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.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chapter 2: Descent, Ascent, and Time – From The Eternal Return to Fractal Geometry: I. Prologue

Everything takes place in time. Time is fundamental to the world, and a primary concern of this work. Systems theory, including fractals and dissipative structures, information theory, game theory, evolution, action, brain activity or cognition, rhythms and the cognition of patterns – all take place in time, are ways of seeing the world as constantly becoming (the theory of dissipative structures shows us how becoming gives rise to the appearance of being, even if it does not give rise to Being itself, or whatever term you wish to give Being, be it the thing-in-itself, the Will, Forms, etc.). So it should not be surprising that Nietzsche (and, to a lesser extent, Heraclitus) is the philosopher I find to have the most accurate views of the world, as the philosopher of becoming. In many ways, each of the scientific theories listed above has helped to bring the view of the world described by science closer to Nietzsche’s.

J. T. Fraser’s theory of time further brings together these two realms – contemporary scientific theories and Nietzsche’s thoughts. Fraser’s umwelt theory of time and its application to chaos theory can help us better understand Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return. Fraser suggests this reading when he says the mathematical “route to chaos is an Apollonian recognition of a Dionysian reality” (TOC, 16). The Nietzschean terminology is not quite right – the Apollonian and the Dionysian are artistic approaches to understanding the two aspects of physis as emergent order and underlying disorder; the Socratic (or Alexandrian) is the scientific route to understanding the Apollonian aspect of physis (BT), meaning chaos theory, being scientific, is actually the Socratic recognition of Dionysian reality – but it does suggest a way to read Nietzsche’s eternal return as an intuitive insight into the fractal geometry of physis, i.e., the tragic, agonal mixture of Apollo and Dionysus.
Where Nietzsche seems (particularly in BT) to see only two levels of reality, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, Fraser recognizes several levels (umwelts, recognized as different experiences of time) of emergence within the Apollonian – the noetic, or human level of understanding and experience of physis; the biotemporal, or biological level; the eotemporal, or level of deterministic physics; and a prototemporal level of probablistic quantum physics – and one Dionysian level, the atemporal level of “pure Heraclitean becoming” (TCHV, 31). Nietzsche’s investigation of the eternal return in TSZ shows Nietzsche’s poetic understanding of time was beginning to resemble Fraser’s understanding of time having umwelts, or levels, of time. This poetic understanding began to take philosophical form in WP, as we will later see. We cannot know how far Nietzsche may have taken this idea of the eternal return – but perhaps we can see how Fraser’s theory of time can be seen as a development of this idea.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

III. The Importance of Style – Play and Seriousness in Conflict

Not only do the sciences need to be reunited with art and literature, but ways of writing – as ways of knowing – need to be reunited too. Writing can act as a form of discovery – if one treats writing as a process rather than a mere conveying of ideas one has already made up one’s mind about. While Nietzsche set out to bring rhetoric to philosophy, that insight appears to have been mostly lost on philosophers since him. I say this in apparent contradiction to much of what passes for “philosophy” at the present time, but which is more often than not mere rhetoric, lacking the substance of philosophy (and there are some out there who engage in something that lacks the positive attributes of both rhetoric and philosophy, but too often manages to take on what is worse in each – what is often called “theory,” which should not be confused with the theories found in science). Too often all one finds is the writer playing with words, but giving the reader very little substance. They have no unity in their diversity, variety, plurality, informed as they are by the deconstructionist, postmodern, postcolonial view of the world. At the same time, those who do write philosophy seem to think they have to be as boring and tedious as Kant. They take the world altogether too seriously. I reject both views, and side with Nietzsche in believing that there should be unity in plurality, play and seriousness – one must have beauty. The best works would be those that combined art and thought, unity and variety, Being with Becoming, scholarly knowledge and artistic wisdom. Any works that could do all of these things would be the most beautiful.

It may seem odd to end this chapter by discussing rhetoric and philosophy, since I began it by laying out a metaphysics. I started the chapter by laying a foundation, and I am ending it with a subject – rhetoric – typically understood as antifoundational. Foundational and antifoundational approaches to philosophy (or theory) are generally thought to be in conflict. But I, like Nietzsche, take an agonal view (though, again, my agonal view is one with just the slightest touch of Hegelian synthesis mixed in, since I see agon as giving us emergent properties, while each part maintains its identity, and remains in agon). If it seems as though I contradict myself at times, I very likely do – and, at the same time, I definitely do not. All conflicts/contradictions are only apparent. What I am proposing here is a form of writing that acts as a dissipative structure, has order (is serious), but lies on the edge of chaos (is playful). It would contain at the same time constructive, meaningful, angelic seriousness, and de(con)structive, meaningless, demonic laughter. As such, it would be the most creative, meaningful, and beautiful.

This is why I wish to talk about play in discussing the issues of rhetoric and philosophy. But why make a distinction between play and seriousness? This distinction, I would argue, is made more by philosophers than myself – my position is more reflective of Huizinga’s definition of play as something nonserious done seriously (5-6), which is itself a playful, agonal, rhetorical definition. Mihai Spariosu observes in God of Many Faces that it is the philosophers who wish to separate play from seriousness:

Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle not only convert the violent and arbitrary play of Becoming into the rational and orderly play of Being, but also turn heroic and tragic poetry into a nonserious, simulative, and mendacious discourse, subordinating it to the serious, truthful, and moral discourse of philosophy. (Spariosu, xiv).

If by definition play is nonserious (even if done seriously), then philosophy will have nothing to do with play – nothing is or takes itself more seriously than philosophy. Rhetoric, on the other hand, (and the much more rhetorical, playful pre-Socratics – Parmenides, Zeno, and their like excluded, but more on them later) as exemplified by Gorgias, is the very epitome of play. Gorgias’ On Non-Being is a perfect example of this, the rhetorical loops he throws together, making fun of those who are busying themselves with such silliness. By playing, he destroys “one’s adversaries’ seriousness with laughter, and their laughter with seriousness” (Spariosu, 93n), something which Nietzsche himself attempted to take up in his critique of Western philosophy in general, and Christianity in particular.

The question may now arise: why is rhetoric necessarily more playful than (Parmenidean and post-Socratic) philosophy? Gorgias is interested more in the words he uses – playing with the words in On Non-Being, playing with the possibilities in Encomium on Helen. The words themselves enact the argument. Plato, through his mouthpiece Socrates, is, in Phaedrus, more interested in using rhetoric to argue for the truths of philosophy; and not just any rhetoric – speech is more serious (less playful) than writing, which is why Socrates expresses a preference for speech over writing (with which the reader can play, through interpretation; with which the writer can play, through revision). As Spariosu says, “the poet becomes the ‘man who writes,’ engaged in trivial play, whereas the philosopher becomes, like Socrates, the ‘man who does not write’ (in Nietzsche’s phrase), engaged in a serious pursuit” (167). We see in Ecce Homo how great an attack this is on Socrates, since, for Nietzsche, writing is affirmation of life – it is, in one of Nietzsche’s favorite phrases “how one becomes what one is.”

In this conflict between rhetoric and philosophy, between play and seriousness, we see two general possibilities for engaging with the world: the way we deal with the world during times of leisure (leisure-thinking), and the way we deal with the world in times of crisis (crisis-thinking). The rhetoricians and most of the pre-Socratics were writing and speaking mostly during times of peace. The story of Heraclitus being visited by other thinkers and scholars shows a man without worries, with time and leisure to think complex thoughts. No one wants to hear grand speeches with complex arguments except when very little is at stake (remember that Socrates was executed after the Peloponnesian War and the plague that hit Athens). The rhetoricians and pre-Socratics could make maximum use of the language – language having origins likely rooted in play, playing with communication through the narrative-rules of grammar and syntax, making the rhetoricians and many of the pre-Socratics closer to the language than those who did not play with it and who wanted to restrict the use of language. I am, of course, talking about Plato, who, as stated above, wanted to restrict rhetoric to the uses of philosophy. But from whence did the philosophical thinking of Plato and Aristotle (and, before them, Parmenides and Zeno) come?

The philosophies of Plato and Aristotle are examples of crisis-thinking. Crisis thinking is default thinking. When one finds oneself in a crisis, it is best to see the world as black and white, fight or flight, good or bad, Us and Them. Rhetoric is for times of leisurely thinking; philosophy is for times of action. Nietzsche observes in his Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks that Parmenides both “flourished approximately during the outbreak of the Ionian Revolt” and gave up a somewhat Heraclitean, complex world view for “the rigor mortis of the coldest emptiest concept of all, the concept of being” (80-1). It is no coincidence his ideas simplified, indeed, calcified, during this time of crisis. We see this again with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates and Plato were philosophizing during Athens’ war with and defeat by Sparta – it is, indeed, during the aftermath of Athens’ defeat that Socrates is executed. No doubt this put Plato into crisis mode, being a follower of Socrates, not to mention his living through the war with Sparta. Aristotle, too, lived through general upheaval, tutoring Alexander the Great, who went on to create more upheaval in the world. Thus we should not be surprised to see both Plato and Aristotle emphasizing balance – the very antithesis of play.

Why is balance the antithesis of play? What kind of game could one play where everything was flattened out, made perfectly balanced? Balance is both seriousness and simplicity, one and the same. Play is complex. Thinking that is playful, as opposed to serious, is more complex. Nietzsche goes on further when he says in Ecce Homo, “I know of no other way of dealing with great tasks than that of play: this is, as a sign of greatness, an essential precondition” (37). Great thinking is playful thinking, complex thinking. It is based on rules, which create complexity. Philosophy as we have come to know it, based on and in perpetual dialogue with Plato and Aristotle, is Law-based, which is restrictive, and is therefore designed to decrease complexity.

This brings us to the question of what distinguishes Rules from Laws. The questioning of distinctions, as such, will come later. For now, we will take a somewhat more philosophical stance and say there is a distinction between the two (more later on the bringing of philosophy to rhetoric, in contradistinction to Plato/Socrates’ desire to bring rhetoric to philosophy). Both Rules and Laws are used to delineate what one does. For my purposes, however, I want to make the following distinctions. Rules are flexible, which means they can be bent; they are prescriptive, which means they say what you can do (as, say, the rules of chess) and, as such, are positive in nature; they act as strange attractors, meaning they are dynamic, they deepen and grow more complex over time, and they increase your degrees of freedom, giving you more possibilities. Action is impossible without rules; rules create actions, possibilities of and for actions. Laws, on the other hand, are inflexible and cannot be bent, but only broken; and they are broken under threat of punishment (laws can be changed – but in the sense that they are changed, they no longer exist as laws and other laws now exist); thus, they are restrictive, saying what you cannot do; they are static, unchanging (especially in philosophy), they decrease your freedom by being restrictive, and give you fewer possibilities. Action is cut off with Laws; laws prevent actions, possibilities of and for actions. Even before such ideas were around, philosophic laws took on a Newtonian sense of Being, of Laws of Nature (or Heaven), while rhetorical rules more closely resemble contemporary chaos theory, with its rules of nature, which are always in a state of Becoming (Big Bang theory says even the so-called Laws of Nature evolved from previously-existing laws; even the constants may be changing, albeit slowly). An example is perhaps in order.

Saying it is always wrong to prejudge is an ethical statement – it is philosophical and stated as Law. It prevents you from doing something: prejudge people. On the other hand, saying it makes sense to prejudge people in a tribal situation, where day-to-day survival is at stake, and making a mistake regarding who your friend or your enemy is will almost certainly get you killed, while in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world where we can get to know one another and our daily survival is not always at stake (we do not have to kill off other countries to feed ourselves or to have enough water), it makes more sense to see more people as part of the larger tribe of humanity and, therefore, not prejudge them – though in a crisis it can, again, make sense to return to more primitive, tribal thinking, keeping in mind that when the crisis is over, it is best to return to more complex thinking – is a rhetorical statement, and is stated as rules that can change under changing circumstances (though it is also not a completely rhetorical, completely contingent statement where no standards of any kind exist). The simultaneous needs of social bonds and personal survival (which are intimately tied together – not at odds) are the rules that structure our negotiation between these apparently opposite poles of prejudging as being either good or bad. Such a rule as “it is wrong to prejudge” is contingent – but it is contingent based on these two basic human needs of strong social bonds and personal survival, both rules of human nature. This sort of rhetorical ethics meets “the definition of play as an activity occurring within certain limits of space, time and meaning, according to fixed rules” (Huizinga, 203) – the rules of human nature. In Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Nietzsche points out that “the concept of greatness is changeable, in the realm of morality as well as in that of esthetics. And so philosophy starts by legislating greatness” (43). Rhetoric is much more dense than philosophy, but that is because rhetorical thinking is far more complex, requiring much more interpretation than philosophical thinking, where propositions can be stated simply and exhaustively (making it too often dry and wordy), because the proposition itself is terribly simple. With rhetoric, repetitions are used to create the difference that defines the terms; with philosophy, each term is explained at length. But we can also see here that rhetorical, complex, thinking is not quite either-or. As such, neither is Rules versus Laws really an either-or choice. Both contain elements of each other (as do the arguments made above) – both are restrictive and permissive to different degrees – so there is more a gradient between Rules and Laws, some delineations of actions more Rule-like, others more Law-like. Each, as Derrida famously says (taking the idea from the Taoist idea of yin-yang), contains elements of the other.

Another distinction between default-thinking and leisure-thinking is the apparent contradiction that default thinking tends to take a mechanistic approach and break things down into categories and disciplines, while leisure-thinking is more holistic. I say this is an apparent contradiction, because most people would see more categories as more complex, and holistic thinking as simpler. Huizinga sees it that way too when he says “the grouping of scholars into nationes, the divisions and subdivisions, the schisms, the unbridgeable gulfs – all these are phenomena belonging to the sphere of competition and play-rules” (156). But what we actually see in the creation of these categories (a further extension of primitive, dualistic thinking) in Plato and others is an extreme reductionism, an attempt to make things simpler by clearly delineating them. To understand the interrelatedness of things is much more complex thinking – one sees the poetry in molecular biology, and understands how molecular biology can help us to understand poetry. This does not mean I am against the use of said categories. What I propose is, through the leisure-thinking of rhetoric, we take these disciplines and turn them into strange attractors, around which our understandings of them, and ourselves through them, will deepen – and, thus, bring them together into a more holistic knowledge through an agonal dialectic. Knowledge would act to create the strange attractors of a wiser wisdom.

Another distinction between leisure-thinking and default-thinking is the tendency to turn the latter into a system – something nearly impossible to do with the former. It is easier to turn Socrates/Plato and Aristotle into systems than it is to do so to Heraclitus or Nietzsche (despite efforts to do so – efforts which necessitated leaving out much of what Nietzsche said, not to mention ignoring his admonitions not to turn his thought into a system). Nietzsche observed that this tendency of philosophy to become a system when Plato and other philosophers became

founders of sects, and that sectarianism with its institutions and counterinstitutions was opposed to Hellenic culture and its previous unity of style. Such philosophers too sought salvation in their own way, but only for the individual or for a small inside group of friends and disciples. The activity of the older philosophers, on the other hand (though they were quite unconscious of it) tended toward the healing and the purification of the whole. (PTAG, 35)

From Plato on philosophy became more tribal and therefore more primitive (it became crisis-philosophy), in contradistinction to the more complex pre-Socratics’ leisure-philosophy.“From Plato on there is something essentially amiss with philosophers when one compares them to that ‘republic of creative minds’ from Thales to Socrates” (PTAG 34). This “something amiss” is the calcification of the world into Laws – a distinction of religions – in opposition to the world of play that constituted pre-Socratic, poetic, and rhetorical thinking. This is why Nietzsche said, “There are people who are opposed to all philosophy and one does well to listen to them” (27).

Perhaps as much amiss is Plato’s attitude toward play. Huizinga says that:

For Plato, mimesis is a general term descriptive of the mental attitude of the artist. The imitator – mimetes – that is to say the creative as well as the executive artist, knows not himself whether the thing he imitates is good or bad; mimesis is mere play to him, not serious work. This is true even of the tragic poets, he says; they too are only mimetikoi – imitators. We must leave on one side the question of what this somewhat depreciatory definition of creative work really means . . . (162)

I, however, will not leave it to one side. While Huizinga uses this to point out “that Plato understood creativity as play” (162), the very fact that Plato treats it depreciatively tells us a great deal about his attitude toward imitative play – and seriousness. Plato, as with contemporary “Sport and athletics showed us play stiffening into seriousness but still being felt as play” (Huizinga, 199). This is why Plato sometimes feels playful when we read him, while the play-element is much more obviously absent in his successors. Further, Huizinga points out:

In order to establish for all time the fundamental errors of the sophists, their logical and ethical deficiencies, Plato was not above borrowing their loose, easy manner of dialogue. For, as much as he deepened philosophy, he still saw it as a noble game. If both he and Aristotle deemed the fallacious arguments and quibbles of the sophists worthy of so serious and so elaborate a refutation, it could only be because their own philosophic thought had not yet broken loose from the archaic sphere of play. But, we may ask, can philosophy ever do this? (151)

I have suggested not only that it can, but that to a great extent it has (can anyone, in all honesty, think of anyone more serious and less playful than Kant?) – something Huizinga does not seem to disagree with when he comments that “Some of Nietzsche’s biographers blame him for having re-adopted the old agonistic attitude of philosophy. If indeed he did so he has led philosophy back to its antique origins” (152), despite his own observation that “all knowledge – and this naturally includes philosophy – is polemical by nature, and polemics cannot be divorced from agonistics. Epochs in which great new treasures of the mind come to light are generally epochs of violent controversy” (156). I cannot disagree with either position. But how often can we really say that “great new treasures of the mind” have truly “come to light” rather than being mere (and all too often, poor) repetition of what has already come before? It is one thing to go back to bring forth something new – it is another to go back just to return to the old way of doing things. Nietzsche does the first when he goes back to the pre-Socratics. Kant does the latter when he tries to rescue philosophy for religion (specifically, Christianity).

Perhaps I should now say a word on the origins of leisure-thinking and crisis-thinking. The former is more playful and, therefore, closer to language – thus the proposed primacy of rhetoric. The latter is nonlinguistic and more primally-rooted. We see such activities in all social animals, and in all higher vertebrates – this Us versus Them mentality, this tendency to be in a constant state of fight or flight, something found in bugs and fish. Play, or complex thinking, is also found in animals, but it is restricted to birds and mammals, and thus is an activity of a higher order. We can understand language as human play with oral communication and symbolic thinking – communication made a game, with the rules of grammar and syntax. This is why I say language is closer to play than to dualistic thinking – it has its origins in play. There is, indeed, a tension between our more complex, playful thinking that gave rise to language and the dualistic thinking one finds in most religious and philosophic thinking – a tension that can be either playfully or seriously engaged in, depending on whether one wishes to take a rhetorical or a philosophical stance. The philosophic thinking of the crisis-philosophers is one that wants to bring rhetorical skills to what they conceive of as nonlinguistic thinking on philosophical issues. It wants to bring rhetoric down to more primitive ways of thinking. But “In the philosopher, activities are carried out by means of metaphor” (PT 90), which is to say, through language, through unifying dissimilar things. Thinkers such as Nietzsche may sometimes give the appearance of being Us-versus-Them thinkers, but I challenge anyone to tell me who the “Us” or the “Them” is for Nietzsche. Is he for or against German culture? Is he for or against either Schopenhauer or Wagner? Is he for or against Jesus? (The answer is not as clear as scholars have made it out to be.) Nietzsche praises and criticizes the Jews. He praises and criticizes Socrates, Plato, and Arisotole. If Nietzsche is against anything, he is against those who would calcify the world into Law – the Socialists, the nationalists, and anti-Semites, Kant, Hegel, Christians (not Jesus) – and thus try to divide us. Emerson is an even more obvious example. Read “Self-Reliance” of “Frienship” or “The Over-Soul” and tell me who is “Us” and who is “Them”? People like Nietzsche and Emerson want to bring philosophy up to more complex ways of thinking and acting, those more distinctly human, having their origins in language.

But let me now give an example of the kind of thinking that can arise through play and leisure by showing the exact thinking I went through, that evolved as I filled it out through writing into what I have stated so far (which I can do since I wrote it all down as I thought it). I thought all this while sitting one day outside at a Starbucks drinking a caramel apple cider. The sky was blue and cloudless, the air cool, the sun warm, a perfect October (I know this sounds like sections of Ecce Homo – is it any wonder?). I had glanced over the Introduction to Spariosu’s God of Many Faces, which I had just received that day in the mail, and ideas began coming to me as in a torrent. I wrote nonstop for five pages. I will not include the entire five pages, but only a fragment, to show what playful thinking can look like:

* * * * *

In dialogue one cannot play in the way one can through writing. In dialogue, the words come as they come. In writing, one can look at what one has written and question the word choices, changing them as one wishes, playing with the words to enhance clarity, musicality, and to restate. Further, in writing, the writer invites the reader to interpret, which is to say, play with, the written text. By being able to question who you are speaking with, one engages in dialogue more seriously than when one reads, since one can only ask questions of a text by answering the questions one asks oneself. This is a more playful form of engagement than questioning and answering, which can become something resembling interrogation. Were one to ask questions of a text with the seriousness one questions a person, it is questionable how far one would get – whereas with playful interpretation, we see texts constantly revealing themselves anew.

There is a competitive element of all play. In Solitaire, one is competing – against oneself. And yet, this form of competition is not necessarily one that emphasizes power or dominance. When one plays Solitaire, where is the power shift? One may feel satisfied if one wins; one may feel anything from frustration to indifference if one loses. But there is in neither case a question of dominance nor of power over someone else. The same can be said of literature or philosophy. Part of the play that is either one is in relation to one’s predecessors. Nietzsche is playing the particular rhetorical-philosophical game he is playing in relation to Socrates/Plato, Jesus, Kant, Schopenhauer, Wagner, and the Pre-Socratics, some in more direct competition than others. This is why Nietzsche says he only attacks people who are strong (EH, 272). How can one assert one’s dominance or claim one plays a superior game unless one plays it with the best players? Who would claim to play a superior game of chess and refuse to play Kasparov?

Play is non-serious, but done seriously. Rhetoric is play. Rhetoric is non-serious (but, to be done well, done seriously). Philosophy is serious. Rhetoric is more complex than philosophy. Philosophy attempts to make rhetoric simple. Rhetoric attempts to make philosophy more complex. More complex, because more ways to interpret it. Philosophy does not want to be interpreted – it wants to be understood. Clarity is simplicity – black and white – default position of human thinking. Why, then, do we move from more complex (pre-Socratic) thinking to simpler (Socratic/Platonic) thinking? Leisure allows for more complex thinking (and play). Crisis pushes us toward simpler (black and white) thinking. Pre-Socratic Greece more stable than Greece of Socrates and Plato. Serious times (crisis) calls for serious thinking. Socrates scapegoated and killed because of crisis situation in Athens. Why continue to think simply after the crisis is over? It is easier to think simply than complexly. The tiniest crisis pushes us into simple thinking. Christianity is in a constant state of crisis – this is its very nature – it helps maintain simple thinking. This is why Nietzsche is anti-Christian and anti-Socrates – both are simple and serious in their thinking. Nietzsche likes the pre-Socratics because their thinking is, like his, more complex and playful. Philosophy wants good and evil – clear, simple choices. Rhetoric sees so many shades of gray, it goes beyond good and evil. Rhetoric goes beyond clear categories. Socrates/Plato separates the world into philosophy, science, politics, etc. The pre-Socratics and Rhetoricians see the different categories as different aspects of the same thing – are more complex in relation to one another, because the categories are unclear (Spariosu, xiv). Rules of rhetoric – be persuasive; rules of grammar. Laws of philosophy – philosophy interested in Truth, or Laws. No Truth in rhetoric, though rhetoric can uncover truths (contingent truths). Rules increase complexity – more degrees of freedom. Laws decrease complexity – try to restrict freedom. Some Laws act as Rules – law against murder gives more freedom of action, possibilities. Laws that increase freedom act as rules – Rule-Laws. Rhetoric increases freedom, possibilities. Philosophy decreases freedom, possibilities to the extent its Laws act as Laws and not as Rule-Laws. In the Phaedrus, Socrates wants to engage rhetoric to the uses of philosophy – he wants a rhetoric of philosophy and, as such, a less playful rhetoric. Nietzsche, on the other hand, wants a philosophy that more closely resembles rhetoric in its play and freedom – a philosophy more similar in form to that of the pre-Socratics – a philosophy of play-rules rather than of serious Laws. He wants to turn the Laws of philosophy to rules, or eliminate the Laws. Laws as Being – Rules as a method of Becoming. Philosophy as interested in Being. Rhetoric (and the pre-Socratics) as interested in Becoming (Spariosu, xiv). Rhetoric reflects man better than philosophy, since rhetoric reflects Becoming, and man is constantly changing, or Becoming. In order to be alive, one must be in a constant state of change, or Becoming. Only nonliving things do not change (also not true – only no-thing does not change). To cease changing as a person, one must die (physically or mentally/spiritually). To be in a state of Being is to cease changing. Therefore, Being is death (or nothingness, as Heidegger says). Rhetoric is Becoming – therefore is alive. Philosophy is Being – therefore is not alive, is death, is nothingness. Rhetoric is affirmation – Yes to life (Nietzsche). Philosophy is nihilism – No to life. Philosophy is interested in the unchanging – the Forms, the Noumenal World, Will, Being. Rhetoric is interested in the changing – Becoming. In chaos theory, rules deepen over time, with increased complexity – this means people can become more ethical over time, with increased complexity – rhetoric therefore can lead to more ethical behavior. In philosophy, Laws are fixed, unchanging – therefore people cannot become more ethical than is allowed by the philosophical system – and the ethics cannot change. Ethics changeable and dynamic with rhetoric – though not infinitely changeable (as per the rules of human nature/behavior/needs as both individuals and as social creatures). Rhetorical thinking allows us to move from tribal racist thinking to nontribal-nonracist thinking, when it no longer makes sense to think that way. Philosophy says we always need one way of thinking.

* * * * *

There are many problems with several of the things I have above – the separation of the world into distinct categories was a necessary separation for the historical development of the sciences, leading to the scientific and technological development in the West. The reemergence of rhetoric could give us many of the developments of 20th Century science, including information, game, chaos, and dissipative structures theory, which all show how integrated and complex the world really is, only when the groundwork was laid for these sciences of complexity by the reductionist sciences of the previous centuries. These problems is why Nietzsche recommends that one only shows one’s thoughts and now the thinking of those thoughts – as it can create the appearance of being in an untenable position. These thoughts only become tenable when they are developed more in narrative structures, as I do in the rest of this work. Still, I said above that philosophy is death, is nothingness. What else would one expect of something that, as Schopenhauer said, came out of our obsession with death? Rhetoric is interested in life. It argues for life, for Becoming, recognizes change and argues for it – argues for itself, as it argues for itself here, through this work (is it philosophy or rhetoric?). It is play. It, like play, “lies outside the reasonableness of practical life; has nothing to do with necessity or utility, duty or truth” (Huizinga, 158). Play is like Gorgias’ On Non-Being, which he wrote in response to those philosophers who were taking themselves too seriously. As Huizinga states, “The sophists themselves were perfectly well aware of the playful character of their art. Gorgias called his Encomium on Helen a game . . . and his treatise On Nature has been termed a play-study on rhetoric” (147). The last, I would argue, is a bit redundant.

But I am not calling for the death of philosophy (who could call for the death of death?) – I am for life and, as I have said above, I wish to harness philosophy for rhetoric. Why? Death is part – a necessary part – of life. “There are good instances, to be sure, of a type of health which can exist altogether without philosophy, or with but a very moderate, almost playful, exercise of it” (Nietzsche, PTAG, 27). The way to bring philosophy back to play is to bring it to the uses of rhetoric, which makes use of all the various sources of knowledge to make its arguments – it does not exclude, as does philosophy – it is all-inclusive. Rhetoric will make a “playful exercise” of it.

The judgement of those philosophers (the pre-Socratics) as to life and existence in general means so much more than any modern judgement, for they had life in lavish perfection before their eyes, whereas the feeling of our thinkers is confused by our split desire for freedom, beauty and greatness on the one hand and our drive toward truth on the other, a drive which asks merely, “And what is life worth, after all?” (Nietzsche, PTAG, 33)

If this is all the (serious) drive toward truth is, how can we choose it over “freedom, beauty, and greatness,” as exists through play? Of course, truth does not have to be this way. Nietzsche says that truth is a woman, that life is a woman – thus is truth equated to life for Nietzsche. This freedom, beauty, and greatness is what rhetoric promises – and not just the restrictive view of rhetoric that would only include such people as Gorgias, but thinkers such as Heraclitus and Nietzsche, poets and novelists, all mending what the Platonists rent asunder, seeing the re-creation of culture through the collisions and marriages of the various disciplines and cultures, since

Nothing would be sillier than to claim an autochthonous development for the Greeks. On the contrary, they inevitably observed other living cultures. The very reason they got so far is that they knew how to pick up the spear and throw it onward from the point where others had left it. Their skill in the art of fruitful learning was admirable. We ought to be learning from our neighbors precisely as the Greeks learned from theirs. (PTAG, 30)

It will bring us the world Nietzsche claimed Heraclitus wanted:

In this world only play, play as artists and children engage in it, exhibits coming-to-be and passing away, structuring and destroying, without any moral additive, in forever equal innocence. And as children and artists play, so plays the ever-living fire. It constructs and destroys, all in innocence. Such is the same that the aeon plays with itself. Transforming itself into water and earth, it builds towers of sand like a child at the seashore, piles them up and tramples them down. From time to time it starts the game anew. An instant of satiety – and again it is seized by its need, as the artist is seized by his need to create. Not hybris but the ever self-renewing impulse to play calls new worlds into being. . . .Only aesthetic man can look thus at the world, a man who has experienced in artists and in the birth of art objects how the struggle of the many can yet carry rules and laws inherent in itself, how the artist stands contemplatively above and at the same time actively within his work, now necessity and random play, oppositional tension and harmony, must pair to create a work of art. (PTAG, 62)

Struggle and tension – agon – is what Nietzsche sees as the soul of physis, culture, and of play. He sees himself an artist-soldier in battle. War – for Huizinga, another form of play. So we should not be surprised that Nietzsche is so interested in war (war as metaphor), as he is so interested in, and (in)formed by, play. But Nietzsche’s war is one without losers. A defeated contestant cannot continue to play. Listing Huizinga’s chapters almost gives an outline of Nietzsche’s concerns: culture, language, war, knowing, poetry, mythopoiesis, philosophy, and art (particularly music). And when Huizinga says “All true ritual is sung, danced and played. We moderns have lost the sense for ritual and sacred play. Our civilization is worn with age and too sophisticated” (158), sounding more like Nietzsche than Nietzsche, is there better evidence of Nietzsche’s underlying concern with play?

Poetry and fiction, art and other visual media (visual rhetoric). Nietzsche says in Philosophy and Truth that one comes closest to truth through art – and that to the extent that philosophy is the search for truth, it is wasting its time. Only when philosophy is brought to the service of rhetoric – whether it be arguments or art – will we see a renewing of culture and a rebirth of knowledge. Only when we have embraced the life of (non-teleological, non-eschatological) Becoming and rejected the “rigor mortis” of Being (Nietzsche contra Heidegger and the Existentialists; Nietzsche as the answer to them) will culture be reborn (do not forget: “The way up and down are the same.”). This is the argument of Nietzsche – and I certainly concur. Through rhetoric – rhetoric as I have defined it above, including the rhetoric of fiction, poetry, art, and the sciences – we will see a renewed richness not only of culture, but of knowledge itself – and of philosophy, among the other disciplines (all the other disciplines, contra the theorists masquerading as rhetoricians who are against certain disciplines, such as science and history, and scholarship in general), each enriched by the other through a renewed integration. For “speech based on knowledge is teaching” (Aristotle, Rhetoric, 34). And we are sorely lacking in teachers. Aristotle says further that “Rhetoric is an antistrophos to dialectic” (Rhetoric, 28), meaning it is like the Greek choral lyric, where the “strophe or stanza, is repeated with different words in the antistrophe to philosophy’s strophe. Aristotle also equates rhetoric to ethics when he says that “rhetoric is a certain kind of offshoot of dialectic and of ethical studies” (39) – one cannot have good rhetoric unless both the style and the subject are good. The reason I suggest rhetoric should be preferred to philosophy is that rhetoric deals with probability, not truth (42-3), and Gorgias and Timias “Are not ignorant that probability is superior to truth” (Plato, Phaedrus, 80) – and neither is Plato ignorant of this fact, as he shows in the very structure of Phaedrus, which shows that truth cannot be reached, only approximated. When we use rhetoric, we acknowledge the fact that we can only ever approximate truth, not reach it, as philosophy can too easily make the mistake of claiming. But even this is an inaccurate view. The way up and down are the same. Rhetoric is an antistrophos to philosophy. And more, poetry is made akin to philosophy by Aristotle when he prefers poetry to history because poetry shows us how things could and ought to be, while history only shows us how things were. One could thus oppose poetry-rhetoric-philosophy to history. Except that Hegel brought history in service for philosophy, suggesting that there is a connection between what ought to be and what is. No “ought” is of any value unless it can be made an “is” – and every “ought” should be judged by its service to life, which is to say, whether or not it will make the world more complex (as this is service to life). Many postmodernists have tried to contrast a possible poetry-rhetoric-philosophy-history to science, but this too is a mistake (especially insofar as they have to remove natural philosophy from philosophy to do it). Science must remain in play – a tool among tools with hsihc we can play. We need a poetry-rhetoric-philosophy-history-science. Only when we begin again to see philosophy as the mind at play – when we begin again to see philosophy, like play, is not meant to be taken seriously, even if it is meant, like play, to be done seriously – will philosophy, and culture, encounter, through the play of rhetoric, a true rebirth.