Monday, November 05, 2007

The Feel of Numbers

In talking about the feel of numbers I'm taking a cue from Dylan's latest post though naturally he is not to be blamed. Numbers are not all felt equally. Three feels different than four, two thirds feels different than three fourths, the passage from three to four feels different than the passage from four to three, and so on. Can these feelings be expressed in words? Could a Pablo Neruda definitively describe the feeling of a fanfare of perfect fourths and seconds? Ah, but poetry is anything but anaesthetic description, and we somehow expect that definition should be anaesthetic.

By "abstraction" we usually mean thought's drawing away from concrete reality, which implies drawing away from feelings. However, feelings may also be abstracted, ratiocinated, for an ability with ratios does not belong to thought exclusively. Even numbness has a coenesthetic quality, though we usually experience numbness as partial, that is, as a feeling. The abstraction of the feeling of numbers finds its elaboration in music.

In a musical moment thought and feeling may appear as one. In such a moment it still makes sense to speak of abstraction, though obviously not of an abstraction of feeling from thought. Music abstracts from habitual ways of enduring, durations long and short and marked by if not saturated in passions. In music we encounter the mutability of the passions. When we say "concrete reality" we should mean nothing less than the concretetion or the growing together of everything it takes to make a reality. When we draw away from concrete reality in one mode we encounter accidentals and modulations. We might note the imperfection or the fragility of drawing away from concrete reality. The accidental also whispers that an abstraction is a concrete experience and therefore a reality. Abstraction, to deserve its name, should teach us that reality is both evanescent and mutable.

If music is an abstraction of feeling, and feelings are mutable, is music pure permutation? Well, it's probably impure permutation as such, but given that, what kind of time is musical time? Does time exist in any way that is not an entwinement? (I can't help saying that the entwinement too is felt differently than the braid, even in English.) Things are getting a little crowded if I say that music can simultaneously be an abstraction of feeling, of thought, and of time. My point here is that abstraction is more crowded than we're allowed to realize.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:15 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whitehead has a bit to say about abstraction. Especially 'well-founded abstractions.
There's nothing 'abstract' about the power abstraction. E.g. the abstractions of a 'silent' nature or a 'neuronal brain'.

an object of thought is an abstraction - but with his notion of 'ingression' this object may not be reducible to mental acts....

L’ingression de l’objet a pour première fonction d’affirmer que l’abstraction, requise par le jugement de reconnaissance, la mémoire, la comparaison, n’est pas réductible à ces opérations intellectuelles : à propos de ce qui est abstrait, de l’entité comme objet de pensée, il faut dire à la fois qu’il est le produit d’une abstraction et que cette abstraction répond peut-être, mais c’est à vérifier. (Stengers, Penser avec Whitehead).

Rambling as usual.

November 05, 2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Paul. Yeah, I should read Whitehead on ingression and concrescence too. Going to my favorite bookstore on Wednesday, maybe I'll find something.

I suppose I might be guilty of several counts of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. That's what talking off the cuff will do to you.

November 05, 2007 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science and the Modern World is a good/best place to start...

November 05, 2007 9:52 PM  

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