Feed the mouthy little thing
Sling mud and salt water,
Stumbling on the truth in words and visions
Then meeting with the devil and striking up a barter for bones.
Head cracks in three directions
Above, the light of aged oblivion
Blinds you with its shine, intense light reflecting on you
Standing tall before two pits to tomorrow
Beg, steal or borrow a reason I ended up
On this piece of gravel
Don’t see the new moon rising
I bought a boat load of dark spices
and the clouds covered you.
I have suffered the horrors of Lautremont
I have had the terrors of Kafka perpetrated on my body
I am changed
I am not the same
I am Phineas Gage
I am St. Francis no longer
There was a genius, a mad man, a mad genius who walked the halls of Harvard. Who worked himself to the bone for our country, and laid himself raw against the current of society around him: 1950’s, repressive implosion, the dark secrets that a culture hid like so many hangings placed before cracking walls, bright plastic smiles hiding dark secrets… this man, so tortured by his vast intellect, followed a trajectory that only the couragous would attempt. He risked madness in his mathematic, he threatened to breach the wall… for what? A greater understanding. John Nash is a truly profound man. one worthy of the Nobel Prize that he was awarded. To get to the meat of the matter, the marrow, when this man, this genius was granted an audience with Einstein, what did he choose to discuss? His rather obscure theory that light, like all matter, experiences friction. A bold kind of exculpation of theory: we no longer have to confine ourselves to obvious facts (light is not like sandpaper, thus it does not experience friction) that dominate our consciousness from birth, these “a priori truths” that riddle our lives… and are usually wholly false. In any case, the theory that Nash presented, against all common sense, was that photons might experience friction under certain conditions. Of course, all Einstein could do is tell poor, mad Nash that physics was not purely mathematical, and that what is logically sound is not necessarily physically possible.
As an apology for the madness of the mathematician, I will ask a single question: if it is not at all possible for light to have the characteristics of mundane matter, at what point could we say that light is not at all real, but ideal? At what point does the absolute speed of light propel it beyond any substance, into the world of space time, with its changing grades….
The question, though, takes on new dimension when it is viewed in light of his attempts at a solution for our greatest problems: a solution he indubitably saw and tasted, one that lingered before his senses, before it withdrew, leaving him only with mad ramblings and convoluted explanations.
The superb novel The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass was made into a rather dark cinematic drama by Volker Shlondorff. The novel was a tragedy that plays out like a comedy: falls and reversals take the places of loss and failure. The film, though, is purely a tragedy, and the comic elements of the story play out as a form of dissonance, starkly opposed to their ironic resonance in the book.
Little Oskar is blissfully ignorant of the horrors around him, and yet he is a sign of those horrors as much as he is a product of them. Though he remains ambivalent, with his drum he can disrupt the lock tight fascist order. His voice, on the other hand, breaks glass, clearly symbolic of Kristallnacht, implicating him in the crime and violence around him.
While the drum infects and inspires others, and Oskar’s voice duly impresses them, he otherwise has no influence over people. When he is not performing, he is strictly a spectator to the crime. His impotence to act as the world goes on about him is only reinforced by his perpetual childhood. He is personally stunted, as well as physically.
These opposed elements and their ambiguity do not add up to the horror of the film. Shlondorff took every ounce of comic irony from the story. I do not recall it ever dawning upon the Oskar of the novel to experience terror at the world about him. Why these pitch black tones, these unbearable moments of tension in a story that by all means expressed the exuberance of life? Why this piercing and endless tone of fear? Grass’ story was a cacophony of sound, a veritable boiling cauldron with all the clatter of an orchestra and all the joy of a circus. Shlondorff misunderstood all the joyous clatter, giving us instead the terror of life.
In light of the clear signs that particle physics will yield more knowledge about the cosmos than astrophysics, allow me to make the somewhat audacious claim that modern science has defined their concepts of the microcosm and macrocosm entirely backwards. It is thought, quite naively, that the microcosm is naturally the particle level and the macrocosm is the level of planets and even galaxies. Yet, consider that the ancient Atom was always in flux; its nature was to flow. In quantum physics the level of particles can only be determined by selecting them out of the infinite possibilities of superposition, making the molecular movement an infinite, macrocosmic function. By contrast the classical macrocosmic level would in fact be the microcosmic because they all can be based on finite equations of a Newtonian nature.
If we understand the molecular level as macrocosmic flux, it is easier to understand the casting of the molecular and the molar in Plateau Three of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Ontogenesis for any given body begins by drawing a molecular matter from the universal flux. These molecular matters, which are always flowing and fluctuating, naturally sediment and form into molar compounds. Likewise, any particular event may be the result of a molecular outburst and not pool ball physics. In essence, then, the butterfly effect may be a top down effect, beginning with the infinite process of the molecular flux, and ending in finite events of molar bodies.
Just because each individual molecule is smaller than an individual planet, does not mean that the magnitude of the forces at play or the level on which one or the other exists is evidently smaller. In essence, one could use the old ton of brick and ton of feathers logic. Just because a planet is bigger than a molecule, doesn’t mean that an infinity of planets is bigger than an infinity of molecules. This, only under the restricted sense that the real of the microcosm and the macrocosm is not at all the size of the individual bodies which compose its type (planet, grain of sand, or atom) but, after all, the functional whole it belongs to, and which determines its movements. This is the level each persists at: the cosmic flux is the molecular level, the macrocosm; and the molar body (planet, baseball, or human) is the universal realized in the particular object, the Newtonian body whose forces are local and therefore persist at the level of the microcosm.
Said over a cup of tea
Which was the darker side, to be or not to be?
What a lot of souls are we,
Adrift in the silences of history.
Saying to me,
“You have to own your shadow before you own your soul.”
This modest post-script to an earlier post owes a great deal to Jimena Canales’ paper on the Bergson Einstein debate, published in Project Muse. Canales’ is an excellent account of the debate in the context of the League of Nations and the differing political views of Bergson and Einstein. In the paper, Canales navigates the debate carefully, pointing out that Bergson never disputed the scientific findings of Relativity, only their philosophical significance.
The most infamous disagreement in the debate concerned the twin paradox, which Bergson was widely reported to deny. Yet, he fully acknowledged that the travelling twin would be younger and the clock would show an earlier time, he simply disputed the conclusions drawn about time from this fact.
The intellectual dispute between Bergson and Einstein is really between Bergson the brilliant and honored mathematician, and Einstein the consummate physicist. There is an old joke about a mathematician and a physicist on an airplane. The mathematician sees a cow on the ground and points it out to the physicist, saying “There is one cow, brown on top.” The physicist sees it and replies “There is one brown cow.” In essence, when the spaceship returns, Bergson only sees a younger twin and an earlier time on the clock, but he makes no assumptions about the other side of the cow, about what conclusion should be drawn concerning time proper. Bergson held that the questions about time when the twin returns would be philosophical, political and psychological rather than scientific, since the other side of the cow cannot be seen. Einstein however sees one brown cow, he assumes he knows what time essentially is, and it is no more than movement. Thus, Bergson’s critique of science for confusing space with time- not at all because they are bound together in space time (the four dimensional nature of which Bergson acknowledged), but because physics is confusing the spatial measure of time for time itself.
Unfortunately, even pathetically, Bergson is left with the old Socratic form of the question, in effect asking Einstein “What is Time?”, and Einstein replies by presenting a clock.