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"It was sheer chance that I encountered David Bohm's writing in 1958 ... I knew nothing about him. What struck me about his work and prompted my initial letter was his underlying effort to seek for some larger sense of reality, which seemed a very humanized search." - Charles Biederman, from the foreword of the book
This book marks the beginning of a four thousand page correspondence between Charles Biederman, founder of Constructivism in the 1930s, and David Bohm the prestigious physicist known for his interpretation of quantum theory. Available for the first time, we are given a rare opportunity to read through and engage in a remarkable transatlantic, intellectual discussion on art and science, creativity and theory.
A NEW VISION OF TOTALITY
March 6, 1960
Dear Professor Bohm:
I believe that whenever one comes across a book that has become a tremendous experience to read, one should let the author know it. This is what your book, Causality and Chance, has been for me. I read it just recently, and I will have to read it again.
To explain my interest in your book. To put it briefly, the notion of indeterminism has always seemed contrary to experience, which, even after reading your very fine book, I cannot accept even as an eventually limiting case.
It seemed an almost inescapable error that the early mechanistic outlook should have arrived at an absolute. But I think there is something else afoot when the complementary-indeterministic orientation also arrived at an absolute. For the latter takes place in a period when there is a general awareness of the non-absolute character of our structural knowledge about nature. When the first mechanistic outlook fell, there had been no crisis in science but just the opposite; afterwards there was the tremendous effort to re-orient. In the present stage of the mechanistic view, there came a genuine crisis, and it appears to me that complementary-indeterminism is but a rationalization of that crisis.
This effort impresses me as the Surrealism of science. When the old view of nature was no longer adequate for the further continuance of art, the Surrealists,unable to wrest a new order from nature, assumed the view of nature as "disorder." I sympathize with your belief that a deeper penetration will reveal a nature of causality. But there is the possibility that this will also dispel the basis for the present "lawless" view of nature and, rather than make it a limited case, will dispense with it entirely.
But I must tell you why I feel so deeply the reading of your book. It is because in general your view of nature appears to substantiate the direction in which I have been considering these problems, not from the view of a physicist, but from that of an artist. I have been concerned with the hiatus that exists between art and science, the disparity and separation that exists between these two fields. And, what better place to get at the problem than to consider their respective orientations to nature as reality. The view I have gradually been approaching is one that appears to be enforced by some of your conclusions.
Three years ago I wrote a long essay on "Mondrian and Science." It seems very likely that it will finally reach publication sometime this year. If you will permit me, I would like to send you a copy when it appears.
May I thank you for making your views possible for me to read. My feelings for hope for the future are increased by such as you.
3, Berkshire Road
March 26, 1960
Dear Mr B.:
Thank you very much for your letter of March 6, in which you express a good opinion of my book, Causality and Chance. I am particularly happy that you, as an artist, found the ideas in the book interesting. I too have been concerned with the gap between science and other fields of human endeavour. I regard this gap as bad both for the scientist and for the non-scientist. On the one hand, the general conceptions of the scientist are strongly influenced by general ideas that are, so to speak, "in the air", in any given period; and on the other hand, science contributes ideas which strongly influence the thinking of subsequent periods.
There is no doubt that the currents of thought, emotion, and general reaction to social and world conditions, which led to Positivism and Existentialism in philosophy, to Surrealism, Expressionism and Action Painting in art, to similar trends in literature, etc., have contributed heavily to the ideas behind the Bohr interpretation of the quantum theory. Nevertheless, the problem is very complicated, because all these reactions contain aspects of truth, inexplicably mixed up with a great deal of falsehood. For example, in science, there really has been a breakdown of older ideas on causality, space--time, etc., and Bohr's point of view expresses certain aspects of this breakdown correctly. Similarly, Existentialism exposes certain weaknesses and hypocrisies that are really in our social and personal relations; and it raises in a sharp form the problem of what can be meant by freedom. In art, the older classical forms no longer express modern reality, and some new development seems to be needed. Similarly, in literature, the form of the novel does not seem to be adequate to expressing the complicated and ambiguous character of the individual today, which results from his new social relations.
The pity is that the kernel of truth in all of these movements has swept many people along into swallowing a tremendous number of false aspects at the same time. (One could say that people find it difficult to keep the baby without also keeping the bath water.)
Thus people are led to adopt inadequate, excessively negative attitudes to themselves, to their fellow men, to society as a whole, etc. In this way they contribute to worsening the very breakdown that they are reflecting.
What is missing is a new overall point of view that is adequate to our new situation, our new relationships, and our new knowledge. We cannot ever return to the old ideas, but it is important also not to throw up our hands in despair and to adopt irrational points of view.
I am looking forward very much to reading your article when it arrives.
Very sincerely yours,
April 11, 1960
Dear Professor Bohm:
Thank you very much for yours of March 26. I read your letter with considerable interest, and I regret that it is my misfortune that I cannot talk with you on the problems that are of mutual interest.
You were probably being kind to me, but I had hoped you might respond directly to some of the statements I made dealing with the subject of your book. If I am saying what seem to you foolish things about science, I'd feel you were doing me a service to say so. Unfortunately I do not know any scientist with whom I can discuss problems of science and art, let alone one of your competence. On my own I read what science books I can afford, and hope each time that I will be able to comprehend something of their contents. This reminds me to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed the clear way in which you wrote your book, the lack of pomposity, and the very genuine devotion to your work reflected in your words. Except for the mathematics I think I will be able to comprehend most of what you write, by reading it until I do.
There is one thing that has always remained a mystery to me about the use of all such terms in science, as random, lawless, indeterministic, disorder, etc., etc. How does one distinguish disorder from order in the structure of nature? It appears to me that when the physicist describes the variable activities of the individual atoms to all the others observed, he does no more than produce a description. He then proceeds, as I see it, to take what remains a descriptive abstraction and offers it in terms of an inferential abstraction. If this is the case, one is not being given any empirical evidence, but only the manipulation of words where there is a confusion of descriptive with inferential abstractions.
I was extremely interested in the subject of your letter, and the wide view you have of it. Would you be interested in writing an article, expanding these notions for an art magazine? A friend of mine in Canada is starting a new magazine, it will be called The Structurist and devoted to that contemporary art that followed out of the Dutch school of De Stijl. We are anxious to have articles by scientists such as you who can write along the lines you take in your letter to me. So I hope you will be interested. Have you published anything along these lines?
I was particularly struck by your statement that Bohr's formulations were greatly influenced by what was going on in other fields of activity than his own. Could you be more specific? For this seems like something of extremely vital importance which should be publicly made available. In my article mentioned in my previous letter, I am mostly concerned with the adverse effects science has had on art, because of the narrow concern of scientists and the erroneous use of their theories by artists. I also state that art has failed to exert its beneficial influence upon the course of science, the opposite of that aspect you mention in your letter.
You write that "some new development seems to be needed" in art. Since 1937 I have been working and gradually formulating such a development. In 1948 I published the results of ten years of writing, to indicate by means of evolving history just what sort of new development was potential to our times. I am sending you a copy of this book. In it you will discover that I cannot agree with you, as regards Surrealism, Expressionism and Action Painting, as possessing what you call a "kernel of truth." To my view, these and most other art movements of our century, like political and other social forces, have used certain kernels of truth as the means for escaping the extremely difficult problems of our times, and resorting to pathology in art and barbarism in politics, solutions of violence whether with a brush or guns.
Since my 1948 book appeared, a number of artists have gone in the general direction I formulated, especially since about 1950. These artists are English, Dutch, Canadians and Americans. I am enclosing three issues of their magazine published in Amsterdam. All these artists are concerned with the relation between art and science, as you will see they represent differing viewpoints on both subjects. I would welcome your severest criticism of my essay "Art and Science as Creation" appearing in one of these issues. I am also sending you a copy of my most recent book, The New Cézanne, which, in effect, has the purpose of showing the transition from the old mimetic view of nature to the new view of nature as a creative process.
My best wishes,
3, Berkshire Road
April 24, 1960
Dear Mr Biederman:
Thank you very much for your letter of April 11. I am awaiting the receipt of your book and articles with great interest. I am afraid however, that I cannot write the article you suggest for The Structurist, mainly because I really know very little about art and do not feel qualified to write on the subject, or even on the relation between physics and art. Perhaps after I read your book and articles we might discuss this question further.
As for Bohr's being influenced by what was going on in other fields, he admits (privately) that he was strongly affected by Kierkegaard's Existentialism. The point of contact is in the question of the dual nature of subject and object, of action and contemplation, etc. In physics, there arises the analogous problem that the observing apparatus (which is the proxy of the observing subject) is linked to the rest of the universe by indivisible quanta. Indeed, this is only a special case of the universal linkage of each part of the universe to the whole in the same way. Such a linkage means that the essential sides of the very being of each system are in its indivisible quantum relationships with what it is not (i.e. what is other to it). This holds as much for the observing subject (or for his proxy, the observing apparatus), as it does for any object that we might care to distinguish from its background. As a result, there is an inherent ambiguity in what each partial system is, because what it is is in essential respects, its relation to its other. In this way, physics has led to the denial of the mechanistic idea of a universe made up of distinct parts (or elements), such that each part exists separately and simply comes into interaction with other parts. This idea of ambiguity of the mode of being of parts is, in my opinion, a very deep one, and of fundamental importance for further progress. It is very significant that even in physics, the science where analysis into parts is developed to the utmost, one discovers that this is, in fact, not a correct description of reality.
The connection with Existentialism is fairly clear. The Existentialists are concerned with the question of being vs. existence. They, in my opinion correctly, feel that there is a wide gap between our concrete existence and our apprehension of this through ideas which describe what we are. When we look deeply into ourselves, we find that all our usual well defined ideas about ourselves become arbitrary, unnecessary, fade into nothingness (much as happens in the atomic domain when we try to follow an atomic process in great detail). People who have reflected long (perhaps too long) on these questions, quite justifiably begin to feel anxiety, fear, nausea, etc., because the whole foundation of their being seems to lose its solidity and its value. We discover that the question of what we are is, in considerable measure, ambiguous. And it is not surprising when we think of why this should happen. For in such introspection, one part of the self separates itself and tries to look at another part. In a rough analysis, it can see certain outlines of characteristics, more or less. But as a closer inspection proceeds, ambiguity inevitably appears, because an essential side of the self that is being watched is in the self that is watching, and of course, vice versa. Thus, it is just as wrong to split the self into observer and "objective" self as it is to split the world in two. This is a split that is OK for some restricted purposes, but it is wrong as an expression of the universal and necessary laws of being of the universe or any part of it.
Thus far, then, I find myself in agreement with Bohr. Where I disagree is in his contention that we can merely accept this state of affairs as an irreducible fact, and that we cannot make any further progress towards comprehending how everything (including ourselves) exists in this indivisible relation in which its full being is only in the whole. I think that it is possible to go further and to develop a mathematical and physical theory which gives us some conception of this new relation of part to whole. Perhaps I could say we need a kind of "vision of totality", mathematical and perhaps ultimately, artistic, literary, social, etc. as well. This vision would (like all our partial conceptions) distort and leave out a great deal. Nevertheless, it might carry us a step further in our understanding of the problem.
This new point of view depends on understanding the world and each part as infinite. Here, it is not merely quantitatively infinite, for such an infinity is still limited to repetition endlessly of a certain quality. Nor is it merely qualitatively infinite. For this is still limited to the need for endless change of quality. True infinity cannot be limited by anything else at all. Either we can say that it has no "other", or else that the infinite is its own other. This amounts to saying that true infinity is self-limiting, or that it is free (in the sense that there is nothing outside it to limit it).
Here, it is important to stress that if the infinite did not limit itself, it would have no being at all. For whenever we have to do with something, there must be a limit (e.g., it is not something else). Hence, it is essential to define the infinite as self-limiting, and not just as the unlimited, which would be nothing at all.
This is where the finite comes in. The finite is the limit in the infinite. (It is important to avoid saying "limit of the infinite" as this would deny that the infinite is really infinite, i.e., unlimited by anything outside of it.) The illusion that is common to most thinking is that the finite exists in itself (i.e., that a particle exists in a certain part of space). Actually the finite exists only as a side or aspect of the infinite totality. We get into serious errors by imagining that certain entities (e.g., electrons or men) are only finite. In reality, everything is basically infinite and only secondarily, finite.
Here, we have an interesting new feature which first appears in the mathematics of the infinite. Thus, the number of points in any region of space is infinite, no matter what size this region may be. It is therefore possible to map the whole of infinite space into any part of it. In other words, to each point in the larger space corresponds a point in the smaller one. Hence, every region of space, however small, can reflect the whole. Even more, the relation between each part and the whole can also be reflected in the part. Thus, even the simple quantitative infinity of space has the new feature that not only is each part in the whole but so also can the whole be in each part (in the sense of a reflection, at least). This feature is reminiscent in my opinion, of certain features of some paintings, where each part reflects other parts and even the whole, with regard to colour, form, composition and other elements which go to make up the picture.
The above idea of the infinite shows already the breakdown of the notion that the world can be divided into separately existing parts. For already, even in this very simple view, an essential aspect of what each part is is that it reflects the other parts.
The further extension of the idea of infinity to time leads to an even more radical change. Here, what is suggested is to reverse the usual idea of first imagining time and then saying that things exist and move in time. Rather, we begin with existence and process, and say that time is the order in this process. Thus, we define each time concretely as the "time when" such and such existed, or changed, and each position as the "place where" it was, etc. To carry through such a view consistently, we should begin with the concept of totality, which is infinite and eternal. This includes all that there is, was and will be. If we knew this, we would know all reality. We would know every concrete existent, every law (relationship) and the limits of every law. Of course, we can only select out certain aspects of this totality. Each science reflects some aspect, the arts another, the poet another, and so on. Even more fundamental is the split corresponding to past and future. At any one moment, one side of eternity is reflected as "past", i.e., it is gone. Another side is the future, which is yet to come. On the basis of some limited knowledge of the past, we try to project our knowledge, with limited success, towards the future. Actually, what is present now is neither the past nor the future, but a reflection of these, which if interpreted properly would tell us, in principle, all about them (only that this would require an infinite effort of interpretation). The split that we make at each moment is to divide all existence, at that moment, into two sides, one reflecting that which has been, the other implying that which will be. The reflection of that which has been is what is available to us immediately. Nevertheless, both sides actually exist together in each moment, they combine to make a totality. As a result, one side implies the other. I suggest here an analogy to advertising signs made of flashing coloured electric lights. In this way pictures are made, let us say with red and blue lights. Suppose we could only see the red lights (which are analogous to the reflection of the past). Then the general outline of the blue parts of the picture would be implied by the red parts, but its details would be missing. Thus, we would know something of the "shape of things to come" but not very much in detail.
I suggest that the above is the way in which we apprehend selected aspects of reality. They are selected by our location in space and time, by the nature of our senses and interests, by the character of our instruments, knowledge, skills, techniques, etc. Everything that we know is a selection out of an infinite totality. But here we must be careful. Even our knowledge as well as our thoughts, feelings, etc., are parts or sides of this totality. Remember here the point made by Niels Bohr, that anything less than the totality is, in some extent, ambiguous in its mode of being. Thus, even if we consider the whole universe, but leave ourselves out of it, we will leave essential ambiguities in the picture. For just as much as the mode of being of each man is completed only in his relationships to other people and to the rest of the world, so also is the mode of being of other people and the rest of the world complete only in their relationships to that man. This shows up, for example, in that nature without man is very different from nature with man in it (and transformed by man). Each man may contribute something essential to the being of others, and even to nature. Of course, usually it does not seem to happen this way, but this may be because we do not understand ourselves. Especially, we do not understand that each man is potentially infinite, and that if he were able to realize himself as such, he could have an enormous effect on other people, simply by being what he is (because it could become clear to other people in this way that they too are potentially infinite).
The above point of view implies that the notion that there exist "things" that are only finite is at best, a crude simplification, good enough for some purposes, but basically wrong in its overall implications. Since the very idea of a "thing" implies limitation and finiteness, we could say that in a sense, there is really no "thing" in the world. Even chairs, tables, etc., which seem at first sight to be limited "things" are not really so. If we apply a little heat, the molecules go into movement and they dissolve away into gas. Put them into an atomic pile and even their atoms would dissolve away into other atoms and energy. At very high energies all kinds of particles transform into each other. Thus, there are really no final or eternal limits on what any "thing" actually is, or can become. Such limits are only of relative validity, i.e. the limitations are themselves limited in their domains of validity. Thus, even the simplest "things" are really infinite, and much more so, the same holds for man, who is infinitely more complex and subtle in his make-up.
Considering the above, it is therefore not surprising that man's first impression of infinity is a sense of "nothingness". Thus, the empty night skies suggest infinity. What this really means is that all the apparently solid and everlasting features of nature, society, ourselves, etc., are realized to be founded on essentially nothing at all (or at least what is essentially nothing in relation to the totality). Every one of these things has something in it arbitrary, contingent, and therefore it is subject to being altered or destroyed by what is outside of it (as well as perhaps by its own internal laws of development). Even what seemed to us the most eternal values are seen to partake of this nature. It is therefore not surprising that this view has much in it that is frightening to all of us.
The other side of the picture is, however, that infinity denies the self-existent reality only of the finite. It does not mean a bare and empty nothingness at all. Rather, it means that no finite form is everlasting or complete in itself. This can be understood as the certainty that we must eventually lose everything that we have, or are. But it can also be understood as infinite freedom. We are not bound permanently by anything in the past (even though we must take the consequences of the past into account in all our calculations). There is a real freedom in the universe, in the sense that every form of necessity has its limits. If we know those limits, we can take the appropriate actions and remove ourselves from the dominion of any particular kind of necessity, thus becoming free, at least in that respect.
Engels has said that "freedom is the recognition of necessity". On the basis of the above discussion, I would argue that this is a misleading simplification, because mere recognition of necessity does not liberate us. For example, we all recognize the necessity that we must die, but we go on dying whether we like it or not. To be free of death we would have to understand the limitations of the laws that make death necessary, and to take the appropriate steps to remove ourselves from the dominion of these laws. We are at present able to do this in a small way. Thus, some of the causes of death are the actions of bacteria. If we take steps to remove ourselves from subjection to bacteria, we free ourselves from some of those things that make death necessary. But the more fundamental origin of the necessity of death is in our own internal processes that constitute our mode of life. And these are what we must understand if we are really to prolong life in a fundamental way.
You may now ask what is the positive content of freedom? In other words, after we have removed ourselves from the dominion of necessity, what will we do? The answer to this question is I think, closely related to the nature of art. We are really asking ourselves, "What are we, most essentially, after we have removed all external factors that now limit us?" I suggest that each one of us is something infinite, which at least reflects the infinite totality. This something should itself be a kind of whole. That is, it should have the kind of completeness, unity, integral character, etc., that is in a good picture. In such a picture, one cannot analyse the whole into separately existing parts (e.g. spots of paint etc.). Rather, to the extent that the picture is a real work of art, the justification of each part is only in the whole picture. Similarly, with regard to our own existence in time and space, we do not say that the past completely determines the future, for this would deny novelty to the future and wholeness to our existence in time. Rather, we say that the past in some way limits the future (remember the analogy of the picture made of flashing lights, in which the past shows "the shape of things to come" but not its details). Nevertheless, there is room for something new to exist in its own right. The freedom of each new thing to be what it really is, is limited by the past. This limitation applies to ourselves as well as to everything else in the world. But insofar as we understand these limitations, we can remove ourselves from their dominion and we can, in a sense, make room to allow us to be what we are, i.e. a complete, whole person, not only at one moment, but over a whole lifetime. In such a mode of existence there is genuine freedom, in the sense that the future is not fully determined by the past any more than, for example, the left-hand side of a picture is fully determined by its right-hand side. Rather, both sides simply make up the whole picture, in the sense that, while they limit each other in certain ways, this limitation is incomplete when the whole picture is not taken into account.
Of course, in doing all this, we cannot ignore causality, any more than the painter can ignore the requirements of technique, the properties of paint, etc. It is just by understanding causality very deeply that we can find its limitations, which leave room for us to be free, as the painter by mastering his materials and techniques finds room to express freely something that is an essential side of himself. By the word "express" one does not mean that this something is already there in him, fully formed and just waiting to come out. Rather, one means that it comes into this form fully only in the process of expression. Thus, the process has in it an aspect that is free, not determined by anything other than itself, i.e. it has the character of the infinite to be self-limiting (or perhaps, to be "creative", it could be said).
All of this raises another interesting point. A good picture is not only an integral whole, but even more, it achieves this wholeness by expressing something having universal significance. In other words, while it is something specific, particular, limited in its existence, etc., its relationships to its parts are rich enough and of the right character to suggest the universe and its relationships to its parts. Thus, it is "universal" in the sense that somehow its structure reflects that of the universe. In other words, it makes a kind of "world in itself". But besides this, it must make clear the other side of the truth, viz. that the picture is also not a world in itself, but obtains its full significance by its relationship to what is outside of it. In this way, it obtains another kind of universality. And I think that each truly existent thing does the same (a human life that could be lived freely, for example). In its structure, there is a wholeness that suggests a world in itself, yet this wholeness is not self-existent, but rather exists only in its relationship to the complete whole.
I am afraid that I have been getting a bit out of my field in the above speculations. Nevertheless, I would appreciate hearing how they strike you as an artist.
I have gone a lot further toward developing these ideas in mathematical form, but they are still only in a preliminary stage of formulation. Perhaps we could discuss them further after I hear from you about what I have written so far.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I summarized the main idea I have been developing so far. It is based on the notion that anything less than the infinite and eternal totality of all that there is, was or will be, is inherently ambiguous as to what it is, because essential aspects of its being reside in its relationship to this totality. This ambiguity applies in all divisions that we make (subject--object, universal--particular, one science vs. another, science vs. art, etc., etc.). The most fundamental division is time itself, which divides this totality (at each moment) into two parts, that which has (at that moment) passed away and that which is (at that moment) yet to come. Each new moment constitutes a new division of this totality, containing a reflection of all previous divisions.
At first sight, we tend to conclude that the past and the future are each well defined in their being, with no ambiguity as to what they are. But a more careful analysis shows that essential aspects of the being of each are in their relation to the other. Thus, there is some ambiguity in past and future. We experience this ambiguity in certain ways directly. For when we try to say "now", we find that by the time we have said it, the time that we meant is already past, and no longer "now". And if we try to do it with clocks, so as to be more precise, quantum theory implies that a similar ambiguity would arise because of the quantal structure of matter. In fact, there is no known way to make an unambiguous distinction between past and future.
If we follow through the consequences of this ambiguity, we see that there is room for genuine freedom. For it becomes impossible that the past shall completely determine the future, if only because there is no way to say unambiguously what the past really was until we know its future. In other words, as in a work of art, each part acquires its full meaning only in its relation to the whole. To a certain extent, we are led to a conception of being, which cannot be specified unambiguously at one moment of time.
My disagreement with Bohr is that he stops with just giving the limitations on the older mechanistic and deterministic points of view, and discourages the development of new categories of thought concerning space, time, existence, etc., in which one will see the reasons for these limitations. Thus, if determinism is limited, this need not be a complete mystery. It may only mean that we must have a different idea of what things are, which shows quite naturally why determinism is limited. If we get a different idea of time and of what is to be meant by existence in time, then we see a natural reason why the past would not determine the future (e.g., as has been suggested, the law is not that the past shall determine the future completely, but rather, that the whole shall form a unity, as in a picture or a musical composition).
As you may perhaps have noticed, my ideas on determinism and indeterminism have developed since I wrote Causality and Chance, although what I now think about these questions was to a considerable extent, implicit in the point of view expressed in the book. To relate this to what you said in your first letter (March 6), I would say that neither determinism nor indeterminism (causality or chance) is absolute. Rather, each is just the opposite side of the whole picture. Wherever there is one of these categories, there must also be the other. Our method should be to begin with something that goes beyond both of these categories, viz., the infinite and eternal totality. We want to get to know what the totality is and how indeterministic it is. The role of indeterminism is merely to describe the fact that causal relation in time does not exhaust the whole of being. It does not mean absolute lawlessness, but only that any particular chain of lawful relationship is limited, i.e. not completely universal in its domain of validity. These limits leave room for new relations and new kinds of totalities to come into existence. In terms of a sufficiently broad context, all laws and all limits to these laws are seen to follow from the fact that the whole (which includes time as well as space) is indeed a kind of unity.
With regard to your letter of April 11, you ask about the use of terms in science such as "random", "lawless", "indeterministic", "disorder" etc., "How does one distinguish order from disorder?" You are quite right in supposing that there is a great deal of arbitrariness and confusion here. Nevertheless, I believe that underneath it all, there is a real problem that remains to be solved, and that it is not just a question of "descriptive abstraction". For example, in the question of determinism vs. indeterminism, there is as I have said, a necessary complementary relation of the two ideas. Each event can always be studied (a) as unique and singular, at least in some aspects, and (b) as part of a causal chain. To be unique and singular, there must be something in it which is not just a reflection of other elements in the chain, e.g. its past, although it may, in part, be such a reflection. Similarly, every chain of determination has a beginning and an end. From the point of view in which we consider this chain, we must say that here this particular form of determinism becomes irrelevant, and we have a lack of such determinism. Likewise we may consider elements which are, in a narrow context, unique, singular and not essentially related to each other. In a broader context (e.g. space and time) one will see them coming into relation, as necessary parts of the broader whole. Thus, each form of indeterminism is also limited. Similar ideas can be developed with regard to order vs. disorder, randomness vs. law, etc.
With regard to your view concerning Surrealism, Expressionism and Action Painting, I agree in considerable measure with you about them. I personally do not like them, nor do I regard them as really healthy trends in art. However, where I differ from you is in my evaluation of their significance. I think that many of their proponents have honestly been trying to solve real problems. Of course, they have attracted many charlatans, but then so has every other form of art, including what has been called "classical". One must avoid the tendency to attribute malicious intentions to these people (e.g. that they "have used certain kernels of truth as the means of escaping the extremely difficult problems of our times, restoring to pathology in art and barbarism in politics, solutions of violence whether with a brush or guns").
What I think is closer to the truth is that these movements focus on isolated facets of reality, mistaking them for a whole or a universal essence of the whole. In this connection, I think that from the times of the Impressionists and perhaps before, there has existed a dissatisfaction with the older representational forms of art. It has been felt that they somehow give too superficial a view of reality. There have been many movements, whose main content has been based on the feeling that all the apparently solid aspects of life, as it is seen in common experience, are really not very substantial, and that something else very different lies beneath this. Naturally, in doing this, they have tended to stress what is chaotic, meaningless, deceptive, etc. There is even a grain of truth in such a vision. Consider, for example, the Surrealists, who tend to suggest that behind all the common and reassuring features of everyday life, is something absurd. They do this either by an abnormal increase of irrelevant detail in too uniform and clear a light, or else by taking a picture which is very realistic and everyday in each of its parts, and yet which adds up to something frightening or absurd. In doing this, they suggest something that is true about the world that we live in (e.g. something like the Nazi concentration camps, some of which were covered with slogans like "work enriches life").
Where all these movements go wrong is that their proponents get so attached to the particular facet of truth that they have discovered that they cannot go on to something new, something more positive and creative. But I doubt that there is any plan in their minds to be violent or to do any dirty work. In this respect, they are no different from some of their opposing counterparts, such as the school of Socialist Realism in the Soviet Union. The latter are reflecting an idea common in that country that what they are building has eternal value. As a result, they are disturbed when any work of art suggests the impermanence and doubtful significance of a great deal of what they are doing. They too cannot look at the whole truth, and engage in violence to suppress the other side, and to force a certain style on artists (also with, in all probability, very good intentions).
I should perhaps add here that my first reactions to modern art were almost entirely negative. However, in some respects, I have changed my mind. For example, with regard to Rouault, I first felt that his pictures were very discouraging and depressing. Gradually, I began to see them in a new light. In particular, last year in London, I saw a picture of his, The Old Clown, part of the E. G. Robinson collection, I believe. At first, it seemed to be rather a mixed up set of patches of colour. But gradually, it began to take shape. In particular two patches struck my eye, one in the face of the clown and another outside him, which seemed to complement the first. My eye began to move back and forth from one patch to the other, a pulsation was established, and suddenly it ceased, to give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension. It was not so much that the clown became visible in three dimensions, this was true but only a minor point. The major point is that there seemed to be a flow or a current in which the whole being of the clown poured outward to reveal itself, all his feelings, thoughts and emotions etc., and a counter-flow in which the outside (including the viewer) was drawn into him, to emerge again in the outward flow. It was a very striking experience for me, one that I shall always remember. Whether the artist intended the picture to be seen in this way, I don't know of course, I would be interested in knowing whether it struck anyone else in this way.
The main point that I want to make in the above discussion is that it illustrates how wrong it is to make snap judgements on something new. No doubt there is a great deal of rubbish in any new movement, but there also may be a great deal of value, which has to be understood in a new light. It is also rather dangerous to make very detailed blueprints as to what the new should be. If we do this, how can what is really new come into being? Of course, we do need theoretical analysis of all existing trends, but we also need a continual alertness, a readiness to recognize the new and the unexpected when it occurs, even if it means altering or abandoning our most cherished views at times. This is perhaps a concomitant of not being "violent" in the sense that you describe in your letter. In other words, it is essential that there be real freedom and no effort to impose preconceived ideas on others, or on oneself.
This letter has grown much longer than I had intended and also due to pressure of work, taken much longer in the writing than I had hoped. Perhaps it could be the basis of an article to be published eventually (in a year or so). I should be grateful for your comments.
Awaiting your reply with great interest,
My kindest regards,
May 22, 1960
Dear Mr Bohm:
Thank you very much for your good letter of April 24. Be assured that it was appreciated and reread with considerable interest. I wish I could give you a reply that you would think merits receiving yours.
Once more I have the experience, in your letter as in your book, and which I have not mentioned before, how similar many things you say are to what Alfred Korzybski puts down in Science and Sanity, which first appeared in 1933. Do you know of him? Have you read him?
Throughout your letter you are expressing your notions of nature as process, but not until page 3 do you directly use the term "process." You show how everything is related to everything else, including the mechanical instrument, with all of which I agree.
But about those instruments which serve as the perceiving intermediary between the man and nature, about that I should like to know more. Perhaps someone has dealt with this, but not in anything I have come across. What are these instruments doing to the men who use them? Constantly there is the effort to sharpen the perception of the instrument for man, but where is the man in all this, what is happening to him? Too often I feel, while reading science, that the author forgets that he is the final super-instrument, that he forgets mankind altogether along with himself, so submerged is he in the instrumental world. Nature is not a machine. Does man rely too much on the instrument, so much that today he permits it to deceive him because he assumes it no longer supplies a chain of causality? I mean, could it be that the instrument, even though it probes more deeply into nature than ever before, can no longer function so thoroughly for man as it did in the older mechanics? In the sense, that what the instrument now reveals demands more of him, of himself. Is this why men are now erecting absolutes from a state of desperation; a dualism in nature -- complementaries -- a dualism between man and nature -- indeterminism?
When I read accounts of the behavior of the single atoms in relations to all the others, I have the impression of something akin to the creative human being. This is an impression I do not get from the kind of nature picture given by the older mechanics, from the little I know about it. It seems as though the very creative depths of nature are now being approached in physics. This could be the sort of event that mistakenly leads to the view of indeterminism by those too much submerged in over-dependence upon instrumental finality. Now that the instrument finds more, could it be that it "tells" less?
Your use of the term "ambiguity" to express your views on what are all aspects of the totality of nature, is completely new to me. I would have to think more on the use of that term. To me everything in nature is one vast process; "Everything is everything else," as I believe Leonardo put it. Thinking and experiencing in that way, it becomes untenable to accept dualisms of any sort such as complementarianism and indeterminism, and as your use of "ambiguity" seems to suggest too.
I must admit ignorance about Existentialism. I once read a small book by Sartre, but it did not interest me to pursue the subject further, even though there certainly were those "kernels" of truth in it. That there exists a "gap" between our existence and what we think about it is certainly not something that we are the first humans to think about. Perhaps we are so taken with this disparity in our century, because we have lost the means by which we could look with some hope of doing what other times did, namely, to narrow the "gap." Perhaps because, in our times, both the artist and the scientist have literally been ejected from nature's womb, so to speak. This has brought on the crisis in both art and science. That is to say, nature no longer responds neatly to the instruments as it did in the old days of localization, and Heisenberg thinks to take his revenge, while Bohr would tell the disparities of the lasting, the absolute brotherhood of complementaries. As for the artists, they have lost the convenience of nature offering ready-made forms for art, forms which always remained there in nature for the artist to return to when things went wrong. It is not by chance that science and art speak of the "laws of chance," that artists and composers make what they call indeterministic and molecular art. Not that many of these ever bother to read science, but it does appear to offer a solution for artists wandering in a land of drought. It frees them from all restraint from everything, even from themselves, becoming a mere vehicle for the arbitrary.
In your "vision of totality," you just about include all other fields. I think we have to make more modest demands. Why not work to bring into a totality view what is already reaching for it? I mean certain arts and sciences. What a force if the truly creative individuals of science and art were to stop inhabiting different planets and join forces, as they sometimes did in the past, first through a comprehension of each other. These two fields seem to contain the solution for a future sanity, because the solutions needed for each are the ones that mankind seems to be searching for. Alone they continue helpless and largely destructive. We have arrived at the end of "living like maggots in a cheese," as Cassius Keyser warned so long ago (p. 655 my Evolution book). Man is now on his own; he is in charge of his own evolution, it will no longer come about in the old "natural" way, he must consciously direct it. Survival now depends, it seems to me, upon being creatively oriented whether one is a scientist, artist or whatever.
Then the relation of our existence to what we think about it, and our relation to nature, will cease to be but a mere problem, becoming more centered in the effort of creation. It is in this respect that I believe art holds the deepest significance to the future (see my "Art and Science as Creation," in Structure ). Art has had a very special role in man's relation to nature, which is hardly suspected. It is difficult to imagine how various times could have realized their various views of totality, without art. I also have the impression that what the sensitive individual experiences before art, but largely unconsciously, is a totality relation with the rest of nature. Art makes him feel adequate at being one with the universe of nature.
The artist is without anything but himself before nature, without instruments, without mathematics to order, to suggest, to predict, and without a philosophy. He must forever hurl himself anew and whole into the totality of nature. He cannot dare to think beyond where he is in this totality, except in the most extremely tentative way, otherwise he would frustrate the effort to create art.
What you say about the finite and infinite, about that I have to think more. Even though the finite infiniteness of the infinite throws me, I seem to agree with the conclusions you draw from it. Your notion that "there is really no-'thing' in the world," is a wonderful expression of process. But, in agreeing with you, I have to take what seems like the opposite position. You speak of chairs, tables, etc., how heat applied dissolves all into gas, that even then the atoms can be dissolved into other structures, etc. You thus drive the object down the road that science has traveled where indeed objects vanish into everything. You draw only a picture of nature that science sees, a nature put in reverse. This reminds me of Eddington's famous two tables, the one we are all familiar with, and the one of science. As you will recall, Eddington was perturbed by this situation. What happened, he asked, to art, poetry, to that world of perception and experience which vanished at the behest of the scientific table? Dualisms again, the dualism of art and science.
It is not alone the world of the elementary particle that is admirable in nature, but also the fabulous richness of that world which those particles manifest to natural, human-scale perception. This is to speak in terms of your "totality," is it not? It is not that my kind of artist sees nature only as the limitation of the perceived objects, for us too limited things are only "relatively limited," as you put it. It is rather, that we extensionalize this level of nature into a deeper perception of its use to art.
Let me try again. You write about the problem of the historical past and the future. It seems to me that the physicist is one who, in respect to nature, the further he gets into the "future" of nature, the less he cares about the "past" experience of nature. It seems that what he once saw as the reality of nature, which continues to remain a reality of nature in spite of his denial, should be retained in any totality picture of nature which the physicist makes. I have the impression that the physicist is perpetually seeking an a or the reality, when all we experience on all levels of nature comprises the totality of nature's reality. On such grounds art and science could meet in a mutual concern with nature, and acting as correctives to the picture each makes of nature.
Accordingly, I emphasize the reverse direction of your illustration, in which we regard the atoms and their energies transformed into other relations until we have chairs, tables and human beings. The direction of nature. I am suggesting that this direction of the totality process of nature can continue further, through the agency of man as artist. While the physicist pursues the creative process of nature, even to how nature began, the artist is working at the other end of this process, extending this creative process. The physicist wants to get at the beginning of nature, to the very birth of the atom. While the artist wants to continue with what that atomic world already manifests in its evolution. Think of the evolution of nature evolving new forms, that is, the new art is continuing the evolution of nature as art.
About your discussion of "necessity," I am not sure I understand you. I cannot see how we manage to "remove ourselves from the domain of necessity." If we recognize ourselves as potentially possessed of that quality you speak of as infinite, is not that going from one notion of necessity to that of another, that is, we go to the necessity of the infinite attitude? Aside from that question, I agree completely with your notion that human life is a mode of the infinite, a "reflection" of it, as you say, a wholeness in ourselves that is at one with the wholeness of nature. It is not a question of being that, the human being is such, it is only that we frustrate its free operation.
You write that we do not ignore causality, that comprehending it deeply enough "we find its limitation, which leaves room for us to be free." I wonder, however, if the situation of causality is more similar to what happened to the old mechanics of time and space localization. I mean, is it so certain that the attitude of causality has reached a limit any more than considerations of time and space? The latter were not eliminated simply because the simultaneous thing no longer worked. This is to ask, is it possible that the notion of causality could be extensionalized? That what is necessary is a less mechanistic attitude toward determinism, the inheritance from the old mechanics, that it can be replaced by a creative notion of determinism?
I am very, very far from recognizing any process in an artist which is "free, not determined by anything other than itself." I can only imagine it as a delusion induced by opium, the artist managing to forget the determining role of the opium. Artists of our century, by the car load, presume to possess such a freedom but, as you will note in my writing, I find it to be a fictional freedom at the sacrifice of the unlimited freedom which nature opens to the artist, as it always has. I believe I have shown, at least no one has disputed it as yet, that even an artist like Piet Mondrian, who claimed independence from the sensory world of nature, remained as bound to it as any artist in the past. His suppression had only the effect of making him unconscious of the role of nature in his art. No artist has ever escaped a deterministic relation with nature, whatever the course his art takes, whatever he thinks he is doing.
The paragraph in which you consider a good work of art as an integral whole, which results from expressing the structure of the universe, and say that its significance lies in its relationship to the totality, with that I am completely one with you. You have put in different words, and very good ones, what I have written many times as being the future goal of art. It is possible, however, that when you have read my writings, you will find that we have arrived at similar conclusions about art from different experiences with nature, since you are a physicist.
In the second section of your letter you give a resume of what you have been saying. You again speak of the problem of past and future. I think I understand you, and agree. But there is one point I would suggest for your consideration, I will use your excellent illustration of the red and blue lights, the red past leaving the implied blue future. It seems to me there is is one other subtle event that takes place. Looking back at the past we see another set of red and blue lights. Only now the blue light represents any section of the past which was once a future. It leaves an area implied for the red which covers the past of this once future area. We now notice that the implied red area has been altered by the future which followed it. I am suggesting, that if the past is always implying, in some way and degree, the newness of the future, the future is always in the process of implying, in some way and degree, a newness to the past. This is to say, that the past is in a constant state of change which increasingly offers the means whereby we can most successfully discern the potentialities for freedom in the future. This seems to fit in with your statement, that "there is no way to say unambiguously what the past really was until we know its future," and "that the whole shall form a unity, as in a picture."
The two paragraphs in which you take up determinism and indeterminism, order and disorder, etc. I can follow you verbally, everything you say is reasonable, but I cannot reach the non-verbal level from which I must suppose your notions to be derived. Even what we usually call disorder, is really a connotation of negation concerning some kind of order. How in the world does one ascertain with any semblance of confidence, that a "particular form of determinism becomes irrelevant"? How does one decide whether it's the particular form of the notion of determinism, or whether it is the general notion of determinism, that is irrelevant? I have asked, "How does one distinguish order from disorder?" You repeat the question, but I could not see that you answered it. Why is there always so much obscurity on this issue? I have the impression that faith is posing as fact.
Here is a sentence that I quote from your book, a kind of sentence that I frequently encounter in science literature: "Because of the random distribution of the particles an almost continuous pressure is produced on the walls" (italics mine; p. 48). The atoms seems to be doing two paradoxical acts. That is, they are acting in a haphazard and also in an "almost" uninterrupted time sequence. This is a kind of plain disorder and, at the same time, an "almost" order. Isn't there something more here than the argument of statistics by which you resolve such a discrepancy?
You state that in art there has "existed a dissatisfaction with the older representational forms of art," "that they give a superficial view of reality." Here the physicist in you has taken art in the nature direction taken by your field. But art is not science-nature. Those who are the foremost of the post-mimetic innovators, for me Monet and still more Cézanne, remained all their lives as the most fervent admirers of the great ones in their past. They did not need to denounce their predecessors in order to feel status, unlike the Dadaists who had to paint a mustache on Mona Lisa. Monet and Cézanne continued from where their predecessors left off, as did Einstein from those before him, thanking them for what they left behind, which enabled them to go further. Dissatisfaction with the whole past is an art disease that made its appearance precisely with the breakdown of mimetics. Artists, that is most of them, having lost the thread of continuity from the past, blamed the past. Then, not knowing where their art was taking them, they supplanted a definitive effort with a new but strange virtue, not-knowing. It is these not-knowers who shed crocodile tears over art's nature reality which science presumably dismembered beyond further use, but who are in fact pleased that this has happened, pleased that science denounces causality and upholds chance, disorder, indeterminism, etc. When the physicist looks back at Newton, and I am reminded of Einstein, or back at any of the great innovators, does he speak of "their superficial reality"? Far from it, as you know. There is an altogether different attitude. Well, there are some artists too who look at their predecessors with affection, not dissatisfaction.
What you express as the relevance of Surrealism as a reflection of the truth of our times, such as the concentration camps with their cruel, absurd' slogans of "work enriches life," is, to be sure, one way to look at it, if somewhat strained. I say this as not being a Jew. It seems to me the perversity of Surrealism to say so. Are not such artists perpetrating the very condition of human life that nurtures such bestiality as the barbarism of the Nazi? Is not Surrealism but art's participation in the insanity of our times? Anyway, with equal reason, I do believe, one could say that the Nazis "suggest something that is true about this world," by pointing to the cruel absurdities that Surrealists conjure in art. This reminds me of the Nazi officers, not small fry, who paid that clown Picasso visits of admiration. Why did they leave this communist stooge alone and murder other artists? Surrealism, yes indeed!
Do you think it impossible for artists and art to sink as low as human behavior sinks in other fields? Are artists some rarefied breed of life, that no matter how absurd, their behavior can never be compared to that among the more ordinary mortals? I am not surprised that such as the Surrealists "cannot go on to something more positive and creative," to use your words. They only know destruction; if the Nazis are the truth, indeed the Surrealists are the truth. You must forgive me, I do not feel these things with the sterility of objectivity.
It seems to me that your reaction to the Rouault picture was the result of your experience as a physicist. As I read this paragraph I almost expected you to say something about a break-through about the quantum barricade. Am I being absurd?
You write that you do not feel qualified to deal with the relations between physicist and art. Do you know of a single soul who is? I do not, whether physicist or artist. Until some individuals in both fields do their best to deal with this problem, even if they must stumble and appear ridiculous, there will not appear a qualified person in either field.
In late summer the editor of The Structurist, Eli Bornstein, who lives in Canada, will visit me. With your permission I should like to show him your letter on the basis, as you suggest, that you might make this into an article for a future issue.
I should appreciate your comments, particularly where I try to relate our two fields.
With my best wishes,
3, Berkshire Road
June 6, 1960
Dear Mr Biederman:
Thank you very much for your letter, and for your two books plus the three articles in Structure which I received. I have read your book on Cézanne, and the three articles in Structure, and I have begun to read Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge. I should prefer to delay a detailed comment on your ideas until I have finished the latter book. For the moment, I shall only say that I find your ideas very interesting and stimulating. In particular, Cézanne's ideas on space as a unity of interpenetrating planes come close to ideas that I am trying to develop on geometry. I am sympathetic to your efforts to develop an art that is not a mimesis of nature, but rather, something that exists and is beautiful in its own right, having the same general laws of process and relationship as are found in nature. However, I wonder if you may not be in danger of dogmatism, when you assert that this is surely the main line in the evolution of art, at least for the present. How can you be so sure that the older forms have been completely exhausted, that art has no more role to play, either as a mimesis, or as the expression of new truths concerning nature? After all, you yourself have stressed that the future throws new light on the past, reveals new meanings in it, etc. In other words, I would be ready to consider your proposals as a possible line of development that may well turn out to be fruitful. But how can you be so sure that it must be the only or the main line of development?
Now to get back to your recent letter (of May 22). I am afraid that I did not express my point of view very clearly in my previous letter. I did not intend to dissolve the familiar large-scale world into atoms, electrons, etc. The opposite process is, of course, equally valid, i.e., of going on from atoms to large-scale realities. Indeed, I would stress that there is no way to reduce the large scale to nothing but atoms. From the point of view of infinity, it would make no sense to say that the large-scale world is constituted of atoms, the atoms of electrons, protons, etc., the electrons and protons of something still smaller, and so on ad infinitum. In this way, everything would disappear in an infinite regression. Rather, I would say that each thing, each level, makes its own unique contribution to the totality, a contribution that is not just a reflection of something else (even though it may in part be such a reflection). Therefore, the large-scale reality with which the artist works is a part of the whole truth, a part having certain qualities, meanings, etc., that cannot be found in their entirety or even in their essential features, by going down to atoms, electrons, etc. Atoms, electrons, etc., are neither more nor less real than the large-scale level of our immediate experience. It is only all these levels working together, each making its own irreplaceable contribution, that constitute the totality.
In connection with this problem, I would argue, for example, that the laws of living, thinking matter (e.g. human beings) contain certain features which are very probably not fully deducible from the laws of the constituent atoms. For example, we have studied atoms, electrons, etc., largely in isolation, or in interaction, only a few at a time. Using laws suggested by these studies, we have then made the gratuitous and unproved assumption that if we could only solve the equations for the myriads of atoms constituting the living animal or the human body, we could, in principle, deduce every property, quality, etc., of the latter. But it is much more likely that something is left out of our laws of individual atoms, something that is of not appreciable importance when only a few atoms at a time are involved, but that may be of crucial importance in large masses of highly organized matter, such as is found in living beings. In other words, living things may have new qualities not found in isolated atoms or in small groups of atoms, such that there are new laws which can be expressed only in relation to these new qualities. Similarly, for large-scale nature in general.
It is here that the idea comes in of the "finite in the infinite". Every thing that is in any sense determinate in its existence at all, must be limited. For determination (which has the same root as "termination") means limitation, and therefore, finiteness. On the other hand, we have seen that because the full being of each thing is only in its relationship to the totality, every notion of something as finite is in some way, erroneous. Not only does this follow when we dissolve chairs into atoms, electrons, etc., (i.e., chairs are not just simply chairs, but are potentially and actually infinitely more). It also follows when we build atoms, etc., into large-scale objects (i.e., atoms are not only atoms, they are also potentially and actually constituents of large-scale objects, having further qualities and laws that they could not possess as simple atoms). We see then that determination (or equally well, the termination) of each thing within its pre-assigned limits holds only as simplification valid for some purposes, but not for others. It is in this sense that I say there is no "thing" in the world. Nevertheless, if there were no relative determination, there would only be a characterless chaos. Thus, there is no pure infinite either. There is only the finite in the infinite and the infinite in each finite. These are two opposing categories which complement each other, in the sense that either one immediately demands the other. For example, to say that something is determined or limited is to imply immediately that there exists (at least potentially) something beyond these limits. Thus the idea of limitation immediately implies the unlimited, while the idea of unlimited cannot even be expressed, except in relation to its opposite; viz., that which is limited. And when we have two such opposing universal categories, the truth is that both must be asserted of everything, i.e., everything is both finite and infinite, both limited and unlimited.
I found your comments on the image of past and future in terms of red and blue lights very interesting. It is certainly true that the future is always implying some newness about the past, which "increasingly offers the means whereby we can most successfully discern the potentialities for freedom in the future". However, it is here that the notion of ambiguity shows its importance and relevance. In other words, if the past were already something absolutely definite and determined, how could it in any way be changed at all by the future? If we assert that the past is inherently ambiguous as to what it is, at least to begin with, then we leave room, logically speaking, to assert further that the future changes the past, in the sense that future developments remove some of the ambiguity in what the past was. This means that on the basis of what may have revealed itself up to a certain point in time, the precise and detailed character of any given thing or event is ambiguous. It is this ambiguity which leaves room for some freedom. For only future developments will show fully what this past really was. On the other hand, guided by the erroneous idea that the past was in itself unambiguous in its nature, we may come to the wrong conclusion that there is an iron-bound determinism, leaving no room at all for freedom in the future.
It is this idea of ambiguity that I wish to apply to measurements in the quantum mechanical domain. When one tries to find the exact location of an electron by means of an instrument, one discovers that the instrument participates so intimately in the mode of existence of the electron that the velocity of the latter must be ambiguous. Of course, in the future, this ambiguity may be reduced, when we see what the electron has actually done, but new ambiguities appear, with regard to the still later behaviour of the electron. We therefore never get rid of all ambiguities. As we get rid of some, new ones come into their place. In other words, every description of the electron (or of anything else) must contain some ambiguity with regard to what it is, an ambiguity which means that its future is not fully determined by its past alone.
It is here that we come to the problem of freedom again. I never meant to say that there are creative acts which are not determined by anything else at all. I only meant to say that they are not determined fully by anything else. To explain this, recall that the large scale is not determined fully by the atoms, but makes some irreplaceable contribution to the totality of law. Similarly a future event is not fully determined by its past, and also makes some irreplaceable contribution to the totality of law. Of course, this does not mean that the large scale is completely independent of the small scale, or that the future is completely independent of its past. Rather, there is mutual interdependence and inter-relationship of everything. But the law of the interdependence is such that any given thing is only partially determined (limited) by what it is not. The full law of its determination can be expressed only when the thing in question is included. Thus, it is more like the law of a picture than a mechanical determination purely by externals. In other words, it is only in the whole that the full reasons for each part can be found; and the whole must include all the parts, including even those whose determination is being discussed. It is in this sense that there is freedom, especially with regard to creative acts. No doubt these acts are conditioned, limited and shaped by society, history, the natural environment and everything else. But these external features by themselves do not fully determine just what will emerge in this act. It is only when we have the whole act completed before us that we can trace all the reasons why it is just as it is, and in doing this, we shall see that it is only in the context of the whole, including the act itself, that reasons can be intelligently ascribed. Thus, to a certain extent, a creative act contributes to its own reasons for being just what it is. It cannot be reduced fully to a mere consequence of external factors. Indeed, external factors frequently interfere with the possibility of a creative act. And to the extent that this is true, freedom is possible only when we have understood these limitations and removed ourselves from their domain.
I think that in your struggle against modern painters who falsely deny that their painting has any degree of external determinism whatsoever, you must be careful not to go to the opposite extreme, and to deny any degree of autonomy whatsoever to the act of creation.
This brings us to the problem of freedom and necessity. First of all let us ask ourselves "What is necessity?" What is necessary is that which cannot be otherwise. But whenever we consider some part or aspect of the universe, we discover that, considered by itself alone it could be otherwise. In other words, we cannot see in a chair the full reasons why it is just as it is. In the materials of Which the chair was made there were many possibilities. That possibility which is now actual was determined by something external to the chair (in this case, the man who made it). From the point of view of the chair alone, it is only a contingency that it is just as it is. (Contingency is the opposite of necessity, viz., that which could be otherwise.) We discover in each part of the universe certain relations that are necessary (laws) and certain properties that are contingent. By broadening the part of the universe under consideration, we may show that some things that were contingent in the narrower context are necessary in the broader context. But then we will have introduced new contingent properties in the broader context, which will be necessary in a still broader context and so on without limit.
This above means that in no finite context can we ever get rid of contingencies. In other words, necessity and contingency are two opposite categories, which apply to everything (every finite thing). No matter what we consider, some aspects will be necessary and some contingent.
Of course, we could consider the infinite totality of all that there is, was and will be (the cosmos). If we consider this total cosmic process, then there is nothing outside on which it could depend. Its necessity therefore, is obvious. For whatever the cosmos is, it by definition cannot be otherwise. Thus, its necessity and being are identical. The category of contingency has here disappeared. Moreover, necessity and freedom have also merged. For nothing outside can exist which could constrain the cosmos to be as it is. We therefore cannot first imagine a cosmos that could be otherwise and then lay down a law which requires it to be what it is (as we could first imagine a man who could drive on either side of the road and then lay down a law from the outside, such as "keep to the right"). When we have stated what the cosmos is, we will have given everything that exists, every relationship, every law, every limit to law, etc.
When we come to any part of the cosmos, we of course know by experience that each thing has, in itself, many possibilities, and that further laws may be needed to explain why it has to be just what it is. Here, we have an interesting application of the concept of ambiguity. Remember that each part of the cosmos has inherent ambiguities in its mode of being, because what it is is fully determined only in its relation to the whole (which includes its infinite past and future, as well as itself).
|I||A New Vision of Totality|
|III||Thought and Reality|
|IV||Truth and Understanding|
|V||Beyond the Subject-Object Distinction|