The Creek and The Cloud.

By Mark Anderson

APP Editors’ Note:

In principle, real philosophy can be on any topic whatsoever and presented in any format or medium whatsoever–not to mention, its also being created, performed, pursued, or taught by anyone, anywhere.

Or in other words, real philosophy is borderless philosophy, in all relevant senses of that phrase.

As another case-in-point, consider the lyrical philosophical dialogue below.

It’s by Mark Anderson, and is an excerpt from his Diamythologōmen: A Philosophical Portrait of a Philosopher Philosophizing, forthcoming from S.Ph. Press in March 2019.

***

Creek: Hey there, you! Who’s that there, looming overhead, obstructing my view of the infinite heights and casting chill shadows on my belly? I shiver, brrr, I’m cold!

Cloud: Ah, well, and who are you to ask, and so impertinently? Who am I? Have a look. Lift your eyes. And above all don’t complain. For those who know, for those who comprehend the atmospheric rule of opposites, my transient shade enhances the pleasure of a day’s warmth. One must account the whole as a whole, you see, disregarding the moments as discrete units in and of themselves. Warm now; cool now: from one perspective, yes. From a narrow perspective. But stretch your limbs and broaden your view, then you’ll experience the whole as refreshingly mild. Hence young humans lounging in the grass delight when I pass by. They giggle and shout and play. Be you like the children then: count not the seconds or minutes; reckon instead by afternoons.

But be all this as it may, I still wonder who you are to interrogate me so.

Creek: But can you not see for yourself? From your vantage you must mark my many meandering miles, winding through the wilds and woods, traversing the meadows along the mountains’ base, catching the light and the blue sky-tones in my all-encompassing eye — except, that is, wherever I am overloomed.

Cloud: Oh, my, yes — but you are all eye, aren’t you? A single great elongated lens, a sinuous mirror, a streaming silver reflector. But you’re a seer of unusual variety, I must say, hurrying here and tarrying there, so backward-bending, so troubled and tranquil, bright and dark, in oscillating turns. And you stare only at the sky. I must say, yours is a character provocative of wonder.

But to correct your misconception — with every good intention, I assure you — I should say, I should even insist, that I do not loom. Never. To loom is not my style. Linger, yes. Float, assuredly so. Drift, glide, waft — without doubt and beyond all cavil. Cousins I have who loom, to be sure, dark and aggressive and dangerous, electric flames rumbling at their hips. Towering cumulonimbus terrors all. But I myself am not like them — I am speaking now of my character, you understand — no, I am not the violent type, as I should think would be apparent to an experienced sky-gazer such as yourself. But in any case, I am no blustery puffed-up actor, big-man of the world and all such hubbub and hurly-burly. To the contrary, I am rather a wanderer and a dreamer, mellow and contemplative, and therefore also a suitable object for others’ wandering dreams.

Creek: And you’re quite the talker, too, aren’t you? Shifting easily, almost insensibly, from one subject to another. A skillful sophist one might suspect, if one were of a distrustful disposition. Me, I’m more inquisitive than incredulous. Thus your silky speechifying almost seduces me. Yet I am also indecisive, habitually unsettled and self-unsettling. My swirling thoughts no sooner coalesce as coherent beliefs than they blend with onrushing counter-notions, dissolve, disperse, and drift away.

Cloud: Ah, but do we not have this in common? For I too am prone to come and go, to condense and dissipate, the relevant difference between us being that my changes, my genesis and my dissolution occur as it were without warning. The phases of my becoming are all but imperceptible. How often I have overheard gawking humans on the ground express their wonder at suddenly marking my presence, then later realizing to their surprise I’ve altered, and later still straining their eyes but detecting only dispersing vestiges of my former self. Where have I gone? Was I ever really there? Thus some call me the visible-invisible.

Now consider yourself, are you not similar? Are you not an insubstantial substance and a dense transparency? One sees you by seeing through you.

Creek: Yes, in a sense you’re correct, I admit. But I do have my moods, as you have noted. From time to time I grow dark or turbulent or both, and then I am neither reflective nor pellucid. I splash and flash with frothing foam. Or I grow viscous, thick, and immobile as molasses, on which occasions one might suspect I’m sufficiently solid to support the substance of stone. And then there are those moments I’m overshadowed by extraneous dusks and shade. I appear all gloom. As contented and even cheerful as I may be within myself, a passing stranger overhangs and darkens me. As now, for example.

Cloud: Oh, so, we’re back to that complaint? And here I thought we were making friends!

Creek: Friends?! Really? And can being be friends with becoming then?

Cloud: Well, I don’t see why they can’t at least become friends. I refer you again to the cosmic law of opposites. But am I to understand from your remark that you conceive yourself under the category of being, as, if I may put it this way, to on?

Creek: Ah, oh, an intellectual! And a Hellenist no less! But anyway, yes, of course — being, or to on, if you prefer. Have you not yet looked me over? As I said, from your lofty perch you must comprehend the entirety of my course. Am I not here as well as there, now as well as then? Turn and look behind you. Do you not see some six miles back the little run-off falls flowing into me, constituting me, as my source and origin? And now look ahead, peer out ahead, yes, like so but farther still. Good. You see how I expand, how I mature and grow? There in the distance I am called not ‘creek’ but river. And now look you farther still beyond the remote meadows and the plains beyond them. Yes, there, yes. You observe, do you not, that I pour myself as a surge into the great sea? Now contemplate the whole, if you will, take me in in one comprehensive sweep. — And here I appeal to the principle you employed yourself in privileging afternoons as wholes over every discrete second and minute. — So, then, consider: Are not my past, present, and future simultaneously extant? Do I not both move and remain unmoving? Indeed, I do! For I am motion in repose, a self-circulating now revolving in the womb of eternity. The trickle becomes the creek; the creek becomes the river; and the river in turn becomes the sea. Yet these, my comings to be and passings away, are but temporal illusions, mere appearances. I am the whole, the extremities and the midpoint all at once. Thus in my nature I am only being, pure and ever-abiding.

Cloud: An eternal present, then? The aei on? Is this your self-conception? Really? Hmm. To my way of thinking, the ephemeral present is all there is. It is but a fleeting fraction, to be sure, an infinitesimal eye-blink of a moment, it is but a point — nevertheless, it is. The past and the future on the other hand are not — no longer and not yet — and the cosmos is, let us say, an episodic on-going of generation and evaporation, with only the merest of threads, what we call the now, binding the divide.

Besides, were not you yourself just recently referring to your temperamental alterations from moment to moment and on occasion, also to your constant changes of mind, the instability of your beliefs? Do you not gurgle and bend and flow? Of course you do! So, then, which is it? Are you a moving temporal multiplicity, bright here and now, gloomy there and then, or are you rather a single simultaneity?

Creek: But this is a matter of perspective, is it not? And maybe even a matter merely of a mode of speaking, a turn of phrase. In any case, I mean to say that the here-and-now is appropriate to the perspective of any particular temporal prospect — which as subjectivities we occupy necessarily — but that the temporally comprehensive conception is fully equally accurate, sub specie aeternitatis, as they say.

The ‘I’ behind my eye as manifest near my source experiences itself as coming to be, no doubt, as I experience myself expiring near the sea, and also in this moment conversing here with you, I feel myself here, now. Yet, despite these spatial distinctions and temporal discontinuities, my deeper self embraces and includes all of these experiences, and even as my waters flow I myself remain, everywhere at once.

And as regards time, I’m no flunky for the A-series, no presentist, as I take you to be, restricting existence strictly to the present moment, to this present moment. I’m a B-series man myself, an eternalist. I admit of course that no moment other than this present moment exists now. But I’m quite sure that past and future moments do also exist, exist simpliciter, that is; tenselessly, if you will. For I cannot believe that from moment to moment the entire universe, by slipping into the past, lapses out of existence, while it bursts anew into existence with the arrival of every future moment. Just imagine the convulsions and noise of a universe uninterruptedly coming to be and passing away!

But seriously. As I understand these things, the perception of every subjectivity is temporally confined to its own present moment, but every present moment, including those called ‘past’ and ‘future’ from the perspective of every other present, must exist. My present subjectivity cannot access these other present moments, but the subjectivities that occupy them can, in fact they do, and they are doing so now — right now, during our now, other temporally confined subjectivities are perceiving their own now, which we call by the name ‘past’ or ‘future,’ precisely as they call our now ‘past’ or ‘future’ from their own perspective. So then, if you like, I will grant that the present moment alone exists, but in that case I must add that this includes, even during this present now, every past and future present moment too, each of which from its own perspective is the present now.

And what about you, my friend? You refer to yourself as becoming. But have you not spoken the words, ‘I am’? And have you not described yourself as this or that? Indeed, you have! But if there be nothing besides becoming, then no this or that can ever really be, and therefore nothing is, including you yourself. In the fleeting fraction of your eye-blink-now you will be no thing but only a vanishingly temporary locus of energy, a mere motion in a field, constructed into unity through temporary alignments and alliances of energy and force, or through external acts of cognition, or I know not how. But, in any case, you will not be, not, that is, as you.

Cloud: Ah, yes, well — but of course I never meant to suggest that I do not exist. Becoming is not nothing after all.

Creek: And I don’t mean to question the ‘exist’ in your ‘I exist.’ The primary problem is rather with your ‘I.’ For consider: on your account, in what sense exactly is the I you take yourself to be, the I as substance, anything more than a conceptual or logical construct, an illusory pseudo-substance fabricated from insubstantial moments and infinitesimal time-points?

Cloud: Hmm, well, permit me in reply to recall an old tradition, a palaios logos, if you will, which distinguishes two lines of thought about the nature of reality: among the ancients one account descends from Homer, Hesiod, and Orpheus, and stretches down to Heraclitus and Empedocles, all of whom insisted that the world is a multiplicity of restless change and flow; the other account is associated with Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Zeno, who contended to the contrary that all is one, unchanging and eternal.

Creek: And the Hellenist reappears!

Cloud: Yes, well, be that as it may. I should like to suggest that the distinctions drawn by these opposing camps are too constricted and inflexible, as our own discussion has perhaps revealed. Might it be that being and becoming are intermingled throughout all things, and –

Creek: But wait! No, excuse me, but now you’re playing the sophist again, my friend! You’re deploying antilogic (I use the word in the Greek sense, you understand, as antilogikê) to attribute contrary properties to one and the same thing, as the ancient antilogikoi with their slippery sophisms made all things appear to bob up and down as on the waters of a choppy strait. But you’ll not persuade me that a single self-same entity is both one and many, at rest and in motion. Besides, your proposal is biased in favor of the party of flux, is it not? For if all things are really interblended, as you suggest, then there is no fundamental unity, and hence no actual being. Is this not so?

Cloud: Ah, oh, and who’s the Hellenist now — you with your talk of sophistry and antilogikê?! My, oh, my! But in any case, at least you’ve called me ‘friend,’ and that’s something, I should say. But to return to the matter at hand: My present proposal is that radical flux and ephemerality characterize physical things and phenomenal objects, such as ourselves, but that there exist other entities, real beings — really real ta onta — to which contrary properties do not apply. If this is right, then these latter beings would be authentic unities, eternal and unchanging.

Creek: Oh, ah! You are the shifty one, aren’t you?! From the sophist you proceed to ape the Platonist! No wonder you’re so hard to grasp! But would you really have us now confront the confounding conundrum of the one and many? An intractable enigma! Surely you don’t fancy we’re up to the challenge of resolving a riddle against which the boldest intellectuals have burst their brains for millennia?

Cloud: Well, but we needn’t try to solve any riddles. We are only talking, after all, or thinking out loud, if you will. We’re pondering at our leisure, and isn’t this the superlative act of every thinking thing? No need to strive for more. Besides, we don’t have the time, for I shall have to leave soon, even though the breeze today is all but non-existent.

Creek: All right, then. Very good. Well said. But since we’re only talking, I trust you won’t be offended if I suggest that your belief in these ta onta, these really real unified and unchanging beings, is an error deriving from that illusion I mentioned previously, the illusion of the I-substance, if I may call it that. For it does seem to me that you are subject to this illusion, as I infer from your tendency to speak, and presumably to think, the ‘I am,’ as I noted earlier. This specific misunderstanding of yourself — or, better, of your so-called ‘self’ — this misleads you as to the nature of reality in general.

Every subjectivity, no matter how minuscule the extent of its temporal scope, experiences itself as an effective locus and source of force, as the subject of an object’s predicates, the enduring substance of which the object’s qualities are transitory properties, as the active doer behind the deed — in short, as the reality behind the appearances. For example, you take yourself to be the cloud — the subject — which is changing — changing density or place for instance — and you imagine that you abide as substance even as your qualities come and go as accidents — at least until your every last particle of constituent matter is finally dispersed, disconnected, and dissociated; in the meantime you are — or anyway you take yourself to be — an enduring unified substance. And every subjectivity, such as yourself, casts this self-conception as an organizing template over the chaos of its sensory experience, thereby generating, literally creating, the perceptual semblance of things, the illusion of being.

But this is only illusory, anyway it must be according to your account. For if you really are a process of becoming, and nothing besides, then you must be deceived about who and what you are, indeed about your being anything at all. And if becoming is all there is, anywhere and anywhen, then you must also be deceived about there being anything at all beyond yourself. As I have said, if there is no being, then neither can there be any this or that.

Cloud: Oh, but wait! Am I to understand that you are now criticizing me for introducing being into my account of becoming? Is this really your point? I wonder, for I cannot fathom why you would object to this, you who seem to pride yourself literally on being being? If one of us is postulating substance here, it is you, not me.

And now quite suddenly, and much to my surprise, you speak of being as an illusion, and of substance as an error. Are you jesting with me? Do you mock me? Or is this an instance of your changing your mind, a backward flowing of your current, a bending of your course?

But wait! No, don’t answer me yet. First, please, tell me this. You were speaking earlier of yourself as a single whole from falls to creek to river to sea. But what do you imagine yourself to be before the falls, or after the sea — whence come the falls, and whither goes the sea? Or does the former come into being from nothing, the latter pass away into nothingness too?

Creek: Oh, but of course I reject the insinuation that I could ever come to be from, or pass away into, non-being. But what do you have in mind exactly? Do you mean to refer to the little pools and ponds from which my falls take form, or to the rain that fills them up, and also to the water vapor into which the droplets of the sea evaporate?

Cloud: Exactly, yes! Just that! As a whole you stretch beyond the limits of falls and sea. To a coarse and imprecise sight there may appear nothing more to you than your visible components, but your being extends beyond all this, even into imperceptible meteorological processes.

Creek: Yes, I take your point and don’t dispute it. Oh, yes, I am even grander than I thought! The idea pleases me!

Cloud: Indeed, and perhaps you are even grander still. Tell me: is there no stage between the water vapor and the rain? Is the cycle we’ve described so far complete?

Creek: Oh, ah! I see! You mean to refer to yourself, do you not? Rising water vapor condenses into clouds before raining down to infuse my stream. So my earlier conception of myself as falls-creek-river-sea accounted for only half my circular being.

Cloud: Yes, and water vapor-cloud-rain is the other half. With that the circle is complete.

Creek: And so you, cloud, are but a phase in the circular whole that I am.

Cloud: Or you, creek, are but a phase in the circular whole that I am.

Creek: But wait! No! It can’t be so, for your very being depends on my supply of water. Without me you would not exist.

Cloud: But of course I can say the same about you. For where would you be without me? Does not my rain give you life?

Creek: But in that case which of us has priority here? Which is fundamental? One of us must be more real than the other, for if I am being and you are becoming, we cannot be identical.

Cloud: But are you really being, and nothing besides? And am I really only becoming? I am beginning to suspect that this cannot be right. For hasn’t our discussion revealed that the matter is more complex than this? It seems that neither of us can speak of either being or becoming without introducing the contrary term. These notions are not the same, to be sure; indeed they are opposites. Yet it’s as if they were somehow conjoined, so that the one inevitably accompanies the other. Thus, for example, even though you emphasize the reality of atemporal being, you admit the validity of a temporal perspective of moments of becoming, indeed of every moment of becoming as a real constituent of the great bulk of being. You are moreover tempted at times to regard all talk of being as resulting from conceptual misunderstandings, as an expression of illusion and error. And I, for my part, who formerly conceived of myself as a constant fluctuation of becoming — even I turn out to be composed of fleetingly brief yet actual moments of being. More, each of these moments only appears fleeting, from the point of view a subjectivity confined to its particular temporal perspective, whereas actually each in itself abides eternally.

Oh, it’s the generative law of opposites again! Yes, indeed, for consider this: imagine the two of us on opposite poles of a great circle, I above, you below. Imagine as well that with my left hand, which is the rain, I reach down and take your right hand, the little run-off falls, and you with your left hand, which is the sea, reach up and take my right hand, the rising drops of water vapor. Imagine us in this way forever facing one other, clasping hands, making of ourselves one great continuous circle of inter-transforming elements. Do you see? Do you envision the resulting unity in multiplicity, the rounded block of being manifest in and through the endless cycles of becoming? A mighty vision indeed!

And with this image in mind I conclude, if I may put it this way, I conclude that we are not in fact divided as mutual strangers and antagonists, but rather that we are unified as friends, brothers even, as discrete but coupled moments on the great circle of being-and-becoming.

Creek: And more than brothers, it seems to me. For if you are right, mustn’t we be equally real, equally fundamental — identical even, in a sense? Is this what you mean to say?

Cloud: Oh, ah, yes! Identical! Quite right! Even our opposition is merely apparent! And now consider the further implications. We are one, utterly identical beneath the surface of our distinct expressions. Therefore even as we speak together — disputing and agreeing in turns — even so, I am you talking to yourself, or you are me talking to myself, each of us a phase in the whole that is the other, or rather that is us. Multiple lines of a single harmony, as it were. Cloud rain creek sea cloud rain creek, and so on and on unendingly, an eternally recurring cycle, a circle of elements revolving so rapidly as to appear, to become, as actually to be, motionless. Yes, this now strikes me as the nature of being, a tightly bound circuit of becoming.

Creek: Oh, ah, yes! I see the vision too, and a profound sight it is! It’s as though in the course of our discussion we’ve plumbed the depths to resurface bearing a fact from the foundations of the world.

Cloud: Yes, a fine formulation, that. Though I myself prefer to regard our vision as sublime. For as I see it, we’ve attained a height of thought that shines with the brightness of a sun. I see illumination where you, apparently, see dark obscurity.

Creek: No, not obscurity. Rather fundamentality, the grounds of things. I observe the uncovering of what was covered, the lifting of veils. For mustn’t one dive deep in order to mount the summit of truth? And hasn’t it always been the boldest exploratory thought-divers who’ve introduced us to our peak experiences and insights?

Cloud: Or the solitary star-sages who’ve carried their flames from their mountains to our valleys? Hence the ancients originally erected their altars on the crests of the highest hills, the better to converse with their heroes and their sky-gods.

Creek: Or in caves beside their rivers, sacred to chthonic deities, passageways to the underworld.

— Oh, but here we are disagreeing again, entangled in opposition!

Cloud: But surely we have learned by now that opposition generates unity — or, rather, that opposition is but the mask behind which unity often hides. I have called opposition generative, but now it seems to me that this is a misconception resulting from our limited, and limiting, perspective. Opposition appears to generate unity only because the manifest opposites are visible poles on a continuum which in itself is anteriorly unified. He who fails initially to detect the unity, seeing nothing besides the opposites, will on finally perceiving unity take it to have come to be. But really it existed all along, unnoticed.

Creek: Yes, good. I like that. And somehow now I am thinking of high mountain caves, portals to the depths whose entrance is on the heights. Also of mountains in the sea, some of which are very tall indeed, though totally submerged. Thus one might say that to plumb our depths we must mount our highest heights, and to ascend our heights we must descend into our deepest depths. One might even say that every self-reflective thinking thing is both a pinnacle abyss and an abyssal summit.

Clouds: It’s the unity of opposites again! Or rather the unmasking of unity behind the veil of apparent opposition, to employ your analogy.

Creek: Yes, or, wait — what’s that? I didn’t quite make out what you said. Speak up. I believe you referred to opposition as a mask concealing original unity. Is that right?

Cloud: Yes, friend, you heard me correctly. But, oh, I’m afraid I can’t speak up, for I am dissipating. As much as I hate to conclude our conversation, I must withdraw. But I did mention earlier that I should soon depart.

Creek: Ah, yes, indeed you did. I recall it. Shall we therefore review the results of our conversation, before our time together expires?

Cloud: Yes, let’s.

Creek: But have we reached any stable conclusions? For it seems to me that we have each abandoned our original totalizing point-of-view to adopt and incorporate something of the other’s way of thinking.

Cloud: Yes… I, I do believe you’re right about that… Moreover, I…

Creek: Ah, friend! I cannot hear you! Your voice is fading fast. Shall I continue on my own? And perhaps you can indicate assent or disagreement in some manner other than speaking? Yes? No? Ah, I don’t know, I can’t tell; but I’ll take that for a ‘yes.’

Cloud: Yes… Please, do contin —

Creek: I shall try to go on, my friend. Thus: The eternal and the temporal; unity and multiplicity; being and becoming. Each member of these pairs of putative opposites is real, as fully as actual as the other. They are partners in equal standing in the construction of the cosmos. More, they aren’t even really opposites. For eternity is the infinite collection of temporal moments, each of which in itself abides eternally. The one as a whole is constituted by the multiplicity of its parts bound together, and each of these parts is itself a unity. And being, too — yes, even being is but the unvarying repose of the multiple phases of becoming gathered together unto themselves.

Thus it is as you have said, friend cloud, that whoever speaks of one member of these pairs inevitably invokes the other. To affirm a whole one must affirm each of its parts. By affirming any present now one affirms simultaneously the past moments that brought it forth, and the future moments which it must bring forth in its turn. There is no saying Yes to the one without thereby affirming the many, no affirming the discrete moments of becoming without saying Yes to the continuum of being.

What do you say, my friend? Do you approve this formulation?

Cloud:

Creek: Ah, but your silence does unsettle me! I lose my confidence, doubt myself. Perhaps I have misconceived these matters. For now it occurs to me that reality — to which I have just referred as a cosmos — might be instead an indeterminate, indefinable, and uncategorizable chaos, having no definite structure in and of itself. Objectively perspectival, if I may employ a paradoxical expression.

Cloud:

Creek: Or, maybe, given the conditions of our subjectivity, we can have no knowledge of the nature of reality, including whether it is objectively anything, or any way, at all, which is to say whether it even has, or is, a nature, as chaos or as cosmos.

Cloud:

Creek: Ah, but as I say, your silence unsettles and stresses me! And… and, well, I don’t know. Perhaps there is more to these matters than I have understood, yet another option, a conception less ambiguous, and thereby more appealing to the heart and mind. But I cannot think my way to it, not without your assistance, friend. But are you there? Won’t you add a final word to our discussion, just one concluding note of resolution? Please!

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 189

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Friday 12 October 2018

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store