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Interality shows through: an introduction to interalogy.

The purpose of this thesis is to introduce a "new" concept and possibly a new branch of philosophy: interalogy. My task is to indicate how it is probable and plausible to posit and develop the word "interality" into a philosophical term and the subject of interalogy. Although I have worked on this topic for many years, it remains far from completion. Therefore, any response and criticism provoked or inspired by the paper would be heartily welcomed.


Interalogy is the study of interality. (1) Interality refers to the emptiness around, within, and between objects, which both constitutes them and connects them with one another. Traditionally, philosophy has been concerned with substance as a construct of philosophical interpretation. That is, philosophers investigate objects, be they physical, metaphysical, or psychological. For example, Kant famously made the distinction between the physical, sensed phenomena and the metaphysical, divine noumena. Whether he was describing sensed representations of things (phenomena) or things-in-themselves (noumena), his search was guided by notions of objects, things that are there, things he was sure he could locate or at least point toward. I venture to say this applies to most, if not all, of Western philosophy. It seems to me that something is missing or rather, if the reader will pardon a bit of wordplay, nothing is missing. I ask, what is the space within and between these objects? If we were to call it nothingness, does that mean it has no value? Or is it that the nothingness is what flows around, between, and through these objects, thus constituting them as objects at all? These questions led me to the current study, which demanded a new language to convey a new idea. Thus, I coined the word "interalogy," first in Chinese as "jianxinglun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," to put forward a philosophical inquiry very different from the tradition of ontology (the study of being/substance) in the West.

Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, substance has comprised the nucleus of ontology and metaphysics. (2) Although interpretations have varied, the West generally positions substance as the unchanging, abstract, universal, and homogeneous essence/reality/truth of all existences. Due to the decidedly obscure nature of these ideas, they have always occupied the bulk of philosophical inquiry in the West.

However, substance, as a construct of interpretation, is certainly not the only way to conceive reality. In fact, the history of philosophy provides many alternatives, such as those of Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Whitehead, and Derrida (along with many of his postmodern contemporaries). These philosophers have utilized change, time, becoming, and heterogeneity to interpret reality. Even ancient Greek philosophers proposed that something other than substance is needed to fully explain objects and events. Democritus, for example, argued that reality consists of atoms and void. Heraclitus claimed that there is no reality but change in the world; what is unchangeable is the constant conflict and struggle between opposites (i.e., reality is process, not entity). Plato's discussion of khora, or "space", caught the attention of Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida, and other modern and postmodern thinkers who explored ways of "twisting free" from the predominance of metaphysics. Although Plato himself believed "space" to be an essential component of reality, the concept contrasted with his other work, which was concerned with searching for an ultimate, intelligible Being; thus, he quickly abandoned the concept altogether.

Beyond philosophy, alternatives have been provided through the evolution of sciences and technologies, especially with recent developments in information science. New terms such as Internet, cloud, data, and virtual reality have anticipated the coming of an "information age," in which the old construct of substance is no longer the prime cause or source of all existences. Instead, the void-like Internet has quickly become a significant source of our reality. A substance based philosophy is thus insufficient to explain our new age. Our world is moving toward a place where the construct of substance is challenged by information, networking, connectability, relationality, and, in a word, interality.

Interalogy can be construed as a descendant of an idea that originated in China at least three thousand years ago. The Yi Jing or Book of Changes, compiled within the span of thousands of years (2000-300 BCE), is the premier text of Chinese philosophy. Here, the world is viewed interalogically as an ever-changing binary framework of interactions and processes. The origin of change can be ultimately reduced into a unity or relationship between Yin, symbolized as a broken line, and Yang, a straight line. The Yi Jing depicts the primordial relation and interality between opposite states, positions, and orders, and the interactions of the ultimate whole (of interality), namely taiji or wuji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], from which change and forces of change are generated for the becoming of all things. The book has shown, at least implicitly, a very different orientation and approach from that of Plato and Aristotle: interality (represented by a yin/yang binary system) rather than substance is the origin of all things in a changing world. The state of Being (i.e., not what Being is, but what it does) is more of the focus than being-in-itself. According to the Yi Jing, a state of being, be it a human, a tree, or a star, is a consequence of its interality with other objects. This entails that in order to know one's state of being we must study interality. Almost all of the hexagrams in the Yi Jing, which could also be understood as archetypal categories, are representations of interality, including stages, positions, relations, situations, and so forth; the book presents little-tonothing in support of substance as things-in-themselves. Such an interalogical approach has constituted a unique way of thinking with a very different set of categories (e.g., taiji/wuji, yin/yang, etc.), and has influenced and characterized Chinese thought in general. (3)

In sum, the interalogy I propose to develop has its roots in ancient Chinese thought, and is also inspired by certain philosophies of Greek antiquity. The study of interality encompasses and integrates all the aforementioned sources to take into account an aspect of reality that has been overlooked in the history of metaphysics.


The underlying premises of interalogy are:

1. There are at least two orders of reality, being and interality. The former is studied through ontology, with an emphasis on objects (both phenomenal and noumenal), whereas the latter is studied through interalogy, which focuses on the void between, around, and within objects. The problem of ontology is not its study of being but its exclusion of interality (e.g. time and space in Plato's Forms and Ideas). Interalogy, on the contrary, deals with interality as the necessary condition of being.

2. Interality, or that which dwells in the crevices of things, is itself nothing or no-being or other-than-being, and is designed to contrast our traditional concept of being. In this interpretation of reality, nothingness, emptiness, and void are fundamental to the existence of any object. Various philosophers have argued similarly: nothingness exists as a necessary condition of being (Laozi); void pervades space-time and the movement of entities (Democritus); emptiness is the original and ultimate state of consciousness (Buddha)--though they are non-substantial, without them objects could not exist on their own. Hence, interalogy studies nothingness, emptiness, void, and similar terms as extensions of interality.

3. The world that includes universes and societies is an infinite framework of interality in which things (i.e. entities, bodies, events, ideas, words, numbers, or any object with or without physical form) are always in the process of being produced, transformed, destroyed, and interconnected. In other words, things are "unformed matter" and unintelligible before they gain substance through interality; for it is interality that gives actual form to all beings. The identity of being depends on the type and situation of interality into which it was born, located, posited, and involved. Nothing can be identified by and in itself; identity is difference in comparison to others.

4. Interality determines what things become and how they exist. Being and things are no longer understood as things-in-themselves or for-themselves but products, effects, or outcomes caused by interality. Regarding humans, our functionality, growth, health, and sustainability depend on the interality into which we are thrust.


Why have Western philosophers devoted so much time to studying substance? They ask questions like "What is truth?" "What is the nature of the human soul?" "What is morally good?" and so forth. These are all substancebased questions that must yield substance-based answers. Might it be that these philosophers have been afraid to study internality? Perhaps so. According to Parmenides, "nothing" cannot be thought of, which makes sense, as it seems our thoughts are confined to a world of objects. Plato believed there is no-thing beyond substance, which exists independently in-itself and for-itself. This also makes sense, as we are taught to think of Plato's Forms as "ideal" and "perfect." If one could find holes of nothingness within these Forms, would that not make them imperfect and result in contradictions? These are the dominant schemas in the history of Western metaphysics. Our "lust for wisdom", as it were, compels us to pierce through the morass of nothingness until we have reduced reality into universal, unequivocal, and self-sufficient substances. Stated simply, the chief question of philosophy has been, "Why are there things?" In the study of interality, our task is a complementary one, as we ask, "Why is there nothingness?"

Is interality a part of reality? Can interality exist for its own sake? Is interality a kind of substance itself, or the derivative qualities thereof, just as Aristotle has claimed in his Categories? The answer could be negative according to traditional ontology and metaphysics. From an interalogical point of view, however, the world is composed of substance and interality, being and other-than-being, outside of being, and between being and non-being. Interality does not exist as things or beings that have appearance or presence, but as a receptacle that gives (es gibt) and receives the birth and appearance of things. It is neither a thing nor literally nothing, neither Being nor nonbeing, and neither appearance nor a veil, but the one that resides around, within, and between things, causing their existence and allowing us to discern their constitution. If we were to apply Hegelian dialectic, interality is not a synthesis of theses and antitheses, but the very stage of interaction between those opposing forces; the stage itself may seem insignificant, or perhaps even hidden, but is a necessary condition for synthesis to occur. To provide a more concrete illustration, we might say a TV screen is merely a pane of glass, but is nevertheless a necessary condition for the appearance of colorful visuals. Containers, receptacles, and spaces amount to the substances that fill them. These examples correspond to the point that interality is itself not apparent, but is nonetheless present in all objects as that which allows objects to exist at all.

Everything, from elementary particles to stellar bodies, from corporeal to intelligent matter, from things to ideas, coexists in a process of change and interconnection. No object can exist independently.

If the term "Being" implies everything that exists, it would follow that the world is only Being. Yet, many philosophers (e.g., Husserl and Heidegger, to name two) are known to have used the phrase, "Being-in-theworld". This seems to be a conundrum, but perhaps it helps if we explain it interalogically. If Being is "in the world," then Being occupies the world. The world is a space in which objects dwell, or khora as Plato calls it in his Timaeus. Let us imagine what would happen were we to efface objects from the world, one by one. What would ultimately remain? There would remain only an empty spacetime that used to receive, endure and store objects--that is, the world. So, the world is an interality that receives and gives birth to things. Can we imagine a world with no Being at all, where nothing exists? Parmenides would reject such an idea, while followers of Buddhism and Daoism firmly believe in a world of emptiness or nothingness, which is deemed more prime and constant than Being itself. Interality, seen here as nothingness and emptiness, cannot be taken away from the world even if every-thing disappears. Can we claim the opposite, that Being survives without the world, or interality? We might respond in the affirmative, citing Plato's Forms, but we must remember that even ideas must be contained. "The world," which contains all things but cannot itself be characterized by any one of them in particular, is synonymous with "interality"; Being-with-interality, then, equals Being-in-the-world.

Nothingness coexists with things. In fact, we would not be able to discern things without there being nothingness within and around them. In our world, the act of defining things is like weaving a fabric of nothingness. It is like filling an empty glass, not emptying a full glass. We begin with nothing and fill nothingness with substance until it reaches a certain amount. At this point it is "defined," it is something. This act of defining, of filling the void, constitutes the bulk of the work of Western philosophy, science, mathematics, and perhaps all other disciplines. However, as our attention is steered toward things, we forsake nothingness. Although one and zero coexist, we care only for one; similarly, as Being and non-Being coexist, we think only of Being.

Laozi is famous for commenting on the dynamics between Being and non-Being, noting that one was just as necessary (and wondrous) as the other. His ideas are still quite relevant in modern China, where nothingness is conceived as something more fundamental than things. For Laozi, nothingness is a state of becoming, in which things are not yet things. One might say, then, that interalogy describes how things are cultivated in a soil of nothingness. The materials and nutrients things require to grow are found within nothingness.

We may now tentatively determine the philosophical meaning of interality: it is an ensemble of all that are not things, yet it constantly affects the state and growth of things. Little attention has been paid to interality so far in the history of philosophy, especially since Parmenides and Plato. Even in the Eastern world, the tendency to hypostatize nothingness, emptiness (sunyata), virtue (de), and way (dao) has been so persistent that the old interalogical approach has been gradually replaced by an ontological one. Granted, tremendous efforts have been made since Nietzsche to deconstruct metaphysics. However, these efforts do not seem satisfactory, as we are still largely fixated on matters of substance, object/subject, Being, and other "thing" factors. Why is it so difficult for us to divert our attention to that ghost which has been felt but unseen for so long--the specter of interality? Is it possible to understand life from the perspective of interalogy?


The word "interality" originally comes from the Chinese word jian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or jianxing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The word appeared in early bronze inscriptions during as early as late Shang or early Zhou dynasty (1200-800 BCE). Originally the word was written as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], symbolizing the moon (light) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that cracks through the door [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Gradually the character changed to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (notice, the sun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] has replaced the moon) during the late Zhou Dynasty. The character has an obvious semiotic implication: the light passes through only if there is a crack or opening in the door, while the door itself represents the entrance of a house. Does this also imply that the opening is required for the light to be seen, or more boldly, that light would not exist without such an opening?

Jian has taken multiple meanings throughout


1. Interval, chasm, moment, valley, abyss, from the smallest crack/moment to the endlessly open spacetime "between heaven and earth [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

2. It refers to the middle (ground?), between(ness), among (ness), inside/outside, about(ness), etc. When certain objects have presence or have taken places, the open region or ground of interality must be simultaneously, if not previously, given in the middle of or among them.

3. It means void [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], nothingness [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], emptiness [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], room and openness in general, as opposed to the concept of substance/Being/thingness. Interality is in the middle or the background of things or beings (ideas) yet not a thing itself. Like Plato's khora, interality means the void or nothingness that gives space/time to things that are coming into being while remaining insensible and unintelligible.

4. It connotes relations, separation/connection [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], liminal/limit, boundary, interrelation, interaction, interconversion; the interality in this respect signifies the relational nature amongst all things and ideas, in addition to the nature or being of them (identity and difference).

5. Process, which is between being, not-yet-being and non-being, an intermediate stage of becoming and change, which means what is happening within interality.

6. Combination, composition, organization, structure [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], mixing, chaos [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], intercropping [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], as used in composite words.

7. Occasion, coincidence, accident, once in a while, now and then, sometimes, and so forth.

8. To make room/space, to expand/shrink or contract, to distance, to participate, to spy, to be in the middle, etc., often used as a verb.

9. Sometimes used as a quantifier for rooms, houses, and the like. For example, a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]room or two [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

The word "jian" or "interality" is one of the most useful and popular words that have a wide range of connotations and extensions in the Chinese language. Especially, interality was used to name some of the most general or philosophical "subjects" or "objects" such as the world [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], universe [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] meaning space/time [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], society [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and ultimately "in the middle of heaven and earth" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. If we assume language can profoundly influence cultural paradigms, it is easy to notice the emphasis Chinese culture has placed on interality as a specific perspective, to fashion a philosophy distinct from that of the West. In the earliest classics, such as The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites, Laozi's Dao De Jing, Analects of Confucius, The Book of Zhuangzi, etc., interality was the focus in Chinese philosophy. Based on my study of Chinese philosophical tradition, I would like to characterize those classics as the initiative of the study of interality, or interalogy, which is radically different from the Being/substance based ontological or onto-theological tradition in the West.


From the above etymologies, it is not difficult to posit interality's explicit and implicit philosophical connotations: "interality" represents the parts of reality that have been overlooked or conceived as mere properties subordinated to Being/substance. These include the following:

1. Empty spacetime in/outside/about and beyond being and beings, either in the middle of things--crack, interval, cloud, environment, etc.--or the universe/cosmos as a whole.

2. The arrangement of spacetime, e.g. composition, structure, organization, network and order from which the forms, positions, performances and determinations of things, events, beings are granted for what they really are.

3. Change or becoming that is happening constantly and is the source, condition and origin of things.

4. Process (or history) is what actually happened in the flow and procedure of change from the beginning to the end, from one thing to another, in and as interality. Things are outcomes of the process of becoming.

5. Relations, connections, interactions in and as interality are the determinants of one's being or identity.

6. Interality as unity, togetherness, and oneness that include and integrate all different things.

7. Passage, access, passing, i.e. openness as the condition of being, throughness as the ideal state (peaceful, harmonious, comprehensive, inclusive) of interality, an interized world.

In sum, interality is the ensemble of all of the above-mentioned non-substantial aspects of reality. A study and apprehension of interality as focus or starting point is what I call "interalogy." All of the above are designated not as properties or derivatives, nor the opposites of Being, but a "third genus," as Plato said of khora in his Timaeus. They could not be imagined and intuited as "Being or non-Being" or "Being and non-Being," but as "other-than-Being." Indeed, it is from this "other-than-Being" discourse, as has been displayed in the history of East Asia, that I found an interalogical mode of thinking.

In what follows, I articulate the possible philosophical meanings listed above and then attest whether interalogy could be philosophically legitimate or justified as an alternative way of philosophizing.

1. Interality as Spacetime

The first connotation of interality is spacetime, a primal source and condition of becoming and existence of all. A group of subcategories is encompassed under the concept of spacetime: empty spacetime, the spacetime occupied as things, and the spacetime between, among, and within things (distance, duration, passage, interval, crack, rhythm, spacing/timing, position, placement, stratum, etc.). Interalogy scrutinizes all these factors of interality. These factors may not be able to create substance, but are necessary for things to happen, move, change, transform, and exist altogether.

Spacetime has often been conceived as a sort of property, capacity, or dimensional characteristic of things, as if it does not possess an independent existence. For us, it makes little sense to talk about spacetime separate from things that exist within and operate according to it. However, notice that when we use the word "spacetime," we are separating it from things and thus talking about the interality between spacetime and things that occupy spacetime. When we observe a clock, is it enough to say "the clock is ticking," or do we really mean "time is ticking"? Does the ticking reveal the existence of time, or just the mechanics of the clock? An analogous question could be asked: is it the extension of things4 that creates space, or the other way around, that space gives things capacity and possibility of extension? These questions have remained contentious for thousands of years. The debates have, though unresolved, at least demonstrated the fact that spacetime has a peculiar nature, quite distinct from that of Being. Rather than a property of Being, spacetime bestows upon things an interalogical reality in addition to what they are in-themselves and hence opens the possibility of what they can actually become.

From an interalogical point of view, spacetime places itself inside, outside, and between all things. It orients all things through an a priori spacetime, which allows things to acquire meaning and existence. Things cannot be or come into being except through spacetime. Such presuppositions lead to a more radical claim: interality may not be the origin of matter, but it gives matter form by creating a specific spacetime frame. That is to say, things as "formed matter" do not result in but from the condition of interality. Unlike traditional Western metaphysics that focuses on Being or substance as both the primary source and final cause, interalogy treats spacetime as one of the necessary conditions for all that exists and all that comes to be.

Spacetime should not be ignored or overlooked. The valleys in the mountains, space in the midst of stars, veins inside the body of living beings, and so on, serve as room or openness for their motion, composition for their structure, and circulation for their flourishing. Speaking of a living organism, the free space inside the body is no less crucial than the physical components themselves: breath, blood, feeling, nutrition, and so forth, must circulate through tubes and paths in order to keep a body healthy. The same laws apply to economics, politics, and morality: whenever there is blockage within societies, either in communication or some other factor, problems inevitably arise. Regarding morality, one might think of lies, injustices, and evil itself as the blockage of truth, energy (qi) or light (recall the semiotic root of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The study of interality has long been developed and applied throughout the history of China, especially in Chinese medicine, moral-political theory, economics, and the martial and aesthetic arts. While a traditional Western ontological lens would certainly help us form knowledge concerning what the world is composed of as a fixed mechanism of separate parts, an interalogical lens discloses how the world functions as a living organism to maintain its vitality through a healthy interality.

Things are never fixed. To point to one is but to draw attention to a blurry snapshot in an infinite continuum. Things are born in one form and perish in another, and this is a perpetual cycle, as Nietzsche famously observes. This eternal recurrence of life and death is a reflection of change in spacetime, rather than attributes of some universal Being. In order to exist, things need 1) a suitable place to reside, and 2) a right time to grow. This means existence requires empty space and available time. The spacetime that allows the possibility of the emergence and evolution of things is not created by things themselves but available prior to them. The water does create its own space for it to be poured into the glass, but the glass is empty so that water might be poured into it. This is what Laozi meant by "the utility of nothingness" (Chapter 11). On the other hand, things should be in their proper place and time to become what they are; how might they exist otherwise? A change in spacetime affects the nature, state, and ultimately the existence of things.

Although I have previously made comparisons to Plato's khora, I should note that an interalogical spacetime is not simply a receptacle passively receiving whatever passes through and occupies it. It is a mother who gives birth to and nurtures things. Thus, spacetime is responsible for the life and death, construction and destruction, progression and regression of things. Spacetime not only sacrifices part of her body to form things, but also feeds her children interality so that they can become realized beings-in-the-world. The world is composed of spacetime. That is, the world is the offspring of spacetime, which, by offering its interality, allows the world to exist. (5) Spacetime-as-mother does not just give but also arranges itself as a framework for residents to obtain their places in existence. This leads to the third condition of existence: 3) a proper arrangement of spacetime within and outside things that defines things as what they actually are.

2. The Composite Nature as Interality of Things

What is an arrangement that arranges (or a constitution that constitutes)? In an interesting and ironical reversal of philosophical inquiry, when it comes to arrangements, the West has often asked "how?" and not "what?" That is, we often pay attention to how things are arranged (e.g., How is DNA structured? How are societies organized?), while we neglect the wonders of the arrangements themselves. This is because we, in our pursuit of knowledge, are guided by a sort of thing-based thinking, and arrangements only serve to organize things so that we may better understand them. However, arrangements take center stage in interalogy, since we are concerned with interality rather than things-in-themselves. We argue that it is interality that arranges things into their proper orders, forms, and structures. This makes interalogy complementary to traditional Western ontologies, which is concerned with that-which-is-arranged, as interalogy is concerned with that-which-arranges.

Things are composed of reducible elements. Atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, which can be broken into quarks. Stars are composed of elements, which can be broken into atoms. Galaxies are composed of stars, which can be broken into elements. All things, no matter how big or small, seem to possess "materials" that comprise or cause them. If we shift our focus from things to interality, the "materials" are construed as arrangements of spacetime, in which things participate to form their mode and state of Being. All things, even the smallest particles, are arranged within spacetime. All of the constituents of things are assigned their proper places and durations of time to occupy through formulas of arrangement. The origin of the formula itself may not be asserted; however, it is obvious that the formula provides interality by arranging spacetime toward the manifestation of the existence of a thing. If we extend our vision outside the thing, to see other things at various distances in the world as belonging to the same whole, we will notice that all things are arranged to have a designated place in spacetime. Order, distance, placement, temporality, aggregation, interval, intermittence, openness, and so forth, are attributes of a thing's arrangement. None of these interalogical attributes are traditionally conceived as those of a particular thing, but they nevertheless determine a thing's existence and state of Being. Changes in spacetime, and variations of arrangement, are what ultimately cause things-in-the-world.

Works of art, for instance, are particular arrangements of spacetime or spacetime constitution. How else would we be able to fathom the likes of music, visual arts, and literature? Within these arrangements of spacetime are also elements of social, political, and ethical sentiments. "Beauty" is but an arrangement of spacetime that pleases our senses. Music is defined as arrangement of sound, language as structured words, thinking as organized experiences and ideas, and society as ordered individuals. In sum, interalogy concentrates in how things are constructed, ordered, and arranged, which cannot be noticed by merely looking at an isolated thing-in-itself. This approach allows us to more fully understand the nature of things.

3. Change happens in and as interality

In antiquity, some philosophers insisted that reality does not change (Parmenides and Plato), while others claimed the opposite, that the world is always changing and that there is no permanence in reality (Heraclitus and Laozi). Interalogy agrees with the latter postulation of an eternally changing world, for change does not merely happen in but also as interality. Change, by definition, commonly refers to the change of things: an object, A, changes its property, P, if and only if A has P at one time and not another, at which point we can say A is no longer A. Change happens between A and P, P and P, A and other objects. In other words, change occurs in and as interality.

But such an understanding of change assumes there are stagnant or timeless things or properties that serve as constants as opposed to variables. According to modern relativistic physics, all properties of an object are themselves dynamical so that there are no absolute or fixed objects. Not only are things subject to change, but they are also provisional and temporal effects, instead of causes, of change. Planets rotate, water flows, governments collapse and so forth, things move and change in virtue of the motion initiated by their interality (e.g., spacetime, arrangements, interactions between things and properties). Thus, change is construed as a floating interality, or what The Book of Changes (6) called "ceaseless becoming of becoming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

Where does change originate, if the original cause ("unmoved mover," as it is called by Aristotle) is not itself subject to change? We may not be able to answer the question metaphysically, since the universe may not have a beginning or end. Nevertheless, some philosophers have answered it interalogically. Laozi and Heraclitus, for example, have maintained that it is opposites, differences, and interactions, such as strife and balance, progression and reversal, yin and yang, that create energy (qi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and bring about change and becoming of things. Oppositions, differences, and forces are not intrinsic properties of ontological substance or being-in-itself but appear only as phenomena of interality.

Specifically, change means a movement or transformation from one spacetime, position, or state to another. This means change happens through interality. As long as things undergo change, they have only provisional dwellings in spacetime. Things are products of change much like human goods are the products of labor. As opposed to traditional Western ontology that dealt with change as accidental and illusory, philosophers of interality regard change as constant, everlasting, and necessary: only change does not change. This is why interalogy attributes change, becoming, and transformation to interality rather than some unchanging substance or Being.

4. Process as Interality other than Being

The manifestation of change, becoming, and transformation is what a number of philosophers refer to as process. The "process philosophy," represented by Whitehead (influenced by Eastern philosophy, perhaps) within the twentieth century, proclaimed that the world at large and things in particular should be understood as dynamic processes of change. Things arise or coalesce in this process. According to the process philosophy, the dynamic nature of beings (types and modes of occurrence or becoming) should replace the classic static concept of substance as the primary focus of any philosophical "adventure" of the world and ourselves.

It is the process of change that brings "actual entities" or individuated and differentiated things into an infinite nexus of interaction, connection, relation, and transformation. The action of actual entities is what philosophers call "process," in which things and events are produced, constructed, organized, or decomposed, deconstructed, and disorganized. Our world has an inexhaustible drive for change through physical, organic, social, and cognitive processes.

What a thing is is a matter of what and how it does, operates, and proceeds in a process. Processes are more fundamental than things that are in fact the end products or temporary effects of processes. A thing becomes what it is by virtue of its interactions and relationships with other things, not by Being-in-itself (note, this is very similar to Aristotle's concept of entelechy). As soon as a possible thing reaches its identifiable individuality as an actual thing, a process of change or becoming Other is already underway. Both within and without, things forever undergo the process of change. The inner structure of things, if we look closely enough, is like a micro-universe (Spengler) in which the components and properties move and interact, as process rather than stagnant substance, to compose/organize, recompose/reorganize and decompose/deconstruct one another incessantly. For instance, in the fields of particle physics, quantum theory, chemistry, and biology, we name elements and forces as processes, never frozen in time. Even if we observe a macro-universe, we will not be able to explicitly define anything as a thing-in-itself, but only as part of the process of constant interaction and transformation. A thing is no longer "just substance," but part of the interalogical processes to which it owes its existence.

In conclusion, interalogy explains things in a way that differs from that of traditional Western ontology, by conceiving of things as within changing processes, rather than things-in-themselves.

5. Relations Make Things Become What They Are

Relations pertain to the concept of interality, or, they represent a significant aspect of interality. In classic ontology, relations are a category that is derivative from and subordinate to substance, the only reality that exists unto itself. Interalogy, on the contrary, accounts relations as the primary ground of all existence, as they determine how change is generated. Ontological Being-in-itself is unintelligible outside the context of relations; for Being-in-the-world precedes Being-in-itself. Being-in-the-world here means Being-in-relation or Being-ininterality: a thing can be it if and only if it is in a framework of relations that are present in the world of interality. On the other hand, Being-in-the-world also implies that the world stages interactions within itself through interality. The essence of a thing is acquired in terms of its relation to other things, by means of comparison, differentiation, and classification. By the same token, function, individuation, affection, and sustainability, just to name a few, are all relations that result in the particular nature of things.

For Aristotle, things have properties ("this ball is red"). Relations are comparisons between two things ("this ball is bigger than that ball") or two properties ("this red is a darker shade than that red"). Aristotle's depiction of relations as such seems too narrow to describe the relational world as a whole, or the outcome of relations in processes of change, both of which are not just the properties of substances but the necessary precondition of things. Regular ontological terms, such as Being/becoming, self/other, cause/effect, truth/fallacy, space/time, identity/difference, and so on, not only obtain their meanings from their relations with one another, but are also relations themselves. Metaphysics is in fact the study of relations of ideas and categories that construct our understanding of reality. If we look closely at the knowledge of different fields, scientific or otherwise, all describe the relations of things.

Interalogy studies relations as a condition of being prior to whatever becomes. Things come to be by entering a pre-existing interality, which produces the possibility for relations. By entering the nexus of interality, things are immediately "thrown" into relations, without which no thing can be defined. In other words, relations determine or define the essence of things; nothing can exist without relating to others. For example, when we define a human being as a "rational animal," we have already presupposed a relationship between human, animal, rationality, and irrationality. According to Confucian "role ethics," developed by Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont, a person's identity, duty, and ethical deeds derive from the role she ought to play, which is determined by her social relationship with others.

Under the category of relation, interalogy studies connection/separation, affection, interaction, causality, communication, fusion, conflict/harmony, mediation, network, exchange, transformation, and so forth in light of interality. Interality, envisaged as what Heidegger called "pure relation" or Being (as Ereignis) without regard to beings, is thereby the preliminary ground for the study of beings. In The Book of Changes, the opposite (yin as opposed to yang, and vice versa, or say "the opposites") and the ultimate (taiji) could be understood as 'pure relations" that exist prior to the birth of the "ten thousand things." In a world of change and becoming, before things have yet come to be, relations have already been there. Interalogy studies and interprets reality by prioritizing relations and interality as a whole to explore how the world is constituted.

Much has been studied about relations in relational theory, relationalism, the philosophy of organism, relation metaphysics, and role ethics developed by scientists and philosophers recently. Emphatic attention has been paid by them to see how decisive relations are in comparison to substance. The fruits of these studies have not only enhanced but also prepared the study of interality as a whole.

6. Unity and Oneness of the World through Interality

How would the "ten thousand things" and all living beings that are heterogeneous by nature come together as a unity? Is there a substance or substantial entity, such as an atom, form, matter, or idea, to which all things could be reduced; (7) or, is it interality that brought everything together? Interalogy maintains that it is interality as a whole which warrants the unity and oneness of all things. Traditional Western ontology tried to reduce all things into one original thing. However, after much work, the outcome of such reductionism does not suffice to prove the point. On the contrary, recent studies in the sciences have disclosed more evidence for how things (e.g. particles, genes, cells, and so forth) are originated and coalesced as an effect of interality, i.e., their coexistence, relation, interaction, and communication with energy, velocity, force, field, and one another.

The universe is seen as an interalogical whole that is always bigger than the concept of "Being of beings," and is truly "bigger than bigger." Interality encompasses all that exists, has existed, and will exist. It encompasses things and nothing, Being and non-Being, truth and falsity, good and evil, right and wrong. It connects all different elements, processes, and things together as indispensable parts of one dynamic and open reality. This is exactly what Zhuangzi stated a long time ago: "Dao throughs as One" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [emphasis added]. (8)

7. Throughness ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], tong) as ultimate Way ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], dao) and ideal state of interality

Finally, throughness or "tong", which is interpreted by Zhuangzi as synonymous to "dao" or the Way, is the ideal state of interality. Throughness implies a state of passing, going, flowing, permeating, penetrating, and communicating through all openings of interality to ensure the process of becoming proceeds properly and successfully. It is the degree of throughness in interality that makes up the different states of being of things and events. For example, if one's veins are blocked or in lack of throughness for whatever reason, it will cause high blood pressure and heart diseases; cleaning and repairing the tubes of the body might be a better option than heart surgery. According to Chinese medicine, most diseases and pains of the human body are caused by the blockage or non-throughness of breath (qi) and blood ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). By the same token, the harmony of a family and justice of a society would be at stake when mutual understanding, communication, and relations are jammed and not-through. Throughness as the ideal state of interality is thus understood as the effective functioning of all things. The ultimate concern of interalogy, therefore, is to reach the state of throughness, that is, a state of oneness in the sense of harmony, togetherness, attunement, and fluidity.


To reiterate, interalogy is the study of interality. It applies its own approaches or methods, complementary or alternative to those of traditional Western ontology, in order to see a dynamic and relational picture (xiang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of the world:

1. Interality has no essence. By virtue of its emptiness, openness, throughness, and no-being-in-itself (anatman), interality is inclusive, pervasive, and ubiquitous without presupposing what an absolute Being or Truth might be. It does not oppose or reject but suspend or defer the course of ontological conceptualizing of things, similar to the method of phenomenological reduction, in order to see what happens and how that happens in light of interality.

2. Instead of analyzing substance itself as the point of existence, interalogy focuses on interality to see what happens and how that happens between, around, and within things. Interalogy is concerned with interality as the middle ground and background between those points that causes things (points) to change, relate, and so forth.

3. Interalogy takes possibility, contingency, chance, and potentiality more seriously than consequence, necessity, and telos or final cause. The focus is rather on what could happen under certain conditions, circumstances, within certain contexts and relations, through which to disclose the potential, trend and possibility of becoming in advance. In The Book of Changes, this is called "diving into the bottom of the bottomless and searching the sign (of what has not yet become) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," the way sages used to investigate the sign ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in order to foresee the possible situation and potential consequence (shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of what was coming to be.

4. The principles of identity and contradiction are not the foundation of logic in the study of interality. The possibility of becoming in the course of interality is multitudinous, and interality itself has no identity or fixed nature at all. So an either/or mode of thinking does not correspond to the interality of things, and is thus irrelevant. Interalogy applies another mode of logic that treats contradictions and paradoxes as the bases of interality. This new interalogical logic often expresses itself in forms of "neither-nor" (double negation) or "both-and" (double affirmation).

5. A single, univocal, and linear mode of analysis is replaced by one that is plural, coalescent, and interalogical. Things do not come into being one after another in a single chain of causality, but spring from many chains. A holistic approach is thus required for the study. One cannot understand the nature of trees by analyzing one tree; one must also analyze the forest (interality). Studying interality is to study a holistic picture of the world.

6. Such a holistic approach is characterized interalogically by taking the non-substantial factors of interality into account as conditions of things. For example, mathematical operators, linguistic punctuations, empty spacetime, cracks, passages, and intervals should not be overlooked as properties that have no meaning in-themselves. Interalogy studies them as essential or integral elements that lend things meaning.

7. Interalogy emphasizes the functions of things rather than properties thereof. For it is through function that things engage each other interalogically to become what they are. It is through functioning and acting/behaving that things or persons acquire their nature/essence and actual existences: function constitutes essence. Before judging things or ideas by the criteria of right/wrong, true/false, good/evil etc., interalogy would like to explore their actual functions and effects in the topological and historical processes.

8. Moreover, interalogy sees openness or thoroughness as its original attitude, the summum bonum of its "adventure of ideas." The openness or throughness obscures, fuses and thereby opens the boundaries among things, human beings and their words and sets them free from isolation and abstraction into a world of interality. Therefore, the comparative, interdisciplinary, and dialogical approaches are necessary and indispensable for interalogy to be able to maintain its openness or thoroughness as the primordial and dynamic source of unity, individuality, and creativity.


The development of interalogy provides indeed an alternative paradigm or mode of thinking that would enrich our understanding of the world. By positioning interality at the center of attention, we might change our perspective considerably on the cosmos, the origins of things and human existence as a whole. The switch of focus would urge us to reexamine, if not challenge, the meaning of common notions such as Being, truth, morality, beauty, self, society, economy, politics, religion, international relations, environment, human nature, gender, justice, and freedom, etc. In terms of practicality, the hope to establish a peaceful, just, and loving world cannot be realized simply by endorsing tolerance, forgiveness, philanthropy, and altruism alone but also by relieving ourselves of our insistence on substance-oriented and self-centered metaphysics and all kinds of absolutism. Thinking through interality, I believe, could help us improve human relations and limit violent conflicts in today's world hence ensure humans and other creatures live happier and healthier lives. This is what I meant by "interality shows through."

Suggested Readings

Aristotle. (1999). Metaphysics. (H. Lawson-Tancred, Trans.). New York: Penguin Classics.

Baynes, C. F. (1961). The I Ching or book of changes.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Derrida, J. (1995). Khora. In On the tame. (T. Dutoit, Ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Kant and the problem of metaphysics. (J. S. Churchill, Trans.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1973). The end of philosophy. (J. Stambaugh, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Laozi. (2003). Dao De Jing: A philosophical translation (English and Mandarin Chinese Edition). (R. Ames & D. Hall, Trans.). New York: Ballantine Books.

Plato. (2008). Timaeus and Critias. (D. Lee, Trans.). New York: Penguin Classics.

Shang, G. (2010). Zhuangzi: Dancing with the world. Shanghai, China: Shanghai Translation Publishing House.

Swainson, B. (Ed.). (2000). The Encarta book of quotations. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Whitehead. A. N. (1960). Process and reality. New York: Macmillan Company.

Zhuangzi. (1968). The complete works of Chuang Tzu. (B. Watson, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. 04/11/15

Geling Shang

Grand Valley State University, USA


(1.) I arrived at the term "interality" through serendipity as I was teaching an Eastern Philosophy course about five years ago. I was interpreting the Chinese word jian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and a more philosophical/abstract modern version "jianxing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" for my students. Struggling to find an equivalent word in English, I was murmuring "inter..., um inter...," until somehow the word "interality" emerged, which I quickly wrote on the board with relief. While this might seem rather silly to the reader, the discovery of the word "interality" came as a watershed moment in my development as a philosopher, mostly because I had finally found a word that synthesized and idealized the myriad examples I had illustrated throughout my career.

However, like most people who "discover" things these days, my elation was subsequently taken by doubt. Surely, in the history of the world, someone else had used the term before, no? Browsing the internet after class, I found that the word did not appear in any English-language dictionary, but had indeed been used by others in non-philosophical contexts. For instance Devon Derksen, a photographer, named a group of his works "Interality: The Spaces Between." There was also a website titled "Interality," where people spoke on forums about what the term meant to them. Lastly, a search in an online Hindi dictionary revealed the term MADHYASTHAWASTHA, which apparently translates directly to "interality," though I am certainly no Hindi speaker, so I cannot vouch for the validity of this translation. Nonetheless, I would be very interested in knowing if the term has any philosophical or spiritual relevance in India. Finally I got an explanation from Professor Vandana Pednekar-Magal, a GVSU colleague. The literal translation, according to her, is being in the middle, or the condition of being in the middle. The phrase also has a Vedic connotation: because there is heaven and there is hell, so there is a condition in the middle.

Since interality was a new word, at least philosophically, I dedicated the next five years to elaborating its "definition." This process has produced the current manuscript. Thus, interality refers to an empty or not yet occupied space/time in and outside things, margins and intervals in between things, or the openness, passage, or path, which gives, receives, connects, and passes through things to form them and their relations to others. I dare to use this "non-word" to render the Chinese word "jian", especially since the terms "betweenness" or "in-betweenness" have gained in popularity since the last century. Bergeson, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and others in the West, along with Nishita, Watsuji Tetsuro (1889-1960), Nishitani, and some other Japanese philosophers in the East Asia, have paid attention to the betweenness of things to explore an alternative to the conventional "either/or" way of thinking. The concept of betweenness has been also applied to studies such as art, architecture, society, culture, computer science, and even the practice of martial arts.

With all this, I coined the term "interalogy", in the vein of "genealogy", to designate a new study or knowledge of interality.

(2.) As Aristotle wrote in his Metaphysics, "Indeed, the question which was raised of old is raised now and always, and is always the subject of doubt, viz., what being is, is just the question, what is substance? For it is this that some assert to be one, others more than one, and that some assert to be limited in number, others unlimited. And so we also must consider chiefly and primarily and almost exclusively what that is which is in this sense." (Book VII Section 1, paragraph 1028b).

(3.) In correspondence to the Yi Jing, the Upanishads and other Hindu Vedas depict the origin of the world as the interaction between Being and non-Being. Buddha taught the dharma of no-self (anatman) or emptiness (sunyata) associated with impermanence and life-as-suffering (dukka). The Book of Changes, likely written before the Vedic texts, became the most important work of Chinese history, as it created a schema for Chinese culture and perhaps East Asia as a whole. Interestingly enough, the concept of jian (or ma in Japanese) has been developed recently by Japanese Kyoto School thinkers such as Nishida, Nishitani, and specifically Watsuji, in association with their Buddhist heritage.

(4.) I use the word "thing" or "things" in a more ordinary sense to refer to "formed matter," which could mean entity, substance, being, event, state of affair, and existence in general. It denotes ideas, words, signs and other nonmaterial beings that become individualized, differentiated and are thus sensible and intelligible, as opposed to the formless, nothing-like and wondrous interality ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

(5.) Immediately after writing this sentence, I received a phone call from my wife telling me that Wujin Yu ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), my close friend, classmate, and one of the most prominent philosophers in China after 1980, passed away. The "interality" around me has enormously changed as soon as the phone was picked up a moment ago. I would like to dedicate this piece to dear Wujin. I reminisce on old times, wishing I could hear your witty and illuminating criticisms once more. Have a nice trip, my brother!

(6.) In The Book of Changes (Yi Jing), the world is believed to be a constant flow of change. In antiquity, the word change [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] connotes 1) change, 2) no-change and 3) simple and easy in antiquity. These three connotations understood as a unity summarize the central theme of the book:

1) Change, which has no fixed nature as spacetime or interality, is the reality underlying all existing things. There is no absolute permanence, constancy, or fixation but change of spacetime and balance/disharmony between opposites (yin yang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) that bring about things. The book studies change not as a thing but as interality--spacetime, interaction, relation, situation, metabolism, etc. encompassed via signs known as "eight symbols" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Their square equals sixty-four hexagrams, consisting in unbrocken and broken lines, representing the interaction of yin and yang as the forces of change. The change of the position, relation, and interaction between the two lines and within hexagrams imitates ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) the images ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of changing reality.

2) "Only change does not change [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]", as Heraclitus stated later, is the usual interpretation of "no-change." It could be further interpreted as "change changes"; in other words, change itself changes to changeless, motion moves to motionless, becoming becomes entity: the opposite opposes itself to exhibit the invisible but omnipresent interality [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], where nothing but interaction between the opposites yin and yang as a whole creates energy and movement as the source and origin ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of all things.

3) Simplicity and ease [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are the third meaning of "yi." Once we have understood the sign of possibility and followed the Way of change [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], our life would become simple and easy. In addition to this classical interpretation, I would like to add the fourth meaning of yi: it means "tong" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or throughness, another Chinese word I have rendered reluctantly, as it can hardly be translated into Western languages. Things become what they finally are, humans can succeed at what they intend, and nature flourishes to its fullest degree. All this is according to The Book of Changes and the Book of Zhuangzi, which say "becoming" depends on the state of throughness, which I now interpret as the paramount or ideal state of interality.

(7.) According to quantum physics, individual molecules (atoms, electrons, protons, etc.) cannot be identified; they have no identity, since, in quantum mechanics, no one can keep track of an individual electron precisely, as electrons exchange with one another without observable physical changes in the system. Also because of the movement of its physical parts, no object can remain the same. Just as Leibniz stated that "one cannot find two identical leaves," one cannot assert that any single person stays constant, since the person has evolved through time. This theory at least debases the ontological assumption of the universality and absoluteness of Being.

(8.) Tong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is another Chinese character for which I could hardly find an equivalent word in English. The word has multi-meanings: penetration, permeation, transformation, communication, access, open, pass, connection, relate, appropriation, coherence, smooth, flow, clearing, and continuum. It may also be used to imply meanings such as thorough, whole, harmony, balance, oneness, and so forth. Unfortunately, none of these words can cover or include all these meanings together. Through (or throughness) is so far the best English approximation for tong, as the ideal state of interality. Tong was used as a philosophical term by Zhuangzi to designate the meaning of Dao and oneness. Details of the theory of tong can be found in my previous work, Zhuangzi: Dancing with the World.

Correspondence to:

Dr. Geling Shang

Philosophy Department

Grand Valley State University

Allendale, MI 49401

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