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Watts : Wiggly


mercredi 21 février 2018

Apart from such human? artifacts as buildings and roads (especially Roman and American roads), our universe, including ourselves, is thoroughly wiggly. Its features are wiggly in both shape and conduct. Clouds, mountains, plants, rivers, animals, coastlines—all wiggle. They wiggle so much and in so many different ways that no one can really make out where one wiggle begins and another ends, whether in space or in time. Some French classicist of the eighteenth century complained that the Creator had seriously fallen down on the job by failing to arrange the stars with any elegant symmetry, for they seem to be sprayed through space like the droplets from a breaking wave. Is all this one thing wiggling in many different ways, or many things wiggling on their own ? Are there "things" that wiggle, or are the wigglings the same as the things ? It depends upon how you figure it.

Millennia ago, some genius discovered that such wiggles as fish and rabbits could be caught in nets. Much later, some other genius thought of catching the world? in a net. By itself, the world goes something like this :

But now look at this wiggle through a net :

The net has "cut" the big wiggle into little wiggles, all contained in squares of the same size. Order has been imposed on chaos. We can now say that the wiggle goes so many squares to the left, so many to the right, so many up, or so many down, and at last we have its number. Centuries later, the same image of the net was imposed upon the world as the lines of both celestial and terrestrial latitude and longitude, as graph paper for plotting mathematical wiggles, as pigeonholes for filing, and as the ground plan for cities. The net has thus become one of the presiding images of human thought. But it is always an image, and just as no one can use the equator to tie up a package, the real wiggly world slips like water through our imaginary nets. However much we divide, count, sort, or classify this wiggling into particular things and events, this is no more than a way of thinking about the world : it is never actually divided.

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