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13 April 2010

Tunes or Pebbles

"Tunes or pebbles, processes or substantial things? 'Tunes,' answer Buddhism and modern science. 'Pebbles,' say the classical philosophersof the West. Buddhism and modern science think of the world in terms of music. The image that comes to mind when one reads the philosophers of the West is a figure in a Byzantine mosaic, rigid, symmetrical, made up of millions of little squares of some stony material and firmly cemented to the walls of a windowless basilica."
- Aldous Huxley, Island (from "The Old Raja's Notes on What's What")
Throw a pebble into a pond - you'll see waves emanating outward from the point where it struck the surface. Now throw a handful of pebbles into the pond - each pebble will generate its own wave emanating outward, and when these waves meet they'll form a pattern of peaks and troughs as a result of enhancing or canceling out one another.

Waves are interesting - more process than substantial entities. They are patterns in the water, and rather than being discrete bodies carrying a mass of water molecules as they go, they move through the water affecting new molecules and leaving behind the old. When two waves meet, as described above, they interact to create new patterns.

It's always seemed to me that this is a good metaphor for life and the world around us. Not the pebbles, or even the points where the pebbles meet the water, but the waves emanating outward. Imagine how different the world would be if we saw it this way instead of as discrete objects bouncing off of one another like billiard balls. People would interact with one another and see their interaction as a process capable of generating new ideas, new forms, new patterns in the pond. We'd learn to accept the uncertainties of life, and ourselves as participants in the world rather than as alien to it. This is not to say that it'd be a Utopia. But that we'd be better equipped to deal with the many problems we face. I think it's time we start paying attention to the water and learning what it has to teach us.

This post is partially inspired by the (friendly) debate between process-relational ontology (Adrian Ivakhiv here, here, here and here) and object-oriented ontology (Levi Bryant here and here and Graham Harman here, here and here). I'm in no position philosophically to contribute to that debate - I just want to show my solidarity with process-relational ontology.


michael~ said...

as you know, i think highly of Adrian's work and position, but I also respect Graham and Levi. I especially like Levi's use of systems thinking and the Deleuze/DeLanda strain.

However, I think the choice between objects or relations is a false one - and i think taking a 'metaphysical view' of the world is inherently distracting.

I like DeLanda's thinking about 'intensities'. The world has more or less 'intensive properties', which are involved in, and expressed as, a variety of material 'structures', networks, flows and assemblages.

Without getting too much into it at this point, i would say that the world has objects AND relations.

But broadly, i'm much more sympathetic to Adrian's position than OOO.


Jeremy Trombley said...

Agreed, Michael. I haven't had time to delve into De Landa as much as I would like - maybe this is my signal to do so.

Jeremy Trombley said...

By the way - sorry for taking up so much of your blog with that debate. He seems to have run out of arguments, so I'm done with it.

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