Plenary judgment

Root post: Media as atomic structures

“Plenary judgment” or “overall view” does not imply the possibility or desirability of some mystical state where all things would be intuited in their fullness.  Such a cloud of unknowing is what McLuhan repeatedly critiques as “merger”. Instead, much as in the physical sciences (although here even more significantly, since it is now itself subject to investigation), it is exactly limitation which enables “plenary judgment” and this in several senses.

First, if human beings could not know their current view of things as partial or biased (“finn-again”), therefore as “evitable” (TT 6) in some ways, they would not be able to start again with a “re-cognition” in which an “overall view” of “the full spectrum of the human senses and faculties” (TT 14) can emerge. Such a “reversal” away from “concept”, such a “replay” of what and how was previously experienced, is exactly what McLuhan terms “percept”.

Put another way, if all human experience were not some “role” or “mask” in a “global theatre”, some “in-vestment” which is always a “put-on” or vestiture (that, exactly therefore, can always be taken-off and changed), it would not be possible for humans to learn anything. Humans learn language (where before they heard only noise) and generally learn to socialize in some particular way, and then later learn new skills and, in some cases, learn the essentials of some whole new area, only because re-investment (“recognition and replay”) is fundamental to them. They are that nature which is essentially biased and therefore fundamentally capable of change (including a change of outlook in which the elements of a domain emerge into focus).

Second, when an “overall view” emerges (as it did, say, with Mendeleev’s table in 1869), what characterizes that view as opposed to previous views is exactly its particularly. In particular ways capable of general reproduction, it posits relationships and makes predictions which anybody can test.  More, its particularity in the sense of not being the whole truth is exactly what drives further research — forever.

It was just such fundamentality of particularity which struck McLuhan in Popper’s falsification thesis. As Eric McLuhan describes in Laws of Media,:

Sir Karl Popper’s (right-brain) statement that a scientific law is one so stated as to be capable of falsification made it both possible and necessary to formulate the laws of the media. (LM 93).

This thesis is “right-brain” because it is “inclusive”, and it is “inclusive” (presupposing plurality and complexity) because it rests on a foundation of fin-itude.  Finitude always implicates a gap — or gaps — “where the action is”. Insight turns on such a gap of finitude (away from a previous view) and turns to such a gap of finitude (in a revisioned particular object) and exists in such a gap of finitude (between the multiple planes through which the revisioned particular object is now known):

the concentric with its endless intersection of planes is necessary for insight. In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media. (UM 26)

Mendeleev’s table put forward the testable correlation (“intersection”, “interplay”) between the “plane” of physical materials and the further “plane” of the schematic organization of the table.  Such “intersection” is “endless” and “constant”, not because it suddenly answers all possible chemical questions for all time, but rather the reverse: because it opens a new field for “endless” and “constant” investigation.  There are gaps to its coverage which will endlessly engender new insights: they are “where the action is”.



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