Monthly Archives: October 2019

The essential plurality of the forms of being

McLuhan’s Ph.D. thesis from 1943, The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time, retitled as The Classical Trivium, was edited and published 25 years after his death by W.T. Gordon. In his ‘Editor’s Introduction’, Gordon cites some notes from McLuhan written in the 1960s:1

I think it can be shown that the general cultural confusion and merging of the past century or so has been favorable to the rebirth of grammatica in its ancient sense— a sense even wider than that in which Vives or Bacon understood it and a sense more profound than current semantic studies provide. (…) The pursuit of psychological order in the midst of a material and political chaos is of the essence of grammatica. Thus modern symbolism in art and literature corresponds to ancient [grammatical] allegory. (…) Of course, the weakness of grammatica is that it never seems able to avail itself of the aids of dialectics and philosophy.2

As described by Gordon, these notes went back twenty-some years from the 1960s to the early 1940s when McLuhan was writing his thesis on the three arts of the trivium: rhetoric, grammar and dialectic. But in fact they had roots a decade earlier in McLuhan’s work with Rupert Lodge at the University of Manitoba in the early 1930s.

Lodge’s ‘comparative method‘ for philosophy postulated that it has three irreducible forms: realism, pragmatism and idealism. As illustrated by the obvious parallel between this notion and McLuhan’s investigation of the trivium in his Nashe thesis a decade later, he was so deeply taken by this idea of an essential threefold plurality that he would continue relentlessly to probe it in various ways all during the half century of his subsequent work.3

Even while he was working closely with Lodge, however, McLuhan suspected that Lodge’s restriction of the notion to philosophy was questionable. How could essential plurality be limited to a single discipline? Hence, in his 1934 Manitoba M.A. thesis on George Meredith, McLuhan gave what was at once a nod to Lodge and an implicit criticism of him:

In his table talk, Coleridge noted that all men (…) are born either Platonists or Aristotelians. There are similarly, in all times and places, definite types of temperament displaying consistency of conformation. The literary or artistic expression of such temperaments has properly the same validity as has the philosophizing of the Idealist and the Realist.

This same critique was forcibly expressed twenty years later in a 1954 letter to Walter Ong, who had been McLuhan’s student at St Louis University in the early 1940s when McLuhan was writing his Nashe thesis:

I realize now that my own rejection of philosophy as a study in my pre-Catholic days4 was owing to the sense that it was a meaningless truncation.5

“Meaningless” here may have been intended to correlate with “pre-Catholic” and in this case could be brought together with McLuhan’s explicit critique of Lodge in a 1935 letter to his family from Cambridge:

Lodge is a decided Platonist and I learned [to think] that way as long as I was trying to interpret Christianity in terms of comparative religion. Having perceived the sterility of that process, I now realize that Aristotle is the soundest basis for Xian doctrine.6

But it may also have had the sense of “unaccountable”, “counterproductive”, even “contradictory”. For if it is the first business of thought to be dynamic in regard both to what it studies and how it studies — that is, both to investigate fundamental plurality7 and itself to be fundamental plurality — it must always and only be the practice of anti-truncation.8

The short concluding chapter on Thomas Nashe in McLuhan’s Ph.D. thesis may be used to illustrate the point at stake.

Nashe was thus a fulIy enlightened protagonist in an ancient quarrel (…) It was not a quarrel between Catholic and Protestant, but a dispute about methods of exegesis in theology and preaching, concerning which some [on each side of the divide between] Catholics and Protestants held patristic views and some held to scholastic positions. (The Classical Trivium, 226)

Elsewhere in the chapter, the dispute is said to have concerned “the way of right studie” (217), “the authority of Aristotle“,9 (229),  the “mode of eloquence” (235), the “mode of theology” (235), and “conflicting rhetorics” (253).

In a word, the “ancient quarrel” concerned “at once (…) style and doctrine” (242). A truncation to the latter alone — the charge against Lodge — represented a problematic limitation of both the objective matter of investigation and of the investigating subjects’s own focus and method. 

The notes published by Gordon cited at the start of this post returned to the same theme, but now reversed: just as philosophy needed in 1934 to be open to “literary or artistic expression”,10 aka to grammatica, so in the 1960s grammatica had to be open to “dialectics and  philosophy”. The question was always how to investigate the matter of irreducible plurality — first of all by being it.

  1. Gordon gives no reference, but these are apparently to be found in McLuhan’s papers in Ottawa.
  2. W.T. Gordon, ‘Editor’s Introduction’ to McLuhan, The Classical Trivium, 2005, xi.
  3. The fundamental threefold in McLuhan’s 1960-1980 work in “understanding media” may be seen in his determination that the Gutenberg galaxy is inherently dualistic and that it cannot equally valorize both horns of its dilemma without also valorizing their medium. Since the latter was the signal difference between electric configuration and that of the Gutenberg galaxy, the result was to posit three basic forms (the two horns + their metamorphic dialogue or resonance) each with a characteristic estimate of the possibility of positive relation to its other (“the medium is the message”): each of the horns refusing it and the electric embracing it. The unavoidable (yet universally avoided) ‘main question’ followed: how to understand the implicated positive relation of the all-at-once electric to its other, namely, the inherently dualistic assembly line of print? If there were no such positive relation, the electric would itself be one horn of a dilemma vis-a-vis print and hence not electric at all. (Thus McLuhan’s observation in a May 13, 1975 letter to Don and Louise Cowan cited in Gordon’s Escape into Understanding bio, p 260: “The phrase — ‘Print Oriented Bastards’ — was invented by John Culkin and has never been used by me in conversation. The feeling of animus in it is not characteristic of me.”) But this concern for fundamental relation across fundamental difference was, of course, exactly the chief preoccupation of Rupert Lodge: “As the speculative construction of interpretations which essentially admit of alternatives, philosophy is necessarily sceptical of (any and all) one-sided claims; and its proper method of study is necessarily comparative.” (‘The Comparative Method in Philosophy’, 1937, 432, ‘any and all’ added here.) Amazingly, McLuhan’s 1960-1980 investigations of media, which represented the final form of his long engagement with the thought of Rupert Lodge, did so on the basis of the work of McLuhan’s other University of Manitoba philosophy professor, Henry Wright. For it was Wright who introduced McLuhan to the importance of communications and media in all aspects of human being (verbal) and who grounded this importance in the roots of media in the human psyche. See Henry Wilkes Wright 2 for citation and discussion.
  4. McLuhan converted in 1937, but he seems to be referring here to the period around 1934 when he was beginning the study of Catholicism that led to his conversion. He felt a tension then between Lodge’s philosophy and the Church which he decided in favor of the latter. Over the next decade, however, he would gradually find a way to reconcile the two, especially in the philosophical-theological work of his future colleague at St Michael’s, Étienne Gilson. His Nashe thesis was a formulation of this reconciliation.
  5. October 14, 1954, Letters 244.
  6. McLuhan to Elsie, Herbert & Maurice McLuhan, February 1935, Letters 53.
  7. Dynamism implicates plurality since it is the movement between two states, or two levels, or two times. Meanwhile, the fundamental must be dynamic since it necessarily exists only in contrast to the non-fundamental and the relation between the two must be dynamic in some way.
  8. McLuhan’s rejection of philosophy may usefully be compared and contrasted to that of Verlinde as discussed in Verlinde and the aversion to philosophy. For Verlinde, philosophy is too unscientific. For McLuhan, it might be said, it was too scientific.
  9. Full passage: “The responsible historian should guard himself from repeating the opinion that the ‘authority of Aristotle’ was absolute at any time in the history of European thought” (229).
  10. The phrase is from the Meredith thesis cited in full above.

Verlinde and the aversion to philosophy

After his Delft lecture, Verlinde gave this answer to a question about the possibility of a theory of everything:

I don’t even want to go into the direction of religion or this kind of thing because for me that’s philosophy. What I can do with my equations is only estimate how much information is there, what it’s doing and for us that’s enough. And so I don’t think that that question is part of what we need to answer as physicists. (63:46ff)

It may be guessed that Verlinde has been criticized in the physics community for a tendency to ‘philosophy’. This might especially come from physicists like Lee Smolin who are insistent realists. Here is Smolin in an April 2019 Perimeter Institute lecture, ‘Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution‘:

I don’t want a theory of myself intervening with nature or having a conversation about nature. I’m doing science because I want to understand how nature is in our absence. (…) After all, through most of the history of the universe (…) we weren’t there. So our knowing, believing, thinking, intervening, preparing, measuring shouldn’t play a role in what fundamentally the atoms and the elementary particles are doing.1 (…) Those of us are realists believe that nature exists independently of our knowledge and beliefs about it, and that the properties of systems in nature can be characterized and understood independent of our existence and our manipulations. That’s what I mean by a realist. (12:20ff)2

Since information is a primitive property3 of the universe for Verlinde,4 and since information is necessarily implicated in the “knowing, believing, thinking, intervening, preparing, measuring” rejected by Smolin, Verlinde might seem to violate Smolin’s strictures in the very foundations of his work.  It may well be, then, that his declared aversion to ‘philosophy’ is an apotropaic attempt to deflect such criticism away from his research at the outset. ‘I’m not declaring myself in either of the realist-idealist directions’, he might be seen as assuring Smolin and other realists, ‘I’m just doing my work — please look at my equations before judging what I’m up to.’

Now McLuhan’s undergraduate mentor at the University of Manitoba, Rupert Lodge, held that philosophy comes in three flavors5 — realism, pragmatism and idealism.6 And Verlinde’s portrayal of his research might be seen as typical of the middle position of Lodge’s three forms, that of the ‘pragmatist’:

Realism interprets experience as a kind of being, idealism as a kind of knowing. It is easy to see that (…) both realism and idealism are one-sided. Experience has been split up into two aspects, and then the whole has been interpreted exclusively in terms of one of its aspects. It is all nature, or all mind. The extreme forms of these views have always invited criticism. (…) Consequently a third type of philosophy has tended to develop: a philosophy which tries to be true to experience, and to avoid all abstract and one-sided theorizings. This attempt at interpretation has taken many forms. One of the best known is called “pragmatism”.7

However, despite its declared wish “to avoid all abstract and one-sided theorizings”, such as might seem to characterize only realism and idealism, Lodge saw pragmatism as falling prey to this same ambition (or, at least, the same fate).8 He therefore explicitly rejected it as philosophy’s “proper method of study”:

If philosophy is essentially speculative, an affair of alternative possibilities, I must study those alternative possibilities, and must not, in my enthusiasm for realism (or idealism or pragmatism)9 close my eyes to alternative possibilities. In so far as any one alternative (…) refuses to be regarded as one alternative amongst others, and claims to be in exclusive possession of the whole truth, I must be sceptical of its claims. In fact, in so far as it ceases to be sceptical about its own claims, and becomes [for example] (…) convinced pragmatism, it loses its open-mindedness and is really ceasing to be truly speculative and philosophical.10 ln a word, it is precisely such one-sided philosophizing which is anti-philosophical, and not comparative philosophy, with its scepticism directed against one-sidedness. As the speculative construction of interpretations which essentially admit of alternatives, philosophy is necessarily sceptical of [any and all] one-sided claims; and its proper method of study is necessarily comparative. 11

For Lodge, the essential thing was to reject every form of “one-sidedness” and to remain “necessarily comparative”. Such fundamental pluralism in Lodge’s work — and of McLuhan’s in “understanding media” as opposed to ‘understanding the medium’ — is also to be found in Verlinde, notably in his attention to entangement:

  • [Qubits] can do something called being entangled in the sense that one qubit, here, is doing the same thing as another one somewhere else [over there]. This is two qubits that are entangled, where the zero of one [qubit] is combined with a zero of the other, or the 1 of the one [qubit] is combined with the 1 of the other. This is an example of entanglement.  So this is the language we’re going to use to consider even our universe — we’re going to think about the universe in terms of information and also in terms of this entangled quantum information. (8:22ff)
  • it’s the power of quantum mechanics, it’s the essence of quantum mechanics that we have entanglement. And our [whole] universe [itself] is very entangled. (47.45ff)

The many implications of entanglement are of fundamental importance and will be considered in future posts. Suffice it to note here only that, at a minimum, entanglement entails plurality — and if Lodge and Verlinde are followed, this means essential plurality characterizing the very ontology of everything that exists.12 In this case, plurality cannot not characterize philosophy simply insofar as it is part of the furniture of the universe. And if philosophy, too, is essentially plural, it (it!) cannot be waved away as Verlinde does in his answer to the question in Delft (as cited above). Indeed, as Smolin illustrates, even a decided realist can see value to philosophy in at least some of its necessarily plural senses:

Philosophy cannot settle scientific questions, but it has a role to play. A bit of philosophical thought may prevent us from getting hung up on a bad idea, and the record of people who have struggled with the deep questions we face, such as the meaning of time and space, may suggest new hypotheses for us to play with. (The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, 21)

But a stronger claim may be made for philosophy in physics if (a) theory is required to do physics at all13 and if, as Lodge claimed, (b) philosophy is the comparative investigation of the field of fundamental theories.

As to the first, Eric McLuhan in a lecture claiming his father had no theories, yet somehow managed to cite Stephen Hawking as follows:

“[W]e cannot distinguish what is real about the universe without a theory,” [Hawking] writes. A good, elegant theory will describe a wide array of observations and predict the results of new ones. “Beyond that, it makes no sense,” he points out “to ask if [a theory] corresponds to reality, because we do not know what reality is independent of a theory”.14

Hawking’s claim that “it is no good appealing to reality”15 is, of course, not “model independent”16 itself. So it would appear that, if theory is necessary to do physics at all, and if theory is necessarily plural, something like Lodge’s philosophy as the “speculative construction of interpretations which essentially admit of alternatives” must be applicable within physics before any assurance from it that “it is no good appealing to reality”. Or, of course, before ‘it’ is dismissed out of hand.17

  1. Compare Verlinde: “there might be a way of thinking about gravity in a different way than what Einstein told us by thinking about the microscopic structure of space-time, not in the language of particles (…) but thinking about more fundamental building blocks in terms of information and in particular its quantum properties.”  (Perimeter, 36:58ff)
  2. This is the auto-generated transcript of Smolin’s Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution lecture at YouTube, corrected against the audio.
  3. It may be wondered if ‘property’ is the correct term here as opposed to possible alternatives such as ‘substance’ or ‘structure’ or ‘formation’.
  4. Information (is) contained in everything that nature is made of, even space and time” (Delft 5:15ff); “we’re going to think about the universe where we think about the basic building blocks as being information. This is maybe a way of phrasing it: that we live in an information universe not an information world. The whole universe is revolving around information” (Delft, 6:21ff).
  5. Comparable, perhaps, to the division in nature between mineral, vegetable and animal or to the states of matter between solid, liquid and gas.
  6. See Quantum communications (the implications of essential plurality) and the Lodge posts generally.
  7.  ‘The Comparative Method in Philosophy’, in Manitoba Essays, ed Lodge, 1937, 405-432, here 413.
  8. Lodge’s interesting point seems to have been that one-sidedness is not, or is not only, a potential property internal to a philosophical position, but is also and above all a property of its external relations with other philosophical positions!
  9. This bracketed insertion is original to Lodge.
  10. Lodge: “in so far as it ceases to be sceptical about its own claims, and becomes convinced realism (or convinced idealism or convinced pragmatism), it loses its open-mindedness”. The bracketed insertion is from Lodge.
  11.  ‘The Comparative Method in Philosophy’, 432.
  12. It might be objected that Lodge’s three forms concern philosophy and not, at least not explicitly, ontology.  But this is to overlook the question at stake in those forms, namely, the relation of mind to nature. Restricting his forms to thought means to decide that question in an idealist manner and hence to contradict Lodge’s demand for a “comparative” method.
  13. Required to do physics at all — or to do philosophy at all or, indeed, to do anything at all as a human being.
  14. Eric McLuhan, ‘Marshall McLuhan’s Theory of Communication: The Yegg, Global Media Journal — Canadian Edition, 1:1, 25-43, here 28, citing Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes, 1993.  Hawking’s full passage: “If what we regard as real depends on our theory, how can we make reality the basis of our philosophy? I say that I am a realist in the sense that I think there is a universe out there waiting to be investigated and understood. (…) Beyond that, it makes no sense to ask if (a theory) corresponds to reality, because we do not know what reality is independent of a theory. This view of scientific theories may make me an instrumentalist or a positivist (…) I have been called both. (…) It is no good appealing to reality because we don’t have a model independent concept of reality.” (44)
  15. See previous note.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Curiously, this is just the conclusion which the arch-realist Smolin puts forward: “What might it mean to extend science to encompass the whole universe? Is it possible to describe the whole of the universe in scientific terms? And, if it is possible, how must we modify our current theories in order to be able to do this? I have come to believe that this is the central issue that we must confront if we are to solve many of the key open problems in theoretical physics. How we think about the universe as a whole affects such apparently diverse questions as the problem of unifying quantum theory with general relativity, the problem of understanding the origin of the properties of the elementary particles, the problems of the interpretation of the quantum theory, the problem of what “caused” the Big Bang, and the question of why the universe is hospitable to life. These are all problems we have so far failed to solve (…) In my view, part of the reason for this (failure) is that we have not paid enough attention to the ways in which a theory that could be sensibly applied to the whole universe must differ from our present theories. (The Life of the Cosmos, 12-13) Or again from Smolin, and more strongly: “If not for the philosophers, who is going to have the courage to tell the physicists when quantum theory, or another of our constructions, just cannot be made sense of? In the past, philosophers like Leibniz did not hesitate to tell physicists when they were speaking nonsense. Why now, when at least as much is at stake, are the philosophers so polite? (The Life of the Cosmos, 195)

Verlinde: Physics in the Information Age

On October 5, 2017, Eric Verlinde gave a lecture on A New View on Gravity and the Dark Side of the Cosmos.1 Many of the points Verlinde made in developing his lecture recapitulated insights which Marshall McLuhan repeatedly urged beginning in the early 1950’s. This was almost 70 years before Verlinde’s lecture held at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo Ontario — 70 miles from McLuhan’s base in Toronto. 

Here is McLuhan writing to Harold Innis in 1951:

One major discovery of the symbolists which had the greatest importance for subsequent investigation was their notion of the learning process as a labyrinth of the senses and faculties whose retracing provided the key to all arts and sciences.

And here is Verlinde retracing McLuhan along this labyrinthine way in a whole series of inter-related points:2

Technology and Thought

McLuhan in 1967:

  • this kind of [technological] revolution is one in which (…) all of us [are] actually living and it enables all sorts of things to appear and to be noticed for the first time that had previously been unobservable. This [is the] principle that whenever a new technology develops it creates a new environment for the whole culture…3

Verlinde in 2017:

  • The way that science progresses has very much to do with the times that we live in and with the technology that we use. Science helps us to develop technology but also our current technology influences the way we think about science. (4:33ff)
  • The revolutions in the 19th century were very much related to the existence of the steam engine. Now in the [20th] century we developed televisions and other things and a television, if you think about it, is actually a particle accelerator. It accelerates electrons which are moved around with electric fields and are projected on a screen and then we see photons coming out. So the ideas of forces and particles is really the language of the 20th century and there our understanding of nature was in terms of the most fundamental building blocks, which are elementary particles, and the fundamental forces. So we built theoretical physics using that language. Today we are already far in the 21st century and again we have a different type of technology — smartphones, computers, big data. (5:20ff)

Age of Information

McLuhan in 1958:

  • Today the movement, packaging and transfer of information is the world’s largest industry. The consuming of information in multiple-packaged form has become the largest occupation of mankind. The packaging and moving of information has transformed the globe into a community of learning. Since technology has undertaken the transfer of information the entire globe has become an adult education centre.4
  • General Motors is a small operation compared to the electronic processing and packaging of information. The moving of information itself has become by far the largest industry in the world. The consuming of information, electronically processed, is by far the largest activity today.5

Verlinde in 2017:

  • Most of what we’re doing every day has to do somehow with information and that’s again a new language and this is again influencing the way we think about science. Today the new view on gravity has to do with information.  And because this is basically the language that we’re developing in our current century, we live in an Information Age. (6:17ff)
  • My new view on gravity has to do with a new view on the universe [as] built out of information and we’re going to understand the forces in it, in particular gravity, in terms of this new language [of information]. (8:27ff)
  • Information [is] contained in everything that nature is made of, even space and time. (Delft 5:15ff) 
  • we’re going to think about the universe where we think about the basic building blocks as being information. This is maybe a way of phrasing it: that we live in an information universe not an information world. The whole universe is revolving around information (Delft, 6:21ff) 

The Medium is the Message

McLuhan in 1953

  • the fury for change is in the form and not the message of the new media6

Verlinde in 2017:

  • But what is information? You might say, well it’s what I read in a newspaper because I’m interested in certain things. But there’s also an abstract way to think about information in terms of the way it’s stored in bits and then we don’t look at what is written somewhere, we just count for instance how many bits we have, how many bytes. And so I will think about information in this more abstract way so that we’re going to talk even about information that we cannot really access, but we still have a way of counting it by saying how many bits are used. (6:41ff)
  • So what indeed is information? I mean, it’s stored in bits and it is sort of unimportant (…) what is written there. You just count for instance how many bits you have and that tells you how much information you in principle can store, say on a chip or even in other parts of nature. (Delft 5:20ff)  
  • The link between entropy and information is going to be important, so if I talk about information later on and you wonder what I really mean, it’s counting the number of bits. (13:15ff)
  • There’s also another development going on, namely, we make things smaller and smaller and then we arrive at even sub-atomic scales or atomic scales where things become quantum mechanical. Then information has another meaning again because in quantum mechanics you get something called qubits. Not bits like zeros and ones but there’s also things that are somewhere in between. Qubits are funny objects because they can do things that are possible only in quantum mechanics — they can namely not just be 0 and 1 but can be something in the middle. (7:16ff)


McLuhan in 1963:

  • The (…) simultaneous character of electrical information coverage tends to create ‘field’ rather than point of view. And ‘field’ necessarily partakes of the character of interplay or of dialogue.7

Verlinde in 2017:

  • [Qubits] can do something called being entangled in the sense that one qubit here is doing the same thing as another one somewhere else. This is two qubits that are entangled, where the zero of one [qubit] is combined with a zero of the other, or the 1 of the one [qubit] is combined with the 1 of the other. This is an example of entanglement.  So this is the language we’re going to use to consider even our universewe’re going to think about the universe in terms of information and also in terms of this entangled quantum information. (8:00ff)
  • it’s the power of quantum mechanics, it’s the essence of quantum mechanics that we have entanglement. And our  [whole] universe [itself] is very entangled. (47.45ff)
  • Information [is] contained in everything that nature is made of, even space and time. (Delft: 5:15ff)


McLuhan in 1968:

  • As painters well know, space is created or evoked by all manner of associations among colors, textures (…) and their intervals.8

Verlinde in 2017:

  • And this is the same in nature — if we ask what things are made of, then some of the terms that we use, like maybe even matter or space and time, may not exist [as such at microscopic scale]. This is an indication of the way we are going in this lecture — and let me tell you then what the term [for this phenomenon] is: it’s called emergence. Mainly we use concepts and observe phenomena at macroscopic scales, which are derived from the microscopic scale but have a priori no meaning in that language [of the microscopic scale]. So the language that we use at macroscopic scales is different than the microscopic and we use concepts and things that are not meaningful [at microscopic scale], so we have to derive them… (10:02ff)

Emotion of Multitude

McLuhan in 1967:

  • the emotion of multitude (…) is a state in which we live constantly, that is, on the border. We live constantly in two worlds…9

Verlinde in 2017:

  • Bits are zeros and ones, quantum bits are also zeros and ones, but (…) [the quantum bit] can also be something in the middle and we call that a superposition (…) and this is why a qubit has many more possibilities [than bits]. (45.53ff)
  • A bit has only two possibilities, zero [or] one — [but] a qubit can be thought of as a sphere [where] all points on this sphere is a different state of that qubit and this is why if you do calculation with qubits, you’re doing many calculations at the same time — [using] many more bits than we normally have in a classical computer. In a quantum calculation you do all these things in parallel — all calculations are being done at the same time. This is why quantum computers are much more powerful [than classical computers]. (46.18ff)

Sphere of Meaning

McLuhan in 1960:

  • Today it is axiomatic that we live in a global space fed by information from every point on the sphere at the same time.10

Verlinde in 2017:

  • a qubit can be thought of as a sphere [where each] point on this sphere is a different [possible] state of that qubit (46:20ff)


McLuhan in 1967:

  • Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. ‘Time’ has ceased…11

Verlinde in 2017:

  • if you do calculation with qubits, you’re doing many calculations at the same time (…) In a quantum calculation you do all these things parallel — all calculations are being done at the same time. (46:28ff)
  • if you measure an [entangled] object (…) here, it can determine the outcome of a measurement somewhere else [over there]. Instantaneously. (47.18ff)

McLuhan held that art is always out ahead of science by a generation or two. So when Verlinde retraces McLuhan, it may be wondered if there are further aspects of McLuhan’s work which have not yet come to light in physics and which might help to solve outstanding problems in its investigations.

In fact, it is not at all merely McLuhan’s work that is of potential use to Verlinde’s physics. Instead, McLuhan may be regarded as a door opening onto both contemporary developments in the humanities and social sciences, as well as onto their long history. Entanglement (for example) has been considered for millennia in many different cultural traditions. Here is Heraclitus 2500 years ago:

ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή12

Given such a long and varied history, it would be very strange if did not include the discovery and specification of ideas which physicists have not yet considered — but which could turn out to be critical for their research.

  1. On March 19, 2018 at Delft, Verlinde loosely repeated his Perimeter talk with a lecture called ‘A New View on Gravity and the Cosmos‘. Some of his formulations in this later lecture offer interesting variations on his earlier one at Perimeter.
  2. The remarkable thing between Verlinde and McLuhan (aside from the fact that McLuhan had these insights a half century ago), is not the number of similar points in the work of both, but the similar shape which the ensemble of these points takes for each of them. The passages cited from Verlinde’s lectures are taken from the auto-generated transcripts of the two ‘New View of Gravity’ lectures in YouTube.  They have been lightly edited to correct mistakes in the auto-transcription. The time stamps given in each case make it easy, of course, to proof Verlinde’s actual words.
  3. The Technological Unconscious‘, Inaugural Lecture at Fordham, September 18, 1967, 9:47ff.
  4. Radio in the Future of Canada’, lecture at UBC in Vancouver, May 5, 1958.
  5. Our New Electronic Culture’, lecture held 26 May 1958, printed in NAEB Journal, 18:1, October 1958.
  6. Culture Without Literacy’, Explorations 1, Dec 1953. McLuhan in 1958: “The medium is the message. (…) It follows that if we study any medium carefully we shall discover its total dynamics and its unreleased powers. (Our New Electronic Culture’, lecture held 26 May 1958, printed in NAEB Journal, 18:1, October 1958.) McLuhan’s signature phrase has three entangled meanings: (1) form not content; (2) different forms have different middles or media and these forms can be classified on the basis of those different middles — so the middle is “where the action is” since it determines the form of the form (comparable to how the number of electrons and protons determine the particular form of the general form (EnPn) of chemical elements); (3) The middle is “where the action is”  because all messages are grounded in it — nothing comes to light except from some impetus out of the superposition of possibilities there.
  7. ‘We need a new picture of knowledge’, Yearbook: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1963.
  8. Through the Vanishing Point, 1968, 6. Interestingly, Verlinde, exactly like McLuhan, uses a picture to illustrate what he means by emergence. He shows his audience a few pixels of a picture which have no discernible significance at that level of detail (Perimeter, 8:53ff; Delft 6:53ff). Emergence is then shown in action when he pulls back to reveal the picture composed of those and many thousands of other pixels — just as in McLuhan’s painted picture where “space is created or evoked by associations among colors, textures (…) and their intervals”.
  9. ‘Canada: the Borderline Case’, 1967. For McLuhan and Yeats’ 1903 ‘Emotion of Multitude’ see Lévi-Strauss on method in anthropology.
  10.  Report on Project in Understanding, ‘Materials Developed for the Project’. Cf, McLuhan in 1970: “Without the interval (between them), there would be neither wheel nor axle. It is this resonant interval that constitutes the chemical bond, according to Linus Pauling (1939) in The Nature of the Chemical Bond. Heisenberg (1927) had pointed this out as relevant to quantum mechanics. What the Japanese call MA, the significant space between forms, evokes the world of auditory or acoustic space. It is the peculiar character of acoustic space, constituted by the act of hearing from all directions at once, that it is a sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere.” (‘Discontinuity and Communication in Literature’, lecture given at University College, Toronto, Nov 21, 1970, printed in P. R. Leon, ed, Problèmes de L’Analyse Textuelle/Problems of Textual Analysis, 189-199, 1971.)
  11. The Medium is the Massage, 1967, 63.
  12. The way up and the way down are one and the same (DK B60). The sayings of Heraclitus have been investigated from Plato to Eliot (whose Four Quartets used this B60 fragment as one of its two epigrams from Heraclitus).