What Matters?

I dreamed last night:

I am to give a talk to a group of students, others.The atmosphere is friendly and eager. I am to give a talk on physics. I begin by talking about my undergraduate days in the physics department, how much I loved physics. Instead of posters of rock bands or women on my dorm walls, I had pictures of possible quantum states, or orbital clouds of statistical probabilities. As I warmed up to my theme, I decided to tell a joke about the conman and the physicist—what do they have in common? They both manipulate matter.

Then I woke up…

I have no difficulty in calling physicists Masters of matter. Just yesterday I learned how a new material has been made that is only a few atoms thick. Or you could think of technology’s ability to  move the finest matter around, according to its will (computers etc.) I have watched the process of grinding glass for telescopes to amazingly small tolerances, and even then occasionally making disastrous mistakes as in the Hubble telescope—and then fixing them in deep space!

But what about conmen? What kind of matter do they manipulate? Of course, the matter of the psyche, as a voice shouts at me. They can say the words that produce an image in the matter of our psyches. We are manipulated to agree that some things matter over others. The conman has the ability to make an image arise in the matter of the psyche by the way he/she uses words on us. In this way the conman can be very persuasive! The appearances that the conman wants us to perceive can be induced in us and exploited. In another essay I will show how this works re: COVID and the media….

Physicists exploit external matter for the purposes of our technological civilisation and conmen exploit the inner matter of the psyche for their own purposes or that of some group. Think “politics” for example! Did I just now manage to induce an image in you with my command “think politics”? Try not thinking about elephants now, etc. This is how the matter of our psyches gets manipulated. Good hypnotists can exploit this uncanny relationship between word and image. 

As I thought further about this dream pairing of conmen and physicists, I realised that the success of both parties utterly relies on matter being dead and therefore manipulable by the will. Both conman and physicist bend dead matter to their will. Even medical science treats the dead matter of the body. By “dead” I mean “ontologically dead”. Matter is not a subject like we are subjects; matter does not speak to us; matter makes no claim on us so that we must obey ITS will; dead matter holds no reigning power over us. The ontological status of matter is as an inert substance—both inner and outer matter. Both conman and physicist can impose their will on inert matter and make of it what they will.

But supposing this assumption about matter’s inertness is all wrong i.e  both external matter and psychic matter! Furthermore, what if the separation in language between inner matter and outer matter is all wrong too? What if matter is alive, a subject, and thus able to make ontological claims on us, i.e. able to press the reality of its being on us so that we may come to know a power greater than ourselves, and to whom we are beholden with the burden of a duty?

My dream has now re-connected me to a series of essays I wrote over the past few years, in which I try to articulate a new kind of living matter that western culture is slowly working towards in theory and language while at the same time, some individuals are in fact being initiated by this new matter into the reality of its being and into what it may want of us–its ontological claim on us.

Strange words indeed!

So now I must ( thus my dream has made a claim on me!) ponder my re-connection to this thread of my work, my task in this life. For some reason, a song comes to mind. Leonard Cohen wrote and speaks:

God is Alive Magic is Afoot

… magic is afoot
it cannot come to harm
it rests in an empty palm
it spawns in an empty mind
but magic is no instrument
magic is the end
many men drove magic
but magic stayed behind
many strong men lied
they only passed through magic
and out the other side
many weak men lied …