Monday, February 8, 2016

Defending the Honor of Time

Escape from Quantopia. Collective Insanity in Science and Society. Ted Dace. IFF Books. Winchester UK, Washington USA. 2014

I first became acquainted with the work of Ted Dace through an article of his published on the Counterpunch website in December, 2015—“Physics Unhinged.”

Mr. Dace, described as an “independent scholar,” was defending Time against the timeless equations of physics. He wrote that “…if time is like space…everything that happens is a lie, even consciousness itself…Not only materialism, which reduces consciousness to the operations of a causally determined organic machine, but mathematical idealism undermines the intrinsic value of life and all its qualities.”

  I immediately felt a bond with his work. I wrote to him, thanking him, and we commenced a correspondence. In the meantime he had stumbled across my book, Consecrated Venom: The Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge, and he had some very generous and complimentary things to say about it—which both surprised and touched me. In the course of our correspondence I introduced him to the work of Rosenstock-Huessy, who had so many incredible insights regarding time in his book The Origin of Speech and other sources.  Rosenstock believed that the concepts or time and space as deployed by science were first organized by grammar, for “time is created by speech.”

In this paper I want to provide a sort of “Rosenstockian commentary” to Ted Dace’s book, Escape from Quantopia.  First of all, the very fact that Mr. Dace would feel moved to make a defense of time is, in my view, a  highly significant development.  We are not aware for the most part to our debt to time. Just as the fossil fuels which power out modern ways of life are the energy-fruit of times compressed over geological ages, scientific equations, too, and the concepts we throw around here and there to explain the world, have time silently enfolded into them. Rosenstock remarks, in a lapidary statement, that “An object is an act minus its time-element.” (Origin of Speech, p. 65)  Likewise, how much time is assumed in our concept of the atom, of light waves, of evolution or indeed of any concept that we use so freely?  In that same work he comments that we “stultify” our own efforts “…  by not confessing the two opposite kinds of knowledge: knowledge which takes time and knowledge which takes no time. (op. cit., p. 46) 

Any concept we use in science contains the history of science, and before that, the Christian religion as the indispensable preparation for science—and before Christianity, of course, the Greeks. )  [1]  This historical development is something that the raging atheists of today don’t want to hear—maybe because atheism itself is not so much a protest against “God” as it is the lack of time-sense, of historical consciousness. Atheism  is a kind of flypaper. It gets  people stuck in the present moment, with no future because the light from the past has dimmed.

Escape from Quantopia is first of all a protest against the tyranny of the indicative: “where mathematical laws generate everything from atoms to thoughts.” (Quantopia, p.3)  The indicative or objective form of speech is, according to the Rosenstockian “Cross of Reality”, the fourth or final phase of an entire speech-process embracing (1) the you-statement command or imperative (future-creating), (2) subjective, subjunctive or lyrical, “I” statements in which the soul imagines and feels its response to the imperative situation, (3) the we-statement or collective memory, history, ritual and past where we consult former answers to the questions that impassion us. It is only in the fourth or final phase that the deed is done, the fact stated: 2+2=4.

Here is the “Cross of Reality” expressed diagrammatically. The upright pole is the “space” dimension (inner-outer, subject-object); the horizontal or cross-beam is the temporal dimension, past-future:


It is apparent that even a quick look at  this diagram offers much richer possibilities than the conventional subject-object division of Western philosophy.  It helps to concretize the mind by dismantling abstractions, in bringing us into real life as a time-process. Rosenstock often made much of the fact that the Greek grammatical tables – “Alexandrian grammar,” he called it—is actually a hindrance to the new grammar of social relations. The new or higher grammar that he explicated in his works  could become the true basic for sociology. But there is yet another way in which modern grammar-awareness differs from the old-fashioned kind. “Grammar,” gramarye, meant ‘magic,’ and ‘glamour’ is a corruption of ‘grammar.” [2]  Perhaps our ancestors saw that “grammar” provides polish, skill, sophistication, the ability to manifest charisma and conviction -- hence ‘glamour.’  In pre-literate societies this may have been so. But today, in society that has become post-literate and crammed with words, advertising jingles, slogans, ideologies, abstraction, ‘grammar’ is needed to step up to the plate in an apocalyptic role: to remind us of the stages of our humanity. It reveals who we are.[3]   And on the contrary, it is words, slogans and ideologies which today convey deception and mental manipulation—which Ted Dace explores in many levels in Escape from Quantopia.  The  irony that is the  modern gramarye  of social science is not in  magic or deception but in  just the reverse: re-concretizing, incarnating, and making real.

As a defender of time,  Ted Dace is drawn to those philosophers in our tradition who have paid attention to time and memory. Charles Sanders Pierce comes to mind, and  Henri Bergson. In our time it is Rupert Sheldrake who has challenged the idealist-materialist-timeless mindset and aroused the ire of the dogmatists. For scientific dogmatism and determinism make strange bedfellows in our modern age, which so prides itself with science. He quotes Einstein, who said that “For us convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion, although a persistent one.”  Dace finds it an odd statement, as if Einstein disbelieved it himself.  The spatialization of time seems to have led to a “suffocating determinism.”  It certainly has led to the omission of the physicist as a human being, as Einstein’s statement shows.

 C.S. Pierce argued that Nature’s laws might be better understood as “habits,” and Sheldrake further developed this idea with his “morphic resonance.”  In his book The Presence of the Past, Sheldrake defines  morphic fields  “… like the known fields of physics, [to be] non-material regions of influence extending in space and continuing in time.”  Thus “morphic resonance” is “the process by which the past becomes present within morphic fields.” The emphasis is not on timeless laws of nature but on what actually arises and evolves. Hence there can be creativity and novelty in the unfoldment of possibilities in time. Dace puts the matter concisely:  “the question of freedom boils down to the mystery of time” (Q, p. 230)

I believe that Ted Dace’s explication of time according to a revised physics is very compatible with Rosenstock’s researches into the grammatical basis for our history and creativity. Certainly Rosenstock’s definition of the supernatural summarizes this new attitude very well: “…the supernatural should not be thought of as a magical force somehow competing with electricity or gravitation in the world of space, but as the power to transcend the past by stepping into an open future.” [4] Rosenstock believed that scientific notions of time and space were ultimately the result of the kind of ordering activity  that we execute by means of grammatical speech. Always and everywhere, Rosenstock brings thinking back into speech, into speaking – he remarks somewhere that thought is just the storage-room of speech. Thus the Kantian “categories” – time and space—are these but grammatical realities dressed up for their debut in cognition? Rosenstock would have us ask this kind of question, as Ted Dace does too, and also the fellow kindred soul Ortega y Gasset, who said that our task today must consist in the overcoming of idealism. Thought is not primary. Speaking is. And speaking to someone by name is the beginning of human life proper. For I have no doubt that animals have languages. But animals do not give names: and it is the Name which marks the real start of human destiny.

And despite Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, there is no “language instinct.”[5] Fortunately Ted Dace does not get bottled up with the instinct-mutation-genetic question, but asks, very simply and directly—“Isn’t it more likely the motive force for human language was the desire of our ancestors to better understand each other?” (p. 72)  This is putting the question back into the arena of social relations, where it belongs. And Dace’s discussion of science materialists, dogmatists and atheists like Michael Shermer, Dennett, Dawkins, Myers, et al, is illuminating. He paints a picture of socially inept people who somehow resemble dinosaurs of egotism. Tellingly,  Rosenstock remarks somewhere that God cannot speak to a soul that is an “I.” It must become a “You.” In this era of egotism and fanatical self-esteem, the scientists—and the rest of us – must relearn the art of the Second Person. Let us have the modesty to become the “You” that inspires another—friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and writers encountered in unlikely places over the Internet.

Thank you, Ted Dace, for inspiring this little piece. And may you continue to be the Knight of Honorable Time,  defending it from the predations of fame, finance, fortune and the fickleness of thought itself.

[1] The works of the late Stanley Jaki are important sources for studying the Christian origins of modern science.
[2]  A study of ‘grammar,’ ‘glamour,’ and ‘gramarye’ in Skeat’s Etymological dictionary is very instructive. Words, unlike plants, are mobile. But like plants they carry their roots with them down the stream of time.
[3] Once again, etymology: ‘apocalypse’ means uncovering or revealing.
[4] Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future: or, The Modern Mind Outrun, p. 123.
[5] I always liked Suzanne K. Langer’s answer to the question of the ‘origin of language’: “This throws us back to an old and mystifying problem. If we find no prototype of speech and the highest animals, and man will not say even the first word by instinct, then how did all his tribes acquire their various languages? Who began the art which we now all have to learn?... The problem is so baffling it is no longer considered respectable.” Philosophy in a New Key,  Harvard, 1942., p. 108.

1 comment:

  1. I was delighted to read this insightful piece. Rosenstock-Huessy remains to be discovered in wider circles than his Dartmouth students or his small clusters in the US and Europe. Caryl is performing a vital service as she compares his work with that of others, -- Clint Gardner, 2/10/16