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procession no. ∞: Creative Evolution, Tirunesh Dibaba, the vital impulse, dueling tendencies, Chinook jargon & becoming, ... all amidst accidental flux from Pompeii

lone column

shadow angle & lone column

.... continuing the thread, spatially, in real-time, from Pompeii (thereabouts where most of these photos were «taken»), or actually .. about this time last year i posted something on Henri Bergson that i promised to continue & haven't yet, ... so eccolo, in typical non-linear fashion you can begin from there. Or finally come to the realization that there is no beginning ....

Bergson has always been my go-to man in regards to the philosophy of space-time (along with Whitehead), but in Creative EvolutionCreative evolution he expands his ideas more generally into the field of evolution & consciousness. And by evolution, he's not just talking about Darwinian biological evolution, but as the title suggests, more generally about the creative process, life, consciousness, et al. And it's this very creative process that we find out is both the force behind evolution & our propensity to create art. The process of evolution as a perpetual state of becoming, generalized beyond reproduction—wherein reproduction is often at odds with individualization.

«And a tendency achieves all that it aims at only if it is not thwarted by another tendency. How, then, could this occur in the domain of life, where, as we shall show, the interaction of antagonistic tendencies is always implied? In particular, it may be said of individuality that, while the tendency to individuate is everywhere present in the organized world, it is everywhere opposed by the tendency toward reproduction.»

pompeii plaster corpse

frozen in time (Pompeii)

Of course Bergson's more familiar ideas of time & duration form an ever-present foundation to this thinking—the emphasis, as always, being not on mathematical time, but our perception of time as the final say (we can never prove otherwise).

«In short, the world the mathematician deals with is a world that dies and is reborn at every instant—the world which Descartes was thinking of when he spoke of continued creation. But, in time thus conceived, how could evolution, which is the very essence of life, ever take place? Evolution implies a real persistence of the past in the present, a duration which is, as it were, a hyphen, a connecting link. In other words, to know a living being or natural system is to get at the very interval of duration, while the knowledge of an artificial or mathematical system applies only to the extremity. Continuity of change, preservation of the past in the present, real duration—the living being seems, then, to share these attributes with consciousness. Can we got further and say that life, like conscious activity, is invention, unceasing creation?»

tiled fighters

The events that interested me most in the Olympics, that sadly just ended, are in track & field (or «athletics» as they are referred to on BBC, where we tunneled into). Running to me is the purest sport—the individual versus the mobility of the form s/he has been given. Running is the art of putting this form into motion, to realize its tendency, its capacity. Running always makes me think about time & consciousness, and while i am watching other runners, i am ever-wondering what is going on their headspace, more so than any other sport. I wish we had a teleprompter that could measure the brain waves of the runners & translate them to language. But since we don't, we watch the athletes run & can only imagine, vicariously, what it must be like to inhabit such limit-pushing bodies. (Or you can listen to this footage & see what watching Tirunesh Dibaba is like in your average Ethiopian household).

It sounds cliche to say, but winning isn't as interesting to me as how you do it. Most of the time the «winner» is the one with the best form, but this is not always the case. Sometimes, as in the case of Usain Bolt, natural ability & sheer arrogance are the ingredients to success, as perhaps you might expect (& that perhaps is becoming more & more the norm, with hard-working quiet guys finishing last—except in fairy-tales where the tortoise has his day). There is no time to think when running the 100 or 200 meters, let alone to doubt yourself. Not that i don't think Usain Bolt has great physical form—it is just not worth it to endure his antics before & after those 9.63 seconds. And 100 meters is not enough time to get into a rhythm, to get into stride. It's not until 400 meters that things start to get interesting—where you are actually using your lungs & your brain too. Michael Johnson remains the «fastest man in the world» in my eyes & his form (both physically & mentally, on & off the track) says it all.

The other thing is that the start shouldn't matter. When you have to start calling false starts because people leave the blocks 0.1 second after the gun (the theory being that no human is able to react in less than 0.2 second), this is getting to be ridiculous. It gets to be a game of who can start the fastest, not who can run the fastest. The cycling sprint races are fascinating in this regard because rather than jump the gun, they purposely start out at often absurdly slow speeds, or even come to a complete standstill, in a psychological showdown between the two riders. A «record» time in this event is meaningless—the only thing that matters is who crosses the finish line first. We start to see this strategy some in running in 5k & 10k, though, unlike with cycling, it is purely psychological (you don't gain much, if anything by drafting).

Dibaba in time

Dibaba takes the cake (in regards to the runner with the most style points in London 2012)

Tirunesh Dibaba gets the medal for the best form of any runner i saw during these Olympics (even in losing the 5k), if not ever. Her technique is absolutely flawless, how the human body was meant to run. There are particular aspects of it you can point out—the robust compactness, the angular bend of her knees, the balance between falling & pulling herself by her feet, the rotational timing between her arms & legs, the vertical momentum, her steadfastness, how she carries her head—but mostly it's how it all gels seamlessly in perfect, seamless rhythm—poetry in motion.

inner sanctum

mural thru a mural (back to Pompeii)

Anyway, now the Olympics are over & we can back to our regular programming. Back to Bergson & Creative Evolution:

«This amounts to saying that the humblest organism is conscious in proportion to its power to move freely. Is consciousness here, in relation to movement, the effect or the cause? In one sense it is the cause, since it has to direct locomotion. But in another sense it is the effect, for it is the motor activity that maintains it, and, once this activity disappears, consciousness dies away or rather falls asleep.»

Perhaps i am getting ahead of myself. Creative Evolution is broken down into 4 chapters (there's that number 4 again, that seems to keep cropping up lately). In the first chapter he reviews concepts in physics & biology necessary to form a foundation to understand where he is going—which is to suggest that there is a «vital impulse» (or élan vital) that can explain the creation of all living species. This was probably the most tedious section & i almost gave up on the book here, but i guess you have to remember that Bergson wrote Creative Evolution in 1906, so it is astonishing that not only he was up to speed with the current thinking in physics & biology, but was able to synthesize it & generalize it in the world of ideas.

mural detail

mural detail (Pompeii)

In the second chapter he starts to get into divergence & tendency, & how this gets expressed in the diversity coming from evolution. In addition to the vital impulse, we need differentiation to explain evolution. And this is where i took the above quote, where he is talking about mobility (being the fundamental difference between plants & animals). The idea of mobility has always fascinated me (perhaps why i am interested in running), that as biological beings we have evolved various means to move our beings around. Bergson develops it in terms of cumulative tendencies & free will, essentially saying that mobility is the driving factor towards consciousness (what separates plants & animals).

The two general (& complementary) tendencies, according to Bergson, that guide differentiation, are instinct & intelligence (that parallel the divergent forms of plants & animals). But these are not rigid definitions, so much as degrees of tendency. «There is no intelligence in which some traces of instinct are not to be discovered, more especially no instinct that is not surrounded with a fringe of intelligence.» He never mentions yin-yang, but you have to wonder if he dabbled in eastern philosophies. And these ideas of intelligence & instinct inevitably get related back to concepts familiar to Bergson: «Intelligence, in so far as it is innate, is the knowledge of a form; instinct implies the knowledge of a matter.» The jist of it being (in the duality between intelligence & instinct) that:

«There are things that intelligence alone is able to seek, but which, by itself, it will never find. These things instinct alone could find; but it will never seek them

pompeii pines

line of pines (Pompeii)

Throughout it all, Bergson keeps consciousness in mind, tethering it by a bootstrap to the evolution of life (where life & creation are virtually synonymous in Bergson's eyes):

«If, on the contrary, evolution is a creation unceasingly renewed, it creates, as it goes on, not only the forms of life, but the ideas that will enable the intellect to understand it, the terms which will serve to express it. That is to say that its future overflows its present, and can not be sketched out therein as in idea.»

Perhaps i am reading into Bergson, or at least putting emphasis in the wrong place, but it's the bits where he tethers the knowledge of evolution with consciousness, and our consciousness as being informed by an accumulation of tendencies, which resonates with me (again, in regards to my own current thinking & processes that i'm developing in my own art, which is what is about).

«This mark is like a trace, still visible in each of what was in the original tendency of which they represent the elementary directions. The elements of a tendency are not like objects set beside each other in space and mutually exclusive, but rather like psychic states, each of which, although it be itself to begin with, yet partakes of others, and so virtually includes in itself the whole personality to which it belongs.»

scratchiti ark

scratchitti ark (on a wall in Pompeii)

I've made a few more incisioni at Stamperia del Tevere, since the one made for the Ark Codex ±0 launch. The idea of traces is something i've been exploring both in thought & in these engravings lately (& also in the past, in ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos)—the duality between particles & the field (analogous to the duality that Bergson speaks of between instinct & intelligence), that in bubble-chambers are detected as traces. The «discovery» of the Higgs-boson (or the «god is dead particle» as i refer to it in the last post) has spurned me some to think more along these lines. But also Olympic sports (mind over matter), dinner conversations with economist colleagues of j (who speak in terms of stock & flow), etc. It seems to crop up in all fields, this duality between potential & kinetic, between tendency & realization. This was my attempt at expressing this, realizing these potential thoughts, on a zinc plate.

higgs-boson starling

And here is the realization of the above, when inked and put through the press:

higgs-boson bubble chamber

The above is a detail (roughly actual size)(of roughly the NW quadrant), here is the full image:

higgs-boson starlings

The above print i already gave to someone, but i have another print (without the acid stains) that i'll give to anyone that expresses an interest in it. I am not so satisfied with the result & this will likely be a one-off experimentation. I also made some wax mold engravings, but the results of that experimentation are not even worth showing. But it's a technique i'd like to try again with a better plan going into it.

It's not just the Higgs-boson & reading Bergson that influenced this recent series of incisions, but also starling flight patterns, the book of which i still have not seen but next week we are going to NYC where a box-full is waiting for me (and again, anyone that has an interest in the book, let me know & i'll send you a copy).

pompeii latin text

writing on the wall, frozen in time (Pompeii)

Besides these incisions though, mostly i've been writing text these past few months. And Creative Evolution has been a big influence on my writing lately (at least indirectly, in approach). Of particular interest to me is when Bergson relates his ideas back to language, which he often does in regards to the duality of poetry (intuition) and prose (intelligence). Or just in the structure of language itself:

«The relation of attribute to subject is therefore seized by him naturally, and the same might be said of the general relation expressed by the verb, a relation so immediately conceived by the mind that language can leave it to be understood, as is instanced in rudimentary languages which have no verb. Intelligence, therefore, naturally makes use of relations of like with like, of content to container, of cause to effect, etc. which are implied in every phrase in which there is a subject, an attribute and a verb, expressed or understood.»

(Again, breaking down a sentence into two components—noun & verb (the rest is filler), analogous to particle physics (particles & interactions) or economics (stocks & flows), etc.) I'm not sure if Bergson's correct in saying there are rudimentary languages with no verbs, but there are some that have a more basic, or different, notion of «verb». For example, Chinook Jargon, which i have been dabbling in lately, does not technically have verbs (that they conjugate), or action verbs at least, but they have the verb 'mamook' which means 'to make,' that you can append to just about anything to turn into a verb. For example, 'to speak,' is to 'make talk,' or 'mamook wawa'. 'To cook' is 'to make fire,' or 'mamook piah'. 'Cooley' could mean 'to run,' but it also means 'fast,' depending on the context. They also have a verb 'to know,' or 'understand,' which is 'kumtux' & this verb gets used to lot, for example, if you wanted to say 'fast horse' you'd say 'kiuatan yaka kumtux cooley,' which literally means 'that horse he understands running.'

What's the point of learning a pidgin trade language used between trappers & Indians in the 19th century, you might say (especially when i should be learning the language of the country i live in) ... It has more to do with changing your approach to your own language. The book i'm writing won't be written in Chinook jargon (though i'm borrowing some words to recontextualized), but the sentence structure is what interests me most (Chinook jargon being more like German in this regard, with a 'backwards' sentence structure. Understand you?)

pompeii street curve

a jog in a Pompeii street (with an island in the middle,
because typically their streets were flooded with water)

Anyway, off track i get (not that a way wrong there is). To Bergson get us back. Bergson who wrote in french (which Chinook jargon borrows a great deal from), which sometimes makes it cumbersome to read, in translation. But it matters not so much, as Bergson you read for ideas, not language. Here is more, where he uses poetry & language as a malleable analogy:

«The generative idea of a poem is developed in thousands of imaginations which are materialized in phrases that spread themselves out in words. And the more we descend from this motionless idea, wound on itself, to the words that unwind it, the more room is left for contingency and choice. Other metaphors, expressed by other words, might have arisen; an image is called up by an image, a word by a word. All these words run now one after another, seeking in vain, by themselves, to give back the simplicity of the generative idea. Our ear only hears the words: it therefore perceives only accidents. But our mind, by successive bounds, leaps from the words to the images, from the images to the original idea, and so gets back, from the perception of words—accidents called up by accidents—to the conception of the idea that posits its own being.»

And here i am, more than 100 years later, re-stringing together his translated words—accidents called up by accidents—to reform this idea! Not only does he relate these ideas to language, but to art. For example (after declaring that «instinct is sympathy») he says:

«That an effort of this kind is not impossible, is proved by the existence in man of an aesthetic faculty along with normal perception. Our eye perceives the features of the living being, merely as assembled, not as mutually organized. The intention of life, the simple movement that runs through the lines, that binds them together and gives them significance, escapes it. This intention is just what the artist tries to regain, in placing himself back with the object by a kind of sympathy, in breaking down, by an effort of intuition, the barrier that space puts up between him and his model.»

street in pompeii

another street scene

And perhaps, say you, that on wild tangents i am getting by talking about the Higgs-Boson, but this is at the core of Bergson. In that «the division of unorganized  matter into separate bodies is relative to our senses and to our intellect, and that matter, looked at as an undivided whole, must be a flux rather than a thing.» It's not rocket science. And philosophers have been saying this shit all along, influencing the thinking behind quantum physics. You could say Bergson is merely rehashing Nietzsche or Kant, but Bergson has a far a more scientific, well-read, eye.

And disorder. What of it? We arise from it. Self-assembled as we are from the muck.

pompeii columns

symmetry still, in the ruins of it all

Bergson perhaps bites off more than he can chew in the third chapter, getting into meaning of life shit. But again, you have to remind yourself he wrote this over 100 years ago. 60 years before Derrida & deconstructionism, Bergson was thinking in terms of divergence & difference: «... the consciousness of a living being may be defined as an arithmetical difference between potential and real activity. It measures the interval between representation and action.» And then later in the book: «Very probably it is not the cells that have made the individual by means of association, it is rather the individual that has made the cells by means of dissociation.»

All this is interesting in the context of bubble chambers & particle physics, with particles colliding & releasing energy, as this seems to be how Bergson thinks of creation, and consciousness, as ephemeral entities that exist only during this instant of creation.

«Consciousness, or supra-consciousness, is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which subsists of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them into organisms.»


looking into the (now dormant) crater of Vesuvius

The paradox is that human life (self-conscious as it is) is unable to attain or understand even the essence of life, in its duration. It is intuition that will lead us back to the original creative impulse, so we can forget everything we know. And Creative Evolution predates the Big Bang theory, but that didn't stop Bergson from describing consciousness & evolution as if stemmed from the same phenomenological event as the cosmos:

«... life appears in its entirety as an immense wave which, starting from a centre, spreads outwards, and which on almost the whole of its circumference is stopped and converted into oscillation: at one single point the obstacle has been forced, the impulsion has passed freely.»

In terms of life, man (and language) is in the frontier of this expanding wave (wherein, although Bergson's use of the term 'superman' predates the comic book, it does not predate Nietzsche):

«It is as if a vague and formless being, whom we may call, as we will, man or superman, had sought to realize himself, and had succeeded only by abandoning a part of himself along the way. The losses are represented by the rest of the animal world, and even by the vegetable world, at least in what these have that is positive and above the accidents of evolution.»

I would even go further & say that 95% of humans fall into the category of zombie by-products, and would not count all other animals as 'losses'—but i see what he's getting at, consciousness as the ultimate goal, consciousness in itself being the act of creation, an envelope we must keep pushing or that wave will pass by & we will just become by-products in the ether. This compulsion is carried in us all (or least the non-zombies).

sunset as seen from sorrento

sunset over the bay of Naples (as seen from near Sorrento)

This is my interpretation (or misinterpretation) anyway. As i've stated before, i have nothing to prove. I am only talking about ideas from Creative EvolutionCreative evolution that struck me, in the context of my own artistic process. In my reality. Which as you can tell from the pictures is Pompeii & Vesuvius & thereabouts & where i am writing from is Rome, mid-August 2012. I don't have much to add in words, in regards to the  real-time photos & locality, suffice to say that a lot of the best art (mosaics, murals, statues, etc.) that were excavated from Pompeii, have been relocated to the museum in Naples (which i blogged about here).

One final quote from Bergson to end on:

«But what can remain of matter when you take away everything that determines it, that is to say, just energy and movement themselves? The philosopher must go further than the scientist. Making a clean sweep of everything that is only an imaginative symbol, he will see the material world melt back into a simple flux, a continuity of flowing, a becoming.»

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