We weren’t the only people who had discovered that the Sechelt area is a beautiful place to live. Cabins and houses soon began to appear here and there along the shore and back up the hill in the woods. Every time a new family took up residence, a new boat would appear on the beach or at a mooring buoy over by the landing bay. When one more gallon-sized plastic jug began to float day after day in the same general area just offshore, we knew that some newcomer had ceased to be a mere visitor and had really settled in. All of us old-timers own one or more of those floating plastic jugs. Formerly they contained vinegar, bleach or milk. Now each float marks the location of some family’s crab trap.
Crab traps come in a variety of designs and materials, but when in use all have one characteristic in common. Each holds dead fish or meat bones. These distribute a waterborne invitation which entices all hungry crabs in the vicinity to “drop in” for a party. Once the crabs have dropped in, there is no dropping out of the trap.
The seasoned trap owner normally checks on the progress of the deceitful party only twice a day—morning and night. Eager newcomers usually check their trap every two hours or oftener. After a trap containing crabs has been hauled up into a boat comes a formidable task: reaching down into the trap to take out the claw-waving females and undersized youngsters from among any menacing males which are large enough to take home legally for dinner. The ladies and junior party-crashers are thrown overboard, but the few males that remain are given a one-way boat ride.
One spring a pair of loons set up housekeeping over in the marshy delta of Gray Creek. At night the Carsons could hear them calling back and forth to each other: “Where-ARE-you?” When a loon is fishing alone somewhere out there on the water, no doubt the direction of its mate’s voice enables it to keep its bearings and helps it find its way home. Probably the mate also likes to keep in touch with its partner and be assured that all is well.
On one particular night, from time to time those Gray Creek loons were vocalizing as usual. One of them seemed to be only a short distance up the shore from Carsons’ place. Elsie noticed that its call had suddenly become short, off-pitch, off-rhythm and squawky, as if it were struggling in some kind of difficulty. Shortly the attempts to call entirely ceased. Though its mate kept calling and calling, no further reply was received.
Next morning, a neighbor from three lots down appeared offshore in his kayak. Mr. Pedersen, an energetic Norwegian, often went kayaking early in the morning. He was hauling something along in the water on a rope behind his slim little craft. Out of the window Herb saw that it was a big loon, flapping, lunging sideways and struggling hard.
At low tide, the ropes which attach plastic jugs to crab traps slack off and sometimes lie floating along the surface of the water. Diving in the darkness, the big loon had entangled himself with one of these light ropes and couldn’t get free of it. Mr. Pedersen had come upon him in this predicament. He cut the rope at a safe distance from the frightened, angry bird, but that rope just wouldn’t let go. It had twisted and taken a firm hold on the loon’s feathers. Mr. Pedersen had towed him over to Carsons’ and shouted for help.
Herb pulled on his rubber boots and hurried down to the shore as the kayak arrived. He picked up the trailing end of the rope. Pedersen held the end with the float. The loon struggled between them as they worked him in onto the gravel bottom near shore. Here it was harder for the heavy bird to move, but he could still lunge and beat with his wings. That stout straight dagger of a beak was poised on a neck that could strike like lightning. Neither man particularly wanted to be on the receiving end of one of those wicked, powerful jabs.
Herb called for Elsie to bring a burlap sack. When they had slipped the sack over the big fellow’s glossy black head he quieted down enough for them to cut off the rope. It ran across his broad shoulders, down under both wing-pits and twisted together again over his back in a “full nelson” hold. They cut the rope as close as they could and untwisted it from the damaged feathers. When the sack had been removed from the loon’s head, the men backed off.
For a few moments the bedraggled bird just lay there disconsolately, quite defeated. Then suddenly his head came up. His lights came on. He shook himself all over and found that he was quite free and that everything was “Go!”
With a mighty effort he floundered clumsily around and thrashed his way with flailing wings toward open water. His webbed feet were still paddling full-speed ahead behind him as he rose in the water and took to the air.
When airborne, that awkward, lumbering creature immediately took on the miraculous beauty of flight. A wild, exultant cry rent the air as he circled on his great wings out over the water and around to Gray Creek. In a short while, from over that way somewhere the men and Elsie believed they heard loons laughing and crying for joy.
Just after sunset the next evening, the Carsons were sitting out on their high deck. It was quickly becoming too cool to stay outdoors any longer. They spotted two loons quietly cruising along not far offshore. The pair turned in toward the beach at Carsons’ place. As they came closer in, the male began to gabble excitedly to his mate. He seemed to be telling her, “This is where it was! This is where it all happened!” Then the pair turned about with assorted chuckles and squawks, and headed back toward open water as the night fell.
Somewhere down in the offshore depths, the rusting skeleton of a lost crab trap is gradually settling into the sand. Its shortened rope will be recognizable now only by its thick incrustation of mussels.
But up the inlet on a quiet night we can often hear more than two pairs of loons calling. Around the fire we exchange knowing glances with the Carsons, and smile.
Relating about a spider
Early one morning a perfect spider web was stretched over the steps leading down to our shelter. The sun shining down through the trees backlit the web and turned it into a jeweled pattern of tiny luminescent rainbows. I simply had to take a picture of it. While I was focusing, a sleepy fly who had gotten up too early by mistake blundered into the plainly visible silken network. Immediately rainbow glints went flying in all directions along the filaments as the fly struggled to free itself. Its efforts to escape telegraphed its presence to the spider, who was still sensibly drowsing on its central platform. One swift dash and that wide-awake spider had captured its breakfast. Then it painstakingly rolled up the foolish fly in fine gossamer.
By the time I remembered that I wanted to take a picture of the web it was too late—the light had changed. I quickly forgot the tragic demise of the fly however, for I had become entranced by the spider’s ingenious remote-sensing device. The radial spokes of its web ran out from a central monitoring station in all directions throughout a flexible, circular net. Wherever a hapless flying insect might hang itself up, intimations of its arrival would zip along the radials from that spot to the center. Those vibrating waves of differing which traveled from prey to spider gave the proprietor of the web all the information it needed to dart out to their source, with murder gleaming in all of its eight eyes.
Before the fly had come into contact with the spider’s information network, no relating had ever taken place between that fly and that spider. Previously neither of them had made the slightest difference to the other. Relating began between them only when signals indicating the fly’s presence in the web were conducted along the radial cables to the spider. That message, transmitted through the medium of spider silk, set up a significant relating between the sender and the receiver of the message. For the first time I understood what the word “relating” really means.
A way to relate
Neither philosophers nor their dictionaries have ever been very good at defining relations. They generally say that the notion of a relation is something ultimate, like the concept of pure being. A relation simply is what it is and there aren’t any deeper, more basic words to express the idea. Then they proceed to discuss the various classes and kinds of relations. This abandonment of the effort to understand relating had always bothered me. Relating is of the utmost importance. All we ever know about the world is how things are related to each other and to ourselves.
Dictionaries give at least two distinctly different meanings of the verb “to relate.” The first is “to connect somehow.” The second is “to tell what happened on a certain occasion; to recount certain events for someone who was not present when they occurred.” These two ideas should be put together. Two things are related when what connects them enables a “report” to be made by one to the other. If A is related to B, there must be a pathway between them along which something of the form of A can travel to inform B, or vice versa. Where there is a way for a process of differing to move from its source to another location where it can make its difference, the source and the other location may be said to be related.
Relating is a function of viability. Two things are related when there is a way to go between them, when there is a flow-path between them along which processes of differing can travel so that a difference here can make a difference there. When an informing process is actually moving along that path, we usually say either that the two things are in communication with each other or that a cause is about to produce an effect.
Communicating and relating have a family resemblance. Relating, however, is the more general word. Because a heavy crab trap down on the seafloor is connected by a rope to a plastic jug up on the surface, it can: restrain the floating marker if the jug is ever inclined to wander off from its area duties. In reverse, the crab trap is affected by the condition of the sea’s surface above it, because the marker jug, rising and falling with the waves, transmits short, sharp yanks to the trap through the rope.
When that big loon was out hunting, he never intended to establish a relation with a crab trap. But he unexpectedly found himself entangled with the rope attached to that particular trap. The stupid trap kept treating the loon as if he were a floating marker jug. Every time he tried to move away, the trap through its rope would jerk him back. The loon had become related to that crab trap, like it or not.
When the rope had been disconnected from the trap, the two men used the rope between them to force the loon to conform to their movements. They made a big difference to his activities by that double relating, and dragged him into shallow water where his movements were further limited by coming in contact with the bottom.
When the loon had been freed from the rope, he was no longer related directly either to the trap or to the men who had freed him. Now only memory traces somewhere in his nervous system—and a few damaged feathers—linked him with his past fearsome predicament. His affective linkage to his mate and their nest at Gray Creek certainly directed his post-release flight toward his home ground, rather than toward anywhere else in a whole landscape-full of other possible destinations.
The medium of the air carried him all the way home with his message of freedom. While still en route, he likely expected that his mate would be p<resent at the other end of the airborne relation. Even while she was yet out of sight, he called to her and she heard.
Information is never quite identical with its source, even though in some ways it has had a very intimate connection with its source and bears a considerable similarity to it. A photograph only resembles the persons or things which have been photographed. As a flat print or a projected image it is actually quite different from the 3-D persons or objects it represents. Information obtained through any relating with something at a distance is at best only a useful substitute for what might be immediately experienced if it were present. In a way, paradox or not, information can therefore be said to be the presence of something actually absent.
A relating transports something of the form of some item to a receiver. When this received aspect of the form has penetrated the form of the receiver or knower, the knower and the known, despite their twoness, to a certain extent become one.
Properties and relations
Chemistry still retains language habits derived from its origins in medieval alchemy. It is still acceptable to say that each kind of substance possesses a certain set of attributes or properties. Such a statement is a linguistic hangover from when “substance” was a technical term of Aristotelian philosophy, when “attribute” meant kingly extortion, and when “property” meant personal possession. The old terms linger on.
If substances are said to have characteristic properties, does this statement imply that properties are loaded onto a substance like a cargo is brought aboard a ship? If so, what would a substance look like if its cargo of attributes were unloaded? When stripped of all their properties, are all substances the same? Why has no one ever seen samples of such a universal substance? Could anything be known to exist if it had no properties? Is existence itself a property?
All we ever know about anything is what our language calls its “properties.” We know nothing about substance in general, or “pure being,” or whatever it is that is alleged to “have” these things called properties. We don’t even know what that “have” means. The relation between a “thing” and its “properties” cannot be explained in terms of the old philosophical approach.
A basic sentence in English is usually cast in the form of “salt is white” or “salt has whiteness.” But who can say what “is,” “has” or “whiteness” means? To my knowledge English has no useful nonmedieval word that means what happens when light falls upon salt and is reflected into the human eye. Nor is there any simple up-to-date way of referring to what the presence of salt does to other aspects of other things. We are still congenitally entangled in the linguistic jungle of medieval “universals.”
European philosophers spent hundreds of years trying to locate the source of heaviness, crystallinity, permanence, generation, and all those other abstract “universals.” Like the Holy Grail and the mythical Fountain of Youth, the dwelling place of those “-nesses,” “-ities,” “-ences” and “-ations” was never discovered.
The substructure of traditional classical theology was fabricated from the abstract universals that medieval intellectuals were accustomed to use. For that matter, God and his attributes are still described in the same old vague, slippery terms that lingered on long after their meaning—if they ever had any real meaning—had evaporated. In every discipline our language preserves those ancient universals like sedimentary stone preserves fossil shells.
So many recent revolutions in our understanding of the world, so many surprising discoveries and such vast changes in technology have occurred that even the best-educated people today scarcely know what to think about many matters. Until the intellectual turbulence settles down, we’ll continue to use our familiar old seat-belt expressions even though we aren’t sure any longer what they’re attached to. We sorely need a believable philosophy that will pull our world together, hold it together and give us all a base for meaningful expression and confident action. This book is my personal contribution towards a postmodern worldview that is well on the way toward being born.
I find it immediately meaningful to say that “to be” means to make a difference, and that “to be related” means that a difference here will make a difference there. The “properties” of salt are not those musty, mystical universals which were supposed to emanate from some supernal realm, so constituting each grain of salt that it is what it is. The properties of salt are simply the kinds of differences that salt makes to our eyes, to our tongue, to balances, or to whatever. If totally isolated from everything else, salt by itself has no properties, not even weight. Far out in space, removed from all massive bodies, salt would not even have weight. Isolated from all accelerating forces it would have no mass. The relative hardness of salt appears only during a scrape with another solid. Solubility is evident only in relation to certain solvents. Properties are kinds of relatings that go on between things, between things and people, or between people and people.
All by itself, a musical instrument is not musical. It isn’t even an instrument. It makes sounds only when it is struck, plucked, bowed, blown, shaken or otherwise vibrated by someone or something other than itself. Even then there must be a medium around it through which vibrations may pass from their source to a hearer. Sounding of any sort depends upon a relating which proceeds through a medium from a source to an ear or detection device.
No single kind of relation ever exhausts the functional repertoire of anything. If you’re caught in the rain without an umbrella, try on an upside-down plastic garbage bag with an eyehole cut out at the appropriate place. Things are capable of relating in a variety of ways to a variety of things. This book may be read, used as a decoration, as a weight on a glue job, or as a press and storage for drying wildflowers. In a pinch you could even start a fire with it. (Not yet, please!) Come to think of it, I’m really glad to have put out a book whose “usefulness” extends far beyond its “bookishness.” (!)
From how many points of view can one look at an object? How many perspectives are there on anything? You make a different impression on every person who knows you. Each one sees you through different eyes. You participate in many relatings. Does anyone know you “as you really are”? Entirely apart from everything and everyone else, who or what are you?
People often drop out of their usual milieu and go off elsewhere in search of their identity, “to find themselves.” Those who succeed in their search often do so by participating in new relationships or by newly evaluating old relationships. They often find themselves by falling in love with someone who pays attention to them. Some find themselves after developing an intense interest in some activity or subject that keeps leading them on. Some interpret an especially beneficial experience or an unexpected exaltation as a sign that God has bestowed special recognition upon them. To find that one has been found by God is to find oneself. So it seems that we discover who we are by relating to other persons and things. As we interact with them and they interact with us, we become aware of our own “properties,” much as those of a chemical substance emerge when it is interacting with other things.
Relating takes three
Each stone in every wall I build at Sechelt has its own peculiar set of relatings to the adjoining stones. Through the medium of the stones which lie between any one of them and any other in a given wall, each stone is connected with and is thus related to all of the others. Any single thing can be, not only a source of relatings, or a receiver of relatings, but also a medium for relating things that lie at a distance from each other.
This business of relating is obviously not simple. It always involves a source, a medium and a receiver. Relatings thus have a threefold character, and that number of aspects cannot be reduced. In any relating process, a minimum of three things must participate. Any one of the three could be said to be “the cause” of what happens. Due to the triplex nature of relating, there are never any simple single causes for anything that happens.
Perceiving something is, of course, a kind of relating. Like all relating, the basic unit of perceiving has three components: a source, a medium which carries a process of differing, and a receiver. Anything we know about the world is, therefore, a product of all three components. Some thinkers (realists) emphasize only the object that is known—the source of the whole process. Others (process people such as physicists, physiologists and cognitive psychologists) concentrate their attention on what happens in the media between the object and the mind of the knower. Still others (idealists) focus in on the observer’s experience, sometimes wondering whether or not the external object and the preliminary physical processes are independently real. Because of the three-component nature of relating and perceiving, thinkers thus divide into rival parties and no one can ever settle the arguments between them. Each camp is partly right, but each goes partly wrong if it neglects those aspects of perceiving which are emphasized by the other two.
Analytic philosophers and scientists believe that the macrostructure of the world is derived from the characteristics of submicroscopic building blocks. They have been hoping to find those ultimate miniscule particles out of which everything else that we know must have been constructed. By now however most physicists have abandoned hope for success in their search for the unsplittable, irreducible, elementary units of existence. Some are still hunting for those exasperatingly elusive quarks and gluons. To find them would be merely to push the search even farther into the murky depths of human imagination.
If there are any such ultimately basic particles, they could not be observed or measured except by their effects upon light. The impact of light would drastically disturb any such particle. The characteristics of anything “as it is by itself” cannot ever be observed, because the act of observing it interferes with it. It’s like knowing that a car is parked out in the back lane. You surmise that two young people are in there doing something interesting. If a neighbor should come up the lane with a flashlight, however, whatever the couple was doing in there is immediately stopped. The investigator will never find out what it was.
While physicists are looking for the smallest possible unit of existence, others are speculating about the other end of the scale. Theologians do not hesitate to speak about God in all his greatness, and cosmologists do not shrink from taking the whole universe within the scope of their consideration. As our search for the tiniest thing has run into problems about relating, so also do our attempts to comprehend the Creator and the whole universe. In order to relate to or perceive these ultimates still requires a source which initiates a process of differing, a medium through which the differing can travel, and a receiver to which or to whom the process will make a difference. What we know about God and about the universe as a whole thus depends, like our knowledge of any lesser thing, upon more than one entity or process. Any one of the three phases of relating could be held to be preeminently responsible for theological and cosmological knowledge.
Suppose someone feels and claims that he or she has received a message from God. Does such an occurrence guarantee that God actually is, or thinks, exactly what the reported message conveys? Can the receiver demonstrate that the message as it arrived is exactly the same as it was at the beginning when God sent it on its way? Was it, say, only a misinterpretation of some random noise that originated in the environmental medium? Has the message any actual external source or transmitting process? Perhaps it is only the product of the “receiver’s” own subjective imaginings? Due to the three-phase nature of knowing, revelation from God—like all other knowing—is vulnerable to doubt. It is therefore likely to be embroiled in predictable kinds of controversy.
Theologians would like to be able to speak of God “as he is by himself,” i.e., as absolutely unrelated to anybody or anything. This cannot be successfully done. Even if information were to be truly addressed to us by God, we could never be sure that what we received really came from God. It may be only a distorted version of the original message, due to variations that arose during the process of communicating. Or perhaps as receivers our own minds played tricks on us. And maybe we have misinterpreted a bona fide message. Because of the threefold nature of knowing, questions about the authenticity of revelations from God are impossible to settle. In any case, believers will probably continue to believe what they believe. In religion it is proper to speak more in terms of “believing” than of “knowing.”
Despite these epistemological problems (how can we know for sure?), the theologians of a number of religions have always maintained that God is one. At first you would think that there could be no idea simpler than a “one.” But “one” is actually a difficult word to understand. “One” is a completely negative word. It must imply the absence of all internal, constitutive relating. If what is one is absolutely simple and homogeneous, without parts or distinctions, within such a one no form or shape whatsoever could arise. There could be no internal differentiation, no inner separations, no contrasts, no diversity. Nothing at all could ever happen within such a “one.” If all regions within the one are indistinguishable and completely equivalent, there could be no energy differentials, no processes of differing, and therefore no relating. Such a “one” implies utter changelessness, for if any localized internal changes whatsoever actually occurred, regions would then become distinguishable. Strictly speaking and for all practical purposes, such a “one” would be equivalent to an inert and uniform nothingness. Speaking of God as “one” in this nonrelative sense has never seemed to me to be much of a compliment to the living God.
When theologians refer to the unity of God, therefore, I take it that they don’t really mean some kind of simple, undifferentiated, uncomplicated unity. They really mean what I call a unicity—a oneness emerging from related plurality. When Christians speak of the oneness of the Godhead despite the “threefold personality” of God, something like unicity must be implied. There is unicity in the harmonious cooperation of everyone in a group when everything and everybody works together toward a common end. There is unicity among the many interdependent organs of a healthy living human body. This unicity is achieved by mutual exchanges in prolonged harmonious relatings between the various bodily components.
There is an elementary—though temporary—unicity about a crab trap assembly. The trap and the floating plastic marker jug—easily distinguishable from each other—are held together as one unit by the rope. Without the jug, the trap is not easily locatable. If the jug is not anchored to the trap it has no significance as a marker. If the rope is cut, the trap is lost in the deep and its floating marker departs to wherever good plastic jugs finally go. Without the rope which relates them, the other two parts of the assembly are quite irrelevant to each other. All three components are necessary for the unicity of the whole assembly.
Relating always implies that there are at least two distinguishable things, and that at least certain portions of these things don’t touch or coincide. Relating also implies that between the separated things there exists a continuously connected passageway leading from each to the other. The connecting lane between them may be some obvious physical, mechanical device such as a rope, a rod, a gear or an arm. The actual process of transmitting signals through this physical connection is more subtle, but the whole hookup exists specifically for the purpose of transmission. Most structures set up by humans would never have been put together if they had not been intended to provide a pathway for an informing process.
When the traveling of patterns of differing can continue without interruption through a sequence of separable items, their manyness takes on a kind of dynamic unicity. A mere structure may then be seen as an organization. When many iron rails and wooden timbers have been spiked and bolted together, they may become one railroad track. Over that railway, messages and goods may be carried by trains, thus helping “one nation” to become a reality.
The continuous passageway between related things may run through a sequence of many kinds of things, all of which are in unbroken contact with each other. But separate things that have been put together can always be taken apart, and the continuity of the whole arrangement may be broken. No configuration set up to relate previously unrelated things will necessarily last forever. Contrived constructions are therefore always vulnerable to disruption. Relatings accordingly have a high mortality rate. The farther forms have to travel during their transmission, the more likely it is that they will not arrive intact at their destination. Between here and there patterns of signals can be easily garbled, diverted, diminished or entirely lost.
The vulnerability of long lines of relating makes possible one kind of technical control over processes—the on-off switch. If the continuity of a flow of differings is interrupted by removing a single link in the line of connecting media, the flow will stop. That’s what happens when a valve is closed, when a switch is opened or when a fuse is blown. The same principle may be applied socially, economically and politically as a strike, a boycott, a blockade or “sanctions.”
By changing the direction of the channel which is being followed by the informing process, the flow of differings may be diverted over another pathway to accomplish the same or a different purpose. This is what happens when you shift the gears in your car, or when you plug a refrigerator into an electrical socket intended to service a light bulb. Imagine a railway yard without switches, or a single-channel TV. Control of many technical processes is achieved by simply switching processes to other channels.
Earlier in this book I said that whoever could control the form of all forms could control the world. Looking more closely at Morphé’s Law, we can now see that controlling the forms of all forms means controlling all the relating between the various forms. Being able to control the media of communication gives formidable power to social manipulators.
A controller must be able to do several things: select what kind of differing process is to be launched, provide the necessary materials, regulate the supply of energy which drives the informing process, and control access to all the channels which conduct it to its effective destination. The controller must also know in advance the condition of the form upon which the informing process is brought to bear, and be able to check on the progress of the operation.
We must not forget, however, that some relatings proceed nicely throughout the world, going their own way, in the complete absence of human beings. Windblown sand dunes and snowdrifts move by themselves across the landscape in orderly patterns without human supervision. Rains fell and rivers ran to the sea before there ever was a living soul to cower in a cave when thunder echoed through the mountains. Such processes are nevertheless under control. The human race has always been awestruck by the thought that an unseen controller is in charge of all such “natural” integrated processes of relating.
At Sechelt, in order to move valuable earth from our excavation up the hill into the woods, I once set up a high-line transporter system. A heavy rope was stretched tightly across the face of the hill from a tree below to a tree above. A big “bucket” could be suspended from a pulley block that would travel on the rope. Karen stationed herself at the upper tree. I could haul on a line that ran through a pulley block up where she was, and thus pull a bucket load of earth up my taut, inclined cableway. At the top, Karen would dump the bucket of earth into a wheelbarrow and deposit it somewhere in a hollow. When I slacked off on the hauling line, the bucket would come swinging back down to be filled once more.
I used gravity to pull the bucket both up and down. It was gravity that made my body heavy. Because I was heavier than the loaded bucket I could pull it uphill. Gravity also gave the empty bucket enough weight to bring it back down to be filled once more. I manipulated that one constant force to produce two diametrically opposite effects. For me, this ability to control relating certainly makes technology extremely fascinating.
In fact I am occasionally awestruck when I realize that I can create relationships where none previously existed.
Before I stretched my high-line between that cedar tree up on the hill and the fir tree down below, there had never been any actual connection between those two trees, except through the planet in which both were rooted. I doubt that anything of much more significance than a flying bird had ever passed between them. Until I came along they had been entirely unrelated. But immediately after I had visualized a ropeway stretching across between them, for me their respective positions assumed a special significance. In my mind’s eye for the first time a relation between those two trees came into existence. Via light, information had come to me from each tree, and somehow, in my mind, an invisible connection had been established between them. Through me, those unrelated trees were now seen as related. This relation, of course, was indirect, since the connection between them at first ran only through my mind. And it was only a possible relation until the two trees became actually and directly related by the ropes which I stretched between them. The human mind’s capacity to conceive possible relations, and to create “indirect relations,” is what generates science, technology and the arts.
No particular stone would ever have been moved from our excavation to fill its specific place in one of my walls if my mind had not established in advance a connection between that stone and its possible resting places. The path of the relating between each stone and its destined position ran through me. Without that indirect mental connection, all of those stones would forever have remained elsewhere.
Since the reality of an “indirect relation” is entirely dependent upon some person’s individual way of seeing things, an important connection which is “perfectly obvious” to one mind sometimes cannot be seen at all by another. At a certain turn in the road, an artist may exclaim over an excitingly beautiful composition. A companion who is unable to ignore a lot of underbrush and other miscellaneous clutter may be utterly unable to discern those relationships which were picked out of that scene by the artist’s selective eye.
When a complex incident occurs, the stories that witnesses tell about what happened often differ remarkably. Each reporter probably latches onto a mere few of all the aspects of the event, concocts some imaginary connections between those aspects, then organizes a well-fleshed-out story which of course diverges considerably from the tales recounted by other witnesses.
On a larger social scale, most of the people who live in a relatively isolated region of the world usually learn to perceive the same sets of indirect relations which their friends and neighbors customarily take for granted. These stereotyped indirect relations make up the distinctive “worldview” for that region. The worldviews held by outsiders will likely be quite different, and therefore called “strange,” “queer” or “quaint.”
In any given language the meaning of a certain set of sounds or characters lies in its reference to something other than the spoken or written words or ideograms. Such references are always indirect relations, intelligible only to people who use that language. Dictionaries list and translate such references for “outsiders.”
Design engineers can conceive relationships between masses, energies and information that are not actually in place on site. Relations can be expected, anticipated, projected and simulated. Purely mental lines of communication between nonexisting entities might be called “imagined” relations.
The ability to visualize the relation between what is and what once was, or what might have been, or what might yet be, can be very important. In “defensive driving,” we need to be able to conjure up alternative versions of the present situation, as well as the ideal situation. Without the mental flexibility conferred by creative imagination, the particular case, the incidental peculiarity, the personal perspective, could never be related to the very broad, general definitions used in classification schemes. “Almost”—as in “almost there” or “almost finished”—is a very useful word. It allows for incompleteness, deficiency and imperfection and it graciously grants “status” to what would otherwise have to be rejected as failing to measure up to an exact standard.
The self-initiated jerk and stagger of a clever mime can make you almost see the bully who struck the performer on the side of the head. When our children play “catch” in the backyard, our little dog Torgi loves to chase the ball. Even if Martin only pretends to throw a ball to Karen, and if she only pretends to catch it and throw it back, Torgi will bark excitedly and continue to chase the imaginary ball back and forth between them. In all the arts, with careful planning it is possible to produce this kind of merely suggested “virtual” relatings. Artists and magicians make you see what “really” isn’t there. An “effect” realistically leads you to think you saw the cause.
My reflections on relationships have produced at least one valuable by-product. I’ve always been an impatient man. When someone was supposed to meet me at a certain time and place and hasn’t shown up, I confess that I have too often felt quite a bit more than “annoyed.” Not long ago I found myself stuck with a long wait at the foot of an escalator in a department store. Fuming to myself was useless, so I decided to put in the time looking for relatings. I watched the movements of people and found there were traffic patterns. I paid attention to the scanning sweeps of people’s eyes, the way they locate something they’re looking for. I noticed the invisible ties that bind a couple together—how a person’s deadpan public face lights up when someone they care for approaches from a distance. I ran my eyes over the artistic lines of articles on display and followed patterns wherever I could find them. Thus for me what could have been a possible time of impatient misery was turned into an interesting and rewarding experience. I had entered a world that I usually ignored. Maybe someday I’ll learn not to fuss over being kept waiting but instead begin at once to use the time for savoring many of the relatings that keep the world around me so tensely alive and active.
If I’m ever marooned where nothing much seems to be happening, I can always use my imagination to revise the situation around me. What possible relations might become actual if the things that are there were to be put together in other ways? Something over there should be repaired. Things could always be rearranged, smoothed out, built in or otherwise rerelated. Looked at in this way, anywhere in the world can become a fertile matrix of possibilities for indirect relatings.
To see or not to see, that is the question.