Friendly Nothing

Nothingness: Jean-Paul Sartre brought it back into fashion in the post-World War II period with his book L’Être et le Néant. It must be said that reality seemed quite absurd at the time. The idea of ​​a nihilistic humanity, enamored with emptiness to the point of extermination, seemed to be demonstrated by two insanely devastating international conflicts.

But Sartre’s Nothingness is not nihilistic in its intention. Nothing is the twin brother of Being and they form the double face of an existential Janus. What we call the Creal is close to what Sartre called nothingness, or to the fruitful vacuity of the Buddhists, linked to what the Japanese call nehan, divine salvation, or what Max Stirner called the creative nothing, at the source of the self, before any determination.

Consider our human experience. At first glance, we are afraid of nothingness like a child is afraid of the dark. The philosopher Aristotle once said: “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and indeed it seems like the earth is a space saturated with swarming entities; we are all made of microbes. It seems that the human mind too is “nihilophobic”, unable to confront the Nothing and to hold fast to it until it perceives the continued creation of the virtual.

But on closer examination, nothingness attracts us too, because precisely, often our daily bustle is just a restless void: we may spend some time on trivial tasks which, if we eliminated them, would not change much, or rather would improve our well-being. The banality of emptiness is not only the result of inactivity but also the product of insignificance, of the anecdotal, of all kinds of addictions that we develop out of divertissement.

Or perhaps we fear the power of life. We are afraid of the consequences of our personal power. We spend much time making ourselves believe that we are powerless because too much real power would be terrifying. We feel that deep in the unknown there is a well of potentialities just waiting to be activated, but what about the responsibility of activating nothingness and doing something with it? What if it went wrong?

Many spend their lives feeling guilty about what they haven’t done yet. Since inactivity is frowned upon in our overproducing societies, we always seem very busy and forget to cultivate the mental minimalism that would not only make us healthier, but also, ultimately would be beneficial to the planet. As the poet Robert Browning wrote in 1855, “less is more”. When you accept not to try everything – and again – and have the strength to let certain aspects of your life undevelopped, you can focus on the essentials and cultivate your style in action. What you refrain from doing keeps you on course. What you do anyway, because it makes sense, you will do it better and with more intent and solemnity.

Accepting creative vacuity as a friend is also giving up that old human dream of controlling and owning everything. To face the abundant void without greed is to accept our own power to say sometimes yes and often no. In the end, we remain like ants in the face of infinite possibility. No artist can tell the full profusion of the Creal.

Kaleidoscopic Perception

The kaleidoscope is a bicentenary invention due to the Scottish optics researcher David Brewster, who in 1816 wrote the first kaleidoscopic treatise, nearly two hundred pages dedicated to the polarisation of light and the ideal number of coloured glass fragments necessary for the best variety of structures: twenty-four! It wasn’t until a few decades later that the scientific object became a children’s toy, and an adult metaphor. A kaleidoscopic reality, according to the Greek root which speaks of beauty and forms, is a harmony composed of disparate elements, a succession of unified varieties that can take on several aspects depending on the angle of the experience and the moment of the observation.

Artists also have been fascinated by kaleidoscopes, those googles of the imagination, including Picasso and his Cubist friends, who wanted to unveil the essence of the geometric fragmentation of the world and our ordering gaze. The poet Aragon, in Le Paysan de Paris, wrote with the haughtiness of the dreamer: “When I think of what you are thinking, all of you […], the sky as a crown, my upside down kaleidoscope, shipwrecks in your pocket, a little meadow between your teeth, the whole universe, the vast universe… ” The poet’s kaleidoscopic vision designates an opening to the richness of reality and of its possibilities. It is a metonymy for the creative profusion of the cosmos, of which poetry is a pure (too pure?) echo. In a fiercely analytical and gray world, we clench our teeth with an aftertaste of bitter meadow in our mouths.

In Creative Evolution, the philosopher Bergson relates the kaleidoscope to our consciousness of the world. For Bergson, we do not see the world as it is, because the invisible is too rich and metamorphic: we perceive a reduced and biased composition, an image that we mistake for reality. Walter Benjamin spoke of our social reality as a montage of images, like in a movie, and this also reveals the, if not arbitrary, at least contingent or singular character of any montage, as in cinema direction. An artist lives in a regenerative and regular shaking of the kaleidoscope, in the in-between of assemblages, a current of lava that can intensify or burn the lives of those who approach it.

The playful nature of the kaleidoscope is a clue: chance is a component of the creative experience that weaves our existences, our pockets full of joy or our fatal shipwrecks. In our approach to reality, we tend to accept perceptual reshuffles imprinted by others, for example the media, and all structures that reproduce on a large scale the norms that govern us. We adapt by forgetting to shake the real to reorder the colours and shapes. We get attached to our habits and sometimes prefer to suffer in a familiar environment rather than to venture out into new horizons. Few of us have fun giving a kaleidoscopic, hazardous and risky shake up to our world, to generate new ideas, new points of view, new perceptions, new territories. A dangerous and vital game. A game that is nothing without thought and action, because the colored constellations are not values ​​or ideas, they only suggest them intuitively to our interpretation. The labour of giving meaning to diversity takes longer than a new arrangement of optical forms. We cannot live of metaphors alone.

The creative shaking of the kaleidoscope is not a roll of the dice, it is a persevering openness to the flow of possibility that runs between two realistic illusions. Charles Fourier is perhaps the French thinker who came closest to a kaleidoscopic political proposition: according to him there are more than eight hundred different types of human beings, or characters, contrary to what the monotonous psychologist propaganda tells us, one that would like to see us cry and laugh at the same things, all united in a soporific emotional consensus driven by Hollywood screenwriters. For Fourier, the philosopher-poet, there are butterfly passions (desire for renewal), composite passions (desire for unification), and cabalistic passions (desire for competition), among others.

The world would undoubtedly be richer if we combined our intellectual and emotional differences in an attempt to compose society as a living kaleidoscope rather than as a panoptic prison where everyone watches the same reflections. Contemporary loneliness comes from the fact that we are educated in the possibility of being all different and then re-educated in the need to be all alike.

How to Understand Hegel in Just One Paragraph

I would argue that the paragraph below from Hegel’s lessons on the Philosophy of History contains his entire philosophy concentrated in just a few (dense) sentences.

§ 84

If we consider Spirit in this aspect — regarding its changes not merely as rejuvenescent transitions, i.e., returns to the same form, but rather as manipulations of itself, by which it multiplies the material for future endeavours — we see it exerting itself in a variety of modes and directions; developing its powers and gratifying its desires in a variety which is inexhaustible; because every one of its creations, in which it has already found gratification, meets it anew as material, and is a new stimulus to plastic activity. The abstract conception of mere change gives place to the thought of Spirit manifesting, developing, and perfecting its powers in every direction which its manifold nature can follow. What powers it inherently possesses we learn from the variety of products and formations which it originates. In this pleasurable activity, it has to do only with itself. As involved with the conditions of mere nature — internal and external — it will indeed meet in these not only opposition and hindrance, but will often see its endeavours thereby fail; often sink under the complications in which it is entangled either by Nature or by itself. But in such case it perishes in fulfilling its own destiny and proper function, and even thus exhibits the spectacle of self-demonstration as spiritual activity.

A Short Philosophy of Duty

” What should I do ? Most of the philosophical texts on duty begin by citing this moral questioning of Kant. Is it a duty to quote Kant when philosophizing on duty? In a certain academic discourse, yes. Because duty is first and foremost a matter of ritual within a community of practice and belonging. If, for example, you are part of a group practicing a martial art, your duty is to go and train several times a month. But does this mean that the isolated individual has no duties towards himself? Are we just collective animals? Isn’t it contradicting the very sense of duty to make it depend on others?

What then of a duty that would contradict our labour contract or our community membership, a duty to say no, a call more compelling than that of habit and obedience? Etymologically, duty is a debt, a transfer of belonging. How can one have a debt to oneself? The answer belongs to the ideas of personal ethics, moral commitments, good resolutions, the will, self-discipline: if I set myself, via the exercise of an autonomous reason, a value that I consider universally admirable – “the moral law within me”, said Kant – I must try to conform to it, even if it costs me.

A Gorbachev in 1989, for example, may not believe in capitalism, but he does believe in social freedom, favouring the self-determination of individuals rather than the yoke of tyrannical power. He knows, as Tocqueville showed, that freedom might lead to the idiocy of many and to the greatness of a few. But this is the Enlightenment project: to establish democracy, even if we know that humans are infantile. They must eventually be able to become adults on their own and think for themselves, to emerge, Kant would still say, out of mental minority.

But a devious mind might wonder if the philosopher, as a good moralist, does not himself have the professional and somewhat mechanical duty, the obligation to advise autonomy, to speak of duty towards oneself. One does not expect a thinker to encourage the absence of responsibility, the cowardice of the blind enjoyer, slow suicide, inconsistency, immaturity. Duty is thus often associated with a form of predictability, of trust. The philosopher is expected to moralize as well as the bus driver is expected to drive her bus, respecting stations and schedules rather than suddenly taking everyone down a ravine out of anger. Duty is sometimes the courage to do what is not necessarily creative: repeat, defend, preserve. Sorry for being boring, I am driving…

But let us now consider an idea that is more taboo than the idea of duty to oneself. Imagine a tyrant emperor who considers that everyone owes something to him. Everyone would have a duty to dedicate their work and part of their life, their time, or their body to the Emperor. Such a situation takes duty out of the lyrical field (I owe it to myself) and places the concept back in the political field of domination. If this tyrant is a state, then it is an entire nation that has to abide by the rule of order. These are the two dead ends of our modernity. The individual-king most often fails to be a being of pure duty towards himself, that is to say of pure integrity, because lyricism, the I, is a position which cannot by definition erase the desire for sensuality. On the other hand, the citizen fails to be a perfect subject of the State because “voluntary servitude”, to use an expression of La Boétie, is not sustainable for an autonomous and conscious subject. But it is possible for a subjected unconscious, and this is why Big Data exploiters manage to use those who are not activelly aware of our electronic and contractual servitude. How can we escape the duality between the lyricism of duty and the sacrifice of collectivism? Perhaps thanks to a virtue that our modernism has forgotten or relegated to Hollywood fiction: epic duty.

Being epic is a co-creative middle ground between the lyricism of the ego-trip and voluntary servitude. The Greeks saw in the epic the highest degree of the human adventure, as if the epic group were a super-individual. Action begins with thinking about the forces that move us, and those are ultimately concepts, notions, ideas, values. Collective styles.

Philosophy as Embodied Vastitude and Vision

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.”

― Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason

Towards a Universal Science of Actualisation of Potentials

Generative science studies the complexity that emerges from the iteration of simple rules. From the point of view of crealectics, this approach is still somewhat connected to the overproduction paradigm inherited from mass capitalism. Crealectics see the world as relative simplicity emerging from infinite complexity, not the opposite. This might sound counterintuitive to our postmodern ears, since we are accustomed to perceiving our worlds as complex.

But the latter confusion has to do with the globalisation of our perception. Indeed, our world appears noisy, messy, chaotic sometimes, or diverse, and from the perspective of a single human perception this is the case, but from the perspective of the Creal, reality as we know it is always a simplification, a reduction. The philosophical question that matters for crealectics is not the General Systems Theory question of complexity (how does simplicity create complexity?), but the opposite: how does complexity create simplicity?

At the moment, whole systems theory is cognitively fashionable, and this is not a bad thing. Holism is intellectually satisfactory because the fragmentary disciplines that it attacks are not in fact scientific: most sciences today are not scientific in the sense that they do not provide a theory of everything. They are analytic practices that don’t have time to care much for the whole system and interdependencies between levels of reality.

In my view, if an analytic practice does not propose a theory of everything, it is not a science, even if it appears to be so by mobilising mathematics, statistics, and other rigorous protocols. And indeed, I am not contesting the localised rigour of these practices that call themselves sciences: medicine, psychology, zoology, biology, chemistry, the list is long. These disciplines eliminate complexity by looking at a specific region of the real and saying: we can understand this provided we isolate it from other approaches, and we do not have anything to say about the rest of the world, or if we do, it is under our own monadic worldview: for example for chemistry, everything will be chemical to a certain extent, but if we reach superstructural levels such as politics for example, atomistic and mechanical methodologies don’t really work (There must be a chemical explanation of politics out there, but I am not interested).

The complexity or whole systems approach tries to eliminate this fragmentation of practices by claiming that the same simple patterns everywhere generate worlds. In a way this is still an atomistic point of view, except that we have replaced atoms or particles with patterns, memes or laws. This is seductive, but ultimately, you can’t easily work with it, since the idea of interdependence of parts and systems leads to an exponential epistemological complexity which is practically difficult to apply. If everything is dependent on everything, how are you going to work?

That is the problem of the regenerative paradigm today, for which I have much sympathy. Say you want to build a regenerative school: you are not only going to choose sustainable materials, you are also going to interview the children, the teachers, examine the butterflies around the school, try to include in your decisions a view of the entire and global cycle of education. In practice, a holistic design is complicated or it needs to restrict its framework and therefore fall back into analytic practice, a discipline that localises its scope and intentionally restricts its perspective. Multi-disciplinarity has its spatiotemporal limits.

Crealectics does not say that the world is complex. It says that the world is simple, but not because it is made of the same atoms or bits or patterns. The world is not simple because everything is chemical, or material, or mathematical. The world is simple because it is a contraction of a primordial source of infinite possibility. And this is a process: the world is a continuous process of actualisation (simplification) of the Creal, of concretisation of the absolute creativity of the cosmic potential. Reality is always simple compared to creality, because in reality everything has a focus, a conatuseverything contracts a prehension towards compactness. Now this mysterious last element of sentence is a reference to the philosophies of Whitehead, Bergson and Spinoza, and outside the limits of this post.

What needs to be examined is not how things become complex or complicated, neither if everything is chemical or material, but how and why a potential becomes actual. This is one of the oldest questions of philosophy. I would argue this is the only question of philosophy. And the only question of politics. And the only question of psychology, chemistry, etc.

We only need one science, the universal science of actualisation of potentials. I call it crealectics.