Discover more from Layman Pascal
what is a juggalo?
Q: What is a metapheme ?
A juggalo (or juggalette) is a fan of the 1990s hip-hop band Insane Clown Posse whose absurdist “dark carnival” ethos encouraged people to conceal their faces in macabre clown make-up and gather for strange new festivals. This is anarchically explained in their infamous 1997 song What is a Juggalo?
A METAPHEME (on the other hand) is a word I invented nonchalantly to describe the entire class of patterns that populate the general “space” of vision-logic insights. A metapheme is the kind of creature that populates the metaphorical terrain of integrative meta-models and their cousins.
If you’re anything like me, you probably roll your eyes when you hear the endless parade of “physics popularizers” explaining that the meaning of quantum mechanics is basically incomprehensible because concepts in our ordinary language — which evolved to help us replicate at the macro-scale of human organisms — simply don’t apply to the sheer strangeness of the sub-atomic realm.
Entanglement. Superposition. Etc.
This argument strikes me as odd because colloquial language contains many expressions that seem resonant with these structured vagariens. In English we might say things like: More-or-less. Not quite. A-bit-of-both. Hither-and-yon. “You never can tell!” “A watched pot never boils.” Many ordinary pieces of speech and commonly understood concepts might refined into greater precision by the mathematically formulations of new physics. Math and physics has always tried to follow philosophy’s example by refining the implications of ordinary speech into more rigorous ideas — but historically this only occurred with certain parts of speech. The mechanical and classical formulations of science derived from the aspects of language which made sense according to the paradigms and presumptions that held sway in the particular epoch.
The reason I mention this is because a metapheme is very much like a unit of quantum information. It is a philosophical concept that has more in common with the relationship of “more-or-less” than it does with “an isolated thing.”
We’re about to go into some pretty abstract explorations of philosophy, physics, information and meta-cognition, so please feel to skip over the details and simply become a juggalo.
(An instructional hip-hop video is provided at the end of this article.)
A Provisional Definition
Meta = in-between, around & beyond; next-level; compression of basic variables into a more comprehensive but common form of content.
Pheme = thing.
Metapheme. n. A unique reciprocal & variable proximity function; a specific adjacency; a type-of-perspective; a reliable unit of operational nonduality required for the production of consilience across plural perpsectives.
So, in my thinking, metaphemes describe the basic building blocks (sic) of reality as dynamic relational couplings contextualized along a gradient that passes infinitesimally into inversely-related terminal qualities that can never be completely separated or unified.
Let’s start very small and build up from there…
What is a bit?
One bit of information is a 0/1 option. We all know this although we seldom think about it deeply enough — by which I mean that we seldom incorporate the implied context of the idea into our thought. We imagine a bit as being informative because a switch can be either on or off. Either way we receive a bit of communicable data that helps build up the digital universe. But it gets a little more complex if we pull back slightly.
It is not just ON or OFF… it is also on OR off.
The relational mediating syntax between the states operates as a simultaneous sameness-and-difference. It places them in a common frame of mutually intelligible options out of which a meaningful differential can be elicited.
So the most basic unit of information is not at all like a single isolated “one unit.” It is, instead, a complementary reciprocal variable that entangles two inversely-related qualities in dynamic same-difference. All of that is the simplest thing.
And both physical reality and all of the digital machinery upon which our survival now depends are based on metaphemes of this kind.
What is a Qubit?
The construction of quantum computers takes this to the natural next step. It probes into a deeper range of metaphemes underlying the bits. These quantum bits (qubits) are said to be in a superposition of states. That’s somewhat misleading and the phrase causes people to vex each other with all kinds of strange claims about things that are both zero AND one at the same time!
Imagine a ruler or numberline. Aren’t there a lot of positions between 0 and 1 which partake partially of both qualities? 1/2. 1/19. 1/1087. There is a natural range of flux within the adjacency between “nothing activated” and “something activated.” A huge range of territories exist which can be either more one-ish or more zero-ish.
If you zoom in on the slash mark between yes/no — will you not find a reciprocalized gradient of inversely-related options providing a variable degree of proximity that inherently incorporates the partial identity of each virtual “temrinal” ?
Other Famous Physics
Albert Einstein was famously able to demonstrate that measurements of velocity and extension are reciprocally entangled pieces of physical information. Length varies with speed.
This means, essentially, that “length” and “speed” are the same one piece of information. A little more space-like means a little less time-like and vice versa but they are integrated perspectival alternatives. He discovered a metapheme and revolutionized our calculations of the physical universe.
He also worked out that “energy” and “mass” are the same piece of information looked at from two different sides. Hmmmmm.
Werner Heisenberg demonstrated that “position” and “momentum” are also a single piece of double-headed information. They are reciprocally entangled. When you gain more data about momentum, you lose the same amount of data about position. (He even calculated the smallest amount of this double-sided information — Planck’s constant divided by 4 x pi… if I’m remembering correctly.)
You’re probably getting the main idea.
It isn’t spooky to see two entangled particles in quantum mechanics. All information is relational. A fundamental bit of data is a unique variable reciprocal gradient distributed over two or more alternative, inversely-related qualities or quantities.
Okay, enough physics. Let’s scale this up to the level of human philosophy…
If we examine the elaborate work of integrative synoptic philosophers (epitomized in the last generation by Sir Kenneth Wilber) we find these obsessive meta-freaks constantly trying to collect together the large abstract metaphemes that are distributed across the history of philosophical discourse. These are people who try to coherently gather up the major types-of-perspectives found among humans.
Willber (in The Spectrum of Consciousness) started by noting that a vertical axis could tidy up the relationship between different schools of psychology and spirituality. The Freudians, Jungians, Humanists, Existentialists, Energy Mystics, Consciousness Mystics, etc. might be addressing different junctions on the same gradient. He was trying to flesh out a metapheme. At first he theorized that this single element of reality was sliding between “nearer to the primal origin” and “more fully elaborated in matter.” Quickly he changed his mind. The new formulation was that this one information system described the reciprocal gradient relationship fundamenta/significant. If something was more fundamental, it was less significant. And vice versa. The most basic form of consciousness is the least meaningful form of consciousness…
A few years later, Wilber gave us what is probably his most useful intellectual tool — the mandala of the four quadrants. This is presented as the intersection of two metaphemes: subjective/objective & singular/plural.
The intregrative philosophers of psychology today are very happy with their model of the Big 5 traits as personality diagnosis. These are not singular self-enclosed units of information but reciprocal variables. For example, everyone is somewhere on the gradient of dis/agreeableness.
My pal John Vervaeke is found of the word transjectivity — meaning, at the very least, the neither “self” nor “other” can be accurately (scientifically) described in isolation.
Socio-behavioral descriptions of human beings place them upon a left/right or a masculine/feminine gradient in different contexts. It seems clumsy, outdated, in accurate and even dangerous to place a person entirely in one of the zones. We are constantly confronted by variation and nuance that demands that these are understand, at least minimally, as contextually-dependent reciprocal gradient variables which only approximate absolute alternatives under certain limited conditions.
Ian McGilchrist has lately emerged as a crucial reference point for liminal discourse — extrapolating from contemporary neuroscience to tell as story of individuals and whole cultures moving back and forth along an attentional metapheme characterized by right/left modes of perception.
In cultures where the philosophers are assumed to offer a single “authorial” vision, we can simply assert hegemonic interests through a normative parochial definition. But in the plural culture of digital worlds-in-collision, the philosophers must adapt to the new task of clarifying the implied structures that enable and sustain pluralism. These are the integrative variables. They attempt to bring dynamic, nuanced relational order to the otherwise chaotic relativity of endlessly proliferating multiple perspectives. In order to do this, they end up inevitably reaching for what I am calling metaphemes.
An Adequate Metatheory
This brings us to my starting point in discussions about the proper “metatheory.” My view is that there is no such things as single adequate meta-model of the relational structures which describe our various types-of-perspectival-engagement.
Instead, I have argued that there is a set of adaptive combinations of metaphemes that could be organized according to the quantity of relational variables that are in play.
Just as Ken Wilber produce his “four quadrants” mandala by crossing the two metaphemes of subjective/objective with singular/plural, we could imagine the whole set of models that would be produced by crossing two metaphemes. And then the set of all models produced by crossing three metaphemes. And four. Etc.
The “correct meta-model” would then consist of the appropriate combination of metaphemes, applicable to the problem-space of your inquiry, which is capable of being understood by the user of the model. A meta-metatheory.
And this could be automated.
Although we first require a lot of verification work in communities of mutually-exchanging and mutually-critiquing integrative metatheorists — i.e. we have to figure out which metaphemes are more or less real — the result could easily be a digital interface that generated metamodels whose validity is found in the degree of intelligible fidelity afforded in a given context.
Thinking of these philosophical projects as moving toward a digital utility seems exquisitely appropriate given that it is likely the rise of digital network technologies that has inclined our minds toward the reciprocal variables implied by the basics of information theory and the form of “interlinking” itself….
So that’s what a metapheme is.
I appreciate your patience.
Now, what is a juggalo…