Chaos and Cosmos

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  1. ## (2) The Archetype of the Silver Ribbon
  3. > Tan repetidas veces han enterrado a la metafísica que hay que juzgarla inmortal.
  5. -- Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección, p. 40
  7. > "But here is the kind of question which interests me: if there is no god, then, I ask you, who governs the life of man and the whole general order of the earth?"
  8. >
  9. > "Man himself governs it," Bezdomny hastened grumpily to answer this, one must admit, not entirely clear question.
  10. >
  11. > "But excuse me," the stranger responded gently, "in order to govern, one must have a definite plan for some, at least somewhat respectable, period of time. Allow me to ask how it is that man can govern, when he not only lacks the capacity to draw up any sort of plan even for a laughably short period, say, about a thousand years or so; but he cannot even be certain of what tomorrow might bring him? And really," here the stranger turned to Berlioz, "imagine that you, for instance, begin to govern and direct the affairs of others and of yourself, really start to develop a taste for it, one might say, and then suddenly... ehe, ehe... a lung sarcoma..." -- here the foreigner laughed a little, as though the thought of lung sarcoma gave him a decided pleasure, "yes, a sarcoma," -- closing his eyes like a cat he repeated the sonorous word, "and thence your governance draws to a close! The fate of no one besides yourself can interest you any longer. Your loved ones start to tell you lies. You, sensing the worst, throw yourself to the learned doctors, then to the charlatans, and perhaps even to the soothsayers. The first, the second, and the third of these measures are all completely meaningless, you understand that. And it all ends tragically: the one who quite recently thought that he governs something-or-other, is suddenly to be seen lying motionless in a wooden box, and the people around him, understanding that there is no use in his dead body, burn him in an furnace. And even worse things can happen: one moment a man is planning to take a relaxing trip to Kislovodsk," here the foreigner narrowed his eyes at Belioz, "a trifling matter, you'd think, but he cannot even accomplish that, as for reasons unknown he will slip and fall and get run over by a tram! Would you honestly say that it was he who so governed his own affairs? Is it not more correct to suppose that the governor in this matter was someone quite different?" -- and here the stranger laughed with a strange laughter.
  13. -- Mikhail Bulgakov, _Master and Margarita_, ch. 1
  15. ### (2a) Chaos and Cosmos
  17. Have you not heard, then, that this universe is Chaos? Stars and galaxies lie scattered as dust, and on a small corner of the tapestry our vanities clash and fade, the wider passing of the world indifferent to their outcome. We spend our lives in the forming of theories and stratagems to control this passing; yet there is no theory that can encompass and subsume the object of its speculation, and no stratagem that will achieve its object with absolute certainty. Some notions it is doubtless wiser to hold, some less so, but there is no assertion we can make about this universe of our experiences, that experience itself might not conceivably overturn and make into a mockery. If there is a Way that underlies the motions we observe, it is unknowable; there is no theory we can form that describes it perfectly.
  19. Yet, when we reason about our place in reality, if reason we at all, we do so as if the stars and particles were not scattered in the void, but formed a definite writing to our eyes which, when read carefully, suggests a notion of right premises that, when followed, lead us with inexorable certainty to right conclusions. Upon a writhing and indifferent existence we, inevitably, seek to paint a Cosmos. When we ponder how to act, we cannot help but to consult our sense of what this Cosmos is --
  21. -- for Chaos truly is indifferent, being merely a collection of things that happen. Why insist that one thing happen, rather than another? It all amounts to the same thing either way, a mote of dust that moves upon an endless sea of writhing dust.
  23. So, whether some Cosmos originated us, or whether we imagined a Cosmos, we must call on it all the same to explain why, from that point on, we should do one thing and not another. When we choose among its premises and conclusions, the Cosmos grants some definite object that we attain in doing so, and we may be confident that that it is not a matter of fancy or indifference to us that the pursuit of certain objects might be correct and of certain other ones invalid. This established, we naturally elect a proper object for our actions and follow a path that leads to it. The object, when we can agree on one, will be valid, and the path twisted but definite; so (and this feels exceeding strange to say) in a pure Cosmos it is superfluous even to wish Good Luck to its seeker; for once the seeker dedicates himself properly to a chosen object, the attainment of it becomes inevitable.
  25. The sense of absurdity I feel from this idea makes it clear that a pure Cosmos is not what we inhabit. How, then, does our understanding square with the Chaos that we observe? Shall we throw away such notions, and try to live by the Way of Chaos, which we cannot ever know and which does not prejudice us to act in one way or another? That we could even contemplate such a notion ...!
  27. We would certainly better profit by certain doctrines of the Cosmos, but -- the fact bears emphasis -- we cannot allow ourselves absolute certainty in their efficacy, which at any moment might be overturned. Whether we name such misplaced certainty *pride* and *vanity*, or dub its opposite *humility*, or argue that we must feel *gratitude* when our fears fail to materialize -- call it what we will -- we are facing an evident fact. A fact, moreover, which is metaphysical rather than verifiable, because our entire notion of verification and of falsification is defined in reference to it.
  29. ### (2b) our proper purview in relation to these notions
  31. We have presented a dualist metaphysics which consists of a Chaos and a Cosmos. Arguably, each notion includes the other, and hence either one would seem sufficient as a basis for reality.
  33. For on the one hand, all kinds of notions could arise in a Chaos. Can we definitely say that it will not bring forth some stray notions of sequence and validity, and hence an imagined Cosmos? This has become a popular view among recent minds.
  35. {And on the other hand, in the Cosmos itself things can always be said to happen with a purpose, as conclusions that arise from premises. More strongly, we can assert that a purposeless fact has no place in Cosmos properly. If we set up Cosmos as the primary mode of existence, we can regain Chaos readily by conceiving that a Cosmos, once it is seen to contain one purpose, will contain no ending to that purpose beyond which things are meaningless, but an expanding series of ever loftier purposes, that we can encompass only by claiming them all to be one single purpose of infinite scope. To be appropriate and proportionate, such a purpose demands the existence of Chaos of correspondingly infinite extent, a worthy target to be comprehended and organized; for otherwise the infinity of the purpose would be quite meaningless and redundant, a purposeless fact.}
  37. Is our reality Chaos or Cosmos? Both, or neither? We cannot ignore either sphere when we formulate our actions. For, looking forth into the world, we see neither Chaos nor Cosmos, but the thing that arises at their intersection. And we ourselves are beings trapped between the two, able neither to eradicate the mirage of some strange Cosmos from our minds in favour of living entirely with the Way of Chaos, nor to be completely sure that there is any foundation we could establish in our lives that the vagaries of Chaos might not tear down at a whim.
  39. Now there is a basic assumption which our discussion has been ignoring; but if we were to set it aside entirely, we would negate the very purpose of starting the discussion in the first place. When we seek to apply _intelligence_ for the purpose of formulating _our actions_ -- whether this is a habitual whim, or aimed towards some specific purpose -- we are not quite assuming Chaos or Cosmos. In Chaos things happen for no particular reason; in Cosmos, they happen as the inexorable consequence of certain initial premises. There is not much room for us to choose and act, either way.
  41. Thus each thinking being has its proper purview, even if it be as narrow as the present moment, and as small as the contents of its own mind. Within this purview the being's control is sovereign; outside, there is Chaos and Cosmos; in the interaction between the being and the world outside reside the tentative, hoped-for outcomes of the sovereign action. In fact, purview itself can be described as the point of connection between Cosmos and Chaos in our daily existence; where actions reside that have their origin and justification in the Cosmos and their uncertain effects within the Chaos.
  43. We can distinguish between two doctrines, one where our purview makes us the instruments of some infinite purpose and the front line of an all-out incursion into the universe of Chaos of something very much different; and another where it is simply the imagination of a beleaguered figment, intended to briefly stave off some undulation of the dust that the figment finds disagreeable; but this is all a difference of degree rather than of fact, different ways of registering our opinion that Cosmos is weak, or strong, relative to Chaos. For Cosmos exists to the extent that we conceive of purpose and action, for we cannot conceive of purpose and action out of Chaos alone. As for how strong Cosmos is in this world, we are very much the instruments that prove it, in the end, to be thus or otherwise.
  45. ### (2c) the hope of expanding one's proper purview
  47. We are ready to learn the first lesson of the Silver Ribbon, which is to act within the proper bounds of one's purview. When we comprehend the definition of the word *purview*, this is almost a tautology. The things within our purview are the things we control, and we should not leave them to chance when some purpose is at stake; while the things outside our purview, we cannot control by definition, and it is silly to speak of them as anything other than a source of unexpected events to be prepared for.
  49. It is just that through our contemplation of Chaos, we have arrived at a doubt that our purview is very extensive at all.
  51. {TODO -- probably say what I mean without dragging the Stoics into this; my conception of them is probably too negative and limited to do the philosophy justice:
  53. We can certainly own the present moment, and the intent of our own mind, and take up the training of the Stoics, and seek to *think* and *react* in the proper fashion as the universe batters us with misfortunes. Even here we may be beaten back. Chaos, as we have always known, lies both within the mind as well as without it -- and indeed, the inner and outer worlds mirror one another, the world without inspiring the contents of the mind and the contents of the mind shaping behaviour in the world without. If we govern the mind, we will inevitably govern our actions in the world outside, and so while the prescriptions of the Stoics may be correct, I cannot share in their surfeit of pessimism.
  55. It is certain, however, that the modern world suffers from too little of such Stoicism rather than too much. How often do you hear that 'we should do something', where the word 'we', when examined, is found to be some far-away imperial government, complex and opaque beyond the speaker's comprehension, divided against itself at that, and dragging out its twilight days of rule over a population greater and more varied than the mortal imagination can safely comprehend. How, I ask, does such a notion conceivably become 'we'? And, if we claim it as 'we', how do we expect to guarantee its behaviour?
  57. {... further examples for those unconvinced by political passivism
  58. - within my own mind: expecting that I will act a certain fashion in the future based merely on temperament, without understanding that temperament is a fickle and chaotic foundation to build such plans on, and that steps need to be taken to govern my temperament for the scheme to work
  59. - ...
  60. ...}
  62. The fortress of what I assumed to be my purview has stood all my life, unthought-of and unexamined, its defenses crumbling on sight. Are there really any actions that I can lay claim on undertaking?
  64. Hence I are tempted to say -- my purview is small and feeble. But it need not always be so. What actions and understandings serve to expand its scope? How am I to become certain of what is within my mind? And in the world outside?}
  66. {...}
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