Monday, November 5, 2012


My German is a bit rusty, not having used it in some forty years. Did I say a bit rusty? My German is more like a corroded stony inclusion within a yeasty banded iron formation about to be subducted into the Earth's mantle, to be recycled in a magma stew for the next hundred million years. Perhaps by then, I might have a better pronunciation. Last time I tried with a native speaker, he said I sounded like I was from Australia, and don't ask me how.

In any case, I'm looking for a word. I'll get to the concept in a second, but I figure, this word that I am looking for might best be found in the German. The word has many of the contextual similarities to the word gestalt, but not quite.

Gestalt, by the way, means "form" or "shape", and is used to refer to the concept of 'wholeness'. I rather like this definition: "a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical or psychological phenomena so integrated with properties not derivable by summation of it parts". In different words, the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts".

A diamond has a hardness, clarity, and color that cannot be found in a collection of carbon atoms, ither individually or in a group. A certain configuration reveals the diamond. In quantum mechanics, it is found that it takes a collection of around 150 atoms to exhibit qualities of a bulk object. And so on.

The concept I'm thinking of has the idea of group wholeness within, but applied back down from the group to the individual components. 

A little while ago, I was reading about the history of gunpowder. Now, for the longest time, warfare was a very personal affair. You had to get right up in an opponent's face and engage in hand-to-hand combat. Why, even with advent of gunpowder and firearms, it was until recently, say, some 150 years, that combat was still a very personal affair.

When Colonel William Prescott issued the order "Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes"prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill, it was not an encouragement to exhibit steadfast bravado, but rather a practical instruction. Meaning, the muskets back then were notoriously inaccurate, and one truly needed to be that close to have any effect.  

There are accounts of soldiers serving in ranked files pressed shoulder to shoulder. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, as such a close grouping assures a higher probability that someone should be killed or wounded by even a wildly stray projectile. And yet, there is testimony that this close physical contact, this comforting assurance of the presence and contact of your neighbor to either side, bolstered the courage of an individual. It provided fortitude to soldiers who would rightly cower and turn to retreat when facing an opponent all alone, or in a disconnected and motley group. I wonder if much the same happens with cells of the body? 

This portion of the concept, in unity is strength, in a binding and twining of fibers, a stronger rope is formed, is part of what I'm looking for. Applied to social individuals, we would call it community.

But the other part of the concept, the idea that the whole provides strength to the components, that the whole transfers its emergent properties back down to the parts, I don't think a term exists for it. It is why I chose the term zusammenbindend, the binding together, the interconnecting, the bundling, the braiding, and kugel, which is an orb, or a world, producing a high tenacity, self-containned, self-reinforcing, powerful ball-lighting of a thing, or a process, or an ecology - something like the kernmantle of cordage terminology, but with extra spicy infinite loop of magical goodness.

I wonder if it would be perpetual motion? Or love?

Easy enough to imagine with social creatures, but applied to materials, or to processes, this word I want would result in some type of positive feedback loop, where the components provide an emergent quality to the whole, which in turn transfers back to the components, which amplifies again and again into a... what?

A zusammenbindenkugel?

Well, it will have to do for now, until I can come up with a more dynamic term. All I know is, my Latin and Greek are nonexistent, but perhaps the French may have a word for it.

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