continuity vs binary

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 31 Oct 1995 11:44:45 +0900

First, kudos to Dwight Read, for sorting out some of the muddles in
the models. Dwight, I hope to see you at the AAA, and get a chance to
shake your hand.

Now, I'd like to add two observations to complicate the discussion.

(1) A logical point and a speculation--binary distinctions can approximate
reality to any desired degree PROVIDED THAT THERE ARE ENOUGH OF THEM.
This is the lesson of the Turing machine and the fundamental premise of
digital computing (the famous "0s" and "1s") that underlies all forms
of computer simulation, CD and Video disc technology, etc. What
is characteristic of the "primitive" models studied by Levi-Strauss and
other anthropologists is the use of VERY SMALL SETS of basic distinctions
which render approximations very rough.

(2) To assert a binary distinction is not to assert very much.
Consider the case of "Self" and "Other." To say that we draw the
distinction says little about how the distinction is drawn. For my
own purposes I've been trying to put together a list of possible
relationships: these now include (a) the Cartesian (aka scientific) self
that observes the Other but attempts to keep interaction to a minimum;
(b) the aggressive political/technological/modernist artistic self that
attempts to impose a self-generated order on the Other; (c) the
exemplary self described by Stanley Cavell, who attributes the notion
to Emerson. This self imagines another even better self whose existence
requires a new form for society, but ruling out the use of force to
impose its will, must enter into a "conversation of justice" in which
it offers itself as a model which the Other is free to accept or
reject or modify as the Other sees fit. Christ and the Buddha are
classic examples. There is also the kind of self evoked by Japanese
philosopher Masaharu (?) ???? (Damn, his name has slipped my mind) calls
"gentle individualism." This self has a playful, aesthetic relation to
an Other whose reality is taken as given, but fundamentally non-Self.

Would anyone care to add to this list?

John McCreery