Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thought is a material reality

Time-space-process. Absolute time-space, relative time-space, relational time-space. I have thrown this passage up as a placeholder for further thought and inquiry. I am not certain that I agree with Harvey’s sorting of different time-spaces, but I am convinced that he is correct in claiming that materialism necessarily entails a thought that attends to time, space, and process. There are key issues here that converge nicely with N.Pepperell’s own luminiously emerging project, pertaining to questions of self-reflexivity and emergence.
It is not enough to simply treat things in the world in terms of process, time, and space. No, if one is genuinely a materialist, then thought itself is subject to exactly these same principles. Thought is a material reality. It produces effects. It is a process. It has its geography. As a result, questions of self-reflexivity emerge. In short, we must avoid exempting concepts from these criteria, but must instead grope after the material a priori surrounding the emergence of different concepts, their history, their geography, and their processes, and the processes they spawn in the social field. These remarks are pointers for questions I need to work through. Thu 3 May 2007 Clarifying Observations on Space-Time Processes Posted by larvalsubjects under Marx , dialectic , Materialism , Relation , Networks , Emergence , Uncategorized

When we neither know science nor religion

Re: 15: He saw a world that is from a world to be by RY Deshpande on Tue 26 Jun 2007 04:10 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link The evolutionary scale
Mixing up of the occult-esoteric and the rational-scientific has caused great harm to us, without realising that their truths belong to different orders of understanding, different domains of approach, each having its own instruments of knowledge, they yielding corresponding results. The worst is the genuine and luminous occult has been hijacked by the fundamentalist dogma imposed on the credulous. It is imperative that these discoveries should be seen in the respective contexts and should not be taken out of them, nor can they be imposed on others.
The operations of reason have their own merit, but in its own boundaries; the discoveries of faith belong to another category and it is a mistake to think that they can be universalised, being subjective in nature. Even today the Biblical ideas about the ancestry of man and the proposals of the biological sciences, always provisional in their character, are at war with each other even in progressive countries like the US where some of the States have legally banned them. This is unfortunate, particularly so when we neither know science nor religion. The hope lies in transcending both. RYD

A similar allegory using today’s symbols would replace the cave with a movie theater

Idealism states that mind or consciousness constitutes the fundamental reality, or is primary. Some versions of idealism admit the existence of material objects, others deny that material objects exist independently of human perception.
Anaximander (Greek philosopher, c. 611 BC - c. 547 BC) may have been the first idealist philosopher. Only one fragment of his writing has been preserved, but he seems to have thought that the original and primary substance (which could be mind) is a boundless something from which all things arise and to which they all return. He was struck by the fact that the world presents us with a series of opposites, of which the most primary are hot and cold, wet and dry. He thought of these opposites as being "separated out" from a substance which was originally undifferentiated.
Plato (Greek philosopher, c. 428 BC - c. 348 BC) is often considered the first idealist philosopher, chiefly because of his metaphysical doctrine of Forms. Plato considered the universal Idea or Form, sometimes called an archetype--for example, redness or goodness--more real than a particular expression of the form--a red object or a good deed. According to Plato, the world of changing experience is unreal, and the Idea or Form--which does not change and which can be known only by reason--constitutes true reality. Plato did not recognize mystical experience as a route to true reality, only reason.
Idealism was first expounded by Plato in his cave allegory in The Republic (c. 360 BC) (see, e.g., Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic,1981, p. 252). The cave is a metaphor for the mind. Prisoners are in an underground cave with a fire behind them, bound so they can see only the shadows on the wall in front of them, cast by puppets manipulated behind them. They think that this is all there is to see; if released from their bonds and forced to turn around to the fire and the puppets, they become bewildered and are happier left in their original state. They are even angry with anyone who tries to tell them how pitiful their position is. Only a few can bear to realize that the shadows are only shadows cast by the puppets; and they begin the journey of liberation that leads past the fire and right out of the cave into the real world. At first they are dazzled there, and can bear to see real objects only in reflection and indirectly, but then they can look at them directly in the light of the sun, and can even look at the sun itself.
This allegory is related to idealism in the following way. The cave is the mind. The shadows of the puppets that the prisoners are watching represent their taking over, in unreflective fashion, the second-hand opinions and beliefs that are given to them by parents, society, and religion. The puppets themselves represent the mechanical, unreasoning minds of the prisoners. The light of the fire within the cave provides only partial, distorted illumination from the imprisoned intellects. Liberation begins when the few who turn around get up and go out of the cave. Outside of the cave, the real objects (the Forms) are those in the transcendental realm. In order to see them, the light of the sun, which represents pure reason, is necessary. A similar allegory using today’s symbols would replace the cave with a movie theater, the shadows with the pictures on the screen, the puppets with the film, and the fire with the projector light. The sun is outside, and we must leave the theater to see its light (we must leave the mind).
The eighteenth century British philosopher George Berkeley (1685 - 1753) was one of the major exponents of idealism. He denied the existence of material substance (calling his philosophy immaterialism), and held that the universe consists of God, which is the infinite spirit; of finite spirits including human beings; of ideas that exist only in the minds of spirits; and of nothing else. His most characteristic philosophical doctrine is summarized in the expression "to be is to be perceived." In other words, to say that a material object exists is to say that it is seen, heard, or otherwise perceived by a mind. Since Berkeley assumed that material objects exist without human minds to perceive them, the mind that perceives them must be divine rather than human.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) expounded a form of idealism that he called transcendental idealism. He believed that there is a reality that is independent of human minds (the noumenon, or thing-in-itself), but that is forever unknowable to us. All of our experience, including the experience of our empirical selves (the phenomenon, or thing-as-it-appears), depends on the activity of a transcendental self, also of which we can know nothing.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, also a German philosopher (1770 - 1831), built on the idealist philosophy of Kant, and called his system absolute idealism. He believed that reality is Absolute Mind, Reason, or Spirit. This Mind is universal, while each individual mind is an aspect of it, as is the consciousness and rational activity of each person. Absolute Mind continually develops itself in its quest for its own unification and actualization. For this purpose, it manifests itself as the subjective consciousness of the individual, who undergoes a rational process of development from a purely materialistic and self-centered state to a universal and rational consciousness. In this process, the individual passes through several phases--family, society, state--each of which represents a move from individualism to unity. Human history in general is the progressive move from bondage to freedom. Such freedom is achieved only as the separate desires of the individual are overcome and integrated into the unified system of the state, in which the will of the individual is replaced by the will of all.
The forms of idealism described above were all formulated by Western philosophers, who almost exclusively depended on rational thought to develop their philosophies. They scarcely took account of the many forms of Eastern philosophy, which are heavily dependent on mystical experience. Furthermore, there was very little recognition of the theories and knowledge that science was developing from the 17th century on.

Friday, June 15, 2007

In the “Transcendental Aesthetic,” Kant does not altogther adhere to this dualism of form and matter

Kant starts out with the Humean assumption of a complete atomism of subjective sensations, “the radical disconnection of impressions qua data” from one another (PR 113). For Hume adheres to what Whitehead calls the sensationalist principle: the idea “that the primary activity in the act of experience is the bare subjective entertainment of the datum, devoid of any subjective form of reception” (157). Kant’s aim, in the Critique of Pure Reason, is to avoid the skeptical consequences of Hume’s position by rejecting this sensationalist principle. He seeks to show how the chaos of “mere sensation” can be ordered, or its elements connected, in a more stable and satisfactory way than Hume is able to accomplish with his appeal to mere habit.
In the “Transcendental Logic,” Kant does this in what Whitehead regards as an overly intellectualistic way. Kant appeals to what Whitehead calls “the higher of the human modes of functioning” (113), ignoring the more basic and primordial modes of sensation and perception. That is to say, Kant takes a cognitive approach, rather than an affective one. He also presupposes a dualism of form and matter, according to which materiality, or the “sensible” (that which can be apprehended by the senses alone), is passive, inert, and intrinsically shapeless, and that it can only be organized by an intelligibleform that is imposed upon it from the outside, or from above. In Kant’s account, the understanding, with its Categories, imposes a conceptual order upon an otherwise disconnected and featureless flux of individual impressions.
But in the “Transcendental Aesthetic,” Kant does not altogther adhere to this dualism of form and matter. He does indeed say that space and time are the “pure forms” of perception, and “sensation as such is its matter” (CPR 95). But his discussion also bears the traces of a different logic. Because time and space are not categories or concepts, they do not relate to their objects in the way that the forms of logical intelligibility (“causation, substance, quality, quantity”) do. They are not organizing principles actively imprinted upon an otherwise shapeless and disorganized matter. Rather, space and time are themselves effectively “passive,” since they are modes of receptivity rather than spontaneity. Kant says that sensibility or receptivity “remains as different as day and night from cognition of the object in itself”; rather than being cognitive, sensibility has to do with “the appearance of something, and the way we are affected by that something” (CPR 96; italics added). And this is the crucial point.
Even though the “thing in itself” is cognitively unknowable, nevertheless it affects us. And by conveying and expressing “the way we are affected,” space and time establish immanent connections among objects, and especially between the object and the subject. These affective connections are already given in the very course of any experience of spatialization and temporalization. In the “Transcendental Aesthetic,” there is no problem of formlessness, or of disconnected impressions; and therefore there is no need to impose the Categories of understanding from above, in order to give these impressions form, or to yoke them together. As Whitehead puts it, in such a process of feeling “the datum includes its own interconnections” (PR 113). This entry was posted on Thursday, June 14th, 2007 at 1:19 pm and is filed under Theory

Steven Shaviro is the DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University. He writes about process philosophy, film and music video, and science fiction. He blogs at The Pinocchio Theory.

Update: My very brief account of speculative realism is now finally online, both in English and in Spanish translation: 

Modern Western philosophy – at least since Immanuel Kant published his “Critique of Pure Reason” in 1781 – has tended to privilege epistemology over ontology. Ontology is concerned with the nature of being, with defining, on the most basic level, what is. Epistemology, in contrast, is concerned with how we know whatever it is that we know. It scrutinizes the grounds and limits of our ability to know the world. To say that epistemology must come before ontology is simply to point out that, in order to make assertions about what the world is like, we must be able to give grounds for these assertions, to explain how we can know that they are true. Kant observed that the philosophy of his time was unable to provide such grounds. Either it was dogmatic, claiming to discover metaphysical necessity by pure logical deduction, untethered to observation or empirical evidence; or else it was sceptical, grounded in empirical facts and in subjective experience, but unable to generalize beyond these particular facts and that immediate experience. Against both of these tendencies, Kant insisted that philosophy must start by scrutinizing, and thereby accounting for, its own foundations. If it failed to do this, and instead launched directly into metaphysical speculation, then only nonsense would result. For Kant, and for most philosophers ever since, we can only claim to know something (rather than just believing something blindly) when we can explain how we have come to know it, and what justifies our claims that it is true. More at 

Thursday, June 14, 2007

From Whitehead to Analytical philosophy to Wittgenstein to the Upanishads to Sri Aurobindo to Ramana Maharshi

A philosopher, his life of the mind and heart MRINAL MIRI Indian Express: Thursday, June 14, 2007
New Delhi, June 13: Ramchandra Gandhi, perhaps the most brilliant mind I have known in my life, passed away in his sleep at the India International Centre on Wednesday...Ramu’s first degree was in Physics; he then took a Master’s in Philosophy from St Stephen’s College and a D.Phil from Oxford. At Oxford, he worked with Professor P F Strawson, one of 20th century’s most distinguished philosophers. Ramu’s philosophical quest took him from Whitehead to British analytical philosophy to Ludwig Wittgenstein to the Upanishads to Sri Aurobindo and finally to Ramana Maharshi.
The abiding underlying thread of his philosophical thought is that all existence is saturated with the Self and that this is the true foundation of the ethical life. Ramu was an inspirational teacher. A brilliant wielder of language — whether English or Hindi — he could give a totally unexpected turn to an argument or introduce a remarkable change of perspective with an incredibly imaginative use of a word or a sentence. This used to happen fairly frequently during the course of a lecture or conversation and it never failed to leave his listeners pleasantly awed by his wonderful power over language... Mrinal Miri was vice-chancellor of Northeastern Hill University, Shillong, and is member of the National Advisory Council

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Althusser saw persons as nothing more than supports of the ideological state apparatus

Desiring-machines are always binary machines, which is to say they are machines that function by effecting a cut, break, or interruption in a material flow. In this regard, bodies are always attached to the world in such a way that we cannot think of self-enclosed minds or cultural spaces that do not already open on to the whole of nature. One need only think of the opening pages of Blanchot’s Thomas the Obscure to see this point...
One of the predominant strains in contemporary social thought has been the implicit assumption that the agent is simply a passive clay or material to which social structures and systems give form like a cookie cutter shapes dough. The exemplar of this sort of theorizing would be Louis Althusser, who saw persons as nothing more than supports of the ideological state apparatus, but this thesis is more or less shared by Lacan, Zizek, Badiou, and Ranciere. It is for this reason that they must seek out some empty place or void within social structure or the signifying chain– not unlike Levi-Strauss’ “mana-signifier” –to account for how some minimal agency contrary to structure might be possible. After all, even the neo-structuralists must acknowledge that change does take place and subjects never quite seem to fit structure.
Yet what this entire line of thought assumes– without ever explicitly stating it –is that agents are receptive to social structure without remainder. How else could we account for Zizek’s claims about the ideology of toilets? Analysis of the in-form-ation of information might yield a very different line of thought and open a very different set of possibilities where agency is concerned. Fri 8 Jun 2007 Refractions of Lars Posted by larvalsubjects under Immanence , Lars Watch , Individuation , Information