Air Show – Terry Atkinson & Michael Baldwin

The fog bank is a macroscopic aggregate. There is no theoretical primacy here for this macroscopic aspect. That is, its importance or unimportance is shown up by raising and answering internal questions to the framework.

There is no rhapsody here.

The macroscopic aggregate can be subjected to a micro-reductive examination. The horizontal dimensions of a ‘column’ of air, atmosphere, ‘void’, etc, can be indicated and established (for all ‘external’ and practical purposes) by a visible demarcation in terms of horizontal dimensions, axis, etc. This could be done in a number of ways: e.g. through the indication of some points of contiguity with other ‘things’, or through the computation of a particular physical magnitude – e.g. temperature or pressure differences, etc. (this is not necessarily to advocate an instrumental situation). None of this is to say that a complete, if only ‘factual’ or constructual, specification is to be expected.

Obviously, when one talks of a column, there is some reference to a visual situation (from whence the vocabulary may or may not find support). There is a comparison to be made here between the ‘air-conditioning situation 1 and the fog bank, in which the obvious physical differences between the ‘matter’ which constitutes the indicators of this or that ‘boundary’ can be made out. This is not to describe the difference between boundaries per se, nor is it to exclude the possibility of regarding ‘boundaries’ as ‘entifications’ of geometrical gaps.

Mostly, anyway, the questions of ‘demarcation’ are external ones of a practical nature. Still, they remain securely rooted in the perusal tradition, so long as one considers them in the context of particularizing characteristics at an observational level.

A lot of emphasis was placed on the microscopic mechanical aspects of procedure and process in the air-conditioning situation; it’s easy to raise and answer the same sort of question here. The objection to doing this is based in a rejection of the problems of ‘visualization’ (and ‘identification’ in that context) on theoretical grounds. The microscopic picture has a counterweight origin in the macroscopic aspect of a situation. Whilst articulation on and identification of air as a ‘thing’ conforms to this tradition, the molecular mechanical concept of ‘particle’, ‘flux’ (of energy), and the ‘thing’, ‘particle’ identity systems appear to be incompatible. What is interesting about thermodynamics is that it is restricted to the formulation of necessary conditions for an occurrence . . .

There is a challenge to the million years habit of identifying ‘things’. The recognizance of something as something is another question bound up with aspects of things, and not solely with ‘identification’ per se. The structure of kinetic theory, for example, is built on the (extralinguistic, extralogical) mechanics of so-called ‘common-sense’ objects. There is a rooted assumption that the laws and concepts of Newtonian mechanics, ‘proved’ by experience to be valid for ‘day to day objects’, continue to have the same meaning beyond the macroscopic-microscopic domain as they do within it. The kinetic theory represents the micro-reductive approach to the study of the properties of material aggregates. It interprets thermal phenomena in terms of properties and interactions of the constituents of material assemblies. Thermodynamics, on the other hand, is not based on any definite assumptions as to the ultimate constitution of matter. The foundations are in very few general empirical principles (appertaining to the behaviour of complex thermal systems).

Since the Greeks, speculation concerning the identity of matter has run directly toward the atomic theory. Bridgman held that there seems to be no logical or empirical justification for this. Rather, it seemed to him that it was a psychological fact that the search to ‘identify’ things demands the atomic particle concept. Persistently, even in a science like meteorology, which treats critically of thermal systems, the methodological and definitory approach is such that it draws exclusively from the kinetic theory of identity. (It is of interest to point out, here, that the meteorological phenomena which are most disruptive, etc. are usually those with a visible aspect (macroscopic). ‘Invisible fog’ is self-contradictory in all common contexts of usage – (i.e. ‘Invisible’ contradicts the formal signs ‘fog’ or ‘cloud’. And both signs refer to the characteristics (in terms of ‘visibility’) of the meteorological objects to which they are assigned.)

The point here is not to make the gravamen of the discussion that people compulsively picture both assemblies which are such that they do fit the ‘picturing’ function and assemblies such that they do not. The suggestion is, rather, that the concept of identities like flux of heat and flux of energy might be inchoative; and that not only in the sense that the identity of heat and energy may be made clearer. This is a case of wondering about various aspects – the heat/energy identity is only held out on the grounds of a possible analogy with a situation internally relevant to these considerations: the prime consideration is that in the further development of what at the moment appear to be ‘enigmatic’ entities, there might be raised interpellations concerning e.g. the concept of identity, etc. One of the big troubles in seeking extrapolations is that it is the function of extrapolations to explain and explanation always involves reducing terms to something familiar. And we do not want to get casuistically stuck with ‘picturing’, or with the pure or the alloy of visualization.

The air will have volume, determined by what we call the thermo-dynamic factors in the situation. Here we are talking about the fact that experience has learnt us to expect that everything has a volume and a temperature. It would be relevant here to examine the concepts of volume and temperature. Volume is calculated by measuring the various lengths and then multiplying the resulting measurements (height, length, width). The proper definition of length is that it is an extensive concept; that is larger amounts can be formed by reduplicating smaller amounts. [. . .]

f. . . ] we measure temperature by the same sort of unit that we use to measure volume, namely a unit of length. Defining temperature by relating it to expansion characteristics of particular materials is in most respects a satisfactory definition. But should a proper definition of temperature involve only an arbitrary specification of only a unit and not of a whole scale? The problem of the temperature scale was solved conceptually by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The law revealed how a selected temperature unit could be reduplicated without reference to the particular properties of a particular substance, thereby giving temperature a fundamental definition.

It is relevant, here, to consider how far the conviction that atomic theories support the means whereby any phenomenon may be described and explained (and the view that theories are for explanation at all) corresponds to the one which seems to indicate a preoccupation of artists with ‘exegesis’ etc. from entities which paradigmatically instantiate assertions like ‘ … is over there, in that place’ etc; and how much can be shown up of a theoretical situation which is at most gerrymandered.

Schlesinger writes in his book ‘Method in the Physical Sciences’: ‘ . . . This conviction was shared by a number of other philosophers, notable among them Pierre Duhem. They argue that a priori metaphysical doctrines and empirical evidence was what motivated scientists in their search for atomic theories to explain heat phenomena. The metaphysical doctrines in question derived, according to Mach and Duhem, from the mechanistic world view, which permeated all nineteenth century philosophy, a view in which mechanics was regarded as the most fundamental of all the sciences. Those who shared this belief in the superior status of mechanics were naturally keen to accept the hypothesis of the atomic theory of matter. It enabled them with the aid of kinetic theory, to explain thermal phenomena in terms of the mechanical properties of the molecules, thus reducing the science of heat to the science of mechanics. They believed that ultimately all science would be reduced to mechanics’.

It might be suggested that infatuation with the art ‘object’ (in the obdurate ‘material’ sense of ‘object’) had a connection with an analogous psychological fact. There has been a strong prejudice to correlate the category of ‘existence’ with a mechanical explanation and to glorify that category in non-cognitive contexts. There is, in this glorification, an inured disparagement of the category of possibility. The constants of the present situation are in no way held up in the concept of ‘enduring substances’. Those invariant connections or categories are assumed which are capable of indicating and supporting (and of functioning as paradigms) developments (etc.) in the theoretical situation. (And this is not to put in a plea for some revision of the necessary questions of interpretation.) . . . There is little point in dwelling on prognostications concerning relevant procedures and attitudes – certainly in so far as one could easily fall into a dialectical carve-up of the various fields and purposes, etc. there is a danger of constantly asking outside questions. [. . .]

[. . .] The theory is satisfactorily fomented on a lot of axes. One is that of ‘mention’ – i.e. that a ‘thing’ is mentioned fulfils (or may fulfil) a condition for its coming up for the count. (And it should be pointed out here that ‘mention’ is distinct from ‘use’.) That this or that achieves ‘mention’ presupposes no external questions about it. And there is no indication of its being defective in any way (e.g. being fictional, etc.). To argue a distinction between a construct of the air-show theory and those of the perusal situation is pointless: one would have to argue through the common confusion centering on the mutual dependence of opposite determinations. Syncretism is difficult with concepts which (on analogy with terms) remain multiply ambiguous. And this is one way to look at a lot of the concepts which enter much of the outside question-raising. [. . . ]


The specificity of a work as an indication of the legitimacy etc. of the mode which carries it: the preference statements which push up properties like those fall into theological esthetics (Pythagorean) rather than any other discipline. Similarly with the things which are said for ‘simple forms’, etc.

It is obvious that the elements of a given framework (and this includes the constituents of construct contexts) are not at all bound to an eleminative specifying system. There is a case for a new type of element specification (which might go towards ameliorating the problematic character of external questions) which does not presuppose a certain ontological or physical status (depending on the context) for it to come-up for the count. This is perhaps to look at the syntagmatic and syntactical aspects of internal questions (certainly in thetheoretical situation), viz. the introduction of certain terms, and the rejection of certain questions which, with respect to the framework itself, are devoid of cognitive content. And this, synallagmatically related to the internal introduction of new descriptive terms, etc. which provide an appropriate and consistent non-eliminative context for nomological implication (say) to get pulled out. (If one talked of new ‘specifications’ there would be no hint of ‘additional elements’.) A reassertion is that the acceptance of a framework is not an invitation to ask outside questions. [. . . ]

One point is that this approach, falling into a methodological framework, offers one a purchase on various assertions of material implication, irrespective of the mode in which this or that assertion might find its range of application and irrespective of its structural or theoretical position, etc. Certainly, in much work which purports to be theoretical, there is a failure to analyse the meanings of nomological (implications) conditionals (i.e. those conditionals which express causal connection). (And all this is in the connection of inside questions.) The framework might be a lot more catholic than it looks. [. . .]

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The characteristic ‘perusal situation 1 , together with its analytically explicated notions of ‘proximity 1 , ‘remoteness 1 and ‘visibility’, ‘identify-ability,’ etc. (and ‘operational 1 definition) is one where assertive objects and eccentric detail can only be shouted down with contrasting rhapsodies and requirements, or with partial ‘paradigms’ of alternatives (‘smooth’ places, etc.). A mode which takes a far less catholic view of these notions and concepts is just as well qualified to come up for the count.

The question could be asked whether or not the entities one is considering are theoretical ones (about which only internal questions are to be asked – as they may be in the theoretical framework). Certainly, so far as the tenets of the perusal situation are concerned. The point is that external questions are of little cognitive value.

It seems wrong that all the entities which are to come up for the count should be ‘translatable’ into the ‘perusal situation’ (i.e. the direct ‘observation’ situation). It is not for us to decide whether or not this or that thing is ‘operationally respectable 1 . (From now on, the strict phenomenalist is going to object that we are dealing with theoretical fictions in those situations where one didn’t go around with instruments, etc. – filling in the referential blanks, so to speak.) We don’t comprehend here any generalized (i.e. with an overall application) definite rules of construction. Now, forgetting the strong objection that to predicate ‘exists 1 , etc. of anything says nothing, to say that ‘ … is a real thing’ isn’t the same as saying ‘. . . . is made of real gold’, etc. (This is not to say that assertions like the former are necessarily legitimate.) Anyway, saying it isn’t much, but it is to deny that a concept which is not ‘operationally’ defined can only get justification for being around by being well established in a theory -there is not only one sort of non-operational concept (i.e. non-perusal concept) and there is not only one sort of theoretical entity. The concept of a line of electric force (the term ‘force’ itself is a metaphorical one (cf. Turbayne, ‘The Myth of Metaphor’)) has as much right to come up for the count as any other (concept) but its status remains different from those concepts which are not purely fictional (e.g. logical constructions, etc.).

A concept which is different, but not all that different from that of a line of electric force is that of ‘the sensibility of the 60s 1 (it doesn’t matter whether or not one approves of it here) which is just a ‘useful’ fiction: providing people with some sort of picture to help them in discerning distribution, etc. of various constructs, etc.

A conceivably persistent objection that there has so far been no indication that one is concerned with anything other than ‘fictional entities 1 (in so far as it doesn’t seem to matter if that’s what they are), whereas paintings, sculptures, series of numbers, etc. on boards, etc. are ‘real 1 things – concrete entities -offering actual, concrete experiences, etc., can be answered only by the evincing of at least possible instrumental tests, etc. or by bringing in ‘imaginability’ criteria. When a statement is made, to the effect that, say, a sculpture is made of ‘real’ gold, or that it’s a ‘real’ solid, etc. there is an implication that it’s not made of an imitation, or that it’s not defective in some way, etc. Something like that can be said of the things in a framework – but not about the things themselves. It’s said of the concept of the thing. The question as to whether or not one can say that something is ‘real’ here is not one that comes up naturally; the circumstances in which the question might arise would be those in which one is looking for concepts 1 defects (e.g. being fictional).

The objector would just be asserting that these ‘things’ don’t occur in the series clouds, paintings, bricks, and molecules – the perusal situation.

No one is likely to deny that microscopic particles are acceptable in the aesthetic domain, no less than bricks, etc., but one might expect some resistance to the view that things which don’t even come within the range of instrumental operations (or some kind, however gerrymandered, of ‘verificationist’ theory, etc.) still qualify for the count. It’s no more than a contingent fact that people are incapable of differentiating between temperatures of, say, 50°C and 51°C of the surface of two objects without the use of ‘instruments 1 of some sort: it is maintained here that the ‘things 1 which come up for the count (‘Air Show 1 -not ‘air-conditioned rooms’) get their meanings from the part they play in the theory: and this is to suggest that there are theoretical reasons why it is pointless to hope for an entry into the perusal – even ‘observational’ – situation.

* * *

A question to be asked is, how many axes of interpretation are to be entertained in this connection? Another is, how far away has one got here from ‘frameworks’? It seems that we don’t just have to open-up criteria of ‘acceptability’.


The present text is taken from the booklet Frameworks – Air Conditioning, written in 1967 and published as a limited edition by Art & Language Press, Coventry, in 1968.

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