The problem of movement
..."And what do you do," asked the tortoise, "when you are not riding a bike?"
I thought for a moment, wanting to represent the stationary part of my life, the part where I am not on a bike, faithfully, honestly, but wrestled with the image and the reality. I wanted the tortoise to know that there were all sorts of meaningful things that I was bound up with, people who depended on me, jobs that had to be done and so forth. It was a matter of presenting the details and the broad picture in equal proportion. Too much detail would give the impression that there was no underlying structure or purpose, which translates into a deficit of meaning. On the other hand, over emphasising the broad field of activity, would look like an avoidance of focus; all intention, no initiation, all scaffold, no dwelling, all characterisation, but no character and so on. I had to think carefully about this one, for that tortoise had a way of backing me into the open.
In my hesitation to come up with a suitable answer, the tortoise was ready with his own reply. He was nodding, and a low, gulping chuckle shook the loose reptilian skin that cloaked his long neck. "You think about riding your bike, eh?"
"Well, sometimes..." I admitted, caught, I confess, off my guard.
"Most of the time?"
"Certainly not! I've plenty of things to think about..." and I tried to think of just one, and he saw right through me, with his little sleepy watchful eyes.
"Tell me this," suggested the ancient terrapin, shuffling slowly to and fro, and settling his weight into the moist peat, "How do you think about motion?"
"Oh, for me, it is everything!"
"You misinterpret my question. How, how, do yo think about it. In what form, by what patterns of synaptic excess does motion... become.... thought?" and he democratically added, "For you, that is."
Leaving me to consider this problem, which, up until a moment ago, had not been a problem at all, my Eleatic interrogator plodded back into the undergrowth. And, as I stood and watched him, I was possessed of the certainty, that I would never catch that slowpoke, no matter which bicycle I was riding, all because of Zeno, whom he resembled in profile and figure, and his motion paradox.
What he really proves is...that theories differ genetically to lived experience
There are four distinct parts to Zeno's Motion Paradox, none of which have the slightest possibility of making me a better cyclist, or, for that matter, of convincing me that, when coasting down a slope, or cruising along a flat, smooth road, I am not in motion. I could almost be convinced of it on days when I am pushing to gain an endless series of inclines, or held almost in stasis by a headwind, but on those occasions, perhaps the sense of motion is even more acute, since it translates to effort, and effort to that lovely ache in the muscles, which is evidence and translation, of a day in the saddle. But quite naturally, Zeno would say: "effort and motion are not the same thing."
Zeno is not trying to convince us that what we witness and what we experience of motion are not real, or that we are fooled by some clever illusion. In his paradoxes, that effectively rule out the possibility of motion, and thus change, and so prove the permanence of all things, he shows us that if we are to believe what we experience, in motion, then we better think about what that really means.
And so with the ride. Remembering Tuesday's ride around the island and Sunday's Cleveland-Carbrook circuit, draw up two distinct experiences, neither of which is represented by any single image; neither the starting point, nor the end, and apart from an incident that may occur along the way - a puncture, a bee sting down my throat - I can switch instantly from one memory to the other, without evoking a single clear picture! Stranger still, if I am to call up last Sunday's Cleveland-Carbrook ride, and that of the week before, I am served not two, but one event, thus highlighting the disappointing economy of memory. I overlay the two rides and they become one. Stranger again, if someone reminds me of The Cleveland-Carbrook run in general terms, I know precisely what they are talking about without so much as troubling myself to remember a single thing. How can movement become so reduced, that in the end, it is no more than a diary entry.
If the problem, then, is a disjuncture between the multiplicity implied in the re-enactment, and the apparent unity of the memory, Henri Bergson's notion of duration, defined not by quantity, but quality, obliges. Bergson makes clear the habit of confusion between time and space - Zeno's error - the idea that one moment follows another - a spatial image - effectively implying that one moment causes the next. This causal reckoning of time is problematic - for Bergson, for me too I guess - because it is deterministic and so does not accommodate free will. For Bergson, the unity of consciousness apprehends duration as a unity, not as a sequence, and, as such, because there is no causality in the unity, free will is inevitable. "It is in the duration that we can speak of freedom". Or, motion is the instantaneous joy of free will. Or, the deep happiness that abides after the bike ride is over, is the coiling up of time as motion in the fortunate body of the rider.
I will take this to the old terrapin next week, if I can catch him again...
The first two paradoxes of motion take as their logical argument, an incremental breakdown of space, through which we must pass before attaining the next point. So, in the dichotomy paradox, Zeno reasons that before attaining an end, a middle must be reached, but, before that another midpoint that precedes it, and so on. Naturally, these mid points turn out to be impossible because space can be infinitely divided, and therefore we can never really attain motion. In the second paradox, known as the Achilles, the same reasoning is used to show that a sprinter could never catch up to a walker, or a cyclist to a tortoise, who happens to be out in front. The Arrow paradox disproves motion, on the basis that the moving arrow occupies an infinite number of fixed positions in passing from one point to another, and as an infinite number is impossible, we can only surmise that the arrow has not moved. The stadium paradox is best explained with diagrams and is not relevant here, suffice to say that Zeno once again strikes out at what we take for granted regarding motion. And perhaps that is his most important contribution: to draw our attention to the complexity of thinking movement. What he really proves is less to do with motion and more to do with the fact that theories differ genetically to lived experience.
When we think about it now, the logic that drives Zeno's little games, is the logic of the model or the diagram. He can appear to disprove motion, by severing it entirely from the phenomenological world, which is the necessary medium for dynamism. Similarly, as Bergson will show, he has made the fatal error of assuming that time can be represented spatially. While diagrams and models fail to make the sense that experience proves, they do make the sense that diagrams insist on. Naturally, then, the model fails the world it attempts to reveal.
So unfortunately, none of Zeno's paradoxes 1 - 4 helps to answer the tortoise's torturous question: How do I think motion? For that I have to turn to the thinking body. What has the ride become, by the time I return home? A story, a single event, or an infinity of isolated points, as Zeno would goad? And how is it possible to recall and summarise in an instant, what took three hours to complete? If I am talking about the whole of the ride, where can that whole ride be located? By the time it is whole, it is done! Being a time based problem, it is similar to the problem of thinking music. How do you remember a piece of music? Is it necessary to go over the whole thing, bar for bar, in order to test the memory of it or do we just mean the highlights: arias but not recitatives; or do we simply remember enjoying it, and when we bring it to mind, it is this pleasure, the affective value, that revisits us in ways that are particular to the experience at the time of listening? If someone says "Bach's F minor concerto" there it is, emerging instantly from the invisible archive. And there is the that miracle of human feeling - what is it with the F minor? A kind of deep, appreciative contentment, a reverence, a kindness, a memory itself...it is impossible to transcribe it into words.
The deep happiness that abides after the bike ride is over, is the coiling up of time as motion in the fortunate body of the rider.