Change and Existence, Dogen and Bergson style

I’ve always been confused by the following quote by Dogen via Shunryu Suzuki:

“Dogen Zenji says that charcoal does not become ashes; ashes has its own past and future and fire…red, hot charcoal has its own past and future; charcoal and red hot fire is quite different existence.  Ashes is ashes and it is independent existence.  Because it is a flashing into the vast phenomenal world.  And even though we say, charcoal is black, that is also a flashing into vast phenomenal world. So charcoal is independent and red hot charcoal is also independent.  Ashes is independent; firewood is also independent.  Everything is independent of each other.  So where there is black charcoal there is no red hot charcoal.”

This has never made sense to me, because in order for ashes to become ashes, they have to have been something else before that became the ashes. They aren’t just a thing that stands alone, independently of everything that led up to them. This has always struck me as being a strangely transcendent analysis of existence and change. But I realized that the error of my understanding this was that I was trying to understand it as an explanation of the temporal flow of experience – this is how things change and become other things. But that is the wrong way to approach and understand it, in fact, it is impossible to understand what Dogen is trying to say if you approach it that way.

Two things helped me to crack this puzzle. First, I had to remind myself of Dogen’s emphasis on simply sitting zazen and being in the present, nowhere else, that this is both the road to enlightenment and enlightenment itself, and that it can’t be realized any other way (i.e. any way that would involve an understanding with projections in the past or future). But the thing that really helped me break through was Bergson’s approach to the concept of “nothing.”

For Bergson, “nothing” is an illusion. It is possible to imagine nothing, because we have the conscious ability to reflect on absences.

“Now the unreality [nothing] which is here in question is purely relative to the direction in which our attention is engaged, for we are immersed in realities and cannot pass out of them; only, if the present reality is not the one we are seeking, we speak of the absence of this sought-for reality wherever we find the presence of another.”

So while there is a fluid change happening (Bergson again - “Of becoming we perceive only states, of duration only instants”), we don’t have any kind of outside access to perceive its fluidity. We only have the present, the instances of experience that are real and truly present to us as immediate sensory input. So we can admit that there is some sort of validity to the idea of “nothing” because it is something we can think, it is a product of the function of our consciousness. But it is not something that actually exists independently of our minds. It is just a useful tool that is necessary to navigate a world perceived through our consciousness, but if we want to try to experience the world as it unfolds independently of our selves and minds, we have to recognize the illusion of “nothing.” “The conception of a void arises here when consciousness, lagging behind itself, remains attached to the recollection of an old state when another state is already present.”

So in the case of Dogen, it is true that we normally perceive charcoal as “turning into” ashes. And it is very useful generally to think of it that way, if we just want to have a practical relation to charcoal, knowing that it turns into ashes after it burns out is very practical and useful. But this kind of logic can become a big problem if we apply to everything and think of it as principle of truth. Dogen takes this understanding of change to a much further degree when talking about the nature of our existence and its change.

“It is a mistake to think that birth turns into death. Birth is a phase that is an entire period of itself, with its own past and future. For this reason, in Buddha-darma birth is understood as no-birth. Death is a phase that is an entire period of itself, with its own past and future. For this reason, death is understood as no-death.

In birth there is nothing but birth and in death there is nothing but death. Accordingly, when birth comes, face and actualize birth, and when death comes, face and actualize death. Do not avoid or desire them.”

When we look at change and experience in terms of birth and death, we have the potential to run into a lot of problems. Because if we think of them as having a fluidity that stretches out into eternity that is attached to our self, then along comes the idea of an afterlife, a spirit. Our spirit is born into our body, we die, then it goes on and lives forever. This fluid understanding of change legitimizes the primacy of the self in understanding our life and its function. But, through meditation, and situating both our consciousness and its object of attention in the present, we can no longer conceive of ourselves as something that is fluid, only as something that orients itself and adjusts constantly to a changing environment, following its own nature, which is changing. Because when consciousness and its object are both situated in the present, there is breakdown of the barrier – the objects of consciousness and consciousness itself become a single block of objects interacting without the primacy of any one part. There is still a consciousness, but not a static self.

In this passage, Bergson lays out an experiment to test his theory of “nothing” which is remarkably similar to the kind of meditation that Dogen propounds:

“To represent ‘Nothing,’ we must either imagine it or conceive it. Let us examine what this image or this idea may be. First, the image.

I am going to close my eyes, stop my ears, extinguish one by one the sensations that come to me from the outer world. Now it is done; all my perceptions vanish, the material universe sinks into silence and night. I subsist, however, and cannot help myself subsisting. I am still there, with the organic sensations which come to me from the surface and from the interior of my body, with the recollections which my past perceptions have left behind them – nay, with the impression, most positive and full, of the void I have just made about me. How can I suppress all this? How eliminate myself? I can even, it may be, blot out and forget my recollections up to my immediate past; but at least I keep the consciousness of my present reduced to its extremest poverty, that is to say, of the actual state of my body [italics here are my own]. I will try, however, to do away even with this consciousness itself. I will reduce more and more the sensations my body sends in to me: now they are almost gone; now they are gone, they have disappeared in the night where all things else have died away. But no! At the very instant that my consciousness is extinguished, another consciousness lights up – or rather, it was already alight: it had arisen the instant before, in order to witness the extinction of the first; for the first could disappear only for another and in the presence of another. I see myself annihilated only if I have already resuscitated myself by an act which is positive, however involuntary and unconscious.” 

Even in the starkest moment there is still something there – the present, the bare present, and it can be perceived through meditative practice. This kind of situating in the present breaks down the illusion of nothing, and exposes Bergson’s élan vital, Dogen’s Buddha-nature. Just charcoal, just ashes, just our consciousness in the present, not as a fluid and everlasting self, but as an existing object subject to natural laws. 


Today at work I saw a family with three little girls and their parents walk into the parking lot. The little girls each had cherry blossom branches covered in flowers. It made me so sad and angry. Cherry blossoms are so incredibly gorgeous, and are all the more gorgeous because they only appear during a small window, and they herald the start of spring. There is much to be said about appreciating impermanence that might go beyond what your average UW campus cherry blossom viewer would know or care to understand. But so carelessly and thoughtlessly breaking branches off and taking them home with you… I don’t think of anything as “sacred” but I imagine this is how highly religious people feel when they see religious icons or buildings desecrated.

Of course the difference here is that, unlike, say, burning a church, there is no repercussion, no vengeful God, or even the threat of any such thing. Nothing is stopping anyone from tearing down all the cherry trees (although if you take it the extreme of deforestation, and the havoc it’s wreaked on the earth, the repercussion is climate change, which might be worse than a vengeful God). But there is still something lost, something at stake.

But even at that I’m not primarily concerned with the environmental aspect. A few girls breaking off cherry blossom branches will not be the straw that broke the earth’s back. What is so frustrating to me is that by taking those branches home, they won’t appreciate them in the way that the ought to be appreciated: as fleeting stages of beauty in the cycle of nature. They will take them home and maybe put them in a vase and let them wilt and then throw them away, far from the tree the came from.

Instead of leaving with a sense of wonder, and hopefully a yearning to look forward to the changing of the seasons and the arrival of cherry blossoms again and again in years to come, they break the spirit of wonder and make it their own. Of course that never turns out well. It will never be their own. It will never belong to anyone or thing, but to the process of change itself.  Carrying those branches they looked more like kids leaving a fair clutching oversized stuffed animals. And there’s nothing wrong with that in the right situation. There is nothing wrong with holding onto certain things and memories. Some things aren’t so fleeting, even though they are changing.

Even though it made me mad to see them with the branches, I wasn’t mad at them. I was mad at their parents maybe, who should have known better. But most of all I felt sorry for them. Sorry that could have experienced something beautiful and inspiring but didn’t. And maybe it’s wrong to be so hopeful. Maybe they wouldn’t have appreciated it otherwise, and that’s not something that I can affect in any case. Maybe they’re just little girls who didn’t know any better and that’s okay. But their parents have no excuse.  And even if they had experienced the cherry blossoms in a way that I never would have, or done things I would never do, that doesn’t matter. They’re not me, they shouldn’t repeat my actions. But I would hope that they would at least have experienced their own refraction of the source of the trees’ beauty. 

I bought a book of poems today by the Zen master and poet Ikkyu. I like his poems because they express a spirit of Zen that is not quietistic or strictly monastic, but Dionysian, Nietschzean. His sense of passion and joy is not rooted in anything but passion and joy in and of themselves, and that comes through amazingly in his poetry. I read this poem today and it reminded me very much of the situation I saw with the girls:

That stone Buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets

I wave my skinny arms like a tall flower in the wind

The girls made a stone Buddha out of those branches, and themselves, and so did their parents. But tonight as I walked through the quad and stood in the middle looking all around at the cherry blossoms, I waved my arms, laughed, shouted! And then left before my mind even had time to quantify or reason what I had seen and experienced. 


And here is the grand over arching plan for my future…

           My intensity of reading and thinking has been picking up rapidly lately, and I feel like I’m really honing in on exactly what I want to study in grad school, and I’m finding ways to bridge together all my disparate interests into something cohesive that I can pursue.

There are three main aspects right now to what I want to do: ecocriticism, Deleuze and Guattari, and Zen. All three emphasize open-ended pattern making systems, so it is not a stretch to make them fit together: their open ended nonlinear patterns are both what constitutes the basis of their explorations and what constitutes the nature of their combinations and reciprocity with one another.

For the purposes of grad school I think that ecocriticism will probably be the dominant aspect of my studies, because it is the most academically sound and “safe” link between the three, although by no means the most important. It serves as a good basis for discovering legitimate patterns because it has one foot in science and one in literature. It has a more rigorous process of verification that gives credence to the patterns that I will try to follow from science to literature and elsewhere. Again this does not mean that ecocriticism is better than the other two; it only means that in this situation it has a particular advantage in its methods.

Deleuze and Guattari come next because they too base their philosophy in science as well as literature, and so are another important point of verification and reference in the web I am creating.  But they go further down, introducing an element of experimentation that is equally important as scientific verification. In order to understand the models and “abstract machines” they write about, they must also be lived out, because if we are to believe Deleuze and Guattari, then it should be possible to divert one’s life in the patterns they describe. So Deleuze and Guattari form a link from scientific and literary-academic patterns to experiential patterns.

Zen comes last, because, if Deleuze and Guattari follow lines in a pattern from science to philosophy to experience, Zen follows the pattern from philosophy to experience, then all the way down to the ineffable level of experience where one is directed and redirected in all directions at once, where experience flattens out and allows one to view a much wider pattern, and see oneself as highly integrated into it. The full experience and practice of Zen integrates everything into an immanent system of creative patterns that allows one to explore and follow any route on any pattern in any direction. Of course this isn’t easy, and that is why Zen is a ceaseless blind exploration with no end or goal, just a determination in and with the present and its patterns.

So far I’ve only briefly mentioned literature, but that is another important element, perhaps the most important because it’s what I’m pointing the other three resources at. Literature is the creation that emerges when we describe the patterns we see around us. But we are not inherently accurate pattern makers on the large scale that literature requires. We make lots of patterns, but often they only serve us, only have a limited scope pertaining to certain needs. So it is easy to write a piece of literature that limits itself to a certain view of the world. But if a piece of literature wants to truly express the patterns that create us, and that we create constantly despite our efforts to do otherwise, it must follow those patterns from the current and physical world into the world of artistic creation and philosophical speculation without causing them to break or stagnate as they pass through the conduit that is the writer. Hence the necessity of experiencing the patterns of the cosmos through Zen.

I’ve been thinking of lots of ways to use this in literature. I mentioned Myshkin and The Idiot before, which I want to pursue further, but the more I look the more I see how useful the study of patterns can be toward the study of literature. Infinite Jest, and other similar postmodern novels suffer from a misuse of patterns; instead of using the groundless, leaderless postmodern patterns as channels for characters’ desire and motives, they are used to create plot and formal structures. But these structures act as restraints on the patterns that can be formed in the characters and their interactions, and render them unreal. In order to make a work of literature whose structure is truly groundless, it has to emerge from a multiplicity of postmodern pattern making characters, and form as an emergent whole, never as a set of constrictive boundaries.

I haven’t written any fiction in a long time and I need to start again. I need to do more character sketches and fragments, because they are a good way to search out and explore patterns, to try to find ones that will lead into interesting and insightful places. I think of Faulkner, who says that The Sound and the Fury started with the image of Caddy playing in the mud with her brothers, and that once he wrote that he had to follow the patterns created in the interactions between the Compson siblings, and did so all the way until it lead to the novel (and it goes even further than that, because Faulkner’s patterns even overflow from novel to novel, in the immanent and rhizomatic system of Yoknapatawpha County and his whole body of work). Writing in fragments is never a beginning because it might be a dead end or it might go somewhere, and furthermore fragments and character sketches are extracted randomly as the writer experiences them from a fluid existence that doesn’t have a clean beginning or end.

Although those three things are what I’m currently focused on, and what will comprise the central structure of my research, they are by no means a limit. If there are patterns that lead me to them there are many more patterns that will lead out from them to other people and ideas. Deleuze and Guattari are the only people I’ve mentioned, but I don’t want to limit myself to them. I feel like doing that would betray them. I got together with a friend of my grandpa’s who’s a comp lit phd student, and he told me that if you study Deleuze, you are in a very insular world that is strictly Deleuzian, and limited by a dependence on using Deleuze’s terminology. But Deleuze didn’t write in an insular world, and I won’t either. I don’t want to get stuck on trying to use Deleuze’s lingo or exactly recreate the patterns he does, to the point that I’m not even doing anything unique anymore. I don’t want to look too long at the Buddha’s pointing finger, but always toward the moon, and beyond. So I think once I get over my current infatuation he’ll fade a bit. Not out of view, just into a more equal proportion with others. Zen has a lot of people, but specifically Dogen, Shunryu Suzuki… I need to do more research on Soto Zen writers. I want to read Whitehead. I feel like process philosophy would be a very useful tool in my exploration of patterns. I want to pursue Bergson further, since Deleuze followed so many patterns from Bergson. There are also a lot of more current writers and thinkers I want to include: Manuel DeLanda, Jane Bennett, Brian Massumi, Elizabeth Grosz. Not to mention more people on the science/ecology side, E.O. Wilson, Carolyn Merchant… I need to do more research there. And I will. More and more and more and constantly more research. My patterns have no terminus, just one long and wild ride, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll take me next. 


"To be alive is to be a flow system"


I heard this story on NPR earlier today: http://media.wnyc.org/media/photologue/photos/EMBED_DesigninNature.png

I’m not entirely sure how this differs from fractals (I curse my lack science knowledge) but I like this idea because it shows how certain similar patters are recreated throughout the world, both in the “natural world” and the “human world,” but it also gives that pattern a vitalistic force. So it really erases the line between the natural and human worlds: it creates a spectrum instead on which there are simply more and less complex degrees of vitalistic pattern creation, flow, and that everything is constantly changing, being driven to change by this vitalistic pattern flow. 

Patterns are something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Deleuze is all about flows and patterns. DeLanda takes that aspect of him even further. And in Zen and Taoism there are lots of references to flows and constant change. But I am very curious about applying these pattern ideas to literature. I feel like I am starting to turn back to literature a bit more after my philosophy (and to a certain degree, science) binge of the last year or so, I have enough concepts in my arsenal now that I feel I can safely return to literature and apply them with confidence. 

I feel like these patterns will specifically be useful in understanding why certain characters run into certain problems, and how those problems are formed. To use constructal theory, what I’m interested in is how certain flows begin to coagulate, and how they can be either uncoagulated or further coagulated. I think this approach will be very useful both in analyzing literature and in my own writing.

I feel like this approach explains very well some of the issues I have with The Idiot. Dostoevsky’s attempt to create a “perfectly beautiful man” in Prince Myshkin fails, because there is no such thing as “perfection,” and any attempt to reach perfection will backfire and instead become both perfect and disastrous, because perfection in the individual comes at the price of disaster for all those around them. “Les extremes se touchent.” And though Myshkin certainly achieves a state of inner perfection, in reality it brings about a double death, a double coagulation of flows: it kills Myshkin as a character, because whatever life there was in him was destroyed by his “perfection.” If there is a moment at the end of the novel when Myshkin is most real, it is when he becomes an idiot again, and is brought back into the world of the living, the imperfect, the constantly changing and bifurcating. It also kills Nastasya Fillippovna because, in his perfection, Myshkin is powerless to stop Rogozhin from killing her, and powerless even to try to take revenge or justice. In his perfect impotence, perfect coagulation, all he can do is spend the night with Rogozhin in a kind of creepy complicity. All Myshkin is is a disembodied idea, the ultimate coagulation, because ideas are fixed, separated from the world of flows. 

So if I can apply this to literature I’m reading, and use it to understand why and how certain characters work or don’t work, this will be very useful to me in terms of my own writing, because it will give me a method for creating more realistic characters with more interesting relationships and problems. I can also use it in my observational practices, watching people interact and seeing what sorts of patterns are created between them and how they flow, and use those interactions as templates. I feel like I already did that in the story I wrote a while ago “Holy Fools,” but not quite as intentionally. I feel like I will definitely carry these ideas on to grad school and focus on this kind of stuff. I’m finally focussing and distilling all my interests into something cohesive. I can’t wait to actually study this stuff for a living. 


So I’ve recently discovered that the European Graduate School has a ton of videos of lectures online and I’ve been going on something of a watching spree, particularly of Manuel DeLanda’s lectures. They make his thinking a lot more clear, and he also explains a lot of Deleuzian stuff in a way that just makes it click. 

I watched a talk last night by DeLanda called Materialism, Experience and Philosophy. In it he outlines a very radical materialist philosophy that moves beyond what he sees as the exhausted linguistic paradigm of postmodernism. He essentially positions language as a mechanism useful for memory, but not in itself capable of creating the world around us, which is entirely material. One of the better examples he used was Eskimos having forty or however many words for snow. It’s not that the Eskimo sees thirty nine more kinds of snow that we, who have only one word for it do, but that they have a material relationship with snow that requires that they be able to talk more specifically about different kinds of snow: snow that is good for building with, snow that you would sink into if you walked on it, dense snow, etc. You or I would still see all those kinds of snow, but we wouldn’t need specific words for them. Similarly processes that until very recently we were unable to see physically play out because they were either too fast or too slow are now able to be seen in the entirety. Here DeLanda uses the example of watching a bullet hit someone in slow motion, so that what before seemed like an instantaneous event can be seen as something subject to the same processes as anything else, or the blooming of a flower, which can be seen in a matter of minutes thanks to stop motion photography. All of a sudden these “mysterious” processes become very ordinary and material. 

This is a very exciting idea and it’s pretty much been occupying my brain non stop since last night. I think it is especially interesting for Zen and Taoism (hereon referred to as “ZT”) because it is capable of ridding them of metaphysics without compromising them. ZT are, at their core, philosophies that go completely beyond language. In the descriptions of this realm beyond language, ZT often end up sounding very metaphysical, like when talking about Buddha-nature, or the dynamic void, or emptiness. These concepts are very ideal, and it’s always been hard for me to accept because I see ZT as being so different from other religions in the sense that they are otherwise not very metaphysical. 

But it makes sense that ZT practitioners would have to resort to metaphysical language - they didn’t have stop motion, but they intuited that there was a physical process behind the change and fluidity of the world that is fundamentally no different than change and fluidity that we can see with the naked eye. Of course the sad thing is that now that these metaphysical ideas are so entrenched in ZT practice, I don’t think many people would really be interested in making the comparison. It takes a lot of the mystery out of it, it takes out what makes ZT religious and turns it into a kind of practical science. 

DeLanda’s ideas about language also play an important part in shattering the metaphysics of ZT. I’ve always been curious about stories in Zen that describe the moment of enlightenment, which is often triggered by something like a movement or a sound of something in nature. The way these stories are written makes it almost sound like that experience of enlightenment is delivered by an unseen hand, an act of God, an inexplicable experience that couldn’t be foreseen, nor could it have been done purposefully and exactly. But I think what is really going on here is a simultaneous experience and realization of a physical process experienced outside of language, which gives the enlightened person a moment of unmitigated experience of material process with nothing separating that experience from the material processes of the world outside our bodies. This especially makes sense in the cases of people who had long been practitioners of Zen or understood Zen very well intellectually but had given up on becoming enlightened. DeLanda’s materialism takes all the metaphysics out of enlightenment, and also gives us a non-religious account of that experience which validates it for the modern day. In my mind this completely divorces ZT from other religions which rely on a faith that can’t be validated materially - the closest Christianity gets, for example, is the “God of the gaps,” i.e. claiming that chaos theory implies the hand of God at work. But even those ideas are on the edge of modern Christian thought. 

This also has implications for how one should practice ZT. The point of communal ZT practice, as is argued by most practitioners, is to be around other people who are working toward the same goal, and to be instructed by someone who is knowledgeable about it so that they can lead you to it. But all of those things only seem to make sense if ZT are given a metaphysical and linguistic meaning - the idea that there is “an enlightenment” that someone has experienced and can guide you too, and that other people can work toward together. But if you do away with language and see enlightenment as the realization of an inescapable and all-encompassing physical process, there is no need for experts or fellow practitioners - if anything, those would hamper your quest because you would be liable to become caught up in other people’s attempts to try to synthesize their ultra-linguistic experiences, and you would lose sight of your own. Now, this isn’t to say that ZT practice should be entirely personal, that would be just as much of an error because it is necessarily something that involves being engaged in the world. But the difference is now that everyone around you is a fellow practitioner, and everyone around you is a teacher - you are always engaged in the practice of ZT, it is simply a matter of realizing that for yourself, because those processes effect all people, and if you simply look at how people behave, how they act, how they are, you will become enlightened. I think this is what is meant when Zen masters say “when you become enlightened, everything/everyone becomes enlightened.” When you yourself are enlightened, you will see that everyone is enlightened and always has been. That saying has never made sense to me until now. Again, I think that shows that there is no need to find a Zen master, because everyone and everything is also a Zen master. The only Zen master you need to find is yourself. 

One of the upsides of ZT’s metaphysical language is that it really forces you to engage and practice in order to become enlightened. It might seem easy with these material explanations of ZT to say that you don’t need to practice because you can just explain these things through philosophy. But that would be a mistake, because the you would fall into the trap of language, which is what you have to use to describe material processes. So things like meditation are still key in order to go beyond language. But I think that understanding dynamic material processes gives us a way to modernize ZT, and be able to practice it in a way that is wholly congruent with our situation in history, and I think it’s something that ancient ZT masters would embrace if they were around today.


            One of my biggest problems with philosophy is that it is not practicable enough. Or rather, when philosophy becomes practicacable, it turns into religious practice. But it’s very hard to have a synthesis of abstract beliefs and concrete practices outside of an organized religious framework.

It seems like there have been certain times in history when this was possible, although even then not in any kind of full blown and widely practiced sense. With Zen and Taoism in their earliest forms, especially for Zen in the time immediately after it had emerged as the product of Taoism and Buddhism, and before it spent too long in Japan and became too formalized. In writers like Dogen you can see a very complex philosophical system that is held in tension with a very simplistic practice to form the unity of Zen. But where are Zen and Taoism now? They are so mired in accumulations of formality and cultural crust that they’ve lost the edge of their philosophical past. They’re stunted and focused on things like rules of practice, spaces of practice, that should be stepping stones to a deeper philosophy. They don’t see structure as something that, while necessary to any system, is in reality arbitrary in its specific form, a means to creating a framework for and understanding an abstract philosophy. They try to make a philosophy out of their arbitrary structures.

On the other hand in the West we have a philosophical tradition that is I think weary of being too practicable because so much of philosophy, especially today, is a reaction against Abrahamic religion, which is what happened in the West when we fell too deep into the practice of philosophy. Something like political or artistic practice of philosophy is okay because those realms are fairly easy to keep away from religion. But if you really integrate a philosophy into every action, not just words written and read, it does seem spiritual or new agey.

But I’ve really been trying to integrate my philosophical beliefs into my everyday life. And I think there are some philosophers out there who have opened up a path for this. I’m reading a book now by Manuel DeLanda called A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. In it he describes nonlinear abstract processes that shape the flow of matter-energy, as he puts it, into the forms that we see around us. It is unique in that it is entirely material, and based in science, but at the same time it is philosophy. And it doesn’t’ try to reduce one to the other, but sees the two as on a continuum. He compares the formation of rocks to the formation of social strata and so on. But implicit in that is the idea that if you can understand these abstract processes, you can both see them acting in the world, in everything around us, and also implement them and use them on the world in creative ways.

Obviously we are all using these abstract processes (engineering diagrams, as DeLanda puts it, or abstract machines, as Deleuze and Guattari say) all the time, because these processes are inescapable, but by pointing them out and becoming conscious of them, we can hijack them in a sense and use them to be unique and creative. We can send situations off in all sorts of different directions by harnessing dynamic processes. And I think that is the key to moving toward a philosophy that is at the same time abstract and practicable, that needs to be both in order to work fully.

Once you start practicing this philosophy, there are never really any answers that come out of it, but there is the ability to be truly creative. And not just in an artistic sense, although that is definitely part of it. Artistic creativity is only one side of the geodesic dome that is creativity. But it can be applied in any number of ways. For example today when I was at work the parking lot was full all day, incredibly busy, people coming in and out nonstop. At first I was just letting people in as they came and everyone was circling around and getting jammed up because there were no spaces. I wasn’t really trying to do anything but just letting it go because I felt crushed by the overwhelming force of all these cars and people around me, and the relative puniness of myself trying to direct them. But that feeling of puniness was as much an act of creativity in that situation as what I did next, which was to try implementing different forms on the movement of the cars, until I figured out a system that worked best for keeping people happy and keeping cars moving in and out as fast as possible. My first approach was the one of least resistance, so it seemed very uncreative and also very necessary because I didn’t think it through. I just let it happen. But just letting something happen can be a form of creativity. In some cases I think that is a good approach. In this case it wasn’t, but changing my view on the situation showed me how important being actively creative in that situation was.

I’ve taken the same approach to creativity in interpersonal relationships too. There are so many things that, like simply letting the cars into the lot, are easy to do and become so routine that we don’t think of them as situations where creativity is applicable. Interpersonal relationships are often like this. We have certain ways that we think people are, and we have certain ways that we think we react to people, and we continue those patterns without thinking. There is still creativity in there, but it is only creativity within a certain limiting framework. If you are unhappy with someone you can be unhappy with them in any number of ways, but it is still unhappiness. But if you decide instead, I am going to be ambivalent, I am going to be happy, I am going to be resolute – you can create new frameworks, and then open up an infinity of creative possibilities within those frameworks. And in interpersonal relationships if one side of the relationship chooses to act creatively, it forces the other side into that creativity because they have to act within the new framework imposed on them, and they feed their own creativity into that framework. That dynamic process opens up all sorts of possibilities for what that relationship could become.

So to bring this back to philosophy, because the things I have just been talking about are more on the practice side, that kind of creativity is manifested in combining disciplines and types of thought to create new possibilities, such as the combination of science and philosophy. There is obviously lots of that already, in terms of combining philosophies with philosophies (and here mainly I mean Western philosophy), but it’s like in the case of interpersonal relationships wherein you can be in an unhappy relationship and only be creative within that one framework. I think Camus got stuck in that kind of situation in The Myth of Sisyphus, and that’s why at the end he says that even though there is no reason to go on living, we have to just go on anyway in the face of nihilism, with relatively little creativity. He says that whether the universe has ten or eight dimensions is pointless if we don’t know whether or not we should kill ourselves. But the real question is, what does the number of dimensions of the universe mean for ontology? And what does that mean about suicide?  Combining Eastern and Western philosophy, philosophy and science, politics and science and art, etc – that is truly creative. Obviously with the focus on interdisciplinarity in critical theory this is something that’s been going on for a while. But people like DeLanda who really take that to the extreme, and push the limits of that kind of creativity are the kind of philosophers who are going to be able to be integrated into a much more practicable kind of philosophy.