Some Material on Dialectics

February 2, 2009

Some material on Dialectics:

Robert Smithson, nonsite
“The side of a smooth green hill, torn by floods, may at first be properly called deformed, and on the same principle, though not with the same impression, as a gash on a living animal. When a rawness of such a gash in the ground is softened, and in part concealed and ornamented by the effects of time, and the progress of vegitation, deformity, by this usual process, is converted into picturesqueness; and this is the case with quarries, gravel pits, etc., which at first are deformities, and which in their most picturesque state, are often considered as such by a levelling improver.”

– Uvedale Price, Three Essays on the Picturesque, (1810)

“Burkes notion of “beautiful” and “sublime” functions as a thesis of smoothness, gentle curves, and delicacy of nature, and as an antithesis of terror, solitude, and vastness of nature, both of which are rooted in the real world, rather than a Hegelian Ideal… We cannot take a one-sided view of the landscape within this dialectic. A park can no longer be seen as a “thing-in-itself”, but rather as a process of ongoing relationships existing in a physical region – the park becomes a “thing-for-us”… dialectics of this type are a way of seeing things as a manifold of relations, not as isolated objects. Nature, for the dialectician is indifferent to any formal ideal… Olmsted’s parks exist before they are finished, which means in fact they are never finished; they remain carriers of the unexpected and of contradictions on all levels of human activity, be it social, political, or natural.”

– Robert Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape”, (1973)

“Both sides [of the dialectic] are present and absent at the same time. The land, or ground is placed in the art, rather than the art placed on the ground… Large scale becomes small. Small scale becomes large. A point on a map extends to the size of a landmass. A landmass contracts to a point… The rules of this network of signs are discovered as you go along uncertain trails both mental and physical.

– Robert Smithson, “The Spiral Jetty”, (1972)

If cultural means, “social, political, or natural human activity” then I would say dialectics are the result of cultural relations with the landscape. The material landscape becomes mapped my the mental, as the landscapes shift from entropy to different mapped “states” (mobility) of Picturesque to deformed. The material shits in relation to the mental interpretative evaluations of it. The landscape is never finished, and our maps are never finished. The maps are continually revised in a dialectical relationship with the entropic lanscape. Human activity (culture) effects our evaluative and interpretive maps of the landscape. The development of the dialectic is an entropic phenomenon, both in the material and in our maps. They do converge as “a point on a map extends to the size of a landmass [, and] a landmass contracts to a point [on a map].”



A bit about determinacy:

It is only certain because we cannot determine it conceptually. What is it to type on a computer? What scale are we talking about here? Quantum? Relativity? The categorical containment of whatever aspect of typing on the computer you wish to determine – the confines of your determinacy – makes it uncertain because of the historically contingent, intersubjective way in which you constructed those confines. Determining something creates uncertainty, while indetermination without categorical containment creates certainty. Some might call the latter “absurd”, and the former “rational”. However, the latter (indeterminate certainty) is a feeling of the body of experience. It is not proof, becuase it is not a conceptual, categorically contained determinacy. It is a belief, not from concepts, but of feeling. In this “absurd” body of experience, evidential “proof” (or persuasion) flattens into the grid of our epistemic (contained) maps – our table of categories, distinctions, determinations etc. There is no proof of typing on the computer. But because we all feel the keys under our fingertips and see the dynamics of the process of writing etc., it is a belief that I have because of the way such a bodily interaction with the world feels. Call it absurd if you wish, but I think its a very practical and generative belief to have.

On Dialectical dynamics:

I’d say discourse (dialectic) disintegrates authority (or traditional hierarchies) through a process of resonance and dissonance, where the resonanating (agreeing) ideas find themselves in a context of dissonance (disagreement). The resonances dissolve into a sameness – a singularity like a harmonic soundwave in the air, almost to the point of disapearance. They become like a mute note, amongst the power of the dissonant notes (the disagreements). The disagreements become more powerful during discourse, and they are extended to encompass a larger foundation on both sides of the argument, I’d say. As discourse tends to sway to the side of strengthening the oppositions, the new, now stronger opposing structures, now undermine the similarities. Certain discourses might cause the supporting dissonant structure to creep into the agreements and transform them. While other discourses might completely annhilate these resonances through the same dynamic. If the resonances (agreements) are considered traditional hierarchies, which, I think they are, the discourse would then be corrosive, transformative, or utterly destructive to the authoritative traditions because of this dynamic of expanding opposition. The process then repeats, where the dissonances become the new resonances and so forth.

deconstruction —> reconstruction —> deconstruction —> reconstruction etc.

It seems like the disagreements in discourse are so subtle, how even a mere re-definition of a term, like “mind”, can throw the whole process of apparant agreement into a vast disagreement. However, in some cases, the “vastness” of the disagreement is not as vast as black and white. For example, if you take the color black – the material pigment of it – and begin to seperate it into points, expanding to an infinite end, the black block becomes a series of points that eventually begin to grey against the white, each time a point multiplies and becomes more disparate. Soon enough, you’ll need a high powered microscope to even see black at all. Likewise, with white on black. If extrapolated with this logic, they will reverse roles – where black becomes white, and white becomes black. If you keep them seperate, they will remain reversed, while if you transpose them upon one another, there will be a middle-grey. In the grey, the initial black and white, as well as the logically reversed black and white, become lost in grey. They integrate into sameness. The power of it becomes completely lost in it’s sameness.

Consider this as an analogy to argumentation, how one takes a position, and what occurs during agreements.

Initially there is grey – agreement. In the agreement, which is a culturally confined emergence, there is no power in the agreement. It’s neutral. However, because of the fallabile pre-suppositional “grounds” of belief, as the white is pulled away from the black, the neutral gray shows signals around its edges of opposition. The power of the neutral grey is realized as black and white grow along the edges of expansion. The pre-suppositions have allowed for rational disagreements. The cultural agreement becomes a powerful disagreement. They are now in a converging dialectic with one another – a dialogue. They tug away at each others arguments, finding more to disagree with, until they have disagreed with everything. The nuetral grey is now in complete opposition as black and white. The positions have gained thier full potential power as non-converging oppositions – a disparate dialectic. One says “It’s all mind”. Another says “It’s all matter”. It is a strong opposition, yet very subtle in its opposition, I think. The former, has noticed a categorical distinction in the neutral grey of the cultural paradigm, namely that of mind and matter. The latter sees the same distinction, but under the same categories, expands upon the matter. He defends it. The evaluative, interpretive categories of the normative (rule-following) mind have somehow evaluated the categorical containment differently, than the former. The thing is, I think, because of the variance in evaluation, new categories are formed within the black and white sides. Black has different aesthetic properties than white, like mind has different properties than matter. They begin analysing two different beasts. The language used might be a product of frustration of non-communicability. How is one to explain the aesthetic properties of white unless it is in relation to its opposite, black? White is only bright next to black, and visa versa. Likewise, “mind” as a concept is only mind in relation to matter. They grow from one another. An understanding of matter is necessary for an understanding of mind.

So, what’s going on here?

They are entirely distinct and powerful (mind / matter, black / white) because of thier violent opposition. The categories developed within mind are developed in a dialogue with matter. Mind is meta-physical. Matter is physical. It is all developed through relations. The fiber of the canvas, or the language of the discourse, is what holds the dialectics together.

Are dialectics only possible because they converge through similar media? (Canvas fibers, or language structure) Is it only a dialogue because of the necessary underlying structure?

Can the dialectic of mind / matter remain disparate, on top of a canvas of similarity?


January 28, 2009


What does it feel like?


The dots penetrate the body. I’d say this feels more like acupuncture than saying, “acupuncture penetrates the body with needlelike precision. It is a simultaneous multiplicity of bodily sensations.” I think the visual metaphor is more powerful.

Material Symbols

January 25, 2009


In anything with potential, or expressed material power, it seems to me that it is the opposing dissimilarities within their context that illuminate the matter into it’s powerful expression. Whether it be printed matter – some symbols on a page, a landscape (natural or architectural), a motion picture, or a belief etc., it is the disparates of the relative matter that surge it with expressive power. Symbols on a page, only have phoenetical or conceptual meaning because of the angular and (more generally) spacial irregularities in the symbolic context itself. The “H“, made of “l” “” and “l“, are nuetral, and powerless if isolated away from the context of “H“, or (further) “Home”, or (even further) “Homeplate is riddled with cleat marks and wet with dirt.” It becomes a mute set of symbols that are not even phoenetically powerful. However, when the “I” “” “I” of an “H” are pieced together in a context (which it can never not be), the symbol grows in strength into an expressive entity because of the angular “disagreements”. The symbolic mind, if looked at this way, becomes a recognition of opposing forms that illuminate the symbols into expressive entities. The recognition is not in the similarites, but in the dissimilarities. We read and interpret through the spatial variations of oppositions in the material. The perception of where these oppositions are, spatially, I think, give bias its relative character. The normative (rule-following) mind is hinged on the “inner eye” seeing this material, spatial play. The normative mind is following spatial rules, seen by the eyes. The symbolic structure of a letter, word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book, desk, room etc., is only recognizable by the rule-following mind because of the depth perception of the eyes. The symbols only become rules to follow after the perception of the the spatial play of the symbols through the eyes perception of opposition. Or, in other words, the oppositions percieved by the eyes give form content. The content is then interprested and evaluated by the mediator of the normative.

To speculate, I imagine the material symbols come from a type of synesthesia of seeing the sounds, and then representing the sounds as sights. A backwards logic is used when then translating the sights of symbols into sounds and images, respectively. Reading (interpreting and evaluating through the normative) is a spiraling process that is set into motion by the consistent reversals of translating sounds to symbols and back again. It is a material process that rotates on an axis of depth perception.

Speculation aside, and propositionally focused – perceptual opposition in matter gives symbols their expressive power.

Some Art to Look at

January 21, 2009

Some art = “< I >

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    The Body Without the Mind

    January 21, 2009


    As I see it, the artist is one that sets thier own irrational limits.  However, it is a logical irrationality. By “logic” here, I mean after setting up limits within (meaning “inside”) a field of study, like optics. The creation of limits within a field (like optics) is irrational, yet after certain concepts, and/or things are irrationally taken out of the field, and placed elsewhere, the logic can resume with the removed concepts or things. It creates a whole new set of irrational limits, that the artist then has to work with. He must find logic in the new limits, and extend it towards it’s irrationally logical end (for instance – stereoscopic vision, where the focal point is removed, and what is left are two images). The artist does this, I think, not to simply create for creations sake, but to create a logical three-dimensional object (sculpture) that contains a (sometimes) violent metaphor that seeps through the glass body with a potency like that of music. It is a way for the artist, in a sense, to progress the human body, and bring it further to reality, and away from analytical thinking of the mind.

    In a few words, the artist is an agent of the real, manifesting powerful sculptures that enter the glass body of experience, bringing culture back to their senses.

    It is the metaphysical notion that what is irrational, is dogmatic.  The artist, I think, does not see it this way at all, but rather in reverse.  Metaphysics is a prison to the artist, that keeps within its walls a old set of untenable doctrines that lock culture into a dogma of fallable, fictional, untenable pre-suppositions, that when challenged, inverted, or thrown in the trash, give warrancy to the metaphysician to bark like a gaurd-dog at the irrationality of the artist.  It is not rationallity the artist is interested in, but the logic involved in irrationality.  The artist is manifesting a powerful bodily experience, that in some cases flattens the the mind into a one-dimensional point, where the object is pointless.  The mind is a series of points, and the art “object” an array of metaphorical matter that, sometimes, obliterates the mind into submission of the glass body of experience. 

    The ice crystals above, are the glass body.  It’s penetrated, and transformed by light and entropic matter.  This is the body.  It doesn’t live without the mind, but it can be experienced without the mind.  Smithson’s indoor earthworks are a fiddling of matter by an agent of the logic of the body without the mind.

    Smithson’s Site / Nonsite

    January 18, 2009

    Smithsons dialectic of Site / Non Site or earthwork / indoor earthworkSmithsons dialectic of Site / Non Site

    Site                                                                       Nonsite

    1. open limits                                          closed limits
    2. A series of points                              An array of matter  
    3. Outer Coordinates                           Inner Coordinates
    4. Subtraction                                        Addition
    5. Indeterminate Certainty              Determinate uncertainty
    6. Scattered Information                   Contained information
    7. Reflection                                           Mirror
    8. Edge                                                      Center
    9. Some Place (physical)                   No place (abstract)
    10. Many                                                    One

    The site is an illogical combination of the senses, where the non-site is a logical picture that is abstract, representing a site.

    “Representation” is very important here. 

     The nonsite is closed limits.  This means that it is categorically contained to the field of, say, optics.  Within the limits set by Smithson, in his work, Enantiomoprphic chambers, the limits of optics allow Smithson to logically extrapolate the stereoscopic vision to its poles, its ends.  Under Smithson’s enantiomorphic optics, the illusionistic space of the fusion (the metting place, the “dinner table”) of the refracted light of the dual globes of the eye, (see diagram) that makes the world one image, is not within the limits of Smithson’s optics.  He is doing away with the binocular focul points of the eyes, and therefore is allowed to bring the light to its stereoscopic end through logic.  What he is adding is another image of the world… a double image.  This is what the extrapolated, categorically contained optical reflective, refractive “bounce light”, symetrical, dual images look like in Smithson’s optics.  In Mathematics, it’s called Trisoctahedron symmetry, found in the crystal’s of certain minerals:

    “Trisoctahedron or Trigonal Trisoctahedron
    The trisoctahedron is a form composed of twenty-four isosceles triangular faces, each of which intersects two of the crystallographic axes at unity and the third axis at some multiple
    .” – Mining

    This is my logical picture of what purple light would look like seen through this shape in three-dimensions.  There is one light source in the image, which may be called the “flash of the camera”:








    Superimposed on top of the crystal is the refracted “bounce light” from the purple “wall” behind the crystal that is ultimately passing through the crystal onto something like a photographic plate, which would be the stereoscopic vision of only purple if it were to be percieved without the binocular focal range of our eyes.  (see optics diagram)

    Concerning Smithson’s logical limitations on his own optics, imagine an infinite number of points in the visual landscape, like the grand canyon.  Then after imagining this, apply this “crystal filter” to every infinite point.  What would it look like?

    The nonsite consists of Many, categorically contained logical extrapolations that are additive to the site (or earthwork).

    More simply put:

    The site is subtractive, and the nonsite is additive… or rather:

    SiteOne whole experience

    NonsiteMany logically contained, extrapolated categories that make up the subtractive experience of the Spiral jetty




















     …  ECT.,

    The nonsites converge in the experience of a site, rendering the experience subtractive of the nonsites. For example, stereoscopic vision is an experiential (not logical) impossibility, that must be subtracted in experiencing the site. The mirrors of the nonsites become ambiguious reflections in the site.  So, this art (just forget about the categorical containment of “aesthetics”, and whether or not this fits into a category at all) is dialectical, in an inextricable relationship between a site and many nonsites.





    Smithsons dialectic of Site / Non Site

    Site                                                                       Nonsite

    1. open limits                                          closed limits
    2. A series of points                              An array of matter  
    3. Outer Coordinates                           Inner Coordinates
    4. Subtraction                                        Addition
    5. Indeterminate Certainty              Determinate uncertainty
    6. Scattered Information                   Contained information
    7. Reflection                                           Mirror
    8. Edge                                                      Center
    9. Some Place (physical)                   No place (abstract)
    10. Many                                                    One


    I think, to understand this Smithson, there needs to be a clear distinction made between metaphysical aesthetics, and dialctical aesthetics.

    The metaphysical inquiry into aesthetics we might call “ontological aesthetics”, strips away the logically extrapolated optics, and the vitreous body from aesthetic experience. What Smithson is trying to do, I think, is not to ontologize with logic in his earthworks (see The Spiral Jetty), but to perceive in an indiscriminate relationship between the landscape and the somewhat enantiomorphed eye and ear. The indoor earthworks, or nonsites of Smithson, are three-dimensional logical sculptures extended to their poles, like the Enantiomorphic chambers.

    This site / nonsite, or earthwork / indoor earthwork dialectic of Smithson’s is a relationship between aesthetics (site / earthwork) and it’s logical extrapolation (nonsite / indoor earthwork). So his aesthetics are different from formal metaphysical aesthetics of beauty and the sublime, in that it is a dialectical relationship between the logicallyextrapolated optics of the enantiomorphic chambers of the eyes (or stereoscopic vision) and the illogicalseizure of the vitreous body in the landscape where earthworks are made. So, in the site / nonsite dialectic there is no metaphysical doctrines that can link the two. Sometimes the dialectic is diametrically opposed, where other times it seems they can connect in some fashion. For instance, the nonsite enantiomorphic chambers are logically extrapolated optics within the contained category of optics. In the site, the logical, categorical containment of this optics is undermined by the alogos, because it is a fusionof all of the senses that obliterate the logically contained extrapolation of the nonsite.

    It doesn’t really have anything to do with beauty at all. It is not a metaphysical doctrine, but an (incompletely) incompatable dialectical relationshipbetween extrapolated contained logical categories, and the combined senses of the “eyes and ears”, where logical containment falls “into a mental bog.”

    Optical Actualities

    January 16, 2009

    Enantiomorphic Purple light – a suggestion


     Trisoctahedron crystal symmetry


    The three-dimensionality of the Necker cube is an actual three dimensional space, when considering the stereoscopic optics of the eyes. The necker cube and other three dimensional “optical illusions”, are actually three-dimensional. The enantiomorphic (or stereoscopic) vision, is an unresolved tension between disparate dissimilars (like words or lines) that only become three dimensional, when the literary mind is suspended from the stereoscopic vision of the eyes. We can see this, because the abstract lines of the necker cube refer to nothing. They are uncontaminated by “concepts”. It might be said, that they enter the eyes without entering the mind. It only becomes more apparantly three-dimensional, when the content (or the literary mind) no longer has any power over the abstract…

    Smithson actually describes his enantiomorphic vision as stereoscopic vision here:

    Smithson’s Steoscopic Vision:

    “The dual Globes that constitute our eyes are the generators of our sense of the third dimension. Each eyeball contains a retina that functions like a photographic plate inside a spheroid camera. Rays of light penetrate the transparent cornea, the pupil, the crystalline lense and the vitreous body until they reach the end…[The eyes] percieve through a mental artiface of directions without determined distances, which in turn gives the illusion of infinite spaces… The binocular focus of our eyes converges on a single object and gives us the illusion of oneness, so that we tend to forget the actual stereoscopic vision of our eyes or what I will call ‘enantiomorphic vision’ – that is seeing double… In [Enantiomorphic Chambers – a work of Smithsons], the vanishing point is split or the center of convergence is excluded, and the two chambers face each other at oblique angles, which in turn causes a set of three reflections in each of the two obliquely placed mirrors. A symmetrical division into two equal parts is what makes it enantiomorphic; this division also exists in certain crystalline structures” – Smithson, “Pointless Vanishing Points (1967)” (my “enhancements”)

    The thing that I find interesting is that the illusion of oneness, is a “binocular convergence on an object”. It is a type of binocular focus, an adjustment of the “vitreous body” to make literal sense out of an actual stereoscopic vision. It is the literal sense of vanishing points, upon convergence of the eyes, that allows us to see the objects as whole, when (for Smithson at least) the objects were “pointless”, arrayed in symetrical reflections in the enantiomorphic chambers of the eyes. In this nonsite, or indoor earthwork by Smithson, the subtraction of the literalness of vision – the act of binocular communion on an object is taken out. What is left, is actual stereoscopic vision. This was, in part, the significance of the crystalline for Smithson.

    The coheseive focussed literalness is an interference of the analytical mind, to use my vocabulary, whereas the actual mirrored geometries of enantiomorphic vision are not coheseive. The literal points – the illusory morphology of the landscape – become pointless. This is an enantiomorphic vision, where the mirrored oblique reflections form perfect symetries, where the literal points of reference shatter into an array of matter, with no reference points. Without the literal (analytical) mind, the vanishing points, the communion of objects disintegrates. The object is no longer a whole, but an array of perfectly symetrical refractive and reflective light, like in certain crystal structures. The enantiomorphic vision is “foundational” to Smithson’s aesthetics. It is a way of seeing without the literal mind interfereing. (see above post # 382 on literalness) This is stereoscopic vision – the actual. For every point in the illusory infinite space (an infinite number of literal points), the points, when viewed enantiomorphically (or stereoscopically) disintegrate every point into two. It is an unfeasable image. But the literal mind is feasable as the “fused image” in stereoscopic vision, as James P. C. Southall diagrams in his, Introduction to Phisiological Optics (1961):


    Smithson’s superimposed notes are in red. (I had to reproduce this in photoshop, because the internet didn’t supply the image for me.)

    The “illusionistic space” is the fused image, if you consider this diagram. The fused image is the picture plane, or the stereoscopic vision combined. This is an illusion. The note “solid time” is where the images are enantiomorphed into seperate “pictures”. Although, Smithson’s stereoscopic vision differs from this one, in that the literal mind, when suspended from vision, does not result in pictures, but oblique angular refractive, symetrical reflections of light that double the already infinite vanishing points. The fused image of the photographic eye, and the literal mind, make the seen world appear cohesevely as a whole of infinite points, where the enantiomorphic vision allows the world to appear as an infinite number of “double points” making the world no longer appear cohesive at all, but rather ambiguous, and scattered.

    So literacy, is an illusory impediment of the mind onto the senses. But, when one looks at things without reading them, without a categorical containment of the mind, it becomes a three-dimensional power struggle because of the disparate dissimilars in the enantiomorphically seen world. So, two dimensions is the illusion, considering that it is a product of the interference of the literary mind with the eyes. And three dimensions is the actual, considering it is percieved when the literal mind is lifted.

    This is my response to Smithson’s essay, “Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read”

    It might help to put these on when you read Smithson’s essay:

    Language operates between literal and metaphorical signification, not meaning. I take this to mean the operability of language, its functioning location (meaning its scale) is somewhere between the literal signs (meaning the symbols are referring to something literal, like “Rock!”) and the metaphorical signs (meaning the symbols, “dead letters” or, “dead sound-waves”, are a first-layer metaphor of something physical, like an egyptian hieroglyph, or a cave painting.) The power of a word is contingent upon context, in the broad sense, meaning the sentence, paragraph, essay, book, room, etc.. The “partially resolved tension of disparates”, meaning, I think, that the power of a word – it’s degree of communicability – is contingent upon the seperated, incompatibility of the context (as defined above), where the word is either muted by this dissolution or insatiated with power. It is the disparates of language, the inseperability and incompatiblity of of words (“concepts”) that creates depth in the language. A literal word, or a metaphor will “pop out” of the otherwise mute background words, because of the incompatibility of the words, or “concepts”. I would ask, how does language have any power at all if the similarities are already resolved?  There would be no need to speak.  It is, as I described above, an unresolved disimilarity, making the perception (the illusion) of resolved similarities, into an paradox, where at one and the same time, the language is both dissimilar, and illussorily similar. The illusory part is how we understand language. The former, unresolved dissimilarity, is the enantiomorphic talking – the aesthetic perception talking. Congruity, an aesthetic perception of language, not an illusory reading of language, is forced into an incongruent spatial power-play of words. Smithson is both percieving language enantiomorphically as a heap of physical “dead letters” and an illusory reading of language as a morphologically meaningful sieries of “alive letters”. This is why you’re confused about it. Maybe if you read the essay with this paradox of language being both enantiomorphically percieved, and morphologically read at the same time, you may gain some insight on it.


    I think it’s interesting how we can map in three dimensions using the xyz coordinate plain, with two-dimensional analytical thought. I attribute this to the scale at which the mind works when calibrated to language. By “scale” here, I mean a “zoom scope” like on a camera that focuses in on a set of problems – this is the scope we “three-dimensionalize” two-dimensional things in. By this, I mean that the scope is focused on two dimensions (i.e. subject / verb agreement … y must = x etc.). This two-dimensional mind follows rules very well. “Do this not this, and then do that, and not that. Upon completion of that, do those, then those, then you will have a three-dimensional cube”. The resulting “three-dimensions” are a product of two-dimensional thought that operates on a different scale. The three-dimensional cube on a page, is then seen as a two-dimensional map with an illusory “three-dimensional” object on it. how one percieves this illusion, is with the eye and ear – that scale – not the analytical, rule following mind. Both make us human, but the former scale is more human, while the latter “lower” scale is more machine… hence the cyborg. We are all cyborgs. 

    When looking at the cube, it shifts from front to back in three dimensions off of the page.  It is the power of the unresolved incongruencies that shove a side either to the front or the back.  The tension between the disparate angular lines, and the perpendicular lines causes the cube to move from front to back.  Some lines gain more power than others in a constant struggle for power amongst the unresolved disparates.  If it were resolved, it would be a set of two-dimensional “dead lines”.