Sunday, March 27, 2016

253. Jamming time

In classical Greece, two notions of time were recognized: kairos and chronos. Chronos is sequential time, or what Bergson called spatial time: dots on a line. Kairos is the ‘opportune moment’, the effective thing to do at precisely that moment. It is adapting to circumstances as they arise, grasping opportunities when they arise. It entails a veering away from the plan, disturbing the programme, in taking advantage of contingent circumstances. Improvisation.

I wonder if Kairos is perhaps related to Bergson’s notion of duration.

Recently, I attended a presentation by the ‘Kyteman’ (Colin Benders), a young Dutch musician and band leader in the area of HipHop. He decided to get away from playing according to a fixed, prior composition. There, he explained, players are focused on themselves, fitting their contribution into the composition. The music consists of parallel voices each going their own set paths.

He opted for jamming, where players are intent upon each other as they improvise, adjusting or integrating novelty, in an unpredictable unfolding.

It is not without any order. Prior to playing some themes are proposed, and modes of mutual adaptation and integration. Kyteman stands in front, like a conductor, eliciting entries and exits, mutes and blasts.

Perhaps this is related to the opposition between Chronos and Kairos: with Chronos being associated with a preset order of composition, and Kairos with jamming.

Is Bergsonian duration like jamming?

This is associated, I think, with what Lévy-Strauss called bricolage, tinkering, which I used to characterize what entrepreneurs do: they have some initial sense of direction but bend it or veer off in a different direction on the occasion of unforeseeable obstacles and novel opportunities (item 41 in this blog). I think it also happens to artists, say poets and painters, as they find themselves proceeding in directions they did not foresee, pulled along with a sense of ‘flow’.  

Perhaps this also connects with the notion of serendipity: finding something by happenstance, not as part of any programme, not sought for. It seems to fall out of the blue, but it happens only to the prepared mind, building on a store of mental repertoires that can be triggered and connected to produce novelty, in subconscious association.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

252. Hermeneutics and literature

I have a hermeneutic question: how should we interpret hermeneutics? If it means the search for the single, true or ultimate meaning of a text, I do not go along with it. If it means that multiple interpretations may remain, and ever new ones may arise, I go along with it. That, I think is implied in the ‘hermeneutic circle’.

I discussed that earlier, in item 36 of this blog, but here is a summary. Language use entails that terms for concepts (on a ‘paradigmatic axis’) get inserted into sentences in action contexts, composed by grammar and syntax (on a ‘syntagmatic axis'). Paradigmatic concepts arise in abstraction from use in specific contexts. That entails generalization, a reduction of meaning to apply more widely, beyond contexts of application and origination. When inserted again in sentences they connect with other terms, increasing the richness of meaning with context-specificity, narrowing the reference to something specific to the context. This ongoing interchange between the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic axes forms the hermeneutic circle.

I tried to connect this with the ‘cycle of invention’ proposed in this blog and summarized in a preceding item (no. 250). There, invention of a novelty at first  yields a variety of alternative tentative new forms, which next gets narrowed down, converging onto a dominant form (paradigm), abstracted from the context where it originated, and more precise, after getting rid of remnants of the old and ambiguities of the new. This also means that what was liquid gets petrified. This then is embedded in other, new contexts (syntagm), in a variety of forms according to the different contexts, becoming more liquid. Misfits may then be encountered, and novel opportunities for novel modifications, which can yield a novel concept, with trials of different modifications, where we are back at the beginning of the circle. Liquid becomes gas, mixed with other gases, to yield a new distillation.

In the exploration of novelty, unable to specify something in language that does not yet fit, and misses or distorts it, one needs indirect images, associations, or metaphors. After new meaning becomes more determinate, in a new language, then one needs metaphor again for getting novelty across to others still dwelling in the old language.

Note, however, that metaphor is also misleading. For example, the thesis of an ‘object bias’ in language, proposed earlier in this blog, entails that we conceptualize abstract notions using metaphors from objects in space, and the handling of them, with containers, avenues, vessels, materials, flows, channels and the like, thereby misconstruing those nations. Like being ‘in’ love, ‘grounding’ an argument or theory, then ‘bringing it across’, taking a ‘position’, sending information across a communication ‘channel’, the ‘content’ and the ‘boundary’ of a concept, the ‘expressing’ an idea, ‘absorbing’ a message, and so forth.

The notion of ‘digging’ for an ultimate ‘ground’ of a theory may be a linguistic delusion, Like sticking a spade into the ocean.

Now, I propose literature is connected to all this as follows. It explores new meanings, in images or metaphors. It is not theoretical, i.e. not abstract, not paradigmatic, concerned with the general, the universal, but specific, contextual, syntagmatic, concerned with the singular, the individual. It puts familiar ideas into unfamiliar contexts, deviating from established, taken for granted general meanings and truths, and thereby shifts them. Dare I say it, with a bow to Derrida: it deconstructs. This applies also to conventions, rules, morality, and identity. Crime may turn into virtue, the ugly into beauty. People turn out not be what they were thought to be. Reading literature is an exercise in exploring and shifting meaning and morality. Earlier, in item 120 I asked whether reading literature ‘makes people better’, in exercising and developing their moral sense.

So, literary texts are not only subject to deconstruction by readers, they may deconstruct the reader.

In exploration, science also needs to do all this, and as a result it has a taste of the literary, for which is often condemned, for not (yet) being rigorous, well defined, univocal, unambiguous, determinate, abstract, tightly argued. It is blamed for being ‘ad hoc’, incidental, particularistic, indeterminate. And it is, has to be. The petrification of theory comes later.

Feyerabend once said that demanding a budding theory to be clear and exact is like letting a baby box against a grown man.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

251. Deconstruction

Here I connect Derrida’s notion of ‘deconstruction’ with Bergson’s notion of ‘duration’, discussed in preceding items in this blog.

Derrida aimed at criticism of established intellectual categories, taking them apart and reconstructing or replacing them. Not just destruction but creative destruction.  In particular, he toppled binary opposites, such as presence/absence, differentiation/undifferentiatedness, and justice/injustice, showing how they can morph into each other. Desire for the presence of a distant ideal or love may upon approach turn into abhorrence and a wish for distance.  

Also, Derrida claimed that texts do not have one single, ‘true’ meaning or interpretation, presumably what the author ‘really meant’. Meaning is indeterminate. Derrida allows for alternative interpretations that may go on developing after the author has died.

His argument is incontrovertible, in my view. If one accepts that interpretation is assimilation into the cognitive frames of the reader/listener, and that this means that it is partly constructed, or contaminated, or hybridized, by those mental frames, then multiplicity of interpretation follows. Mental frames, constructed by different people in different circumstances, differ. I called this ‘cognitive distance’ in previous items of this blog.

This does not mean that any interpretation is as good as any other. It is not a case of ‘anything goes’. One needs to be prepared to give arguments for one’s interpretation, to be subjected to debate. That is the notion of truth as ‘warranted assertibility’ that I adopted in this blog.

Now, there seems to be a connection between Derrida’s deconstruction and Bergson’s duration. In both we find the process view of change, transformation, emergence. With Bergson the emphasis lies on the creative (connected with his ‘creative evolution’), while with Derrida the emphasis lies on the destruction, but I think the intention is the same.

An important part of my philosophical programme is, and has been for a long time, to clarify and further develop the workings of creative destruction. That is the aim of my ‘theory’ (if it can be called that) of the ‘cycle of invention’ presented earlier in this blog and summarized in the preceding item.

In that cycle there is a Derrida-like alternation of the opposites of unity and differentiation, and of maintenance and transformation of form.

However, while with Derrida deconstruction appears to be ongoing, without end or pause, here, while here is no end there is pause, alternation also of stability and change. Stability, with standardization, is needed for making judgements, including moral ones, and decisions, and taking action, achieving efficiency, and encountering obstacles and new opportunities that feed renewed change. That kind of pragmatics does not appear to be present in Derrida’s deconstruction. I will return to this point in a later item.

An issue, arising with both Bergson and Derrida, now is this: what remains of analysis, the break-up of a whole into simple, fundamental elements, which has been the ideal of much philosophy, crystallized in ‘analytic philosophy’?

Like abstraction, which is a different kind of reduction, we need analysis, in science and in reconstruction everywhere.

The gist of the thought of both Bergson and Derrida is, I think, that while the decomposition of analysis is fine, and indeed needed, one should recognize that the meaning of elements changes in decomposition and abstraction, in preparation of a novel composition where new meanings arise.

As Derrida noted, the quest for ultimate, pure simplicity and singularity of fundamental elements, delved in analysis, is metaphysical, as much as, and perhaps equivalent to, the quest for absolutes in abstraction.

While analysis is a grinding down, abstraction is a distillation, rarefication, losing the sediment of experience, the salt of the earth. In both analysis and abstraction there is loss of context, of the richness, the variety and variability, of life. In re-construction, elements again acquire the whole-some richness of specific individual conditions.

Losing context, brought into isolation, in analysis and abstraction, elements shrink their actual meaning, losing specificity, becoming a mere item in a repertoire of potential meanings. Subsequently, inserted anew in a different context, in novel composition, they regain a new, specific meaning, entangled with particulars of the new context. I will expand on this in the following item, in a discussion of the ‘hermeneutic circle’. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

250. Duration, process and invention

Bergson’s notion of duration entails difference in continuity. Different things unified in time, in a flow of change, or better: of formation, emergence, and transformation. Bergson connected this with his idea of ‘creative evolution’.

In his view, duration is the paragon of qualitative difference, with elements, or moments, which are not additive, not repetitive, in contrast with the quantitative difference of separate, distinct, but similar things lined up in space.  

How to conceptualize this? Think of a body growing, and growing old, with body parts, themselves changing, connected in time, in the body. Or think of notes composing a melody, or words a story. Melody and story develop in time, with different connections between notes or words that shift their place and connotation in the process.  

The potential importance of this is that it may contribute to a better grasp of the present curse in society where the qualitative, the quality of process, gets overwhelmed by the quantitative, in measurement and control that suffocates the process and erodes the performance of professional work, in education and health care, for example.

I discussed that earlier in this blog (item 75), in a plea for ‘horizontal control’, where room is created for a non-quantitative, dialogical assessment of quality in terms of work processes. The fundamental move here is that it replaces an object view with a process view, a view in terms of duration, to be tackled not primarily by measurement but by dialogue (though measurement may part of it).

I am regularly invited to give lectures on this, in health care, education and the building industry, for example.

How are we to better understand duration as emergence? Bergson presented it as an exchange, and alternation, between maintenance versus renewal of form. This seems to me close, ‘spot on’, to my account of the ‘cycle of invention’, discussed in items 31, 35, and 138 of this blog.

To recall: novelty is proposed to arise from a generalization of an established form (theory, technology, practice, …) to a novel context with novel demands and opportunities, where its survival is challenged. In an attempt to cope with this, the form is differentiated. This is the first step in a loosening of form, in a widening of the context of application. Next, when this does not suffice, local failures and opportunities inspire hybrids of the established practice with elements from the novel context, in reciprocation. Here the form is beginning to be taken apart. Experimentation with novel combinations exhibits what value novelties may have, and what, in the old practice, inhibits realization of new potential. This yields pressures and hints for more fundamental, architectural changes of the form, for experimentation with tentative novel forms, in accommodation. Then, a process of selection arises, in which alternative novel prototypes compete for survival, which ultimately narrows down to a dominant design, which is then refined and narrowed down to an optimal new form, in consolidation. Here, form narrows down again. I discussed how this in some ways resembles evolution but also has important differences.

Now, does this yield an elucidation, a further specification, of the notion of duration? Does this help for further development of Bergsonism (as Deleuze called it)?  A clarification of ‘creative evolution’, with a specification of how it differs from natural evolution?

Next, how are we to understand  Bergson’s claim that duration is not only a feature of our consciousness, and of our subjective experience of time, but also of everything outside us, in the world. Are there really no stable, autonomous objects in the world? If in evolution we formed an inclination to conceptualize in terms of autonomous objects moving in space, because that contributed to our survival in the world, coping with prey, predators, enemies, sticks and stones, then that notion of stable, distinct objects must have reality value. So how can objects be both stable and subject to the process of change involved in duration?

An obvious idea would be that of ‘relative stability’. Things can be more or less stable relative to their change. Words have a volatile meaning, in moving from sentence to sentence, while objects maintain their constitution and form from one position in space to another. At the same time, living things have an internal movement of physiology, cell construction, decay, and death. A bodily organ deteriorates with age but manages to maintain its function more or less, for some more time. Even dead materials, a stone, say, is composed of processes on the level of molecules and atoms and underlying fundamental forces. For our survival in interaction with objects in space that movement is not relevant and hence not experienced.