Enframing—the setting of borders and boundaries, the separation of the within and without, the distinction between inside and outside—is the central problem of our time. With humanity’s growing capacity to act, it is necessary to understand enframing—the process underlying action—else we may in turn be enslaved by its operation, acting thoughtlessly towards catastrophe. Enframing was first raised by Heidegger apropos Technology, but its operations—and its dangers—lie within all areas of human affairs. Starting from Biology, I will identify the function of consciousness as en- and re-framing, as transjective rather than subjective. This thread will take us to Politics, Art, and Theology, towards a reformulation of the True and the Beautiful that is conducive to the cultivation of a transjective relationship as an antidote to pure enframing.
Enframing is the the creation and application of concepts to what is perceived. Such process, however, already does violence to the phenomenon. When I apply a concept, I first see the judged as as an object—homogeneous, capable of being isolated—part of a set of object(s) under the concept, standing against me, the subject. This conceptual process of enframing is necessary for the processing of information, making the world comprehensible by separating the world into discrete wholes. Only with it, can I build a model of the world under which I can specify what I am acting on, and why I am acting. Enframing’s crucial guiding function, however, makes the understanding of its process all the more important, for within it lies the potential for catastrophic errors: a wrong frame can blind us to crucial aspects of the framed that is needed for the present situation. These implicit, more insidious enframings often exist at the level of syntax, as unexamined presuppositions taken as Kantian transcendentals. Hence, Nietzsche laments that “we [have] not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.”
The problematic of enframing is most clear in Biology. Biological systems form natural, framable, wholes—with low entropy within and high entropy without—from individual genes, membrane-bound organelles, cells, to species and ecosystems. Each level of biological systems, however, also constantly reframes. Genes mutate. Cells receive chemicals. Species isolate and speciate. Ecosystems morph and join. Without a stable frame, entropy intrudes and biological systems collapse, as in immunosuppressant patients who cannot identify and destroy the pathogenic without. With a too-stable frame, however, there is no taking in of free energy, nor evolution, and the system again perishes, engulfed by the world’s raging entropy. Biological systems are simultaneously closed and open, and their survival depends on the mediation between the enclosing framing and the becoming re-framing—the biological is inherently transjective, constantly calibrating to the situation at hand. Thus, fitness is not, like weight, a property residing within the system, but instead lies, as Stephen J. Gould emphasizes, in a system’s ability to exapt—the constant preserving of itself through reframing.
Human consciousness, as inherently self-conscious, is the replaying of the constant process of en- and re-framing at the level of the mind—condensing the evolutionary process into the skull—and, as such, is the extension, and the culmination, of the biotic. Whitehead’s famous aphorism—that thought allows “ideas die instead of us”—points precisely to the evolutionary process of enframing and reframing at the level of the person.
A misguided view of cognition, represented by IQ tests, presents consciousness’ function as mere intelligence—the ability to extract patterns and compute. This, however, measures enframing, as—to follow the biological analogy—a system’s ability to stabilize under one environment, but not its capacity for reconfiguration. It sees fitness as stable, rather than the facility for dynamic evolution. This view makes consciousness fragile—unable to tolerate disorder because it has expertise in one frame only—whereas a functional consciousness is neurally-plastic and thus anti-fragile, constantly reframing according to the situation at hand.
Seeing reframing as central to cognition explains recent clinical trials of Psychedelics show its ability to break addiction, relief death anxiety, and alleviate PTSD, for the hallucinatory experience, through inducing entropy into consciousness, forces it to reframe. AI researchers, similarly, discovered that noise needs to be injected into AI systems in order for them to make meaningful and novel abstractions from data.
Enframing, however, is nevertheless needed. Consciousness, which in its self-conscious nature constantly thinks its own thinking, reframes as it enframes, oscillating between the two in a dynamical equilibrium. Reframing too much, and one becomes Schizophrenic—as unmoderated Psychedelic use disposes oneself towards. Enframing too much, then one, like PTSD patients, cannot process experiences—often of great malevolence beyond all ordinary proportions—outside of one’s frame.
The Cartesian subject-object divide is incapable of comprehending the entire process as a whole. It lies within the logic of enframing in that it sees the world as already categorized. Cognitive Scientific research has proceeded so sluggishly because of the implicit Cartesian framing which prevents a correct formulation of the relationship of consciousness of the world. Consciousness is constantly in the process of framing, and this relationship can only be described as transjective, for the relationship is one that is constantly morphing. This transjective nature of consciousness is the reason for CogSci’s recent turn towards Phenomenology, for the transjecting consciousness is just what Heidegger calls Dasein, the being that can “take a stand on its own being,”
Politics is the operation of the biological and individual transjective process at the level of the collective. It consists of one question, “Who are we?”, and the political process is its continual reanswering—through elections, changes in law, formulation and reformulation of constitutions, civil debate and disobedience. This political operation of frame-breaking and building is the basis for the classic Schmittian definition of the sovereignty as “he who decides on the exception”—exception, being the breaking of the current frame.
Too enclosed and too static, relying too much on tradition, isolating oneself from outside forces, politics becomes dominated by enframing, knows only how to exclude, and wanes. Political enframing, as an extension of the same biological immunological problem of entropy suppression, which, gone to its extremes, begins to attack itself auto-immunally, manifests itself in how Jews were referred as rats in the Holocaust, and the Tutsi, cockroaches, in the eve of the Rwandan genocide. However, too dynamic, maintaining no borders at all, the polis similarly dissipates in the absence of law—like the Israelites coming out of the Egyptian tyranny, lost in the entropic desert that equalizes all life, saved only by Moses’ reception of the frame as the 10 commandments. This is why universal human rights, as the dissolution of all borders, as Hannah Arendt stresses, is no right at all, for it is not operative under any polis. Politics needs to be the constant engaging in the “exception” that reframes the rules, and the setting of rules again to formulate the “we” that I am a citizen with.
The concepts of left and right, of different -isms, are not conducive to political operation, for this enframing lies antithetical to the spirit of sovereignty. What is urgently needed is the authentic speaking of selves who seek new, non-dogmatic answers to the problem of community in order to do justice to the transjective process which politics can potentially be—with less demagoguery, echo chambers, poll-following [NEED HELP: WHAT IS THE WORD WHEN POLITICIANS JUST FOLLOW WHAT THE POLLS SAY?], and more thinking.
What is needed in politics, in this sense, is a bit more Art, for Art is the becoming-anew of frames. The aesthetic-encountering, where the horizons of the self and the world—disclosed in the artwork—fuse in a happening, is the direct consciousness-experience of the transjective process. And the overflowing of the sublime which horrifies and leaves one in awe, described by Kant, is the presenting to the self of the potentialities lying beyond enframing. Each work of art educates, in the etymological sense of educare, in a leading-out of one’s current frame into the spirit of questioning and reframing.
Art not only teaches us to see, listen, and think differently—this we all know—but draws us into the very process of re-perceiving. This bildung includes not only the fine, but also the liberal arts, as full conceptual systems which include within themselves, through their complex interconnections and openings, the very process of reframing. Such education, rather than providing information and expertise, cultivates the personhood of the educated as self-reframing consciousness. Only with individuals with such artistic education can there be Politics be revitalized. This artistic education, however, goes beyond the political, and is immanent in the theological.
“The eye from which I see God”, Meister Eckhart goes, “is the same eye from which God sees me.” We participate in the divine through loving and just attention towards the world, which allows the overflowing of the world to transform me. This is what happens to the Philosopher-King when he anagogically ascent out of the cave into the world of forms.
This transformation cultivates a transjective relationship towards the world, one which constantly en- and re-frames.
This participation, engaged at all levels of one’s identify—as a citizen, a student, a neighbor, a daughter—is the Good. The modern ennui arises out of an en- and mis-framing of the ethical question as “What should I do?”, which takes the Good as a set of all possible good actions, leaving the human out of its frame. The proper question to ask, which does justice to the transjective process that lies at the core of our humanity, is, ‘Who should I become?’—we should become that which constantly participates in the becoming towards the Good qua the cultivation of a transjective, meaningful relationship to the beyond. This theological-ethical reformulation brings with it a new perspective on the Beautiful and the True, paralleling our previous discussion on Art and Education. A rediscovery of their essence, and a conscious recognition of them in everyday life will be the first step towards breaking enframing.
Beauty and Truth
It is a modern idea—rising out of the enframing of Truth as merely matters of fact, and the Beautiful, as only subjective, dependent on “taste”—that the Good has nothing to do with truth or beauty. Each formulation misses, in their opposing ways, the other side of the equation—Truth, the person engaging within its process, Beauty, the work of art.
Consciousness participates in truth, which resides not in propositions, but unveils and emerges through experiences that educe one into a transjective becoming, and its participation is simultaneously the event from which truth itself can flower. We engage in truth whenever we are enthralled by a book, inspired by an athlete, or in peace, dining with our family. Seen thus, the distinction between is and ought is false: The True, in its happening, is Good.
The Truth-experience, however, cannot be without Beauty, for Art, as described above, is the primordial experience of educare, where the artwork, calling consciousness to remain in its presence, invites it to an adventurous participation in truth. Such beauty is not merely aesthetic, as in the fine arts, but resides in the everyday, waiting to be unveiled in a Kierkegaardian moment of vision. There’s as much beauty in listening to the Goldberg Variations, as in the understanding of some elegant mathematical equation, or the watching of the smile of a child. The experience of wonder, awe, as part of beauty, is also indispensable to the true. As such, beauty is not optional to the ethical life—or, for that matter, a meaningful life—but part and parcel of it.
Keats, pining the Greek experience, could still say, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. The imbuing of beauty into everyday life, and a recognition of the truth that we constantly participate in, is the antidote to the crisis of enframing. Only through an education that does not only fill its students with information and skills, but emphasizes beauty and the experience of truth which allows the student to engage in consciousness’ transjective potential, can there be an re-enchantment of the world, and a rescuing of it from enframing. This is necessary, for the sandstorm of entropy constantly rages across the fragile oasis of our shared world, making it, always, “out of joint”. It is the duty of the loving consciousness, collaborating with Beauty—and each other—to make the world right, again, eternally, through the participation in the True, the Good, and the Divine, at the level of the biological, individual, and political.