Expressive Organicism: Twenty-One Aphorisms.

By Otto Paans

“Marmorslottet/Marble Castle Rock Formation, Norway,” by C. Brown (Wikimedia Commons, 2021)

1. Nature is Vitality itself. This Vitality is not the same as the entelekeia of Aristotle, or the entelechy of Hans Driesch. Both of these notions denote a purposive, teleological development. Instead, Vitality is manifestly real as a ceaseless differentiation in the spatiotemporal, physical order of things. Another word for Vitality is Life (with a capital “L,” as opposed to either biological life, or the first-person lives of minded organisms, per se).

2. In maintaining that Vitality springs from energy or matter, I do not defend physicalism. Our very notion of “matter” is confused and is but a mere model to refer to the qualities that we — as essentially embodied minds — experience in our worldview. The bacterium does not experience matter as we do, and neither does the amoeba. But equally, an entity with God-like power or a very advanced Artificial Intelligence would not experience matter as we do.

3. The idea of teleological development presupposes developmental formation, in the way that an oak develops from an acorn. But this is just a process which is linear, constrained by aleatory factors. Other things being equal, the oak will develop, notwithstanding what comes in its path. But this developmental pathway is the surface phenomenon caused by Vitality. It creates ceaseless difference and ceaseless striving.

4. Only in retrospect can we reconstruct the teleological process. But this reconstruction is an idealization. The teleological process is a phenomenon of the fundamental essence of nature, namely Vitality (or Life) itself. What we see is the expression of this fundamental essence.

5. Vitality is the non-teleological striving for development and for building complexity as such. Apart from striving, it has no form. It does not exist just in order to fight back against the encroaching advance of Nothingness or annihilation. Rather, it emerges from Nothingness as one of its modes. And these manifestations we see as temporary forms, arising out of the vast ocean of implicate order that is Nothingness.

6. This is what we got wrong in Western philosophy: to elevate Being (as the opposite of Nothing) to the sole subject matter of philosophy. If you frame the issue like this, any form of Being is a continuous battle against decay and death. Being and Nothing are seen as opposites, and as the most fundamental distinction that characterizes philosophy, and even thinking as such. Hegel’s Science of Logic presents the pinnacle and the limitation of modern philosophy. Both start at exactly this point. At the same time, Hegelian philosophy is the ultimate realization and overcoming of philosophy — and how could it be otherwise?

7. If Being is framed as the continuous battle against Nothing, then death and decay are the counterforces against the affirmations of Being. Our entire medical tradition is predicated on this notion. More specifically, this conceptual move equates affirmation (i.e. life, survival, procreation) with Being, and denial (negation, succumbing, death, decay) with Nothing.

8. But conversely, if Being is understood as what emerges out of Absolute Nothingness, then everything, and every moment is a gift, a temporary expression of the universe itself. Finitude is not lamentable; it is the very nature of Being in its emergence from Absolute Nothingness. In Japanese Zen Buddhist philosophy, this property is called mu (meaning roughly, “fleetingness”, “impermanence”, “becoming”, “no thing,” or “neither one nor the other”).

9. Being can emerge only out of Absolute Nothingness. This Absolute Nothingness is the container which contains its self-negation in the form of the dialectical tension between Being and Nothing; yet it remains Absolute Nothingness throughout. The manifestation of Being is just as much part of Absolute Nothingness as Nothing. Both forces do not cancel out the implicate order out of which they co-emerge.

10. When Being emerges, Nothing is always also present; and because both are simultaneously present, Absolute Nothingness itself is confirmed. It must be there as well, as the ultimate necessary condition or ground for Being and Nothing.

11. Everything is shot through with Absolute Nothingness. It is, as it were, the backside of the carpet where all and only the stitches are visible. When we look at Being for our answers to Life, we look at the surface; when we look at Absolute Nothingness, we look at the essence.

12. And this is what Christian mysticism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism all intuitively got correct: the world is not phenomenon and noumenon, but instead phenomenon and essence. Our fundamental mistake was following Kant’s claims about the unknowability of the noumenon and thereby sticking too closely to his transcendental idealism.

13. The fact that all phenomena are temporary, and that “no thing” or “neither one nor the other” constitutes their essence (the quality called mu), or that they constituted by becoming gives us a direct insight into the nature of reality. What we perceive is the dynamics of the world — of entities coming and going, emerging and submerging. The truth about them is clearly visible, if only we focus on it. I call this creative piety.

14. Absolute Nothingness cannot be grasped epistemically, in the sense of discursive (conceptual) or propositional knowledge; and yet, there is a form of human insight that surpasses the type of (conceptual or propositional) knowledge that epistemology deals with. In Christian mysticism, this is called the Darkness of God, the ground of the soul, or the Cloud of Unknowing.

15. To unknow is to grasp something that emanates outward from beyond the phenomenal horizon. We may call this experience the Sublime, Nirvana, the Numinous, or the Transcendental. These labels are essentially interchangeable. The point is that there is a cognitive region that we pre-reflectively consciously and non-conceptually or non-propositionally apprehend rather than self-consciously conceptually or propositionally know. We believe-in it. Correspondingly its influence is at least as strong and fundamental as a belief held on logical grounds, i.e., belief-that.

16. Believing-in does not render the belief itself faulty but instead puts limits on our best methods for believing-that via conceptual or propositional understanding. Moreover, it points to the direction in which Western and academicized, professionalized philosophy has consistently developed: a glorification of intellectual understanding at the expense of other human cognitive regions that do not neatly fit into its conceptualized and propositionalized, mechanistic constructs and models.

17. To constrain Nature to mechanistic models is to deny its Vitality and to circumscribe it according to mechanistic root metaphors, some of which are efficacious — for example, in the systematically abstracted and fragmentary denumerable, recursive domains, to which Turing-computation applies — but most of which are not.

18. Vitality cannot be adequately or completely described by using concepts or propositions. Nevertheless, it can be sensed in a multiplicity of phenomena. Or, alternatively put, it can be aesthetically apprehended. But we cannot conceptually or propositionally isolate it or replicate it. Vitality, like Being, also emerges out of Absolute Nothingness, but unlike Being, it is the singular motion or movement that yields individual beings; it is a temporary phase state, just as water can be gaseous, liquid, and solid. Every form of individuation is an emergence out of the Absolute Nothingness by way of a temporary state change, via the singular motion or movement that is Vitality.

19. Vitality itself is not a substance. It is the very process of becoming that we can only grasp partially, either with conceptual means, or that we can aesthetically apprehend. Given the fact that it has multiple forms, we mistake it for manifestations of different phenomena. The expressive-organicist hypothesis is that all these manifestations are expressions of a domain that we can grasp in its real nature only via essentially non-conceptual, non-logical, non-intellectual — or more generally, intuitional — means.

20. Any attempt to freeze and replicate this process leads to oversimplification, stratification, fragmentation, and falsification. The German Idealists and British Romantics, H.D. Thoreau, Henri Bergson, and A.N. Whitehead — and of course, many others — have repeatedly pointed this out. The technocratic mechanistic fantasy is to be able to dissect Vitality into its constituent material atomic parts and forces, so that it can be replicated and controlled at will. And this, in turn, explains why such a self-evidently wrongheaded view addictively fascinates so many people. We murder not only to dissect, but also to replicate and control. This dissection-replication-&-control project itself expresses everything that is incoherent and wrongheaded about the scientistic mechanistic mindset. It points to its most fundamental blind spot.

21. Every entity whatsoever grows, flourishes, and dies. Every system knows epochs of development, decay, and repose. This is not Heraclitus’s panta rhei, “everything flows,” but instead a radicalization of his philosophical intuition: what Heraclitus saw was just the surface structure of nature’s fundamental Vitality. This fundamental Vitality is the subject matter of Expressive Organicism.


Mr Nemo, W, Y, X, & Z, Monday 10 January 2022

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo


Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.