Many people on Earth now have read or heard about a novel called The Name of the Rose, by Italian author Umberto Eco. In this novel, much of the plot revolves around a struggle to retrieve the last existing manuscript of a work by Aristotle. Sinister ultra-conservative forces want to conceal or destroy this work, which is Part 1 of Aristotle’s book called Poetics, focusing on comedy. In fact, this piece of Aristotelian writing, assuming it ever existed, is now completely lost. Umberto Eco speculates about the disaster the world experienced when it lost Aristotle’s genius in the humorous half of Poetics and retained only the second half, devoted to tragedy. Civilization has been stuck in a frown emoticon ever since, according to Eco.
The people on the planet I have moved to, influenced by the aliens who transported us, believe that there is an even more significant gap in Aristotle. There is one fundamental field of philosophy that he didn’t delve into at all, except in a few paragraph of the Ethics. Despite his ideas about spontaneity, he scarcely dealt with what we call ‘lectics,’ the philosophy of choice, opportunity and decisions.
Our people think that the reason is that lectics involves logic that seems arbitrary, along with with logic that seems circular. The decision about whether the proverbial glass is ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’ is a lectical decision. It is scary in its arbitrariness, and therefore, though it couldn’t be more simple, it has been blown up as a mystical phenomenon in thousands of self-help doctrines.
The circular aspects of lectics come in when we undertake efforts like self-confidence. I sometimes do something well because I think I can do it well and I’ve trained to do it well, because earlier on, I did an earlier stage of the process well, again because I had enough confidence from doing related things well before that. But if I ever decided, unjustly, ‘I’m not really good at this,’ my low confidence could make me nervous and make me make mistakes, so I would more-or-less arbitrarily get into a loop of not doing well. My confidence, no matter what my level of skill, is largely based on confidence which is based on confidence which is based on confidence. And so on. And at the beginning of that looping chain of confidence, there’s that wavering phantasm, the half-full glass. Not nice for philosophers. Aristotle started to take it on (see my next blog) but didn’t get very far.
Here, we take lectics in middle school and high school. It’s considered to be critical to understanding nearly anything that goes on in life, anything where the word “opportunity” can realistically be applied. That’s a very broad area, because even in biological evolution, species are said to exploit opportunities, or ‘niches,’ a word that basically means ‘mini-opportunities.’ The word ‘niche’ is also used in the study of marketing in business. The overlap between consciously perceived and adaptively exploited opportunities does not reside in language alone, but, again, in the fundamental recursiveness or circularity of the processes that are involved in adapting to a niche.
You can break lectics down into several subfields: for example, there’s opportunistics, the study of opportunities. A big one is approphetics, the study of self-fulfilling prophecies and other self-reinforcing or ‘bootstrapping’ situations. And out of that one, you can pull ‘opportunistic rhetorics,’ the study of what we now call ‘spin’ (note the moving, circular imagery). For example we have a classification system for various kinds of ‘white lies,’ which are very important in politics and, disturbingly, in relationships. A very deep one is ‘epistemic approphetics,’ the study of how human concepts and categories are delineated by processes that involve self-fulfilling prophecies. We can make up whole false concepts, like the ‘witch’ who was killed in medieval witch-hunts, just by getting looped up into a self-fulfilling prophecy cycle where everyone is pushed into seeing witches all around.
I’m just going to give you a couple of teasers today, and then say something more substantial next time. First, I have a conversation here from my novel, This Moonless Sky (free download link here). I was traveling with three equally young friends, and we’d just had an interesting dinner with the ‘modibbei’ or ceremonial ruler of our District of Korabaas, and his wife Saraa, a professor of ‘lectics in comparative religion’ at the local university. (You can see a quote of something Saraa said at that dinner in an earlier blog piece, though, in my introduction to her quote, I referred to her simply as ‘a character.’ )
After the dinner with the modibbei and Saraa, we four friends talked amongst ourselves.
We followed our escort back towards our accommodations, which were over on the far side of the wuro (Fulani-style collection of family huts) compound. “Quite the talk,” Eleya said to Xus and me… “I expected to see some country and eat some interesting peanut dishes on this part of our trip, but I seem to be getting more education than I thought I would. I should apply to the school for an extra credit [she smiled; her comment wasn’t serious]. We’re going to miss a lot of classes before this trip is done.”
“School of life,” Xus said with a grin and a shrug… “That was basically a lectics class we got from Saraa. Maybe when we get home, you can already pass the placement test in grade 12 lectics and spare yourself a course. Quick quiz: define power.”
“Haha, very funny, that’s like grade 8,” Eleya retorted. “Control of destiny.”
“Power obtained by proxy when powerful people identify with you or trade with you.”
“What are the three dimensions of charisma?”
“Ideality, co-identifiability and opportunity. The super-endowed person is one of us and admiring him or her is going to put us in a good place.”
“What is karma?”
“The momentum of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Exchangeable karma – materials or fixed points of influence carrying the momentum of approphecy.”
“You’re good! Last one: define opportunity.”
“Oh, spit, I always forget that one. Blah blah blah ‘may or may not.’
“Something long,” I said. My ignorance was embarrassing.
“‘A possibility for benefit that may or may not be undertaken by a self-modifying entity in a modifiable system.’ You see? I fooled around a lot this year but I still studied!”
“You the man,” I said in English. It was going to be ugly later this year if I had a lot more catching up to do in school than my former layabout friend, who made himself out to be casual and bored all last year.
I know that some of those definitions seem very odd or cryptic, or suggest someone who ate one magic mushroom too many in the 70s. When you see the explanations, though, you’ll see that they are philosophically ironclad. Concepts you perhaps can vaguely feel must be related somehow are neatly tied together: capital embeds karma; karma embeds ‘spin;’ spin embeds placebo effects. That brings us full circle, because a placebo is just a positive working effect attributed to something neutral – in other words, a half-full glass. When you see it explained, nothing could be simpler, less abstruse, or less jargonistic. It’s plain life, which I’m sure Aristotle would have been glad to get to if he’d had a few more years to write pages on this Earth.
Here’s my second teaser. This is just something I thought to myself as we were talking to Saraa.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the primitive Earth expressions for the self-fulfilling prophecy cycle so often catch the circular motion involved: ‘on a roll,’ ‘spin,’ ‘snowballing,’ ‘vicious cycle,’ ‘getting tied up in knots,’ ‘circling the drain.’ Good topic for a school project some time.”
I haven’t graduated high school yet! I have to think about these things!