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Mary Qualit and Martha Quant

Friday, October 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- quality and quantity, subjectivity and objectivity, the hard problem in consciousness, and what truly counts ]
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quantbyquant
Mary Quant, as Wikipedia has it, was “one of the designers who took credit for the miniskirt and hot pants” — a quantitative approach to fashion, albeit minimalist.

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I’ve written a couple of post recently with the qualit and quant tag [1, 2], in fact in one of them [3] I referred to “quantity and quality” as a great koan.

I don’t pretend to know how they work together, but a question has been hovering in the back of my mind for a while, and cropped up as I was making those recent posts — what’s that quote about quantity being a form of quality, and where does it come from? And today, reading some more from DigitalTonto, I ran across this:

  • As Stalin said about armies, “quantity seems to have its own quality.”
  • **

    So I started searching, looking to see if anyoine had a Stalin reference — and found this, on a Marxist site under the heading

  • Dialectical Materialism:
  • Dialectics explains that change and motion involve contradiction and can only take place through contradictions. So instead of a smooth, uninterrupted line of progress, we have a line which is interrupted by sudden and explosive periods in which slow, accumulated changes (quantitative change) undergoes a rapid acceleration, in which quantity is transformed into quality. Dialectics is the logic of contradiction. [ .. ]

    The transformation of quantity into quality was already known to the Megaran Greeks, who used it to demonstrate certain paradoxes, sometimes in the form of jokes. For example, the “bald head” and the “heap of grain”—does one hair less mean a bald head, or one grain of corn a heap? The answer is no. Nor one more? The answer is still no. The question is then repeated until there is a heap of corn and a bald head. We are faced with the contradiction that the individual small changes, which are powerless to effect a qualitative change, at a certain point do exactly that: quantity changes into quality.

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    Then I found…

  • Clausewitz, On War, II, On the Theory of War, tr. Howard & Paret, pp. 194-195:
  • “Superior numbers, far from contributing everything, or even a substantial part, to victory, may actually be contributing to very little depending on the circumstances…But superiority varies in degree…it can obviously reach the point where it is overwhelming…so long as it is great enough to counterbalance all other contributing circumstances

  • Well, quantity has a quality all its own, as Napoleon liked to say
  • The quote credited to Mao, Lenin and Trotsky, “Quantity has a quality all of its own”, continues to have resonance at a national level, especially in regard to military force.
  • As Stalin said about armies, “quantity seems to have its own quality.”
  • and finally:

  • Quiddity has a qualia all its own, Eric Raymond.
  • **

    The story of Mary and Martha is one of the more interesting in the Gospels, since it effectively DoubleQuotes the contemplative and active aspects of life. Jesus visits two sisters, Mary and Martha, and while Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word”, Martha “was cumbered about much serving”. Luke 10. 38-42 tells the story:

    Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

    Martha enacts the spiritual life in service, while Mary directly enhances her own in listening. Martha, if you like, represents the virtues of the outward life, Mary of the inward.

    I mentioned the British fashion designer Mary Quant at the very top of this post. Her name has stuck in my mind from the sixties, giving rise to my coinage, used in the title of this post: Mary Qualit and Martha Quant.

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    Here’s a discussion of the hard problem in consciousness, which may be the same koan as that of quality and quantity, of our inner and outer lives, diferently phrased:

  • Keith Frankish on the Hard Problem and the Illusion of Qualia
  • And I am brought back once again to that powerful quote by Castoriadis:

    Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table. What does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night. What does this show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Mozart’s Requiem be a paradigm of being, let us start from that.” Why could we not start by positing a dream, a poem, a symphony as paradigmatic of the fullness of being and by seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way round, instead of seeing in the imaginary — that is, human — mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being?

    The more I contemplate it, the more I see that quote as a pithy summary of my own weighing of the balance between the imaginative and physical worlds.

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    More twitter gratitude: once and future cars, Mozart and more

    Monday, October 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- it's been a long and wonderful day with my younger son, I'm getting sleepy, midnight approaches, and my leaps are getting longer and looser -- g'night! ]
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    Flintstones Jetsons cars

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    Today was my day to discover Digital Tonto, aka Greg Satell: cause for rejoicing. I can seldom retrace more than a few of my online steps, it’s a nimble dance we do here on the net, but somehow i wound up reading three of his pages before clicking myself off on another leap of faith & inquiry…

    How The Future Is Really Built is great on Einstein, Wittgenstein, and all them ‘steins.

    The Visceral Abstract begins with this killer paragraph:

    Last week, Paul Broun, a US Congressman on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, asserted that evolution, embryology and big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell.” A recent Gallup survey suggests that 46% of Americans agree with him.

    Why 140 Characters Are Better Than A Flying Car brought me a image of the Jetson’s car, and I started thinking about the Flintstones, and soon I saw at the “once and future” automotive image at the top of this post.

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    Okay, let me take off on a tangent here. Digital Tonto writes:

    Does a banker with a multimillion-dollar bonus really represent a greater contribution than Tim Berners-Lee or Linus Torvalds?

    As for myself, I am biased in favor of Tim Berners-Lee. In the same post, DT also quotes the much tougher to read Martin Heidegger:

    However hard and bitter, however hampering and threatening the lack of houses remains, the real plight of dwelling does not lie merely in a lack of houses. The real plight of dwelling is indeed older than the world wars with their destruction, older also than the increase of the earth’s population and the condition of the industrial workers. The real dwelling plight lies in this, that mortals ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell.

    I believe the difference between “houses” and “dwelling” is a pretty fundamental one, close kin to the difference between denotation and connotation, or the time as pronounced by a mechanical clock, perhaps, and the time uttered by an impassioned, urgent human voice — thing and life, metronome and heartbeat, quantity and quality.

    And that’s the great koan again, right there: quantity and quality.

    Which brings me by my own leap of logic to Cornelius Castoriadis, and a quote I’ve dropped before:

    Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table. What does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night. What does this show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Mozart’s Requiem be a paradigm of being, let us start from that.” Why could we not start by positing a dream, a poem, a symphony as paradigmatic of the fullness of being and by seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way round, instead of seeing in the imaginary — that is, human — mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being?

    [ aha, Scott -- the Mozart Requiem! It's already Monday where you are, so I'll just drop in a link to the video this time... ]

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    BTW, I’m assisting noted futurist Jamais Cascio editing a book on privacy, currently in prospectus mode, and invite any ZP readers with an interest in the matter, to comment below.

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    With gratitude for today’s twitter feast..

    Monday, October 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- high risk furniture -- a single tweet with linked explanation, plus two sets of tweets I'd like to see further explained, explored and examined ]
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    First, a single tweet from Max Fisher with a catchy title and link, where the URL provides free access to the article in question..

    Single tweets like this with URLs are at the heart of intelligent twitter-use, and twitter #FFs are the curatorial device for honing in on them. But there have also been occasions when a string of tweets sets forth a noteworthy argument or tale, as in:

  • Jenan Moussa twitterstreams ISIS rules
  • Teju Cole on Nairobi: death and birdsong, death and poetry
  • Second, here are four tweets from Phil Arena via Adam Elkus:

    Fascinating ideation here, that I’d love to see developed.

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    And much the same goes for these five diagrammatic tweets from Darin Self via Phil Arena:

    These are really on the edge of my comprehension, but then again I quite deliberately read above my pay-grade, believing that old saw of Browning‘s:

    A man’s reach should exceed his grasp — or what’s a heaven for?

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    Sunday Surprise: Beethoven’s trousers, stockings & Missa Solemnis

    Sunday, October 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a DoubleQuote in words from the NYRB with one of the last and greatest Beethoven works -- while I polish up the rest of my posts for the day ]
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    beet-cover-mk
    Beethoven’s britches imagined by Mark Kitaoka for Dallas Symphony Orchestra Beethoven Festival Marketing Dept

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    In The Beethoven Mystery Case, Leo Carey writes:

    Nine hundred and thirty pages into Jan Swafford’s new biography of Beethoven, there is an interesting juxtaposition. After the composer died, in March 1827, his funeral was “one of the grandest Vienna ever put on for a commoner.” Schools were closed. Some 10,000 people crowded into the courtyard of the building where he had lived, then followed the coffin to the local parish church—not, as Swafford has it, to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. (Among the torchbearers was Franz Schubert.) Franz Grillparzer, the leading Viennese writer of the day, wrote a funeral oration. But later that year, when Beethoven’s effects were auctioned off, a lifetime’s worth of manuscripts and sketchbooks fetched prices that Swafford calls “pathetic.” Beethoven’s late masterpiece the Missa Solemnis went for just seven florins. By comparison, his old trousers and stockings sold for six florins.

    The “wild” DoubleQuote implicit in those last two sentences:

  • Trousers and stockings, six florins
  • Manuscript of the Missa Solemnis, seven florins
  • One underlying theme here is the familiar one of quantitative vs qualitative evaluations. Another has to do with the slow arrival of great thought among those unprepared for it.

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    For free, courtesy of YouTube, something I believe is worth just a little more than a suit of clothes .. Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings you the Missa Solemnis.

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    & a new post — Time & Space, exact and vast, in few words

    Saturday, June 28th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- matching aphorisms for a glimpse of contrasting worldviews -- Western, Taliban, South Asian, African, ISIS ]

    Image

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    Francesca Borri, writing for Al-Monitor under the title Behind the black flag: current, former ISIS fighters speak, is my source for the aphorism in the upper panel, which, if I might move up a level or two of abstraction, translates to the “ratio”:

    you : bounded :: we : boundless

    in spatial terms — really not a far cry from its temporal equivalent in the lower panel:

    you : time-bound :: we : time free

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    Here’s a touch of context for the ISIS fighter’s remark:

    M. is still a fighter. When ISIS withdrew eastward, he withdrew, too, speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype from Al Bab. Aleppo’s countryside is scattered with ISIS gunmen.

    I asked M. if his movement was bent on redrawing the map of the Middle East, to which he replied, “There is no map. … Where you see borders, we see only your interests.”

    And here’s Joel Hafvenstein at Registan, supported by the redoubtable Joshua Foust, describing the alleged Taliban aphorism as “oddly condescending and inapt” in a 2010 post titled Oh, And We Have The Watches Too:

    I’m curious: has anyone out there ever personally heard an insurgent (or any Afghan, for that matter) use the proverb, “You have the watches, but we have the time”?

    I’ve heard it quoted grimly by a lot of NATO military personnel, and of course it’s been repeated ad nauseam by the media.  But it sounded strange and inauthentic to me from the first time I heard it in 2003.   I never saw it attributed to an actual Afghan; many early reports openly called it apocryphal, before it took on a life of its own.  In my admittedly limited experience, I’ve never heard it used by an Afghan.  But it’s a familiar phrase in other parts of South Asia and Africa, where it’s used very differently: to contrast the soulless Western rat race with the local good life.

    So the DoubleQuote may be a QuoteMisquote, at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned – but whether its talking insurgency warfare or the good life, it suggests — as does the upper quote — that an overly-calibrated life may lose in its rigidity what a more free-form and responsive life may gain in fluidity.

    Shades of Lao Tsu, and the way that can be quantified is not the way of quality!

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