Tim Munson Home  
Technologies of Sin & Salvation

Chapter Two


Man is the measure of all things.


The instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned
from the world of becoming into that of being.

Plato, The Republic

FOR THE NASCENT PERPETUAL INNOVATION ECONOMY, the stasis of meaning is death. And this will have enormous ramifications for the evolution of Western social epistemology.

____This is due to the fact that our early Western theories of knowledge and meaning were marked by a persistent conceptual error which continues to color much of our understanding of value and meaning today, and which in turn directly impacts the development of emergent technologies of meaning. Rather than seeking to address and ameliorate the tensive dissonance which lies at the heart of human cognition, the Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions of meaning sought to transcend it in establishing a priori truths through rationalism and empiricism respectively. We sought - and yet seek - to transcend the material "world of becoming," to literalize our metaphorical constructs, to hypostasize our cognitive schema in universal and eternal fact. The Greeks founded their epistemological legacy upon the metaphorical postulation of a transcendent a priori revealed in the perfect and fixed "forms" of Euclidean geometry. Augustine, who began his career as a Neoplatonist, founded his formulation of the Judeo-Christian theory of meaning upon Christ's metaphorical function as the point of intersection between the transcendent a priori and the fallen world of the flesh. Ironically, it was this "sin" of metaphorical abstraction and stasis which the authors of the Old Testament had admonished against in describing the perils of "idolatry." Hannah Arendt has called this the "metaphysical fallacy" which has perpetuated the "two world theory" in Western thought. John Dewey termed this the great "philosophic fallacy." For Hayden White, this inclination to freeze the flow of human imagination and meaning in static symbols represented the "temptation of gnosis." And it was this "epistemological mistake" which Gregory Bateson argued was more serious than all of humankind's other "minor insanities" combined. And yet the sin, error, fallacy, the alienation, and temptation have persisted. Is it possible that an evolving political economy sustained through perpetual figurative transformation may finally provide the impetus to overturn this legacy of disembodied and dualistic Western philosophy?

____In the previous chapter, I reviewed the major political economic paradigms within and through which the modern and postmodern West has sought - by sheer force of will and purposive perfection of its technologies - to attain an approximation of that lost cognitive unity, or what Kester termed a "universal subjectivity," applying technology to heal the cognitive and existential dissonances generated by technology. Setting the stage in this way was necessary to grasp how, through labor, human subjectivity is recast in successive political economic paradigms through its changing relationship with its symbolic, social and material technologies. I argued that, whatever uses and interests the West's epistemological heritage have served in the past, emergent economic and environmental imperatives increasingly require that we come to terms with the ontological biases implied and revealed in the political economic and existential expressions of both our theories and technologies of meaning. Failing this, we risk the hyper-accelerated growth of vast and intransigent external digital networks of value and meaning which reflect and magnify the constraints and consequences of these faulty epistemological legacies. In the accelerating external manifestation of our cognitive networks lies the essential value and meaning of an embryonic political economic paradigm which promises to either enliven or deaden the human subject and the natural world which is its home.

____This chapter therefore turns to the task of exploring the roots of the West's traditionally static, disembodied epistemology, primarily in Greek and Cartesian thought. Chapter Three will examine contrasting theories of meaning and associated technologies developed in the East. Chapter Four will then trace the redirected development of Western epistemologies with the advent of the Industrial Revolution toward embodied, ecological theories of meaning which have sought to resolve the West's longstanding epistemological bifurcation through a gradual conjoining and extrusion of its dominant philosophical traditions.

____The West's epistemological journey-from our mythological fall from grace to our most recent search for deliverance in cyberspace-is said to have begun with one bite of an apple, representing humankind's earliest and most elemental symbolic technology. And with that first metaphorical signification, humanity was marked by what the poet and statesman Vaclav Havel described as a "sense of separation from Being." That is, a tensive cognitive dissonance which has its roots in the very nature of metaphorical language, relying as it does on the simultaneous signification of both identity and difference (Derrida 1980, Coyne 2000).

____Beyond its felt presence in human experience, perhaps the clearest evidence for the existence and nature of this cognitive dissonance and epistemological error is in the persistent efforts made since ancient times to redress it. Throughout the ages, however, socioeconomic constraints imposed by dominant interests have inhibited individuals who recognized the error and its effects from carrying the solution to its logical resolution. Protagoras and Socrates were killed; Plato, Augustine and Kant became enthralled by the logical systems they constructed to rise above it; Aristotle and Hegel turned conservative in the interest of getting along; and Dewey and Mead were chastised by established academe when they refused to compromise their quest for a resolution. Further, a solution would require the collective efforts of democratic deliberation to inform and make intelligent the workings of existential, ecological fact, as against the transcendent status of hypostasized sociotechnical predication. Though this resolve was perhaps most famously and radically articulated in the writings of Marx, it was as early as the fifth-century B.C. when Protagoras suggested what may have been the West's first formulation of what the Buddhists call the "middle path," or what cognitive science has termed the process of "codependent arising." Indeed the intensifying synergy of political economy and cognitive science provides what may be our most credible hope for the West's rediscovery of Protagoras' original premise, of an integral cognitive ecology which would bring our epistemological journey full circle and provide the necessary framework upon which to articulate the method discussed later in these pages. Again, it is precisely because the West's philosophical heritage has generated such deeply engrained biases regarding the very nature and composition of that meaning and value so central to today's so-called "Information Economy," that we must understand and elucidate the origins of the way we think about "knowledge," "information," "meaning," as well our past hesitancy to validate the vast realms of human experience which lie beyond reason.

. . .

Likening the modern Western mind to an open terrain, one might say that each quality of our cognitive topography has a deep-rooted heritage entwined in the dark soil below with all those other characteristics which have grown into our current conceptions of value and meaning. If we were to survey this terrain from a distance, we would certainly be first struck by a pair of particularly prominent features.

____Throughout the past two and a half thousand years, two broad, well-traveled paths have comprised the accepted modes of Western inquiry into the nature of "knowledge" and "truth," or what we prefer to refer to here as meaning and value. Together, these grand traditions-rationalism and empiricism-may be seen as divergent methods of arriving at a priori, objective facts independent of subjective human intervention or interpretation. These modes of thought have proven stunningly successful in defining the normative parameters-the accepted spheres of inquiry-of all subsequent attempts to define the nature of knowledge and meaning. It is increasingly crucial we begin to grasp the most apparent impacts of these epistemological traditions in order to understand clearly how it is that both our economic and environmental realities are today straining against the confines of the preternatural human cognitive model inherent in these still dominant modes of thought. For it might have been otherwise.

____In the fifth-century B.C., when the Attic philosopher Protagoras proposed that "Man is the measure of all things," he offered what we now know with two and a half millennia hindsight to be a spectacularly insightful design for an integral design for value and meaning. Protagoras posited, in essence, that man makes his own meaning. The distinctive character of any epistemology in harmony with Protagoras' theory, as Turner has noted, is its conception of meaning not as a static truth external to human beings but rather as a consequence of dynamic cognitive processes grounded in embodied, affective human experience. Yet this early theory of meaning is a trail so faint and overgrown that philosophers such as Whitehead, Russell, Hobbes, Leibniz and Descartes seem to have missed its implications almost entirely; scholars such as Dewey and Mead had to contend with intractable institutional interests in articulating its epistemological implications for the 20th century; and the cognitive and social sciences have formulated its principles only during the past decade. Protagoras of Abdera had been a teacher and political counselor, and had written a treatise entitled On the Gods in which he argued that, "Of the gods I can know nothing, neither that they are nor that they are not, nor how they are shaped if at all. Many things prevent such knowledge: the uncertainty of the questions and the shortness of life" (in Dowdy 1998, 140).

____Protagoras seems to have had little time or patience for postulating a priori truths, whether they be gods or other "forms." Through Plato's dialogue Protagoras, we know that Protagoras argued against those philosophers, and particularly Parmenides, who held Being as an absolute. He insisted rather on the notion that, "Man is the measure of all things: of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not" (Dowdy, 148). Today, it is largely through Plato's Protagoras and Theaetetus, in which he depicts Socrates recalling an argument with the ghost of Protagoras, that we know anything at all of Protagoras' epistemology. For Protagoras was eventually driven out of Athens for his "impiety," and his books publicly burned. We do know that Plato quite dominated the debate of his age, as he largely still does our own. And so, before clarifying the rather unexpected 21st century revitalization of Protagoras' theory of meaning, it is to the works of Plato and his protégé Aristotle that we turn to grasp the deep roots of our entrenched conceptions of meaning and value as separate from mind, technology as distinct from humanity, and the political economy as somehow transcending human embodiment and natural ecology.

____Plato, of course, first articulated the elaborate system of thought known to us as rationalism, which posits that knowledge and meaning, or "justified true belief," is to be attained through deductive, dialectical reasoning. For Plato, the "idea," representing the transcendent "form," seen through the unwavering, reasoning eye, was the highest principle to which human knowledge and meaning might aspire. Thus in Phaedo, he argued:

Would not that man do this most perfectly who approaches each thing, so far as possible, with the reason alone, not introducing sight into his reasoning nor dragging in any of the other senses along with his thinking, but employs pure, absolute reason in his attempt to search out the pure, absolute essence of things, and who removes himself, so far as possible, from eyes and ears, and, in a word, from his body, because he feels that its companionship disturbs the soul and hinders it from attaining truth and wisdom? Is not this the man, Simmias, if anyone, to attain to the knowledge of reality? (229)

Here, as in The Allegory of the Cave, Plato planted his vivid metaphorical notion of the physical world of appearance as a mere shadow of that ideal realm of transcendent forms. Human knowledge, in his system of thought, thus aspired to the unchanging, hypostasized Idea, which cannot be known through direct sensual experience, but only through contemplation of the purest form of reason.

____Though Plato argued at times that the geometry of his day was too bound to the world of forged appearance and polluted by alogos and "irrationality," it appears that he and his pupil Aristotle were yet profoundly effected by its pervasive presence, as I will describe later in this chapter. Yet Plato chose to devote himself to the painstaking articulation and establishment of dialectical discourse as the most suitable path to truth and wisdom. In Plato's later writings, Raymond Williams notes that this dialectical method had come to refer to the discursive "art of defining ideas and, related to this, the method of determining the interrelation of ideas in the light of a single principle." Further "these two senses would later be distinguished as logic and metaphysics respectively" (Dowdy, 1998, 138). And so through Plato were planted such foundational logical and metaphysical convictions: truth consists of unchanging ideas which reflect eternal forms; knowledge of these external truths is generated through pure deductive reasoning; the world of appearances is a mere shadow of these truths; and art is the mere imitation of the mere shadow of the transcendent forms.

____I earlier noted Dewey's vital observation that the aesthetic theory of any scholar "is a test of the capacity of the system he puts forth to grasp the nature of experience itself." And further that, "There is no test that so surely reveals the one-sidedness of a philosophy than its treatment of art and aesthetic experience" (From Alexander, 1998, 18). What might such a test reveal about Plato and subsequent philosophers' systems of thought?

____The Republic, of course, contains the first sustained discussion of art in Western literature and arguably the most enduringly influential. As Cooper has noted, few subsequent discussions of the arts and the relations of art to psychology, ethics and politics have failed to engage with Plato on these topics. In Book 10 of the Republic, Plato conducts his most famous assault on art and literature. The painter-whom Plato discusses before turning to his more virulent and prolonged attack on the poet-produces only an imperfect and constrained imitation (mimesis) of a physical object, which is again only a facsimile of the true, transcendent Form. Hyman has offered the variant reading that Plato's complaint is rather that artists produce "semblances" which are "deceptive," such as in their use of perspective and shadowing (Cooper, 1986, 45). The poet similarly panders to the least rational aspects of human nature which, according to Plato, tend toward the disreputable and are certain to detract from the preferred life of reason. Whether or not we acknowledge the debt, our Western conceptions of art and aesthetics are yet profoundly shaped by Plato's assertion two and a half millennia ago that, as he summed up, "Representation and truth are a considerable distance apart." The ghost of Protagoras would not have approved. In Plato's system of thought, eternal truths are revealed in the exclusive conversations of wise (Athenian) men, and the innovation-or creative production-of new meaning lay infinitely beyond the ken of the common man.

____Clearly, Plato was no disembodied ghost himself. This was a man who lived during a given historical moment and in a grounded sociotechnical context. What were Plato's possible motivations for this unequivocal, and what must be seen as a rather extreme condemnation of the aesthetic act and of its willful perpetrators? These are fair questions, certainly, given the enormous and lasting affects of the ontological schism implicit in his dualistic system of thought with its radical division of subjective representation and objective truth. Before turning to these questions, however, it is important to note the origin of the West's second dominant epistemological tradition in Plato's rebellious protégé.

____The Western world's other enduring mode of thought and inquiry, empiricism, was propounded by Aristotle when he famously contradicted his mentor Plato, countering that knowledge and truth must be sought through the inductive study of the object of inquiry. Aristotle contended that Plato's conceptualization of "idea" as "form" was wrong, arguing that form cannot be isolated from a physical object, nor that it has an existence apart from sensory perception. Rather, he posited that an individual thing consists of its form and physical object or matter, and that knowledge of forms is always occasioned by sensory perception. From this empiricist perspective, he argued:

So out of sense-perception comes to be what we call memory, and out of frequently repeated memories of the same thing develop experience; for a number of memories constitute a single experience. From experience again-i.e., from the universal now stabilized in its entirety within them all-originate the skill of the craftsman and the knowledge of the man of science, skill in the sphere of coming to be and science of being. We conclude that these stages of knowledge are neither innate in a deterministic form, nor developed from other higher states of knowledge, but from sense-perception (in Cooper, 1986, 48).

Thus Aristotle emphasized the importance of observation and the repeatable, empirical verification of sense perception. With such emphasis placed on sensory perception, one might expect that his views on art and aesthetics would differ from those of his teacher.

____Yet, though Aristotle's more earthly system of thought appears to move toward an epistemology congruent with the embodied mind generating meaning through interaction with its environment, his writings on aesthetics clearly betray his fondness for the viewpoint of the "Unmoved Mover," and his predilection for discovering knowledge and meaning through passive observation of an external and fixed reality.

____For Aristotle, that which is available to the senses is an incomplete representation, an imperfect manifestation, in a teleological journey toward the ideal realization of the object. This becomes all the clearer when we note how the student wants to counter his teacher's round condemnation of poetry as opposed to the tenets of philosophy; but in the end, like Plato himself, there can be no doubt that Aristotle saw art as mere mimesis. Indeed in his Poetics, Aristotle goes to exhaustive lengths to redeem the notion of art through his elaborate recipes for those forms of mimesis which would properly instruct the people and refine their passions toward an appropriate regard for "truth." Here, as elsewhere, Aristotle sought to oppose Plato's categorical censure of art and aesthetics, insisting that, "What mimesis reveals is precisely the real essence of the thing" (Cooper, 1986, 46). Yet in his theory of meaning, art and all humankind's creations remain mere imitation, and essence and meaning remain external and aloof from the lived experience of the embodied-if observant-human mind. Dewey's own critique of Aristotle on this matter was most clear. Dewey pointed to the essence of Aristotelian empiricism as propounding a "spectator view of reality" in which we grasp the world of objects according to their categories, and in which mind and language function as an index system. As Dowdy notes, "Reasoning this way, Aristotle advanced his mentor's hypostatic 'spectator view' of existence, and an essentially timeless 'picture theory' of reality" (1998, 274). As will be discussed later, where Aristotle would have it that these categories of fact are immutable and fixed, Dewey would later echo Protagoras' claim that technological schema are constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed for the convenience of human beings seeking to function-and experience more fully-within a dynamic and changing environment. And Dewey's view would later gain tremendous theoretical and empirical support through advances in cognitive science. Varela et al would term this self-modifying process "codependent arising."

____Of course, as noted earlier, neither Plato nor Aristotle lived in a vacuum, and so it is important we seek to clarify the purposes and interests these epistemologies sought to serve in the time and place of their origin. We know that Plato was very much grounded in Athens, was thoroughly rooted in the political-economic life of the city-state, and was therefore deeply invested in that specific sociotechnical environment. We know, too, that Aristotle was a far more peripatetic soul, has been described as the West's first cosmopolitan philosopher, and thus developed a broader, cross-cultural worldview. To take this analysis further, however, I turn briefly to Dowdy's extensive examination of Plato and Aristotle's lives, times and systems of thought, for its detailed and subtle account of, among other things, the complex sociotechnical environments within which these men constructed their epistemological legacies.
For example, there is a compelling argument to be made that Plato's theory of meaning and his dialectical method were direct reactions against the then-emergent technology of monologos, or spoken and written monologues. Though it may be difficult at the dawn of the 21st century to envision a time when the rhetorical innovations of monologue and their written equivalents represented challenges to the established order, it ought not to be too difficult to sympathize with the general political economic disorder concomitant with such jarring shifts in the use of communications "technologies." The difference is arguably merely one of historical perspective. In Phaedrus, for example, Plato conducted what may be seen as one of the earliest and most damning technology assessments when he depicts Thamus rebuking Thoth, the inventor of writing, thus:

This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without its reality (1961, 518).

Dowdy suggests that Plato's devotion to establishing dialectic as the crucial methodological component of his epistemology was motivated in part by a shift toward the use of rhetorical monologue as an instrument of intensifying influence and power within the Greek political economic system of that time. In fact, Plato vividly immortalized his mentor as the archetypal sacrificial hero, depicting him dying tragically at the hands of those wielding the irrational force of monologos, and thus providing what he surely intended as a dramatically pointed lesson in the malignant spread of new-fangled rhetorical techniques. Plato clearly wished to caution his fellow Athenians regarding the dangers and deceptions of these new technologies of meaning. Though his intended meanings are at times obscure and difficult to decipher, and though disparate interpretations of his dialogues and letters abound, one thing seems clear: Plato prescription for salvation was conversation among the wise. In his ideal Republic, wise men like himself would spend their days translating the eternal Forms into perfect knowledge through the medium of dialogue, which would then define the normative parameters within which others would do the work of manifesting this Vision. This contemplation of truth by an elite class of men is perhaps the strongest and most basic link between Platonic and Aristotelian thought. Within such epistemologies in which meaning is external, truth a priori, and the keys to the kingdom held by a privileged few philosopher-kings, the innovation of communicative technologies which simultaneously manifest and institute new forms of meaning would be tragic indeed. Wise men and heroes would die. And here we begin to see clear signs of the profound and untenable constraints of such fixed and ancient methods and theories of meaning on the 21st century context, and on a political economy which has come to be predicated on the perpetual figurative transformation of value in new meanings.

____We have inherited these Platonic and Aristotelian theories of meaning through intermediate philosophers by modern epistemology's two mainstreams: Continental rationalism and British empiricism. Nearly two millennia after the time of their philosophical progenitors, Descartes and Locke illustrate the resilience of Platonic and Aristotelian thought, as well as the attendant constraints on the political-economic parameters and ontological possibilities within these hitherto indomitable epistemologies. Clearly building directly upon Plotinus' Neoplatonic heritage, Descartes famously proposed his four foundational rules for rational thinking. These are worth noting here for the fact that these maxims represent so concisely and explicitly the methodological cornerstones implicit and rarely acknowledged in our contemporary conceptions of the object of knowledge:

The first of these was to accept nothing as true which I did not clearly recognize to be so: that is to say, carefully avoid precipitation and prejudice in judgments, and to accept in them nothing more than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly that I could have no occasion to doubt it.

The second was to divide up each of the difficulties which I examined into as many parts as possible, and as seemed requisite in order that it might be resolved in the best manner possible.

The third was to carry on my reflections in due order, commencing with objects that were the most simple and easy to understand, in order to rise little by little, or by degrees, to knowledge of the most complex, assuming an order, even if a fictitious one, among those which do not follow a natural sequence relative to one another.

The last was in all cases to make enumerations so completely and reviews so general that I should be certain of having omitted nothing (in Nonaka and Takeuchi 1997, 53).

____Though Descartes had appropriated the tenets of Platonic rationalism, he was famously explicit in further extrapolating that ultimate truth could be deduced only by the uniquely verifiable existence of a thinking self. The above method led him to the conviction that this "thinking self" was autonomous and separate from body or matter, arguing that whereas embodied matter manifests a temporal-spatial existence, or "extension," available to our senses, but which does not think, the mind by contrast manifests no temporal-spatial presence, yet it thinks. Thus the infamous Cartesian split, which, in so audaciously taking Platonist rationalism to its "logical" extreme, simultaneously revealed and exacerbated that yawning discontinuity fundamental to mainstream Western thought.

____The raft of treatises in recent years pointing to "Descartes' Error" in his unnatural separation of mind and body trailed by over three hundred years rebuttals by the individual most credited with ensuring Aristotelian empiricism would remain foundational to Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Western epistemology: John Locke. Invoking the oft-quoted metaphor of mind as a tabula rasa, or "white paper void of all characters," Locke opposed Descarte's assumptions of rationalism as a priori human nature and rejected the rationalist argument that the human mind is furnished with innate ideas and conceptions of truth. Like Aristotle, Locke argued that only verifiable sensory perception could provide the mind with its ideas. Crucial to our discussion here, he further distinguished between what he perceived to be the two modes of human experience: sensation and reflection. Sensation, for Locke, referred to sense perception, which is "the great source of most of our ideas." Reflection, in contrast, meant "the perception of the operation of our own mind within us," which is "the other fountain from which experience furnisheth the understanding of ideas." And so, echoing Aristotle's voyeuristic conception of knowledge, these dualistic modes of experience remained necessarily and tellingly incapable of more than absorbing and indexing the meaning always already external and latent in the object itself. Thus Locke did no better than his French antagonist in locating the human mind in the body, and placing the human individual in active intercourse with its environment in the ongoing ontogenesis of meaning.

____Before turning the corner on this brief survey of the roots of our modern Western notions of knowledge, value and meaning, it is important to make several points regarding the issues we have covered so quickly. First, it must be made clear that, though it would be difficult to overstate the myriad of profound effects Platonic and Aristotelian thought have had on the West's conceptions of meaning, I do not mean to argue categorically that these schemas have constrained the parameters of actual human experience. On the contrary, I want to suggest that, in countless ways, in an immeasurable number of lived moments, human experience has time and time again called into question the most basic tenets of these venerable theories of meaning. How is it possible, then, in the two and a half millennia since the time of Protagoras through the time of Descartes, Locke and the Western Enlightenment, that no major epistemologies were successfully posited or planted which could be said to effectively counter the vast suppositions and implications of the rationalist and empiricist epistemologies? Even if some very wise Greek men were able to articulate and establish such theories millennia ago, how have these biases persisted to the present day?

____Though there may be other explanations for this, I would like to argue three key reasons. First, returning to the cognitive error, the metaphysical-philosophic fallacy, which Dewey, Arendt and others have addressed, provides one set of answers to this riddle. And this brings us back to two elemental technologies: metaphor and zero. Another reason may simply be that these epistemologies were able to recruit some of the finest minds in Western history toward redirecting and channeling the visions of those rare heretics, prophets and scholars who articulated alternative courses back into these epistemological mainstreams. But first we turn to the question of metaphor.

____The enshrinement of the cognitive construct and its separation from the human subject is a phenomenon as old as humanity itself, at least since that time when that first symbolic signification allowed conscious cognition to splinter off from affective embodiment. In Life of the Mind, Arendt described the "actual function" of metaphor in language and thought: "The metaphor, bridging the gap between inward mental activities and the world of appearances, was certainly the greatest gift language could bestow on philosophy." Yet she cautions that, "the metaphor itself is poetic rather than philosophical in origin." Perhaps in their determination to provide a method of dialectical discourse as rigorously rational as the science of geometry, Plato, Aristotle and those who followed in their footsteps, sought to treat metaphor in discourse as a quasi-mathematical function, such as in the formula "A:B = C:D." Arendt notes that in imposing this mathematical universality on metaphor, the philosophers missed a crucial point about how human language actually functions. Drawing a poetic parallel between internal states and shared sensory experience serves to elucidate the internal state. In the sonnet which begins, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Shakespeare suggests distinctions of similarity and difference which allow us to understand the love he feels for this woman. Arendt points out that metaphor doesn't work the other way around. The poem teaches us nothing about summer weather. Arendt argues that the actual irreversibility of metaphor, as we discover through poetry rather than through philosophy, indicates the "absolute primacy of the world of appearances," the embodied nature of consciousness. Thus, "The two-world theory … is a metaphysical delusion with which the experience of thought is plagued. Language, by lending itself to metaphorical usage, enables us to think, that is, to have traffic with non-sensory matters, because it permits a carrying-over, metapherein, of our sense experiences. There are not two worlds because metaphor unites them" (in Dowdy, 176).

____As I will show in the following chapter, at least one culture in the Eastern hemisphere had begun, before the time of Socrates, to delve deeply into this question of human perceptual error and the foundational existential impacts it was believed to engender. Seife's historical analysis suggests that the difference may be indicated in the West's virulent rejection of the mathematical concept of "zero" and specifically in Aristotle's abhorrence of the notion of "nothingness." This would lead to an inability-or unwillingness-to accept the epistemological possibility of the absence of an a priori. When Aristotle's pupil, Alexander the Great, brought the concept of zero back with him to Athens following his conquest of Babylonia in 326 B.C., Euclidean geometry had been woven deep into the fabric of Greek social epistemology. To have accepted zero into the world of these established principles would have been to admit the existence of irrational numbers, a possibility which was anathema to the theories of meaning which had been built around geometry's universal and eternal forms. Zero would undermine Aristotle's meticulous proof of the Unmoved Mover at the outermost reaches of the celestial orbs. Seife describes how the concept of zero or nothingness was considered so disruptive and dangerous to the fabric of Athenian society that those who spoke of it could be sentenced to death. And they were. And so, in the absence of nothingness, the a priori space of metaphysical virtuality became an epistemological necessity, instituting the staggering, preternatural two-world theory, the alienation of mind and body, of humanity and its own creations.

____Augustine provides a compelling example of the way in which one potentially divergent social epistemology was effectively reconciled with classical Greek thought. Though this is not the place to enquire into the origins of Christian theology, it is arguable that Jesus of Nazareth's teachings were never designed to adhere strictly to either the traditional rationalist or empiricist theories of meaning. Though written accounts of his views appear to resonate somewhat with the Platonic notions of the duality of spirit and matter, scholars such as Kenneth Burke and Walter Spong have contended it is a safer bet that the Christian prophet's intention was to speak more explicitly against the vast, megalithic Roman "Empire of venality," and to recast human meaning within a reinvigorated and (at the time) radical devotion to family, community and brotherly love.

____Three centuries after the death of Christ, and by the time Augustine had converted from his earlier Neoplatonic allegiance to the Christian faith, the once-indomitable Roman Empire had also adopted Christianity as its own official doctrine of faith. And Rome was in a state of profound crisis and disarray. There was the threat of the Manichean heresy with which to contend, the dualistic Neoplatonic religion to which Augustine had belonged for nearly a decade of his adult life, then widely current in the Western Roman Empire. These followers of the second-century sage Mani held that the cosmos had at one time consisted of pure Light and spirit, but had been invaded by the physical realm of Darkness. The religion's followers had successfully institutionalized many of Plato's teachings in a theological division of members into the elect, who preached and performed no labor, and the far more numerous auditors, who hoped to be reborn as elect in return for devoting their lives to the physical labor upon which the communities subsisted. In addition, the Donatists, one powerful Christian sect, posed another significant threat to the cohesion of the Christian Roman Empire in holding that the sacraments were invalid unless administered by a sinless ecclesiastic. And the Pelagians presented yet another serious dilemma for the Roman Church in their steadfast denial of the doctrine of original sin. As bishop of Hippo, one of the most besieged cities in the Empire, and as Rome's preeminent theologian of the day, Augustine devoted himself to the task of negotiating this embattled epistemological terrain, to appeasing the vying interests, and crafting a tightly constructed cognitive schema within a viable and united Christian institution. Beyond battling these specific fractions, Augustine was further forced to explain how it was that Roman life was so much more secure when Rome was under Pagan rule when it was crumbling under the auspices of the Christian faith. In his rather heroic efforts to save Rome from disintegration and redeem Christianity, Augustine developed his cognitive schema of original sin and divine grace, divine sovereignty, and predestination. And, though history shows he was unable to prevent the dissolution of the Empire, his cognitive institution-building laid the lasting foundation upon which Roman Catholic and Protestant theology alike are largely based to this day. And this was accomplished through metaphor.

____As Burke and Dowdy have argued, it was Augustine's use of an elegantly effortless metaphorical device which provides the key to understanding how Augustine managed to fuse disparate theologies, defuse the warring inconsistencies of Platonic and Christian thought, and construct the overarching institutional epistemology we know of as modern Christianity. This was, of course, Augustine's notion of "the turning." His conception of the City of Man, which could only ever be the earthly and fallen incarnation of The City of God until its ultimate "turning" toward the divine, was his grand apologia and answer to the crisis of Rome under Christian dominion. And his conception of the ecclesiastic "turning," the priest's miraculous sanctification in the act of delivering the sacrament, did ultimately appease the Donatists, though not before their forces conquered the city Hippo and took the life of its esteemed bishop. Yet it was Augustine's meticulous articulation of these sociotechnical aesthetic/religious devices, and his metaphorical "turning" in particular, which enabled Augustine to construct the robust cognitive schema which would lastingly bridge the once-yawning schism between the Platonic and Christian designs for meaning, and between the transcendent life of the spirit and the persistent fact of the flesh.

____Yet, despite the remarkable persistence of the Platonic and Aristotelian legacies, in 18th and 19th century Europe Western epistemology took a sudden turn toward a concern with earthly human experience. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Descartes had assiduously constructed what had-by the time of the Industrial Revolution-come to be an epistemological, labyrinthine stronghold of established cognitive schemas. This cognitive framework had, in part due to an alchemy of trade, proselytizing and military incursions, been fortified, extended and enshrined throughout Europe and much of Western Asia. Throughout the church, academe, and the increasingly robust, mechanized political economy, Western man's devotion to those cognitive constructions of transcendent truths appeared unshakeable. And the human being's embodied, affective experience and dynamic interaction with its natural environment was consigned to that vast heap of worldly and unworthy concerns. The massive existential transformations of the Industrial Revolution, however, would finally redirect the course of Western thought-and from this point on Western conceptions of value and meaning would never be quite the same.

____And yet, in a parallel time, in the Eastern cultures of India, China and Japan, an altogether different and unique ontological space was being mapped and populated with technologies and subjectivities. And it is to these cultures and their social epistemologies that we must first turn for insights into how it might have been.


For the nascent perpetual innovation economy, the stasis of meaning is death. And this will have enormous ramifications for the evolution of Western social epistemology.



_ | Summary
0 | Introduction
1 | The Affect Economy
2 | Meaning Within Reason
3 | Meaning Beyond Reason
4 | A Return to Beauty
5 | Designing Value & Meaning
6 | Real World Case Studies
7 | Virtuality in the Flesh