Every place you live this side of paradise has its associated problems. We have at least two problems about our Sechelt place. First, the time we can live there each year is as yet far too short. And second, every fall we have to say farewell to it and leave. Leaving is like being yanked away from a beautiful and happy occasion while things are going full swing. We never seem to get enough of Sechelt.
The view up the inlet past Mount Richardson and Nine Mile Point is simply magnificent. On both sides, mountains come steeply down to the water, each behind the other until they are lost in the blue haze of distance. The scene at each time of day has its own beauty and the changing seasons contribute their share of subtle differences.
During the long winter months we often wish we could turn our eyes, even for a few minutes, to that glorious land-and-sea-scape which we love to live in for a while each summer. We have accumulated quite a collection of color photographs and slides. Unfortunately each picture shows us only one section of that whole wraparound scene. That isn’t much more satisfying than looking at a few of the tiles in a small part of some great mosaic. What we crave is an all-inclusive panoramic view—one much wider than our normal field of vision. Owning a panoramic camera would simplify our problem. The other alternative would be to do a painting of the scene.
From time to time I’ve done some fairly creditable painting. I have dreamed of the day I can seriously take up art. All the proper equipment, purchased long ago, has been lying in drawers and standing in closets for years, waiting for A-day. Why not do a big painting of Sechelt? That seven-by-three-foot space above the mantelpiece in our living room would be just the place for such a painting. Why not?
Twelve years ago I decided to begin “my masterpiece.” The rug in our living room was rose beige. The drapes across the window wall picked up the ice blue of the walls as a background for a pattern of pinks, golds and browns. These colors could be combined nicely into a painting of the best-ever sunset at Sechelt. I could see it clearly in my mind’s eye: the rose clouds, the yellow gold and green blue of the distant sky, reflected in smoothish water along with the darker greens and browns of the shadowy trees on the mountains.
Before I actually began to paint, many details and nuances of the Sechelt scene had to be checked out. Exactly what style of sunset should I paint? What type of cloud formation? Should the water have waves? What type of waves? What do waves do to the reflections of a sunset and a mountainous shoreline?
I knew I could do a fairly good job with the near-at-hand rocks and the faraway hills, for their outlines are stable and clear-cut. But the subtly wavering shadows and reflections in water? A moving wave represented in motionless paint? Yes, some real technical difficulties had to be resolved before I could meet our need for a sentimental panorama.
During the next summer holiday I carefully scrutinized each sunset and how its reflection in the water was affected by waves. I spent long periods of time just observing the various shapes and directions of waves. How could I suggest them by colored brush strokes on a flat canvas? There were so many different types of waves. Crisscross ripple patterns sometimes even became squares, like a tile floor. Sometimes the water was smoothly dimpled by oscillating oval shadows. A brisk breeze would bring out sharp lying-down Vs and Ws with elusive, unpredictable sparkles. Near the shore, sun lines and ripple shadows wobbled and shifted crazily over the waved sand on the bottom.
I noticed for the first time that the dark, faraway shores were always underlined in bright sky color. Mountains, of course, were reflected darkly in the water that spread directly in front of them. But the edges of those dark reflections were almost never smoothly curved lines like the outlines of the actual wooded slopes. The boundary between the reflection of a mountain and the reflection of a bright sky often zigzagged acutely from side to side like very long sawteeth or interlocking fingers. The reflected mast of the catamaran out at its mooring buoy wiggled back and forth like a disjointed snake. Each contour of an incoming wave reflected part of a different band of the whole scene: the far sky, the darker hills, the sky overhead, the water’s own depth, or even the trees on the high shore behind me. All of these features were continually on the move in the most baffling ways.
It took me a long time to unscramble this complicated visual puzzle and decide what was really going on out there and why. One thing was sure: this painting would be largely the product of imagination! Nothing around Sechelt Inlet would hold still for me, except the rocks. Even the shadows of the rocks kept shifting as the sun moved on. The scene was an ever-changing series of different images. I developed deep admiration for those ingenious artists who had invented techniques for dealing with such difficult problems. I also began to wonder whether an amateur like me should even attempt to paint that glorious scene.
My first attempts at representing waves were awkward, almost ludicrous. Drawing waves is totally different from drawing a stationary rock with a sharply defined outline. Waves keep traveling. They even pass through one another and one wave affects others. Representing waves realistically is truly an artistic challenge.
In my previous thinking about the impact of form upon form, I had totally ignored the whole class of the temporary forms that propagate in fluids such as water and air. I had realized that a form such as a mink’s paw-print, pressed into damp sand, will last much longer than if it were pushed into water. I had neglected to consider that when a mink plunges its paw into water, it raises the level of the surrounding water a little and sends out circular ripples in all directions. While the water doesn’t preserve the exact outlines of such a paw-print, the changes the plunging paw made in the surrounding water at least indicate that something of a certain volume made an entry at a certain place. If the energy in the outgoing circular wavelets could have been accurately measured, that measurement would also have indicated the speed with which the paw entered the water.
But something else about forms in fluids provided a real breakthrough for my further thinking. Unlike a mink’s paw-print made in damp sand, the print of a paw plunged into water wouldn’t remain right there where the event had occurred. The form would immediately begin expanding outward, taking off on a journey. It would travel in all directions in the form of little outward-moving ripples that could make a detectable difference even some distance away.
The conception of traveling forms that make a difference as they pass through some medium, opened up for me a whole new understanding of the world.
I had never even thought about how the striking face of a typewriter key printed its image through a ribbon onto a sheet of flat paper. Two static forms simply came in contact.
The stamping die and the flat paper were all I would have considered. It had never crossed my mind that the form on the keyface actually has to travel as a pressure wave through the ribbon in order to pass through to the paper. The distance separating key from paper is so tiny that perhaps I may be excused for neglecting so short a journey.
But neither had I ever asked how that black letter printed out there on that paper could make any difference to a consciousness centered somewhere inside my head two feet away from the paper. The form of that letter has to travel that distance on the light which is reflecting from the paper. I had always ignored the light entirely, concentrating upon the printed letter. When a stream of light first descends upon paper, it carries no letter form. Those of its rays which fall upon the black letter are absorbed and modified somewhat differently from those that fall upon the white paper. The reflected rays carry that difference to the retinas of my eyes. There the sensory cells detect the difference and the all-over form of it, transmitting a pattern of neurochemical impulses through my optic nerves to the visual processing center of my brain. There the form of the printed letter is registered—I know not how—in my perception. Thus a form travels from the striking face of a typewriter key through a ribbon onto paper, by light thence to my eye, and through nerves to my consciousness. Traveling forms! Hm…m…m.
For all kinds of communication, it is required that forms should go traveling.
Sound is a transmission of forms through air or other materials. Sounds originate from the vibrations of things such as bars, containers, strings, membranes or columns of air. The vibrations alternately condense and rarefy the air in their vicinity. The pattern of these changes is transmitted to the adjacent air, and then to the next most adjacent air, and so on, for a considerable distance. A succession of these traveling compression waves may reach my eardrums and make them vibrate at a similar rate. I will then “hear” a sound. Wherever people speak or sing, wherever music is made, wherever sounds are heard, the invisible wave forms of sound have been out traveling.
Electromagnetic wave forms can be transmitted through wires, through air and even through a vacuum. All the new means of communication which have been developed so spectacularly in this century depend on the ability of electromagnetic waves to travel.
The philosophical possibilities of these dynamic forms of differing are far more exciting than the traditional conception of static, visible forms. In fact they open up a whole new way of understanding the world—as an ongoing process of transformation rather than as a finished product.
The basic principle of waves is that the wave form travels from one place to another, while the medium within which it travels simply oscillates back and forth, remaining in the same general location.
Tie one end of a fairly long rope to a post, then back off with the other end in your hand until the rope is lifted from the ground. Now jerk your hand quickly up and down. Watch the wave you made travel down the whole length of the rope to the post, rebound and return to your hand. After the wave has thus run its course, the rope still hangs where it was when the show started.
If the rope had been lying limply on the ground, the wave wouldn’t have traveled very far through it. The rope has to be under some tension if it is to transmit waves. When a portion of the rope is jerked up, that stretches the rope a little, giving it enough elastic pull to haul the ascended portion back down again. The momentum of the heavy rope makes the descending portion overshoot its original position. That overshoot once more strains the rope, so that it can haul the low bend back up once more for another overshoot. Each up or down movement of a portion of the rope drags adjacent portions after it, so the wave keeps going along the whole length of the rope and comes back again as a traveling wave form.
Waves in water are produced in much the same way. A portion of the surface must somehow first be raised, perhaps by a gust of wind, by an object plunging in or by tides. Once a pileup of water has occurred, the higher level water tends to flow over and down into the nearby lower level. The downward flow picks up momentum that carries it on below the average surface level. The bottom of the “hollow” then appears to “bounce” back up. It is forced up by pressure flows from the adjacent higher water, assisted by surface tension and any continuing wind friction. Then down it goes again, and the cycle keeps on repeating.
Although the hummock form of a wave appears to move freely in one direction across the surface of the water, the water itself only oscillates in a more or less cylindrical rolling motion. When the wave forms have passed on, the water itself continues to lie approximately where it was before they came along. The energy travels and the form travels, but the material medium through which both travel nevertheless remains roughly in its former locale.
If energy is concentrated more in one place than in another nearby, the concentrated energy will spread out wherever it can into a region of relative energy scarcity. Any difference between the concentration of energy in one place and that in another is called a differential. Water impounded behind a dam is under greater pressure than is free-flowing water at the foot of the dam. Because of this pressure differential between the two sides of the dam, water will spurt downstream through any hole in the dam. The fire in a stove is hotter than most of the air in the room. Because of this temperature differential between the inside and the outside of the stove, heat radiates outward into the room. When one terminal of a battery has a higher concentration of electrical charges than the other, there is a voltage differential between the two terminals. An electric current will flow therefore from the one to the other. Because all of these flows of energy go “downhill” or “downgrade,” the relative steepness of the “slope” of the flow is often called its “gradient.”
Energy differentials are everywhere. Every time you turn on a tap, warm yourself, start your car or push a pen, you experience the flow in an energy gradient.
When a cold air mass moves in on a mass of warm, moist air, the frontal interface between them becomes a moving squall-line of atmospheric violence, with winds, rain and thunderstorms.
When a fire is making its way through a field of dry grass, the moving line where untouched grass is igniting marks the advancing boundary between the hot gases and cooler combustible material. All along the fire line, flames are continually begetting new flames.
The northern winter comes to an end as the sun swings toward the north again. A line of contrast moves steadily northward as the overhead sun each day creeps farther away from the equator. On one side of that line, snowbanks, frosts, bare tree limbs. On the other, flowing streams, green grass, and the new leaves of springtime.
And so it is with a wave on the sea. A wave is like an advancing battle line. The energy, mass and form on one side of the moving front are continually overpowering the lesser powers just ahead. But once victory has been achieved, the victors give away all their powers to the victims. The conquered forthwith rise up to mount their own offensive into the country next to them, and the cyclic performance keeps moving on. The “battle” is really a “giveaway” game,” one part of the world passing on its energy and form to another.
A wave should be considered to be a moving energy differential, the relocating of a process of differing. As the line of contrast moves forward, the ratio between the higher energy level on one side of a line and the lower energy level on the other is normally fairly well conserved. The rate of flow between high and low remains roughly constant, driving onward a dynamic, self-perpetuating organization, always losing and gaining.
It’s so easy to think of a wave as a constant, almost rigid form which travels by sliding along. A wave does appear to preserve a persisting, simple identity as it moves steadily forward. But waves are not permanent entities. They gradually die down if their supply of energy is not continually replenished, say, by wind. A wave is a complex, dynamic process of creating and resolving differences, a dialectical struggle between two powers, raging through region after region.
An informing kick
An object moving across your field of vision may also be described as a process of differing. Each portion of your visual field has color. In moving across that field, an object sequentially changes for a time the color of each and every portion of a long band across it. For a while each place in that band takes on the color of the object. Then as the object passes on, the color of each place sequentially changes back again to its original color. You interpret this process of color-differing as the passage of a moving object.
When an object moves, physical changes may also take place. In front of the moving object, air is progressively displaced from a sequence of space-volumes, and for a time each of those places is filled instead by the material of the moving object. As the object moves on, those spaces sequentially refill with air. All physical changes and motions thus involve processes of differing.
Suppose I kick a big tin can with the toe of my boot. If the can’s sides are thin enough, their previously “perfect” cylindrical form will quickly take on a new form: an ugly dent. The shape of that dent will have some resemblance to the shape of the toe of my boot. In this case the process of differing lasts only a very short time—while the surface of the can is caving in. It moves only a fairly small distance—the depth of the concave dent—if you neglect how far the whole can travels after I kick it.
In medieval parlance, when the form of something was being changed by a form-altering agent, it was being “in-formed.” That word is particularly useful for describing what happens when any new form is thrust in upon some previously existing form. The process of changing a form, of making a difference to something by imposing a new form upon an older one, is well called “informing.” The new form or arrangement that emerges from the process of informing may therefore be called “information.”
Informing means that forms are struggling with each other. Information is the state of things after the storm of mutual adjusting between those conflicting forms has passed, and the energies of attack and resistance have more or less come to terms with each other. When I kicked the can my boot informed the can. The dent in the can, its displacement, and my memory of the affair, remain afterward as information concerning what happened.
I am, therefore you think
Wherever a form may be, its presence is always making some difference to the other forms around it. Feature by feature, every form continually generates information, whether it is in vigorous action or merely lying there dozing. Every form is in the business of informing. Just by standing there a tree deflects a breeze, creating local turbulence. A fire obviously radiates heat all around it, but more surreptitiously a carton of ice cream will absorb heat and thus cool its surroundings. Some forms emit sound waves and odors, while others damp out sounds and absorb odors.
The only way we can know that anything is “there” is to be informed by it. Everything actual is continually affecting its surroundings and being affected by them. To be is to make a difference. To be is to participate in shaping the course of events. To have been is to have left a footprint upon the beach of becoming.
Every object immediately alters the qualities of the light which falls upon it. Its surface absorbs some of the wavelengths and energy in the light, while sending the rest off in different directions. On its way to the observer’s eye, the reflected light may be further altered in its color, intensity and direction by its encounters with other things. We don’t actually see the light itself. Our eyes are equipped, however, to read off some of the lightborne information. This information tells something about the light’s adventures on its way from its source to our eyes, informed as it was by its meetings with one thing after another. An enormous amount of information is carried to us by light. Only a sighted person who has become blind understands how great is that portion of our knowledge about the world which we derive from eyesight.
The list of processes which can make a difference to things is probably endless. These informing processes are often called “influences” (in-flowings) or “cause and effect linkages.” But those common terms seem vague, abstract and sterile, for they contain no reference to “moving forms,” “altering forms” or “transformation.”
At all times forms are under pressure or in tension. Other forms are always pressing in upon them or pulling away at them. Nothing is absolutely inert or utterly passive. The world everywhere and always is a dynamic scene where aggression is being met by active resistance. The elastic connections that hold materials together are always being strained. When an aggressive form exerts a great concentration of energy upon some weaker, beleaguered form, the strained connections which are under assault may snap. The form which has been attacked may then break apart or disintegrate. Even if its connections still hold, it may be distorted, deflected from its path, or displaced as a whole. If intact, the elastic connections of a particularly resilient form sometimes manage to reconstitute that form again and again despite repeated deforming, as in the case of a bouncing rubber ball.
Everything that retains its form for an appreciable length of time has been successful in fighting off, adjusting to, or absorbing all encroaching forms. Attacking forms which have been repulsed may subsequently bear in themselves the marks of the forms that successfully fought them off.
Some forms, such as those of mountains, change relatively slowly under the normal informing processes we call erosion. Subjected to blasting or seismic forces, however, they may be changed quickly and drastically. When a raindrop hits a rock the form of the drop is radically changed almost instantaneously, but the rock is only slightly vibrated.
The process of form-changing may be speeded up or slowed by controlling the access of forces which may be exerted by change agents. While the universe appears to have a definite interest in perpetually altering existing forms, there are usually ways and means of inhibiting the speed of some processes. Over considerable periods of time, some forms can thus be preserved relatively intact. The relative stability and endurance of some forms provides a background of “semiconstancy” against which we can calculate the relative rates of change for all other forms. The reliability of our “clocks” depends as much upon their durability as upon their repetitive performance.
People commonly assume that the space between things is empty, that there is “nothing” there. But something is always there: air, electromagnetic fields, radiation, gravity—all presences that bear information. Many kinds of differentials and their resultant processes are continually flitting hither and yon in all directions through gases, liquids and solids, even through what is commonly called a “vacuum.” Radio waves usually pass through swiftly and undetected. Cosmic rays, X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet radiation bombard from every side. Nobody could list all of the transformation activity that whisks through any given volume of space during the quietest interlude.
But despite all the rushing and wrestling of forms—the jostling and rebounding of information coming and going—the universe is by no means a chaos. The expansion of any form and the shape of its frontier contours are limited and determined by the back pressure and resistance of forms around it. Even an explosion is always somehow contained. No known form can change entirely the form of everything else that is. Although information keeps pelting in upon us from every direction, we are nevertheless able to make considerable sense of the world’s busyness and to maintain a lengthy span of satisfactory living.
Differentials and dividers
Notice how the dynamic differentials which we have been considering differ from the absolute dividers, the set definitions and the fixed class boundaries of traditional logic. In the latter, the “Divide and Eliminate” technique creates total separation in order to get rid of whatever lies on the disfavored side of the dividing slash. For an energy differential to exist there must likewise be some separation between two zones, one of higher energy concentration and one of lower. If however the separation were absolute, the differential could make no difference to anything except to put pressure on the structure that actually separates the dual domains. A working dam is thus always under pressure. If at some time the two sides of a differential are not allowed some access to each other, the process of dynamic differing will never begin. Only when the totality of the separation between them has been abolished will the action get under way.
In traditional logic, the dividing slashes must obey the rules and stay exactly where they were laid down—no wobbling, wavering or wandering about. The domains as differentiated and defined by the logical divider may change neither their size nor their location. How different is the situation when the boundary zone between the dual domains is continually embroiled in a change process and the zone itself is constantly on the move, as in a wave, a fire-line or a squall-line. The domain of higher energy concentration probes and breaches all barriers which prevent it from permeating the zone of lower energy. A frontier is usually a very dynamic scene, but a logical divider has a static finality about it.
Traditional logic always regarded our skin as a prime example of a logical divider which is also a physical divider. Your skin helps to hold “you” together, and it resists the encroachment of foreign invaders like germs, bugs and dirt—things that are “not-you.” “The world” is out there beyond your skin, and you are inside your skin. Right?
These words which you are presently reading, then, are not you. By the Law of Noncontradiction what is outside you cannot also be inside you at the same time. Yet these printed words, this “outside” information, is also now present in your inside consciousness. It’s true that the paper printed with these black characters hasn’t transported itself into your head—only some fresh “mental” contents have appeared there. At what point did that material, that printed page outside your skin, turn into something mental inside your skin?
Such a transformation can take place also in the reverse direction. Purely mental events can produce effects in the outer nonmental, physical world. Suppose you decide to write a memo—a purely mental decision. First thing you know, your hand has placed a pad of paper on the table and your fingers have picked up a pen. They are deftly moving the pen across the paper, leaving ink behind in the meaningful lines and marks of handwriting. How does your mind move the matter in your arm and hand? How did your mental events produce that intricate physical script there on the paper? Is that written memo out there on the table also you?
In traditional philosophy, aided and abetted by classical logic, an absolute distinction was commonly made between conscious human experience and the nonliving material world. This distinction between mind and matter was echoed in the distinction between soul/spirit and body, between the Creator Spirit and physical creatures, as well as between the perceiving subject and the objects which are perceived. It is widely believed that you, the conscious “subject,” are absolutely different in kind from the unconscious physical world of the “objects” that are “not you.” Your skin is considered to be the divider between you as subject and all “outside objects.”
Some philosophies with their correlated theologies tend to emphasize “samenesses,” and to downplay individual and particular “differences.” Ironically enough, these are the very philosophies which emphasize the distinctions between mind and matter, soul/spirit and body, subject and object, as well as God and the world. These dualistic philosophies and theologies characteristically despise “material things”% and persistently exhort us to seek what is “spiritual.” For dualists a disastrous split inevitably arises between science/technology and religion, between “practical” people and “spiritual” people, between the state and the church.
Knowing what we know today, there is no point in making a big thing of a fancied split between matter and mind, between flesh and soul/spirit. Einstein and the atomic bomb showed that matter is energy. The energy which we ingest as material foods drives not only the muscular activities of our flesh but also the electrochemical fields and impulses that accompany our dreaming, feeling and thinking. Mental activities cannot be entirely divorced from physical processes. Outgoing nerve impulses which are directed towards moving the hand and its fingers can be picked up by electronic microreceptors. If a person has lost a hand, microreceptors can relay these nerve impulses to devices which will move the fingers of an artificial mechanical hand.
We have been discussing the traveling of forms. Forms can pass quite easily from the “outside world” into the “inside world” of our flesh and mind. They do this through our sensory organs. A patterned process of differing out there in the world is quickly translated into an inner patterned process of differing. When forms on the outside pass through to the inside they enter a different transmission medium. When they pass from one medium to another, say, from air to nerves, they require the translation services of an ingenious transducer, just as a hydroelectric turbine is required to turn the kinetic energy of falling water into electrical energy. Eyes, ears and other sensory organs fulfill this transducing function. Once within the body, the interiorized patterned processes are freely transmitted through nerves, blood, bones and muscles.
If outer forms can so easily make their way into the citadel of our perception, and if the forms of our plans and internal purposes can so readily sally out into the world, reshaping not only the motions of our arms and legs but the arrangement of all sorts of inorganic objects, the continuity between the inner world and the outer world should be taken more seriously than the splits between them which have been so strongly emphasized by traditional dualisms. Even if there were an actual frontier between matter and mind, flesh and soul/spirit, object and subject, the fact that forms can travel so freely across these alleged borders makes those traditional dualistic distinctions almost irrelevant.
One of the chief reasons dualistic philosophies continue to be perpetuated is that they are so useful for sustaining old prejudices, privileges and class distinctions. If thinkers would turn their attention away from dualistic divisions and concentrate on the way traveling forms can maintain continuity and communication between all levels and parts of the world, profitable progress in human understanding might arise between long-separated social groupings. “Apartheid” of all kinds may serve some economic, social and political ambitions well, but it also prolongs human suffering and conflict.
A theology correlated with a philosophy of migrating forms would obviously offer promising possibilities for getting our world together. If all forms are translatable into other forms, greater mutual understanding seems very possible. If forms can travel to distant forms and make a valuable contribution to them, mutual benefits and cooperation are feasible. If, despite all the differing and changing, forms can penetrate and merge with other forms, greater unicity is possible.
The world is by no means an undifferentiated, simple unity, but it is most certainly not a mere collection of ultimately and totally separated discontinuities. The universal translatability and mobility of forms across all boundaries offers clear testimony to the presence of a great deal of continuity.
Some forms can penetrate any known physical barriers, e.g., the tiny, fast-moving, massless, chargeless subatomic particles known as neutrinos. Nothing therefore is entirely isolated or ultimately isolable. Nothing can remain forever invulnerable, absolutely exempt from all possibility of being changed. There is nowhere to hide from all forms of differing. Whatever dualisms or other barriers may actually exist, none are known to be impenetrable.
If there are in reality no impassable roadblocks, it should be possible even for engineers and theologians to understand one another. Perhaps in terms of “information” and the mobility of transforming forms they may be able to communicate more satisfactorily.
If both matter and mind are permeable by forms, and if flesh and soul/spirit can communicate, perhaps the ancient Platonic dualism between heaven and earth should be set aside. The Bible has its “Jacob’s ladder” and a mediator. Heaven and earth are mutually accessible. In both the Old and New Testaments the “angels” were “messengers of God.” In the Old Testament “the angel of the Lord” was the earthly presence of God. Convinced dualists dislike the idea of angels, for their existence tends to blur the hard line between the Creator and his physical creatures.
At any rate, my painting of the panorama at Sechelt has gone very well. I have learned how to translate my inner perceptions of wave forms into the painted forms of my picture. When the brush in my hand strokes pigment onto the canvas at my command, I feel a very real connection between the flow of that paint and the flowing process of differing that originally and actually raised up the kind of waves I am trying to depict. The same universe that makes actual waves is, through me, also making a picture of them. When I am watching waves moving toward the shore, patterned processes of differing are being generated within me that are definitely related to the strokes that I make with my pigment-loaded brush. The forms that traveled from those water waves at Sechelt to become ideal forms in my mind, somehow continue their journey by moving back out through my nerves, hand muscles and eyes, finally reproducing themselves as the painted forms of a picture.
The Sechelt masterpiece hasn’t yet been hung over our fireplace. Perhaps when this book has been completed I’ll have time to put the finishing touches on the picture.