Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boundaries and the Holographic Principle

I've been thinking of boundaries as included middles, or zones of engagement, which transcend the separation of entities into discrete units required by the classical logic of the excluded middle—A is A, A is not non-A, and there is no entity T which is both A and non-A. The logic of the included middle demonstrates that T exists, and quantum physics and complexity theory say that T not only exists but is a fundamental feature of Reality. If you want to know how things work, then you must wrap your head around T, the included middle.

In my previous posts, I suggested that to my mind, Edgar Morin has provided us with several characteristics of boundaries as zones of engagement, or included middles, rather than lines of separation. The first two are the dialogic principle and circular causality. The third characteristic that I explore in terms of Frost's Mending Wall is the holographic principle, which Morin defines in The Reform of Thought (in Nicolescu's Transdisciplinarity: Theory and Practice, 2008):
In a system, in a complex world, not only is a part found in the whole (for example, we human beings are in the cosmos), but the whole is found in the part. Not only is the individual in the society but the society is within us since birth; it inculcated us with language, culture, its prohibitions, its norms. (26, 27)
I was fortunate to recently read a new book by Neal Shubin called The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People (2013), in which Mr. Shubin, a University of Chicago paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, demonstrates repeatedly how the patterns of the Universe—its energy, matter, and information—from the Big Bang to now are echoed within each of us, as well as within rocks, plants, and planets. The patterns for the human ear, for instance, were worked out some 350 million years ago in a fish called Panderichthys. The energy, material, and informational patterns of the Universe are echoed within each entity. As the fractal images of Mandelbrot have so beautifully shown us, self-similar patterns repeat and echo at each level of Reailty.

The most cursory exploration of the term holographic principle demonstrates that it has a rather specific meaning in quantum physics, which I do not have the skill or knowledge to discuss, but again, I think that Frost's poem Mending Wall can give the non-scientific among us a way to approach the idea and work with it usefully.

First, the poem paints for us the relationship between two men, the narrator and his neighbor, based in large part on the dialogic tension between their two points of view about walls: "something there is that doesn't love a wall", on the one hand, and "good fences make good neighbors", on the other. This dialogic tension, or pattern, echoes the patterns between electrons and nuclei or planets and stars. The dialogic relationship at each level is, of course, not identical, but I think it is self-similar. This pattern of an interactive tension between antagonistic entities is the stuff of life, certainly of human relationships (This tension does not necessarily suggest violence. Love has its own tensions, but that's another post.). It is this tension between Life and Death, Order and Chaos that allows for the development of the Reality. Like his predecessor William Blake, Frost is able to "see a world in a grain of sand" (Auguries of Innocence), or in a wall.

This echoing of patterns within and without and across different levels of reality suggests to me another way to think about Deleuze and Guattari's concept of decalcomania, which tries to capture the propagation of patterns throughout a system, or a rhizome. Something there is within each of us that recognizes patterns in the other and that echoes those patterns, that responds to the patterns of the Universe. If you yawn, I will yawn—it can be that ordinary. Note that the narrator responds to and echoes the patterns of his neighbor, for despite his dislike of walls, he is the one who calls to his neighbor to arrange their mending game. He responds to the pattern of the game and plays his part as well as the neighbor does.

Moreover, the narrator echoes the New England stubbornness of his neighbor. In the poem, we see the relationship between the two men only from the narrator's point of view. He views his neighbor as a primitive "old-stone savage armed" who "will not go behind his father's saying, / And he likes having thought of it so well / He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors." Clearly the narrator believes his neighbor to be stubbornly unenlightened, but can't we easily imagine the neighbor viewing the narrator in about the same light—or darkness: a fellow who keeps repeating the same old saw, "something there is that doesn't love a wall." The neighbor might be wondering—as the narrator does—why his neighbor can't see beyond his own narrow prejudices. The two men echo each other, and therein lies their game. Each holds within himself the pattern of the other. Together, they contain the patterns of the Universe, turning the wall between them into a zone of engagement, an included middle. I think.
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