Tag Archives: Ontology

Continuing Toward a New Ontology

As should be obvious by this point, I have been having a great deal of difficulty with the ongoing Ontology project. Mallory has repeatedly stressed to me a need to move past the fine details and begin working out the bigger picture, which I am now endeavoring to do.

So, allow me to briefly sum up the argument so far. The biggest feature of this project has been the assertion that the Subject is total and indivisible. It cannot be broken into its component features and retain the qualities which it possesses as a subject. Indeed, the Subject, once resolved, is no longer composed of constituent units, but is totalized into a single, coherent whole. In short, the Subject is irreducibly complex. Now, I recognize that term derives from the largely spurious Creation Science movement, and I am not using it in that context. Biology as a science has sufficiently explained the means and mechanisms through which complex structures develop from simpler antecedents. In this context, I use the term irreducible complexity to describe the resolved Subject as that emergent property which cannot reduced to the structures from which it resolves. Indeed, I think this is the only fashion in which a concept like irreducible complexity can be made sensible: as volta. The resolution of the Subject is the volta which transfigures the prior system into something radically different and new. The Subject is irreducibly complex because it is no longer the sum of its parts, but a new emergent being.

Of course, the emergent Subject is reliant upon its substrate: the physical structures are necessary preconditions for the emergence of the Subject. Indeed, when we speak about the sanctity of human life, is this not what we are speaking of? The reduction of this argument to mere cells has produced a cacophony of nonsense arguments and sophistry which are no longer attached to the underlying issue (why ban abortion and legalize capital punishment? The murder of political adversaries is just as egregious if it is the mere cells which we privilege. After all, we’re all made of the same stuff, full grown humans just have more of it than fetuses, so surely, by weight alone, killing an adult is worse than killed a kidney bean sized cluster of cells).

Prior to the emergence of the Subject, there is nothing that would sufficiently differentiate the human body from other complex physical systems. The human body varies from other objects only in scale. Solar systems, atoms and the human body are all of equal importance prior to the emergence of the Subject, due to their engagement within the same network of formal relations. The network itself determines all relations even as it is determined by the totality of its constituent units. Value is not an objective quality.

It would sound as though, at this point, that I am working toward a justification of the soul, or some other ethereal substance unique to human being. Well, after a fashion, I suppose I am. This uniqueness I have been calling the Subject. The reflexive, interior spaces which certain beings inhabit, the realm of the Subject, is what we seek to preserve in our honoring of human life. The emergence of the Subject radically alters the formal network relations. The Subject suddenly emerges as a locus of intent, previously unknown in the formal network. The Subject destroys the equality of objects.

The next important piece is the Subject/Object divide. Subjects are differentiated from objects by the aforementioned interiority. Subjects contain themselves within their subjectivity: subject withdraw into themselves, whereas objects are in relation only to the network in which they are entrenched. Subjects are in relation to themselves in reflexive unity with the network. The network itself is a necessary precondition for the emergence of the Subject, the action of the Subject is primordially reflexive. The reflexivity between Subject and object partially allows for the Subject’s self-recognition as Subject.

I had previously leveled a critique at this project, aiming to entrench it firmly in ontology, as ontology, differentiated from theology need not produce a morality. I have come to feel that I was incorrect in making this claim. While I still hold to the sharp distinction between ontology and theology, I do believe that already we have here the beginnings of a moral concern. If we are concerned with the Subject, our concern must then spread back to the necessary preconditions for the Subject’s resolution. The substrate and the network become vitally important, and both must be maintained in order to ensure the development and flourishing of the Subject.

As this project continues, I intend to further develop these themes, as well as return to the tangled concept of the soul and its complex intellectual history.

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The Being of Being and Time & Towards a New Ontology…

I spoke to Mallory last week about our ongoing Onto/Theological project and we both expressed our frustrations wit the way in which I have presently been handling whole affair. I realized earlier this month that I have been going around in circles, defining and redefining terms, pouring over minutia and attempting to produce a razor sharp set of definitions from which I could then proceed. Unfortunately, I think the end result of all of that work is largely impenetrable. Hence my relative silence on that front. I’ve let that project fall away to focus on other material until I can relax enough to approach it again from a different perspective.

Mallory suggested to me, as a means of re-entry into the topic, that I find a succinct article or some-such on the internet which has already done the necessary work for me and link to it, then move on from the foundation already laid. Well, as luck would have it, upon checking the other blogs that I read this morning, I have found what seems to be the perfect solution. Philosophy & Theology posted this lovely set of youtube videos: Hubert Dreyfus explaining existential phenomenology.

I thoroughly encourage anyone interested in the discussion thus far to watch the full interview. It is split over several ten minute chunks, but it rather thoroughly investigates the movement out of which my own ramblings have emerged. It is worth paying particular attention to the way in which Heidegger describes the human experience, which he calls Dasein: Dreyfus’ explanation of that topic in particular is of crucial significance. It is worth noting that my usage of the Subject (definite article, capitalization) parallels Heidegger’s usage of Dasein in the simultaneity of the singular instantiation and the abstracted set of phenomenon (i.e. a person/all persons). I take, a feel, a slightly more radical position regarding the formation of the Subject than Heidegger does when discussing the presence of a Dasein among other Daseins, but the basic framing is the same, and also quite important.

It’s also fascinating where, and this isn’t directly addressed in the interview itself, the Foucauldian ideas of historicity pick up from Heidegger’s description of being.

And, again, because I just can’t get off my soapbox, these concepts are also precisely why I despise the vast majority of occult philosophy, especially nearly everything produced by Hermeticism.

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Towards a New Ontology, Part 3

Again, I present another digression before moving on with the discussion at hand. I apologize for the crawling pace at which this discussion is proceeding, but at nearly every step I encounter a more quandaries which I feel I must address before moving forward.

Before beginning this series, I emailed Emjay about it asking her permission as well as sending her a draft of the first post. The two of us do, I admit, rather ominously, have further plans involving this theory, but I thought that it was important for my own understanding of it to begin working through it and presenting it here. In that initial draft, I had a throw away line which I then excised before posting, about how I felt Emjay was irritated with me for my final hesitation. She clarified, saying that she was not irritated with me, simply confused.

She suggested to me the reasons for my balking, and I do believe that her analysis of my reaction was correct. Our ur-theology is terribly open ended. That was, of course, the intent. And yet… Emjay suggested that I am too uncomfortable with a theology that tolerates all moralities, including those which I, I feel justified in claiming, find to be reprehensible and destructive. I feel like part of our disagreement stems from our views on the purpose of theology. I personally feel that it is quite important to keep a sharp line between ontology and theology, as I feel that they have very particular domains.

Emjay and I have since engaged in a rather truncated discussion of the role of theology in morality (mostly do to both of our schedules and our erratic response time to emails).  She, scolded me for implying that theology plays a vital and formative role in morality. In a message to her I said, “Ontology shouldn’t produce morality, but theology should. Have we produced a theology or an ontology? I do think that the ontology is secure, but if the theology cannot function to produce a faith, then it kind of fails. Isn’t morality part of spirituality? Are they not somehow linked? I don’t mean to say that one must know god to have morals, I believe one can derive them entirely humanistically, but isn’t that still an appeal to transcendance, merely human rather than divine?” I am not comfortable quoting Emjay’s response here, as I haven’t asked her permission, but I will summarize her rebuttal. Her response was that morality is not linked to theology (and that such a position was dangerous, as it allows for religious culture warriors to claim to have the only true rights to morality) but culture. Further, such a position invalidates Humanist and secular moralities.

I certainly do not disagree that morality is a social function. It is in operation within the social sphere and has a strong component, perhaps, honestly, the strongest component, of social concern. However, I think that it is also important to recognize that theology serves a similar function, in its embedding within society. Here I think we see a parallel evolution, theology and morality grow alongside and influence the development of each other. I think it would be a mistake to sever all linkages between morality and theology. While one may not precede the other in origin, each inflect and disturb the other through their growth. Thus, theology and morality are organically linked in the roles they play not only within society but within each other. After the fact, however, or perhaps even during, theology is viewed as the dominant partner in the relationship. Retroactively the social forces which shaped morality are shifted in the domain of theology. Taboos previously established because of social factors become divine edicts. Thus, theology serves to reinforce and preserve moral codes. Religion acts conservatively, resisting social pressures and maintaining a particular moral code of conduct. While theology is flexible, I would argue that social and culture forces are much more protean, especially in the contemporary world. Therefore, the function of religion in the moral sphere is to resist cultural and social pull. So, theology is likely not the dominant player in a society’s moral development, but it certainly has a hand in the longevity of any particular morality.

So, religion, as the theological institution, becomes an institution of morality. I use the indefinite article quite purposefully here, as I see no reason why there cannot be manifold institutions of morality, or perhaps, more controversially, moral institutions. Religion has historically been viewed as the dominant moral institution, though it is by no means the only one. Platonism in its pure form is largely unconcerned with religion and spirituality, indeed, Plato’s writings have a largely secular focus, and yet Platonism has served as a moral institution for centuries in various forms. Stoicism as well, which stands directly opposed to the metaphysical, is a philosophical movement caught up entirely with morality. Again, a moral institution which derives its force not from appeals to divine transcendence, but from appeals to lived experience and rationality.

Modern Secular Humanism owes a great debt to Stoicism in particular, I feel, for its approaches to morality. Thus, Secular Humanism functions in the moral realm in a way quite similar to religion, merely with different derivations. In place of theology, Secular Humanist moralities derive from philosophy. I hold that neither is necessarily incompatible with the other. Theology first places authority in divinity, while philosophy privileges human reason. Neither need contradict the other. Difficulties emerge when particular theologies and philosophies denounce the privilege of their peers. A particular theology or philosophy may instantiate a flawed morality, but this does not contradict the functioning of morality within the class of institutions deemed moral, be they secular or religious.

Must morality be institutionalized, then? There is a great danger in answering yes to the question, as then morality is removed from the individual and implanted within the group. As such, there would be no individual accountability, all moral force is transferred to the group, for good or for ill. Thus, no single person is responsible for their actions, as their actions are merely reflections of the collective’s morality. One is moral or immoral in as much as the group is moral, and moral judgements can then only be made from outside that group, as each constituent actor would be acting in accordance with group morality, thus nullifying moral judgements as a class and defining them instead as forms of cultural warfare. I propose, then, that moral institutions serve not as the moral actors, but as libraries of morality. Moral institutions preserve and disseminate moral knowledge (which, of course, is heavily inflected by the social and cultural forces of the group in which such institutions are embedded). Moral knowledge is not, however, predicated on the presence of such institutions.

Morality, I suggest, is praxis. All that is absolutely necessary for the presence of morality is a theory from which it derives. The motion from theology to morality is exactly analogous to the motion from theory to praxis. The same motion, of course, occurs between philosophy and morality. Morality is the active practice of theology or philosophy within the social sphere. Therefore, the individual is entirely responsible as a moral actor. The individual is responsible for the derivation or acceptance of any theory or worldview presented, and thus responsible for the moral choices which proceed from that theory. Morality, while linked to society and institutions remains foremost within the individual and actions which that individual engages in in relation to others. Morality proceeds through the actions of the individual from the underlying theory.

I do not believe that I am mistaken in my desire to establish a strong link between theology and morality. Of course, the project which Emjay and I have engaged in is fundamentally different from the model I described above. We are not dealing with an organically developing theological/moral matrix. We are creating a theology out of whole cloth. What, then, is incumbent upon such a theology? How does such a theology relate to morality: how must it relate in order to preserve its position as theology, rather than drifting into mythology (which can still be immensely powerful, but differently so)? These are questions which I am still very much engaged with and as yet unable to answer to my satisfaction.

Thus, I have been very purposeful in this project in my selection of the term ontology: the study of being, emphatically not the study of god. So far this project has not even touched upon Divinity. Nearly every other essay I’ve written here references the Divine in some sense, and I am not decidedly not bringing that concept into play here. There simply is no room for it. This discussion rotates around the Subject. This discussion takes place before God, it precedes and anticipates Divinity, but it is emphatically not addressing the Divine. The Divine must relate to, must be of the Subject, and until the Subject there is no Divine. So, ontology, not theology. I am here merely defining the ground out of which a theology may emerge, and, eventually, I hope present why the theology which Emjay and I have developed progresses logically and consistently from this ground.

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Through the Subject

Rather than launching into a very long digression, which I already partially engaged in, to be fair, within the massive project that is Toward a New Ontology, I have decided to take a moment here to explicate further my conception of being in relation to objects and the Subject. In as much as I wear my influences on my sleeve, I should state that these ideas are heavily influenced by Phenomenology (no one is surprised), in particular my recent reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time as well as Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. That said, I do think that I am veering wildly from their intended readings, particular in my metaphysical/ontological focus.

For the sake of clarity, here I will refer to the Subject on in the singular, though I by no means am making claims to an idealized Subject, such as a deity. The singular capitalized Subject is meant to refer to all singular instantiations of the Subject in their singularity. In as much as all subjects, as discrete entities, share sets of relatable characteristics which define and guarantee their subjectivity, the Subject is used to refer to that set of instantiated qualities. Therefore, the Subject is emphatically instantiated and does not refer to idealized form. It is used to describe a collective set, with the intention of maintaining emphasis on the singular units within that set.

Previously, I claimed that objects are not with the same intensity as the Subject is. Allow me to explain myself, I hope, more clearly. Objects certainly and indubitably exist. While it is true that all knowledge we possess of objects is subjective, is filtered through our senses and reasoning, we are forced, by the nature of our subjectivity to accept the presence of objects discrete of our subjectivity. Of course, the precise nature of objects need not necessarily correspond to our impressions of them. All that is required of objects for us to have assured knowledge of their presence is that, regardless of their private natures, they continue to impact upon our consciousness in coherent fashions. Therefore, we have knowledge of objects because our perceptions of them are such that they present consistently and coherently. Objects are known in as much as they present a network formal relations which we are able to process and comprehend.

Now, the presence of objects must be of a nature different from the presence of the Subject. Only the Subject is capable, as previously mentioned, of the reflexive actions of perceptions, that is to say only the Subject is simultaneously aware of itself and the World. It is not required of objects that they be aware of either. Indeed, it is not, I believe, controversial to claim that objects lack interiority. By this I do not mean that objects lack interior spaces, merely that they lack internal conscious states. Consciousness, in general, demands an interior, a presence withdrawn from the World, wherein only consciousness abides. I would argue that consciousness demands both interior and exterior, for it appears to be incoherent to claim that an object, possessing no exterior awareness, could be filled interiorly with consciousness, as then, lacking true exterior, the consciousness would have no interior space, either. If consciousness is withdrawn from the World, the presence of the World is vital for the necessary retreat of consciousness to its private demesne.

That which perceives must have an interior to perceive against, it must have a portion of itself discrete from the world for perception to penetrate. Objects lack such an interior. Of course, objects still interact, they merely have no consciousness of such interaction. Object relations are governed by formal properties according to the natures of the objects in relation. Indeed, this is the way in which we recognize objects are emphatically present. Objects will always relate to each other in coherent, consistent fashions. Inter-object relations come, then, to describe a complex set of formal relations which govern the actions of objects across a network. The complexity of actions within that network is determined by the number of objects in relation and their discrete natures in relation to each other. It is as a result of the formal coherence of the object network, and the formal nature of objects that we are guaranteed their continued coherent impact upon our consciousness.

Now, the presence of objects is not the same, I argue, as their true being. How is it that presence is distinguished from being? Being rests upon awareness. The confusion and complexity emerges from the simple fact that our entire conception of being rests upon our awareness of it. We are aware of our being, and being so aware are also aware of the being of other things. This entire action, the action of being, is fully embedded with the fascinating reflex of conscious awareness. Indeed, the action of being is embedded by its nature within the Subject. Being is an emergent property of the Subject just as the Subject is emergent, that is to say transcendent, of objects. Objects, incapable of awareness, are incapable of being. Any being which is ascribed to an object is ascribed outside of itself, being is not a property possessed of objects themselves. It is merely that our awareness of being makes incoherent the assertion that objects are not, when, in truth objects are through our awareness of being distinct from ourselves in the manifold of the interior/exterior divide necessary for conscious awareness. The intensity of being is dispersed through the conscious awareness of the Subject into the World. Thus, objects persist, amongst themselves, bound by their formal network. Only the emergence of the Subject, with its fully realized capacity for being is capable of bringing being into the World around it. Being, as an active state, is instantiated with the Subject.

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Towards a New Ontology, Part 2

So, then, having outlined the necessary conditions for its instantiation, what is the Subject? Simply put, the Subject is that mode of being which is reflexively self-aware and, so being, is emphatically engaged with the act of being at all points in its existence. One could claim that objects, which lack awareness of any sort, be in the most basic and fundamental sense. However, I would interject what may in fact be a radical reworking of the the verb, and suggest that being, in its most fully empowered sense, requires the Subject to actuate it.

Now, let us examine being. To be, without conjugation, is more than the state of mere existence, which I suggest objects possess. Objects do not be in the same sense as Subjects, they merely exist, subsist, or persist, but they have no active participation in the act. Objects are passive to the state of being, whereas Subjects are at all moments actively engaged in it. Therefore, being itself when applied to the Subject is modulated always into an active, perpetually refreshing state. The Subject is caught up in being by its nature in such a way that it must be constantly aware and interacting with its being. All action of the Subject is an effect of its own awareness of its being in a fundamental way. Objects lack this awareness, and so lack this direct engagement with being. Objects are bound up in a set of formal relations which determine all potential effects between all objects within a network, and so objects appear in being in a relatable fashion, yet are not possessed of being, meaning here both made full of being and possessing it as a manipulatable quality. Indeed, the Subject, I argue, is embedded within a strange reflex of being, both made of it and capturing it. The Subject is in such a way that being is altered by its presence. Being itself is enriched and fulfilled by the presence of the Subject. Being is realized in the Subject: no mere object can bring about the state of being.

I argue, thence, that the Subject is by its nature transcendent. What is transcendence? Well, now I must digress. I have always flexed against traditions which aim towards transcendence as a spiritual state, because such traditions universally fail to define transcendence in a way that leads the practitioner towards a recognizable goal. Transcendence is always something lost in the horizon, or else possessed only by the elect few, the transcendent masters (be they corporeal or ghostly), and never by the layman (unless they be a martyr or a saint, and then they must be dead to be so recognized). Now, I do not mean to say that one should not seek growth and expansion within one’s spiritual pursuit, merely that transcendence is something entirely different. The Subject, fully realized, must by its nature transcend the realm of objects. Indeed, the Subject, by becoming Subject has its basis entirely within transcendence. The Subject has, by brining itself into being, fundamentally altered its state of existence and has made itself transcend from object to Subject. The Subject is transcendent in as much as it is a Subject. To aim toward transcendence is to aim toward the most basic act of the Subject, the act which the Subject realizes fully upon its transformation into Subject.

I feel, now, like we are capable of addressing a question which should have arisen already. Why is a new ontology necessary? It is my belief that prior attempts to explain the creation of the World have always subjugated being to artifacts. By this I mean that attempts to explain being have reduced to an effect, a by product of other forces, of God, of Science. Rarely has the question of being itself been addressed, especially in a spiritual sense. God, Science, all these artifacts are secondary to being, and I do mean the enriched being of the Subject, and not primary forces. Only being itself is full enough to bring about the world, before which there was nothing, as there must have been, as something requires a something to notice it. Prior to being, there is no mechanism of creation. Being is not subjugating: nothing is declined in its presence. Being enriches and fills: it creates.

Is the Subject, then, being? No, the Subject is of being, and being is of the Subject, but they are not reducible to the same thing. Thus, objects are, in the minimal sense of the word, yet their being is made into being by the presence of the Subject. Being washes over and permeates, it transcends. There is an important difference, here, between extension and intensity. All things, objects and Subjects, possess extension. Everything extends through space, everything which exists exists dimensionally. Therefore, in extension, all things have equal ontological weight. Within pure extension, there is no greater value assigned to any thing, purely spatial relations govern all. The barest possibly meaning of being relates to pure extension. Intensity, however, incorporates much more into the meaning of being. Intensity relates to the powers of discrete beings. The Subject possesses greater intensity through its reflexive relation to being itself than objects. The intensity of the Subject, then, in relation to being grants it greater ontological weight than mere objects. The Subject is capable of being in a fashion which empowers it over the mere persistence of objects. Only the Subject can be in the fullness of the state of being, reflexively awash in being and being.

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Towards a New Ontology, Part 1

Emjay and I recently spent a brief handful of days pouring over our years of experience, research and theorizing, and in the span of what could not have been more than six hours pounded out a strange, unsettlingly coherent ontology based around the subject which allowed us to produce, quite cleanly, an expansive theology. It has been an interest of mine for quite some time to explore the idea of a primordial theology, an ur-theology, to borrow a phrase, of deep magic from before the dawn of time.

I must, now, admit that I, at the summation of our discussion, felt arising within me, a deep, intuitive dissatisfaction with the system which we had constructed that I was not able to properly articulate. Emjay was confused with my sudden hesitation. She told me quite flatly that she did not understand why I was having difficulties so late in the game, after us having spent so long in total agreement. I suspect that now, after several weeks of reflection, that I am nearing an answer to her. However, first I must do what I can to elucidate the system which we developed. I sincerely doubt that I will be capable of doing it justice, and this project will likely take several posts to properly explore, however, I shall endeavor to present our conclusions justly and fairly.

Let us begin with the three fundamental precepts which I believe are necessary to develop a Subject Oriented Ontology.

First: the Subject is Total and Irreducible. There is no such thing as a partial Subject. One cannot fracture the Subject without destroying its fundamental nature. That which is Subject is only Subject in its Totality. The Subject is not partes extra partes, but a total coherence, a part in and of itself. Indeed, this coherence is the justification and reification of the Subject. Once the Subject passes from potentiality into concrete instantiation it radicalizes all that was mere partes extra partes within its organization into a single discrete whole. While the Subject may face damage and mortal peril, such stresses do not, as a starfish, mutilated, produce new Subjects. The result is either a denaturing of the Subject, or its total dissolution. There is, within the concept of the Subject Denatured a Pathological Subject, which is not of direct interest to this present discussion, but I note it now as a point of reentry later on.

Second: the Subject is necessarily Embodied. The Embodiment of the Subject need not necessarily conform to any particular structure, all that is necessary is that the structure be capable of supporting the Subject. The Embodiment of the Subject serves as a necessary substrate out of which the Subject emerges, and so doing radicalizes its structure into its very nature as Subject, dissolving the structure into its totality as Subject and inserting itself through all points in time along the structural substrate’s existence. Once the Subject emerges, the structure disappears into it. The Embodiment of the Subject is then that which necessarily is the Subject as a result of the Subject’s reflexive embedding within the world at large. The structure of the Subject serves as the locus of Being within the World which contains and defines the Subject’s range of potentialities within the World. The Subject, embedded in the World is embedded within its Embodiment as a means of action and perception within and of the World.

Third: The Subject requires a network of Subjects and objects for its fundamental resolution. It is not apparent to me how a Subject may arise in isolation, as the complex action of Subjectivation, wherein the Subject emerges from its structural substrate appears to rely heavily on the presence and action of other Subjects. The Subject becomes through a complex set of interactions that require not only the surrounding network of other objects, but also the presence of action of other Subjects. Before the Subject is a subject, it is merely an object, a presence governed purely by formal object relations. It is through these inter-object relations that the Subject may begin to recognize its difference from other such objects through the presence of, I suggest, perception and intent. However, the total action of Subjectivation requires the presence and interaction of other fully formed Subjects, so that the Nascent-Subject may come to cognizance of its own subjectivity in relation to the subjectivity of others. I do think that it is possible for the Nascent-Subject to fail to achieve this final step in remain in a pre-subjective state of mere perception and reaction. The totally realized Subject becomes such once it recognizes the full power of other Subjects and the potential for that power within itself. The Embodiment of the Subject need not necessarily produce a Subject, it need only allow for the manifestation of the Subject. The human form, its bodily structure, appears strongly predisposed to produce a subject, but it is not necessarily so that it will, merely that it may. A human, deprived of the network of relations in which it is commonly embedded would not achieve the transformation from object to Subject, but would remain merely flesh.

And so now, we have three basic premises: the Subject is total and irreducible, the Subject is Necessarily Embodied, and the Subject cannot emerge in isolation (or the Subject requires a network of other Subjects and objects). Where do we go from here? What does an ontology which takes these three premises as its starting point look like? I will, of course, continue with this project and further elucidate the work which Emjay and I developed, but at this point, I would love to hear what thoughts and feelings occur to you all.

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