The Adventure, by Georg Simmel

The Adventure
Georg Simmel{1}Each segment of our conduct and experience bears a twofold meaning: it revolves about its own center, contains as much breadth and depth, joy and suffering, as the immediate experiencing gives it, and at the same time is a segment of a course of life – not only a circumscribed entity, but also a component of an organism. Both aspects, in various configurations, characterize everything that occurs in a life. Events which may be widely divergent in their bearing on life as a whole may nonetheless be quite similar to one another; or they may be incommensurate in their intrinsic meanings but so similar in respect to the roles they play in our total existence as to be interchangeable.

{2}One of two experiences which are not particularly different in substance, as far as we can indicate it, may nevertheless be perceived as an “adventure” and the other not. The one receives the designation denied the other because of this difference in the relation to the whole of our life. More precisely, the most general form of adventure is its dropping out of the continuity of life. “Wholeness of life,” after all, refers to the fact that a consistent process runs through the individual components of life, however crassly and irreconcilably distinct they may be. What we call an adventure stands in contrast to that interlocking of life-links, to that feeling that those countercurrents, turnings, and knots still, after all, spin forth a continuous thread. An adventure is certainly a part of our existence, directly contiguous with other parts which precede and follow it; at the same time, however, in its deeper meaning, it occurs outside the usual continuity of this life. Nevertheless, it is distinct from all that is accidental and alien, merely touching life’s outer shell. While it falls outside the context of life, it falls, with this same movement, as it were, back into that context again, as will become clear later; it is a foreign body in our existence which is yet somehow connected with the center; the outside, if only by a long and unfamiliar detour, is formally an aspect of the inside.

{3}Because of its place in our psychic life, a remembered adventure tends to take on the quality of a dream. Everyone knows how quickly we forget dreams because they, too, are placed outside the meaningful context of life-as-a-whole. What we designate as “dreamlike” is nothing but a memory which is bound to the unified, consistent life-process by fewer threads than are ordinary experiences. We might say that we localize our inability to assimilate to this process something experienced by imagining a dream in which it took place. The more “adventurous” an adventure, that is, the more fully it realizes its idea, the more “dreamlike” it becomes in our memory. It often moves so far away from the center of the ego and the course of life which the ego guides and organizes that we may think of it as something experienced by another person. How far outside that course it lies, how alien it has become to that course, is expressed precisely by the fact that we might well feel that we could appropriately assign to the adventure a subject other than the ego.

{4}We ascribe to an adventure a beginning and an end much sharper than those to be discovered in the other forms of our experiences. The adventure is freed of the entanglements and concatenations which are characteristic of those forms and is given a meaning in and of itself. Of our ordinary experiences, we declare that one of them is over when, or because, another starts; they reciprocally determine each other’s limits, and so become a means whereby the contextual unity of life is structured or expressed. The adventure, however, according to its intrinsic meaning, is independent of the “before” and “after”; its boundaries are defined regardless of them. We speak of adventure precisely when continuity with life is thus disregarded on principle – or rather when there is not even any need to disregard it, because we know from the beginning that we have to do with something alien, untouchable, out of the ordinary. The adventure lacks that reciprocal interpenetration with adjacent parts of life which constitutes life-as-a-whole. It is like an island in life which determines its beginning and end according to its own formative powers and not – like the part of a continent – also according to those of adjacent territories. This factor of decisive boundedness which lifts an adventure out of the regular course of a human destiny, is not mechanical but organic: just as the organism determines its spatial shape not simply by adjusting to obstacles confining it from inside out, so does an adventure not end because something else begins; instead, its temporal form, its radical being-ended, is the precise expression of its inner sense.

{5}Here, above all, is the basis of the profound affinity between the adventurer and the artist, and also, perhaps, of the artist’s attraction by adventure. For the essence of a work of art is, after all, that it cuts out a piece of the endlessly continuous sequences of perceived experience, detaching it from all connections with one side or the other, giving it a self-sufficient form as though defined and held together by an inner core. A part of existence, interwoven with uninterruptedness of that existence, yet nevertheless felt as a whole, as an integrated unit – this is the form common to both the work of art and the adventure. Indeed, it is an attribute of this form to make us feel that in both the work of art and the adventure the whole of life is somehow comprehended and consummated – and this irrespective of the particular theme either of them may have. Moreover we feel this, not although, but because, the work of art exists entirely beyond life as a reality; the adventure, entirely beyond life as an uninterrupted course which intelligibly connects every element with its neighbors. It is because the work of art and the adventure stand over against life (even though in very different senses of the phrase) that both are analogous to the totality of life itself, even as this totality presents itself in the brief summary and crowdedness of a dream experience.

{6}For this reason, the adventurer is also the extreme example of the ahistorical individual, of the man who lives in the present. On the one hand, he is not determined by any past (and this marks the contrast between him and the aged, of which more later); nor, on the other hand, does the future exist for him. An extraordinary characteristic proof of this is that Casanova (as may be seen from his memoirs), in the course of his erotic-adventurous life, every so often seriously intended to marry a woman with whom he was in love at the time. In the light of his temperament and conduct of life, we can imagine nothing more obviously impossible, internally and externally. Casanova not only had excellent knowledge of men but also rare knowledge of himself. Although he must have said to himself that he could not stand marriage even two weeks and that the most miserable consequences of such a step would be quite unavoidable, his perspective on the future was wholly obliterated in the rapture of the moment. (Saying this, I mean to put the emphasis on the moment rather than on the rapture.) Because he was entirely dominated by the feeling of the present, he wanted to enter into a future relationship which was impossible precisely because his temperament was oriented to the present.

{7}In contrast to those aspects of life which are related only peripherally – by mere fate – the adventure is defined by its capacity, in spite of its being isolated and accidental, to have necessity and meaning. Something becomes an adventure only by virtue of two conditions: that it itself is a specific organization of some significant meaning with a beginning and an end; and that, despite its accidental nature, its extraterritoriality with respect to the continuity of life, it nevertheless connects with the character and identity of the bearer of that life – that it does so in the widest sense, transcending, by a mysterious necessity, life’s more narrowly rational aspects.

{8}At this point there emerges the relation between the adventurer and the gambler. The gambler, clearly, has abandoned himself to the meaninglessness of chance. In so far, however, as he counts on its favor and believes possible and realizes a life dependent on it, chance for him has become part of a context of meaning. The typical superstition of the gambler is nothing other than the tangible and isolated, and thus, of course, childish form of this profound and all-encompassing scheme of his life, according to which chance makes sense and contains some necessary meaning (even though not by the criterion of rational logic). In his superstition, he wants to draw chance into his teleological system by omens and magical aids, thus removing it from its inaccessible isolation and searching in it for a lawful order, no matter how fantastic the laws of such an order may be.

{9}The adventurer similarly lets the accident somehow be encompassed by the meaning which controls the consistent continuity of life, even though the accident lies outside that continuity. He achieves a central feeling of life which runs through the eccentricity of the adventure and produces a new, significant necessity of his life in the very width of the distance between its accidental, externally given content and the unifying core of existence from which meaning flows. There is in us an eternal process playing back and forth between chance and necessity, between the fragmentary materials given us from the outside and the consistent meaning of the life developed from within.

{10}The great forms in which we shape the substance of life are the syntheses, antagonisms, or compromises between chance and necessity. Adventure is such a form. When the professional adventurer makes a system of life out of his life’s lack of system, when out of his inner necessity, he only, so to speak, makes macroscopically visible that which is the essential form of every “adventure,” even that of the non-adventurous person. For by adventure we always mean a third something, neither the sheer, abrupt event whose meaning – a mere given – simply remains outside us nor the consistent sequence of life in which every element supplements every other toward an inclusively integrated meaning. The adventure is no mere hodgepodge of these two, but rather that incomparable experience which can be interpreted only as a particular encompassing of the accidentally external by the internally necessary.

{11}Occasionally, however, this whole relationship is comprehended in a still more profound inner configuration. No matter how much the adventure seems to rest on a differentiation within life, life as a whole may be perceived as an adventure. For this, one need neither be an adventurer nor undergo many adventures. To have such a remarkable attitude toward life, one must sense above its totality a higher unity, a super-life, as it were, whose relation to life parallels the relation of the immediate life totality itself to those particular experiences which we call adventures.

{12}Perhaps we belong to a metaphysical order, perhaps our soul lives a transcendent existence, such that our earthly, conscious life is only an isolated fragment as compared to the unnamable context of an existence running its course in it. The myth of the transmigration of souls may be a halting attempt to express such a segmental character of every individual life. Whoever senses through all actual life a secret, timeless existence of the soul, which is connected with the realities of life only as from a distance, will perceive life in its given and limited wholeness as an adventure when compared to that transcendent and self-consistent fate. Certain religious moods seem to bring about such a perception. When our earthly career strikes us as a mere preliminary phase in the fulfillment of eternal destinies, when we have no home but merely a temporary asylum on earth, this obviously is only a particular variant of the general feeling that life as a whole is an adventure. It merely expresses the running together, in life, of the symptoms of adventure. It stands outside that proper meaning and steady course of existence to which it is yet tied by a fate and a secret symbolism. A fragmentary incident, it is yet like a work of art, enclosed by a beginning and an end. Like a dream, it gathers all passions into itself and yet, like a dream, is destined to be forgotten; like gaming, it contrasts with seriousness, yet, like the va banque of the gambler, it involves the alternative between the highest gain and destruction.

{13}Thus the adventure is a particular form in which fundamental categories of life are synthesized. Another such synthesis it achieves is that between the categories of activity and passivity, between what we conquer and what is given to us. To be sure, their synthesis in the form of adventure makes their contrast perceptible to an extreme degree. In the adventure, on the one hand, we forcibly pull the world into ourselves. This becomes clear when we compare the adventure with the manner in which we wrest the gifts of the world through work. Work, so to speak, has an organic relation to the world. In a conscious fashion, it develops the world’s forces and materials toward their culmination in the human purpose, whereas in adventure we have a non-organic relation to the world. Adventure has the gesture of the conqueror, the quick seizure of opportunity, regardless of whether the portion we carve out is harmonious or disharmonious with us, with the world, or with the relation between us and the world. On the other hand, however, in the adventure we abandon ourselves to the world with fewer defenses and reserves than in any other relation, for other relations are connected with the general run of our worldly life by more bridges, and thus defend us better against shocks and dangers through previously prepared avoidances and adjustments. In the adventure, the interweaving of activity and passivity which characterizes our life tightens these elements into a coexistence of conquest, which owes everything only to its own strength and presence of mind, and complete self-abandonment to the powers and accidents of the world, which can delight us, but in the same breath can also destroy us. Surely, it is among adventure’s most wonderful and enticing charms that the unity toward which at every moment, by the very process of living, we bring together our activity and our passivity – the unity which even in a certain sense is life itself – accentuates its disparate elements most sharply, and precisely in this way makes itself the more deeply felt, as if they were only the two aspects of one and the same, mysteriously seamless life.

{14}If the adventure, furthermore, strikes us as combining the elements of certainty and uncertainty in life, this is more than the view of the same fundamental relationship from a different angle. The certainty with which – justifiably or in error – we know the outcome, gives our activity one of its distinct qualities. If, on the contrary, we are uncertain whether we shall arrive at the point for which we have set out, if we know our ignorance of the outcome, then this means not only a quantitatively reduced certainty but an inwardly and outwardly unique practical conduct. The adventurer, in a word, treats the incalculable element in life in the way we ordinarily treat only what we think is by definition calculable. (For this reason, the philosopher is the adventurer of the spirit. He makes the hopeless, but not therefore meaningless, attempt to form into conceptual knowledge an attitude of the soul, its mood toward itself, the world, God. He treats this insoluble problem as if it were soluble.) When the outcome of our activity is made doubtful by the intermingling of unrecognizable elements of fate, we usually limit our commitment of force, hold open lines of retreat, and take each step only as if testing the ground.

{15}In the adventure, we proceed in the directly opposite fashion: it is just on the hovering chance, on fate, on the more-or-less that we risk all, burn our bridges, and step into the mist, as if the road will lead us on, no matter what. This is the typical fatalism of the adventurer. The obscurities of fate are certainly no more transparent to him than to others; but he proceeds as if they were. The characteristic daring with which he continually leaves the solidities of life underpins itself, as it were, for its own justification with a feeling of security and “it-must-succeed,” which normally only belongs to the transparency of calculable events. This is only a subjective aspect of the fatalistic conviction that we certainly cannot escape a fate which we do not know: the adventurer nevertheless believes that, as far as he himself is concerned, he is certain of this unknown and unknowable element in his life. For this reason, to the sober person adventurous conduct often seems insanity; for, in order to make sense, it appears to presuppose that the unknowable is known. The prince of Ligne said of Casanova, “He believes in nothing, except in what is least believable.” Evidently, such belief is based on that perverse or at least “adventurous” relation between the certain and the uncertain, whose correlate, obviously, is the skepticism of the adventurer – that he “believes in nothing”: for him to whom the unlikely is likely, the likely easily becomes unlikely. The adventurer relies to some extent on his own strength, but above all on his own luck; more properly, on a peculiarly undifferentiated unity of the two. Strength, of which he is certain, and luck, of which he is uncertain, subjectively combine into a sense of certainty.

{16}If it is the nature of genius to possess an immediate relation to these secret unities which in experience and rational analysis fall apart into completely separate phenomena, the adventurer of genius lives, as if by mystic instinct, at the point where the course of the world and the individual fate have, so to speak, not yet been differentiated from one another. For this reason, he is said to have a “touch of genius.” The “sleepwalking certainty” with which the adventurer leads his life becomes comprehensible in terms of that peculiar constellation whereby he considers that which is uncertain and incalculable to be the premises of his conduct, while others consider only the calculable. Unshakable even when it is shown to be denied by the facts of the case, this certainty proves how deeply that constellation is rooted in the life conditions of adventurous natures.

{17}The adventure is a form of life which can be taken on by an undetermined number of experiences. Nevertheless, our definitions make it understandable that one of them, more than all others, tends to appear in this form: the erotic – so that our linguistic custom hardly lets us understand by “adventure” anything but an erotic one. The love affair, even if short-lived, is by no means always an adventure. The peculiar psychic qualities at whose meeting point the adventure is found must be added to this quantitative matter. The tendency of these qualities to enter such a conjuncture will become apparent step by step.

{18}A love affair contains in clear association the two elements which the form of the adventure characteristically conjoins: conquering force and unextortable concession, winning by one’s own abilities and dependence on the luck which something incalculable outside of ourselves bestows on us. A degree of balance between these forces, gained by virtue of his sense of their sharp differentiation, can, perhaps, be found only in the man. Perhaps for this reason, it is of compelling significance that, as a rule, a love affair is an “adventure” only for men; for women it usually falls into other categories. In novels of love, the activity of woman is typically permeated by the passivity which either nature of history has imparted to her character; on the other hand, her acceptance of happiness is at the same time a concession and a gift.

{19}The two poles of conquest and grace (which manifest themselves in many variations) stand closer together in woman than in man. In man, they are, as a matter of fact, much more decisively separated. For this reason, in man their coincidence in the erotic experience stamps this experience quite ambiguously as an adventure. Man plays the courting, attacking, often violently grasping role: this fact makes one easily overlook the element of fate, the dependence on something which cannot be predetermined or compelled, that is contained in every erotic experience. This refers not only to dependence on the concession on the part of the other, but to something deeper. To be sure, every “love returned,” too, is a gift which cannot be “earned,” not even by any measure of love – because to love, demand and compensation are irrelevant; it belongs, in principle, in a category altogether different from a squaring of accounts – a point which suggest one of its analogies to the more profound religious relation. But over and above that which we receive from another as a free gift, there still lies in every happiness of love – like a profound, impersonal bearer of those personal elements – a favor of fate. We receive happiness not only from the other: the fact that we do receive it from him is a blessing of destiny, which is incalculable. In the proudest, most self-assured event in this sphere lies something which we must accept with humility. When the force which owes its success to itself and gives all conquest of love some note of victory and triumph is then combined with the other note of favor by fate, the constellation of the adventure is, as it were, preformed.

{20}The relation which connects the erotic content with the more general from of life as adventure is rooted in deeper ground. The adventure is the exclave of life, the “torn-off” whose beginning and end have no connection with the somehow unified stream of existence. And yet, as if hurdling this stream, it connects with the most recondite instincts and some ultimate intention of life as a whole – and this distinguishes it from the merely accidental episode, from that which only externally “happens” to us. Now, when a love affair is of short duration, it lives in precisely such a mixture of a merely tangential and yet central character. It may give our life only a momentary splendor, like the ray shed in an inside room by a light flitting by outside. Still, it satisfies a need, or is, in fact, only possible by virtue of a need which – whether it be considered as physical, psychic, or metaphysical – exists, as it were, timelessly in the foundation or center of our being. This need is related to the fleeting experience as our general longing for light is to that accidental and immediately disappearing brightness.

{21}The fact that love harbors the possibility of this double relation is reflected by the twofold temporal aspect of the erotic. It displays two standards of time: the momentarily climactic, abruptly subsiding passion; and the idea of something which cannot pass, an idea in which the mystical destination of two souls for one another and for a higher unity finds a temporal expression. This duality might be compared with the double existence of intellectual contents: while they emerge only in the fleetingness of the psychic process, in the forever moving focus of consciousness, their logical meaning possesses timeless validity, an ideal significance which is completely independent of the instant of consciousness in which it becomes real for us. The phenomenon of adventure is such that its abrupt climax places its end into the perspective of its beginning. However, its connection with the center of life is such that it is to be distinguished from all merely accidental happenings. Thus “mortal danger,” so to speak, lies in its very style. This phenomenon, therefore, is a form which by its time symbolism seems to be predetermined to receive the erotic content.

{22}These analogies between love and adventure alone suggest that the adventure does not belong to the life-style of old age. The decisive point about this fact is that the adventure, in its specific nature and charm, is a form of experiencing. The content of the experience does not make an adventure. That one faced mortal danger or conquered a woman for a short span of happiness; that unknown factors with which one has waged a gamble have brought surprising gain or loss; that physically or psychological disguised, one has ventured into spheres of life from which one returns home as if from a strange world – none of these are necessarily adventure. They become adventure only by virtue of a certain experiential tension whereby their substance is realized. Only when a stream flowing between the minutest externalities of life and the central source of strength drags them into itself; when the peculiar color, ardor, and rhythm of the life-process become decisive and, as it were, transform its substance – only then does an event change from mere experience to adventure. Such a principle of accentuation, however, is alien to old age. In general, only youth knows this predominance of the process of life over its substance; whereas in old age, when the process begins to slow up and coagulate, substance becomes crucial; it then proceeds or perseveres in a certain timeless manner, indifferent to the tempo and passion of its being experienced. The old person, usually lives either in a wholly centralizedfashion, peripheral interests having fallen off and being unconnected with his essential life and its inner necessity; or his center atrophies, and existence runs its course only in isolated petty details, accenting mere externals and accidentals. Neither case makes possible the relation between the outer fate and the inner springs of life in which the adventure consists; clearly, neither permits the perception of contrast characteristic of adventure, viz., that an action is completely torn out of the inclusive context of life and that simultaneously the whole strength and intensity of life stream into it.

{23}In youth, the accent falls on the process of life, on its rhythm and its antinomies; in old age, it falls on life’s substance, compared to which experience more and more appears relatively incidental. This contrast between youth and age, which makes adventure the prerogative of youth, may be expressed as the contrast between the romantic and the historical spirit of life. Life in its immediacy – hence also in the individuality of its from at any moment, here and now – counts for the romantic attitude. Life in its immediacy feels the full strength of the current of life most of all in the pointedness of an experience that is torn out of the normal run of things but which is yet connected with the heart of life. All such life which thrusts itself out of life, such breadth of contrast among elements which are penetrated by life, can feed only on that overflow and exuberance of life which exists in adventure, in romanticism, and in youth. Age, on the other hand – if, as such, it has a characteristic, valuable, and coherent attitude – carries with it a historical mood. This mood may be broadened into a world view or limited to the immediately personal past; at any rate, in its objectivity and retrospective reflectiveness, it is devoted to contemplating a substance of life out of which immediacy has disappeared. All history as depiction in the narrower, scientific sense originates in such a survival of substance beyond the inexpressible process of its presence that can only be experienced. The connection this process has established among them is gone, and must now, in retrospect, and with a view to constructing an ideal image, be re-established by completely different ties.

{24}With this shift of accent, all the dynamic premise of the adventure disappears. Its atmosphere, as suggested before, is absolute presentness – the sudden rearing of the life-process to a point where both past and future are irrelevant; it therefore gathers life within itself with an intensity compared with which the factuality of the event often becomes of relatively indifferent import. Just as the game itself – not the winning of money – is the decisive motive for the true gambler; just as for him, what is important is the violence of feeling as it alternates between joy and despair, the almost touchable nearness of the daemonic powers which decide between both – so, the fascination of the adventure is again and again not the substance which it offers us and which, if it were offered in another form of experiencing it, the intensity and excitement with which it lets us feel life in just this instance. This is what connects youth and adventure. What is called the subjectivity of youth is just this: The material of life in its substantive significance is not as important to youth as is the process which carries it, life itself. Old age is “objective”; it shapes a new structure out of the substance left behind in a peculiar sort of timelessness by the life which has slipped by. The new structure is that of contemplativeness, impartial judgment, freedom from that unrest which marks life as being present. It is all this that makes adventure alien to old age and an old adventurer an obnoxious or tasteless phenomenon. It would not be difficult to develop the whole essence of adventure from the fact that it is the form of life which in principle is inappropriate to old age.

{25}Notwithstanding the fact that so much of life is hostile to adventure, from the most general point of view adventure appears admixed with all practical human existence. It seems to be an ubiquitous element, but it frequently occurs in the finest distribution, invisible to the naked eye, as it were, and concealed by other elements. This is true quite aside from that notion which, reaching down into the metaphysics of life, considers our existence on earth as a whole, unified adventure. Viewed purely from a concrete and psychological standpoint, every single experience contains a modicum of the characteristics which, if they grow beyond a certain point, bring it to the “threshold” of adventure. Here the most essential and profound of these characteristics is the singling out of the experience from the total context of life. In point of fact, the meaning of no single part of life is exhausted by its belonging in that context. On the contrary, even when a part is most closely interwoven with the whole, when it really appears to be completely absorbed by onflowing life, like an unaccented word in the course of a sentence – even then, when we listen more closely, we can recognize the intrinsic value of that segment of existence. With a significance which is centered in itself, it sets itself over against that total development to which, nevertheless, if looked at from another angle, it inextricably belongs.

{26}Both the wealth and the perplexity of life flow countless times from this value-dichotomy of its contents. Seen from the center of the personality, every single experience is at once something necessary which comes from the unity of the history of the ego, and something accidental, foreign to that unity, insurmountably walled off, and colored by a very deep-lying incomprehensibility, as if it stood somewhere in the void and gravitated toward nothing. Thus a shadow of what in its intensification and distinctness constitutes the adventure really hovers over every experience. Every experience, even as it is incorporated into the chain of life, is accompanied by a certain feeling of being enclosed between a beginning and an end – by a feeling of an almost unbearable pointedness of the single experience as such. This feeling may sink to imperceptibility, but it lies latent in every experience and rises from it – often to our own astonishment. It is impossible to identify any minimal distance from the continuity of life short of which the feeling of adventurousness could not emerge – as impossible, to be sure, as to identify the maximal distance where it must emerge for everyone. But everything could not become an adventure if the elements of adventure did not in some measure reside in everything, if they did not belong among the vital factors by virtue of which a happening is designated a human experience.

{27}Similar observations apply to the relation between the accidental and the meaningful. In our every encounter this so much of the merely given, external, and occasional that we can, so to speak, decide only on a quantitative basis whether the whole may be considered as something rational and in some sense understandable, or whether its insolubility as regards its reference to the past, or its incalculability as regards its reference to the future, is to stamp its whole complexion. From the most secure civic undertaking to the most irrational adventure there runs a continuous line of vital phenomena in which the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, that which can be coerced and that which is given by grace, the calculable and the accidental, mix in infinitely varied degrees. Since the adventure marks one extreme of this continuum, the other extreme must also partake of its character. The sliding of our existence over a scale on which every point is simultaneously determined by the effect of our strength and our abandonment to impenetrable things and powers – this problematic nature of our position in the world, which in its religious version results in the insoluble question of human freedom and divine predetermination, lets all of us become adventurers. Within the dimensions into which our station in life with its tasks, our aims, and our means place us, none of us could live one day if we did not treat that which is really incalculable as if it were calculable, if we did not entrust our own strength with what it still cannot achieve by itself but only by its enigmatic co-operation with the powers of fate.

{28}The substance of our life is constantly seized by interweaving forms which thus bring about its unified whole. Everywhere there is artistic forming, religious comprehending, the shade of moral valuing, the interplay of subject and object. There is, perhaps, no point in this whole stream where every one of these and of many other modes of organization does not contribute at least a drop to its waves. But they become the pure structures which language names only when they rise out of that fragmentary and confused condition where the average life lets them emerge and submerge and so attain mastery over life’s substance. Once the religious mood has created its structure, the god, wholly out of itself, it is “religion”; once the aesthetic form has made its content something secondary, by which it lives a life of its own that listens only to itself, it becomes “art”; once moral duty is fulfilled simply because it is duty, no matter how changing the contents by means of which it is fulfilled and which previously in turn determined the will, it becomes “morality.”

{29}It is no different with adventure. We are the adventurers of the earth; our life is crossed everywhere by the tensions which mark adventure. But only when these tensions have become so violent that they gain mastery over the material through which they realize themselves – only then does the “adventure” arise. For the adventure does not consist in a substance which is won or lost, enjoyed or endured: to all this we have access in other forms of life as well. Rather, it is the radicalness through which it becomes perceptible as a life tension, as the rubato of the life process, independent of its materials and their differences – the quantity of these tensions becoming great enough to tear life, beyond those materials, completely out of itself: this is what transforms mere experience into adventure. Certainly, it is only one segment of existence among others, but it belongs to those forms which, beyond the mere share they have in life and beyond all the accidental nature of their individual contents, have the mysterious power to make us feel for a moment the whole sum of life as their fulfillment and their vehicle, existing only for their realization.
Das Abenteuer,” Phiosophische Kultur. Gesammelte Essays ([1911] 2nd ed.; Leipzig: Alfred Kroner, 1919)

Translated by David Kettler {dW:April 2002}

Source: The Adventure

Why Heidegger never gets to the point

I have always considered Heidegger as a master of intellectual suspense. In this, his book What is Called Thinking? is no different from Being and Time: they belong to the genre of the philosophical whodunit. The reader can’t help thinking at every page: “So, when is he getting to the point? Come on, lay your egg, Heidi! Tell us what you think!”

In figurative English, when someone “lays an egg”, it means to perform poorly. Heidegger was a good performer as a lecturer. He was performing the truth, in the performative sense of truthing. As he writes or speaks, he does not know where he is going, but he does know from where he is speaking, because he is being taken, he is being conducted by his care to remain in the act of being-thinking.

The form of Heidegger’s book answers the question What is Thinking? Thinking is a calling that takes much courage to keep following. You need to listen to the voice of your care for thinking, not apply logistical grids, not make experiments and run statistics, not interview one hundred people and then analyse an average profile.

Heidegger does refer to Parmenides’ saying that to think and to be is the same. This week I decided to re-read Heidi’s book because I realised my imperative to “Think Creal” was indeed a performative act, a being in the Heideggerian sense of a transitive verb. When you think in a certain manner, you be the world, so to speak. If you think in a logistical manner, under the tyranny of capitalism and realism, you will end up transforming the world into a binary memory of disposable/available objects. If you Think Creal, you make yourself available to hearing-practicing the immanent music of creation, the pulse of the earth. This will also affect reality, but with more fecundity than capitalistic technoscience.

Heidegger’s absolute is this poetic be-ing. I prefer to call it Creal, or perhaps should I call it crealing. To be fair, I did not fully appreciate what I heard in the second part of the book: there is too much emphasis, I felt, on the idea of presence and “what lies before us, there.” I believe Creal is a feeling, an emotion first and foremost, not something in front of me. Of course Heidegger, when he thinks that something lies before us, thinks that at the same time “we make it appear”. This is, he writes, the essence of logos or legein.

How does this relate to what I have called crealectics, the logos of the Creal? One answer is to consider what Heidegger calls, with Parmenides, “the taking-to-heart”. Thinking is, as I already mentioned, about caring.

Think of it as a secretion.

The care of Creal is a secretion. It is a secretion of the real that is not realistic. What lies before me is not reality as we know it, it is the unknown, the non-real, the real as non-really real even if real-able.

Hence the idea with which I started this note: suspense. For the sake of security, material profit, and their will to (ideologic and epistemic) power, the crazy positivists, naturalists, scientists, and financialists, are all trying to predict-produce the world to a level of near certitude, in a sort of Laplacian nightmare. They might get closer to an illusion of success with the help of artificial intelligence. But this would be a nightmare in which, to answer the question What is Thinking?, we would simply run an algorithm more or less based on crowdsourcing (or altogether eliminating all human input), which would produce a one line answer (or the number 42 as in Douglas Adams’ ironical Guide), thus saving us the time to read a book like Heidegger’s, which never seems to get to the point.

Thus we would miss the meaning of life and Creal, which is to never get to the point.

The Highest Consequence of Creative Thought

The entrance to the realm of Creal is not hidden behind a tree, a temple, or an elevator. No one can sell you a ticket to Creal. The entrance to Creal is accessible via thought — perhaps the highest faculty of thought, the capacity to modify reality according to your deepest desire. I am not talking about wanting this or that, desiring an object, or a particular reward. Most of us don’t know what our deepest desire is because it cannot be expressed with descriptive precision. It seems to me that our deepest desire is not for example: ‘I want to find a person that I love and who loves me’. The love for and from one person is important, but it can be found and lost. Let’s say for the moment that our deepest desire is to live in constant bliss and to fulfil our destiny. To be in a place where there can be no regret, where, as Nietzsche indicated, every moment is accompanied by a full and grateful Yes. Or perhaps we should write, more simply and to avoid a dualism between the perceiver and the perceived: a place where every moment is a grateful yes.

Our societies are the result of dialectical antagonisms, violence, conflict, and the imposition of rules and aesthetics. Our societies are not worlds where everyone embodies a manifest great Yes to life. Those are very imperfect compromises in which a large part of the population feels unblessed, unchosen, or indifferent. The most tragicomic aspect of our societies is that many people are afraid. They are not very afraid of the dark, of tornadoes, natural catastrophes — they are mostly afraid of each other. They are afraid of society as they know it, and perhaps even more afraid of the end of society as they know it. Clearly this does not feel like a great yes to life.

Now some might say that a harmonious Creal-world sounds like Huxley’s Brave New World, a society of drug addicts and automatic personas, where people have lost their capacity for critical thinking. This is an interesting objection, because it allows me to distinguish between different forms of thinking: affective thinking, logical thinking, critical thinking, dialectical thinking, intuitive thinking, and crealectical thinking.

Roughly, and temporarily — as this blog is an exploration towards more precision and truthfulness —, we could say that affective thinking is primarily ruled by sentiment, and that logical thinking is primarily ruled by analysis. Critical thinking is mostly ruled by opposition. Dialectical thinking is mostly ruled by consensus, and intuitive thinking by emotion. Crealectical thinking is mostly ruled by a faithfulness to creation and world-forming. The reason why I used the terms primarily and mostly is because I believe there is no such thing, for the moment, as a pure way of thinking in such and such manner: most of the time, our thinking is a combination of affective, logical, critical, dialectical, intuitive, and crealectical. Such a combination can be confusing or harmonious. I believe that an excellent and well-trained crealectician could harmonise the other ways of thinking into a mature and unified crealectical thinking.

Now, I have introduced the idea of harmony, which could be essential to the idea of a realm of Creal. A Creal-society would be the harmonization of everybody’s destiny, faculties, and sense of bliss into a beautiful and meaningful unity. Harmony is often said to be a musical metaphor, which it is, but prior to it being a musical metaphor, the Greek etymology of the word designates elements that are joint together rather than separated. The main idea I wanted to convey with the metaphor of harmony is that the interrelated parts not only form a virtuous structure, but also that each part feels innerly harmonious for itself. So perhaps the metaphor of harmony is in fact not the best one, since in a symphony, we don’t expect each note to feel innerly blessed. What we are looking for in a Creal-society is not the dissolution, suppression, or sacrifice of personal feelings in favour of the equilibrium of the whole social body — or is it? This would be politically akin to a form of totalitarianism, something that democratic people are not likely to accept for too long. More importantly, this would be a contradiction with the postulate according to which to enter Creal is to fulfil one’s deepest desire, unless our deepest desire is to vanish as an individual and be a pure joint part of a symphony, devoid of independence.

Let’s pause here for a bit, because this is a serious objection. Perhaps it should be considered as true that we all have the same deepest desire: to be like a note in a symphony and forget about our self in order to dive in a bigger dimension composed of various interdependent nodes. This is sometimes called esprit de corps (the topic of my PhD), or quorum sensing, or hive mind, or prosociality. If this deep desire for esprit de corps were true, our current society is in bigger trouble than ever, as individualism urges us to become independent feeling entities, and to self-develop above the group rather than self-sacrifice for the group.

We have just met with a knot of complexity here. Let’s take a deep breath. In the process of thinking, it is normal to meet nodes of complexity. It is also often the case in life, even if we try to avoid thinking. Often what people do when such knots of complexity are met is that they give up and shy away from them. They consider that what looked simple at first glance, for example the desire to live a harmonious life, is in fact too complicated to handle or understand, and we might as well go back to simple things, like making a living in a context that is neither blissful, nor unbearable. Many of us humans dedicate a lot of energy and unconscious gesticulation — that they might call a hobby — to simply stay away from complex questioning, or from people who voice such questioning, out of fear that it might make them miserable. After all, most people accept social reality more or less as it is, partly because they think the majority can’t be wrong.

This is precisely where a refusal of our knot of complexity in fact reveals a way out of the aporia. What most people are already doing, although not necessarily consciously, is indeed self-sacrifice to the group. If you stay away from thinking your life because this feels too complicated, and if you choose to proceed according to the values of the society you live in, which might feel simple and even promising (have a family, a job, follow the common rituals, marriage, divorce, etc.), then you are indeed answering the question of harmony: you are self-sacrificing for the sake of the majority group, you are behaving in the manner of an ant, a bee, or a musical note within a symphony. In other words, refusing to answer the question of freedom by following the norm is already affirming that freedom can only be collective.

But perhaps one will decide to be selfish and competitive, in order to be the most successful in a given social game, forgetting that at the same time millions of individuals have also decided to be the best or the most original according to the current criteria. Again, ants and bees of a different sort. Everybody likes to feel part of a majority or what seems like a socially-strong group. Most people like to feel they are normal, or above the norm, but with the norm in view. Being above the norm with the norm in view is another way of being normal. This is not what I call entering the Creal or thinking Creal.

Here another objection might arise. The reader might tell me: ‘This realm of Creal is all very well, but it is your lonely adventure, and you should not try and share it because it cannot be shared. It might even be dangerous to share.’ To which I would answer. If my text cannot be shared, it will most probably be ignored. And if it is dangerous, will it be more dangerous than sharing pornography, violence, stupidity, lies, unhealthy food, injurious medicine, or nocive products of all sort? We live in a capitalist society ruled by laissez-faire and the idea of a global invisible hand that will make the best of free enterprise and low regulation, according to the belief, as in Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, that whatever individuals do, it will in the end be beneficial as a whole for the general interest. Consider my voice as an invisible hand I am lending to whomever feels ready to take it.

Word embeddings and collocations

This is a very interesting article on word embedding in current vector-thought research:

Word Senses polysemy

The article quotes a 1957 chapter by Firth: ‘Firth’s hypothesis that a word’s sense is captured by the distribution of other words around it.’

Here is Firth’s original text:

Firth linguistic theory synopsis

The so-called Firth’s hypothesis sounds very Saussurean to me. Saussure is usually credited with the idea that language is a system of differences, where each atom’s meaning  is given by its place in the structure. Hence my idea that thought vectors are a reactivation of structuralism for new purposes. It seems that post-WWII structuralism was itself influenced by cybernetics, but I’d like to investigate Saussure’s influences.




Decoding the Thought Vector

Neural networks have the rather uncanny knack for turning meaning into numbers. Data flows from the input to the output, getting pushed through a series of transformations which process the data into increasingly abstruse vectors of representations. These numbers, the activations of the network, carry useful information from one layer of the network to the next, and are believed to represent the data at different layers of abstraction. But the vectors themselves have thus far defied interpretation.

Read the article here: Decoding the Thought Vector

Of Marks and Bees: Is There a Primary Unit in Crealectics?

The purpose of this post belongs to the process of determination of a specific crealectic space of knowledge and examination, if any. I’d like to proceed in concentric circles, starting with the smallest possible unit. This would avoid dispersion and allow, perhaps, a clearer grasp and approach regarding the field of crealectics: what it might or might not cover. The question will of course not be solved in a single post, especially in the exploratory phase that this blog is meant to represent. 

I shall start with a heuristic hypothesis regarding the smallest unit of study in crealectics. Let’s venture that it could be the mark. If crealectics is about the different logoi that can be articulated out of the Creal material (previously defined as infinite disparity or multiplicity), one might be tempted to claim: the smallest unit of a logos is indeed a mark. I mention the mark rather than the sign, because a sign seems to be an evolved category of mark, one that supposes a referent, the something that it stands for. One could perhaps imagine a mark that is not a sign, that does not signify (and hence is not a signifier either). But perhaps this is mere word-play.

The Oxford dictionary proposes, as the primary definition of mark: a small area on a surface having a different colour from its surroundings. The keyword here is difference – colour is one perceptive possibility. Now the first criteria of distinction of a mark seems to be precisely that it is remarked, noticed This seems to position crealectics as a discourse on perception.

It might be that there is no such thing as a mark in itself, an independent mark. It might be, as the phenomenologists would have it, that a mark is always a mark for a remarker. And, as the structuralists would have it, that a mark is always part of a series of marks. How?

Consider for example a white tiny grain on the table. I notice it – we could say that it is the sign that something exists there in front of my eyes, even if I don’t know what it is (a grain of sugar?). But before it signifies an existence, a thing, it is a mark, indeed a white-coloured mark on a green table. 

Now before we dive into the cognitive neuroscience of colour perception in bees, it might be worth remaining at the level of phenomenological analysis a few seconds more. A mark is a distinction. It is part of the cognitive feature of a mark that it is remarked. To notice a mark, I need to distinguish something from something else. But do I make/co-create the distinction or is the distinction fully real, there, independent of my perception? Science would say that, even if we now know that colours are partly a co-creation of the brain, the distinction is not fully abstract, it is mostly a property of the objects being different in structure. 

One could say, again in phenomenological or structuralist fashion, that the mark is nothing in itself. What makes it a mark is the difference with other marks. What is a difference? It is a relation of inequality or non-identity, real of perceived. What one should consider as the unit of crealectics would not be the mark as an entity or thing, not even the fact that a consciousness or Husserlian cogito remarks a mark, but that a difference is instantiated. There would be no distinction without a difference, and there would be no mark without a variation (notice here en passant that if a mark is a difference, a sign could be called a differing, alluding here to Derrida’s somewhat structuralist suggestion of a difference that differs, a différance).

Now, as announced, I’d like to pause my speculation by looking at a paper entitled ‘Small Brains, Smart Minds: Vision, Perception and ‘Cognition’ in honeybees’ (Mandyam Srinivasan & Shaowu Zhang (2003), IETE Journal of Research, 49:2-3, 127-134).

Why? Because the paper claims, after a series of experiments, that ‘bees can learn to navigate through labyrinths, to form complex associations and to acquire abstract concepts such as “sameness” and “difference”.’ In another paper, more or less the same team of scientists explain (M. Giurfa, S. W. Zhang. A Jenett. R Menzel & M. V. Srinivasan, The concepts of”sameness” and “difference” in an insect, Nature, vol 410, pp 930-933. 2001):

An important cognitive capacity is the ability to learn relationships between stimuli. In vertebrates, the capacity to acquire sameness and difference concepts has been studied using two experimental procedures, the matching task and the oddity task. A variation of the former is the ‘delayed matching-to-sample’ task, in which an animal is presented with a ‘sample’ and subsequently with two or more secondary stimuli, one of which is identical to the sample. The animal is required to respond to the stimulus just encountered. The ‘delayed non-matching-to-sample’ task is a varia- tion of the oddity task. The procedure is similar to the matching-to- sample task except that the animal is required to respond to the stimulus that is different from the sample. In both cases, broadly construed sameness and difference concepts are shown only if the animal exhibits positive transfer to a completely new set of stimuli, which it had not experienced during training.

The authors conclude that bees possess the concepts of difference of sameness.

Bees live according to a series of robust protocols which are a given articulation of the Creal, a living system, or, to use Wittgenstein’s famous phrase, a form of life. Having ordered the Creal in a certain way does not mean that this ordering was intentional or conscious in a human-like way. But still, the slow elaboration of a living system or bio-logos seems to imply precisely the constant definition of differences and samenesses. The concepts of difference and sameness are constitutive of what it is to become a living being with a regulated Umwelt. What the above papers says is this: non-human agents of a differential perceptive system have the capacity to distinguish variations, and that capacity is dynamic (can be trained with new stimuli). But distinguishing variations is part of the genesic phase of the system. It should therefore not surprise us to find this cognitive capacity operating once the system is up and running.

The question is: are the bees presented with radically new information, or simply stimuli that correspond to familiar perception capacities, even if organised in a different way? The scientists have used colours and odours, which are not outside of the realm of what a bee can usually perceive (even if some colours can be new). One could argue that the scientists have only played with signs or marks that are familiar to bees, if in an unfamiliar way. The question is: could a bee perceive a mark outside of its usual realm of perception? Or could humans perceive something that is not part of their perceptive apparatus (not a sound, not a colour, not a word, not a symbol, etc.)? If we only perceive what our species has learned to perceive, in other words, if cognition is perception-dependent, then crealectics would be, like biosemiotics (and not very differently), a branch of cognitive biology. 

But what if biology were a subset of cosmology and metaphysics. If the Creal is posited discursively as the source of crealectics, then two directions of speculation are open: what if we (humans and bees) were and are differentiated in a cosmic system that encompasses all particular systems and forms of being, like marks in a wider programme? Perhaps we can distinguish marks because we are nothing but marks ourselves. In this case, crealectics would be a form of neo-structuralism.

Or: what if the axiomatic positing of difference as difference were itself different from the distinction of difference? In that case, saying that bees perceive differences does not mean they have the concept of difference as difference. And positing the concept of difference or infinite probability would be — rather than the mark — the origin of crealectics, as I have tentatively proposed in this paper. In such case, crealectics would not be about biology primarily, but about politics and ethics.



Notes on Hegel

Science of Logic part I

Philosophy or science is after-thought. Thought is primary, not reflexive. Thought is life.

“philosophy should understand that its content is no other than actuality, that core of truth which, originally produced and producing itself within the precincts of the mental life, has become the world, the inward and outward world, of consciousness. At first we become aware of these contents in what we call Experience.”

Thought is actuality, which is deeper than appearance.
Spirit is the cause of the world
The only absolute or infinite objects are God, Spirit, Freedom
“thought in its very nature is dialectical, and that, as understanding, it must fall into contradiction—the negative of itself—will form one of the main lessons of logic.”

“thought is one out of many activities or faculties of the mind, co-ordinate with such others as sensation, perception, imagination, desire, volition, and the like. The product of this activity, the form or character peculiar to thought, is the UNIVERSAL, or, in general, the abstract. Thought, regarded as an activity, may be accordingly described as the active universal, and, since the deed, its product, is the universal once more, may be called a self-actualizing universal.”

“The difference between conception and thought is of special importance: because philosophy may be said to do nothing but transform conceptions into thoughts—though it works the further transformation of a mere thought into a notion.”
“Particular ends can be attained only in the attainment of what absolutely is and exists in its own right.”

On the Concept of Creal: The Politico-Ethical Horizon of a Creative Absolute

On the Concept of Creal: The Politico-Ethical Horizon of a Creative Absolute

Luis de Miranda

Published in The Dark Precursor: Deleuze and Artistic Research, edited by Paulo de Assis and Paolo Giudici, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2017

Process philosophies tend to emphasise the value of continuous creation as the core of their discourse. For Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze, and others the real is ultimately a creative becoming. Critics have argued that there is an irreducible element of (almost religious) belief in this re-evaluation of immanent creation.

While I don’t think belief is necessarily a sign of philosophical and existential weakness, in this paper I will examine the possibility for the concept of universal creation to be a political and ethical axiom, the result of a global social contract rather than of a new spirituality. I argue here that a coherent way to fight against potentially totalitarian absolutes is to replace them with a virtual absolute that cannot territorialise without deterritorialising at the same time: the Creal principle.

Read here the full chapter: