/repulsion, amplification/dampening, etc.).

This approach can be applied to the level of chemistry, with each atom as parallel-processor and binomial (ions are either positive or negative, van der Waals forces act in and/or fashion). And Stuart Kauffman, in The Origins of Order, goes into great detail on the level of biology. Each biochemical is a parallel processor communicating with other biochemicals acting in parallel to create biochemical systems/cycles, which act in communicative parallel to keep each cell alive, which act in communicative parallel in multicellular organisms to create tissues and organs, which act in communicative parallel to keep the organism as a whole alive, which acts in communicative parallel with other organisms to create ecosystems. And each obeys the rules of its own emergent games. Thinking – and the minding function of the brain – is the consequence of the communicative parallel processing of the neurons of the brain. The more neurons, and the more complex the interactions and interconnections of those neurons, the more complex the minding of that brain will be. Human brains act in communicative parallel to create culture, technology, and the arts and humanities. Each level consists of distinct, discrete parts less complex than the emergent system they are a part of, and each system is the continuous processing of those parts in communicative parallel. If this were not the case, we would either have an analogical perfect symmetry, or a digital discrete world incapable of creating systems. “The impact, the influence of one atom upon another is likewise something which presupposes sensation. Something which is intrinsically alien can have no effect upon anything else. . . . Whether larger of smaller, these sensation complexes would be called “will”” (Nietzsche, “The Philosopher”, PT 96). Nietzsche’s “will” is what we would now call “strange attractors.” The consequences of this digital-analog view are not just profound for a scientific view of the world. As Nietzsche pointed out,

Individuals are the bridges upon which becoming depends. All qualities are originally only solitary activities, which are then frequently repeated in similar situations and finally become habits. The entire being of an individual takes part in every activity. Everything in an individual, right down to the smallest cells, is individual – which means that it has a part in all the individual’s experiences and past. Hence the possibility of procreation. (“The Philosopher,” PT 153)

Because the world is scalar, this applies to noetic concerns too. Politically this means we should be both communitarian and libertarian – personally communitarian and politically libertarian, desiring and working for community without wanting or trying to force people to do things.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

V. Afterword

Fraser’s theory of time shows us just to what extent TSZ is about time. And we can now see that the eternal return is the experience of time one has as one descends and ascends through the umwelts of time – a fractaline experience of time – leading Nietzsche to see the world as fractal, a world of strange attractors (will to power), dissipative structures, and butterfly effects nearly a century before chaos theory gave (other) words and images to what Nietzsche was trying-to-say in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This, the eternal return, the fractal nature of the world, where things like good and evil and truth and goals are seen to be strange attractors that cannot be reached (and also cannot be reconciled with one another, but must remain in continual conflict), but which must be affirmed for our world to exist (the result of which is tragic morals, since the bad must be affirmed with the good for the good to exist at all), but which make us try-to-say them, is also the image of the creator creating – new art, new metaphors, new ideas, new goals and values (the children of deep eternity) – forced to create by the pull of the strange attractor, the thing, the nothing, the creator – and Nietzsche among them – saw in the abyss, the place where one descends, not to empty oneself, as Zarathustra mistakenly believes one can at the beginning of TSZ, but to get oneself filled. We have suggested, through feeding what we learned about the eternal return’s tragic understanding of time back into our scientific understandings of time, possible explanations for the nature of strange attractors and how quantum entities can give rise to a world of solid-state physics.

We can also now see that TSZ is a work about what a person must go through, what one must undergo, in order to become a creator of new values. That is the eternal return – the image of the creator creating (procreating, recreating). One has to recognize the tragic, fractal dimensions of the world to create in this way. It is important to clarify what one means by creator here, too. One is not talking about a mere craftsman, someone who has technical ability to paint or to write a story. This is the Apollonian (perhaps the Socratic) element of art – techne is important, but hardly enough. This is the technical, the scholarly, the scientific (as technicians) aspect of art and of our experience of the world. It is the part that can be taught, the part Universities are for, since the University can only give skills (the Socratic) – it cannot give insight. TSZ is about that part of existence which cannot be taught, but which can only be experienced in order to be known. It is about the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The Dionysian especially is precisely that aspect of art and the experience of the world which cannot be taught, because it cannot be said. It is the unteachable and the unsayable. It can only be shown, and poorly. It can only be tried-to-be-said or tried-to-be-shown, but cannot be said or shown (physis loves to hide), for if it could be said or shown, the creators would just say or show it with clarity and finally find relief and contentment (as would the world). But they cannot find contentment, for “the hidden attunement [harmonie] is better than the obvious one” (Heraclitus, K LXXX) – and they are among the most noetic of us all. It is the element present in the great artists and creators, the thing that makes Picasso a great artist, and the hordes of high school art students lost to history.

Friday, November 30, 2007

IV. Tragedy, Oedipus, Circularity, and Strange Attractors

In aphorism 341 of GS, Nietzsche gives us in the demon’s (demon here no doubt from the Greek daimon, which is a divinity, but also “fate” and “fortune for good and evil” – Socrates said he had a daimon which spoke to him, telling him what not to do) offer a chance to affirm life as such through affirming our lives in particular. For those who would reject the offer – accepting Schopenhauer’s view that no rational person would wish to relive their lives over exactly as it was (World as Will and Representation, 324) – Nietzsche has nothing more to say. But for those who would accept it, thus accepting their fate, Nietzsche offers Incipit Tragodea, and TSZ, the further development of the tragic (having an unresolvable conflict at its root), recursive, and, thus, fractal geometry of time introduced in the demon’s offer – an offer which Oedipus accepted at the end of “Oedipus tyrannus,” providing the model for the tragic view of time.

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera shows the consequences of this Schopenhauerean rejection with the fictional example of Mirek (the individual) and the nonfiction example of communist Czechoslovakia (the country/society/culture) attempting to erase their pasts – the most active rejection of Nietzsche’s demon’s offer one can undertake. Mirek thought he could control his destiny by erasing (forgetting) his past – just as the Communists thought they could do the same for the destiny of Communism. He wanted to “destroy his own hated youth” just as the people of Bohemia “rebelled against their own youth” (18), resulting in the Prague Spring, which, as a “bad memory” is not remembered, having been “carefully erased from the country’s memory” (19).

By attempting to erase people “from the country’s memory,” the Communists showed us how dangerous is the desire to forget, to erase our memory and our youth. But this is only a natural response, as Schopenhauer recognized, when he said “perhaps at the end of his life, no man, if he be sincere and at the same time in possession of his faculties, will ever wish to go through it again,” since “everything excellent or admirable is always only an exception,” and “as regards the life of the individual, every life-history is a history of suffering, for, as a rule, every life is a continual series of mishaps great and small” (WWPI, 324). But, natural as this response may be, we can see it is also a tragic response, resulting in people being imprisoned or killed and erased from photographs and history books. Those who would refuse to go through it again are saying No to their lives – and if they are in power, this No-saying can turn deadly. The tragedy lies precisely in their purposeful attempt to forget physis and attempt to impose their own order (nomos) on the world. Hegel – and Marx – insists that we can resolve the deep conflicts, that synthesis is possible. That makes both Hegel and Marx ethicists of the highest sort. But in trying to disconnect humans from physis/logos, and in trying to separate physis from logos (as Plato, Aristotle, and the postmodernists tried to do), that is, from a tragic understanding of the world, tragic results can and have ensued – as we see in every country in which Marxism was tried. The dualities of physis/logos and nomos and of tragedy and ethics is itself tragic. Ironically, when ethicists try to push ethics (ethos) beyond physis, their ethics turn unethical. On the other hand, we cannot forget the Apollonian aspect of physis. Tragedy is equally impossible without nomos. This is why Nietzsche emphasizes both the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Without both, there is no tragedy. Destruction or deconstruction, becoming alone, is equally anti-tragic.

Unless we affirm our lives, whether it be our own individual lives, or the life (history) of a nation or a people, the consequences can be tragic. This is, in one sense, ironic, considering Oedipus’ life is precisely terrible and, therefore, tragic, because Oedipus, in the end, would have accepted the demon’s offer, knowing full well what that would entail. This is what makes Oedipus both wonderful and terrible, truly awe-ful. But at the same time, this is what makes one’s life beautiful, this affirmation, as it now gains a certain depth – of time. Since it is unlikely one is going to actually encounter such a demon (though perhaps one does occasionally have to face one’s daimon), one can take this idea metaphorically, and chose memory (a-letheia) over forgetting (letheia). This too is tragic, though perhaps a considerably less bloody tragedy, at least for people other than oneself, as we see with Hölderlin’s idea of tragedy being connected to memory, with memory’s failure over time. As Dennis Schmidt points out in On Germans and Other Greeks, in discussing Hölderlin’s novel Hyperion for Hölderlin, “A separation in time cannot be overcome . . . since such a separation is the province only of the past. . . . Separation in time can only be suffered” (131).

The problem with forgetting is that it is “absolute injustice and absolute solace at the same time” (Kundera, The Art of the Novel, 130) – and often the former is used in hopes it will lead to the latter. But both of these point to precisely why forgetting is tragic – it is an attempt by a finite creature to attain infinity (the absolute). In consciously trying to forget, we try to overstep our bounds, as defined by physis (we are a remembering being, and as such, we overstep our bounds by trying to make ourselves forget – we try to make ourselves other than human). The attempt to deny the past is the attempt to deny tragedy. Consider the situation Plato develops in his Phaedrus. Here we encounter the issue of memory when Phaedrus tries to get Socrates to allow him to recite Lysias’ speech from memory. Socrates replies: “I would not have you suppose that I am going to have your memory exercised upon me” (46). Socrates does not want Phaedrus to rely on his memory when Phaedrus has Lysias right there with him. Why, indeed, should Phaedrus rely on his memory when he can recite Lysias’ words verbatim?

One could surmise that Phaedrus wants to practice his memory on Socrates because he would like to play with the text, to add his own ideas to it. Socrates had not heard Lysias’ speech yet, so it would not be difficult for Phaedrus to pass off his own speech as Lysias’. Memorization creates centers of knowledge in and for the brain to bring together with other centers to generate new ideas from what has been memorized. By memorizing Lysias’ speech, Phaedrus has created a center on which he can develop his own ideas. We see this occurring, in a sense, when Socrates picks up the theme of Lysias’ speech and gives his own, better speech. Of course, Socrates has not memorized Lysias’ speech to create a better one on the same topic – which suggests that memory as memorization is not necessarily the best way to remember what one has heard (or read). Socrates remembers what Lysias’ speech says without having to memorize it. He has necessarily forgotten much of Lysias’ speech – he has forgotten the worst parts and remembered the best. Phaedrus, on the other hand, has memorized Lysias’ entire speech – good and bad equally – and so has not differentiated between the good and the bad parts, between what should be remembered and what should be forgotten. We should know what we read and/or hear well enough to remember what is important – but not so well that we remember the worst as well as we remember the best. One can know something so well that it becomes as dangerous to us as is ignorance – it may even blind us, as Phaedrus was, to the fact that there is more available to us than this one thing we have become obsessed with (to this extent, to pick up the apparent topic of the Phaedrus, the nonlover is preferable to the lover). At the same time, we don’t want to get bogged down in the overabundance that is the world, so we should focus in on something that we can understand well, and that helps us to understand the rest of the world in relation to it (the lover is preferable to the nonlover). Memory can ironically create forgetting, unless we utilize forgetting to help us to remember.

If one of the problems with Phaedrus reciting Lysias’ speech from memory is that Phaedrus remembers too much, it would appear to contradict what Socrates says toward the end of the Phaedrus when he criticizes writing and tells Phaedrus the story of the invention of writing by Theuth. When Theuth praises his invention as something that will make the Egyptians “wiser and give them better memories” (87), Thamus replies that “this invention of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves” (88) and that they will only appear to know things but not actually know them. This is not an unreasonable criticism. As an undergraduate, I took the attitude that I did not need to know what I was being taught – I only had to remember where to look it up. As the information was repeated, I did, of course, come to remember what I was taught, but that does not negate the fact that this attitude very well could have prevented me from knowing anything about what I was studying, or that it could have that effect on others, since I know this attitude is not unique. Further, there is a type of memorization of texts that creates the appearance of knowledge – students memorize what they need to memorize long enough to regurgitate the information onto a test and then promptly forget it. They never knew or understood what they memorized. They were not able to pull the meaning out of the text – they gave equal weight to all the words in the text by memorizing it. This is the problem with Phaedrus memorizing Lysias’ speech. Rather than learning the speech, which means, properly studying the speech, what it is saying, how it is saying it, etc., Phaedrus has decided to just memorize the speech. This makes it appear that he knows the speech, when in fact, he is only thoughtlessly regurgitating the lines. Nothing can be created from this form of memory. This is why Socrates is so dismissive of Phaedrus’ memorizing Lysias’ speech.

By telling the story of the invention of writing, Socrates also points out that there is a tragic element to writing. The issue of memory is raised early on in the Phaedrus, but then Socrates invokes the Muses to inspire him with his first speech. In his second speech, wherein he praises madness, Socrates discusses again the issue of memory, in discussing the reincarnated souls’ losing “the memory of the holy things which they saw” (64), though if we can remember, we become mad – the type of madness that gives us such things as prophesy or poetry. Seeing earthly beauty makes us remember Beauty as understood when our souls were in the underworld (68). – and is thus again connected to madness. Socrates returns to the Muses in his discussion with Phaedrus about the cicadas, which were said to have been men until the Muses came. These men, in their joy in singing, forgot to eat and drink, and thus died – to be metamorphosed into cicadas. The birth of the Muses made men forget about their bodies, resulting in their premature deaths – but those same men were rewarded with a return to the world to share their songs with men. Memory brought forth the Muses that made men forget. It was a tragic forgetting that brought beauty into the world.

Socrates then mentions four of the Muses by name: Terpsichore – Muse of dance and choral song (shown dancing and holding a lyre); Erato – Muse of lyric and love poetry (shown playing a lyre); Calliope – Muse of heroic or epic poetry (shown holding a writing tablet); and Urania – Muse of astronomy (shown holding a globe). It is Calliope and Urania (epic poetry and science) who are “the votaries of philosophy” (73) – meaning writing (Calliope holds a writing tablet) is necessary for philosophy. Calliope is also “the eldest Muse” (73), so the first Muse Memory gave birth to was the Muse of writing. Yet we have learned that writing causes people to not use their memories. Further, mere memorization makes creation (inspiration – the job of the Muses) less likely. Socrates is suggesting the following tragic scenario: Memory gives birth to Writing, which turns around and kills Memory before she can give birth to the other Muses. We have an Oedipus-type story involving Memory and her daughter Calliope. Yet if this tragic story is true, Memory cannot give birth to Urania, making philosophy impossible, or to the other Muses, making the other arts impossible. If we treat Memory as memorization – a danger we face when we have written material we can go over repeatedly until it is memorized – we do not have knowledge, because we remember the meaningful with the meaningless, the good (Lysias’ topic) with the bad (Lysias’ style). This type of memorization does not invoke inspiration, it is not creative. It does not create the kind of memory that brings forth the Muses. This is why Socrates invokes the Muses for his first speech: he remembers the important points of Lysias’ speech, and is able to use them to create a new, and better, speech. Writing thus creates a potentially tragic situation, which Socrates tells in the form of a story about Egyptian mythology perhaps to avoid angering the Muses – the way he tried to avoid angering Eros by giving his second speech.

Misused, writing can kill memory through memorization, and thus can kill creativity. But Socrates gets Phaedrus to use Lysias’ writing properly by forcing him to not recite it from memory, but by reading it so Socrates can remember what is important from the speech and be inspired to create his own speech. Socrates hopes Phaedrus will remember both of Socrates’ speeches and be able to create his own speech on the topic, based on what he remembered about Socrates’ speeches. This type of remembering is dependent too on forgetting – forgetting what is not necessary to create something new around the elements remembered. This proper way of using one’s memory creates probability, a probabilistic relationship among what is remembered – while memorization brings us to truth, as what is memorized is unalterable. Probability is alterable, allowing for creativity. Change (becoming) is superior to the unchanging (being).

If Kundera is writing a novel about the tragedy of time and memory in the tradition of Plato, Hölderlin and Nietzsche, we should not be surprised to find him making use of the image of rings and circularity (images of eternity) – specifically, in this case, including oneself in a circle of people, and finding belonging there. It is in the ring where one’s individuality can dissolve into others, but this can, as one can imagine, have tragic consequences, both in creating, and in being expelled from, the ring. The ring, or circularity, can be seen in the story of Oedipus, as he finds himself within a ring, or circle, that started and ended in his mother’s womb. Indeed, it is when Oedipus learns of the facts of his birth that he gets expelled from the ring he was trapped in. To be expelled from a ring (and thus the eternal) is tragic. The ring is connected to the tragedy of time through the eternal return. Tragedy is again related to time.

There is tragedy in rings precisely because people wish to be in rings: “Dancing in a ring is magic; a ring dance speaks to us from the ancient depths of our memories” (88-9). But how does one enter into a ring dance? Kundera gives a list of ways one of his characters, Madame Raphael, attempted to enter into one:

at first in the Methodist church . . . , then in the Communist Party, then in the Trotskyist Party, then in a Trotskyist splinter party, then in the movement against abortion (a child has a right to life!), then in the movement to legalize abortion (a woman has a right to her body!), then she looked for it in Marxists, in psychoanalysts, in structuralists, looked for it in Lenin, in Zen Buddhism, in Mao Tse-tung, among the followers of yoga, in the school of the nouveau roman (89).

Finally, she finds it in two of her students, Gabrielle and Michelle. The students are her favorites, and, after the two students have given a presentation on Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, where the students are wearing cardboard horns,

The three women danced and laughed, the cardboard noses jiggled, and the class looked at them in mute horror. But by now the three dancing women were unaware of the others, they were concentrating entirely on themselves and on their sensual pleasure. Suddenly Madame Raphael stamped her foot harder and rose a few centimeters above the floor and then, with the next step, was no longer touching the ground. She pulled her two companions after her, and in a moment all three were revolving above the floor and rising slowly in a spiral. When their hair touched the ceiling, it started little by little to open. They rose higher and higher through that opening, their cardboard noses were no longer visible, and now there were only three pairs of shoes passing through the gaping hole, but these too finally vanished, while from on high, the dumbfounded students heard the fading radiant laughter of three archangels (104).

Those outside the circle are horrified by what goes on within. The same would have been true of the audience’s reaction to watching the Oedipus plays on stage when they were first performed – as everyone at the time knew of the story separate from Sophocles’ particular presentation of it. And the circle itself, while being wonderful for those within, is also always exclusive. Those within the circle become unaware of those not in the circle – perhaps to the point of ignoring, or not even seeing, as too many Communist idealists did and do, the horrors around them.

Kundera himself admits “I too once danced in a ring” (91), as a Communist student. But “then one day I said something I should not have said, was expelled from the party, and had to leave the ring dance” (92). And it is here, in his own personal story, where we learn of the tragedy of the ring dance:

That is when I understood the magical meaning of the circle. If you go away from a row, you can still come back into it. A row is an open formation. But a circle closes up, and if you go away from it, there is no way back. It is not by chance that the planets move in circles and that a rock coming loose from one of them goes inexorably away, carried off by centrifugal force. Like a meteorite broken off from a planet, I left the circle and have not yet stopped falling. Some people are granted their death as they are whirling around, and others are smashed at the end of their fall. And these others (I am one of them) always retain a kind of faint yearning for that lost ring dance, because we are all inhabitants of a universe where everything turns in circles (92).

Kundera feels this most strongly when he finds himself excluded by the French surrealist poet Éluard, who failed to try to save the Czech poet Kalandra, even after André Breton requested it of him, because he “was busy dancing in a gigantic ring between Paris, Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, Sophia, and Greece, between all the socialist countries and all the world’s Communist parties, and everywhere he recited his beautiful poems about joy and brotherhood” (93). But he would not try to save the life of another.

The view of time as circular (and of time as being a fractal, as we see in the idea of the eternal return) is tragic. Time for Oedipus was circular – no matter what direction he went in, he ended up in the same place, stuck as he was in the hermeneutic circle Apollo created for him. So Oedipus quite literally returned from whence he came – and escaping from this circular time into linear time – and willing his past – is what brought about the tragedy. We can see in the Oedipus story both the apparent circularity of time (but not really, as Zarathustra repeatedly insisted – time’s circularity is not the whole story) and the willing of one’s past. But as Nietzsche points out in BT, tragedy is the Apollonian dream of the Dionysian. It may seem a strange thing, what I am getting ready to do, to use literary-philosophical (humanistic) knowledge to explain something scientific – but if we understand literature, philosophy, and science as legitimate forms of knowledge (just different perspectives on, and metaphors about, the same things), we can see it really is not (and should not be) that strange. Moods of time are ways humans can learn intuitively about the umwelts of time, and these moods are typically expressed in our art. Both science and literary/philosophical knowledge (wisdom) are ways of knowing that can be powerfully united to inform each other.

With this understanding, the circularity of time can be seen as the Dionysian experience of time, or how the Apollonian represents the Dionysian experience of time. As we have seen, the Dionysian can also be understood as the Atemporal. Rather than no time experience, then, we could instead see energy as having such a very tight circular time experience that it appears to be atemporal. Recent theories in quantum physics have dealt with the problem of everything being in phase – appearing solid rather than continually switching between particle and wave. Their solution is that the observer effect works among quantum entities, with a pair of quantum entities “observing” each other into particles when in the form of atoms and molecules. But how do atemporal packets of energy “observe” each other into probabilistic quantum entities, which “observe” each other into solid-state physics? The idea of atemporal energy having a circular experience of time solves this problem. As the universe cooled, energy quanta were able to interact with each other, and circular time experiences, coming in close proximity, became entangled, pulling their time experiences out of circularity into more forward-moving helixes. If only a few of these manage to entangle, there is the possibility that this linear time could re-collapse into circular time, that particles could collapse into waves. This is why quantum entities are probabilistic – they are blinking in and out of atemporality. This is what is called decoherence.

What makes quantum objects quantum and macroscopic objects macroscopic? It seems to have to do with the process by which quantum objects lose their quantum nature: decoherence. (In a sense, a coherent beam of light behaves like a single quantum object.) When a photon or an atom is measured, it is forced to “choose” whether it’s spin up or spin down, and at that moment, it behaves like a classical object rather than a quantum one. The quantum state decoheres. (Charles Seife, Science15 Nov. 2002, 1355)

In other words, decoherence occurs when information flows: “The bigger and warmer an object is, the more difficult it is to isolate it and prevent information from flowing from it into its environment, making it decohere more and more quickly,” which is to say, any quantum nature “disappears too quickly to measure” (1355). If we get enough entanglement, we increasingly approach solid-state physics, and increased difficulty in collapsing into complete atemporality. But the possibility does not go away completely, and any physical system will feel the push and pull of emergence and collapse – which is to say, it will have some sort of strange attractor, since strange attractors are those which both attract and repulse, pulling in, and pushing away. There is an agon between coherence and decoherence, between attraction and repulsion, which is necessary to create the world. This is physis. Attraction and repulsion are of the essence of the world. Nietzsche recognizes this as the concept of pleasure and displeasure: “The whole logic of nature then dissolves itself into a system of pleasure and displeasure. Everything snatches at pleasure and flees displeasure: that is the eternal law of nature” (“The Philosopher, PT, 98). What we call pleasure and displeasure when referring to human behavior, we call attraction and repulsion in the realm of science. Nietzsche identifies them as being scalarly similar. This constant pulsation is what generates the chaos of chaos theory. If we continue this story, one could then imagine certain entanglements giving rise to particular kinds of spirals – those chemical interactions that gave Fibonacci time-spirals would be those which could be said to be alive, or to have given rise to life. Perhaps those interactions that are for all intents and purposes irreversible make time spiral out into Fibonacci spirals rather than remain in tight helixes. This would also explain how one gets emergent properties – how life has such different properties from other forms of chemistry – since one would get emergent properties from bringing-together itself. With the emergence of human-type intelligence, where different options give rise to the appearance of possible future timelines, we then get a branching time, turning the simple fractal of the Fibonacci spiral into a more fully fractal appearance (perhaps appearing more like a Mandelbrot set or Yeats’ gyres or perhaps something we have yet to imagine).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

III. Chaos Theory, Umwelts, the Eternal Return, and the Will to Power

Chaos theory was first developed in the 1960's, but one can see in the way Nietzsche tries to explain eternal recurrence that he seems to have had an intuitive understanding of it. This would make sense in light of Nietzsche’s connection of time to ascent and descent and Fraser’s observation that lower umwelts have effects on higher ones. Fractals are images of eotemporal systems where the lower prototemporal and atemporal levels are most pronounced – creating the fractal image, such as the Mandelbrot set, one of finite space encompassed by an infinite border, which repeats the created image an infinite number of times as one descends through the details of the crooked border, creating an eternal recurrence of the same form over time as one goes deeper into (magnifies) the eternal border of the form. Nietzsche says, in describing the eternal return, that “since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place, and each of those combinations conditions the entire sequences of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated” (WP, 1066). We will remember that Zarathustra chastises the dwarf for oversimplifying the eternal return by calling it circular, so this note by Nietzsche should be moderated by Nietzsche himself having Zarathustra make this comment, showing us there is a more dynamic element to the eternal return than mere circularity. This description matches Fraser’s description of fractals:

The repeating regularity [of formal chaos] makes for an infinite depth of self-similarity. This may involve exact replication, it may be statistical or random; it may even consist of continuously emerging new patterns mixed with continuously reemerging old patterns. An infinite depth of self-similarity means that, no matter how much the details are magnified, self-similarity remains. (TOC, 6)

The fractal’s image is created by what is called a strange attractor. “A master trajectory toward which nearby trajectories of a system evolve is called an attractor” (TOC, 4), though “attractors themselves are models. They are metaphors for processes” (5). A strange attractor has the property of not being there, yet simultaneously having the ability to attract a system into creating an image of its becoming around it. This is perhaps what Nietzsche could mean when he says “There stands the boat – over there is perhaps the way to the great Nothingness. But who wants to step into this ‘perhaps’?” (TSZ, 224). If we extrapolate the idea of strange attractors up the umwelts from our understanding of them as working on the eotemporal level, we can see it acting to help create the biological forms and, if we extrapolate it up to the noetic level, helping to create ideas, concepts, goals, and values. We can now see something like the Lorenz attractor with apparent opposites. If we see one strange attractor as “good” and the other as “evil” (or pick any pair of opposites Nietzsche or Heraclitus affirm as constituting the world, through their agon – the Lorenz attractor makes an image of this very agon), what we see is that there is no pure good or evil, since the strange attractors are in one sense not there, though they do have an effect. Nonetheless, these strange attractors create a system of morals which pull our actions toward either the “good” or “evil” attractors – it is this system which can be said to be beyond good and evil, and is a more accurate vision of morals than are the strange attractors themselves, since the attractors are in a real sense not there, though they do affect everything. We can never be good or evil, since neither good nor evil have Being – we can only become better or worse in our actions. Or, as Ludwig von Mises says “The act of choosing is always a decision among various opportunities open to the choosing individual. Man never chooses between virtue and vice, but only between two modes of actions which we call from an adopted point of view virtuous or vicious” (45). The very choices of an individual are a complex dynamic system, making all of our actions, in this sense, beyond good and evil. This is, of course, a highly simplified metaphor. The “good” attractor is likely itself a set of agonal games set in opposition to the threat of destruction – to evil. The “good” attractor is a much more interesting attractor than is the “evil” attractor, though it seems this attractor is necessary for the “good” attractor to exist at all.

One could perhaps object that I have merely replaced the metaphor of the eternal return with another metaphor, the fractal. I do not deny that I am doing precisely that. The history of philosophy is a record of changing metaphors to fit philosophy to contemporary thought. The reason I am doing it in this particular case is because the metaphor of the fractal has the benefit of coming with a clear visual image which can help us understand the meaning of the metaphor. Also, it seems to me that any time one is using almost identical language to describe two seemingly different things, then those two things are probably the same thing. I have already given a few examples of places where Nietzsche seems to be using the same language to describe eternal return as I have for fractals, but are these the only ones?

Fractals show, as Nietzsche puts it, “what was and is repeated into all eternity” (BGE, 56). The repetition of the images act as a sort of “selective principle” (WP, 1058), which could help us “judge value.” What is selected? There appears to be a selection for dynamic systems with emergent properties creating greater complexity. We should judge such dynamic complex systems, and the creation of more complex systems, as valuable since they repeat regardless of scale. What Nietzsche says about how to endure eternal recurrence shows several other attributes of fractal geometry: “No longer joy in certainty but in uncertainty,” since one is uncertain which image one will encounter as one magnifies the fractal border; “no longer “cause and effect” but the continually creative.” The strange attractor does not have “cause and effect,” though the system is “continually creative”; “no longer will to preservation but to power” (WP 1059), since the image is always changing, meaning it is not preserved, though it has the power – in the strange attractors – to change; and “abolition of “knowledge-in-itself” (WP 1060). One can only see the effects of a strange attractor, one cannot know the true nature of any strange attractor, since they are all absent centers to the systems (which require time to exist) they create. In WP 1066, Nietzsche gives an excellent definition of a strange attractor: “the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force.” The world is not the Mandelbrot set, but a series of nested hierarchies like it, creating the grand system of multiple attractors we call the world, pulled into form by these “centers of force” – centers of force Nietzsche calls in WP 1067 the Will to Power. Further, Nietzsche connects the will to power to life in the same way as Stuart Kauffman connects strange attractors to life. “Life simply is will to power” (Nietzsche, BGE 259) There is a similarity too between the connection of entropy and dissipative structures to Nietzsche’s idea of discharge of strength and life: “Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and more frequent results” (BGE 13). Thus, Nietzsche asks us to suppose

we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will—namely, of the will to power, as my proposition has it; suppose all organic functions could be traced back to this will to power and one could also find in it the solution of the problem of procreation and nourishment—it is one problem—then one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force univocally as—will to power. The world viewed from inside, the world defined and determined according to its “intelligible character”—it would be “will to power” and nothing else.— (BGE 36)

If we can connect the idea of the will to power to the idea of strange attractors and thus to dissipative structures, we can see Nietzsche arguing here – as I am arguing in this work – that everything in the universe can be understood through chaos theory and as dissipative structures. Nietzsche connects the will to power to life overall, but he also points out that the philosophers’ “will to truth is—will to power” (BGE 211). There is a connection between truth and power. Earlier, Nietzsche also said that “With the selective knowledge drive beauty again emerges as power” (PT, 26). With the connections I have made between strange attractors and both truth and beauty, the will to power could be seen as Nietzsche’s term for the world’s strange attractors – meaning the will to power is physics, not metaphysics (in the Kantian sense), as Nietzsche insists in WP 462 when he says the eternal return is the naturalization of metaphysics and religion. It can also be seen as the “will to beauty,” meaning, if the Will to Power is Nietzsche’s term for strange attractors, and strange attractors create complex fractal systems, then beauty comes from creating or seeing/hearing/etc. complex fractal systems. In light of this we can also now see what Nietzsche meant when he says in WP 522:

“Truth” is . . . not something there, that might be found or discovered – but something that must be created and that gives a name to a process, or rather to a will to overcome that has in itself no end – introducing truth, as a processus in infinitum, an active determining – not a becoming-conscious of something that is in itself firm and determined.

In WP 1067, Nietzsche describes the world again in terms that sound like he is talking about fractal geometry when he says the world is one that

does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself . . . not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be “empty” here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many . . . out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex . . . eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying.

In other words, the world is a dissipative structure, a fractal. And – “at the same time one any many” – beautiful, as the Will to Power is the Will to Beauty.

WP 1066 gives us this other aspect of chaos theory – Prigogine’s dissipative structures, which show how form develops out of formlessness – or form creates itself through formlessness. The “eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying,” the self-organized dissipative structures. Previous theories of entropy (what Nietzsche calls “the mechanistic theory”) said the world was irrevocably running down, prompting Nietzsche to say that if “the mechanistic theory cannot avoid the consequences . . . of leading to a final state, then the mechanistic theory stands refuted” (WP 1066). Prigogine’s dissipative structures solve this problem. In them we see, in Nietzsche’s formulation, that “The world exists; it is not something that passes away. Or rather: it becomes, it passes away, but it has never begun to become and never ceased from passing away – it maintains itself in both. – It lives on itself: its excrements are its food.” Entropy gives order, which itself dissipates, increasing entropy. The excrement of dissipative structures is entropy – and entropy is their food. The dissipative structure – and the fractal – both show “that everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being” (WP 617) – in both, the world of being exists through becoming. Formlessness gives itself form through constant change. This image recurs in TSZ: “And as the world once dispersed for him, so it comes back to him again, as the evolution of good through evil, as the evolution of design from chance” (88). From what we have seen above, this means the evolution of permanence or being through transience or becoming – the very definition of a dissipative structure, which can generate spontaneous order from disorder. Fraser notes in TOC that “self-similarity signifies the presence of a pattern of behavior or structure which retains its identity in a world of pure becoming; it represents the birth of permanence from pure change” (7) and that “beneath all natural phenomena lurks chaos into which all processes and structures may collapse at any time and out of which, under certain conditions, different permanent structures and processes may arise” (9). The metaphors continue to match.

The affirmation of all – everything good and bad, everything great and small – is another important part of the eternal return, as we see in “the Heaviest Burden.” In GS, Nietzsche says “What I do or do not do now is as important for everything that is yet to come as is the greatest event of the past: in this tremendous perspective of effectiveness all actions appear equally great or small” (233). This is known in chaos theory as The Butterfly Effect. Newtonian physics says small causes have small effects, and large causes have large effects. Chaos theory shows that small causes – like a butterfly flapping its wings, which barely perturbs the air – can have large effects – like a hurricane – over time. Nietzsche came upon this aspect of chaos theory too in his opposition to Newtonian linear cause and effect.

“The two most extreme modes of thought – the mechanistic and the Platonic – are reconciled in the eternal recurrence” (WP 1061). This note is what showed me that the eternal return could be visualized with the images of contemporary chaos theory. The mechanical world alone is insufficient for Nietzsche, since “an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world” (GS, 373) – it is without ambiguity, which Nietzsche says gives the world meaning. There must be some disorder for the order to be meaningful. This coincides well with contemporary information theory, which shows that one must have noise (ambiguity) if one is to communicate information. Without noise, one cannot have information – meaning. The mechanistic view shows us a world that will get more disordered over time – it is belief in creationless destruction. But this, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, appears, as Dauer points out, to contradict the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which says energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only transformed. In Dauer’s words, it shows “the inevitable recurrence of natural phenomena” (90), which she argues Nietzsche was attempting to reconcile with the eternal return. When Nietzsche points out that “The principle of the conservation of energy inevitably involves eternal recurrence” (WP 1063), we can see, as Dauer says, that he “is roughly correct from the point of view of physics” (90). At least, physics as it was known at the time Nietzsche was writing. In addition to the view of the world the physics of the time promoted, Nietzsche had a problem with the Platonic view, which he saw as metaphysical, with its Forms. One could see the Platonic (especially Platonic Christianity) as the opposite of the entropic – as belief in destructionless creation. For Nietzsche, both views lead to nihilism, the mechanistic because it shows the world as meaningless, the Platonic because Nietzsche sees nihilism coming out of seeking meaning in the meaningless and realizing one has, by doing so, wasted a lot of time and strength on something false (WP,12) – such as Plato’s Forms and other metaphysical systems (12,13). By reconciling these in eternal recurrence, we get a mechanical world with meaning – meaning derived from the will to power/strange attractors, which one could easily mistake for Platonic Forms (or a noumenal world or a Schopenhauerian Will), since, like the Forms, the world gets its form (in Nietzsche’s words, “image” – which are the only things which exist) from them. We get a world where some things have meaning, but where everything does not have to be meaningful. And we also get Nietzsche’s cycle of destruction and creation. Here we see the dissipative structure – the fractal – the eternal return.

But we are still left with a question. How can a fractal-image of creation be the heaviest burden? The answer lies in the fact that this view shows us we can never reach the truth – we can only try (the trying-to-say of the creator). The “truth” is the strange attractor, the absent center that attracts, yet is not there. It is a burden because it shows the futility of all searching after truth. It is a burden because it shows we must do it anyway (in the trying-to-say of the creator). We now know we must search after truth, knowing there is no truth to find, that there is only the search, the system of searching, pulled into form by the strange attractor of “truth.” This is the burden and the tragedy of the idea, particularly as one important aspect of tragedy is that those who speak do not themselves truly understand what they are saying. In other words, the very act of trying-to-say is tragic – meaning the creator’s life is tragic. “The search for truth appears to be a wild-goose chase, as indeed it is. There are no fixtures in nature, wrote Emerson. ‘In nature every moment is new . . . the coming only is sacred . . .’” (Fraser TCHV, 72). The fractal-image of truth shows how right Fraser is. Truth is exactly as Emerson, Nietzsche, and Fraser say it is – unattainable. With Nietzsche’s eternal return and fractal images, we can see precisely why and how this is the case.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

II. Moods of Time as Archetypes

J. T. Fraser shows that the fullest experience we can have of time is through ascent and descent through the umwelts of time – expressed in moods, images and metaphors, by those who experience the different levels. Fraser calls his theory of time both “the hierarchical theory of time and the theory of time as conflict” – the latter because “in its dynamic features it is a general theory of conflicts” (TCHV, 21). This definition shows its potential relation to Nietzsche’s philosophy insofar as Nietzsche supports both dynamic hierarchy and conflict, or agon, as ways in which creativity is fostered, and as constituents of the world itself. In Fraser’s formulation, the umwelts of reality have, in a hierarchical relation to each other, different time experiences, which are “constitutive of reality” (TCHV, 38) and change with ascent – or descent – through the umwelts. Time is not just a background to reality, but constituent of it. Each umwelt evolves from a lower umwelt or, as Nietzsche states it, there is “evolution of design from chance” (TSZ, 88). We have (the appearance of) being from becoming, order from disorder (entropy).

If we start at the Big Bang (as we currently understand the Universe), we have at the beginning of the Universe, and underlying everything in the Universe, including the rest of the umwelts, Atemporality, the complete lack of time experienced by “electromagnetic radiation” (TCHV, 37), since there is no time for something moving at the speed of light. Since “Everything happens at once” (31) and “no meaning may be assigned to the idea of lawfulness or stability” (31), where there is a “total absence of causation” (37), and “pure chaos or pure becoming [has] formed the foundation of the world and constituted nature’s first stable integrative level, as it still does” (TCHV, 27). As the Universe cooled, much of this energy crystalized, or densified, to become the “time of the particle-waves” of quantum physics, Prototemporality, where time “is statistical; the level-specific laws are probabilistic” (50). As the Universe cooled and expanded further, objects self-assembled, creating Eotemporality, “the time of the physicist’s “t” . . . solid objects” (TCHV, 36), where the arrow of time is reversible and there is no “present because the physical world has only simultaneities of chance” (36), meaning there is no true future or past. “The physical universe is not timeless, only nowless” (35), though this mood is often “mistakenly described as timeless” (36). Then, on one planet at least, a particular form of matter evolved, life, able to reproduce on its own, creating Biotemporality, “the temporal umwelt of living organisms,” which humans also experience. Biotemporality has a short forward arrow, due in part to the possibility (and, for sexually reproducing species, certainty) of individual death. Here we have the needs of the moment: breathing, food, water, and sex. “Before language, the brains of all animals were driven by the demands of the world around them and were strictly tied to the present moment” (McCrone The Ape That Spoke, 13). And finally, in the past few ten thousand years, we had the emergence of the human experience of time, the Noetic, or Nootemporality, the temporal umwelt of the “mature human mind in its waking state” (TCHV, 36). Here, time has a strong forward direction, since “ideas of future and past . . . acquire meaning” (TCHV, 34).

Humans can experience each level in moods, because “as each higher level emerges from a lower one, it retained among its new structures and processes some of the structures and processes of its ancestral strata” (29). For example, the deterministic world of the eotemporal also has elements of probability and of randomness, as recent work in chaos theory has shown. Nietzsche also makes this connection when Zarathustra says “There is a certain madness in love” (68), or, to rephrase it in Fraser’s terms, there is a certain atemporality in nootemporality. Humans experience these levels as moods, in dreams, visions, and art – especially through certain kinds of art, such as music and tragedy. “Creative people seem to be instantly ready to experience these moods and to visit the different temporal assessments of reality present in their minds” (Time, 293). This is perhaps due to the fact that many, if not most, creative people have experienced all the levels, and are thus personally aware of and intimately familiar with all the levels. Having intimately experienced the levels, in descent and ascent, they can then recall these experiences to use in their creative works.

Nietzsche suggests this view in TSZ, insofar as it shows how the creative person experiences the world, showing why and how creative people create. This in turn helps us understand something about time and the world itself, particularly through music and tragedy – the two most important art forms for both Nietzsche and Fraser, since, for Fraser, “Music and tragedy are unique among the arts in being able to address directly the organic, mental, and social presents. Through them, they modulate the moods of time felt and speak to our understanding of time” (Time, 293). In tragedy, “The moods of time are ceaselessly evoked and are intricately mixed: we feel the terror of chaos, the call of continuity, the demands, pain, and satisfaction of being alive, and the predicament of being able to think in terms of noetic time” (Time, 294). Fraser reaches this conclusion about music and tragedy through his umwelts of time, while Nietzsche comes to the problem of time precisely through his interest in music and tragedy – which leads him to the eternal return as a theory of time that is itself tragic.

But what are these moods of time music and tragedy make us feel? What metaphors do we use to describe them? If we accept Fraser’s views on time, we would expect Nietzsche, if TSZ is primarily about time, to use the same images and metaphors Fraser attributes to our experience of (to the moods we feel when we experience) the umwelts of time. And we do. Not just here and there, but as the most dominant and meaningful metaphors and images in the book – and on practically every page. It is of particular note that the only part of the book where these metaphors for and of time are absent is in the speech given by ‘Zarathustra’s ape’ in “Of Passing By.” While the rest of the book, as we will see, has multiple images of the different umwelts, the speech of Zarathustra’s ape is notably absent of such references. The closest he comes is in referring to Hell and God, but in such a way that it is clear that his words are empty, that he does not understand what he is talking about (195-7). All other references to the moods of time are absent. Not only the presence of these images in the rest of the text, but the absence of these images in the empty words of Zarathustra’s ape suggest that Nietzsche, by choosing to discuss time as descent and ascent, necessarily had to use the images and metaphors of the umwelts of time, since they are the archetypes of time experience. The fact that Nietzsche gets his images and metaphors from literature and philosophy is no refutation of this connection – it is confirmation, since it suggests that any time a poet, writer, or philosopher deals with time, they will use the same images, or archetypes. Nietzsche’s choices were neither random nor merely ways of engaging in philosophical dialogue with various texts, but were selected because they are the archetypes of time-experience.

The nootemporal mood is the full human experience – that which makes us human and different from the other umwelts. It is awareness of distant future and past and, as such, of our own births and immanent deaths, creating a conflict “between the simultaneous awareness of living and dying” (TCHV, 40). Its mood is the “reasoned and examined life . . . suffering and joy” (TCHV, 130), as expressed in rhetoric-philosophy and art. It is leisure-thinking.

The biotemporal mood is the feeling of being alive. In it we feel the “fright or happiness of an hour” (TCHV, 129-30), and “Hunger and thirst are fundamental needs; the desires to satisfy them are fundamental drives. They are the most universal metaphors for desire” (TCHV, 91). Here we find mere duality – good and evil, love and hate, etc. It is crisis-thinking.

The eotemporal, or clock time, mood is “an oceanic feeling, a sense of continuous but directionless time” (TCHV, 129) – which mystics report feeling, and which Freud famously claimed to have never felt. It is those who descend to this level, but no farther, whom Zarathustra says “are like household clocks wound up; they repeat their tick-tock and want people to call tick-tock – virtue” (118), and later calls “the tick-tock [a] measure of a small happiness” (189). We get this feeling in anything with a regular rhythmic beat, like dancing, since “Dancing to a regular beat focuses the dancer’s feelings on the beat: a steady bump-bump-bump has no preferred direction in time . . . ; the umwelt of such beats is eotemporal” (TCHV, 133).

With the prototemporal mood, we get “indistinguishable people, and aleatory paintings swirling with incoherent islands of local coherence, or the babble of an autistic child” (TCHV, 129). It is the level of probability (likelihood) and instants.

Finally, we have atemporality, “pure Heraclitean becoming” (TCHV, 31), which displays “an infinite depth of self-similarity” as its first product (61), and whose mood is of schizophrenia, panic, and madness (129).

Let us take a look, now, at the different ways in which Nietzsche’s metaphors and images parallel the metaphors and images predicted by Fraser’s theory of moods. The clearest way to see the parallels between the two is to look at the in parallel. So consider the following table:

Table I.Fraser’s Moods of Time Expressed in Nietzsche’s TSZ

Moods of Time (Archetypes)

Nootemporal: past and future, possibility, eternity, nonpresence (someone can exist while not being present to the person), art, stories, numbers, monuments, language, morals, meaning, joy, suffering, symbolic goals, sacrifice (awareness of it as sacrifice), ecstasy of dance, reason, plurality, fragments, and the unresolvable conflicts of the desired versus the possible, awareness of living and dying, time felt versus time understood, and tragedy

Biotemporal: organic needs (breathing, food, sex, thirst), living in the present (needs of the hour), necessity, concrete goals, desire, duality, and the unresolvable conflict between growth and decay. sex, desire, and present/moment.

Eotemporal: future and past, steady beats and rhythms, feelings of unity, determinism, coincidence, chance, and the conflicts between entropy and organization, and permanence and chaos/becoming

Prototemporal: indistinguishable people, aleatory paintings swirling with incoherent islands of local coherence, the babble of an autistic child, probability (likelihood) and instants.

Atemporal: schizophrenia, panic, madness, chaos, becoming, everything happening at once, no meaning (nihilism), no causation, abyss, emptiness, underworld, and darkness.

Images in TSZ

Noetic references and images in TSZ: dance and dancers, including the tightrope walker (dancer), the superman (as an example of a symbolic goal), the cross (as sacrifice), sacrifice, past, future, God (as an idea of both eternity and nonpresence), goals, creator/creation, death, Devil, burial (awareness of death), terror, values, eternal, suffering, love, fables/stories/parables, writing, tragedy, fragments, and meaning – all repeated numerous times.

Biotemporal references and images in TSZ: animals (practically omnipresent), body, hour, birth, nature, fear, hunger, thirst, sleep, sex, desire, and present/moment .

Eotemporal references and images in TSZ: mountain, dance, sea (Zarathustra “lived in solitude as in the sea, and the sea bore you,” according to the saint of the “Prologue”), earth, dirt, dice and chance, drums, nature, stone and hardness, clock, and wheels

Prototemporal references and images in TSZ babbler, babbled, and islands (esp. the Blissful Islands).

Atemporal references and images in TSZ:
the cave, depths, underworld, Hell, madness, abyss, chaos, terror, transitory, becoming, and light.

There are also parallels with Fraser’s images of ascent and descent through the umwelts. Fraser says children, as they develop from infants, ascend through the umwelts experientially (TCHV, 11-12). The image of the child is very important in TSZ, especially as a way one can interact with the world. If we become as a child playing, we will experience the world as a playground, and ascend through the umwelts. Music (to which songs can be added, as a linguistic dimension of music – an important connection, as I will show in more detail in my discussion of the origins of language), tragedy, dreams, and visions as ways in which all umwelts may be experienced, ascending and descending. We can also see, with the umwelt theory, that descent and ascent themselves are references to time, meaning the cave, the valley, and every reference to descent can be seen as references to descending through the umwelts, while the child, art (Fraser says art is knowledge which ascends through the umwelts, while science is knowledge which descends through them), and the mountain could be seen as references to ascent through them. So when Zarathustra says “I call knowledge: all that is deep shall rise up – to my height” (147), we can see that for him knowledge means bringing understanding of all the lower umwelts up to the noetic level (this is a reversal of Plato’s allegory of the cave, where one ascends into the light, then descends back down toward man – for Plato, man is low; for Nietzsche, man is high, and knowledge is to be brought up to man, not down to him) . If science is descent through the umwelts and art is ascent through the umwelts, we see here Nietzsche coming down on the side of art. This also suggests that Nietzsche is interested in raising knowledge up to art – the realm of wisdom – rather than being blindly against knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. What Nietzsche objected to was the world the science of the time said existed – a deterministic, and even a teleological, world. As we have seen, and will continue to see, the contemporary scientific world view says instead that the world is deterministic chaos, meaning there is inherent freedom in the world. In other words, it more closely matches Nietzsche’s own insights about the world.

If Nietzsche is using these moods of time (archetypes), analysis of specific passages should give a new depth to those passages, offering new ways of understanding them. Take for example the passage in the “Prologue” where the tightrope walker has fallen and asks Zarathustra if he is the Devil come to take him to Hell. When Zarathustra tells him there are no such things as the Devil or Hell, the tightrope walker laments that, if such is the case, he is only “an animal which has been taught to dance” (48) – that he lives only in the biotemporal, and has even been reduced to the eotemporal, if there is no God, Devil, and afterlife. But Zarathustra points out that these are not necessary for us to be more than mere biology – to get emergence from a lower umwelt to a higher one, one does not need teleology, an ultimate, highest umwelt to pre-exist, to make the universe emerge into higher levels. Along these lines, Zarathustra later condemns “acorns and grass knowledge” (54) – or mere biotemporal knowledge, as too many people have (in, for example, their merely dualistic beliefs in good and evil) – and he says too that the wise man talking of sleep (a biotemporal concern) as a virtue is a fool (56-8), since we do not find the “meaning of life” in the merely biotemporal realm. Wisdom is not found by remaining in the lower umwelts. Meaning, values, and virtue are precisely noetic concerns. However, we also see that happiness has no place in the noetic world, since “it seems that butterflies and soap-bubbles . . . know most about happiness” (68). The biotemporal and eotemporal levels can know happiness, as contentment, precisely because they do not have nootemporal knowledge. Since people live their lives on the borderlands of the bio- and nootemporal worlds, we can see a continuum among people regarding how they live their lives. Some choose to live more biotemporal lives – us-them, good-evil (particularly when we make the Us-Good, Them-Evil association, which is too often how humans have historically associated good and evil), and/or other mere dualisms. Others choose, often through choosing to pursue more education and/or wisdom, to live more nootemporal lives – taking time to see the various nuances of a situation, seeing the world as more pluralistic, etc. By choosing the former only, one can choose happiness. There is more certainty for such a person, however inaccurate that view alone may be at the noetic level. At the same time, there is a danger in thinking we should ever abandon this element of physis. Tragedy teaches us not to allow nomos (the noetic) to extend itself too far beyond physis (of which the biotemporal is part) – especially to where we abandon such notions as good and evil. We cannot and should not try to dissociate our noetic selves from the rest of ourselves found in the ltoher levels of physis. Good and evil are part of physis if it is part of the biotemporal realm, and should thus never be abandoned, even if we can, at the noetic level, have the knowledge of good and evil, and thus of a more nuanced world, where we can contrast good and evil to us-versus-them and thus develop concepts of justice. But we can also see that the more fully noetic a person’s understanding of the world, the less able the person is to know contentment, as happiness. The more human we become, the less content we become. For Schopenhauer (not to mention the existentialists), this leads to pessimism. For Nietzsche there is still the possibility of joy.

If we accept the claim that Fraser’s references, images, and metaphors represent archetypes of time experience through the umwelts (which must be experienced in order, and cannot be jumped over as one ascends or descends), we see that Nietzsche’s primary concern in TSZ is with time. The number of references one would expect if Fraser is correct about the archetypes of time’s moods is remarkable. But what, exactly, does Nietzsche have to show us about time in this book? Nietzsche calls his theory of time the eternal return of the same, or eternal recurrence. But what, exactly, does that mean, and how does it relate to Fraser’s theory of time, which seems decidedly lacking in circularity or recurrence?

Heraclitus says “The way up and down is one and the same” (K. CIII) – an image of circularity. By repeatedly descending and ascending through the umwelts, one gets a feeling of circularity. Our fullest experience of time is by descending through the umwelts, followed (if one is to remain sane) by an ascent back through them to the nootemporal. Nietzsche states this in stronger terms in TSZ, when Zarathustra says “The more it [men and trees] wants to rise into the heights and the light, the more determinedly do its roots strive earthwards, downwards, into the darkness, into the depth – into evil” (69). He repeats this image on 191. Nietzsche wants to see a time when “summit and abyss – they are now united in one!” (173). To go up, one must go down. To ascend highest, one must descend deepest. But to remain sane – and human – one must ascend. To be an artist, a creator, a creator of values, one must make this full circle through time. One must descend into meaninglessness, nihilism, an awareness of the pure becoming that underlies everything – one must become a reductionist, a deconstructionist – before one can see the world in a new way, rising up, emerging into meaning, discovering wisdom, reconstructing, which is necessary if one is to become a creator of new values. However, the lower

umwelts may be experienced as beautiful or terrifying, depending on whether they are perceived as aids or threats to the continuity of the self. The elation that may accompany the descent may be that of a person who has jettisoned the burden of individuation, including responsibilities for the future and regrets about the past; it may be the joy of someone who returned to an earlier, less complex, and less burdensome reality but then climbed back onto the noetic world or at least feels that he could do so. But the experience may also be horrifying: the intense present-orientedness of love may be heavenly, but the intense present-orientedness of pain is hellish (TCHV, 130)

Nietzsche understood this. This is why he has a demon offer the possibility of eternal return, and why it is the heaviest burden (GS, 341). Not all can bear it – if one wants to and is capable of taking the demon’s offer, the descent is safer than it is for those unwilling to take it (for them, the feeling would be of pain and would therefore be hellish).

Nietzsche shows us what happens when we make the descent in both the transformation of the shepherd who had the snake in his throat in “Of the Vision and the Riddle,” and in “The Convalescent,” where Zarathustra is trying to pull up his “abysmal thought” – abysmal having here a double meaning. Zarathustra’s animals tell him “all things want to be your physicians” (233) – and in the ascent, all things do act as your physicians, as the world gains increasing meaning and clarity. One has different attitudes toward the umwelts, depending on whether one is descending or ascending (especially for the first time) through the moods: negative feelings can occur on the descent, while positive feelings can occur on the ascent. One descends from the fragmentary human to the dualistic (good and evil) biological to the unity of the eotemporal, and down through increasing disorder with some islands of coherence to hold on to, to complete becoming and meaninglessness leading to terror and (if one is not careful) madness. From here, in the ascent, one is relieved to find islands of coherence, the unity and interconnectedness of the world is understood in relation to the levels under it, the dualistic is seen for what it is – a lower level, appropriate for dogs and cats, and people when pressured into crisis-thinking fight-or-flight mode – and now we see that the pluralistic is precisely the most human – though now it is seen in light of the unity of the world and as beyond dualism. One could attribute Zarathustra’s various attitudes toward aspects of the different umwelts’ images to whether he is on the ascent or the descent – or whether he is looking up or down. But when he chastises those who have negative feelings about the lower levels, he is chastising those who have not made the complete ascent and descent and, therefore, do not understand or appreciate all aspects of the other moods of time, which Zarathustra has had access to through his dreams, visions, and songs. If we can experience the different levels through dreams, visions, and music/songs, taking a close look at the dreams, visions and songs in TSZ should help us understand the eternal return.

“A little poison now and then: that produces pleasant dreams” (46). In “The Adder’s Bite,” we learn poison can awaken one in time – to what dreams can teach us. A good dream “should tell you what your friend does when awake,” that “perhaps what he loves in you is the undimmed eye and the glance of eternity” (83) one gets from dreams. “This indeed is the secret of the soul: only when the hero has deserted the soul does there approach it in dreams – the superhero” (141). These are some of the effects of dreams, but what about Zarathustra’s specific dreams, visions, and songs? What can Zarathustra’s dream of “The Child and the Mirror” (107), the dream Zarathustra describes to his disciples (156), “Of the Vision and the Riddle” (176-80), “The Dance Song” (130-33), “The Second Dance Song” (241-44), and “The Seven Seals (Or: The Song of Yes and Amen)” (244-47), tell us about time and the eternal return?

In “The Child and the Mirror,” a child, the symbol of becoming and ascent through the umwelts, tells Zarathustra to look in a mirror – to reflect on himself. Zarathustra sees a devil and interprets this as his doctrine being in danger (107). But then, Zarathustra indirectly reinterprets the dream – more accurately – when he says “I go new ways, a new speech has come to me; like all creators, I have grown weary of the old tongues” (108). The devil is the Christian symbol of pure evil, and in section 4 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche says society equates evil with destruction (and good with the permanent). In Ecce Homo we learn that “among the conditions for a Dionysian task are, in a decisive way, the hardness of the hammer, the joy even in destroying. The imperative, “become hard!” the most fundamental certainty that all creators are hard, is the distinctive mark of a Dionysian nature” (“TSZ,” 8). We see this idea repeated in TSZ, in “On Old and New Tables”: “For creators are hard,” and in Twilight of the Idols “For all creators are hard.” Nietzsche calls the eternal return “the hardest idea” (WP, 1059). For Nietzsche, hardness is the joy in descending to the Dionysian, and creators are hard, meaning creators have joy in descent into the Dionysian. If destruction (as descent into the Dionysian, or descent into the underworld, where once can see the Dionysian element of physis) is considered evil, creators would be considered evil, since they enjoy destroying (they enjoy their descent into the underworld, where the Devil lives, which is the destructive principle of the world, and which threatens to dissolve all the emergent complexity of the unvierse). We can now see Zarathustra’s dream is about what it means to be a creator – you must see a devil staring back at you. This is why Zarathustra sees a devil – he has a joy in destruction whose source is his superabundance – as we learn in “Zarathustra’s Prologue.” For Nietzsche, creativity from superabundance is both “the desire for destruction, for change, for future, for becoming,” and “overflowing energy that is pregnant with future (my term for this is, as is known, “Dionysian”)” (GS, 370). Destruction (better: deconstruction (?)) is part of the descent through the umwelts – and references to destruction can be seen as references to descent (while references to creation would be references to ascent, the two, descent and ascent, creation and destruction, can be seen as one and the same, as we saw in Heraclitus’ quote). The human mind can break down, rendering the person an animal. An animal can die and turn into nonliving matter, matter can break down to quantum particles, and quantum particles can dissolve into pure energy. This allows us to see that becoming underlies all form. As Hatab points out, “Nietzsche does not deny the value of form, only to see form as the fundamental reality. Form is in the midst of formlessness which dissolves form back into itself” (7). This is precisely how one experiences the world as one descends and ascends through the umwelts. One sees becoming, change, destruction as underlying everything. We lose meaning on the descent (we descend into nihilism), but regain it on the ascent – and it is the creators who are, for Nietzsche, the creators of new values.

In “The Prophet,” Zarathustra tells his disciples: “I dreamed I had renounced all life. I had become a night-watchman and grave-watchman yonder upon the lonely hill-fortress of death” (156). A dream of the dangers of pessimism – as the renunciation of life. And a warning that this form of pessimism is a possible outcome of descent – if you descend without the proper attitude (the proper attitude, as we will see later, can be seen in how one would answer the demon’s offer in “The Heaviest Burden”). One can ascend bearing either new values or “his ashes to the mountain” (157). Values are a possible result of descent, but so are ashes. But this form of pessimism (Schopenhauerian) – creationless destruction – is not the only one. The Dionysian can also be a form of pessimism, as we see in the masks and laughter that come at the end of this dream, terrifying Zarathustra awake. But is a Dionysian pessimism possible? “That there still could be an altogether different kind of pessimism, a classical type – this premonition and vision belongs to me as inseparable from me, as my proprium and ipissimum; only the word “classical” offends my ears, it is far too trite and has become round and indistinct. I call this pessimism of the future – for it comes! I see it coming! Dionysian pessimism” (GS, 370). One can perhaps see what Nietzsche means by this when, in section 4 of GS, Nietzsche calls for balance between what society calls “good” and “evil,” insofar as “good” mines the past (as the Classicists do) and “evil” brings new things in (as the avant garde does). Which shows us a cycle of creation and destruction. Optimism, in this sense, would see a world where creation without destruction is possible. This Dionysian pessimism is really a restatement of tragedy – where destruction is necessary for there to be creation, and where good intentions do not always have good results.

“Of the Vision and the Riddle” has several references to descent and ascent, and images of the different umwelts include death, boulders, mountain, stones, abyss, Devil, high, fall, climb, dream, animals, pain, deep, suffering, eternity, moment, time, Lame-foot (tragedy – a reference to Oedipus), past, future, spider, dog, child, snake, horror, sea. In his vision, Zarathustra is trying to ascend “despite the spirit that drew it [his foot] downward, drew it towards the abyss, the Spirit of Gravity, my devil and archenemy” (177). The Spirit of Gravity, half dwarf, half mole, equates Zarathustra with stones (or hardness, already shown to refer to creativity through destruction), but a stone which “will fall back upon you!” Entering the cycle of descent and ascent can destroy a person – since ascent means future descent in this cycle. Here too we learn of various abysses – things which can draw us down: pain, courage, seeing, pity, and even life itself, as it shows us a world of suffering. “Courage, however, is the best destroyer, courage that attacks: it destroys even death, for it says: ‘Was that life? Well then! Once more!’ (178). Courage keeps the creator in the cycle, by making ascent possible once one is in the abyss.

In the second section of “Of the Vision and the Riddle,” we get the image of the gateway: eternity coming together in a moment. Every moment returns eternally (179). To say this means “time itself is a circle” is to “treat this too lightly” (178). This is a moment which “draws after it all future things” and “Therefore – draws itself too” (179). A repetition of the moment in eternity, which returns eternally. D. W. Dauer, in “Nietzsche and the Concept of Time,” points out that “The concept of moment leads us to the idea of eternity in four ways. One is to consider each moment as reflecting and containing the macrocosmos” (83). Here we see that, even in 1975, when chaos theory was relatively new, and fractals barely known outside a few specialists, Dauer managed to get an inkling of the fractal geometry of the eternal return. It is probably due to her likely lack of knowledge at the time of fractal geometry that she suggests the eternal return is self-contradictory – something I hope to show is not the case.

A dog’s howl draws Zarathustra to the “young shepherd writhing, choking, convulsed, his face distorted; and a heavy, black snake was hanging out of his mouth” (180). We have seen a snake before – in “The Adder’s Bite” – where the snake awakens Zarathustra. We have also learned that a little poison is good for pleasant dreams, and that dreams access all umwelts for the dreamer. So what happens here? The shepherd bites off the head of the snake and springs up “No longer a shepherd, no longer a man – a transformed being, surrounded with light, laughing! Never yet on earth had any man laughed as he laughed!” (180). This is the transformative power the eternal return can have. The Spirit of Gravity drags Zarathustra down to the abyss, where he witnesses the image of the gate. When the dwarf vanishes, a dog’s howl draws Zarathustra to a horrific image, and he witnesses a transformation he wishes to see again. That the transformation happens in someone else shows Zarathustra is still not ready to understand the eternal return, though he is drawn to the Dionysian laughter of the transformed shepherd. But we can see in this an image of the creator being born from the terror of the abyss. We have seen that for Nietzsche the eternal return was “the hardest idea,” and that “creators are hard.” Would not, then, the hardest creators be those whose creations were informed by the eternal return? Could one not see the eternal return as an image of the creator creating? Do not creators, at the moment of creation, draw the future (and the past) toward them, as does the gateway Moment?

In “The Dance Song (130-3), Zarathustra says Life seems unfathomable. Life replies “But I am merely changeable and untamed.” This is where we get the first images of the love triangle among Zarathustra, Wisdom, and Life Nietzsche returns to in “The Second Dance Song.” Zarathustra says of Wisdom, “One thirsts for her and is not satisfied, one looks at her through veils, one snatches at her through nets.” In this way, Wisdom is like Truth. Suggesting Wisdom, like Truth (or, more accurately, truths), is a strange attractor which cannot be reached. Life is the fractal image around the strange attractors of Wisdom – which would help explain why Zarathustra would say he is fond of Wisdom because she reminds him of Life. Life is the dynamic system around the “stationary” attractor Wisdom. It is what acts to unify the variety of parts that constitute the world.

In “The Second Dance Song” (241-4), Zarathustra sings of Life, of dancing with her, of her serpent, of his desire for her, of her crookedness. He says Life “binds us, enwinds us, seduces us, seeks us, finds us.” He must pursue Life because she is always on the move, she never stands still, she always changes, is never stagnant, and, like him, is “beyond good and evil.” We see here again that Life is jealous of Wisdom, and Life is afraid Zarathustra is going to leave her, that he is going to die. But then he whispers something in her ear, the thing that makes Life say to him: “You know that? No one knows that!” He dreams that “The world is deep, . . . Deeper than day can comprehend,” and that “all joy wants eternity, . . . – wants deep, deep, deep eternity” (244). In “The Seven Seals,” Zarathustra says he wants to have children with eternity. What on earth could this mean? How can eternity be deep, and how can one have children with it? This enigma can be understood once we understand what Nietzsche means with his idea of eternal return. I have already suggested the eternal return is connected to creativity. Nietzsche backs this up when he has Zarathustra sing “If ever a breath of the creative breath has come to me . . . how should I not lust for eternity and for the wedding ring of rings – the Ring of Recurrence!” His desires to discover, to dance, to unite “good and evil” are all related to his wanting to have children with eternity. But what kind of children could one have with eternity? Works – works where one revalues all values. Works that say “Yes” to life. Tragic works of art.

Nietzsche realizes he is not the first to have had this insight. The problem is past insights have ended up taking false turns. That is what both Zarathustra’s ape and Book 4 are about, particularly the songs of Book 4. Here, we see how Zaratrhustra’s insight could take a false turn with “The Ass Festival,” where Zarathustra’s “Yes” to life has been turned into the ass’s “Ye-a.”

There is a great deal we can understand about eternal recurrence through TSZ, but if we want to come to a fuller understanding of it, we will need to see what Nietzsche says about eternal recurrence in other works. The first obvious reference to eternal return is in “The Heaviest Burden” in GS, where Nietzsche asks the reader how he would react if a demon should offer him eternal recurrence. How would one respond? Would you be crushed by the idea? Would you curse the demon? Or has there ever been something in your life so wonderful you would want to repeat your life in every detail so you could relive that moment – and become the person you are at the moment of the offering – over and over again? Perhaps what Nietzsche is offering the reader is precisely the section that follows: “Incipit tragoedia” – for those who can accept what the demon offers. Only those who can say “Yes” to the offer are ready to hear what is to follow – Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Perhaps this is what Nietzsche means when he says “Everything becomes and recurs eternally – escape is impossible! – supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength” (WP, 1058). But if everything recurs, how could recurrence be a selective principle? Perhaps what it is selecting are those who would accept it. Perhaps, too, what it selects is precisely that which does recur, which can recur. That which repeats has meaning, in art as in life (though, as we saw with Marquez, a single example of the awe-inspiring – awesome, awful – also has meaning). Let me suggest that there is something which could aid us in understanding what Nietzsche is talking about here – the images of chaos theory, including the Lorenz attractor, the Mandelbrot set (a fractal), the butterfly effect, and dissipative structures.