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4 September 2012 | Draft

Enstoning of Promise, Potential, Possibility and Pattern

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Annex 2 of Fivefold Clustering of Ways of Being Stoned: Imagination, Promise, Rocks, Memorials, Petrification (2012)


"Stone" is used metaphorically and otherwise in a quite disparate range of contexts. These nevertheless offer an elusive implication of connectivity which merits exploration, as attempted here -- especially given the associated sense of concreteness.

This offers an alternative understanding of the frameworks of belief systems, their articulation, and the problematic relationships between them -- exemplified by the communication processes in any gathering in which multiple themes are evoked and challenged from a variety of perspectives -- and to relatively little avail. Use of "stoned" as a provocative mnemonic device is then arguably appropriate through the distraction it offers, whether through use of drugs by individuals, or collective dependence on oil as a drug.

The argument is developed in the main paper in the light of five ways of clustering "being stoned", each summarized in a separate annex:

Models "written in stone": As typically presented, the "definitive" truth of explanations offered by conceptual models and frameworks may be usefully explored as effectively "written in stone", whether from the perspective of their creators, their proponents, or those variously encouraged to accept them as dogma.

A number of authors have addressed the widely-cited concern that the future may be "set in stone" (cf. Ahmed Afzaal, Is the Future set in Stone? 30 March 2010).

This cluster therefore endeavours to include any framework or belief system which could be variously understood as indicating possibilities, probabilities or predictions, perhaps taking the form of promises or prophecies. Profiting from the mnemonic value of their alliteration, it might be further extended to include: principles, proposals, programmes, projections, and patterns. Their articulation -- "in stone" -- may be understood through the "concretization" of various forms of inspiration and creativity.

The broad approach here is in sympathy with the probability theory of truth outlined by Vasily Nalimov (Realms of the Unconscious: the enchanted frontier, 1982; as separately discussed Probabilistic vision of the world, 1995) and Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge, 1975; Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being, 1999).

Academic theories: Despite subscribing to the scientific method of hypothesis formation, abstract theories tend to acquire a quality of permanence essentially antagonistic to challenge of any form. Being effectively "written in stone" they await the "scientific revolutions" and "paradigm shifts" of the future -- by which they will be called into question and "upturned". It is curiously assumed, given its fundamental nature, that any Theory of Everything will endure for all eternity when, in the light of history, there is every probability that this will prove to be a laughable assumption in centuries to come. In this sense those subscribing to such theories and their associated methodologies may well be understood as having been "stoned" -- if not "turned to stone". To the extent that such methodologies are embodied in the stonework of academic institutions (as mentioned below), they model the relationship with the "unstoned" in society, lacking any such sheltered habitat.

Religious dogma: This may be more particularly understood as the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization -- appropriately extended to include any school of thought. It is held to be authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by practitioners or believers. These may may well seek to enforce those beliefs in others held to be lacking in the requisite understanding vital to their salvation. Dogma may well be "written in stone" on the architectural features of the buildings designed to celebrate those beliefs (churches, temples, mosques, etc). As in the academic case, believers can be usefully understood as "stoned" -- and challenged in their relation to the "unstoned" of wider society, namely the "unbelievers" and "infidels".

Administrative and legislative procedures: These too may be readily experienced as having been "written in stone", possibly as edicts carved into pillars and the like. For some, subject to their inflexible categorization, this experience might be interpreted as "being stoned". Extreme examples are provided by the apartheid doctrine, the Nuremburg Laws (1935) of Nazi Germany, treatment of homosexuality and transexuality, or the right to die of the suffering, as well as the contradictions celebrated in the work of Franz Kafka and in Joseph Heller's satirical description of the double bind (Catch-22, 1961). As declared by an official inquiry for the Government of Western Australia, for example: Although the MCP contains guidelines and is therefore not legally enforceable, the relevant departments treat the policy 'as laws written in stone' (Reducing the Burden: Report of the Red Tape Reduction Group, 2009).

"Modelling" reality: A delightful conflation of associations is offered by Herman Kahn, an early exemplar of global model-builders, (based at the Hudson Institute at Croton-on-Hudson) -- recalling the homebase of Pythagoras, as one of the earliest of model-builders (based at Croton in Sicily). At the time, Croton-on-Hudson was also the base of the World Modelling Association -- grouping the top models employed to display their looks in the promotion of commercial products. As models physically embodying particular values, these have been the traditional inspiration for sculpture -- and consequently rendered into stone. It was Kahn who facilitated reflection on the "unthinkable" in relation to the strategic doctrine of "Mutual Assured Destruction" -- offering the threat of reducing the world to radioactive rubble. Curiously common to both "models" was the manner in which they offered a comprehensibly simplistic enshrinement of ideals -- thereby precluding considerations of the challenges of more complex realities.

Naming: As noted separately with respect to the appropriation of identity (Identity, Possessive World-making and their Transformation Dynamics, 2012), the process of naming is of course a subtle means of establishing a claim to a degree of possession of an identity associated with a distant form. Clearly every identity is potentially free to name the features visible from its own worldview, without subscribing to those attributed by others.

This recalls the process of psychosocial appropriation of a space at the collective level described by the process of land nám, coined by Ananda Coomaraswamy (The Rg Veda as Land-Nama Book, 1935), to refer to the Icelandic tradition of claiming ownership of uninhabited spaces through weaving together a metaphor of geography of place into a unique mythic story. This territorial appropriation process, notably practiced by the Navaho and the Vedic Aryans, was further described by Joseph Campbell (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: metaphor as myth and religion, 2002):

Land nám ("land claiming or taking") was [the Norse] technical term for this way of sanctifying a region, converting it thereby into an at once psychologically and metaphysical Holy Land.... Land nám, mythologization, has been the universally practiced method to bring this intelligible kingdom to view in the mind's eye. The Promised Land, therefore, is any landscape recognized as mythologically transparent, and the method of acquisition of such territory is not by prosaic physical action, but poetically, by intelligence and the method of art; so that the human being should be dwelling in the two worlds simultaneously of the illuminated moon and the illuminating sun.

Outlining issues: Appropriately The Stone (The New York Times), as moderated by Simon Critchley, features the writing of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.

The process of embodying insights in "one-liners" merits consideration in this context. Potentially most significant are slogans, aphorisms and proverbs (V S M de Guinzbourg, Wit and Wisdom of the United Nations: proverbs and apothegms on diplomacy, 1961). To this collection might be added the new phenomenon of tweets, as discussed separately (Re-Emergence of the Language of the Birds through Twitter? 2010).

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