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October 27, 2007

A Metaphysical String Theory

As a tool to ensure that the foundation and framing of a complicated addition that I'm building come out straight, I bought a length of nylon string. In my haste, however, I ripped the cardboard spool, and the rapid unraveling resulted in tangles.

From a purely practical standpoint, it would have been more rational to cut out the snarls, salvage shorter lengths, and buy a new length of ready-wound string. But seeing the mess as a consequence of my own poor judgment (in turn, a consequence of my foibles), I undertook to undo what I had done.

What a metaphor for philosophy is a jumbled mass of string! In its loops and self-bindings the thread seems as many separate thoughts, alike in some respects, but unreachable each from each, and he who would understand can only pick them apart, isolate the offshoots, and pull the cut end through hole after hole.

One quickly realizes, of course, that a string of any length is difficult to keep straight while being unwoven back and forth through other notions, so a secondary spool — an organizing belief, if you will — is necessary to keep that which has been sorted orderly. That belief may then be used as a shuttle in the unweaving of the weft from the warp (although both are ultimately the same).

Some shuttles will prove too small for the job. Some will have thorny appurtenances that catch and bind the string anew. And none will prove as suited to the job of holding the string as the original spool, so one must ever be ready to abandon even those holdings that have served the objective well for a time.

All shuttles and spools and even threads, be they what they may, are mere tools, in the end. And the pursuit of disentanglement is most rewarding in ways transcending the implements themselves.

Posted by Justin Katz at October 27, 2007 10:35 AM