How Form Arises

Some assume that form is the direct product of intelligence alone. However intelligence cannot interact with natural material in a tyrannical fashion without damage or at best rigidity. Absolute control produces what is lifeless. Intelligence interacting with natural material must do so with utmost respect to the shape, size, makeup, and tendencies – in short, the nature – of that material.

I believe that form arises through a cooperation between intelligence and previously existing form. The previously existing form can be the shape and order that is found in pure nature (for instance, the molecular properties of halcite) or it can be the product of previous intelligent operations (for instance, the meaning and sound of words.)

In creating form that possesses truth and authenticity, it appears from one end of the process that the mind is organizing elements. From the other end, it appears that the elements are organizing themselves.

This winter, I stopped in at my favorite Mexican Restaurant one day when I was alone. I pulled into the driveway of the strip mall where it was located, and found that all the yellow lines demarcating parking slots were obscured by falling snow. Wondering where to park, I noted that other people had parked their cars in a definite pattern which I gladly imitated (and thereby added to and reinforced.) On one side of the aisle, cars were slanted in one direction. It would have been difficult for me to slant in that direction, coming from the road I came from. I would have had to turn left to do so and I would also have had to execute a more-than-90-degree turn. On the other side, cars were slanted in the opposite direction, which was perfect for me because I could turn right, not crossing traffic, at an easy angle. I parked near another vehicle and appreciated the design, arrived at spontaneously. 10 or 12 people, without speaking to one another, and at different times, had achieved a design, or form, that was superior to and more convenient than the one which the snow had obliterated, presumably arrived at through the control of a single person.

Of course they had done so by regarding their own convenience. Any (American) driver would rather turn right and not cross a lane of traffic in parking. Any driver would rather park at a slant thus avoiding the full turn of the wheel which grinds and causes degeneration in his automobile. By parking freely and naturally – that is, with regard to the nature of cars and group parking – we had arrived at a perfect design spontaneously.

While intelligence was obviously involved in this arrangement, there were other factors at work. The size of the vehicles determined the distances between them. Most importantly, drivers arriving later saw what previous drivers had done, and not only parked in a similar manner but at a close distance to their previously parked vehicles. Each vehicle became like a molecule in a crystal – they arranged themselves around one another in a way appropriate to their own shape and size.

I think this idea of crystals forming is a very useful image in considering questions of form, design, and organization. It suggests that the underlying principle of organization is that the similarity of like items implies an arrangement that pre-exists as an idea which must be discovered by the intelligence which seeks to organize the items. It also implies that freedom is necessary in order to arrive at this preferred arrangement, since coercion and force prevents the reference to nature. A superior single intelligence, or any competent single intelligence given sufficient time and experience, can discover this arrangement which is implied by the shared characteristics of like items. Given more thought, whoever designed the original parking arrangements in the strip mall could have figured out that slanting the slots in opposite directions encouraging right-turn parking allows for ease of parking regardless of which street one enters the strip-mall from. However it would also appear that if the owners had left the slots unpainted, a fairly efficient parking situation might have resulted regardless. And while the worst possible situation was for drivers to park willy-nilly, experience shows that people do not actually park that way in most cases. The worst likely situation is the one which actually occurs in that parking lot – that top-down organization prevents people from parking in the best possible manner.

Our church had new blacktop put down last summer. Parking slots are painted close to the building but not across the rest of the lot. I can attest to the sensible, organized parking arrangement that people arrange their cars into when not otherwise directed, even in a larger lot.

Other dimensions of this spontaneous organization involve the value that people put on their cars and their relationships with the owners of neighboring cars, and the estimated area covered by the open doors of each vehicle. More importantly, it involves the size and shape of the environment – the parking lot in this case – and where entry points are and how wide they are. For someone to design a perfectly-slotted parking lot, all of these things must be consciously calculated and combined into a design. But designs which are nearly as perfect arise spontaneously when people are given freedom to behave with regard to nature.

***

People make certain assumptions about certain terms which prevent understanding of this idea.

First, the term natural is largely misunderstood. Some people believe that only the most basic or base elements of an item constitute its nature, while its more complex, organized, or higher elements are seen to be somehow artificial. Darwinists made much of the discovery that higher elements arise from lowers ones. This was only half an idea but it was a spark to the tinder of the civilization built by Western Christianity. The assumption persists to this day that if higher elements arise from lowers ones, the lowers ones are therefore the source of the higher ones in the same sense that Christians assert God is the source of all things. Therefore, either God is the creator, or these lower elements take his place – one or the other. However these are actually two different senses of “source.” Where a higher element arises from a lower one, the higher was implied in the lower all along, just as the possibility of every snowflake crystal is implied in the nature of water falling through air at certain temperatures.

Disorders of the mind arise when human nature is thwarted. Harsh punishments, improper restrictions and top-down coercion are one sort of thwarting. Another sort is that which starves the mind of definition and form – does not define good, bad, acceptable, not acceptable, and fails to provide parameters of behavior in which the mind can develop a sense of normalcy.

Here again we see that what is necessary for good order to arise is the free cooperation of intelligence and nature. A growing child must have complete freedom to act until he acts in a way that disregards his nature and the nature of his surroundings and companions. At that moment he must be curbed. This is the way to grow without disorder and allow the mind to order itself. No system of teaching or discipline can organize a mind. Only disorders – obsessions, self-deceptions, adversarial relations – are produced by  the attempt to establish external control. The mind, the brain, has within it the implication of its own mature form and the energy to grow and arrange itself. Nothing and no one can do this work for it. Parents and others can only provide for the mind and brain according to its nature – fuel is needed, challenges are needed, information is needed, definitions and order and limits are needed, and, most of all, experience – of love and of work and of human establishments – are needed.

What about sin? My Christian readers may ask. I believe that sin is, in modern terminology, a disorder, perhaps of the spirit. It is not nature, but the corruption of nature. If sin (evil or harmful behavior) were natural it would not harm and disorder the mind, the home, and society. It is because it thwarts nature that sin is sinful – that is, because sin works contrary to the creative work of God in making man what he was meant to be, it is wrong. It destroys the good act of God.

Some people do not understand this because it does not occur to them to make the proper connections between creation and nature. I do not know how to explain this connection if someone doesn’t see it because it seems obvious to me. Maybe someday I will discover the proper way to explain these manifest truths. Suffice it to say that the power of speech is human nature, having been bestowed on man by his creator according to a certain mechanism which we observe when a baby learns to speak as her mind freely organizes itself around its own primitive elements while in a language-rich environment. Thus the higher arises from the lower, while the lower is dependent upon the higher. God is equally the source of both in an incomprehensible manner. However the specific behavior of inventing or using language to hurt others or with the result of darkening one’s own power of reason and ability to see and appreciate truth is not nature. It destroys nature – it corrupts the power of speech and of reason. Certain will say, “Well, sin is our nature now, even if it wasn’t our nature at the creation.” However it is plain that God’s act of creation is still at work since babies are still being born. Everywhere, God creates and evil destroys. Which is stronger? Which is actually real and permanent and established? God’s creation or sin? It is because I refuse to deify sin that I assert, goodness is nature, is real, and evil is a parasite, a cancer and a corruption on nature.

Some ask, “Why does my sin or my disorder feel natural if it’s not my nature?”

First I think this is an illusion that wears off. After years of alcoholism many people are sick to their very soul of the abuse of this substance, and of their own passionate enslavement to its abuse. Secondly, in this moment the evil is revealed for what it is – a Trojan horse that infects nature and makes use of nature (for instance, alcohol abuse makes use of the natural power of swallowing, the natural mechanism of appetite, the natural instinct to medicate oneself in times of distress, and thus gains power over the individual) but eventually reveals itself as the destroyer of nature (deadening brain cells, destroying the function of the liver, weakening a person’s ability to control his bodily actions and moral choices and even neutralizing the effectiveness of alcohol as a form of medication and its safety as a contributor to celebrations and its sanctity as a sacramental element.)

I picture nature as a collection of various energies that tend to run in a collection of matched channels. I think there are many reasons why the wrong energies may come to run in the wrong channels, or run too fast or two slow, or mix improperly. The fundamentalist instinct to define sin in a way that feeds self-hatred, thus making one’s own being a blood-sacrifice to a false god instead of a living sacrifice to the real God who wants us alive and human, the way he designed us, resists any definition of sin that pays attention to its mechanism or provides for a sense of pity and understanding about how people get themselves into sin. Again, refusing to bestow characteristics of divinity upon evil, I assert that sin is not greater than the glory of God – and the glory of God is man, as the scriptures say. True man is greater than sin, however infected and corrupted by it. This is simply to say that man is redeemable. There is a difference between demon fallenness and human fallenness.

***

But to speak of literature and formal poetry.

When people have difficulty writing poems according to form, it is often because they try to impose a previously existing form, coercively, upon a thought or concept or story that also is fully and previously existing. This is not according to the nature of language. Dead formalism will result.

Often the seed or germ of a poetic thought is contained in a first line that springs to the mind spontaneously. Miraculously, if the line is truly poetic, the germ of a new form is also contained in that line. A poet’s intelligence can learn to marshall the words suggested by each previous line into successive lines, thus allowing the thought and the form to come into being together in a mutually dependent arrangement that results in perfect form.

It’s a higher order of skill, in my opinion, to find the perfect line that suggest both an unformed poetic thought and also an already-existing form, then allowing the the thoughts to suggests words which happen to fit that form.

This also is human nature, and the glory of God.

***

I ought to mention that there are implications for the practice of religion. Formal religion is not formalistic religion. Formalism is giving priority to an order or form which is preferred for its own sake and not because it was the natural or tendentious arrangement of proper elements. Formal religion, however, is ignored at great peril. Wherever forms arranged themselves early in Church history and passed themselves down through centuries, one can be sure that original elements are at work in them to this day. There is simply no other way to enculturate people into the attitudes and fellowship and sacrifice of early Christianity than to practice the forms which grew up out of early Christian cooperation and freedom. I can attest personally that they are powerful in ways that make later inventions laughable at best. Free-form religion has neither freedom nor form. As we have seen, freedom in cooperation with nature is what produces form.

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