Science and alchemy and such

A history of science is something of an oxymoron, as scientific work provides the categories, some secure, others less so, through which we look back and make sense of something. But what?  There is no march of progress to be seen. We get vaccines and we get the atomic bomb. We get the technical skills to perform open heart surgery, and we get the technical skills to cut down the rainforest and plunder the carbon reserves under the ground. Newton’s genius is celebrated and claimed as our heritage. His alchemy and more urgent concern with biblical prophecy is ignored. This is not a straight line.

Alchemy and magic arise at the periphery of science, shifting and changing meaning from one era to another. Egyptian alchemy is not Arab alchemy is not the alchemy of John Dee, but there is something constant that leaves a recognisable signature in the wondrous evocative images that defy interpretation, the obscure and occult instructions, and the concern with transmutation of everything. Metals are, of course, important here, but not for a single reason, nor as an exclusive concern. Nor is this to be understood as the outward sign of an inner spiritual or psychological quest. Those terms are modern, and simply inapplicable to those labouring in Alexandria, Babylon or Prague.

What if there is, though, a Magnum Opus?  A grand work that continues today, spinning off both sense and nonsense in its activity, generating science and alchemy and magic together.  If we interpret the results of our distributed toil and inquiry differently, we might seem to perceive its contours. For computers, satellites, and cinema might be seen as the products, not of either science or alchemy, but of their shared underlying form of inquiry, and a testament to their sophistication. Oil painting and music festivals are possible because we can alter the way light courses, and because we are skilled, whether we know it or not, in the theurgic arts.  The boons and banes we produce are produced by a common energetic engagement with the properties of substances, their optical characteristics, and their transmutations. It seems clear that such a work, if even thought of, would be indescribable in a vocabulary that has developed to draw a line between science and alchemy, and to describe our own self-image using only those terms on the correct side of the divide.

We cannot see the magnum opus, for it is inherently inarticulable. Articulated, it becomes either nonsense or dogma. The apprentice to the magnum opus knows that she cannot know the work she participates in, but she believes that she contributes to the work nonetheless. Alchemists have much in common with cathedral builders: they hope that the project they contribute to is the glorious work, but they also know they cannot ever be certain.  Those whose activities are Ora et Labora, or prayer and work, do not advertise themselves. Many labour for confused and poorly understood purposes. Purpose is assumed to be something the individual may find, for themselves only. It is not to be expected to arise from collective activity.

But most activity, most work, does not make headlines. It does not announce itself, and it does not assert progress over time. The real work may more closely resemble Tibetan monks drawing sand mandalas, and this distributed activity produces the world we live in and mischaracterise as fractured here, whole there, as deluded there, and rational here. We have no grasp on an abstractum called “the world”.

I apologise

I apologise, in advance, for what I am about to do.

I address you, in the fond and flaccid hope that I might share a topology, but a topology cannot be shared. We can skateboard over the surface to feel the contours and the cuts. We can walk, roll, stumble together on a manifold, and together get a sense for the curvatures and inclinations. But in words, a topology cannot be shared. This is a poor way to address a person.

The topological figure of thought is formally a mathematical inversion, nothing more radical than that. When performed in the service of catching lions in the Sahara, it works like this: Construct a cage. Lock yourself inside. Perform an inversion with respect to yourself and the exterior. Now the lions of the Sahara are inside the cage and you without.  Delightful, practical, and clean.

The inversion requires you to have a position. You must, of course, be inside the cage before the flip. As a person, you are distributed across space and time, you are enfolded in data, history, relations, memories, and reputation. Those are not here addressed. So it is an impoverished you that I address. I wish to turn the screws on that impoverishment. There is no malice intended, but your annihilation is possible.  So note, please, your position.

And your moment of observation.

Those coordinates locate what?

Let’s play a first game: Breathe out. Think of the coordinates as picking out your person, as related to that point in 4D narrative space. Assume everything is real. Look at how grand you are. You have capacities, memories, hopes, and a reputation. And feelings. And debts. But they are not all here, right now, indexed to those coordinates. The more you look, the less there is of your god-like existence than its scattered, discontinuous distribution elsewhere. These coordinates don’t really suffice to pin you down.

Let’s play a second: Breathe in. Invert. Those coordinates now serve to position everything else with respect to those coordinates (and nothing else).  Those coordinates are arguably the centre of the known and knowing universe.  But they are entirely impersonal. They reveal nothing but the Cartesian fabric of Maya that would have reality both inside and outside you.  There is nothing personal about this. You are irrelevant in this instance.

This Geometry is well known. It is the characterisation of the ineffable ground of being as the circle with centre everywhere and circumference nowhere. But that is absurdly platonic, geometric, smooth, continuous.

Let’s add a third: Dance. We may not find your bank account, your history or your reputation at those coordinates. But we find your body. We incontrovertibly find your body. Breathe out and you solipsistically lay claim to all. Breathe in and you find yourself as dimensionless, irrelevant, without feature.

Finding your body, we understand, slowly, how this breath works. Neither the confident intellect of the first, nor the inanimate expanse of the second (perhaps you think of them differently) can account for the fabric of the immanent present. That has colour, shape, form, and indubitability.

Having turned ourselves inside out (one at a time, please!), we return to the point of inversion and find a body that moves, animated by many currents. It dances to many tunes.

Trost and Instruction

I am, what I am not

  • You are not excused from the paradox at the heart of knowing
  • You are not responsible for the paradox at the heart of being

The act of description must appear difficult for one who is in media res.

Scripture is fine

Scripture, done well, provides axioms. The problem is not scripture. The problem is the canon. Which becomes indubitable?  Where are the boundaries?  We can probe for the boundaries, with ever expanding horizons, through our collective activity.

One way to read the P-H framework

Hilbert’s 6th problem is “Can physics be axiomatized?”

Within P-H we approach this to provide a local solution, rather than a global one. We then seek to maximise the local. Unifying the visions of Parmenides and Heraclitus would achieve that in the (unreachable) limit.

Given the role of embodied discussion, we posit axioms as indubitable, renewable Eigenforms.

Unknown God

Unknown God is the name of my new band. You only come across it where Gods are numerous and local. You find it with saints too. Usually, attribution in pictures or statues is pretty confident. This is Saint Jerome. Often there are obvious reasons. The cardinal’s hat, the eyes on a plate, the hair shirt, these identify for a large community. But often the Gods and saints are less well known. But they are identified with confidence. This is Adanimuprkupshal, the vengeful, this is Saint Cadwallader, and so on. Furthermore, once there is a name, there are often stock anecdotes, little aphorisms, or merely gee-gaws and trinkets, that are trotted out, because this is how these figures, these identities have survived over centuries.

So what survives over millennia? What coarse strokes, what low frequencies, what framings?

Genitum, Non Factum

In articulating the P-H framework, and in extending that to consideration of symbolisation and the relation of M2 embedding, with its attendant contact theory, to M3 mediation, with its attendant representational theory, we have a useful stance for discussing questions frequently dubbed theological, rather than philosophical. The old Genitum, Non Factum, can be seen as such a shift, so that one urgently asks, with what and whom am I continuous?