Verbi-Voco-Visual note on the chemistry of experience

Explorations 8 was published in October 1957 and then republished in 1967 as Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations. More than half of the volume (76 pages) is comprised of notes, apparently written by McLuhan, under 24 separate titles (and so averaging around 3 pages each). It may be that Explorations 8 was mostly given over to McLuhan (who had an additional separate essay in it, ‘Third Program in the Human Age’) since Explorations 9 was to be given over entirely to Carpenter for his Eskimo.

McLuhan’s notes provide an overview of the ‘chemical’ theory of communication he was developing at the time and would announce at length a couple years later in his Project 69. In a note titled ‘Stress’, McLuhan has:

The [Hans] Selye theory becomes at once intelligible and acceptable in our twentieth century of oral awareness. That “all vital phenomena depend merely upon quantitative variations in the activation of preexistent elementary targets” is not a superficial view in terms of auditory space. In the old lineal terms, quantitative relations mean the exclusion of most meaning and of all spiritual complexity. A mere sequence of such effects can contain no vital or analogical drama of proportions. But analogy is itself field theory (…) [and] the analogical drama of being and perception needs no more than the quantitative terms postulated by Selye.  With these the living word constitutes and manifests itself in all mental and spiritual complexity. 

The quotation in this passage (“all vital phenomena depend…”) was identified earlier in McLuhan’s note as coming from a Hans Selye article that appeared 4 years earlier in Explorations 1.  Selye’s piece was titled, like McLuhan’s note, ‘Stress’. The full passage there, given emphasis by its placement at the conclusion of Selye’s contribution, read:

As I see it, the basic task is now to find objective means to test the validity of the principal deduction, namely, that all vital phenomena depend merely upon quantitative variations in the activation of preexistent elementary targets.

When McLuhan claimed here that “the analogical drama of being and perception needs no more than the quantitative terms postulated by Selye”, he was nodding at the same time to cybernetics. For all three (Selye, cybernatics and McLuhan) the exclusive opposition of the quantitative and the qualitative was a remnant of a failed metaphysics and their inclusive relation a sign of the overcoming of that failed system.