The One and the Many in Multicentricity
Along with L.A., multicentricity is a protagonist in my first chapter. I shall not overtake myself by forecasting too much what will be debated later. Instead, this section contemplates a covert thesis in multicentricity: the tension between the one and the many. The dialectics between the one and the many is a perennial fixation of mine. I cannot venture a diagnosis at this time, except to say that my book implies a quest for prognoses. In plain language, the one and the many stand for the interplay between a center and multiple other centers. They are the dialectic pair in the concept of multicentricity.
Multicentricity, in my theorization, submits three postulates: (1) the inevitability of perceptual centricity (2) the coexistence of multiple (and multiscaled) centers, and (3) the fundamental inadequacy of any one center. There is no logical sequence among these three postulates, for they both follow and lead to one another. All three imply the interrelations between the one (a single center) and the many (multiple centers). The one may be seen as the individual holon within multiple other holons or as the dynamic and mutable sum total (the One) of the many.
The first postulate comments on the condition of human perception. The perceiver, as the single center in which a set of perspectives originates, is the one enclosed within a world of many. In this instance, the center is the eyes
The second postulate refers to our terrestrial and cosmic existence. The life on earth consists of a multitude of perceivers, whose visions, strengths, weaknesses, eccentricities, and commonalities expend the energies that keep “life” going. When we look around us, diversity and plenitude are characteristic evolutionary predilections. Life propagates itself until it's unable or undesirable to do so. In this scenario, the one is implied by the many, even as the many are composed of many ones. Whether there is the One that has created these many is beyond my present concern, for I deal not with genesis but with existing phenomena. We know that a multitude of living beings exists. If the original One is unverifiable and varies with different spiritual beliefs, the multitudinous bodies of the present many, however, do constitute an ever-changing corpus of One. Inlife science, many theorists call this mutable One “Gaia” or “Mother Earth.” In Taoist philosophy, the variable One is named “Tao” (D, or the Way), which is in and of itself a Book of Changes. The same reasoning sequence applies to the structural relations between the earth (the one) and a multitude of other ecosystems (the many) in the cosmos (the One?). In this context, multicentricity is only a shorthand for the zillion-year-old tension between the one and the many.
The third postulate recommends an epistemic attitude to the one who perceives in a world of many. “No man is an island—he is a holon,” adds Koestler to a familiar proverb. I will extend Koestler's effort to include women, children, animals, fish, and plants in the ranks of holons. A holon is a center in a multicentric universe. In the model of perception I posed earlier, a center is a perceiver. Being a holon, the one who perceives cannot possibly claim that she/he/it has the omni-vision to observe and to know all, even though the perceiver cannot but depend on her/his/its holonic vision to see, to learn, and to know. This particular dilemma, I believe, pertains to all mortal, hence fallible, beings. The one relies on interactions with the many in order to understand not only the many but also the selfsame one. We may shift to the analogous paradigm of self and others for further elaboration. The self must interact with others to live and work in a world constituted by a majority of others. The self does so not just for convenience and necessity but also for pleasure and self-knowledge. For me, to recognize such fundamental self-insufficiency is to take a different route toward the philosophy of knowing, epistemology. The awareness of multicentricity urges the perceiver to vacillate between self-affirmation (for the inevitability of perceptual centricity) and self-critique (for the impossibility of absolute knowledge).
Now what of L.A.? Many urban theorists have observed that L.A. is built by a horizontal sprawl of various virtually self-contained cities. Some describe this trait of centrifugal development as polycentered; others, including myself, as multicentered or multicentric. The former choose the prefix “poly” perhaps to criticize the excessiveness of such development; the latter favor the slightly upbeat matter-of-factness of “multi.” Poly or multi, L.A. seems to embody the very tension between the one and the many. “There are many Los Angeleses” goes a local truism. To a frequent driver, the most regional twang in this truism is that, sometimes two hours later, the highway underneath still belongs to the County of Los Angeles: there are many that coalesce as One.