Change and Beer Residue

An excerpt from ‘Philosophical Beer, The history of philosophy from Plotinus to Paglia in the form of an IPA.’  by Aaron Wooten

Like Alice in Wonderland you wake up in a place that is first too small and is now too big. Your clothes don't fit and you can’t reach your beer. But you can’t seem to remember why. You seem to have forgotten everything and there is little connection between what is real and what is fantasy. The kind of guarantee that you always assumed would be there the next morning has somehow fallen apart. The God of Dionysius the Areopagite who has momentary stepped away from his creation has stayed away for far too long. The demiurge is here and instead of living and participating with the world the world now creates you. Your fate is sealed as you exist inside of a strange new place. Then you look at your wrinkled hands and remember your Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Then you take another sip of beer.

Like this strange place Democritus (460-370) described nature as a constant and perpetual state of change. Seeing a river of beer that consists of tiny little atoms he just can’t seem to see how anyone could ever step in the same river of beer twice. Just as with Heraclitus we find change occurring as a conflict of opposites. Every object is in a state of harmony due to its adaptation to these opposites within its current situation.This begins to change with Aristotle’s logic where we begin to find concreteness. He defined change as an illusion. If I pour half of my beer on the floor it still remains to be beer. Or if I decide to eat chicken wings this will probably do nothing to change my opinions about beer. In this case change is indeed an illusion. It cannot change the person that I am or will be. It cannot change chicken wings. I have already decided what I will do no matter the circumstances. This aspect of an unmovable substance or feeling has echoed throughout the history of philosophy and as we’ll see later it continues to reverberate in the most irrational and rational ways. It continues to defy our notion of change. Beer is indeed beer.

However, things change. With Plato, Spinoza and Kant we see a stability in form emerge that is transcendent, universal and idealistic in nature rather than empirical and individual. Beer is not indeed beer but my idea of beer. Here, if there is change then it is necessitated by determinism or by an ontological hierarchy in which steps are made by ascending or descending a preconceived staircase in which case Plato kicks away the ladder from underneath us. However, things change again. With Leibniz we begin to witness the effects of movement and a kind of return to the cyclical processes of the pre-socratic Greek philosophers. His windowless scientific nomads confirm the notion of change as a continuation of Democritus, where we will always be stepping in a different river of beer. But again, even though we have change it is a stable form of change that is composed of units. There is a stability that is inherent in the closed-off nature of these monads. Change is only consistent as a number of differentiating units, each of which is its own self and individualized. Whereas what we begin to see later on with process philosophy and process theology is the notion of change as a process of becoming, again like Alfred North Whitehead’s all window occasion where even the smallest units are in a continual state of flux of existence and non-existence. This idea opens up an entire new realm of change that is akin to Friedrich Nietzsche, Werner Heisenberg and quantum physics. Even the conception of thought itself is unable to anchor onto truth without the necessary creation of it. Free will can only be free by anchoring onto the moment that preceded it.

Change becomes the experience of difference itself, and a difference is an attachment to an association of something else that I have already decided by a choice that I may or may not be aware of. This choice is neither reducible to myself, my consciousness or my awareness of my consciousness. That is because thought is both a reflection of thought itself and is also a part of what we may refer to as an origin, which contains every possibility, chance and probability that is available to and for it. Difference is both myself and something outside of myself. Both are only describable because of their fundamental ephemeral nature that is inseparable in time due to the necessary re-experiencing of itself in order to affirm itself. Difference is the diminishing of a plateau into a new process. My beer goes flat after a period of time so my desire for my beer also decreases. Or I get drunk and care less what my beer tastes like. Not only am I changing but the things as I am experiencing them are changing too. I am forever and always my own experience of how things are.

Residue is a symbol of a recognition of change in myself. It is historic as a signification of a prior event that has already occurred and thus gives me the sensation of having a place and a time that is indistinguishable from myself. It is also continuously slipping away from myself and thus leaving a residue. I sit down at a bar with residue nestled in the corners of it and along the floor signifying all of the drunkards that have come before me. We are all born and bred into a prearranged ordering of things. As Heidegger says, we are “thrown into the world”. It is felt as an authentication by and for our lifeworld. Like Kant’s free play of the faculties it half remembers and half forgets. It is like a trace as defined by Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995), which is a mark of the other that must be reckoned with because the other is within ourselves. It is the metaphysical essence beyond the ontological or the transcendental essence before existence has come into being. As Schopenhauer tells us, “Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.”

by Aaron Wooten

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