Media Studies and Realism: A response to Levi Bryant
July 22, 2009 tags: Atari , books , philosophy , writing
In a lengthy comment on my pragmatic speculative realism post, philosopher Levi Bryant asks what issues in technology and media studies prompted my interest in object-oriented ontology... Ian Bogost
Chalk it up to C.P. Snow's two cultures problem if you'd like, but it's undeniable that few successful humanities scholars possess both experience with and interest in matters of science and technology—practical matters that would allow them to theorize smartly about such topics. Even in Science and Technology Studies (STS), it is common to hold the actual science and technology somewhat at arms length in order to focus on the human aspects of its use, and the "policiing" of that practice.
Here again I find myself agreeing with Levi:
Here, I think, the charge of "technological determinism" is rather stupid and reactionary. The point isn't that technology determines particular social phenomena, but that it plays an organizing role.
In an interview with Paul Ennis that appeared the day following Levi's comments, Graham Harman notes that Marshall McLuhan is not taken as seriously as he should be, as a philosopher. Perhaps part of my dissatisfation with cultural studies in general and game studies in particular can be summarized by a simple pointer to McLuhan: the properties of a medium really do matter, and thinking that attending to them amounts to technological determinism is a perverted and backward mistruth.
It seems that the objections raised here to Kaufman's book are similar in kind to the ones brought up in Proust was a Neuroscientist. Namely that the 3rd Culture (aka C.P. Snow's 1959 essay on bridging of the humanities and the sciences) thus far has been mostly composed of scientific writers who rather than actually building bridges between disciplines, have ultimately reduced the dialog to a one way street.
In the case of Kauffman however emergence has replaced reductionism as a description and metaphor. Although the principles of emergence itself are still somewhat incomplete I do find them somewhat more of promising a paradigm to begin a "cross-cultural" conversation. But it would be certainly interesting to explore other communicative platforms malleable enough to hold an authentic dialog. Reply
Rich, I'm glad you contextualized this discussion within the cultural history of C.P. Snow's 1959 essay on The Two Cultures. It shows the continuing dominance of "Science" as the hegemonic modern discourse. And I agree that here, that being the case, attempts such as Kauffman's could be considered "more promising" as a "paradigm for a cross-cultural conversation." DB Reply
Rich, your saying that "the principles of emergence itself are still somewhat incomplete" reminds me of the frequent euphemism "something is not yet completely understood" which does duty for "something is not understood at all." To understand emergence, one has to understand Sri Aurobindo's concepts of involution and evolution. Reply
I see. Most of these thinkers seem to be blocked by the "necessary and sufficient" criteria of materialism, and thus obliged to come up with descriptions which don't necessitate the assumption or priority of consciousness.
In his chapter on "The Philosophy of Rebirth" and its succeeding chapters in the Life Divine (and in several other places - we are presently going through these chapters in our Skype study, that is why I am reminded of them), Sri Aurobindo takes up a variety of arguments (including ones such as Kauffman's) and ends up with a divine Person and his self-conceptive act of infinite fragmentation and involution that originates and initiates the re-membrance of "evolving emergence" and the flowering of the play of souls in a temporality of progressive consciousness.
By the time he gets to his description, one has a bird's eye view of the entire terrain of possibilities and why they fail to be adequate - neither a "creative Materialism" nor an intelligent Becoming without an independent Conscious Being at its origin, nor even a Conscious Being without Personhood can suffice to explain the emergence of the grades of consciousness in Matter and the reversal in the equation of cosmos and individual implied by the appearance of human will, creativity, consciousness and aesthetic and ethical sense and idealism.
In both, the cosmos and the individual, and in all individuals, the self-exploration of the "infinite Person" proceeds temporally and perpetually towards the enduring vindication of its identity, immortal and integral, yet radically different (in its infinity) in each, at play in a self-conscious universe. DB Reply
Bachelard is among the most influential philosophers of the transition from modern to postmodern Francophone philosophy. His work spans the gamut of modern thought yet retains the quality of an eclectic mystic philosophy predating the age of specialization. Apart from the Philosophy of Science, which has been highlighted in this introduction, what he has left as an even more importanrt legacy, imo, are his wide-ranging writings on the imagination.
Of particular significance here and still replete with untapped fertility, are his works on the Imagination of Matter, which he develops in terms of a psychology of the elements (as excerpted here) - earth, water, air, fire and space/ether. This aspect of his work edges in the direction of the mysticism of the elements touched on by Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo's physics of the elements stretches across the spectrum through material, vital, mental and spiritual potencies of manifestation for each of the same. In both these cases, what these phenomenologies of the elements inaugurate are a new Physis - or a postmodern recovery project of ancient substance-knowledge - where the objectification of Matter is sought to be overcome by the recognition of its place in the ontology of the imaginary, no less real in its practical effects, in fact far more so in its reintegrated subjective-objective wholeness. Such a new Physis challenges the epistemology of modernity. DB Reply
Here's where the Integral Yoga demands a framework of comparative hermeneutics to extend its perception if it is to arrive at a universal epistemology. A universal epistemology cannot be a monolithic metaphysics but a burgeoning cross-cultural dialog. Bachelard's "reverie" can map interestingly into Sri Arobindo's phenomenology of knowledge. "Aurobindonians" who remain stuck in the vocabulary of Sri Aurobindo too readily dismiss any such alternate formulations as irrelevant, but in the process deny themselves the benefit of a practical approach to certain possibilities of consciousness as well of course of the sheer poetic delight of a mystic enjoyment.
To dismiss as irrelevant other epistemologies without appreciating the local context they emerge from and the historical gestalt that backgrounds them is a movement of consciousness toward small mindedness. Its also an occasion for spiritual chauvinism when this is accompanied by a smugness in exhorting the superiority of ones own belief system. Profoundly anti-integral this movement of consciousness doxa, ad hoc dismisses other forms of knowing because they do not conform to the categorical structure of the system they have learned or memorized. At its worst this is also a form of epistemological imperialism that obliterates reaching an integral understanding in asserting its mental mapping of spirituality onto the territory of all other ways of knowing. Reply
Well put. In most such cases a second order mental reality comes to take the place of the phenomenology of consciousness, leading to a metaphysical imprisonment which validates itself in propaganda and fanaticism. Reply