Asymmetrical Monism

Once you break down Spinoza’s binary parallelism of modality, you end up with an asymmetrical and indeterminate modality. It is asymmetrical in the sense that what takes place within one mode isn’t simply replicated within another mode. A small change in the mode of extension may have a dramatic or insignificant impact on the mode of thought. It is indeterminate in the sense that we can’t specify exactly how many modes of substance there are.

Asymmetry and indeterminacy are entirely separable descriptors and I would argue that asymmetry holds even if you want to preserve a notion of substance that is strictly binary. We know well enough now that there is a relationship between the world of extension (i.e., the world of physics) and the world of thought. Too many brain studies have shown that disturbances in the brain create disturbances in the world of thought and too much quantum studies have shown that events in the physical world are disturbed by thoughts and perceptions.

Modal monism provides us with a way to think through that doesn’t constantly depend on us trying to reduce one to the other. There are simply points where the changes that occur within one mode result in a change in substance to which the other mode(s) must accommocate themselves. That this doesn’t happen all the time highlights the asymmetry of the process.

Spiritual work seems to operate on yet other modalities, though. When you are doing spiritual work it isn’t uncommon to see effects manifest in extension (heat, sound, movement) and thought (images, impulses, ideas), but it seems difficult to identify what is going with those changes. Rather, those changes are indirect indications of changes going on within another modality.

Now, this asymmetry is also what gives ritual action its efficacy. Changes in thought and action create changes in substance that can impact modalities with which we otherwise unaware, or of which we are only indirectly aware. However, the efficacy of those tools is not primarily in the changes they produce in thought and extension, but the indirect changes they produce in the one substance.

This may sound like an incidental thing, but it is also the root of superstition. Because we have a more difficult time navigating modalities beyond thought and extension, we also have a hard time understanding them outside of those terms. It is easier to think about them metaphorically, through the terms of thought and extension rather than in their own proper terms.

Which is why ritual action and poesis are so important to spiritual work. They use the modes of extension and thought creatively as avenues for grappling with other modes of substance. They are undertaken with a sense that if we break down our habits in extension and thought we might be able to reconstitute new ones that would allow us to form some sense of other modes.

Through these complex circuits, the other modes also have some influence over extension and thought. Here we find the basis for magical action, but also an appreciation for how indirect and circuitous such operations can be. Since we have a limited sense of how the other modes operate, actions that manifest through them are difficult to grasp intellectually. Intellectual understandings of them are likely to be frought and prone to go astray, especially if those conceptions are heavily supplemented by understandings of extension or thought.

(This is why I remain skeptical about attempts to supplement spiritual concepts with concepts from quantum physics. The connections between thought and extension that occur there aren’t identical with the connections between thought, extension, and the other modes; they’re just educational about the complexities of monism.)

Which gets us in a roundabout way to some of the discussions that go on around jinn. Ever since I read accounts of jinn that described them as divided into separate kingdoms, some of which are invisible to each other, I have been pretty sure that some spirits have as hard a time ‘seeing’ us as we do them, and that some of the bad luck ascribed to them derive from their somewhat blind responses to the result of our own blind actions upon them.

Which gets us to a still more roundabout point: that the roundabout is the way into the world of spirit. It is the way of allusion, raised to a higher scale, where forms of being and thinking allude to other forms of being and thinking.


4 thoughts on “Asymmetrical Monism

  1. Pingback: Contemplatio | Disrupt & Repair

  2. Pingback: Angles and Desire | Disrupt & Repair

  3. Pingback: [NB] Similarity and Contagion | Disrupt & Repair

  4. Pingback: [NB] Da’ath and Gevurah in the Amidah | Disrupt & Repair

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