8th March 2008 | Draft
Import of Nothingness and Emptiness through Happening and Mattering
- / -
Traumascape -- of the "White Man's Dreaming"?
Terra cognita vs Terra incognita
Interweaving Demonic and Daimonic Associations in Collective Memory (Annex
-- Demonic associations and demonisation
-- Unusual, unsayable, unsaid, untruth -- and denial
Van Diemen's Land as strategic pioneer in the treatment of dissent and otherness
-- Daimonic associations: imaginative, aesthetic, inspirational or spiritual
-- Refiguration of "the other" through fantasy
Memory Challenges at the Edge of the World (Annex
-- Symbolic journey -- to the "Edge of the World"
-- Dubious associations -- with the "Centres of the World"
-- Amnesia at the "Edge of the World" -- a key to unrealistic optimism?
-- Mnemonic devices for collective remembrance
Import of Nothingness and Emptiness through Happening and Mattering (Annex
-- Varieties of nothingness and emptiness
Questionable understanding of emptiness and nothingness
-- "Mattering" and
-- "Nothing" emerging through combinations of "mattering" and
-- Dynamic complexification: integration of "no time"
-- Emergence of "nothing": creating "cognitive
shelters" and "cognitive vehicles"
-- Emergence of "nothing": globalization as exemplar
-- Emergence of "nothing": "import" of
-- Polarization and the dynamics of nothingness
Transforming the Edge of the World through Voiding the Centre
Annex C to Where
There is No Time and Nothing Matters: Cognitive Challenges at the
Edge of the World,
highlighting and giving focus to various themes in the light of metaphors arising
from travels in Tasmania.
The purpose of this annex is to clarify a range of meanings and implications
for the phrase "where there is no time and nothing matters" --
as highlighted by the motto of Cradle Valley (Tasmania) noted in Annex
A. The follows from a theme of the initial paper on the illusory nature
of time (Amanda Gefter, Is
time an illusion? New Scientist, 19 January 2008).
of "nothing" in
and in process ("happening")
is understood here as "importing" "nothingness" or "emptiness" through
recognizing and enactivating patterns of associations. The terms in the title
are intended to be ambiguously interpreted with respect to the transformation
of "nothingness" into "somethingness", in the sense that
each has both a tangible and an intangible sense, pertaining to matter (form)
and to significance.
The central importance of "nothing" and "void" was a focus
of the preceding paper (In
Quest of Optimism Beyond the Edge -- through avoidance of the answering process).
The intent here is to interrelate "nothingness" as it is central
to extreme existential alienation (whether among the marginalized or as the
consequence of personal development) with other philosophic and religious understandings.
It therefore includes aspects of "meaninglessness",
"emptiness", "insignificance", "irrelevance" and "unimportance" --
whether from sociopolitical or spiritual perspectives.
Experientially "emptiness" may
- as an attractor by:
- some physical extremes (mountaineering, deserts, etc) (Joe Simpson. Touching
the Void ***; Cradle Mountain values***)
- associated psychospiritual disciplines (hermitage, etc), especially
in meditative quests to "empty the mind"
and achieve some form of cognitive "void" (sunyata)
- as the repulsor of existential alienation:
- in severely deprived environments (slums, refugee camps, etc)
- incarceration (penal, educational, asylums, etc)
- as experienced in some others ("spiritual emptiness",
etc) or through death (metaphorical or otherwise) of a significant relationship
Varieties of nothingness and emptiness
The set of variously
interrelated approaches to these themes therefore includes:
Death: As discussed further below,
any exposure to death or mortality may be intimately associated with reflection
on nothingness and non-existence -- especially in the case of a loved one.
(cf Rudolf Allers, On Darkness, Silence, and the Nought. The
Thomist, 9, 4, 1946, pp. 515-572). In a meditation on mortality and death,
Julian Barnes (Nothing
to be Frightened Of, 2008) points out that:
... death is the one appalling fact which defines life; unless you are aware
of it, you cannot begin to understand what life is about; unless you know
and and feel that the days of wines and roses are limited, that the wine
will madeirize and the roses turn brown in their stinking water...there is
no context to such pleasures.
In the light of the metaphorical use of "Van Diemen's Land" (discussed
A and Annex
B), such reflection
is especially appropriate in the case of the unremembered deaths of thousands
there -- deliberately enabled by British politics initially and supported
by the Christian churches. Their support only shifted to protest, and even
active opposition, with the recognition of an abomination (worse than death)
to which such policies gave rise -- homosexual intercourse. The simultaneous
extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines aroused far less protest and was
held to have been mitigated by the effort to convert them to Christianity,
even if it meant forcibly separating children from parents. This process
was the subject of the recent apology of the Prime Minister of Australia
-- which did not however exist at the time. Neither the British government
nor the complicit Christian churches have apologized.
The breakdown of a relationship, as noted above, may be experienced as a form
of death. Ironically, its importance has even be recognized as fundamental
to marketing (Susan Dobscha, et al. Preventing
the Premature Death of Relationship Marketing, Harvard
Business Review, 1 January 1998; Daryl
Death of Relationship, Customer Think, 7 November 2007).
Alienation: There is an extensive literature on social
alienation of the individual and the associated experience of personal
emptiness and nothingness. For a powerful statement on that, see Collective
Memory Personified: an Analogy (derived from the
work of R D Laing, The Divided Self; a study of sanity and madness,
1960). In more traditional contexts, this
may be framed as an "emptiness of spirit" or soullessness, as with
superstition about zombies.
Such was the alienation of some incarcerated in Van Diemen's Land that they
were prepared to kill others in order to be hung.
Such considerations might be fruitfully related to alienation of property,
whereby people are deprived of land with which their identity may have been
associated over centuries. This is the experience of many indigenous peoples
subject to colonial settlement, notably those in Australia.
Emptiness in relationship: James Park (Loneliness
of Spirit: Deeper than the Reach of Love, 1999/2008) discusses
existential loneliness in the following terms, distinguishing it from interpersonal
Loneliness is an aching void in the center of our beings, a deep longing to
love and be loved, to be fully known and accepted by at least one other person.
It is a hollow, haunting sound sweeping thru our depths, chilling our bones
and causing us to shiver.
Boredom: Both rural and urban life may be experienced as
fundamentally boring and empty -- characterized by "nothing happening" --
although each may consider the other to be the remedy to that condition. This
drives some to migrate to the cities and others
"back to nature". This is a fundamental challenge for indigenous peoples
isolated in settlements onto which they may have been forced.
Economics and finance: Entrepreneurs in particular
may be sensitive to an absence of economic activity in a region (occasionally
termed an economic vacuum), possibly to be understood as an opportunity. In
this sense business may be understood as deploring a vacuum -- where potential
can be foreseen. As in Tasmania, economic logic may reinforce the erroneous
perception that forests are "unemployed" --
unless they are being economically exploited.
Economics has attached considerable significance to "nothing" through
recognition of the principle of the so-called "invisible hand" as
demonstrated by Adam Smith who argued that, in a free market, an individual
pursuing his own self-interest tends to also promote the good of his community
as a whole.
However the most striking role of "nothing" is in monetary
systems where money may continue to be issued that is "backed by nothing" other
than government promises (as discussed
below). In the UK, a recent crisis led to a relevant
comment by James Robertson (Money
from Thin Air, The
Guardian, 20 March 2008).
In the case of the USA, as of February 2008, the total federal
was approximately $9.3 trillion (about $79,000
in average for each American taxpayer) of which 25% was owed to foreign governments.
The latter are therefore significantly sustaining the capacity
of the US to finance its foreign military interventions "out of nothing".
In the case of financial systems the process is notably enabled through
monetary tokens that may be redeemed on demand with "real money" (originally
gold). Unfortunately government promises of redemption have effectively been
withdrawn or downwardly adjusted over the past century such that the
tokens have very little (or no) intrinsic or use value. Fiat
currencies remain generally acceptable in stable economies as a means of payment
because people believe the currency can be used to discharge tax payments
and contractual debts. This confidence regarding expectations about the
future value of any given variety of fiat money is extremely fragile.
Politics: Emptiness is most notably recognized in politics
as a power vacuum.
It is also recognized through the political philosophy of nihilism.
As discussed in Annex
A, politics may enable and reinforce framing the legal status of land
terra nullius when there exists a prior claim of some form.
Society: A sense of nothingness or emptiness is
evident in judgmental phrases such as "there was nobody there", meaning
nobody of significance -- as with summaries of dialogue in which "nothing
was discussed" -- or summit conferences where (nothing happened").
The tragedy of the British claim to Australia (as discussed in Annex
A) was that the inhabitants were ignored as subhuman nonenties.
Community: Given the fundamental process whereby
economic growth is achieved and sustained, "backed by nothing" (as discussed
above and below), there is a case for exploring the
extent to which an analogous phenomenon exists with respect to developing
and sustaining community. In both cases the process might be framed as based
on creating and maintaining "confidence" and "trust". Communities emerge from
contexts in which some form of "token" can be exchanged, possibly quite independently
of any monetary token (but possibly as to some degree associated with tokens
in alternative and complementary
currency systems). The tokens may notably simply take the form of exchanges
However understanding of the monetary analogue raises questions
regarding the extent to which any sense of community is "backed by nothing",
especially when the tokens cannot be effectively redeemed by any real value.
The equivalence is illustrated by the efforts of leaders of local, national
or international communities to "talk up" some form of sense of community --
in situations where this does not address the fragility of collective confidence
in any such community (or its leadership's ability to redeem tokens by whatever
is held to be of real value). The fragility of these processes may undermine,
or preclude, the possibility of sustaining any system of monetary tokens (cf
Mancur Olson, Logic
of Collective Action: public goods and the theory of groups, 1965).
Insightful examples for further exploration include:
- the well-known tale, the Emperor's
New Clothes (1837), by Hans
Christensen Andersen, in which the operational consensus regarding
the emperor dressed in nothing was that his clothes were of the finest
cloth, too fine for the eye to see
- hoaxes, notably as elaborated by Alan
Sokal and Jean
Nonsense: postmodern intellectuals' abuse of science, 1998)
following the so-called Sokal
Affair. Whether scientific or otherwise, hoaxes raise the question
of "deluded" consensual reality, based on "nothing", prior to emergence
of more adequate explanations -- and the associated challenge of groupthink
amongst the most authoritative experts, even of the "intelligence
the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale -- missing the link
fighters" and "terrorists", 2002)
- religious communities, raising questions as to how the community as a whole
is sustained: Christians (Christendom as
a polity, or Corpus
Christianum), Muslims (Ummah),
Sufi brotherhoods, etc. Given the role of "government
promises" in monetary systems, the striking parallel in the religious case
to redemption of tokens of meritorious behaviour for eternal life, enlightenment,
"sitting on the right hand of God" in heaven, and/or aceess to 72
calls for careful consideration -- especially when these extremely influential
beliefs are considered meaningless delusions by such as Richard
God Delusion, 2006).
- scientific communities, whether defined by tokens of mutual appreciation
(honours, etc), mutual citation compacts, disputation (as proposed by Donald
T Campbell), or other devices -- and whose resources are often assiduously
sustained by promises to the taxpayer of future delivery of food for all,
health for all, energy for all, knowledge for all, ultimate weaponry, etc.
As with government promises, these are often subsequently judged to have
been empty promises.
Philosophy (metaphysics): The University
of Delaware has been criticized for offering a course titled: Nothing:
A study of Nil, Void, Vacuum, Null, Zero, and Other Kinds of Nothingness (a
course exploring the "varieties of nothingness from the vacuum and void
of physics and astronomy to political nihilism, to the emptiness of the arts
and the soul"). As
a philosophical position, nihilism argues
that Being, especially past and current human existence, is without objective
meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. It may be used as
a means of framing pejoratively or derogatively a position held by others.
As noted by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the most powerful
statement regarding "emptiness" (as shūnyatā)
was made by Nāgārjuna (c.
150-250 CE) in response to the process of proliferation
of conceptual and verbal hair-splitting, or prapanca. He articulated
the concept of 'emptiness' -- the
view that neither subject nor object exist independently -- as a soteriological
device, a deconstructive tool to rid the mind of delusional prapanca.
Defined in varying ways by Western scholars, prapanca refers
to the mind's natural tendency to both create elaborate networks of
interrelated mental constructions and to cling to those constructs as real.
As explored by Allen
W. Wood (Hegel's Ethical Thought, 1990), a central ethical doctrine of Hegel has
been a recognition of the
emptiness of the categorical imperative.
Questions relating to nothing were powerfully framed by Martin Heidegger
is Metaphysics? 1929), as discussed by Fr. Jose Conrado A. Estafia (Heidegger
on the Nothing - das Nichts). Heidegger asked the question 'Why
are there essents, why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?' According
to Heidegger 'Science wishes
to know nothing of the nothing.' On this Richard Polt (Heidegger:
An Introduction, 1999) comments:
starts by emphasizing science's "submission to beings
Good chemists, economists or historians all have this in common: they want
to know what is the case, what is true and only that. They are devoted to
beings alone - and nothing else.... Science, in expressing
its own proper essence, never calls upon the nothing for help.
Richard Polt (The Question of Nothing, 2001) traces
the evolution of Heidegger's concept of the Nothing and argues that, for the
later Heidegger, "the happening of Being brings in the happening of Nothing,
the tracing of a fragile frontier beyond which things can belong no more to
the realm of the accessible and acceptable."
What then is to be said of the apparent passing into nothingness of those
who engendered the reflections on:
Religion (cosmology): Understandings of nothingness and emptiness
are fundamental to some religious thinking (cf John B., Jr. Cobb and Christopher
Ives (Eds.), The Emptying God: A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation,
2005). This may notably be associated with so-called "negative
Negativa or Apophatic
theology) that attempts to describe God by negation, to speak
of God only in terms of what may not be said about God. There is a considerable
body of religious literature on emptiness (sunyata in
Sanskrit) and its varieties, of which Nāgārjuna had
distinguished 18. For example::
- Keiji Nishitani. Religion and Nothingness. University of California
- Hans Waldenfels. Absolute Nothingness: foundations for a Buddhist-Christian
dialogue, New York City, Paulist Press 1980 [review]
- Mipham distinguishes 20 varieties of emptiness (Karma Phuntsho / Karma-phun-tshogs. Mipham's
Dialectics And The Debates On Emptiness: To Be, Not To Be Or Neither,
- Steven William Laycock. Nothingness and Emptiness: a Buddhist engagement
with the ontology of Jean-Paul Sartre. State University of New York
- John Tarrant. Bodhidharma's Vast Emptiness: Forgetting Who You Are
and Making Use of Nothing. 2006
- Beverly J. Lanzetta. Three Categories of Nothingness in Eckhart. The
Journal of Religion, 72, 1992, 2, pp. 248-268
- John C. McDowell. Much Ado about Nothing: Karl Barth's Being Unable
to Do Nothing about Nothingness International Journal of Systematic
Theology 4 (3), 2002, pp. 319-335
- Rudolf Steiner, Spiritual Emptiness and Social Life, 1919
Spirituality (meditation): Mahayana Buddhism advocates meditation
on 16 varieties of emptiness, leading to a direct, non-conceptual realization.
In Tantric Buddhism, a ritualistic
instrument, the Vajra, represents emptiness
by a central dot. This symbolizes a focal point, the seed of the spirit
in which everything is in a potential but static state. It also characterizes
axis and heart
of the universe. To the extent that the essence of Being is complete peace
and stillness without reflection or any kind of manifestation or projection,
this may be understood as spiritual emptiness -- a level of
mind and consciousness common to many traditions. Taoism advocates a practice
of Spirit Back to Emptiness.
Spiritual emptiness may take the form of a "crisis of meaninglessness" in
a context of a spiritual vacuum, as discussed by John
C. Thomas (How
Juvenile Violence: Begins Spiritual Emptiness, Focus
on the Family, 1999). This is a significant risk in impoverished indigenous communities.
Some religions may, on the other hand, associate understandings of emptiness
and nothingness with the fundamental significance of poverty and voluntary
simplicity as a practice (for example, Gerald N. Alford, I
Promise to be Truly Poor). There is a tradition of meditative walking,
notably a path of emptiness (Kenneth Arnold, The Path of Emptiness: Philosopher's
Path in Kyoto, Japan, Cross Currents, June 1999)
Qi (Ch'i): This is a fundamental concept of traditional
Chinese culture which might be readily understood, notably by others (as it
is by science), as "nothing" and "meaningless".
Qi (or ki)
is believed to be part of every living thing that exists, as a kind of "life
force" or "spiritual
energy". References to things
analogous to the qi, taken to be the life-process or 'flow' of
metaphysical energy that sustains living beings, are found in many belief systems,
especially in Asia [more].
Life (as yet to be understood by science) might indeed be understood as the
process of making something out of nothing -- with death as a reversion to
nothingness. The dynamics associated with qi are
discussed further below.
"Hearts and Minds": It might be considered
extraordinary that the ongoing "war on terror" (which may prove
to be the largest investment in military operations of all time) focuses increasingly
on what the science of "defence research" and military logic consider
to be meaningless, if not "nothing" -- namely on the "battle
for hearts and minds"
and the (comical) challenge of "target acquisition" to that end (note
discussion in Enhancing
Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998). And it is entirely probable that the efforts
of the Coalition of the Willing will be defeated by what it considers to be
"nothing", effectively from the "mattering of nothing" --
following an archetypal confrontation between -- in the scientific light of
such as Richard Dawkins (The
God Delusion, 2006) -- the nothingness of Christ and the nothingness
Physics: Nuclear physics has clarified
the extent to which material objects are made up primarily of empty space populated
extremely sparsely by electrons around the nucleus. Modern cosmology continues
a long tradition of speculation on the nature of the nothingness or emptiness
from which the universe (as known to humanity) emerged. In terms of the concerns
of this paper, the origin of the universe (or any system) might be understood
as a process through which nothing both "matters" and "happens".
Physics distinguishes between:
- the empty classical ("ordinary " or "pneumatic")
vacuum, defined as the absence of matter
- the quantum vaccum,
understood as replete with activity due to the continuous creation and annihilation
of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs ("Seeing"
the Quantum Vacuum). It is the quantum state with the lowest possible
energy but contains fleeting
electromagnetic waves and particles that pop into and out of existence. Vacuum
energy is then the underlying background energy that exists in space
even when devoid of matter -- the
ground state of energy for the universe. It results in
the existence of most (if not all) of the fundamental forces. In quantum
field theory, zero-point
energy is a synonym for the vacuum energy. As the lowest possible energy
a system can have, this energy cannot be removed from the system.
Seemingly "empty" space is
understood as filled with spacetime with curvature and
structure, obeying the laws of quantum physics. It is thus filled with potential
particles, pairs of virtual matter and anti-matter units, and potential properties
at the quantum level. The quantum vacuum is therefore the source of all potentiality.
The universe is not "filled by" the quantum vacuum, rather it
emerges from it ("written out of it") as the substratum of all existence.
The properties that become the mass of the universe, its age, its physical
constants, etc. appears to have their origin
as the fluctuations of the quantum vacuum. These properties come
from "nothing", where nothing is the quantum vacuum.
Several of the founding theorists of quantum physics were interested in the
metaphorical similarities between the principles of quantum mechanics and the
principles found in mysticism. However,
they all strongly rejected the notion that mysticism and physics had anything
more than a metaphorical relationship. Counterintuitive aspects of quantum physics,
such as the uncertainty principle, continue to invite metaphysical speculation
-- vigourosuly opposed by critics as quantum
mysticism. The quantum
mind hypothesis however suggests that quantum mechanical phenomena
such as quantum entanglement and superposition may play an important part in
the brain's function and could form the basis of an explanation of consciousness.
Willie Maartens (The
Physics And Metaphysics Of The God Behind The Veils, 2007) reviews
new theories for the origin of the universe (M-theory,
and brane cosmology). He also
provides some useful clarifications of the relationship between understandings
of nothingness in physics and theology -- noting that in the
Qabalah, three unfathomable qualities of "Nothingness" or veils (Ain, Ain
Soph, and Ain Soph Aur) in the dawn of pre-creation somehow
contracted to a singular point. Literature on the Qabalah notably stresses
the distinct qualities of nothingness.
Curiously physics advances its theories with a degree of confidence in the
weight of evidence that the history of knowledge necessarily tends to demonstrate
to be flawed, insubstantial and empty of significance -- including, in all
probability, the nature of the "nothingness" from which "matter" is currently
assumed to originate. Physics is equally certain that any alternative views
are based on "nothing". It is possible, however, that these understandings
will prove to be complementary.
Health: . Although the
World Health Organization does indeed define health as
"a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely
the absence of disease or
infirmity", it is nevertheless the case that it is
primarily defined and understood in terms of such absence. Whilst many tangibles
may enable and sustain the intangible condition of health, fundamentally its
nature remains elusive.
Comprehension of the nature of health is not facilitated by emerging evidence
that placebos may be as
successful at enabling people suffering from some condition to feel better
as are carefully designed prescription drugs or other therapies. They may be
understood as tokens, based on "nothing", which are experienced as sustaining
well-being. This raises the possibility that, like community (as discussed above),
health may be engendered "from nothing".
Aesthetics: As discussed further below,
nothingness, especially as implied by shadow and absence, is an important theme
in aesthetics and drama. Emptiness may be a highly valued feature of Zen temples
The World Heritage Site Zen garden of Ryoan-ji (Kyoto)
is composed of 15 stones set in
a small field of white gravel; the garden is called mutei (the
garden of nothingness) or kutai (the garden of emptiness).
Geography: There has long been recognition of the
special attraction of empty spaces: deserts, wastelands, or of the emptiness
of the sea (John Alcock, The
Pull of Emptiness, New
York Times, 8 March 2008; Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert,
A wide-ranging web discussion of these themes focused on Nothingness
As An Entity (thebigview.com discussion board, 2005-2006)
Questionable understanding of emptiness and nothingness
Paradoxically the emptiness experienced by some may be the preferred habitat
of others -- as exemplified by assumptions by British nuclear scientists that
the Simpson Desert of Australia was unoccupied by Aborigines prior to exploding
atomic bombs there, or that any occupants were necessarily lacking in significance.
With respect to what follows, of particular importance in some of the above
explorations, especially Buddhism, is the understanding of nothingness and
emptiness which precludes the possibility of statements of adequate form and
subtlety about any condition prior to their emergence. In this sense nothingness
is indeed about a form of unknowing -- prior to such a form or any sense of
On this question, Joseph Stephen O'Leary (Emptiness
and Dogma, Buddhist-Christian Studies, 22, 2002,
pp. 163-179) indicates Christian theology has suffered from a delusive
clinging to substance and identity, and that the Buddhist teachings of
dependent co-arising, emptiness, and non-self may provide an antidote.
Buddhism has been distinguished from the Hinduism of the Upanishads in
that the former thoroughly denies all things, including emptiness itself,
which otherwise is not real emptiness [more].
Elsewhere (Joseph O'Leary, Emptiness
2005) comments on the work on this theme by Ludovic Viévard (Vacuité (sûnyatâ)
et compassion (karunâ) dans le bouddhisme madhyamaka, Collège
de France, 2002),
The most striking feature of Viévard's
account of emptiness is that he presents it not as a reality that is an end
in itself, but as an instrument serving a soteriological purpose. Its first
meaning is a lack of any ontological solidity in persons or things. Emptiness
here functions as the slogan of a meditative exercise that detaches one from
every variety of clinging to delusory substantiality or fixated identity. The
lack itself must not be erected in turn into a hypostasis, as Madhyamaka accuses
Yogâcâra of doing. That would be another form of clinging, which
the medicine of emptiness-thinking can also heal, when it is applied to fixated
notions of emptiness itself.
"Mattering" and "Happening"
Typically "mattering" and "happening" are processes that
of significance. The sense that "nothing matters" or that "nothing
are, in some situations, considered as key triggers to engender alternative
behaviour to ensure that "something" does indeed happen. Where "nothing" is
valued in contrast to "something", however, other considerations
Assuming, for the moment, that "nothing matters" and "nothing
is happening" are equivalent, the following clarifications may be made,
however they are to be fruitfully understood:
- focus on matter / form (implying some form of embodiment of the insubstantial,
possibly a pattern or degree of order):
- "nothing" becoming embodied in matter
- "nothing" taking form (becoming embodied)
- significance / import (implying the acquisition of significance by that
which, by definition, lacks any):
- "nothing" becoming significant -- as recognized in the
Buddhist understanding of dependent
- "nothing" becoming a concern, of importance, or "mattering" (whether
as a problem or a possibility)
- "nothing" acquiring value and relevance
- "nothing" becoming memorable
- "nothing" becoming a matter of obligation or responsibility
In what follows a distinction is made between:
- "mattering" in the sense of acquiring significance,
importance, value or becoming memorable
- "happening" in the sense of a dynamic, in contrast
with some form of stasis
Mattering: Mattering is the belief that one makes a difference
in the lives of others. Individuals
with a sense of mattering perceive they are acknowledged and relevant in
the lives of other people. (cf Scott Schieman and John Taylor. Statuses,
Roles and the Sense of Mattering. Sociological Perspectives Winter
2001, 44, 4, pp. 469-484). Any perceived deficiency in such mattering may
dispose towards suicide (cf Gregory C. Elliott, et al. Mattering and Suicide
Ideation: Establishing and Elaborating a Relationship, Social
Psychology Quarterly, 68, 3, September 2005, pp. 223-238).
Mattering Matters. Leader to Leader, 2005), the social
sector has always understood that mattering matters, and this understanding
has constituted one of its greatest strengths.
George Loewenstein and Karl Moene. On mattering maps
A mattering map is thus a 'projection' (in her novel and in
real life, Goldstein is married to a mathematician) of how different things
are valued in different social settings. It highlights the fact that different
social groups value different things, and, because people are inherently
social and naturally adopt the attitude toward themselves that others adopt
toward them, what people value in themselves, and their feelings of personal
worth, often undergo radical changes when they shift from one social context
Qi: This fundamental Chinese concept
(mentioned above) offers an interesting example of the challenge of understanding
what might be called the
"mattering of nothing" -- especially given its rejection (as nothing)
by science. Qi has been
variously understood and explicated as:
- necessary to activity
- potentially controllable by a well-integrated
- capable of extending beyond the human body, when appropriately nurtured,
to reach throughout the universe
- capable of being augmented by means of
careful exercise of moral capacities, or of being degraded in an individual
by averse external forces
- also associated with the earth, notably through wind, and the topological
configuration of places and spaces, as in the philosophy and practice of
feng shui and
geomancy, in ensuring the flow of qi, interactions between
the five elements (in Chinese and Japanese philosophy),
yin and yang and other factors.
Within this understanding human beings are born because of the accumulation
of qi, namely when it accumulates there is life and when it dissipates
there is death. It may thus be understood to connect
and pervade everything in the world. Retention or dissipation
of qi is then held to affect the health, wealth, energy level,
luck and many other aspects of the occupants of space as understood by feng
shui. This factors are notably of major significance to financial business
environments in parts of the Far East. Qi is a central concept in
Korean and Japanese martial
arts and to their variants such as Tai
Chi Chuan. These have all attracted considerable attention outside
Weapons of Mass Destruction (and Suicide): It is
curious that military research should have invested so heavily in what amounts
to the "mattering of nothing", namely negating others. The US military
budget is nearly 5% of GDP. The French term for such annihilation
is also instructive (anéantissement). But perhaps of far greater
interest is the extent to which, in this current period, such threat is met
by the mindset of the suicide bomber -- the epitome of asymmetric warfare. In
the latter case nothingness is destructively embodied -- sustained by a belief
in what is indeed firmly asserted by science to be nothing. It is of course
the same that developed the weapons of mass destruction.
Happening: Whereas "nothing happening" may be experienced
as highly problematic, the implications of the "happening of nothing" are
intriguing as an unexplored key, as envisaged in an earlier exploration (Psychology
of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002).
Incarceration: This process highlights a range of possibilities
through which the happening of nothing is experienced. At one extreme it may
be voluntarily chosen as by hermits or by contemplatives in intentional communities.
At another, in penal institutions, there may emerge a recognition of how the
experience becomes one of "no time" and of a different form of nothing happening
-- specially for long-term prisoners. What long-term impact does this experience
have on the developing culture of a country where a significant proportion
of the population has endured it -- as in the Van Diemen's Land of the past,
or the USA of the present? Paradoxically, does it enhance the quality of the
culture in some way?
Physics: In physics another kind of "nothing" might
be said to have been recognized. Whilst this has now been widely reframed as
"something", which can be generated by various techniques, the somewhat mysterious
nature of its "nothingness" continues to merit reflection. In fact that "nothingness"
only acquires significance in a situation where invisible differences of potential
become apparent -- through the dynamics of the "happening of nothing". That
is when nothing "matters".
Monetary systems: National
monetary systems may be recognized as "backed by nothing" (as noted
above) -- and currently to an unprecedented degree, obscured by the process
of globalization. Paper money may be issued, backed by nothing but government
promises. The process has been named the Mandrake
Mechanism after the 1940s comic strip character Mandrake the Magician (see
also G. Edward Griffin, What
is the Mandrake Mechanism? It's the most important financial lesson of your
life!). Mandrake's specialty was making things out of nothing and
making them disappear back into the same void. Hari Heath (Money?
It's not what you think it is, Idaho Observer, June 2003),
explains the principles by quoting the testimony of Federal Reserve Governor
Marriner Eccles before the House Committee on Banking and Currency, 30 September
In truth, money is not created until the instant it is borrowed, It is the
act of borrowing which causes it to spring into existence. And, incidentally,
it is the act of paying off the debt that causes it to vanish....In spite
of the technical jargon and seemingly complicated procedures, the actual
mechanism by which the Federal Reserve creates money is quite simple. They
do it exactly the same way the goldsmiths of old did except, of course, the
goldsmiths were limited by the need to hold some precious metal in reserve,
whereas, the Fed has no such restriction.
It is difficult for Americans to come to grips with the fact that their
total money supply is backed by nothing but debt, and it is even more mind
boggling to visualize that, if everyone paid back all that was borrowed,
there would be no money left in existence.
Drama: Curiously William
Shakespeare offers an exploration of the
dynamics of "nothing" through one of his best known comedies.
The play Much
Ado About Nothing (1600) appears to be an exploration of trivia, but
through a homophonic play on "nothing" (and "noting") is recognized to have
other implications (Diana Major Spencer, Much
Ado about Nothing: Much More than Nothing, Midsummer
Magazine, 1995). This is perhaps the classic taoist "point" made by Chuang
What use is this struggle to
set up "No" against "Yes," and "Yes" against "No"?... When the wise man grasps
this pivot, he is in the center of the circle, and there he stands while "Yes" and "No" pursue
each other around the circumference.
Whether "mattering" or "happening", the "ado" then engenders "nothing" of
a higher order of significance.
Another approach to "not
happening" has been drama as
explored by Goesta Struve-Dencher (The
Happening of Nothing: from Gao Xingjjian's Dialogue and Rebuttal towards
an Enactive Theatricism of Indeterminacy', Masters in
Fine Arts (Drama), University of Alberta, 2005) who argues:
are explored of a post-humanist drama that, rather than demanding the postmodern
overthrow of all textual authority, is based on an open-ended, anti-rationalistic
and analytically opaque playtext. Dramaturgical and performance strategies
include psychophysical embodiment, ambivalent tensions, kinetic transformation
and multiplexity of signification. In the final section, the author proposes
a phenomenological framework for this indeterminate theatricism, by establishing
parallels to a theory of enactive cognition (Varela, Thompson, Rosch) that
integrates recent scientific research with Buddhist notions of perception,
reality and ego-self. The theatre of indeterminacy is posited as part of
an alternative cultural discourse that embraces teleological groundlessness.
With performance as an emergent phenomenon, actor and spectator become cooriginating
enactors of a shared, nondeterministic theatrical event.
The role of enactive cognition had been stressed in the initial paper (In
Quest of Optimism Beyond the Edge -- through avoidance of the answering
process, 2008). The use of aesthetic considerations in this way
is consistent with the critique of Michael Schiltz (Form
and Medium: a mathematical reconstruction,
Narrative, 6, 2003) regarding the need to challenge the adequacy of the
form on which understanding is represented (as mentioned in Annex
The complexity of the reality that indigenous communities embody in their
environment has been acknowledged (cf Darrell Addison Posey (Ed).
Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999). The cultivation
of that relationship through drama, dance, music and song is not recognized
to the same degree although it is considered significant to Aboriginal peoples,
for example. The role of pilgrimages and journeys (such that to the "Edge
of the World" on which this commentary has been based) may also be considered
in this light.
Creativity and innovation: To the extent that creativity
and innovation are processes through which something is made "out of nothing",
the "mattering of nothing" can be understood as notably characteristic of those
described as the "cultural
creatives". As with any form of creativity it may be disrupted through
abandonment by the muse -- as in writer's block
Loss of faith: This phenomenon is widely recognized
by those with a religious commitment. The resulting emptiness -- a dramatic
"mattering of nothing" -- is experienced as a fundamental existential crisis.
Analogues may be experienced with loss of other forms of existential commitment,
notably in relation to a political ideology, with respect to allegiance to
an organization, to a cognitive discipline, or to a personal relationship.
In each case the foundation of the person's identity is called into question.
The experience may be contrasted with experiential enlightenment but may also
be subsequently understood as a necessary phase of detachment in a process
towards more profound enlightenment following such a "dark
night of the soul" (Enlightening
Endarkenment: selected web resources on the challenge to comprehension,
Death: The "happening of nothing" offers
a powerful means of exploring the relationship to the death of an individual
or of a people (as in Tasmania). People in most cultures respond to the challenge
of maintaining relations with the dead -- if only through commemoration and
memorials (as discussed in Annex
B). This is the theme of the exp;oration of Robert Pogue Harrison
(The Dominion of the Dead. University
of Chicago Press, 2003). He asks: How do the living maintain relations to the
dead? Why do we bury people when they die? And what is at stake when we do?
The author considers the supreme importance
of these questions to Western civilization, exploring the many places where
the dead cohabit the world of the living -- the graves, images, literature,
architecture, and monuments that house the dead in their afterlife among us.
In the light of the work of such as Vico, Virgil, Dante,
Pater, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Rilke, he argues that the buried dead form
an essential foundation where future generations can retrieve their past, while
burial grounds provide an important bedrock where past generations can preserve
their legacy for the unborn. His exploration is a
profound meditation on how the thought of death shapes the communion of the
living -- which notably speaks to all who have suffered grief
It is in this context that he refers to Heidegger with regard to the "happening
Regarding the connection I seek to establish between the underworld, the
anachronic matrix of the institutional order, and what Heidegger calls das
Nichts, I would draw attention to Richard
Polt's essay, The Question of
Nothing  in which he traces the evolution of Heidegger's concept
of the Nothing and argues that, for the later Heidegger, "the happening
of Being brings in the happening of Nothing, the tracing of a fragile frontier
beyond which things can belong no more to the realm of the accessible and
It is that other realm, or what Polt calls "the shadows and enigmas
of the frontier (p. 82), that interests me here.
"Nothing" emerging through combinations of "mattering" and "happening"
Whether in the long tradition of story-telling
or through the skills of modern media, the highly valued art is to be able
"to make something out of nothing". It is one definition of art (and
consequently artefact). Through the zero, it has been framed as fundamental
to mathematics (Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, Making
something out of nothing: Indian mathematics, UNESCO Courier, Nov,
1993). The art is especially valued with respect to social change and entrepreneurship
Alchemists: How Visionary People Make Something Out of Nothing, 1998; Phoebe
Something from Nothing, 1993; Joan Ranson Shortney,
to Make Something Out of Nothing, Mother Earth News, March/April
1976). The process is recognized as relevant in contexts such as architecture,
has many problematic associations to exaggeration, especially when used in relation
to speculative financial initiatives and economic
bubbles (eg South
Sea Bubble) -- whose causes remain a challenge to economic theory. Apologists
for "genocides" seek to demonstrate that history has been mistakenly
fabricated out of "nothing" (as discussed in Annex
following table endeavours to hold the various above nuances associated with
"nothing mattering" and "nothing happening" -- as further
clarified in the comments below it. "Happening" is understood in
terms of dynamic and action -- as intuitively sought in response to boredom. "Mattering" is
understood in terms of significance (whether or not anything is "happening").
|Table 1: Simplified interplay of mattering
(elaborated in Table 2 by expanding intermediate shaded conditions)
(stasis / inactivity)
||Happening of "nothing"
(emergent dynamic / patterning of connectivity)
|Mattering of "nothing"
(emergent / implicit significance; longer-term memory; motivation)
generic recognition of vital importance of problematique, etc
emergent engaged order
(paradigm shift, etc)
(insignificance / meaninglessness; longer-term amnesia; demotivation)
indifference to inequality (injustice, problems, etc)
emergence of disengaged formal processes (empty of particular significance)
Conditions within the table (as illustrated by the metaphors explored above
and in the annexes) [NB: The following interpretations
are very tentative and are the focus of further reflection; part of the challenge,
beyond the terms and categories used, lies in their interpretation and the
insights which they might imply]:
- I: Neither "happening" nor "mattering":
This might be understood as the most challenging condition of cognitive entropy.
It is the condition of inactivity and alienation most to be regretted in
the existential despair of slum areas, but potentially also in those considering
Experiential nothingness, emptiness, meaninglessness and existential
alienation -- typical of many "pushed to the edge" and obliged
to live in the moment.
- Cradle Valley (Waldheim): typical experience
of the casual visitor responding to tourist promotion of the reputation
of the site and its facilities; associated with capturing images as
a memory of the experience; arm's length engagement with the environment
- Tasmania / Van Diemen's Land: celebration
of comfortable conventional values of "Little England" repressing
any memories of the cost of their emergence and dominance and the values
associated with that process
- White Man's Dreaming / Black Man's Dreaming: "nostalgic
utopias" ("linear" visions and future projections uninformed
by complex challenges) / "Dreamtime nostalgia" (complex intuitions
of spacetime uninformed by contemporary challenges of linear time or
past historical experience)
- Edge / Centre: seeming dissociation of creative, "leading" or "cutting" edge
from conventional centre; edge and centre as mutually irrelevant and
- Strategy: preoccupation with surviving the
moment (whether as peasant or politician)
- II: "Mattering" without "happening":
This might be understood as the recognition of issues of importance (notably
injustices, etc) without any action in response to them. The worthy resolutions
of many international institutions might be caricatured in such terms when
only lipservice is paid to commitments to remedial follow-up (in full knowledge
that promises can be broken). Although there may even be an appearance of
vigorous activity thereafter, in this case such activity is subsequently
seen to have been of a token nature -- "nothing happened" however
much it "mattered".
From a strategic perspective it might be understood as having requisite connectivity
but lacking the operacy skills for which it calls.
- Cradle Valley (Waldheim): conservative
environmental concern and sensitization, without significant remedial
measures; ecosophy; communing with nature; responsible overland trekking;
valuing the wilderness; ecotourism
- Tasmania / Van Diemen's Land: collective
recognition of the inherited influences and memories of Van Diemen's
Land (including extinction of the Aboriginal peoples); concern at the
potential traumatic impact of repressed memories
- White Man's Dreaming / Black Man's Dreaming: deep
commitments to remedial initiatives in response to challenges but without
the capacity to ground them ("armchair visionaries") / deep
commitment to Dreamtime insights without the capacity to ground them
in the present
- Edge / Centre: the edge as attractor for
the cultural creatives; dissociation of creative edge from alienation
of those forced "to the edge", eliciting recognition of the
centre as attractor in an existential pursuit of integrative understanding
-- edge and centre as complementary; "pilgrimages" from edge
to centre and from centre to edge
- Strategy: withholding assistance
to those recognized to be in dire need
Impotence in the face of a complex of concerns, whose intangibility
and interdependence as a set constitutes a "no-thing" that "matters".
Here the "mattering of nothing" gives a sense of weight to
the significance of that emergent, integrative understanding -- embodied
through longer-term memories and engendering motivation (even though
this does not lead to action)
- III: "Happening" without "mattering":
This might be understood in terms of the development of formal models detached
from the content they are intended to order. This might be caricatured as
the approach of those scholarly preoccupations indifferent to the relevance
(the "mattering") of any insights in practice.
Possibly to be experienced as a sense of pace and its pressures in the course
of "looking for an edge" that promises "access to the centre".
It might be associated with the social construction of reality notoriously
associated with news management ("spin").
- Cradle Valley (Waldheim): exploitation and
irreversible destruction of natural resources; meaningless
action insensitive to the long-term context; irresponsible overland trekking
- Tasmania / Van Diemen's Land: formal commitment
to processes of reconciliation, commemoration and "Aboriginal heritage"
- White Man's Dreaming / Black Man's Dreaming: (frenetic)
engagement in projects and processes essentially uninformed by any longer-term
significance / commitment to ritual and celebration without the capacity
to transmit their significance (to newer generations)
- Edge / Centre: value in its own right of
being "at the edge", "where the action is", whatever
the content -- globalization (as discussed below)
- Strategy: initiatives subsequently
judged to have been "mindless"
Here nothing is the emptiness of busyness of negligible long-term significance
and wider relevance -- action in the moment for its own sake, disassociated
from any longer-term temporal context.
- IV: "Mattering" with "happening": This
might be understood as the condition of highest cognitive negentropy. This
implies a condition of "cognitive pregnancy" and potential (in
the sense of vigilance and preparedness) rather than concrete action -- it
is the matrix for such action or its precursor whereby a pattern of connectivity
is engendered. It is the condition explored by enactivism (as
notably articulated by Francisco
- Cradle Valley (Waldheim): identification and
embodiment; sense of deep time; the Valley
Spirit of Tao Te Ching ("The Valley Spirit never
dies / It is named the Mysterious Female"), choosing the obscure and
mysterious aspect of things, and controlling things without ruling them --
in complementing those of the Mountain (the adjoining Cradle Mountain);
for what dynamic entity is the Cradle valley to be understod as a container?
- Tasmania / Van Diemen's Land: collective
embodiment of the past such as to enhance the potential for engagement
with the future
- White Man's Dreaming / Black Man's Dreaming: embodiment
of insight, enactivating the pattern that connects, laying down a path
through walking / invoking the future into the eternal present
- Edge / Centre: dynamic relationship between
"edge" and "centre" through an unconventional (nonplanar)
topology that recognizes each as effectively everywhere and intimately
connected (as discussed in the Conclusion)
- Strategy: "getting one's act together"; "mindful"
The "mattering of nothing" might here be understood as the
emergence or cognitive embodiment of a more powerfully integrative enabling
paradigm -- implying a new level of connectivity, notably within a longer-term
temporal context. Here the "happening of nothing" implies a sense
of the birthing of a "pattern that connects" both statically
and dynamically -- an empowerment through increased potential. (cf Entelechy:
actuality vs future potential, 2001).
"Nothing" may here be a particular understanding of order, emergent
or otherwise -- such that the "mattering of nothing" is the emergence
of order and the "happening of nothing" is the dynamic that renders
sustainable that new order as a complex system. The dynamic pattern of order
may usefully be explored as a holon.
Of particular interest is the possibility
- healing may be essentially the happening of nothing through which a whole
is made. Note also the controversy surrounding anti-despressants vs placebos,
as discussed by Mark Lawson (Nothing
for Something, The
Guardian, 29 February
2008), "some will continue to need drugs,
but it would be sensible to explore the range of ways in which doctors can
give nothing, which can also be something.")
- "community" development is enabling nothing to happen, namely
healing the community
In the above table, the relationship between res extensa and res
a focus of the initial paper (In
Quest of Optimism Beyond the Edge -- through avoidance of the answering process),
might best be understood as follows:
- Res extensa: Condition I, and dominant in Condition
II *** jumble / uncoordinated / meaningless
- Res cogitans: Condition IV, and dominant in
Dynamic complexification: integration of "no time"
The above table might be usefully elaborated with respect to time in the light
of the work of Arthur
Young's Geometry of
Meaning (1978) as applied to 12-phase
learning / action cycles. This work was previously adapted in a
table on Varieties
of experience of past-present-future complexes (2001), itself part
of a larger study (Presenting
the Future: an alternative to dependence on human sacrifice through global
pyramid selling schemes, 2001). The earlier table includes relevant
commentary. In this adaptation the order of the rows has been reversed in order
better to relate it to the table above.
|Table 2: Complex
interplay of mattering and happening
(simplified in Table 1 by collapsing intermediate conditions)
|Comparison with norms
or memory of previous experience
with previous comparisons Patterns
Awareness of self-awareness
Cyclic time / Feedback
Faith in paradigm of the moment;
unexamined or habitual commitment to a
process projection or understanding, irrespective of inconsistent disturbing
factors. Moment of inertia.
to act or initiate a process
determining the future. "Angular
Achievement of a desired result
by application of understanding (and adjustment
of implicit beliefs) in response to external factors; working action
on reality. "Torque"
integrated or embodied experience; capacity (including that of not
Recognition of moment(-ousness),
relevance (as related to leverage), significance ;
weight of facts; bringing matters into focus
Recognition of the momentum (of
an issue) resulting from a change, namely the consequential transformation
of awareness or perspective
Engendered, experienced or embodied
as a result of transformative action; constructive (or disruptive)
action potential; enhanced sense of being
Establishment of disciplined
pattern of response; consolidated or harmonious control of action
potential; holding forces in check
Observation; act of considering; position determination;
reactive learning based on immediate registration of phenomena; assessment
of distance; "sizing up"
reaction; passive adaptation or change of position in response to changing
Spontaneous initiation of transformative
action; commitment to a new course of action
transformative action. Cybernetics
The correspondences to Table 1 are:
- "nothing happening" is usefully indicated here by Column A (T0 as
- "happening of nothing" is usefully indicated here by Column D
(T-3 as reciprocal)
- "nothing mattering" is usefully indicated here by Row 1 (M0L),
associating M with meaning (or the lack thereof)
- "mattering of nothing" is usefully indicated here by Row 3 (ML2)
- "mattering" with "happening" (Cell IV) is usefully
indicated here by Cell 3D (ML2/T3),
indicated as "power of acquired knowledge".
Columns [A], [B], [C], [D] distinguish 4 different kinds of time:
- Column [A] = sense of timelessness. Column A is
primarily identifying and relating to experience (sensing it); an "intention" barrier
must be passed to get into Column B.
- Column [B] = conventional arrow of calendar time fundamental
to western culture. Column B is developing intentions with respect to experience;
an "action" barrier must be passed to get into Column C.
- Column [C] = time "bent" effectively by
a process of comparison. Column C is engaging in action; a "continuity" barrier
must be passed to get into Column D where the action can be rendered sustainable.
- Column [D] = time curved back on itself through
feedback loops into the cyclic time of processes. These columns effectively
distinguish experientially different kinds of "future". Column
D is ensuring that action is controlled and maintained knowledgeably; a "contextual" barrier,
recognizing new feedback loops, must be passed to get into Column A
(repeating the learning cycle within a larger framework).
An understanding of "time stopping" arises from the use of the original
schema by Arthur Young, whereby inverse time (T-1, T-2, T-3)
was very short -- eternity in an instant -- arguing that:
This compaction of time would give it the character
of omnipresence -- not going 'backward' in time, away from the present,
but instead going more deeply into the present. This interpretation has the
merit of conforming to references in countless religions and mythologies
to the super-sensible, nonphysical celestial world... (p. 81).
It is tempting to consider, if only for mnemonic purposes, that Column [C]
could be associated with a sense of cyclic
time. Given the challenge of engaging
with macrohistory (Engaging
Macrohistory through the Present Moment, 2004),
More intriguing is the case of Column [D] which might be understood in terms
time, with the emphasis
on an unconventional sense of its "internalization" in the following
(contrary to the intentions of the author):
By recognizing the vastness of Earth history compared to human history,
we internalize what John McPhee has termed Deep Time and we gain an essential
perspective from which to consider the results and consequences of our human
impacts on Earth. (A.
R. Palmer, The
Context of Humanity: Understanding Deep Time)
Note the study of Tom Griffiths (Traveling
in Deep Time: La longue Durée in
Australian History. Australian Humanities Review, 1999). Some
contemporary psychotherapeutic practices emphasize the function of temenos,
as the sacred space within in which deep time is experienced in meditation
[more | more].
Rows , ,  bring in the knower/known locus of experience
in 3 different ways:
- Row  based on the "L" dimension, might be
considered as space-like time, namely the "past" as a legacy pattern
in an abstract speculative space. This row is essentially about
knowing, framing, scoping and clarification (processes of the "head").
Row 1 is primarily intellectual and detached from reality "on the ground" or "in
the field", even if it is obliged to theorize about it; a "concern" barrier
must be passed to get into Row 2 experience.
- Row  introducing the "M" dimension (meaning)
to accompany the "L" dimension, might be considered as the emergence
of a focus of significance, an experiential centre of gravity in
a recognized "present". This row is essentially about concern,
involvement and participation (empathetic processes of the "heart").
Row 2 is concerned with, or involved with, grounded reality -- but without "being
there"; a "grounding" barrier must be passed to get into Row 3 experience.
- Row  here the "M" dimension is combined with
"L2", indicating an engagement of the experiencer --
a degree of identification with experience. This row is essentially about
grounding, doing and praxis (processes of the "guts", "walking
the talk", or "being there"). Row 3 is identified with grounded
reality in some way; a "comprehension" barrier must be passed to get into
Row 1 experience (repeating the learning cycle within a larger framework)
Whereas Arthur Young applies his insights to the conditions of learning/action,
here the focus is on potential for action in terms of order. It highlights
the emergence (or absence) of the action-enabling pattern of connectivity.
Young's necessary focus on mass (M) is here considered generically in the sense
of the connectivity that (in the material case through atomic bonds) constitutes
a body of meaning.
The adaptation of the work of Arthur Young could also be considered in relation
to the "progression of bindings" relating to human progress as identified by Alfred
Korzybski (Science and Sanity: an introduction to non-Aristotelian
systems and general semantics, 1994), notably his argument that through
language and culture, sapient beings perform "time
binding" by the transmission of knowledge and abstractions through time which
are accreted in cultures. This has since been reframed in terms of a sequence
metasystem transitions through
which new levels of control are achieved for: position (through motion), motion
(through irritability), irritability (through reflex), reflex (through association),
association (through thought), and thought (through culture). These six transitions
might be fruitfully related to Table 2 by collapsing together the
cells of Columns A and B, and those of Columns C and D.
Whereas a 7th metasystem level of control (or binding) is currently hypothesized
as a technological
singularity, this might be more fruitfully envisaged as a cognitive singularity
(as discussed in the Conclusion: Emergence
of a cognitive singularity).
Emergence of "nothing": creating "cognitive shelters" and "cognitive vehicles"
It is intriguing to explore any comprehensive cognitive system, or belief
system, as a form of "cognitive shelter" -- or even as a "cognitive
The design and construction of such a shelter is such as to enclose emptiness.
The space so enclosed then serves as a habitat in which people "move and
have their being".
The nothingness of such space, necessarily initially absent, is effectively "imported" within
a framework which thereby gives significance to that emptiness.
This is consistent with the challenging Buddhist insight (from the Mahaprajnaparamita
Sutra, the Heart Sutra): Form is emptiness / Emptiness is form / Emptiness
is no other than form / Form is no other than emptiness. Perhaps to be understood
in terms of form being implicit in emptiness, just as emtoines is explicit
in form -- in the light of David
Bohm's understanding of the dynamics holomovement (Wholeness
and the Implicate Order, 1983; Quantum Theory as an Indication of
a New Order in Physics: implicate and explicate order in physical law," Pysics,
3. 2, 1973, pp. 139-168).
It could then be said that the valued nothingness is "mattered" through
the connectivity of the framework design and construction. The history of the
construction of habitable spaces offers many examples of possibilities. Of
potentially greatest interest are those combining minimal use of material
resources with principles of sacred geometry to achieve a minimalist design
of elegance and symmetry.
The challenge of creating attractive spaces -- places in which it is a pleasure
to be -- has been remarkably addressed by Christopher
Alexander. His work
had been based on abstract principles (Notes
on the Synthesis of Form, 1964) followed by insights into a set of
practical patterns (A
1977) -- then related to the widely recognized nature of the attractiveness
of such spaces to which he refers as the "quality without a name" (The
Timeless Way of Building, 1979). His many patterns were used experimentally
as a template to identify their cognitive analogues (5-fold
1984) and the implications of such patterns for governance (Governance
through Patterning Language Creative Cognitive Engagement contrasted with Abdication
of Responsibility, 2006).
Another approach to minimalistic design, giving form and significance to nothing
and emptiness, is that based on tensegrity principles, namely "tensional
as elaborated by R Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: the geometry of thinking,
1978-9). For Fuller such structures were fundamental systems having different
characteristics. The emergence and sustainability of such unexpected structure
offer an appropriate metaphor for the embodiment of nothingness. They exemplify
the patterns of connectivity that enable the emergence of such improbable space
creating structures. Especially significant is their dependence on the continuing
dynamic relationships between the parts -- perhaps to be usefully understood
as an interplay between "mattering" and "happening" as
The function of such structures as "cognitive shelters" is highlighted
by their use as templates to hold patterns of relationships between disparate
conceptual entities. They raise the question as to the nature of order as "no-thing",
however the patterns of connectivity are embodied. It is appropriate that Alexander's
more recent work should be on The
Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe (2003-2004).
There is a curiously ironic possibility in the current civilization that the
generic pattern of conceptual systems, in terms of which "points" are made
in discourse, is echoed in the design of the ball (a container for emptiness)
which is the focus of so much non-conceptual intercourse in sport. This has
been explored elsewhere (Understanding
Sustainable Dialogue: the secret within Bucky's Ball? 1996).
As noted there:
Maybe the "ball" that gets kicked around between positions in any dialogue
-- the topic -- needs to be understood as more complex. It is not just a "point".
It is only this complexity that accounts for its resilience and ability to
bounce back. Who would want a dialogue with a "ball" that did not bounce, but
just stuck where it landed? Would a dialogue then be possible? What is the
difference between games with a bouncing and a non-bouncing "ball"? C-60
is remarkable for its resilience. Like a manufactured football, it is a satisfactory
approximation to a perfect sphere.
A metaphor might be understood as a particular kind of cognitive shelter of
which personification, as a vehicle for identity, may be an example (as noted
by Kenneth Boulding below). Cognitive vehicles, as mobile
shelters, could then be considered as devices for ensuring the mattering
of nothing in different contexts (Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles
of the Future, 1991).
Emergence of "nothing": globalization as exemplar
The previous section points to the possibility of considering the much discussed
phenomenon of "globalization" as the "mattering of nothing".
From one perspective it recalls the phenomenon of the "economic bubble" and
the process of "talking up" speculative ventures.
From another it might be experienced as an exercise in emptiness, especially
when it is recognized as contributing directly to destruction of livelihoods.
In many respects it is essentially intangible, whatever the subtle erosion
of acclaimed traditional values..
Note that economic ventures and national monetary systems may be recognized
as "backed by nothing" -- and currently to an unprecedented degree,
obscured by the process of globalization. Paper money may be issued, backed
by nothing but government promises. The process has been named the Mandrake
Mechanism (as discussed above).
The form which expresses the emergence of the intangible nothingness of globalization
is that of the complex pattern of transactions -- the global connectivity on
which many have remarked. The "happening of nothing" it represents
includes business transactions primarily, as well as the patterns of communications
characterized by the world wide web.
This pattern raises the question of the nature of global conversation (Future
Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being through
conversation in the present moment, 1997).
Of considerable interest is the possibility that the subtle global form sustained
by "globalization" (as with a "bubble") is a form of "structural
a new stage as in the zero of the number system. Given the arguments of Jared
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005) and
Thomas Homer-Dixon (The
Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization,
2006), should civilizational collapse be compared with the collapse of such
a bubble of credibility enveloping a core of emptiness?
Emergence of "nothing": "import" of significance
As noted earlier, the title of this annex (Import of Nothingness and
Emptiness through Happening and Mattering) implies a double significance
to "import". As a cognitive process, it may be understood either as attaching
importance (significance) to a pattern of associations or as importing that
pattern into consciousness in some way -- possibly by "connecting the dots"
and enactivating that pattern. In terms of res cogitans, it is
the process of importing associations and embodying them in a previously
Given the concerns of this paper, it might be usefully seen as a creative
exercise in "making something out of nothing" -- of "making
nothing matter". This may be understood in terms of the "re-cognition"
of aesthetic resonances through which the meaningful happening of nothing is
enabled. It is the establishment of connectivity -- presumably echoed by synapses
within the brain.
It is fruitfully to consider how this may be understood as creating cognitive
wholes, gestalts or holons and how this process may be related to that which
gave rise to recognition of the role of the zero in the number system. As noted
by Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat (Making
something out of nothing: Indian mathematics, UNESCO Courier,
Nov, 1993) with regard to the religious context of the discovery of the zero:
There is no satisfactory documentary evidence as to how and in what exact
period this system was discovered in India, and how it developed. The earliest
reference to a place-value notation is a literary one. Vasumitra, a Buddhist
writer and leading figure at a great religious council convened by King Kanishka
(who reigned over the whole of north and northwest India at the end of the
first or the beginning of the second century A.D.), maintained in a book
on Buddhist doctrine that if a substance that exists in all three time dimensions
(past, present and future) is regarded as something different every time
it enters a new state, this change is due to the alterity of the state, not
to its own alterity. He illustrated this idea by speaking of a marker which
in the units position counts as a unit but in the hundreds position counts
as a hundred. He did not specify the nature of the marker.
The question is whether the nothingness imported in this way, re-cognized
as a unity, is to be considered as associated with a form of zero or positional
marker in a larger scheme of understanding. Although vigilance is required
with respect to attaching significance to any such play on metaphor ("importing"
it), the remark of Kenneth Boulding, author of Image (1956),
Our consciousness of the unity of self in the middle
of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable
metaphor for the unity of group, organization, department, discipline or
science. If personification is a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors --
we might be one ourselves. (Ecodynamics; a new theory of social
Given the proportion of matter to emptiness in the atoms of the human body,
Boulding's statement might be fruitfully rephrased as:
Our consciousness of the pattern of connectivity, giving a degree of form
to nothingness, associated with any sense of self in the
middle of a vast complexity of correspondingly empty images or material structures,
is at least as suitable an image for the unity of group, organization, department,
discipline or science -- primarily characterized by emptiness. If the personification
of nothingness is a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors -- we might be
Further exploration might consider:
- how the pattern of connectivity associated with the "happening of nothing"
relates to the concern (mentioned earlier) of Richard Polt (The
Question of Nothing,
2001) with respect to Heidegger's recognition that "the
happening of Being brings in the happening of Nothing, the tracing of a fragile
frontier beyond which things can belong no more to the realm of the accessible
and acceptable". Is this "fragile frontier" the pattern of connectivity,
and how does it relate to the dominion of the dead explored by Robert Pogue Harrison
(The Dominion of the Dead, 2003)?
- the nature of the connectivity of the "fragile frontier" in relation to
insights into the frontier between known and unknown, or order and chaos,
as offered by the Mandelbrot set (Psycho-social Significance of the Mandelbrot
Set a sustainable boundary between chaos and order, 2005)
- the possibility of analogues to the Mandrake Mechanism (given its current
fundamental importance to the sustainability of modern civilization, as noted
above), to enable the "happening of nothing" on a much smaller
scale as a means of sustaining the integrity of communities and individuals;
to what extent might religion be framed, notably by atheists, as operating
in a manner analogous to the Mandrake Mechanism and its dependence on promises
by a central authority?
- the possibility of smaller scale analogues to the phenomenon of globalization
as discussed above, and given its association with the Mandrake Mechanism
- the degree of connectivity of any pattern container for nothingness that
is required to evoke credibility in its capacity to sustain integrity and
of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative
thinking, 2007); when can it be credibly asserted that something
has indeed been made "out of nothing" -- like this exploration?
- the contrasting forms and degrees of "importance" implied in
Table 2 in terms of the reciprocals of: T0, T1, T2, T3 and
M0, ML1, ML2 ;
in the latter case this might relate to any exploration of the sacralization
of hyperlinks (Sacralization
of Hyperlink Geometry, 1997)
As noted above, it is appropriate to highlight the questionable
nature of nothingness and emptiness as a concept, objective or aspiration --
as something to which attachment can be fruitfully avoided. On the other hand,
Gregory Bateson's insight :
The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns.
It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed,
it is patterns which connect. (Mind
and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979).
highlights the implications of the "export" of nothingness and meaninglessness
-- through "breaking the pattern that connects" (as discussed in
the Conclusion). Here "export" is
recognized as a process complementary to that of "import" as used
Polarization and the dynamics of nothingness
The elaboration of distinctions in the tables above has depended on a form
of polarization -- within rows, within columns, and between rows and columns.
Some conditions have been isolated as more complex and interesting in comparison
with others framed as more simplistic and less desirable. The latter might
even be considered to have been "demonised" as regressive in an implicit
process of emergence and development.
The argument has been developed elsewhere that the convenience of such matrix
representations is fundamentally inadequate to an understanding of the complex
dynamics interrelating those conditions (Comprehension
of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a
matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006). The polarization
is more fruitfully understood as a dynamic feature of a work cycle (Psychosocial
Energy from Polarization within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia,
2007). There is also the question of whether individual and collective identity
is not better to be comprehended in cyclic terms (Emergence
of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity: sustainability as "psyclically" defined,
This merits continuing reflection but the challenge might be appropriately
summarized by using the heart and its dynamics as a metaphor -- perhaps comparing
its four chambers to the four cells of Table 1. Aspects of this argument have
been developed elsewhere (Cardioid
Attractor Fundamental to Sustainability: 8 transactional games forming the
heart of sustainable relationship, 2005)
Sustaining life may be compared to the challenge of sustaining the circulatory
operations of the heart -- all four chambers. Sustaining the integrity of that
recycling dynamic as a whole might be understood in terms of the different
forms of happening and mattering of nothing -- all of which are essential to
the mystery of life. Why indeed does the heart beat?
The heart is one of the most widely used metaphors across cultures. Especially
significant is its use in relation to affection, in the understanding associated
with an "empty" heart, and the implications of a "broken heart".
Given the arguments (above) challenging simplistic formulations,
any implied polarization of the "Dreamings" of men (Black or White)
is appropriately and symbolically challenged by their complex interactions
with both "Black
Woman's Dreaming" and
"White Woman's Dreaming" (cf Elise
Underside of History: a view of women through time, 1976). This offers
a powerful fourfold illustration of the "chambers of the heart".
In this light, of further relevance would be any understanding of the "cognitive
heart" and its operations. Such explorations might be fruitfully associated
with research on "cognitive fusion" as discussed elsewhere (Enactivating
a Cognitive Fusion Reactor Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing (ITER-8),
2006). This implies the development of understanding informed by the templates
of the subtlest thinking of fundamental physics. In that case the expectation
is the generation of potential from nothingness through nuclear fusion under
the peculiar conditions of the plasma state. The question is whether there
is a psychosocial potential to be generated by analogous means -- or whether
the sustaining potential of society and individual life is to be understood
as being generated by such processes already (Reframing
Sustainable Sources of Energy for the Future: the vital role of psychosocial
Is the social collapse envisaged by Jared
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005) and Thomas
Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization,
2006), to be fruitfully compared to a civilizational "heart attack"?
Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence,
2004) What do the insights into "energy flows" associated with Eastern
medicine offer to enrich such exploration -- especially at the collective level?
Is the quest for a way of understanding and enabling a healthier flow of qi along
the songlines of the noosphere -- the "pattern that connects"?
|The Tao is the happening of nothing
The Tao is how nothing happens