Friday, March 01, 2013

The thing

René Descartes by Frans Hals - Wikimedia

  But first.  Always but first.  Take a thing.  What?  I’m not following you, sether Augustina.  No, not an injunction to steal.  When I say, take a thing, I mean call the demon thing into the workspace in the brain.  Well, I don’t know what to call it.  The Fathers, the Prophet Daniel, called it workspace in Consciousness Explained, that mighty work which led us out of the Cartesian desert (though maybe we are a bit hard on poor René, he did, after all, all but throttle dualism with the mental sphincter of the pineal gland.  All we had to do was clench that sphincter, with Mind shut off the far side, and the job was done.  What happened to Mind? I hope one day, sethren, you may all read the prophet’s book.
  Take a thing.  Everything that you see is, as the word suggests, a thing.  The sun, were it to shine, each coin in your pocket, should there be any there.    Not us.  We are not things, we are humans, people.  Birds?  Who knows?  Dogs?  Some dogs are it, some he or she.  A thing cannot strictly speaking have a personality, though we endow them with such.  Maybe Oscar Pistorius’s guns spoke to him.  I bet he spoke to them.
  Let us not get distracted.  A thing is defined by its thingyness.  Let us take a stone, a key, a shoe, a phone, a bowl, a blade, a bag.  Let us take a stone.
  Except here below the walls of the covered market, cut off by the roar and lethal kinetic energy that circulates the ring road from that flowerbed tended by the university, I can see no stone.  Stone; the thing, the thing smaller than a rock, bigger than a pebble.  I can see plenty of stone, or stone-like stuff.  It fills my sight.  But a stone, such as one might pick up and throw at a cat or goose, that I cannot see.  No matter.  The demon stone has done the job for us, no need of the actual.  But, and, sethren, it is a crucial but, that demon, those countless demons, could never have existed if the things, stones, had not existed in the world.  And would soon cease to exist if there were no more stones.  Which I concede is unlikely.  But the corollary is striking.  The demon stone and all its countless iterations would cease to exist if there were no more humans.  Which is not quite so unlikely.  Given time.  And time is always given.
  So, a demon, that irreducible locus of meaning, like any old quantally entangled particle, can be in two places at once, and in some way stretched between them.  Between the neural substrate, the brain, and the thing, the stone.  And that stretched entanglement is part of the meaning of stone.  I do not mean to be metaphysical here, sethren.  Never forget that the stone and the neural substrate are part of a physical continuum most economically described by E=mc2.
  So, sethren, we have the two most lowly orders in our taxonomy, demon and thing, nailed, locked down.  Or do we.  What of demons that don’t exist in the world of things, fairies and angels, the use of bankers, and useful nonexistencies, like the square root of two, velocity, and justice?  Well, sethren, they exist alright.  In the physical continuum most economically described by E=mc2, everything, and every non-thing, exists.  Including angels, and the square root of two.  Every demon exists.  Let me explain.
  Fuck, no, you protest.  It is Friday and it is dinner time.  Set us free, Master, led us wander in the wilderness of the pedestrian precinct, which still has vestiges of the old civilisation, Hill’s betting shop, the Royal Bank of Scotland, which we all own, bless us.  And now not one but three shops where treasures may be bought for less than a pound.  The weekend.  Remember, no port wine.  It is forbidden unto you.  Otherwise, go forth and drink.

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