The Rise and Fall of Cultures.
Spengler. Culture morphology.
Cultures are beings similar to organisms and their
course resembles that of the seasons. Cultures go through winter, spring,
summer, autumn and possibly again a new winter or even a new seasonal
cycle on the whole with smaller differences, smaller amplitudes.
Two examples can be seen in my avatar. (1)
The first example shows the development in a larger framework from the
first cave drawings to the present and can be called Metaculture;
its likely most prominent signs are: (a)
painted pictures, (b) first writing, (c)
first vowel writing, (d) first running
pictures (movies). (2) The second example
shows one of the High Cultures (according to Spengler eight
in number): the occidental culture; for its time span, however, I do not
estimate about 1000 years like Spengler did, but about 2000 years. The
sequence can be seen in my avatar from left to right and from top to bottom.
Cultures are organisms. World history is their total biography.
The immense history of the Chinese or ancient culture is morphologically
the exact side piece to the small history of the individual human being,
an animal, a tree or a flower. This is not a demand for the Faustian
view, but an experience. If one wants to know the everywhere repeated
inner form, the comparative morphology of the plants and animals has
long prepared the method for it.
- Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 1918, S. 140
Spengler made the astonishing claim, that he had introduced
a »Copernican« model of history. History is not linear,
but rather the organic rise and fall of High Cultures. Modern Man believs
in the idea of »progress«, the idea that history moves along
a linear path of moral, political, social and technolgical improvement.
The final state of this »improvement« will be, the Modern
Man believes, an utopia of peace, equality, freedom, material abundance
and security. Nature will no longer be able to constrain man. It is
the Faustian longing for boundless infinity. Culture is an organic process
with stage of birth, maturity and ultimately death. Western culture's
boundless optimism lies within Christianity. The idea of progression
of time towards a final, perfect heaven and earth. This feeling of progress
was rationalized, naturalized and secularized in the Enlightenment.
For Modern Man his religion is Enlightenment ideology. He believes that
the holy trinity - equality, Democracy and Materialism - will lead inevitably
to utopia on earth, despite evidence to the contrary. His faith in them
is absolutely certain. Pacifism will not »save« mankind.
Equality will not »save« mankind. Science will not »save«
mankind. Capitalism will not »save« mankind. There is nothing
that will usher in an utopia for man and this world. Utopian ideals
are perfect and static. Life is change. When an entire society chases
after utopian fantasies, it is a sign of old age. Every culture/civilization,
no matter how formerly great, has ended / will end. Fairy tales of heaven
on earth through tolerance and understanding are foolish dreams. A people
must insist on its own existence, no one else will.
Spengler was quite conscious of this clash of orientations in
the West. He knew that men are generally disdainful of experience and
that, driven by limitless and uncontrolled hope, they like to conceptualize
the future in terms of what they consider the desirable rather than
the likely course of events. In counterpoint to these, in his view,
irrational trends, he remarked that optimism is naive and in some respects
even vulgar, and that it surely stands for cowardice when one is afraid
to face the fact that life is fleeting and transient in all its aspects.
These thoughts touch a major motif in Spengler's philosophy which critics
tend to ignore, namely the recognition of the place of tragedy in the
Occidental cultural world. Tragic modes of experiencing life can only
evolve there, where the individual human being is presumed autonomous
in his feelings, thoughts, and actions, and where he is therefore vulnerable
to the agony of having to make choices between conflicting interests
and commitments. **
Since Newton, the assumption of constant mass the counterpart
of constant force has had uncontested validity. But the Quantum
theory of Planck, and the conclusions of Niels Bohr therefrom as to
the fine structure of atoms, which experimental experience had rendered
necessary, have destroyed this assumption. Every self-contained system
possesses, besides kinetic energy, an energy of radiant heat which is
inseparable from it and therefore cannot be represented purely by the
concept of mass. For if mass is defined by living energy it is ipso
facto no longer constant with reference to thermodynamic state. Nevertheless,
it is impossible to fit the theory of quanta into the group of hypotheses
constituting the »classical« mechanics of the Baroque; moreover,
along with the principle of causal continuity, the basis of the Infinitesimal
Calculus founded by Leibniz is threatened (1).
But, if these are serious enough doubts, the ruthlessly cynical hypothesis
of the Relativity theory strikes to the very heart of dynamics. Supported
by the experiments of A. A. Michelson, which showed that the velocity
of light remains unaffected by the motion of the medium, and prepared
mathematically by Lorentz and Minkowski, its specific tendency is to
destroy the notion of absolute time. Astronomical discoveries (and here
present-day scientists are seriously deceiving themselves) can neither
establish nor refute it. »Correct« and »incorrect«
are not the criteria whereby such assumptions are to be tested; the
question is whether, in the chaos of involved and artificial ideas that
has been produced by the innumerable hypotheses of Radioactivity and
Thermodynamics, it can hold its own as a useable hypothesis or not.
But however this may be, it has abolished the constancy of those physical
quantities into the definition of which time has entered, and unlike
the antique statics, the Western dynamics knows only such quantities.
Absolute measures of length and rigid bodies are no more. And with this
the possibility of absolute quantitative delimitations and therefore
the »classical« concept of mass as the constant ratio between
force and acceleration fall to the ground just after the quantum
of action, a product of energy and time, had been set up as a new constant.
(1) See M. Planck, Entstehung und bisherige
Entwicklung der Quantentheorie (1920), pp. 17, 25.
If we make it clear to ourselves that the atomic ideas of Rutherford
and Bohr (2) signify nothing but this,
that the numerical results of observations have suddenly been provided
with a picture of a planetary world within the atom, instead of that
of atom-swarms hitherto favoured; if we observe how rapidly card-houses
of hypothesis are run up nowadays, every contradiction being immediately
covered up by a new hurried hypothesis; if we reflect on how little
heed is paid to the fact that these images contradict one another and
the »classical« Baroque mechanics alike, we cannot but realize
that the great style of ideation is at an end and that, as in architecture
and the arts of form, a sort of craft-art of hypothesis-building has
taken its place. Only our extreme maestria in experimental technique
true child of its century hides the collapse of the symbolism.
(2) Which in many cases have led to the supposition
that the »actual existence« of atoms has now at last been
proved a singular throw-back to the materialism of the preceding
Amongst these symbols of decline, the most conspicuous is the notion
of entropy, which forms the subject of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The first law, that of the conservation of energy, is the plain formulation
of the essence of dynamics not to say of the constitution of
the West-European soul, to which nature is necessarily visible only
in the form of a contrapuntal-dynamic causality (as against the static-plastic
causality of Aristotle). The basic element of the Faustian world-picture
is not the attitude but the feed and, mechanically considered, the process,
and this law merely puts the mathematical character of these processes
into form as variables and constants. But the Second Law goes deeper,
and shows a bias in nature-happenings which is in no wise imposed a
priori by the conceptual fundamentals of dynamics.
Mathematically, entropy is represented by a quantity which is fixed
by the momentary state of a self-contained system of bodies and under
all physical and chemical alterations can only increase, never diminish;
in the most favourable conditions it remains unchanged. Entropy, like
force and will, is something which (to anyone for whom this form-world
is accessible at all) is inwardly clear and meaningful, but is formulated
differently by every different authority and never satisfactorily by
any. Here again, the intellect breaks down where the world-feeling demands
Nature-processes in general have been classified as irreversible and
reversible, according as entropy is increased or not. In any process
of the first kind, free energy is converted into bound energy, and if
this dead energy is to be turned once more into living, this can only
occur through the simultaneous binding of a further quantum of living
energy in some second process; the best-known example is the combustion
of coal that is, the conversion of the living energy stored up
in it into heat bound by the gas form of the carbon dioxide, if the
latent energy of water is to be translated into steam-pressure and thereafter
into motion. It follows that in the world as a whole entropy continually
increases; that is, the dynamic system is manifestly approaching to
some final state, whatever this may be. Examples of the irreversible
processes are conduction of heat, diffusion, friction, emission of light
and chemical reactions; of reversible, gravitation, electric oscillations,
electromagnetic waves and sound-waves.
What has never hitherto been fully felt, and what leads me to regard
the Entropy Theory (1850) as the beginning of the destruction of that
masterpiece of Western intelligence, the old dynamic physics, is the
deep opposition of theory and actuality which is here for the first
time introduced into theory itself. The First Law had drawn the strict
picture of a causal nature-happening, but the Second Law by introducing
irreversibility has for the first time brought into the mechanical-logical
domain a tendency belonging to immediate life and thus in fundamental
contradiction with the very essence of that domain.
If the Entropy theory is followed out to its conclusion, it results,
firstly, that in theory all processes must be reversible which
is one of the basic postulates of dynamics and is reasserted with all
rigour in the Law of the Conservation of Energy but, secondly,
that in actuality processes of nature in their entirety are irreversible.
Not even under the artificial conditions of laboratory experiment can
the simplest process be exactly reversed, that is, a state once passed
cannot be re-established. Nothing is more significant of the present
condition of systematics than the introduction of the hypotheses of
»elementary disorder« for the purpose of smoothing-out the
contradiction between intellectual postulate and actual experience.
The »smallest particles« of a body (an image, no more) throughout
perform reversible processes, but in actual things the smallest particles
are in disorder and mutually interfere; and so the irreversible process
that alone is experienced by the observer is linked with increase of
entropy by taking the mean probabilities of occurrences. And thus theory
becomes a chapter of the Calculus of Probabilities, and in lieu of exact
we have statistical methods.
Evidently, the significance of this has passed unnoticed. Statistics
belong, like chronology, to the domain of the organic, to fluctuating
Life, to destiny and incident and not to the world of laws and timeless
causality. As everyone knows, statistics serve above all to characterize
political and economic, that is, historical, developments. In the »classical«
mechanics of Galileo and Newton there would have been no room for them.
And if, now, suddenly the contents of that field are supposed to be
understood and understandable only statistically and under the aspect
of probability instead of under that of the a piori exactitude
which the Baroque thinkers unanimously demanded what does it
mean? It means that the object of understanding is ourselves. The nature
»known« in this wise is the nature that we know by way of
living experience, that we live in ourselves. What theory asserts (and,
being itself, must assert) to wit, this ideal irreversibility
that never happens in actuality represents a relic of the old
severe intellectual form, the great Baroque tradition that had contrapuntal
music for twin sister. But the resort to statistics shows that the force
that that tradition regulated and made effective is exhausted. Becoming
and become, destiny and causality, historical and natural-science elements
are beginning to be confused. Formulas of life, growth, age, direction
and death are crowding up.
That is what, from this point of view, irreversibility in world-processes
has to mean. It is the expression, no longer of the physical, but of
genuine historical, inwardly-experienced time, which is identical with
Baroque physics was, root and branch, a strict systematic and remained
so for as long as its structure was not racked by theories like these,
as long as its field was absolutely free from anything that expressed
accident and mere probability. But directly these theories come up,
it becomes physiognomic. »The course of the world« is followed
out. The idea of the end of the world appears, under the veil of formulas
that are no longer in their essence formulas at all. Something Goethean
has entered into physics and if we understand the deeper significance
of Goethe's passionate polemic against Newton in the »Farbenlehre«
we shall realize the full weight of what this means. For therein intuitive
vision was arguing against reason, life against death, creative image
against normative law. The critical form-world of nature-knowledge came
out of nature-feeling, God-feeling, as the evoked contrary. Here, at
the end of the late period, it has reached the maximal distance and
is turning to come home.
So, once more, the imaging-power that is the efficient in dynamics
conjures up the old great symbol of Faustian man's historical passion,
care the out-look into the farthest far of past and future, the
back-looking study of history, the foreseeing state, the confessions
and introspections, the bells that sounded over all our country-sides
and measured the passing of Life. The ethos of the word time, as we
alone feel it, as instrumental music alone and no statue-plastic can
carry it, is directed upon an aim. This aim has been figured in every
life-image that the West has conceived as the Third Kingdom,
as the New Age, as the task of mankind, as the issue of evolution. And
it is figured, as the destined end-state of all Faustian »nature«
Directional feeling, a relation of past and future, is implicit already
in the mythic concept of force on which the whole of this dogmatic form-world
rests, and in the description of natural processes it emerges distinct.
It would not be too much, therefore, to say that entropy, as the intellectual
form in which the infinite sum of nature-events is assembled as a historical
and physiognomic unit, tacitly underlay all physical concept-formation
from the outset, so that when it came out (as one day it was bound to
come out) it was as a »discovery« of scientific induction
claiming »support« from all the other theoretical elements
of the system. The more dynamics exhausts its inner possibilities as
it nears the goal, the more decidedly the historical characters in the
picture come to the front and the more insistently the organic necessity
of destiny asserts itself side by side with the inorganic necessity
of causality, and direction makes itself felt along with capacity and
intensity, the factors of pure extension. The course of this process
is marked by the appearance of whole series of daring hypotheses, all
of like sort, which are only apparently demanded by experimental results
and which in fact world-feeling and mythology imagined as long ago as
the Gothic age.
Above all, this is manifested in the bizarre hypotheses of atomic
disintegration which elucidate the phenomena of radioactivity, and according
to which uranium atoms that have kept their essence unaltered, in spite
of all external influences, for millions of years and then suddenly
without assignable cause explode, scattering their smallest particles
over space with velocities of thousands of kilometres per second. Only
a few individuals in an aggregate of radioactive atoms are struck by
destiny thus, the neighbours being entirely unaffected. Here too, then,
is a picture of history and not »nature,« and although statistical
methods here also prove to be necessary, one might almost say that in
them mathematical number has been replaced by chronological.
With ideas like these, the mythopoetic force of the Faustian soul
is returning to its origins. It was at the outset of the Gothic, just
at the time when the first mechanical clocks were being built, that
the myth of the world's end, Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, arose.
It may be that, like all the reputedly old-German myths Ragnarok (whether
in the Voluspa form or as the Christian Muspilli) was modelled more
or less on Classical and particularly Christian-Apocalyptic motives.
Nevertheless, it is the expression and symbol of the Faustian and of
no other soul. The Olympian college is historyless, it knows no becoming,
no epochal moments, no aim. But the passionate thrust into distance
is Faustian. Force, Will, has an aim, and where there is an aim there
is for the inquiring eye an end. That which the perspective of oil-painting
expressed by means of the vanishing point, the Baroque park by its pint
de vue, and analysis by the the term of an infinite series the
conclusion, that is, of a willed directedness assumes here the
form of the concept. The Faust of the Second Part is dying, for he has
reached his goal. What the myth of Götterdammerung signified of
old, the irreligious form of it, the theory of entropy, signifies today
world's end as completion of an inwardly necessary evolution.
- Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 1918, S. 540-547
Therefore I said, (a) you
are neutral, as you should be as a moderator, which you were in former
times, or (b) you try to touch all groups
equally, which is also quite moderator-like (**|**);
but since September/October 2019 you are no moderator anymore:.
Therefore I offered you two alternatives (**|**).
There are more people in a group than people who think they are
not in a group. (An old and famous philosopher). Even this one is
in a group:
»Those who aspire to do philosophy would best be careful not
to be too-rigidly oriented in the past (as he
quotes Shaw -
And those who have aspiration for the future would best be careful
to not ignore the past. **
Yes, for sure.
It is the rejection of life in a group, especially
the rejection of what holds the group together. This rejection goes as
far as the rejection of one's own identity.
Infertility and Decay.
And now from the fact that existence becomes more and more rootless,
the wakefulness more and more tense, finally that phenomenon emerges,
which was prepared in silence long ago and now suddenly moves into the
bright light of history to put an end to the whole spectacle: the
infertility of civilized man. This is not something that could be
understood with everyday causality, for example physiologically, as
modern science has naturally tried to do. Here is a thoroughly metaphysical
turn to death. The last man of the world cities does not want to live
any more, certainly as an individual, but not as a type, as a multitude;
in this total being the fear of death expires. That which afflicts
the true peasant with a deep and inexplicable fear, the thought of the
extinction of the family and the name, has lost its meaning. The continuation
of the related blood within the visible world is no longer felt as the
duty of this blood, the lot of being the last is no longer felt as a
doom. Not only because children have become impossible, but above all
because the intelligence, which has been increased to the utmost, no
longer finds reasons for their existence, they remain absent.
(Translated by me.)
- Oswald Spengler, Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 1918-1922,
S. 678-679 (**).
According to Spengler, the civilization of a culture is its downfall
and the time after that, if it still exists, i.e. the petrification, the
freezing, the solidification in winter. When the culture becomes civilization,
its urbanites begin to reject the community, all tradition and history,
even the parents. And in the end, the culture/civilization consists almost
entirely of city dwellers (except the most faithfully country people).
The individual culture/civilization member just wants to be himself, not
a member of his culture/civilization anymore.
Peter Sloterdijk said something about this too in almost all of his
books, but especially in his 2014 published book Die schrecklichen
Kinder der Neuzeit (The terrible children of modern
times - there is no English translation of the book yet, as
far as I know), which I consider to be the best of his books. He says
that in the course of history there are (a) at first few, (b) then already
some more and (c) afterwards very many terrible children,
who all fight their history, i.e. their origin, their tradition, their
belonging to a culture, history, homeland, family etc.. The curve for
the number of terrible children in history suddenly rises
Sloterdijk's division of culture into three evolutionary or historical
stages - early culture, high culture, late
culture (this understood in the sense of Gehlen) -, which is often
found in his books, does not coincide with the division which Spengler
prefered in his philosophy of culture and history and which I prefer in
my philosophy of culture and history. That which I call the human primitive
culture or hunter-gatherer culture lasting until the
invention of writing, i.e. lasting for a very long time, he calls early
culture; that which I call the human metaculture (see
my last post [**|**])
or historical culture (consisting of eight historical
cultures / high cultures), he calls high culture,
which according to him lasts from the time of the invention of writing
either (a) up to the axis time (Jaspers) or (b) up to the
late Middle Ages resp. to the beginning of modern times or even to the
French Revolution; the time after that is still a time of high culture
(now almost civilization, late culture) according to my theory
of culture, but for Sloterdijk it is the time of late culture
(understood in the sense of Gehlen - as already said). **
In the meantime, humans have only ever changed the world in different
ways; the important thing is to save it. **
Today's people are very fearful people. This is also the main motive
in this case (**):
people are afraid that their website will not be found and feel like someone
who disappears into infinite vastness of the universe.
Until now, machines have only done what is rational.