Wednesday, December 17, 2003

order! order, I say!

Edwin Thomas writes:

Here's another framework for you. I think this type of viewpoint would be more common to ancient worshippers of Marduk or Calchiutlique than our modern, scientific world.

There are three fundamental forces in the Universe, each of which is a function of the other two.

1. That which creates. Given laws of conservation of matter and energy, this means that to create something, another item must be altered or destroyed. This brings us to ...
2. That which preserves. The state between the creation and destruction of an item, be it as ephemeral as a sub-atomic particle shot out from a cyclotron, or a long-lived as a world or a sun.
3. That which destroys. Again, bound by the laws of conservation of matter and energy, this means that the shape or structure of something is destroyed by its alteration into something else.

Within this framework, absolute creation, or "something from nothing" is a divine force, as is absolute destruction. Order is the formation of something into a thing and the period of preservation of that thing. Chaos is then the dissolution of that item into another form. The apparent chaos of the boiling pot of ice into water into steam would be then both an act of creation and destruction, and would be both order and chaos, depending upon your view of the process and its products. Is the glass half empty or half full? (Drink the rest of the water and then you'll know where you stand.)

Hopefully I've managed to muddy the water on a whole new tangent. I'll be interested to read the complete treatise on The Nature of War from Anticipatory Retaliation.

This grouping of creation, preservation, and destruction is familiar to me through my studies in Hinduism. The Trimurti of Brahma, Vsnu, and Siva is sometimes known in the West (rightly or wrongly) as "the Hindu trinity," with Brahma as creator, Vsnu as preserver/sustainer, and Siva as destroyer.

Hinduism is extremely plural, however, so while some Hindus might view the components of the Trimurti this way, not everyone does. Siva, for example, also has a creative role for many Saivites, often symbolized iconically by a large phallus, or lingam, implying everything from virility to fertility to, uh, creative "juice," to borrow an image from Tenacious D ("There! The crevasse! Fill it! With your mighty juuuuuuuuuuuuice!").

Creation stories tend to begin with chaos/undifferentiation; this eventually gets molded into order and differentiation. As I submitted earlier, I think this may be a reflection of the evolution of human consciousness from childhood to adulthood to dotage.

But a myth, because it takes story form, often acquires a life of its known, and many cultures with creation stories will also include stories about how the cosmic order, once established, begins to slide into disorder, with disorder being assigned a negative value. The forces of good are the forces of order, and their job is to restore the order. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna says he comes down when the world is sliding into "adharma," or chaos/disorder. Part of his job in the Gita is to reestablish order, dharma, in Arjuna's heart and mind. In Christianity as in Hinduism, there are multiple slides into adharma: going back to Eden, there's the Fall; there's also the Deluge (another attempt to restore order when all had become chaos); there are the prophets, who are instruments of God, enjoining their people to return to order/goodness; there's Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection, and the promised coming of the kingdom of God/heaven. For many Christians, there's also the Second Coming, which ushers in the eschaton-- the final shift of the cosmos into dharma: new heaven and new earth. A similar dynamic is discernible in Jewish messianism. Hinduism posits no eschaton, but there is a distinct dharma/adharma cycle.

Of course, the actual religious picture is more subtle than this; I'm painting in broad strokes. Both Christianity and Hinduism, on the whole, know better than simply to value order and devalue chaos: in Hinduism, gods and goddesses with fierce visages are often seen as terrible entities, but serving a vital function. The sword, a common motif in Hindu and Buddhist art and frequently depicted as clutched in the hands of these beings, generally serves a simultaneously destructive and constructive function: the cleaving, or amputation, of ignorance from wisdom. A close reading of the "bad" characters in biblical stories oftens leads to the insight that these characters, bad though they be, still serve some godly purpose (Judas Iscariot has to be one of my favorites among these).

The adherents of a religion who are comfortable with dynamism and paradox will see clearly the symbiotic relationship between order and chaos, yin and yang, good and evil, etc. They'll see creation, sustenance, and destruction as integrated parts of a harmonious whole, with no definite boundaries demarcating them, just as the gods of the Trimurti are ambiguous in their functions.

So I like the idea that the three forces you name are each "a function of the other two." That's a great way to summarize their interrelationship.

Shifting gears...

I'm starting to read up on information theory; it's very math-heavy, so I'm missing about 90% of what it's about, but certain things are becoming slightly clearer to me. I'll be revisiting the problems I highlighted earlier, and maybe even answering some of my own questions-- at least superficially.

Also, a note to faithful readers: as we approach Christmas, expect the blogging to be a bit less diarrhetic. Tis the season for family and friends, as you well know. I'll try and post something Christmas-y before the 25th-- most likely a vulgar poem, but maybe I'll be nice and write an earnest meditation to tide you through the holiday.

By the way: if you're a Christian, feel no shame in saying "Merry Christmas" to people. If they think you're being insensitive, fuck 'em. They can chew and swallow my dingeberries. I don't expect a Korean Buddhist to refrain from saying "seong-bul haship-shiyo!" (May you attain Buddhahood!) to me, after all: they're Buddhist! Why should they be ashamed of their spiritual heritage? Sometimes we worry too much about a lot of shit. Because there are people out there who seem to be looking for an excuse to be offended, and because you have no control over these people's thinking, don't even worry about them.

And though it's been said many times, many ways:



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