Friday, March 25, 2011

Hidden Mickeyisms 1: Cosmic Circles and Mickey Mouse

The universe is comprised of circles. As each fireworks display typically explodes into a circular image, the theme song of Epcot’s daily fireworks display states poetically: “Our dreams begin another thousand circles round the sun.” We understand a “circle round the sun” to refer to a year, 365 days. But is the poetry limiting us to an astrological year? Not only does the earth circle the sun, but other planets do, as well. The “thousand circles” may refer to a millennium, but each millennium is exponentially compounded by the thousand circles of other planets. How many millennia has the earth existed? And isn’t every decade, century, and millennium also a circle of sorts? The number of circles in the universe is again exponentially compounded. For that matter, while the earth is circling the sun once, it is also rotating in a circle on its axis 365 times. These are 365 additional circles to factor in. And once, every 28 days, the earth’s relationship to its moon creates another circle—a month (or as my Hebrew professor at Indiana University, Henry Fischel, called it, “a moonth,” since the word month was coined to recognize the circular pattern of the moon's cycle). Remember also that the sun is only one of billions of stars, all of which have their own circling planets, and those planets, their moons. The number of circles in the universe is mind-boggling. Don’t forget that these stars all seem to be circling within their own galaxies. The Milky Way is only one circular galaxy, with countless circles occurring within. Have you considered enough circles? We are not finished. Now, consider the atom with its nucleus, and circling protons and neutrons, and try to envision the number of circles in the universe, since every planet, moon, star, asteroid, and meteor is comprised of countless atoms. This is what I mean when I say the universe is comprised of circles.

Every one of those astrophysical and atomic circles to which I have just referred is what Aristotle refers to as an entelechy. Each circle has a beginning, middle, and end. And, once each circle completes one entelechy (one circle), it begins a new entelechy (a new circle). With all of these circles in the universe, we are bound to find a few “hidden Mickeys.”

Of course, Aristotle is not content to consider as entelechies only astrophysical circles. He is primarily interested in geophysical and biological entelechies. The circle of a drop of rain falling from the sky, running from a stream of water into a creek, then into a river, then into the sea, after which it evaporates into the atmosphere and helps form a cloud, until it becomes too heavy and eventually condenses and becomes a drop of rain again is an entelechy, a circle. A kernel of corn is planted in the earth. It puts forth roots, then a blade, which becomes a stalk. The stalk develops leaves, tassels, and ears—composed of husks, silks, and cobs. The cobs develop rows and rows of kernels. Once these kernels of corn have matured, that entelechy is complete, but these kernels are ready to begin new entelechies, new circles. My wife tells me all of these circles have her head spinning. But we have not reached anywhere near the end of even Aristotelian entelechial circles. There is the biological “Circle of Life,” as Disney’s Lion King names it. That circle includes not only the circle of biological reproduction and maturation of every single animal, followed by another reproduction and maturation, etc. It also includes the circle of the food chain, the circular nature of the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems of each biological organism, and so on.

Your mind is oriented to circles. Once you complete one circle, you start another. This series of commentaries on “Hidden Mickeyisms” is based on the many circles your life encounters. If you had wondered why we think in terms of circles, perhaps this consideration of cosmic circles has given you a hint. Small wonder, as Burke observes, that the human psyche is oriented to circles. We measure the human concept of time in circles, as the second, minute, and hour hands of our clocks go round and round in circles. We conform even the days of our lives into smaller circles than the astrophysical circles of years and months. We divide months into 4 circles which we call weeks. Arthur Miller discovered that 7 items are about the maximum number of items we can easily remember. So, we have only 7 days in a week. We have only 7 numbers in our basic phone numbers. Weeks are new, human-created symbolic circles. In academic “circles,” the completion of each grade in school, each level of education (elementary, middle, high school), each degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctor’s), each college course, each paper written, each quiz studied for and taken, each book written, and each conference paper proposed, prepared, and presented is a circle—an entelechy—usually followed by another similar circle.

This series of commentaries will concentrate on a specific type of circle—that which is presented in Disney films. To understand these circles, I will rely on Kenneth Burke’s concept of entelechy. Burke is interested in the study of circles, but his circles are qualitatively different from the cosmic circles observed by Aristotle. Burke is interested in the type of circles humans invent. And, Disney is a very influential inventor and distributor of those circles. I will explain Burkean circles and how Disney films contain them in my next commentary.

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