Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Death Set

We could easily argue that a closed set is only closed by way of an other. Or to put this another way, we must have something which does not belong to the set in order have a set. A good example of this would be any of the cliques in an American high school. For the "jocks" to exist as a set, you must have a person or group of people who do not belong to the group – so you have the Goths, the Nerds, etc. Each group can be defined by what it is not, but more importantly, each group only exists if something escapes it. Perhaps we could best understand this by way of Fink:

For what could it possibly mean to speak of the set of all signifiers? As soon as we attempt to designate such a set, we add a new signifier to the list: the "Other" (with a capital "O"). That signifier is not yet included within the set of all signifiers (figure 3.1).

Other ( )

Let us include that new signifier within the set. We change the set in so doing and can now justifiably rename it, as it no longer escapes the same set. Suppose we call it the "complete Other" (figure 3.2).

Complete Other (Other)

This new name, however, is not yet part of the set. To include it would involve changing the set, and once again call for a new name (figure 3.3).

Complete Other 2 ( Complete Other )

The process can be repeated endlessly, proving that the supposed set of all signifiers can never be complete."

In other words, there can be no set that contains all other sets. Something must escape. But what about a set where before nothing escapes? What about death?

Creation, in John W. Lango's account of Whitehead's Ontology, is opposite eternality. Or, to put this another way, "An entity is created if an only if it is not eternal" (77). For Lango, we can read Whitehead's ontology as having to do with objects interacting with other objects – a process Lango terms synonty. Being, as Lango puts it, "is, more appropriately, a relation between entities…Thus [Whitehead's] types of entity are defined by the principle that entities have being for one another (i.e., are synontic)" (1). But there is a primal difference between beings that are created and beings that are eternal. For Lango, "An entity is eternal if and only if it is synontic to every other entity and every other entity is synontic to it. An entity is created if and only if it is not synontic to some other entity or some other entity is not synontic to it" (77). Finitude can be read, then, as being a closed set of created objects; but only if we have an eternal object, only if we have something outside the closed set.

Immortality or the eternal object is usually given to the gods. In the animal world death is a natural process that eventually overtakes most living tissue – or so I believed. I had heard of amoebas cheating death by replication but was not sure if this was the same thing as an eternal object, because in this process of replication there exists a time (t) where amoeba A is physically separate from amoeba B, even though they both share identical biological makeup. But recently I came across the hydra – a freshwater animal in the class Hydrozoa. What's interesting about the hydra is its ability to regenerate at the cellular level, making it seemingly immortal. According to Daniel E. Martinez in his article found here:

Escaping senescence, however, might be restricted to animals with simpler, dynamic bodies that can be constantly renewed from populations of stem cells. Given the tissue dynamics of hydra, over a period of four years somatic epithelial cells have divided on average 300 times and the whole hydra body may have been fully replaced at least 60 times. The evolution of more complex bodies with tissues and organs with a higher degree of specialization might have resulted in, or perhaps required, a loss of the capacity of renewal and thus permitted the evolution senescence. (224)

What I find incredibly interesting about this passage is Martinez's claim that senescence (or natural aging) is evolutionary – and via this claim, that death too is a creation of our evolutionary process. The hydra, in other words, makes death as a closed set possible. It is that eternal entity which has synonty with all other entities through its being immortal. The following graph from Martinez's article best sums up anything I left to say:

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