THICK: Navigating the Great Reality Sandwich With William James.

By H. Alan Tansson


The term ‘thick’ was used by both William James and his brother Henry to describe the world they lived in and tried to better comprehend. James believed in a “multiverse” (as opposed to a universe) and developed his philosophy of Radical Empiricism to study it. The problem is that to explain his conception of “thickness” one must drop a belief in a unified world-view of things and processes. Further, one must grasp the concepts behind Thick to understand “the work of emotion”; and finally, even if you accept the definition of work, and the central role of emotional life in attempting to do that work “most efficiently,’ you must grasp the simultaneity implied in James’s “thickness” to allow for the variable accounting periods and balancing requirements of the Pacioli Principle.

After introducing James’ arguments, the second half of Thick offers single route to answer the three core philosophical issues he puts forth in his final “introductory” text, Some Problems of Philosophy (1909): percept to concept, one to many, and novelty. Volumes 2 and 3 extrapolate James’s presumptions of a default chaos underlying the pluralist ontology, and necessarily must develop the author’s own supporting case.

To explode the problem of pluralism, Tansson offers up a solution that James recognized but seems to have ignored — a complaint that he upheld the Trinity! Tansson suggests that had he looked at the Number One as Riemann looked at the assumptions underlying Euclid’s plane geometry, he would have noticed it is suspect. He would have predicted that Alice would meet four different characters in Through the Looking Glass, each claiming to be The Number One; for when speaking to any single claimant of that title the others will raise objections to have been slighted and sometimes entirely ignored! Four distinct functional definitions of one — unity, spatial ostension (the point), identity/equivalence, and unitary (the bounded unit) — provide a combinatorial analysis that includes directionality whose goal is the disambiguation of One, which Tansson claims is James’ thickness, which he calls “Coincidensity.” There is a very specific objective to this disambiguation, however, which he describes as “punctuation,” the derivation of the bounded unit. Punctuation applies internal structure supporting contextual functionality; e.g., meaningful interpretation. So while one of these characters tells Alice he is the central figure because he is the objective, it turns out to be no better an argument than between those several orifices of the body claiming to be primary, for if any is stopped up the body loses or dies.

Coincidensity is a portmanteau of “density’” and “coincidence.” Absolute coincidensity would imply Spinoza’s block universe — which James specifically discounts — rather, “coincidensity” is simply a variable quality of flux, its disambiguation is described with the flux logic of one, which Tansson introduces in this first volume. It is not simply a tool for disambiguation (concept-formation and understanding, or epistemology), but also an ontology. Here we find William James’ radical and ubiquitous nature of “pure experience” as the grounds of all being comparable to Lao Tzu’s claims for the Tao…a “way” which is also all there is and which rational nature simply strives to conform to.

The mechanics of disambiguation are taken up in the second volume entitled The Work of Emotion. A broad interpretation of the term ‘capacitance’ is introduced that extends beyond electrical energy. Capacitance is defined as “having the capacity to change or re-order.” The paradigm of re-ordering is linearizing, from a human perspective what is classed as “event narrative.” This is the groundwork for a general theory of work — tying creative play, strategic risk and game theory, and human work to the notion of work in physics. Consistent with the hard sciences, Tansson’s hypothesis supports James’s extreme stance for pluralism and multiple belief sets, where ordering principles occlude one another; it is also consistent with Poynting’s definition of spatial/physical flux at the foundation of field theory and Quantum mechanics.

In the human world, emotion becomes the central actor of human experience–the disambiguator of linear narrative and valuation, recalling Dennett’s theory of consciousness. Returning to James, Tansson develops a very unsettling corner of his world-view in its strange support for Stirner’s solipsism. The Ego and its Own was the credo of anarchism in his day, echoed by Ayn Rand and her credo of selfishness in our own. Independence is clearly shown to be due to problems in resolution of the flux logic of one, and the key problem that is solved by the Pacioli Principle in Volume 3.

Outside of the self, however, this recursive series of disambiguations of one with progressive iterations of structural specialization and functionality (e.g. capacitance theory based on flux logic) is robust enough to explain physical processes driving the disambiguation of matter at the Big Bang, and the terminology (“big bang”) has less explanatory coherence than many other choice description (with more mythic value) such as “The Principle Punctuation of Absolute Coincidensity,” “The Great Disambiguation,” “Seed-Bursting/Space-Hatching,” or, as a paradigm default of conceptual punctuation “The Word”!

To conclude this Introduction, the final volume, Coincidensity, or The Pacioli Principle returns to the hum-drum bureaucracy of experience — the accounting game of assigning interpretations and posting to what we assume to be linear memory. Not coincidentally, five major capacitance families correlate to the five traditional accounts originally identified by Luca Pacioli in his Summa Arithmetica of 1492. Tansson’s hypothesis is that Pacioli kept his generalized transaction/change theory under wraps for it was (and still is) highly heretical in nature. Both he and his illustrious illustrator, DaVinci, had at their disposal St. Augustine’s logical and non-trivial analysis of time and chaos, Ramon Llull’s combinatorial “science” of complexity, and Pico de Mirandola’s epistemological ontology. A crude flux logic was available to these writers in the familiar arguments of the Trinity.

With a few hints, the flux logic of one is accessible to any growing and curious-minded child, and by appending the tools of the Pacioli Principle, it can be used to explain the almost spontaneous development of functionality and structure as well as the poetry of human experience. And just as James saw it, Philosophy, science, learning are continuous with personal experience, as an ongoing discovery of windows through which different declensions of thickness may be glimpsed and unraveled…. strategically but momentarily by each of us into a linear narrative that can be put to work in shaping an emergent world.


Here is a downloadable .pdf of the complete text of THICK:



Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 18 April 2019

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