Being Itself as a Verb
In this essay, I dissolve a metaphysical question by verbing a noun. Specifically, I propose that the phrase “Being itself”, common in certain religious and philosophical texts, be read as a verb phrase rather than as a noun phrase.
“Being itself”, read as a noun phrase, is an incomprensible reification of some supposed inner essence of the verb, “to be”. But that verb is a carrier of grammar, not data. In the sentence “it is raining”, ’it’ and ’is’ bear structure, not information. Just to grunt, “raining” will say as much. No need to understand Isness, let alone Itness, to understand “it is raining”. We could say instead, “rain falls”; both of those words carry data as well as grammar. We could ask, “what is rain?”; answering that will take us into meteorology. We could also ask “what is falling?”; answering that will take us into physics. But to ask “what is “is”?” will only get you mocked by Kenneth Starr. George Spencer-Brown said that “equals”, in his form calculus, means the same as “is confused with”. Thus GSB neatly combined Being with Confusing. Very Brownian.
“Being itself”, read as a verb phrase, is intuitive and obvious; it denotes spontaneity, naturalness. Consider an overly nosy dog; it snuffles your crotch, but never mind, it was just being a dog. It was being itself. If we shift the phrase a bit, we get “being oneself”; the topic of entire stores full of self-help books.
A similar reframing dissolves the question of ‘materiality’. For what is Matter? Present physics speaks of leptons, quarks, gluons, photons, gravitons and other particles, but surely that’s not what the word meant to people in the past.
I propose that the ‘material’ is not exactly the above-listed particles and their interactions; rather it is the evidential. The material is that about which we have reliable documentation. The material is the relevant; it is that which makes a discernable difference. Matter is, literally, what matters.
If there were reliable and reproducible measurements of ectoplasm, and ectoplasm had discernable effects on other things, then ectoplasm would be material, even if it had not a single electron, quark, gluon or photon in it.
Conversely, the immaterial is the irrelevant. It is that which we can dismiss from our considerations without loss of useful knowlege. That was the fate of Phlogiston and the Luminiferous Ether. “Material” and “immaterial” are scholar’s terms; “materialism” is simply the skeptical insistence on relevant evidence for statements.
So riddle me this: why can’t ghosts testify in court? Answer; because they are not material witnesses. By which the lawyers don’t mean that the phantom is made of ectoplasm rather than quantum particle fields; they mean that the spook’s wailings and gibberings make no sense and therefore are of no use to judge or jury. The ghost’s testimony is immaterial because it doesn’t matter.
If we read Matter as a noun, then we get caught in Kant’s mysteries of the being-in-itself, and inquiry shuts down. Whereas if we read Matter as a verb, then it opens itself up to inquiry.
Now note that “Being Itself”, read as a noun phrase, is in general not relevant. It isn’t germaine to anything discernable. Therefore “Being itself”, read as a noun phrase, is literally immaterial. Whereas “being itself”, when read as a verb phrase, is entirely relevant. Indeed it is only by being itself that anything reveals that self. Being oneself makes all the difference. Therefore ‘being itself’, read as a verb phrase, is that which matters!
So is Matter Being itself? Only if being oneself matters!