Zero, and Geomancy

I’ve mentioned geomancy, right? For everyday divination, I am far more likely to grab a Tarot deck, but it is geomancy that structures my thinking. I never got deep into the Tarot as map business that a lot of Western esotericists dig in part because it seemed so static. By contrast, geomancy’s figures are mobile and the mathematics that defines them seems better suited to the sort of dynamism I encountered on the spiritual plane.

Right now, I’m thinking about how geomancy helped solidify my distrust for spiritual applications of concepts like zero and nothing. They have ever been obstacles for me engaging in meaningful spiritual practice

Geomancy offers a far more useful (and accurate) alternative. Rather than fixate on the difference between something and nothing, one and zero, geomancy directs us to two and one. That may seem less sexy than nothing, but if you dig deeply into the system, you discover that geomancy’s ‘two’ is not the two of 1+1, but the two of x-1 (a hat tip to Deleuze and Guattari here). The two serves as a placeholder for something not-fully-determinate which we initially tend to affectively conceive of as ‘like us’ in some way. Herein lies the basis for much anthropomorphism and the vitality of twinning imagery.

Heck, it isn’t just the spiritual sphere that suffers from a lazy application of these terms. Let’s look at three common misuses.

All that pop physics about the world being composed of empty space? There is a distinction to be made there between things like discrete and indiscrete (also contained in that x-1, btw), not something and nothing. All that pop Buddhism about being nothing? There are points to be made about things like the intensity with which an individual thing’s identity is stated and experienced, between the thing and the network that supports its existence (between x and 1), not between existence and none-existence. Pop computer science that talks about binary code as something and nothing? Here we can talk about active and latent, on and off, the capacity of a simple distinction to capture more complex ones, but not about an ontological nothing.

Actual physics, actual Buddhism, and actual computer science are perfectly capable of making these distinctions, by the way. When actual physicists, Buddhists, and computer scientists don’t make those disitnctions, we should, as gently as possible, shuffle them off the philosophical lawn and let them get back to doing their work.

Applied spiritually, zero is a nasty bugger. Rather than the x-1, a distinction of something from a background we cannot fully diferentiate, we get 1-1, which points us toward simple negation. Even in physics, though, matter and antimatter do not negate each other perfectly but produce energy. With zero comes the illusion of control, the notion that there is an account that we can finally balance, zero out. But we can only and ever modulate, never destroy.

The question is always one of transformation and stabilization, of the means and modes. In a world where modulation rules, the sort of thinking that presumes 0 and nothing only leads to mutilation, poorly conceived applications of setting things right.

Want a secret? You never break even, you never cash out.

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11 thoughts on “Zero, and Geomancy

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