The Macro-Universe: Korzybskian Sanity & Unsanity
2001 03 07
Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion
I say that my term macroinformation takes its diction from the concept of the macro-universe, that the macro-universe is a world of mental constructs, not objective things. Today I add that the macro-universe may be subdivided according to whether we may judge the mental construct to be sane [Korzybski] or pathological.
We look at a culture in a petri dish, we look through a microscope and see microbes … We say the culture is bacteria, the microbes are zooplankton. These sights are constructed by the visual cortex, served by and serving, the cortex. The question to be asked is: is what we construct the same as what god, a well-constructed AI, an objective Martian would see? In other words, is what we construct real? Would it be there, would it be the same, if we weren’t here observing it? The same questions are all the more important in considering the mental constructs of the macro-universe. We look through a telescope. We see a star, a constellation, a galaxy … Once upon a time we looked at pieces of glass bound together by lead and saw Christ, the Virgin, the Passion. Which constructs are in our culture? Would an AI see them in our absence? Are they real? Today we look at the universe and see Relativity, quantum this and that, strings … They are real by the best thinking, the most responsible data, our intellects are capable of: or at least they seem to be. Then again, couldn’t any medieval cleric have said the same about his Scholastics? Today we know that some evidence, some intellects, were repressed by those Scholastics: how about us? Is not the political structure of our institutions far more similar than dissimilar to that of the Church? Are they not run by men? Weren’t those who found Joan of Arc to be a heretic the experts of their day? Weren’t those who canonized her five centuries later also experts?
People living in small societies have no problem with any of these things: of course your shaman is in touch with the spirit world: everything points to its truth. Of course the land you occupy is yours, always has been: what could be more obvious? It’s only the bulk of six billion people living in what Desmond Morris characterizes as the super zoo that should sweat these epistemological problems: because our reality, socially determined like any other, has crossed a threshold not just into pathology (we’re a society after all), but into lethal pathology. When the culture as a whole is lethally pathological, it’s time for some to take science seriously, and not old boy science. Science may not be altogether honest, but it’s the only even partly honest step we can take.
One of the fundamental purposes of my theory of Macroinformation is to emphasize these conundrums, to see them as implicit in our every day speech, in holy artifacts, in today’s political promise. Macroinformation is the principal information of the macro-zoo. If you carefully track the data alone, you’re following the misdirection of the magicians perfectly.
While here I’ll also sketch an example that may later (like any example) be relocated.
As already multiply sketched, the phrase Jesus Christ pairs something common, something human, something concrete, with something abstract, imaginary, magical … Either the Christ part is very true and very important or it’s very pathological and very dangerous. The oxymoron is powerful, but not necessarily sane. These are questions people have already taken sides on: no news there. I mention it here to introduce the following, not yet mentioned. I invite you to see the two as being of the same macroinformational class: the pairing (discrepant, epistemologically, existentially different) of the concrete with the abstract, the real with the imaginary … The People (of whatever entity: the State of New York, the United States …) vs. George Denver (any actual individual). The People. What’s that? Are “the People” any more real than “Christ”? Are two hundred and sixty million citizens actually up on the bench? I only see one judge and a dozen citizens nearby in a box and some cops, bailiffs, and such scattered around. If I comment I’ll be told that they represent the people. Really? How could this be falsified? As H L Mencken said, were it not for the rigid system of taboos, any twelve year old could do it.
The billing says “versus.” Are the People and George Denver in the same weight class? Is this a fair fight? The People can incarcerate, have probably already incarcerated George Denver. The People can attach George Denver’s wages, seize his property … If George Denver wins, can he attach the People’s wages, confiscate their property, incarcerate them?
Exactly as with Jesus Christ, the symmetry of the pairing is apparent, not real. What kind of card would it make to advertize Mike Tyson versus Paul Bunyan? Makes as much sense as Michael Jordan teaming with Bugs Bunny. It makes sense only in a Woody Allen script: or Warner Brothers. (But our culture is a Woody Allen script.)
The gladiators killed whatever was handy in the oval of the Coliseum. Did any ever hop the railing and continue the slaughter amid the People? the people as audience? Of course not. They were civilized. They saw the boundaries. They saw not just the railing but the macroinformation of the railing. It’s the “same” railing that kept Thracymachus from giving Socrates a black eye while arguing that might makes right. (See? I’m mixing myth with reality too: as did Plato.)
If you wish to survive in the actual universe (Pleroma, Creatura, Sentiens, Persona …), you must learn to identify macroinformation. It doesn’t help me alone one bit; quite the contrary: I need a sane society.
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