2005/02/17

Painting (5)

THE AXIOMS OF CIVILIZATIONS

= the founding building blocks upon which societies build their future.
At a certain juncture on the road of humanity societies adopt axiom like foundational ideas and values about what reality is all about upon which they later will build cultural add-ons. Those building blocks are somehow similar to the foundations of a house, upon which is build the visible structure, that's why they are called "founding building blocks". Each civilization has its own founding building blocks and they are actively shaping the paths taken by their societies.




Western thinkers, from the left and from the right, take the substance of the ideas that are foundational to their discourse from the Greek philosophers. Those ideas established as their ultimate truth that there is an absolute and general root cause to everything that happens, a root cause that influences even the conception of natural movements. So everything has a starting point located in this general root cause and the build-up of this model then goes on to establish the idea that everything also has a final destination. Humanity is thus on a straight line road that has a beginning and an end.
In this model, change appearing in our reality is the result of a cause derived from opposite principles. Later in time, this idea will be updated in the form of the "dialectic", from Hegel to Marx, reality at a given moment will be posited as a thesis (our understanding) that confronted to its opposite, its antithesis, results in us adopting a synthesis of the discussion between thesis and antithesis. The synthesis transforms then into the thesis of the next given moment.
This movement of change takes place within the realm of an unquestionable truth, it leads from an original beginning to an endgame. This is a given, an axiom, in Western civilization. No question is ever asked, as will be shown further, the outcome of history or of the endgame is given as an absolute good, for good white men it means.

Both the ancient Chinese and the Greek philosophers thought of change as the result, or better, as the derivation from the clash between opposites. But while in the Chinese tradition the abstract opposite principles of YIN and YANG contain in themselves the reason for all changes, the Greeks need to add a third term to the opposites (antikeimena)1.

The Chinese view reality as THE FLOW FROM YIN TO YANG AND VICE VERSA. YIN and YANG, as the general abstract principles of any opposition, are better understood as being the opposite poles of a same reality. Black and white being the poles of the line of colors (black = no colors and white = all colors). Good and bad being the poles of the line of human judgment (good = all that is desired and bad = all that is rejected). In this understanding, opposite poles of a same reality are not exclusive of one another, they are thought of as specific moments in the shaping of a given reality and thus between those extreme poles lies the greater part of the substance of this reality. So it would be better to speak about polarities than about opposites in the Chinese understanding of reality.

The Greeks, did not understand that opposites are in fact polarities of a same reality in flux. Thus they were led to think that opposites are absolutes that have as function to destroy each other. They could not accede to this idea that a situation starting as one of the opposites (polarities) could possibly be transforming into the other opposite (polarity). They were at a loss with the abstract principle of change and thus had to refer to something that they knew. So they came up with an explanation laying outside of the duality and invented the idea of a substantiation of the opposites into matter (hupomenei)2. Hupomenei could than be changed into a process (metabole)3. In other words the Greek thought that inanimate matter could change into its opposite, an animated metabolism. But then what was in the last instance the force that unleashes the process of change or the metabole?

For the Chinese, the flow from YIN to YANG is powered by the perpetual burst of energy that is unleashed by the differential of power residing in both of the polarities which makes them conceive of change as spontaneous emergence within a reality that is then conceived of as random but nevertheless auto-regulated. Such a concept of change is absolutely indifferent to the idea of a good or bad direction4 as well as to the idea of a beginning and an end.

In comparison, the Greek metabole starts its movement from a state of inertia in matter, so to put change into motion and reach the state of metabole, the Greek philosophers needed to invent an external acting motor and energy (kinoun)5. Change is then the result of an outside cause and causality is thus established as the philosophical model. But this idea of an outside cause putting change into motion led automatically to question what was the cause of the causality of change. In other words, an absolute final cause had to be found to stop the inescapable intellectual quest for always further causes. The absolute final cause that has been invoked has been called god (ens realissimus)6. The energy emanating from god has then been presented as being love or to be more accurate the thirst from god's believers for his love. This thirst for god's love, and the desire that it induces in all humans, has been the concept that has allowed the Greeks to stop the search for an earlier more antecedent cause. The relegating process of causality had indeed been stopped, as if by an act of magic, internalized in men's desire for god's love.
I believe that everyone will agree with me that this model of thinking is dating from a time when humans had a very limited knowledge base and that it thus acted as a cement binding the individuals in their society. But times have changed and the model is not operational nor adapted to our times any longer.

The advent of reality for the Chinese is basically a spontaneous process of emergence within an auto-regulated process of change. In this view, there is no need for a beginning nor for an end, no need for a desired endgame, so there can also be no absolute good and no absolute bad. Reality is only what is emerging in the eyes of the observer and good and bad are thus limited to the observer's subjectivity towards what results out of his observation.
This process is best described in the Yi-Ching, the oldest known Chinese book, it is also called the "book of changes" or "The book of transformations". Nobody knows for sure when and where this book originated. But recent archaeological discoveries show some bone carvings dating BC 6000 that contain the signs of the "ba gua"7 whose study is the subject of the "Book of Changes".
Whenever its origin, this book contains the moral, philosophical and cosmological founding blocs of the Chinese civilization. The central idea is that reality must be seen as a process of change, a process which is called Tao or the way or the road or life or evolution or whatever one wishes to call it.
The process at work, which has no starting point and no end, is a process of change, a process of transformation of what is in the present moment into what it becomes into the next moment or what we commonly call future. The process of transformation is the ultimate reality and what is or happens during a given moment is only the expression of a changing state of the relation between dualities as for that particular moment. It is considered, something, as a snapshot of what is happening within the process of transformation along the line whose two ends constitute the opposing poles of that particular duality. As such, the Chinese do not emphasize the poles of the duality, they concentrate their attention on the line whose two extremities are occupied by these opposing poles, they concentrate on the transformations occurring within the unity of the line going from one pole to the other.
Every duality has its yin (feminine or passive) and yang (masculine or active) characters, they are the extreme poles of the line. The process of transformation within the unity of the line goes something as follows: a young yin ages into an old yin which transforms into a young yang aging into an old yang which transforms into a young yin and so on for ever. These changes of character within the realm of a duality are considered the engine of change at large and constitute, it is thought, the ultimate reality. This model of change is similar to the contemporary model of the "wave" theory.8. The energetic loop of the "quant"9 would be the yang force and the magnetic loop of the "quant" the yin force. Young yin (proton) transforms into old yin (positron) that transforms into young yang (electron) that transforms into old yang (neutron) that transforms into young yin (proton) and so on... The "quant" is then vibrating from energetic to magnetic engendering change in the form of a wave.

Based on this idea of transformation, of change as a movement between the yin and yang polarities, the Chinese elaborated a complex abstract model of the ultimate reality or of the process of change at large. The Yi-Ching is a kind of "modeling software" of the ultimate reality or of the process of change, it is given as a tool for each and everyone to gain a better understanding of his own present and in order for him to be able to impact upon his future conditions. But one should remember that a modeling software program is only a dumb tool. To make sense and become useful it has to be sustained with data concerning oneself and the situation one wishes to simulate and as such one has to master the knowledge that lies behind the program and also to master the knowledge about oneself. Vast program indeed.

In the West, reality has been seen as the consequence of god's universal love that projects upon all and everything which in return causes all and everything into desiring to attain god's so perceived perfection and love. In this process of perception lies also the "recognition" and the justification for an authoritarian establishment that imposes itself as being the holder of the absolute truth and its counterpart the supreme good.

Western Christianity after its centralization following the fall of Rome has been governed according to the "Two swords doctrine" enunciated by Pope Gelasius I (AD 492-496). This doctrine gave an identical status to state and religion, it made the state being in charge of physical bodies and the church in charge of the souls and minds of the individuals. "There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment. You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation. In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will". 10

In 330, Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman empire from Rome to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). This gave way to the Eastern Roman Empire which lasted until 1453 when it fell to the Muslim Turks. Constantinople became the center of Eastern Christianity which developed autonomously from Western Christianity.
Eastern Christianity was the religion of the emperors and had the status of official State religion, it developed into the present-day's Orthodox church.
Bad and evil, defined as opposing the will of the religious establishment that is considered representing god's perfection and love, are thus becoming the enemy along the entire history of Christianity.
Mankind's history is replete with this kind of dualist thinking that led to so many wars and miseries. By the way, please check out the words of Georges Bush and tony Blair after 9/11, their words are a perfect caricature of what I try to describe here.

From the perspective of whatever side of the cultural divide between east and west, the other's cultural build-up starting from such vastly different foundations is bound to be incomprehensible and thus the difficulty of the West and the East to understand each other.

Western modern science today is confirming the validity of the Chinese traditional worldview based on the idea of change and by the same token rejecting the Greek traditional approach. From a scientific perspective, going exploring the Chinese model makes thus ample sense and from a philosophical standpoint I should say that this model contains the wisdom that could eventually save the world from the short-sightedness of the rationality of the logic of capital.

In artistic terms, the Chinese form of painting called "Xieyi" is derived as an application from this Chinese philosophical worldview in the same way as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or traditional Chinese strategy. Xieyi painting is thus based on an accumulation of knowledge about traditional Chinese philosophy that will allow the painter to discover or to read "the way" or the soul of his subject. Rendering "the way" of his subject is what xieyi painting is all about. A composition is achieved when "the way" of the subject is captured with fast and energetic brush strokes resulting in a composition with a good balance.
Xieyi painting translates in English as "writing the meaning down" of what is rendered visually on the paper.



(1). Antikeimena: In The "Logical System" of the Topics of Aristotle in The Internet Classics Archives.

(2). Hupomenei:
In SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND THE HUMAN SOUL IN ARISTOTLE'S DE ANIMA
Steven C. Snyder, Ph.D. Pontifical College Josephinum July 15, 1998
"In Physics Book One, faced with predecessors' sophisms and errors denying the reality of orderly substantial change in the world, Aristotle maintained that substantial change, which is indubitably real, is only intelligible if changeable things have a material component which in itself is purely potential, real but in no way actual. Substantial change can only be explained if matter in itself is purely potential. Existing nowhere in reality on its own, matter becomes a real principle of a thing when it is actualized by form."
The potential for matter to take form is unending, is enduring. Hupomenei as concept represents this enduring quality of matter to take form.

(3). Metabole :
Anaximandros (611-546 BC one of the Precursors of Greek Philosophy, influenced by Babylonian astronomical research) posits a cosmologic theory by which everything on earth is made from four elements. The change (metabole) of element to element is derived from a cosmic source which is the apeiron (infinite).

(4). In Beyond Being and Becoming, Ilya Prigogine recourses to chemistry to show how this works:
"The equations of chemistry are non-linear. When we rapidly push a chemical system away from equilibrium toward "disorder" or disequilibrium, the chemical reactions that occur present us with what I call 'bifurcation points--points at which choices and new solutions appear. Generally, more than one solution appears, so that at the point of bifurcation, probability and self-organization come into play."

(5). kinoun : Aristotle, in Atlantic Baptist University, The Existence and Nature of God by Professor Barry D. Smith.
Metaphysics 12.3
"In all change, Aristotle says that neither the matter (to hule) nor the form (to eidos) comes into existence (Metaphysics 12.3; 1069b 35). His point is that for something to change it must already be something, in which case the matter of the process of change pre-exists its change. In other words, that which changes, the matter, must already exist for it to be capable of change. The form is that into which the matter changes; as such, it likewise must already exist for there to be change. (That by which change occurs is the immediate mover.) Because change presupposes matter and form (and an immediate mover), the process of change will regress to infinity, because every change presupposes matter and form, which pre-exist the process of change. It follows that there must be a terminal point in the process of change: 'Therefore there must be a stop' (ananke de stenai) (Metaphysics 12.3; 1070a 4). But this is not a temporal terminal point, because change or motion is eternal; rather it is a logical one. Aristotle holds it as an axiom that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes and effects, movers and the moved. That which is the logical starting point of infinite change must be an unchanging substance, causing change but not being subject to change."
Metaphysics 12.7
"The first mover is an eternal, fully-actual substance that moves the first heaven without itself being moved, either self-moved or moved by something else. (Being unmovable, it is fully actual, because, otherwise, it would have potentiality and therefore not be unmovable.) Aristotle points out that the object of desire and of thought move in this way, for they cause motion in those who desire and think, but do not themselves move: 'For the apparent good is the object of appetite, and the real good is the primary object of rational wish' (Metaphysics 1072a27). This leads him to conclude that the unmoved mover moves by being the final cause of the motion of the first heaven, insofar as it is the object of love: 'The final cause, then, produces motion as being loved, but all other things move by being moved' (kinei de hos eromenon, kinoumena de talla kinei) (Metaphysics 12.7; 1072b 4). The unmoved mover as final cause causes motion by being loved, whereas all other (moved) movers cause motion by first being moved. "

(6). ens realissimus: in Aristotle,
Metaphysics 12.7
The first mover is also a first principle (arche), for the first mover explains everything else because it causes all motion. Aristotle writes, "On such a principle depend accordingly depend heaven and nature" (Metaphysics 12.7; 1072b 14).
Metaphysics 12.8
God, or "the primary essence" has no matter, which means that there can only be one God, since it is matter that differentiates one form or definition into many manifestations of that one form or definition. Since God has no matter, then God is one not only formally or in definition, but also numerically. In addition, there can be only one unmoved mover, because there is only one heaven: continuous motion is one motion, since such motion is a system of moving parts.
Aristotle argues in such a way to lead one to believe that he thinks that there could only be one unmoved mover. He writes, "But the primary essence (to ti en einai) has not matter; for it is complete reality (to proton). So the unmovable first mover (to prôton kinoun akinêton on) is one both in definition and in number; so too, therefore, is that which is moved always and continuously; therefore there is one heaven alone" (Metaphysics 12.8; 1074a 36-39).
arche (first principle) + to proton (complete reality) = ens realissimus (most real Being ) = god.

(7). In Wikipedia: The ba gua is a circular arrangement of the trigrams, traditionally printed on a mirror, or disk. Legend states that Fu Hsi found the ba gua on the scales of a tortoise's back.


(8). Grand Unified Theory: Wave Theory. Dr. Chaim H. Tejman

(9). quanta are the fundamental units of something measurable

(10). Letter of Pope Gelasius (494) to Emperor Anastasius. This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Source book is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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