The (Re-)Levation of the Rheomode

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In the previous chapter it has been pointed out that our thought is fragmented, mainly by our taking it for an image or model of ‘what the world is’. The divisions in thought are thus given disproportionate importance, as if they were a widespread and pervasive structure of independently existent actual breaks in ‘what is’, rather than merely convenient features of description and analysis. Such thought was shown to bring about a thoroughgoing confusion that tends to permeate every phase of life, and that ultimately makes impossible the solution of individual and social problems. We saw the urgent need to end this confusion, through giving careful attention to the one-ness of the content of thought and the actual process of thinking which produces this content.

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In this chapter the main emphasis will be to inquire into the role of language structure in helping to bring about this sort of fragmentation in thought.  Though language is only one of the important factors involved in this tendency, it is clearly of key importance in thought, in communication, and in the organization of human society in general.

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Of course it is possible merely to observe language as it is, and has been, in various differing social groups and periods of history, but what we wish to do in this chapter is to experiment with changes in the structure of the common language.  In this experimentation our aim is not to produce a well-defined alternative to present language structures. Rather, it is to see what happens to the language function as we change it, and thus perhaps to make possible a certain insight into how language contributes to the general fragmentation. Indeed, one of the best ways of learning how one is conditioned by a habit (such as the common usage of language is, to a large extent) is to give careful and sustained attention to one’s overall reaction when one ‘makes the test’ of seeing what takes place  when one is doing something significant different  from the automatic  and accustomed function.  So, the main point of the work discussed in this chapter is to take a step in what might be an unending experimentation with language (and with thought).  That is, we are suggesting that such experimentation is to be considered as a normal actively of the individual and of society (as it has in fact come to be considered over the past few centuries with regard to experimentation with nature and with man himself.  Thus, language (along with the thought involved in it) will be seen as a particular field of function among all the rest, so that it ceases to be, in effect, the one field that is exempted from experimental inquiry.

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What , then, will be our question, as we engage in this inquiry into our language (and thought)? We begin with the fact of general fragmentation.  We can ask in a preliminary way whether there are any features of the commonly used language which tend to sustain and propagate this fragmentation, as well as, perhaps, to reflect it. A cursory examination shows that a very important feature of this kind is the subject-verb-object structure of sentences, which is common to the grammar and syntax of modern languages.  This structure implies that all action arises in a separate entity, the subject, and that, in the cases described by a transitive verb, this action crosses over the space between them to another separate entity, the object, (If the verb is intransitive, as in ‘he moves’, the subject is still considered to be a separate entity but the activity is considered to be either a property of the subject or a reflexive action of the subject, e.g, in the sense that ‘he moves’ may be taken to mean ‘he moves himself’.)

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This is a pervasive structure, leading in the whole of life to a function of thought tending to divide things into separate entities, such entities being conceived of as essentially fixed and static in their nature.  When this view is carried to its limit, one arrives at the prevailing  scientific world view, in which everything is regarded as ultimately constituted out of a set of basic particles of fixed nature.

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The subject-verb-object structure of language, along with its world view, tends to impose itself very strongly in our speech, even in those cases in which some attention would reveal its evident in appropriateness. For example, consider the sentence ‘It is raining.’ Where is the ‘It’ that would, according to the sentence, be ‘the rainer that is doing the raining’?  Clearly, it is more accurate to say: ‘Rain is going on.’

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Is it not possible for the syntax and grammatical form of language to be changed so as to give a basic role to the verb rather than to the noun?  This would help to end the sort of fragmentation indicated above, for the verb describes actions and movements, which flow into each other and merge, without sharp separations or breaks. Moreover, since movements are in general always themselves changing, they have in them no permanent pattern of fixed form with which separately existent things could be identified. Such an approach to language evidently fits in with the overall world view discussed in the previous chapter, in which movement is, in effect, taken as a primary notion, while apparently static and separately existing things are seen as relatively invariant states of continuing movement (e.g., recall the example of the vortex).

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Now, in some ancient languages-for example, Hebrew- the verb was in fact taken as primary, in the sense described above. Thus, the root of almost all words in Hebrew was a certain verbal form, while adverbs, adjectives and nouns were obtained by modifying the verbal form with prefixes, suffices, and in other ways.  However, in modern Hebrew the actual usage is similar to that of English, in that the noun is in fact given a primary role in its meaning even though in the formal grammar all is still built from the verb as a root.

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Suddenly to invent a whole language implying a radically different structure of thought is, however clearly not practicable.  What can be done is provisionally and experimentally to introduce a new mode of language.  Thus, we already have, for example, different modes of the verb, such as the indicative, the subjunctive, the  imperative, and we develop skill in the use of language so that each of these modes functions, when it is required, without the need for conscious choice.  Similarly, we will now consider a mode in which movement is to be taken as primary in our thinking and in which this notion will be incorporated into the language structure by allowing the verb rather than the noun to play a primary role.  As one develops such a mode and works with it for a while, one may obtain the necessary skill in using it, so that it will also come to function whenever it is required, without the need for conscious choice.

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For the sake of convenience we shall give this mode a name, i.e.the rheomode (“rheo is from a Greek verb, meaning ‘to flow’).  At least in the first instance the rheomode will be an experiment in the use of language, concerned mainly with trying to find out whether it is possible to create a new structure that is not so prone towards fragmentation as is the present one.  Evidently, then, our inquiry will have to begin by emphasizing the role of language in shaping our overall world views as well as in expressing them more precisely in the form of general philosophical ideas. For as suggested in the previous chapter these world views and their general expressions (which contain tacit conclusions about everything, including nature, society, ourselves, our language, etc) are now playing a key role in helping to originate and sustain fragmentation in every aspect of life.  So we will start by using the rheomode mainly in an experimental way. As already pointed out, to do this implies giving a kind of attention to how thought and language actually work, which goes beyond a mere consideration of their content.

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At least in the present inquiry the rheomode will be concerned initially with questions having to do with the broad and deep implications of our overall world views which now tend to be raised largely in the study of philosophy, psychology, art, science and mathematics, but especially in the study of thought and language themselves.

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Such fragmentary perception may, however, give rise to the illusory impression that adequate attention is indeed already being given to the function of thought and language, and thus may lead to the false conclusion that there is in reality no serious difficultly of the sort described above

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One may suppose, for example that as the function of the world of nature is studied in physics, and that of society is studied in sociology, and that of the mind in psychology, so the function of language is given attention in linguistics.  But of course such a notion would only be appropriate if all these fields were actually. clearly  separated and either constant or slowly changing in their natures, so that the results obtained in each field of specialization would be relevant in all situations and on all occasions in which they might be applied.   What we have been emphasizing, however, is that on questions of such broad and deep scope, this sort of separation is not appropriate and that in any case the crucial point is to give attention to the very language (and thought) that is being used, from moment to moment, in the inquiry in to the function of language itself, as well as in any other form of inquiry in which one may engage. So it will not be adequate to isolate language as a particular field of inquiry  and to regard it as a relativity static thing which changes only slowly (or not at all) as one goes into it.

bohm rheo14 relevant

The word ‘relevant’ derives from a verb ‘to relevate’, which has dropped out of common usage, whose meaning is ‘to lift’ (as in ‘elevate’). In essence, ‘to relevate’ means ‘to lift into attention’, so that the content thus lifted stands out  ‘in relief’.  When a context lifted into attention is coherent or fitting with the context of interest, i.e. when it has some bearing on the context of some relationship to it, then one says that this content is relevant; and, of course, when it does not fit in this way, it is said to be irrelevant.

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In making a statement about relevance, one is treating thought and language as realities, on the same level as the context in which they refer.  In effect, one is, at the very moment in which the statement is made, looking or giving attention both to this context  and to the overall function of thought and language, to see whether or not  they fit each other. Thus, to see the relevance or irrelevance of a statement is primarily an act of perception of a very high order similar to that involved in seeing its truth or falsity. In one sense the question of relevance comes before that of truth, because to ask whether a statement is true or false presupposes that it is relevant (so that to try to assert the truth or falsity  of an irrelevant statement is a form of confusion) , but in a deeper sense the seeing of relevance or irrelevance is evidently an aspect of the perception of truth in its overall meaning.

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Clearly, the act of apprehending relevance or irrelevance cannot be reduced to a technique or a method, determined by some set of rules. Rather, this is an art, both in the sense of requiring creative perception and in the sense that this perception has to develop further in  a kind of skill (as in the work of the artisan).

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Thus it is not right, for example, to regard the division between relevance and irrelevance as a form of accumulated knowledge of properties belonging to statements (e.g. by saying that certain statements ‘possess’ relevance while other do not).  Rather, in each case, the statements of relevance or irrelevance is communicating a perception taking place at the moment of expression and is the individual context indicated in that moment.  As the context in question changes, a statement that was initially relevant may thus cease to be so, or vice versa.  Moreover, one cannot even say that a given statement is either relevant or irrelevant, and that this covers all the possibility. Thus, in many cases, the total context may be such that one cannot clearly perceive whether the statement has bearing or not.  This means that one has to learn more, and that the issue is, as it were, in a state of flux.  So when relevance or irrelevance is communicated, one has to understand that this is not a hard and fast division between opposing categories but, rather, an expression of an ever-changing perception,  in which it is possible, for the moment, to see a fit or non-fit between the content lifted into attention and the context to which it refers.

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At present, the question of fitting or non-fitting is discussed through a language structure in which nouns are taken as basic (e.g., by saying ‘this notion is relevant’). Such a structure does indeed formally imply a hard and fast division between relevance and irrelevance.  So the form of the language is continually introducing a tendency toward fragmentation even in those very features whose function is to call attention to the wholeness of language and the context in which it is being used.

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As already stated we are, of course, often able to overcome this tendency towards fragmentation by using language in a freer more informal, and ‘poetic’ way, that properly communicates the truly fluid nature of the difference between relevance and irrelevance.  Is it not possible, however, to do this more coherently and effectively by discussing the issue of relevance in terms of the rheomode, in which as suggested earlier, hard and fast divisions do not arise formally, because the verb, rather than the noun, is given a primary role?

bohm rheo21 relevate irrelevate

To answer this question we first note that the verb ‘to relevate’, from which the adjective ‘relevant’ is derived, ultimately comes from the root ‘to levate’ (whose meaning is, of course, ‘to lift’).  As a step in developing the rheomode, we then propose that the verb ‘to levate’ shall mean, ‘The spontaneous and unrestricted act of lifting into attention any content whatsoever which includes the lifting into attention of the question of whether this content fits a broader context or not, as well as that of lifting into attention the very function of calling attention which is initiated by the verb itself.’ This implies an unrestricted breadth and depth of meaning, that is not fixed within static limits.

We then introduce the verb ‘to re-levate’.  This means: ‘To lift a certain content into attention again, for a particular text, as indicated by thought and language.’  Here, it has to be emphasized that ‘re’ signifies ‘again’, i.e. on another occasion.  It evidently implies time and similarity (as well as difference, since each occasion is not only similar but also different).

As pointed out earlier, it then requires and act of perception to see, in each case, whether the content thus ‘lifted again’ fits the observed context or not.  In those cases in which this act of perception reveals a fit, we say: ‘to re-levate is re-levant’ (note that the use of the hyphen is essential here, and that the word should be pronounced with a break, as indicated by the hyphen).  Of course, in those cases in which perception reveals non-fitting we say ‘to re-levate is irre-levant.

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We see, then, that adjectives have been built from the verb as a foot form. Nouns also can be constructed in this way, and they will signify not separate objects but, rather, continuing states of activity of the particular form indicated by the verbs.  Thus, the noun ‘re-levation’ means ‘a continuing state of lifting a given content attention’.

To go on with re-levation when to do so is irre-levant will, however, be called ‘irre-levation’.  In essence, irre-levation implies that there is not proper attention.  When some content is irr-levant, it should normally sooner of later be dropped.  If this does not  happen, then one is, in some sense, not watchful or already.  Thus, irre-levation implies the need to give attention to the fact that there is not proper attention.  Attention to such failure of attention is of course the very act that ends irre-levation.

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Clearly, the above way of using a structure of language form built from a root verb enables us to discuss what is commonly meant by ‘relevance’ in a way that is free of fragmentation, for we are no longer being led, by the form of the language, to consider something called relevance as if it were a separate and fixed quality.  Even more important, we are not establishing a division between what the verb ‘to levate’ means and the actual function that takes place when we use this verb.  That is to say, ‘to levate’ is not only to attend to the thought of lifting an unrestricted content into attention but it is also to engage in the very act of lifting such an unrestricted content into attention.

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The thought is thus not a mere abstraction, with no concrete perception to which it can refer. Rather, something is actually going on which fits the meaning of the word, and one can, at the very moment of using the word, perceive the fit between this meaning ad what is going on.  So the content of thought and its actual function are seen and felt as one, and thus on understand what it can mean for fragmentation to cease, at its very origin.

Evidently, it is possible to generalize this way of building up language forms of that any verb may be taken as the root form.  We shall then say that the rheomode is in essence characterized by this way of using a verb.

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Thus, the rheomode will reveal a certain wholeness, that is not characteristic of the ordinary use of language (though it is there potentially, in the sense that if we start with movement as primary, then we have likewise to say that all movements shade into each other, to merge and interpenetrate).

bohm rheo26 re shinichi pde and music

The movement from division to one-ness of perception through the actions of ordering. (A more detailed discussion of this is given in chapter 5.) For example, a ruler may be divided into inches, but this set of divisions is introduced into our thinking only as a convenient means of expressing a simple sequential order, by which we can communicate and understand something that has bearing on some whole object, which is measured with the aid of such a ruler.

This simple notion of a sequential order, expressed in terms of regular divisions in a line on a scale, helps to direct us in our constructional work, our travels and movements on the surface of the Earth and in space, and in in a wide range of general practical and scientific activities. But, of course, more complex orders are possible, and these have to be expressed in terms of more subtle divisions and categories of thought, which are significant for growth, development and evolution of living beings, the movement of a symphony, the movement is the essence of life itself, etc. These evidently have to be described in different ways that cannot generally be reduced to a description in terms of simple sequential orders.

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Beyond all these orders is that of the movement of attention.  This movement has to have an order that fits the order in that which is to be observed, or else we will miss seeing what is to be seen. For example, if we try to listen to a symphony while our attention is directed mainly to a sequential time order as indicated by a clock, we will fail to listen to the subtle orders that constitute the essential meaning of the music.  Evidently, our ability to perceive and understand is limited by the freedom with which the ordering of attention can change, so as to fit the order that is to be observed.

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Enough has been said of the rheomode at least to indicate in general how it works.  At this point it may, however, be useful to display the overall structure of the rheomode by listing the words that have thus far been used:

Levate, re-levate, re-levant, irre-levant, levation, re-levation, irre-levation.

Vidate, re-vidate, re-vidant, irre-vidation, vidation, re-vidation
Di-vidate, re-dividate, re-dividant, irre-dividant, di-vidation, re-dividation, irre-dividation.

Ordinate, re-ordinate, re-ordinant, irre-ordinant, ordination, re-ordination, irre-ordination.

bohm rheo29 on generalization and construction (and history of it)

It should be noted that the rheomode involves, in the first instance, a new grammatical construction, in which verbs are used in a new way. However, what is further novel in it is that the syntax extends not only to the arrangement of words that may be regarded as already given, but also to a systematic set of rules for the formation of new words.

Of course, such word formation has always gone on in most languages (e.g. ‘relevant’ is built from the root ‘levate’ with the prefix ‘re’ and the suffix ‘ate’ replaced by ‘ant’), but this kind of construction has tended to arise mainly in a fortuitous way, probably as a result of the need to express various useful relationships. In any case, once the words have been put together the prevailing tendency has been to lose sight of the fact that this has happened and to regard each word as an ‘elementary unit’, so that the origin of such words in a construction is, in effect, treated as having no bearing on its meaning. In the rheomode, however, the word construction is not fortuitous, but plays a primary role in making possible a whole new mode of language, while the activity of word construction is continually being brought to our notice  because the meanings depend in an essential way on the forms of such constructions.

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It is perhaps useful here to make a kind of comparison with what has happened in the development of science. As seen in chapter 1 the prevailing scientific world view has generally been  to suppose that, at bottom, everything is to be described in terms of combinations of certain ‘particle’ units, considered to be basic. This attitude is evidently in accord with the prevailing tendency in the ordinary mode of language to treat words as ‘elementary units’ which one supposes, can be combined to express anything whatsoever that is capable of being said.

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New words can, of course, be brought in to enrich discourse in the ordinary mode of language (just as new basic particles can be introduced in physics)but, in the rheomode, on has begun to go further and to treat the construction of words  as not essentially different from the construction of phrases, sentence, paragraphs, etc.  Thus, the ‘atomistic’ attitude to words has been dropped and instead our point of view is rather similar to that of field theory in physics, in which ‘particles’ are only convenient abstractions from the whole movement.  Similarly we may say that language is an undivided field of movement, involving sound, meaning, attention-calling, emotional and muscular reflexes, etc. It is somewhat arbitrary to give the present excessive significance to the breaks between words.  Actually, the relationships between parts of a word may, in general, be of much the same sort as those between different words.  So the word ceases to be taken as an ‘indivisible atom of meaning’ and instead it is seen as no more than a convenient marker in the whole movement of language, neither more nor less  fundamental than the clause, the sentence, the paragraph, the system of paragraphs, etc. (This means that giving attention in this way to the components of words is not primarily an attitude of analysis but, rather, an approach that allows for the unrestricted flow of meaning.)

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Some insight into the meaning of this change of attitude to of words is given by considering language as a particular form of order.  This is to say, language not only calls attention to order.  It is an order of sounds, words, structures of words, nuances of phrase and gesture, etc. Evidently, the meaning of a communication through language depends, in an essential way, on the order that language is.  This order is more like that of a symphony  in that language is. This order is more like that of a symphony in which each aspect and movement has to be understood in light of its relationship to the whole , rather than like the simple sequential order of a clock or a ruler;  and since (as has been pointed out here) the order of sounds within a word is an inseparable aspect of the whole meaning, we can develop rules of grammar and syntax that use this order in a systematic way to enrich and enhance the possibilities of the language for communication and for thinking.

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In the ordinary mode of language,  truth is taken as a noun, which thus stands for something that can be grasped once and for all or which can at least be approached, step by step.  Or else, the possibility of being either true or false may be taken as a property of statements. However, as indicated earlier, truth and falsity have actually, like relevance and irrelevance, to be seen from moment to moment, in an act of perception of a very high order. Thus, the truth or falsity in content of a statement is apprehended by observing whether or not  this content fits a broader content which is indicated either in the statement itself or by some action or gesture (such as pointing) that goes together with the statement.  Moreover, when we come to statements about world views, which have nothing to do with ‘the totality of all that is’, there is no clearly definable context to which they can refer and so we have to emphasize truth in function, i.e. the possibility of free movement and change in our general notions of reality as a whole, so as  to allow for a continual fitting to new experience, going beyond the limits of fitting of older notions of this kind. (See chapters 3 and 7 for a further discussion of this.)

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It is clear, then, that the ordinary mode of language is very unsuitable for discussing question of truth and falsity, because it tends to treat each truth as a separate fragment that is essentially fixed and static in its nature. It will thus be interesting to experiment with the use of the rheomode, to see in what way this can allow us to discuss the question of truth more fittingly and coherently.

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Evidently, this use of the rheomode fits very well with the world view in which apparently static things are likewise seen as abstractions of relatively invariant aspects from an unbroken and undivided whole movement.  However, it goes further in implying that the fact about such things is itself abstracted as just that relatively constant aspect of the whole movement appearing in perception and experienced in action, which ‘stands together’ in a continuing state, and which is thus suitable for communication in that form of a statement.

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In seeing (as pointed out in the previous section)  that the rheomode does not allow us to discuss the observed fact in terms of separately existent things of an essentially static nature, we are led to note that the use of the rheomode has implications for our general world view. Indeed, as has already been brought out to some extent, every language form carries a kind of dominant or prevailing world view, which tends to function in our thinking and in our perception whenever it is used, so that to give a clear expression of a world view contrary to the one implied in the primary structure of a language is usually very difficult. It is therefore necessary in the study of any general language form to give serious and sustained attention to its world view, both in content and in function.

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As indicated earlier, one of the major defects of the ordinary mode of using language is just its general implication it is not restricting the world view in any way at all, and that in any case questions of the world view have to do only with ‘ones’s own particular philosophy’, rather than with the content and function of our language, or with the way in which we tend to experience the overall reality in which we live. By thus making us believe that our world view is only a relatively unimportant matter, perhaps involving mainly one’s personal taste or choice,  the ordinary mode of language leads us to fail to give attention to the actual function of the divisive world view that pervades this mode, so that the automatic and habitual operation of our thought and language is then able to project these divisions (in the manner discussed earlier) as if they were actual fragmentary breaks in the nature of ‘what is’.

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It is thus essential to be aware of the world view implied in each form of language, and to be watchful and alert, to be ready to see when this world view ceases to fit actual observation and experience as these are extended beyond certain limits.

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It has become evident in this chapter that the world view implied in the rheomode is in essence that described in the first chapter, which is expressed by saying that all is an unbroken and undivided whole movement, and that each ‘thing’ is abstracted only  as a relatively invariant side or aspect of this movement.  It is clear, therefore, that the rheomode implies a world view quite different from that of the usual structure.  More specifically, we see that the mere act of seriously considering such a new mode of language and observing how it works can help draw our attention to the way in which our ordinary language structure puts strong and subtle pressures on us to hold to a fragmentary world view.  Whether it would be useful to go further, however, and to try to introduce the rheomode into active usage, it is not possible to say at present, though perhaps some such development may eventually be found to be helpful.


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