Chapter 15. Formal Relations

In Wonderland, young Alice met up with the now-famous grinning Cheshire cat. After giving Alice advice, this enigmatic creature disappeared by almost imperceptible gradations until nothing was left but its grin. A most extraordinary phenomenon!

The bodiless grin of Alice’s feline adviser raises searching theoretical questions which are much more basic than the obvious “Can a cat grin?” such as:

Could the body of an actual cat gradually vanish while the animal remained alive?

Could the form of a grin continue to exist if unsustained by a flesh and blood head?

Could the cat’s vanishing grin have reversed itself to bring back the whole cat?

If the grin were to be reembodied, would that body necessarily be that of a cat?

Did that Cheshire cat truly exist or not?

Few people could be convinced that such a cat ever actually existed. The laws of logic dictate that a thing must either exist or not exist, but not both. Conceived by Lewis Carroll (C.L. Dodgson), that vanishing cat possessed no physical reality – it was fiction. Nevertheless we know how that imaginary cat behaved in the presence of fictional Alice. We pass that knowledge on to children today, just as it was passed on to us. The image of that grinning Cheshire cat somehow still has power over people’s imagination. How can the prolonged effectiveness of a cat that never existed be explained?

Although that particular Cheshire cat never possessed physical existence, the concept of that cat does have a kind of existence. Psychologists believe that concepts have a basis in human brains as related patterns of neural firings. Carroll simply fitted words to relations which came together in his mind and produced the conception of that vanishing cat. All of us have experienced grins, cats and vanishing, as in clouds. This being the case, the words with which Carroll expressed his conception can summon from our minds a conception which is quite similar to that which Carroll had in his mind. In all communication, patterns of relating can appear to jump from mind to mind.

Relations are able to exist even if human or other physical bodies are not actually present. The rules of games, the laws of the land and blueprints for projects describe relations which have an ideal existence (call it “subsistence”) of their own, even if people or things are not at the present time relating in those specified ideal ways.

I intended my little list of questions about the elusive cat to be provocative. Most people tend to believe that relations can exist only when material bodies are physically present. I believe that relations have a certain reality of their own and are not entirely dependent upon the presence of physical bodies. The “matter” of a physical body is constituted by relations, not vice versa. The various forms of matter are simply different relatings of different relations.

Ancient philosophy taught that things have “properties.” Contrary to common understanding, white sugar does not have “whiteness” and “sweetness.” Whiteness is a relation between eyes and light reflected off sugar, and sweetness refers to the relation between sugar and a normal tongue. Our inherited language characteristically has a penchant for turning relatings into abstract “things” (reification) even though nobody can actually locate things such as heaviness, permanence, education and validity. Our language preserves those thinglike universal terms much as fossil shells in sedimentary rock preserve some of the formal relations which once constituted living creatures.

Contemporary scientists have difficulty explaining to critical minds their most common terms and conceptions – such “things” as “force,” “bonds,” “mass,” “inertia,” “energy” and the “laws” of “nature.” Our mysterious world cannot be explained to the bottom in terms of material bodies, be they particles, clumps, crystals or artifacts. We know nothing but patterns of relations – i.e., information – patterns which are the differences which one active form makes to another. A dog charges after a cat. The cat turns tail and runs for its life, while the alarmed owner of the cat helplessly watches the chase. When one physical thing impinges upon and changes another, that information may be directly perceived by an observer, or it may be registered by scientific instrumentation and read off by an observer. Information consists of perceived patterns of relations. Materialistic science will never be able to produce a completely adequate explanation for the world’s processes solely in terms of matter or the transformations of a fluid pseudo-substance called “energy.” Sooner or later the materialist’s approach to the physical world must always resolve into relatings between certain relations.

Human beings can initiate and direct an amazing number of relations. These give rise to technical achievements, including the transmission of information. We are conventionally told that we transmit signals to each other. It would be more accurate to say that we transmit ordered patterns of signals which are associated with (i.e., related to) familiar experiences. The relational order of Carroll’s words induces us to generate an unusual relation between well-known meanings – cat, grin and vanishing. That explains why Carroll’s extraordinary cat is comprehensible, even though in the materialistic sense of the word such a cat never existed.

Relations and forms

Although abstract geometrical ideas – such as points, lines, angles and curves – are not material things, they are nevertheless easy to imagine. All of them are relations between their background and context. These relations can themselves be related in countless ways and combined to make other shapes, such as geometrical forms, edges, contours, line-drawings, cartoons, maps, blueprints, diagrams, graphs, digits, alphabets and patterns.

Geometrical forms can not only be imagined and imprinted on paper; they can also be discerned and embodied in objective physical structures. Points can be seen as particles. Lines can be understood as railway tracks. Triangular bracing is absolutely essential in the structure of stable bridges and buildings. Circular wheels facilitate the movements of vehicles.

Realistic thinkers have often noticed that the order and connection of correctly perceived ideas is the same as the order and connection of things. This is because relations are the basic constituents of both mental and physical structures.

Each material object and person has a shape, profile or outline silhouette which consists of edges, curves, angles and bumps. Things and people are visually identifiable by the characteristic order and orientation of their particular features. Order of occurrence and directional orientation are, of course, kinds of relations.

Facsimiles of forms found in physical structures can be replicated in human minds. Stripped of bodiliness, these abstracted patterns of relations may then be reproduced feature for feature in various media by methods such as shadow casting, line drawing, photography, painting or sculpture. The “head” of a famous person can be readily recognized whether it appears in a drawing, a photograph, a painted portrait, or a bust made of clay, plaster or bronze.

When I received my Christmas clock, its box contained black plastic pieces, some metal balls, a motor and an illustrated booklet. The girders, troughs and base could well have been made of metal instead of plastic. The balls could have been glass instead of steel. Even the booklet’s paper quality and printing font could have been different. The materials chosen to embody the essential relations of this contrivance were highly optional, almost irrelevant to its functioning and formal structure. Preeminent significance belonged to the clock’s overall form and its relational system.

Relations and forms are realities in their own right – realities which are independent of any particular kind of material substance or case of actualization. Mathematical relations and forms can be validly related and re-related whether or not they have been embodied in materials. The dictionary is replete with definitions of both mathematical and non-mathematical words. All of these definitions give names for distinctive composites of general relations which may be actualized in certain material things. Those things are then further related by relations of similarity which group them into certain “kinds,” “sorts,” “types” or “classes.”

Relations subsisted long before they were actualized as the brains of people who later “discovered” them.

Relations and powers

Relations and forms possess certain powers. Isaac Newton’s universal law of gravity correctly asserts that the distance relation between bodies profoundly influences the attractive force between them. The gravitational pull between two masses varies inversely with the square of the distance between them, decreasing rapidly with increasing separation. The “weight” of an object therefore depends on how far it is from the center of the Earth.

Charles Coulomb showed that the electrostatic force between charged objects also varies inversely with the square of the distance relation between them. When charged clouds are passing over the landscape, lightning tends to strike tall objects because they are closer to the clouds than are things at ground level. By scuffing my feet over a carpet, I can sometimes accumulate an electric charge in my body. As I approach someone and reach out to shake hands, a startling spark will suddenly snap between the two of us. The relation of distance makes a difference.

Any adult who tries to counterbalance a young child on a playground teeter-totter has to sit much closer to the supporting pivot than the lighter child on the other end. To balance the two weights evenly, the two distances from the fulcrum must vary inversely as the individuals’ respective weights. To raise the child high, the adult must move farther away from the pivot support. Increasing the distance from a pivot to an applied force can give mechanical advantage over a weight or force beyond the pivot. This principle is exploited by tools such as scissors, pliers, wrenches, tongs and the nail-pulling heads of hammers. The usefulness of hand trucks, back hoes and cranes depends upon their components being related at distances which give both mechanical advantage as well as equilibrium.

If the ends of four lengths of wood or metal are fastened together to make a quadrangular structure, that structure can be deformed easily under pressure. However, if the ends of three lengths are joined to make a triangle, each side of that form will prevent the opposite angle from changing under pressure. Structural members related into triangular forms create stability.

If a bullet hits a thin sheet of metal head on, it can punch right through it. But if the sheet is turned at an acute angle relative to the path of the oncoming bullet, that difference in the form of the situation enables the frail metal shield to deflect the bullet harmlessly off to one side. And, of course, if the direction in which the gun was pointing should swerve through ever so small an angle, that change in the angular relation between gun and target will make a big difference in where the bullet hits.

Influential forms do not have to be directly visible. The data imprinted on a magnetic tape or computer disk cannot be read off directly by the human eye. That kind of information is nevertheless effective within its proper electronic system. A magnetic field cannot be seen, but it can line up all the iron filings within its reach or turn an electric motor. Radio waves have always been zipping everywhere through space but, until radio receivers were invented, the human race never suspected the existence of such insubstantial radiating wave forms. If I were speaking these words instead of typing them, although my speech-patterned sound waves would be invisible, they could convey my meaning to a listener as well as printed paper does to a reader.

The combination of accomplished musicians, appropriate musical instruments and a symphonic score holds the potential for a great performance. Through the centuries countless styles of music and compositions differing in tempos, rhythms, timbres, textures and nuances have appeared in the world’s diverse cultures. No doubt more great potential music, silent in dormancy, even now awaits the magic touch of a genius yet unborn. Many wise and wonderful words also have yet to be spoken.

Our larynx is a musical instrument which we can activate by time-ordered bursts of forced air. By controlling our diaphragm, throat, tongue, teeth and lips, we can subtly modify the frequencies of the sounds which we utter. If the positioning and operation of our speech mechanism always remained the same, it could produce only a single kind of sound. Communicating by speech requires that a series of changes must take place in our vocal apparatus, and these take time. The temporal order in which uttered sounds are related – first this syllable, next that – is crucial for the formation of intended, understandable words.

The timing or grammatical order in which the words are said is also fundamental for the accurate communication of information and meaning. In both speech and writing, different arrangements of words in a sentence can convey different meanings. Two sentences may contain the same words, but the order in which they are placed makes a big difference. The event which is described by “The batter hit the ball” is quite different from what happened in “The ball hit the batter.” Compare “She ate only the ice cream” with “She ate the only ice cream.”

If the setting of an event in time and space is mentioned at the beginning of a sentence or a story, what follows will be easier for a listener to understand. The idea which a speaker wishes to emphasize should be placed either at the beginning of a sentence or at the end. In describing a sequence of actions and events, the tense forms of the verbs must be used correctly to avoid confusing the listener or reader. Obviously time governs the production and grammar of speech and writing in human language.

Relations and bodies

People ordinarily make a distinction between material bodies and the relations between those bodies. A material body itself, however, can function as a relation – a connection. Humans have developed many ingenious physical devices for connecting and constructing, bonding and building. Just think of all the threads, cords, ropes, wires, cables, anchors, rivets, bolts, frames, supports, adhesives, utensils and tools which we use. All of these material things serve as “go-betweens” which join other things. Highways and railroads are obvious place-connectors. All means of transportation – bicycles, cars, trucks, ships and aircraft – are ways of reducing the time/distance relations between people and goods or people and places or people and people. Similarly the “media” are ways of bringing information to people. In order to become information, relational forms often have to travel in, on or over a material-connecting medium such as air, paper or wire, in order to make their difference. If the medium itself did not contribute its difference to the intervening distance relation, the information could not reach its intended destination.

Subhuman creatures also use material substances as tools and connectors. Mussels anchor themselves to submerged rocks with tough, flexible monofilament cables. Bivalve shellfish use hinges to connect their two shells. Limpets use vacuum cups to attach themselves to rocks, and barnacles produce a cement which sets under water. Shipworms (teredos) are blobs of jelly whose heads bear a small, edged shell which they use to bore their way through water-soaked logs. Spiders spin nets which catch flying insects. They bring their struggling prey completely under their power by winding them round and round with sticky silken cord.

In ancient times people noticed that the sun, moon and starry constellations moved in regularly repeating cycles. To account for this regularity, it was concluded that the celestial bodies must be mounted on a connected system of rotating crystalline spheres. Isaac Newton abolished the notion of the “rolling spheres” by postulating that a mysterious attracting force called “gravity” holds the sun, moon and planets together as a solar system.

Human beings like to feel secure. They like to build on rock or solid ground – terra firma. The world has so many people, so many kinds of things and activities going on in so many directions, that life can seem threatening, full of unpredictable possible terrors. Such anxiety can be somewhat relieved by strong, beneficent government capable of enforcing acceptable social behavior. No human governing power, however, can control everything in the makeup of the whole world. There has always been motivation, therefore, to obtain reassurance by proving that everything is actually under control by the principles of a “Higher Power.” Early thinkers occasionally suggested that seemingly solid matter was actually composed of tiny “atoms” in swift motion. That alarming notion seemed to reduce the world to quicksand. Most people continued to believe that matter was solid all the way through.

Eventually, however, experiments revealed that matter actually does consist of discrete units. Molecular structures were then understood to be composed of separate atoms which have related orbiting electrons. To explain why the tiny separate particles of matter hold together and make objects seem solid, invisible electromagnetic forces were invoked. Negative and positive electrical charges were known to attract one another from a distance as magnets attract iron.

Minds steeped in mechanical practice found it hard to comprehend invisible, immaterial forces. How could separated material things such as earth and moon and charged particles affect each other from a distance? To materialists, action-at-a-distance was “spooky” and reminiscent of the “spirits” whose activities were visible everywhere to primitive people. (Maybe an identification of active relations with “spirit” isn’t too far wrong!) The problem of action-at-a-distance was put to rest when the notion of a “field” around things was developed. The field did away with things’ definite boundaries and occupied the distance between them.

Deep space was no longer held to be an empty void. Rather it came to be conceived as a seething matrix of energy fields. Then appeared the notion of “free fields” – discrete energy fields which could travel as if they were entities. They received names, such as photons or “virtual particles.” The familiar stable subatomic particles – electrons, protons and neutrons – also began to be treated as energy fields. Within a proton there are superactive, infinitesimal, constituent “quarks.” These point-like quarks are coupled together by “gluons.” The latter are quanta of a weird “weak field” whose connective power gets stronger instead of weaker as the distance between the held-together particles increases. Quarks are so mightily restrained that they have never yet been extracted out of protons or neutrons. If a proton is mostly glue, so is the world. It is now possible to conceive of the physical universe as a complex of gluey relations, rather than as an aggregation of material bodies. While glue in itself is a material thing, it can function as a connective relation. It would now seem to be scientifically respectable to say that things are embodied relations.

Relations and energy

In any case, for particle physicists the old notion of separate material bodies has dissolved into invisible, evanescent activities within a vast pool of “energy” – the mysterious, fluid-like ghost of what used to be called matter.

These days if I were to ask someone what is required in order to do something, they would almost certainly answer, “Energy.” “Everybody knows” that energy is what changes things. Whether the task is to raise a piano of a certain weight to the balcony of a sixth-floor apartment or to put a space shuttle into orbit, the amount of energy which will be required depends on how much mass is to be moved how far and how quickly.

The concept of energy is thus a function of mass, distance and time. If the state of motion of a material body, say, a baseball, is to be changed by being hit with a bat, its “mass” is defined as its resistance to the force which is accelerating or decelerating it. The same force will produce different accelerations on different bodies. A big league pitcher can’t throw a heavy bowling ball as far or as fast as he can throw a baseball. The amount of a given mass is generally expressed in terms of its relation to a standard mass – say, a kilogram. Any change in the rate of its motion is expressed by the number of standard units of distance through which it moves per standard period of time. Obviously all three essential factors of energy, namely mass, distance and time, can be expressed in terms of measured relations. A change in any of these relations will produce a change in the amount of energy involved. Correspondingly a change in energy will be accompanied by a change in one or more of those specific relations.

The most important factor in energy is time. Without time there would be no change of motion, location or direction. Without a change in motion there would be no acceleration, and without acceleration there would be no proper conception of mass. Without time, therefore, the definition of energy would collapse.

Despite the fact that energy is actually only a mathematical product of three measurable changes in relations, it is commonly conceived as being a quasi-material substance or “juice” which is under a mysterious compulsion to “flow” somewhere at its first opportunity. In the current cosmological consensus, the universe is understood to be a vastly extended volume of this energy. Within this great expanse, for unknown reasons, density differences develop here and there. These concentrations of energy constitute the particles and material objects which are dispersed throughout “fields” of energy, which may also contain “holes.” Like gravity-powered movements, hummocks of energy “tend to flow” into any developing hollows as “fluctuations.”

A number of cosmologists have suggested that the universe may have been accidentally created by some such random fluctuations. This alleged transition from sheer randomness to the wonderful orderliness of the world which we know is hard to take seriously. There simply hasn’t been enough time from the beginning of the universe for mere chance to bring about the multitude of different, amazingly coherent, systemic interrelations which we can observe everywhere within and between entities small and great, both lifeless and living.

Although energy as popularly conceived possesses no intelligence, it seems to conduct itself according to certain formulae of physics and principles of mathematics which brilliant people took centuries to devise and relate.

Energy is usually conceived as a self-starter and a self-changer. Nevertheless in science, thinking of it as a living organism or a product of something “spiritual” is dogmatically held to be unacceptable. Although the “laws” of energy constrain every move that is ever made by anything anywhere throughout the universe, any hint that those laws may be linked in some way with a law-giving deity is usually discouraged. Although the corpus of energy is always expending itself in changes throughout the universe, it nevertheless remains indestructibly conserved. This conception of energy as eternal, immortal and omnicompetent appears itself to be a semi-religious approach to the inscrutable mystery which lies behind the ever-changing relations of the universe.

Many people casually suppose that all kinds of change in the universe are explainable by this single, inherently active juice called energy. I question the validity of this assumption.

Energy can appear in many modes: mechanical (kinetic and potential), thermal, gravitational, chemical, electromagnetic and nuclear. It resembles an actor who may don any of several costumes and play any of several roles while remaining the same actor. Energy can be exchanged between various bodies, converted from one mode to another, even interconverted with matter.

Energy can produce many different kinds of changes. Particle physicists understand that a quantum of energy may send an electron from one orbital into another or may alter the orientation of the electron’s orbital. It may even change the direction of an electron’s spin. A quantum of energy may abruptly change a particle’s linear momentum, its angular momentum, its magnetic polarity or its charge. Any of these very different possible transformations could be produced by the same mathematically described bit of energy, say, a photon.

In a physical interaction, which one of these possible changes will actually occur is not entirely predictable. Nothing about the mere presence of energy alone seems to determine which of the many possible results will actually be produced when it is turned loose. To explain what happens, the energy involved must always be supplemented by relating it to a particular kind of source, initiative, constraining circumstance or law.

More than energy is required to explain the changing letters, words and sentences which are presently appearing on my computer monitor. I am providing the initiative. The specific keys which I press and the hardwiring of the machine act as constraints on what is happening. The computer’s electronic components limit the speed at which it can process information. The program which I am using enables me to move the cursor from place to place at will. To communicate a certain meaning, I must obey conventional rules about the spelling of the words and the grammatical order in which they are placed. What appears on the screen is a relating of all these relations and many more.

On a scope unimaginably greater than the screen of my computer monitor, the universe keeps changing the relatings of a countless host of particular relations. Neither in the monitor nor in the universe can the character, timing and ultimate consequences of relatings be completely explained by energy alone.

The bare notion of plain, undirected, unconstrained energy in general never really explains anything of much interest. The mere existence and availability of energy cannot specifically account for the great diversity of things and their relations. Thermal energy can turn solid iron into liquid iron, but it can also bake mud into bricks, fuse sand into glass and fry sausages. Electrostatic energy can both attract and repel. Why is a certain species of organism characteristically attracted to a certain kind of ecological niche? Why is there a powerful mutual attraction between the sexes? People’s energy alone, without their desires, fears, imagination and technological expertise, could not produce the complex structures and systems of a modern city. Vandals as well as builders have energy, but they produce vastly different kinds of results.

Notwithstanding my faintly critical remarks, the approach to the world via the conception of energy is definitely an improvement upon the older view that the world is basically an assemblage of solid, inert, indestructible material particles and more or less familiar objects. In that old worldview, time was considered to be nonessential, extraneous and even downright upsetting – a regrettable intruder. In a dynamic universe consisting of energy in perpetual motion, however, time must at least be recognized as an eminent and prime factor in everything that happens.

Control by time

When engineers speak of a force, they have in mind not just energy, but also the direction or line of action of the force and its angle of application to a certain point on the form of a particular structure. Vector mechanics deals with the whole relational form of each particular situation. Engineers study this subject because they know that, if they hope to control the effects of forces which they propose to exert, they have to take account of all relations which are relevant to the whole situation.

To be able to control a process or action means that there exists a set of relations which, when brought into play, will start, direct, restrain or halt applied forces so that only desirable changes will occur.

The behavior of fluids is controllable by certain arrangements of forms. The pipes and jets of a fountain, the banks of a stream and the drop-off at a waterfall obviously compel flowing water to assume distinctive forms.

Depending on how a woodcarver holds and applies a sharp knife, it can pierce, split, sever, smooth, scrape or shave a piece of wood. Any change in the inclination of the blade or the direction in which the pressure is applied will largely determine what happens to the wood. The rest depends upon the wood’s own shape, density and unique grain. A skilled woodcarver has learned how to control the relations of tool, arm and workpiece.

Many changes in relations are controllable. Things can be connected, altered, disconnected and reconnected in all sorts of ways. The size, shape and posture of material bodies can be changed, as well as the distance between them and the speeds at which they are moving. The quantity of items or the amount of a substance in a certain container can be increased or decreased. The sensory qualities of things can be modified in many ways.

In summary, a relation can be said to be adjustable, flexible, pliable, ductile and the like, while remaining the same relation. In this versatility of relations lies the secret of the nature of change, motion and time.

If anyone or anything could control all of the interrelations of all possible and actual relational forms, the whole world would be under that control. I find it awesome to realize that time actually exercises that kind of omnipotent control.

Time itself has certain relational aspects. Events can happen “before,” “between,” “after,” “first,” “last” and “simultaneously.” According to relativity theory, when a whole clock mechanism has been accelerated to a speed close to that of light or has been lofted to high altitudes, it may register a changed rate of “clock time.” No changes in the distance, speed or altitude of clocks, however, can change the temporal order in which events anywhere actually occur. What time does in a certain order cannot be undone. The effect of the differences which time makes lasts forever. If I arrive too early for an office building to open and have to wait, “Sorry!” If I’m too late and miss the boat, “Too bad!” No one can speed up, slow or reverse cosmic time.

Time quietly but powerfully exercises control over the commencement, continuance and ending of every possible and actual process. Without time there would have been no development or interaction and therefore no history of any kind. My coming into existence depended on the lives of all my ancestors, known or unknown, but most obviously upon the coexistence and cohabitation of my father and mother. The circumstances affecting my parents on the date when I was conceived made my beginning possible. While I was growing, I always had to depend on what time had already done to provide the food which sustained me. Through the years every cell in my body has been replaced – not randomly, but according to a time-controlled schedule. The particular events of my life, small and great, all happened on certain dates and they could not have happened in the way they did if other previous events had not happened in the way they did. Even when I think I am free to do what I want to do, I am under time’s control.

My day-to-day relations are regulated by time. The things and people around me keep making differences to me directly, and I make direct differences to them. They and I could not do this if we did not exist simultaneously. Only my contemporaries can actually reach out and physically touch me. The possible and actual relations of all things and persons are under the ultimate control of time.

Innovative relational forms which come with time may be so spectacularly powerful as to reshape radically the course of history. Think of gunpowder, the printing press, telescope, microscope, railroad, automobile, airplane, telephone, typewriter, radio, television, computer and nuclear fission. Each of these inventions made a terrific difference in human relationships.

It may be objected that the inventions in that short list are “things,” not “forms” or relations. Remember that all material bodies are composed of molecules with characteristic shapes. Those molecular shapes consist mostly of space, which is defined by characteristic relations between vibrating atoms whose swiftly orbiting “particles” are ever-changing. Each material element consists of a characteristic number and pattern of relations between such moving particles. Chemical reactions between substances are understood as changes in the interrelating of the particles which belong to the interacting molecules. All we actually know about the sub-microscopic structure of the material elements is how their constituent particles relate to our physical instruments and to our sensory perception. What we call “things” are really forms of related relations.

We can talk intelligently about relations, but what material substance is in itself remains an inscrutable mystery. When powdered saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur – already familiar substances – were mixed together and heated, a surprisingly powerful kind of relating between them suddenly emerged. At particular times in history explosions of that chemical mixture were employed to propel missiles against animals and humans. Called gunpowder, this use of this form of these materials drastically changed the course of history.

The basic substances which were used in making all of the above-mentioned history-changing inventions had existed as long as the world itself. Circumstances at certain times were such that inventors selected some of those familiar substances, combined or shaped them in novel ways and put them to new uses. It was not the materials that went into those inventions which made them historically important, but the immense number of new relationships which were made possible by those inventions at certain times.

Relations and minds

The brain has millions of synapses which connect nerve cells. Psychologists believe that perceiving a thing and its relations makes a difference in those synaptic connections, thereby storing memories of the experience. The mind can retrieve memories, and those retrieved memories can be newly related so as to form plans which, when implemented, will make specific differences in surroundings. Minds can remember formerly experienced relations, but they can also imagine relational situations which have not yet existed, as well as some which probably will never exist, including novels, “science” fiction and comic strips.

Minds are capable not only of sensing relations; they can also compare and contrast them: up/down, near/far, forward/backward, right/left, here/there, cause/effect, fast/slow, begin/end, before/after, large/small, heavy/light, singular/plural, etc. Things, systems, persons, activities or situations may have a number of relational aspects in common. The intellect can merge a selection of these shared qualities into a generalized relational concept which includes all of them. Any structure in which people can travel on water – kayak, canoe, rowboat, sailboat or motorized vessel – is included under the one comprehensive concept: “boat.” Such generalized relations provide a convenient kind of shorthand when one is writing or speaking.

Material bodies can make a difference to human minds, but minds can also influence other minds by transmitting relations via various forms of communication.

I have already shown that “in-forming” is an appropriate word to use when a new form is being impressed upon an older form. This concept of in-forming is exactly what I meant when I defined relating as making a difference. The result of in-forming, of course, is “in-formation,” a concept which implies that some relational form has produced a discernible change in some other set of relations. That change may be trivial or extensive. It may be an important contribution to valuable knowledge. The process of transmitting information to a receiver in patterns of symbols – speech, handwriting, typescript or codes – is called “communication.”

From moment to moment in the process of time, relations all over the world are changing. In the long story of the universe, information from the past is being communicated from Now-state to Now-state and is being reshaped by each as it is passed on. Each universal Now-state contributes certain relational differences to the next Now-state. What is happening at this very moment in the whole universe may be construed as a phrase in an exceedingly long and complex message which is being formulated by the whole of history.

Conceiving cosmic time as the transmission of a message raises queries which have deep human significance. Who is sending the message via the time process? The Creator of Now-states of cosmic time whom I will, as might be expected, call God. God addresses the same question to each created being in each Now-state: “What will you choose to do with the options which I offered you just now?” The responses which each and every individual in a single Now-state makes to the offered possibilities are incorporated in the whole universal response to the perpetual question. What each individual decided and did in the past influences the Creator’s next offering of possibilities to all beings in the next Now-state. Something of the past is thus conveyed to the next present moment. Ultimately the universe’s composite message, which we call “history,” is received by the One who began it with a question and put the successive answers together. God is the ultimate Relater of all relations.

The story of the universe is a truly 3-D “motion picture” of which God is the producer, photographer, viewer and editor. We persons and all other created beings are the actors.

In any case, cosmic time is a creating of differences which change relations in every nook and cranny of the universe. Without relations and relating there would be no forms, and therefore no relations between forms. Without changes of relations there would be no motion. Without moving forms there would be no informing or communicating. Without communicating, it would be impossible for anyone to gain knowledge. Without knowledge and means of communicating I could not have written anything about relations and time. Without this circularly related system of time-dependent developments this book would not have existed.

In a very real sense it might lightly be said that time wrote this book about itself.