Monday 7 June 2021

Picture Post #64: A and Not-A

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be 
neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Thomas Scarborough

I took this photo in South Africa’s Suurveld. What does one see? A beetle, naturally. Should one say good things about it or bad? It is the Cape Mounted Rifles beetle. It is strikingly beautiful. At the same time, it is potentially lethal. A few of these in a horse’s fodder will kill the horse. Let us call the beetle ‘A’—and like anything in particular, there might be very different things we can say about it. We might indeed disagree —sometimes violently. This may be as far as the pre-analytical mind goes.

But according to the law of non-contradiction—the principle of contradiction—‘A is not not-A’.

There is something besides the beetle in the photo. How could one miss it? The beetle is perched on—in Xhosa—inkondlwane. In English, it is the Golden Everlasting. This grows in colonies, in Southern Africa. It is used to kindle fire. Diviners use it to induce trances. It sustains the beetle. And unusually, its seeds will not be planted. Call this ‘Not-A’. It is what one finds outside the existing frame. The question is now: whenever one talks about something, where is the ‘Not-A’? The answer may reveal volumes about who the person observing, the person speaking, is.

In terms of “Picture Posts”, though, I use this image to show how what we see depends so much on a network of other mental and social connections.


Keith said...

I think the mind tends, as its automatic default, to turn exclusively to ‘A’, to the omission of ‘not A’. I presume that happens because in most (all?) circumstances ‘A’ plus ‘not A’ would prove overwhelming. That is, ‘A + not A’ is impractical and unmanageable, resulting in what one might call ‘information noise’. So, in reductionist mode, we can handle only ‘A’, even perhaps only ‘not A’, but not ‘A + not A’. Even in the case of the humble Cape Mounted Rifles beetle, ‘A + not A’ likely is not fully realizable in any truly cogent fashion by the senses and mind, I suspect.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Yes, I think this is relevant, absolutely. Yet rather than saying that Not-A is ‘impractical and unmanageable’ -- and so, presumably, throwing it out, I would suggest a two-step process as far as this can possibly be applied. Stand back, survey both A and Not-A, then return to A.

I think we find much naïveté in academia, industry, government, and among ordinary well-meaning people. They may know little or nothing about some of the biggest troubles even in their own surrounds. Their thoughts revolve around A, whatever that A may be.

We tend to judge a person on the basis of A, where their Not-A may speak volumes.

Andrew Porter said...

The law of non-contradiction is antiquated and inaccurate. A new logic is beginning to emerge. A and not-A can certainly live in the same space, which a host of complementarities show us. Wave/particle, Freedom/Order, etc. Philosophy will do well, and do itself proud, by embracing the middle between dualities, which is not excluded except by our hidebound logic.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Thank you, Andrew. It is a thought-provoking comment, which I am still pondering. I think it would deepen and add much nuance to the original thought.

It also raises the question to what extent A and not-A are impressed upon reality by ourselves. Wherever we find A, we find concept A, needless to say--which casts the focus back upon ourselves. Or is there only concept, and no thing?

Complementaries cannot be conflated with other oppositions, though--in semantic terms. The oppositions I learnt are antonyms, directional opposites, heteronyms, converses, and complementaries. Does that date me?

docmartincohen said...

If I might, more humbly, react to the PICTURE… I rather like this one. The colour of the flower and the beetle work very well together and the beetle seems very much "alive". And those cultural associations Thomas offers for the flower seem very poetic. The picture thus seems to mix a secretive striped "killer" with the origin of fire.… It all makes for a potent visual mix!

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Thank you Martin, for an interesting comment. This beetle was in fact just taking flight. They have a curious way of 'buzzing' one in the veld -- circling one -- a harmless habit which feels a little unsettling, given their reputation. According to one conservationist -- who I have met -- 'The poison of a CMR beetle, that is dried and powdered, is sufficient to kill a 70kg human.' Which provides one reason to carry a little weight in life.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Dear gentlemen,
To me it seems that not-A challenges the outlines of concept A. Not-A is always the trigger for any creative process. My guess is that originally the human mind always departed from A + not-A. Saying this would though mean that mankind has become less creative, less cognitively flexible (which would be a huge statement to make).
When we look at nature, beyond the inkondlwane and the beetle in this picture, how could all that nature be functioning if 'created' with the A and not-A concept? I don't think such a 'mind' would have been able to create such diversity, complexity and most of all, flexibility.... Therefor the consideration that A is logic, to me seems to underline the unreality of that proper logic.

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