30 March 2007

Science, scripture and semiotics

Intimologies (and gnoxic studies) represent a semiotic confluence of science and scripture.
Scripture here means whatever you read (or write) with your whole body.
Science means the public, consensual process of the human dialog with nature.

Whole-body reading of the real can only be done from the inside, by the ‘first person.’ Reports and expressions of that reading can only represent it externally (i.e. for other readers).

Investigation of an internal process (such as whole-body reading) can only be done from the outside, by ‘third-person’ methods, using reports and expressions as data (necessarily incomplete and fallible).

Science without scripture loses its body. Scripture without science loses its head.

28 March 2007

Autistics in translation

My work in progress, in Chapter 3, comments on the ‘virtuality’ of the human world—the way culture interposes itself between humans and nature, including their own nature. It's become problematic that we ‘rely so much on external artifacts for guidance. Now we are beginning to notice the unintended consequences of this turn of evolutionary events. In a sense, then, the burning question is how we can yank our heads out of those virtual clouds and get our feet back on the ground.’

According to Temple Grandin, in her (2005) book with Catherine Johnson, one way to escape the web of abstractions is to be autistic. Though there's a heavy social price to pay for being that way, it does short-circuit the tendency to dwell in abstractions and generalities. Grandin says that autistic people and animals tend to be ‘splitters’ where normal people are ‘lumpers.’ Following Snyder and Mitchell, she claims ‘that the reason autistic people see the pieces of things is that they have privileged access to lower levels of raw information’ (Grandin and Johnson 2005, 299). Therefore they pay close attention to details that the rest of us don't even notice.

Of course, any use of this new information would depend on someone's ability to generalize … otherwise we'd be overwhelmed by it, as autistics often are by the incoming flood of sensation.

18 March 2007

Language and Logos

There's an old saying in the West that if you lie, your nose will grow. In East Asia it's been said that if you lie, you lose your eyebrows. How do we know that these two idioms are equivalent? Because we recognize each of them in context as indicating the common experience of lying. You can lie in any idiom, though it's only called ‘lying’ in English. There's no way of naming the experience except in some language.

Why does ‘losing your eyebrows’ mean lying? How did that happen in Chinese discourse? No one could have predicted that this expression would ‘stick’ to that meaning, no matter how complete their general comprehension of Chinese syntax and semantics. Calling it an idiom implies that it's a peculiar development, explicable only with reference to accidents of history. But the Chinese language itself, or any language, is only a higher level of idiomaticity. If it weren't, there would only be one human language, every term within it having real (rather than virtual) connections with human experience. But such a language could not have evolved.

What's the common, essential root from which all languages branch? Some Greeks called it Logos, some Buddhists called it Dharma. But logos can also mean any word, and dharma any system, in those idioms.

Past and future Buddhas have names: Shakyamuni, Maitreya. What do we call the living Buddha? If you hear the healing message, or the turning word, does it matter whom you hear it from? How do you know what you've heard if you don't pass it on?

One spring day in 1246 CE, Dogen gave the following Dharma Hall Discourse:

If I expound Buddha Dharma as an offering to my fellow practitioners, I cannot avoid my eyebrows falling out. If I do not expound Buddha Dharma as an offering to my fellow practitioners, I will enter hell as fast as an arrow. Going beyond these two alternatives, what can I do today for you, my fellow practitioners?

After a pause Dogen said: Above the heavens there is no Maitreya, below the earth there is no Maitreya, but seeing his face is superior to hearing his name. If you meet him in person you cannot be deceived.

Eihei Koroku 2.156 (Leighton and Okumura 2004, 182)

16 March 2007

Reading, writing and scripture

From the point of view of a writer a text is never finalized, a writer is always prone to reworking or reshaping it knowing that any detail of a text is only one of the possible realizations of the potential paradigm. Anything could be changed. For the reader the text is a cast-iron structure, where everything is in the only possible place, where everything bears a meaning and nothing can be changed. An author perceives the final text as a last draft, while a reader takes what is a last draft to be a finalized text.
— Yuri Lotman (1990, 79)

Every reader who's done any writing will recognize the truth of this simple observation. From there it's but a short step to realizing that the typical reader's attitude finds its purest expression in the believer's attitude toward Scripture. Since ‘everything bears a meaning’ is inseparable in his mind from ‘nothing can be changed,’ he resists the evidence presented by historians, critics and scholars that the sacred texts have in fact changed. To the pure reader, the idea that the sacred text was ever a work in progress appears blasphemous. Those who read the universe as the perfected work of the Creator feel the same about the notion of evolution. But this ‘pure reader’ confuses historical time with real time.

The reader's real time is utterly unlike the writer's. In reader's time, the text has to be taken as a constant in order to find and fix some definite relations among the floating variables appearing as the stream of experience. (What else could a meaningful text be about?) So the song, poem, film, story or scripture is perfectly connected to the deeper order at the heart of things. But once this order is discovered and confirmed, then it can be taken as constant, and the text as variable. Eventually the text reveals itself as a draft to be revised for the renewal of the ordering vision. So now we're in writer's time. Semiosis, like breathing, has to keep cycling from inspiration to expiration, round and round again, in order to stay alive.

The reader who doesn't know himself as the writer of his own understanding thinks inspiration is life and expiration death. He doesn't see the larger life of the whole cycle. Lacking intimacy with the writer, he imagines the Author—or in science, the Expert—as an authority to whom he is subject, and before whom he is abject. Intimologies are cures for this disease of dialogue.