Why you should know of ’Pataphysics, Part 1

Because we think of definitions as a form of knowledge, I suppose I should tell you what ’pataphysics is defined as if I am to construct premises that ultimately answer this post’s title.  Whew.  Well, in ‘Pataphysics: A Useless Guide, Andrew Hugill says:

To understand pataphysics is to fail to understand pataphysics.  To define it is merely to indicate a possible meaning, which will always be the opposite of another equally possible meaning, which, when diurnally interpolated with the first meaning, will point toward a third meaning which will in turn elude definition because of the fourth element that is missing.

Fret not.  Such a (’pataphysical) definition is still a definition—or more of a deinfinition, as it implies an infinity of meaning.  How else could something that goes triply beyond physics define itself?!

There is physics.  Then, beyond that, metaphysics.  And beyond metaphysics is ’pataphysics.

Don’t let the beyond-ness make you think it is sublime, though: ’pataphysics regards possibilities as equal realities.  Nothing is less possible than another; there is no hierarchy.  If it can be imagined, the science of ’pataphysics has it as a solution, as a being, as a reality.

Of course, this deconstructs the notion of what reality is.  Christian Bök says, in ‘Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science:

Jarry suggests through ’pataphysics that reality does not exist, except as the interpretive projection of a phenomenal perspective—which is to say that reality is never as it is but always as if it is.  Reality is quasi, pseudo: it is more virtual than actual; it is real only to the degree to which it can seem to be real and only for so long as it can be made to stay real.

Oh, and I should tell you that Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) is the discoverer of ’pataphysics.  Wildly interesting fellow.

I think this notion of reality is important to consider, especially in this age when there is much ‘virtual reality.’  Consider how much effort people put these days in the ‘virtual’ reality as opposed to the ‘actual’: that in itself is a pataphysical statement (according to Hugill, the apostrophe in ’pataphysics should only be used to describe when the term is knowingly used [and to explain further, the apostrophe suggests the possibilities of several puns in French]).

Point is, ’pataphysics suggests a breakdown of the dichotomy of ‘virtual’ and ‘actual.’  And it seems that for many of us our modern lives do so as well.  (To be clear, I am saying this neutrally/objectively.)

As an undergrad in a metaphysics class, I wrote an essay in which I argued that ‘reality’ is that environment/context which one’s consciousness engages with the most.  I’ve felt comfortable with thinking of reality as relative, as that primacy coming from what context we engage with the most temporally.  I did argue in the essay that because we spend more time awake than dreaming, we regard the awake context as reality.  (I suppose this is a good point to gesture toward the film Inception…I shall just leave this as a gesture toward it, and if that means anything to you, go with it on your own.)

There is more to say of ’pataphysics, but this is probably enough for one post.  I should probably keep my posts finite, but theoretically you could engage with this post infinitely, no?

You can read Part 2 here.

Have you had any exposure to ’pataphysics?

What does reality mean to you?

What is the value of distinguishing between different types of realities?

What is the value of not distinguishing between different types of realities?