Sunday, June 29, 2008

The error is to make an unbridgeable gulf between God and man, Brahman and the world

Mind can conceive with precision divisions as real; it can conceive a synthetic totality or the finite extending itself indefinitely; it can grasp aggregates of divided things and the samenesses underlying them; but the ultimate unity and absolute infinity are to its conscience of things abstract notions and unseizable quantities, not something that is real to its grasp, much less something that is alone real. Here is therefore the very opposite term to the unitarian consciousness; we have, confronting the essential and indivisible unity, an essential multiplicity which cannot arrive at unity without abolishing itself and in the very act confessing that it could never really have existed. Yet it was; for it is this that has found unity and abolished itself. And again we have a reductio ad absurdum repeating the violent paradox which seeks to convince thought by stunning it and the irreconciled and irreconcilable antithesis.

The difficulty, in its lower term, disappears if we realise that Mind is only a preparatory form of our consciousness. Mind is an instrument of analysis and synthesis, but not of essential knowledge. Its function is to cut out something vaguely from the unknown Thing in itself and call this measurement or delimitation of it the whole, and again to analyse the whole into its parts which it regards as separate mental objects. It is only the parts and accidents that the Mind can see definitely and, after its own fashion, know. Of the whole its only definite idea is an assemblage of parts or a totality of properties and accidents. The whole not seen as a part of something else or in its own parts, properties and accidents is to the mind no more than a vague perception; only when it is analysed and put by itself as a separate constituted object, a totality in a larger totality, can Mind say to itself, “This now I know.”

And really it does not know. It knows only its own analysis of the object and the idea it has formed of it by a synthesis of the separate parts and properties that it has seen. There its characteristic power, its sure function ceases, and if we would have a greater, a profounder and a real knowledge,—a knowledge and not an intense but formless sentiment such as comes sometimes to certain deep but inarticulate parts of our mentality,—Mind has to make room for another consciousness which will fulfil Mind by transcending it or reverse and so rectify its operations after leaping beyond it: the summit of mental knowledge is only a vaulting-board from which that leap can be taken. The utmost mission of Mind is to train our obscure consciousness which has emerged out of the dark prison of Matter, to enlighten its blind instincts, random intuitions, vague perceptions till it shall become capable of this greater light and this higher ascension. Mind is a passage, not a culmination... [Page-127]

The first business of Mind is to render “discrete”, to make fissures much more than to discern, and so it has made this paralysing fissure between thought and reality. But in Supermind all being is consciousness, all consciousness is of being, and the idea, a pregnant vibration of consciousness, is equally a vibration of being pregnant of itself; it is an initial coming out, in creative self-knowledge, of that which lay concentrated in uncreative self-awareness. It comes out as Idea that is a reality, and it is that reality of the Idea which evolves itself, always by its own power and consciousness of itself, always self-conscious, always self-developing by the will inherent in the Idea, always self-realising by the knowledge ingrained in its every impulsion. This is the truth of all creation, of all evolution.

In Supermind being, consciousness of knowledge and consciousness of will are not divided as they seem to be in our mental operations; they are a trinity, one movement with three effective aspects. Each has its own effect. Being gives the effect of substance, consciousness the effect of knowledge, of the self-guiding and shaping idea, of comprehension and apprehension; will gives the effect of self-fulfilling force. But the idea is only the light of the reality illumining itself; it is not mental thought nor imagination, but effective self-awareness. It is Real-Idea.

In Supermind knowledge in the Idea is not divorced from will in the Idea, but one with it—just as it is not different from being or substance, but is one with the being, luminous power of the substance. As the power of burning light is not different from the substance of the fire, so the power of the Idea is not different from the substance of the Being which works itself out in the Idea and its development... [Page-129] Location: Home > E-Library > Works Of Sri Aurobindo > English > The Life Divine Volume-18 > The Supermind As Creator [6:41 PM]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why bad things happen to good people

Current reading — Seneca, Moral Essays, vol 1 from The Daily Goose by Matthew

Seneca is among the most well-known Stoic philosophers. He is also rightly considered a Grammarian — one who attempts to discern, organize, and elucidate the basic principles at the heart of the human condition. I have just started his first volume of Moral Essays.

I decided to read Seneca because having absorbed more of Marshall McLuhan’s doctoral dissertation for Cambridge University, called The Classical Trivium, a tract that persuasively argues that the arena of the Humanities, past and present, would greatly benefit from complete overhaul in favor of a system that sees it as one of arguments between Grammarians, Dialecticians, and Rhetoricians (and a system sympatico with ancient wisdom and learning), it was clear that Seneca’s works are simply must-know material. Which would surprise no one with even a passing familiarity with Seneca.

And see here, how the first of his Moral Essays is called “On Providence” and takes up the problem of why bad things happen to good people. I immediately think of The Book of Job, and connect immediately that it and Seneca’s first essay are in conversation. If there isn’t a high school or college Humanities course that close-reads both works, and compares their insights and arguments, there damn well should be. But, if not, who needs college when we can do this ourselves on our own time. And, as fine artists, do up something aesthetic of what we find and reflect.

I have an immense childish enthusiasm for the history of philosophy

Home Interviews Fiction Flash Fiction Poetry Music Criticism Nonfiction Opinions Blog This is an article from 3:AM Magazine. Click here for the front page.
Dead Philosophers Society: An Interview With Simon Critchley
By Andrew Gallix.

3:AM: Did the idea for The Book of Dead Philosophers come from the Montaigne quote you use as an epigraph? Was that the first spark?
SC: It was one of the first sparks. As so often happens in writing, it was a coincidence: a close friend sent me that quotation from Montaigne just as I was rereading the latter’s “To philosophie is to learne how to die” in Florio’s florid translation. Montaigne is really the hero of the book and I love his suspicion of suspicion, his skepticism and the deeply personal quality of his prose, which is never narcissistic. It is ourselves that we find in Montaigne, not him. But I suppose that’s a narcissistic thing to say.
3:AM: Commenting on another passage from Montaigne, you state that “The denial of death is self-hatred”. This reminded me of Dostoevsky’s Kirilov who attempts to defeat God by committing suicide. His rationale is that, in order to negate transcendence, Man must learn to love himself for what he is and must therefore embrace his own finitude — desire his own death. (One could wonder if the espousal of death isn’t a form of self-love?) Your own conclusion — “Accepting one’s mortality…means accepting one’s limitation” — isn’t that far removed from Kirilov’s way of thinking, is it?
SC: It is very similar to Kirilov and you are right to point that out. I think I wrote about Kirilov somewhere, maybe in Very Little…Almost Nothing. If the denial of death is self-hatred, as it is to deny our freedom and live in fear of death (which is to say, to live in a form of bondage), then the acceptance and affirmation of death is indeed a form of self-love. But I’d want to make a distinction between a form of self-love which is essential to what it means to be human, and a narcissism of self-regard, like Rousseau’s distinction between amour de soi and amour propre, self-love and pride.
3:AM: You remind us that Socrates’ last words “articulate the view that death is the cure for life”. This idea that life is a kind of disease to be cured through extinction is key to the likes of Schopenhauer, Leopardi, Beckett and Cioran. Do you agree that there’s a kind of lineage here?
SC: I am hugely attracted to the idea of life as a mistake, as a kind of natural error for which we try and find some metaphysical assurance or consolation. This is the core of Schopenhauer’s dark comic genius. It attracts me because it is based on the idea of life as rooted in an experience of contingency, physical contingency, which we forget and convert into various forms of necessity. I do see a lineage from forms of ancient skepticism and cynicism through Schopenhauer and into figures like Beckett and Cioran. One of the peculiar features of The Book of Dead Philosophers is that I simultaneously play on a number of different and contradictory tendencies in the history of the last few thousand years: cynicism, skepticism, Epicureanism, primitive Christianity, occasionalism, rationalism. The fragmentary form of the book allows me to move across and through a number of different philosophical registers. It is so ridiculous to limit oneself to one version of the truth.
3:AM: I’ve always felt that the rise of the writer/artist as alter deus that accompanied the secularisation of many European countries led to the spread of a kind of death wish in literature and the arts (culminating with people like Arthur Cravan and Jacques Rigaut). My theory is that many writers/artists believed the hype and were so frustrated when they realised that godlike, ex nihilo creation eluded them that they turned to destruction. Is (to paraphrase Bakunin) the urge to destroy also a creative one (or, as Larkin put it: “Beneath it all, desire of oblivion runs”)?
SC: I completely agree: one of the outcomes of Romanticism for me is the idea of the writer as imago dei without a deus where art becomes a Promethean creation ex nihilo. I think this tradition also inspired a related Promethean tendency is politics, from the ‘nihilism’ of Nechaev, through to Lenin’s Bolshevism and Marinetti’s futurism. It’s the tradition of what I call “active nihilism“. I criticize this tradition heavily in a number of places, but only because it is so compelling.
3:AM: Wouldn’t you agree that the “fantasies of infantile omnipotence” you hope will disappear through an acceptance of our “limitedness” are often at the root of great art and literature?
SC: Sure. Much of literature in what we might call its rigorously Hegeliano-Sadist development is about the dream of infantile omnipotence which is rooted in the idea that the artist is like Adam in the Garden of Eden, baptizing things into existence through nomination. I don’t think that this tradition can simply be eliminated or overcome, but it should be contrasted with what Blanchot calls “the second slope” of literature, which is concerned with allowing things to be in their irreducible materiality. This is what I think of as the Levinasiano-Stevensian (if that’s an adjective) succession. This is the sort of materialism that Tom McCarthy and I have experimented with in the writing we have done together on Joyce, Shakespeare and others.
3:AM: Some think that art and literature are predicated on what Eluard called “le dur désir de durer” (the painful desire to last) — a desire you don’t seem to keen on…
SC: No, I am perfectly happy with the idea of literature as le dur désir de durer and would want to put the virtue of endurance at the core of much that I think about. But that is not the same as denying one’s mortality. On the contrary, I think.
3:AM: The Book of Dead Philosophers has lofty ambitions. You set out to write “a history of philosophers” as opposed to “a history of philosophy” in the teleological mould. In effect, you are defending a specific conception of philosophy against another…
SC: Yes, I am against the idea of the history of philosophy as a history of systems that can be arranged in a certain logical and historical order, such as one finds in Hegel or Heidegger. It is one of the many aspects of being deluded by the idea of progress (Hegel) or even the idea of regress (Heidegger). I am opposing it with an idea of the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers, that is, a history of mortal, fragile and limited creatures like you and I. I am against the idea of clean, clearly distinct epochs in the history of philosophy or indeed in anything else. I think that history is always messy, contingent, plural and material. I am against the constant revenge of idealism in how we think about history.
3:AM: You praise the “ideal of the philosophical death”: what exactly do you mean by that?
SC: The idea of the philosophical death is the core teaching of philosophy in antiquity from Socrates and Epicurus onwards: we can go to our death freely and without fear having given up the consolation of any belief in an afterlife. As Wittgenstein says, is some problem solved by the idea of my living forever? Of course not. It is, however, difficult to fully and completely renounce any idea of the afterlife.
3:AM: You write that “Death is the last great taboo” and question the unthinking belief in ever-increasing longevity: are we turning into a race of Struldbruggs?
SC: Absolutely. I think we are turning into a world of Struldbruggs. That is all I saw last year in Los Angeles last year when writing the book: bloody botoxed suntanned Struldbruggs. To that extent, I completely agree with Swift. The flip-side of his seeming misanthropy is an affirmation of virtue.
3:AM: Your book also has a self-help quality (to “begin to enable us to face the reality of our death”) — aren’t you afraid of being accused of having done an Alain de Botton?
SC: No comment. My problem with self-help is that I don’t think there is a self to help. The self is something that we become through a series of acts.
3:AM: Don’t you think your attempt to bring philosophers closer to us (”It is in the odd details of a philosopher’s life that they become accessible to us”) runs the risk of being seen as a little reactionary — the equivalent of basing an interpretation of a novel on its author’s life?
SC: It is profoundly reactionary. Absolutely. I’ve turned into some sort of dreadful cultural conservative. No, but seriously, I am not engaging in some sort of biographical reductionism and I loathe such tendencies in relation to literature. I am reacting – and perhaps over-reacting – to an allergy to biography in relation to philosophy and philosophers. Also, much of the biographical information in the book is highly dubious and all the more interesting for that reason.
3:AM: In The Guardian you were recently described as having “found a vocation in teaching philosophy, although [your] passions still lie in music, poetry and politics”. Are you less passionate about philosophy? And how did you end up at university by “complete accident”?
SC: Yes, I don’t know where The Guardian found that stuff, but maybe I said something similar in another interview. The truth is actually much worse and would have to include sob stories about years at catering college, working in factories, a series of industrial accidents and even a year and a half as a lifeguard. I did not mean to suggest that I am less passionate about philosophy than I was. On the contrary, I have an immense childish enthusiasm for the history of philosophy and for what is going on right now and remain stupidly optimistic. The thing is that after leaving school with one ‘O’ level, I played in bands for some years, then became a poet before going to an FE college in Stevenage where someone said that I should apply to university. The thought had never previously crossed my mind. Something to do with social class, no doubt.
3:AM: On the subject of music, please tell us about the “large number of punk bands” you played in. Does that period still resonate as it does with so many of us?
SC: Punk was the crucible out of which my paltry subjectivity was formed. My years watching bands and performing in bands allowed me the imaginative space to try and conceive of a life a little different from what I was meant to do. It was a relentlessly affirmative nihilism. Of course, this was sheer luck. I was born in 1960, and so I was 16 when punk began to happen just down the road in London. Suddenly I found myself at the edge of the world’s centre. And it was because of punk that I began reading Burroughs, Bataille and the Situationists. It was also the time when I became politicized through Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. My bands had silly names: The Social Class Five, Panic, The Fur Coughs (who became The Bleach Boys*, I thought of that name) and The Good Blokes. I still mess around with music and have done a lot of work with my oldest friend, John Simmons. I think it is somewhere on YouTube.
[* See their current website]
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWERAndrew Gallix is 3:AM Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. He writes fiction as well as non-fiction, teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris and lives his life like a string of beads tossed from a frilly New Orleans balcony (mainly in his dreams). He is not currently working on his debut novel. First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, June 26th, 2008.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sri Aurobindo articulated what could be considered a truly post-metaphysical vision

Dr. Don Salmon, a clinical psychologist and composer, received a grant from the Infinity Foundation to write a comprehensive study of yoga psychology based on the synthesis of the yoga tradition presented by 20th century Indian philosopher-sage Aurobindo Ghose. Jan Maslow, an educator and organizational consultant, has, with Dr. Salmon, given presentations, classes and workshops in the United States and India on this topic. Both have been studying yoga psychology for more than 25 years. Read more... .

INTEGRAL PSYCHOLOGYBEYOND WILBER-V Inviting Open-Minded Skepticism of the Materialist View Integral World
Don Salmon

I believe in science, and I am confident that a science that can boldly contemplate the origin of the universe, the nature of physical reality 10-33 seconds after the Big Bang, anthropic principles, quantum nonlocality, and parallel universes, can come to terms with the implications of parapsychological findings — whatever they may turn out to be.... True skepticism involves the suspension of belief, not disbelief. In this context, we would do well to recall the words of the great nineteenth century naturalist and skeptic, Thomas Huxley: "Sit down before fact like a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly to wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads or you shall learn nothing." -- Charles Honorton, from his essay, "Rhetoric Over Substance: The Impoverished State of Skepticism"

In a recent essay for Integral World, "The Challenge of Writing about Sri Aurobindo's Integral Psychology", I described how my wife, Jan, and I attempted to show, in a book we co-authored on yoga psychology, that there is no fundamental conflict between the actual findings of contemporary science and the various so-called "metaphysical" phenomena associated with the yoga tradition — phenomena such as rebirth, direct mind-to-mind communication, etc. For those of you who haven't seen that article, here is a brief recap. I've also attempted in the conclusion of this paper to bring out what was implicit in the previous essay: my understanding that the non-materialist aspects of yoga psychology are not only essential, but provide the foundation for a truly integral psychology.[1]
Our ultimate aim in suggesting the compatibility between science and yoga is to encourage a greater willingness to seriously consider the yogic view — namely, that, as Sri Aurobindo writes, "Consciousness is the fundamental thing in the universe — it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates that universe and all that is in it." We hoped that readers who were reluctant to consider a view they believed to be at odds with science might be more willing to explore it if they felt there was no conflict. For this reason, we include two chapters in our book challenging assumptions underlying the notion that materialism (or "physicalism," as it is now referred to) is the fundamental basis of scientific endeavor. In the second of these chapters, we examine parapsychological (psi) research, the results of which seem to suggest the possibility of a reality that is compatible with a yogic vision. (Note, we do not claim that psi research proves this.)
Once we challenge the scientific basis for a physicalist view of reality, we unfold the vision of yoga psychology based largely on the work of Sri Aurobindo (many may not know that the term "integral psychology" [IP] was coined in 1935 by Dr. Indra Sen, a psychologist in residence at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry India, and that it was based on the work of Sri Aurobindo).
It is my belief that Ken Wilber[2] is in error when he retrospectively characterizes Sri Aurobindo's vision as "metaphysical," (in Wilber's lexicon, as far as I could determine, this means — in this context — that it is the product of intellectual speculation[3]). Rather, I would suggest that Sri Aurobindo articulated what could be considered a truly post-metaphysical vision — such as that expressed in the great "post-modern" text, the Katha Upanishad (circa 800 BC) — which declares that spiritual truths can be neither established nor refuted by reason, but can be understood only by entering into what might now be called "post-metaphysical intuitive knowing" [gnosis, noesis, prajna, etc].
Jan and I believe that the post-metaphysical vision of yoga psychology — what we refer to as "the view from infinity" — is as the Katha Upanishad suggests, not a set of facts or ideas which can be viewed from a distance. It is rather what might be called a "way of knowing" quite different from the "objective" attitude of mind currently cultivated in our educational system (we refer to this as "seeing through the eyes of Infinity"). And we believe that it offers, at the very least, some powerful suggestions for developing a more fruitful scientific exploration of the nature of consciousness.
Taking "metaphysical" to mean intellectual speculation, it seems then that we already have a "post-metaphysical" spirituality in the form of the Indo-Tibetan tradition. What I think is really needed to further the scientific understanding of consciousness is a "post-metaphysical" science.
Physicist Paul Davies has written recently of the unspoken assumption on the part of many scientists that "laws of nature" are "immutable, absolute and universal". It is here, rather than in the yoga tradition, that you find purely intellectual speculation regarding what Ken Wilber refers to as "eternal, timeless structures". It is taking these "laws" to be ontological, objective realities that, in my estimation, reflects the error Wilber calls "the myth of the given". Davies refers to this attitude toward laws of nature as a "faith-based belief system".
Similar purely intellectual speculation underlies the assertions of those like philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins who proclaim random (i.e. non-conscious, non-intelligent, chance) mutation and natural (i.e. non-conscious, purely physical) selection as the sole determinants of the evolutionary process. Again, such intellectual speculation undergirds the assertion of neuroscientists who proclaim that a correlation between brain processes and mental activities proves that mind is nothing more than the brain.
I would suggest that it is precisely because contemporary scientific thinking is so thoroughly permeated with such implicit metaphysical notions that things like the existence of consciousness and the thousands of experiments demonstrating psychic phenomena are so deeply puzzling to so many who subscribe to this "faith-based belief system". The so-called "hard problem" of consciousness, for example, is only a problem within a materialistic framework. Seen "through the eyes of infinity" — that is, from a yogic vision — there is no problem.
On the other hand, the materialistic metaphysic so predominant in contemporary science has actually created a "hard problem" of matter. Rejecting the experienced qualities ("qualia") of matter as secondary epiphenomena, physicalist metaphysicians leave us with a universe of abstract quantities, based on the seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics.

However, according to physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff (see his website at, the apparent paradoxes of quantum physics are only paradoxical within a (metaphysical) materialistic framework. In several brilliantly written articles, Mohrhoff shows that within a spiritual or "gnostic" (not intellectually metaphysical) framework, the seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics make complete sense. In Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness, we offer one such gnostic (post-metaphysical) vision, in the form of the yogic psychology of Sri Aurobindo. We believe this vision offers a way of understanding the relationship between consciousness and matter, as well as the evolution of consciousness in the physical universe, that is deeply inspiring.
In our book, we invite the reader to "try on" the yogic vision, that is, to attempt to develop an intersubjective mind-set which we believe is more conducive than ordinary analytic thought for understanding the truly radical implications of the yogic view. And again, our hope is that a fair consideration of the parapsychological research might help to allay the concerns of the skeptical reader not only about psi phenomena, but about the yogic view, of which psi is an integral part (note here that we are not asking the reader to affirmatively 'believe" anything, but simply to be willing to consider what may be for many a point of view different from their customary one).
Shortly after my previous paper was published on Integral World, Geoffrey Falk responded with an article in which he presented a number of criticisms of parapsychology[4]. These criticisms are based largely on writings of the members of the well-known skeptics organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (known as CSI-COP). Reading Geoffrey's article inspired me to look more closely at the writings of such prominent CSI-COP skeptics as James Alcock, David Marks, Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore.
Although I had done a great deal of reading on parapsychological research and the criticism of it by skeptics during the several years of working on the yoga psychology book, I was nevertheless surprised at a number of things my most recent research uncovered — especially regarding the strategies employed to discredit the field. For example, despite my sympathies with the plight of psi researchers, I'd been perplexed as to why none of them had responded to the various challenges put forth by magician James Randi — challenges offering anywhere from one thousand to one million dollars for a definitively successful experiment. I was stunned to discover that Randi never meant his challenge to be taken seriously, and had put it forth only as a publicity stunt! (as he is quoted as saying, "I always have an out")[5].
As a long time meditator familiar with the stringent requirements set forth in traditional yogic texts for developing paranormal abilities, (along with stern warnings as to the dangers of developing psi abilities), I have long been amazed that parapsychology researchers have been able to come up with any successful experiments at all. It seems to me a testament to the persistence of psi researchers that even hardened skeptics like Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore have been compelled to acknowledge that "something" is going on in various experiments on telepathy, remote viewing and psychokinesis, that is inexplicable in conventional terms.
I'm going to answer each of the points Geoffrey made in his response to my article, but first I want to take a critical look at the credibility of the criticisms that have been leveled at parapsychology by leading critics such as Alcock, Marks, Hyman and Blackmore, as their credibility goes to the heart of Geoffrey's comments. At the conclusion of this essay, I will address the issue of weak effects which continues to plague psi research — and which seems to me to be critical to the whole debate over psi phenomena. My guess is that if the size of the effects were anywhere as dramatic as their statistical validity, the whole debate would come to an abrupt halt, and a new era of scientific research would rapidly dawn. As I mentioned earlier, the reason for weak effects has been made clear in yogic texts for thousands of years, and the exposition of yoga psychology in our book explains in some detail both the basis for and obstacles to the accessibility of psi phenomena. I will also offer an experiment you can do for yourself that demonstrates why they are so difficult to access. Integral World

Monday, June 23, 2008

Deleuze has a strong connection to the stoics through his relation to Spinoza

Larval Subjects . June 22, 2008
How Revolutionary is Desire Anway? Posted by larvalsubjects under Deleuze, Desire, Ideology, Politics

As I think more about Deleuze and Guattari’s account of desire in Anti-Oedipus, I find myself wondering if it doesn’t risk becoming another apologetics for reigning organizations of power. On the one hand, no contemporary political thought can afford to ignore the manner in which desire is manufactured, regulated, and organized given the manner in which we live in a media saturated environment.

On the other hand, the implications of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of desire become disturbing when juxtaposed with the writings of the Stoic Epictetus. Those familiar with Epictetus’ Enchiridion will find it impossible to forget his opening paragraph...

Do not Deleuze and Guattari, despite all their talk about the creative and productive nature of desire, share an uncanny resemblance to Epictetus? The liberal ideologue tells us that we must resign ourselves to all the ugliness of the world in advance because we exist in a world populated by scarce resources, such that we are necessarily plunged into competition and its attendant social hierarchies. However, wouldn’t it also be the case that Deleuze and Guattari, like Epictetus, tell us that if we suffer then this is because we have created the wrong desires and were we simply to modify our desires we would be capable of tolerating whatever circumstances we might find ourselves in?

Like Deleuze and Guattari, Epictetus seems to suggest that desire is not something natural or inborn, but is a product of our creative freedom. Deleuze, of course, has a strong connection to the stoics through his relation to Spinoza and his development of a stoic ontology in The Logic of Sense. The risk here is that we find ourselves perilously close to claiming that true revolutions are not revolutions in how material conditions or social relations are organized, but rather are revolutions of desire that transform our relations to these conditions...

Scu Says: June 22, 2008 at 11:15 pm
“Perhaps this is the reason that it is of such vital importance that Deleuze and Guattari deconstruct the primacy of the self-enclosed social subject, instead showing that desire itself immediately invests the social field and issues from the social field, that desire is material and not simply a property of biological subjects, and that the subject itself emerges as a product of desire rather than the reverse.”
Seriously, the idea that “The risk here is that we find ourselves perilously close to claiming that true revolutions are not revolutions in how material conditions or social relations are organized, but rather are revolutions of desire that transform our relations to these conditions.” seems contrary to the entire work of D&G, signed both singularly of collectively. There is no separation between desire and material conditions, and D&G are quick and repetitive about condemning anything that implies otherwise. (I mean, it’s called anti-oedipus for a reason).

What they are arguing is you can’t have a material revolution without a revolution in desire as well. Communism isn’t just a question of saying, “Well, right now the shit isn’t distributed very well, and we just need a better distribution of the shit.” Rather, communism must bring into question our very modes of appropriation. Desire is political, it is the question of the political itself. To (badly) paraphrase Spinoza, we don’t desire the good because it is the good, rather we term the good what we desire.

larvalsubjects Says: June 22, 2008 at 11:36 pm
Excellent! This is exactly what I’m trying to bring out, without the words to do so. I agree that such a claim is contrary to the aims of their work, but am raising the question of whether they manage to think that relationship between desire and material conditions adequately (in much the same way that someone’s entire work could be devoted to thinking motion, while still failing to adequately respond to Zeno). While I fully agree with the thesis that you can’t have material revolution without revolution in desire (and also that material revolutions without the latter end up badly insofar as they reinstitute microfasicisms), I think there’s also something more going on in their work. That is, desire can’t be seen as something other than material conditions or different than material conditions (as perhaps Baudrillard might argue in his earlier work).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

This capital-flesh oppresses us, but we are stuck within it. We hate it, but we are also compelled to love it

The Body of Capital from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

Let us say, then, that Capital itself is the monstrous flesh within which we, the multitude, find ourselves compelled to live. When “the specifically capitalist mode of production” has been well enough developed, Marx says,

“capital. . . becomes a very mystical being, since all the productive forces of social labour appear attributable to it, and not to labour as such, as a power springing forth from its own womb” (1993, 966; cited in Deleuze and Guattari 1983, 11).

It is by appropriating all the fruits of production, and attributing all this production to itself, that capital becomes the mystical being that Deleuze and Guattari call the socius, the full Body without Organs. This monstrous flesh is the womb, the belly, and the skin of our society. The body of capital is the site of all our encounters, the space within which all our desires are registered and distributed. It is the “fluid and slippery” surface (Deleuze and Guattari 1983, 15) across which money flows as a universal equivalent, enabling all conceivable metamorphoses from one form to another, or one substance to another. And the depths of this flesh also encompass the time that is our horizon. This includes the time of our “lived experience”: clock time, work time, leisure time. But it also includes forms of time that are alien to any subjective experience: the speed-of-light, nearly instantaneous time of electronic networks, the time-scale of what Marx calls the “turnover” of capital, and the future time that is counted and discounted, and made commensurable with the present, in the form of interest rates.

Of course, this monstrous flesh is “really” ours, ultimately ours. The body of capital can only function to the extent that it appropriates to itself, and attributes to its own creativity, what is actually the productive labor of the multitude. Capital’s claim to production “as a power springing forth from its own womb” is therefore a fiction, or an illusion. But it is an “objective” illusion, a necessary fiction. That is to say, this illusory appearance, this fiction, is itself an actual feature of the world we live in. The body of capital is not really the cause of whatever happens; but it really is what Deleuze and Guattari call the “quasi-cause,” or apparent cause. Money really works as a universal equivalent, to the extent that everyone accepts it as such; and capital really does succeed in becoming the motor of all production, insofar as it enforces its property claims by means of a whole arsenal of weapons: laws, institutions, customs, beliefs, disciplinary procedures, threats of violence, and other forms of coercion and persuasion.

A “mystical being” whose embodiment is secured by procedures that, for their part, are all too materially effective, Capital can only be represented and experienced “in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity” (Derrida 1980, 293). For it cannot be grasped within everyday experience. The socius, or “full body of capital,” is entirely composed of material processes in the phenomenal world; and yet, as the limit and the summation of all these processes, it has a quasi-transcendental status. That is to say, the body of capital is not a particular phenomenon that we encounter at a specific time and place; it is rather the already-given presupposition of whatever phenomenon we do encounter. We cannot experience this capital-body directly, and for itself; yet all our experiences are lodged within it, and can properly be regarded as its effects. The monstrous flesh of capital is the horizon, or the matrix, or the underlying location and container of our experience, as producers or as consumers. In this sense, it can indeed be regarded as something like what Kant would call a transcendental condition of experience. Or better – since it is a process, rather than a structure or an entity – it can be understood as what Deleuze and Guattari call a basic “synthesis” that generates and organizes our experience.

The “full body” or flesh of capital, therefore, is at the same time palpable and intangible – however much of an oxymoron this formulation might seem to be. We are always in contact with this ghastly flesh, but we are never actually able to “grasp” it. We do not have enough distance to apprehend it accurately; we can no more “see” it than a flea can see the dog within whose fur it is embedded. In our pragmatic, day-to-day experience, this capital-body is an alien enormity, that we cannot ever tear ourselves free from, but that we also do not own or control in any way. The experience of the capital-body is common to everyone; but this is only a suffering in common, rather than the production in common that Hardt and Negri would like it to be. Either as producers or consumers, our subjective activity is relentlessly atomized and scattered; the only unity is that of the socius itself. We scurry about in the folds and convolutions of this capital-flesh like lice or bedbugs. At best, we may manage to divert some of the flows of the body of capital, pervert them, and detourn them. We may even be able to reprogram the body’s “axiomatics” or “genetic code” here and there, just a little bit, the way that viruses do. But that is all.

This capital-flesh oppresses us, but we are stuck within it. We hate it, but we are also compelled to love it, because we depend upon it for sustenance, and we cannot live without it. Understood according to the order of first causes, sub specie aeternitatis as Spinoza would have it, capital is parasitic upon the labor of the multitude. But existentially and experientially, the situation is rather the reverse: we are parasites on the monstrous body of Capital.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio: Man, bull, lion and eagle

A Selection from
Symbols and the Question of Unity by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet (Thea)
'In the realm of symbols, one of the most ancient, the supreme Symbol, the master mandala, is the Zodiac.'

The Zodiac is an eternal symbol, for the more that is discovered - the new planets and so on - only confirms to an ever greater extent the truth of its revelation, and the apparent new growth of man, the expansion into other realms of consciousness and other possibilities even in his most physical structure, is clearly mapped out in this design: that is, the "new" possibilities are contained in the original pattern and have therein been revealed.

It is powerful in that it is not a mere imaginative band but is a physical path the planets and Sun journey through, and the truth of the design is therefore based on the actual harmony of the spheres. Man is given in this unique mandala the knowledge, as within, so without. He is precisely shown that this cosmos which beyond a doubt is a perfection in its workings, is the exact same perfection that governs his being and is his being. He looks up to the heavens and sees only a mirror of himself.

The origin of this symbol is not known. We find it recalled in the Sphinx, which is a combination of man, bull, lion and eagle, all these representing the four Fixed signs and the four Elements: Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio. But even the origin of the Sphinx is unknown, lost in the night of Time. It is simply considered prehistoric. An important and significant clue to its ancestry is that in the symbol the sign Scorpio is represented by the Eagle, its highest manifestation.

The Eagle is Power. Humanity at its present stage does not correspond to this aspect at all, which indicates victory over death, immortality, a life entirely evolving in the higher being, the lower nature having been completely conquered. Either this magnificent symbol, with its nine pyramids behind, is the picture of a civilisation of the past that lived in this consciousness, or it was a people who had the capacity to foresee, with remarkable skill, thousands of years to come, and predict that man would then live in the consciousness not of the Scorpion any longer but of the Eagle. This is what is now taking place.

The movement of transformation (the Aquarian Age) is for this purpose: to conquer the disintegrating and decaying forces of Death. From now through to the Age of Scorpio approximately 6,480 years will transpire, but it is predicted in the Sphinx that instead of mankind knowing the blackness and death of the soul that is reflected in the image of this animal, it shall know the Eagle; the poisons of the scorpion's death sting shall be transmuted into the majestic power of an eagle. The Sphinx is a prophecy in stone, made to last through the wear of the ages, of that which is now in its beginning...

"Time presents itself to human effort as an enemy or a friend, as a resistance, a medium or an instrument. But always it is really the instrument of the soul.’...‘To the ego it is a tyrant or a resistance, to the Divine an instrument. Therefore, while our effort is personal, Time appears as a resistance, for it presents to us all the obstruction of the forces that conflict with our own. When the divine working and the personal are combined in our consciousness, it appears as a medium and condition. When the two become one, it appears as a servant and instrument ..." Sri Aurobindo; The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 61.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

“Unruly” and “insatiable,” this living social flesh breaks free of organic limits; it is “expansive” and endlessly “productive”

Monstrous Flesh from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

Hardt and Negri tell us that, in postmodern society, “characterized by the dissolution of traditional social bodies,” what we experience instead is “a kind of social flesh, a flesh that is not a body, a flesh that is common, living substance” (2004,190, 192). Traditional social bodies were organic ones; the supposedly hierarchical organization of biological organisms was taken as a model for the proper hierarchical organization of society and State. Think of Hobbes’ Leviathan, or of Menenius Agrippa’s parable of the body in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. In these traditional social bodies, there is always a clear chain of command, and a clear division of labor among the society’s organs and members. Agrippa tells the plebians that they must always defer to the Senate, just as the other portions of the body must always defer to the belly, allowing it to appropriate the food that is the product of all their labors.

In contrast to this classical image of the well-ordered body, the postmodern image of “this living social flesh that is not a body can easily appear monstrous” (192). For the living flesh is “unruly” and “insatiable”(193); it “always exceeds the measure of any traditional social bodies” (196). In the postmodern world, “the old standards of measure no longer hold. . . old social bodies decompose and their remains fertilize the new production of social flesh”(196). This new flesh breaks free of organic limits; instead, it is “expansive” and endlessly “productive” (197).

Hardt and Negri see this monstrous flesh as a figure of the multitude: that is to say, of a humanity that produces things in common, and that in fact produces the common altogether (xv). The multitude is irreducibly diverse: it cannot be identified according to any criterion of identity politics, or even of social class. At the same time, the multitude cannot be divided into factions or fractions, because its very existence is a matter of “communication, collaboration, and cooperation on an ever-expanding scale” (xv), across all boundaries, and through the mobilization of what Marx called “general intellect.” Thus the monstrous flesh “is common. It is elemental like air, fire, earth, and water” (193). At the same time, monstrosity is never just one. There are always a variety of monsters, which “testify to the fact that we are all singular, and our differences cannot be reduced to any unitary social body” (193-194). The multitude, with its ceaseless creativity and “constant innovation” (193), produces the social world that we live in today. And Capital,or Empire, only preys upon, and parasitically lives off of, this productivity of the multitude. Under capitalism, “the mutations of artificial life [are] transformed into commodities,” and the “metamorphoses of nature” performed by the multitude are “put up for sale” (196). Hardt and Negri urge us always to remember that the monstrous multitude is the true productive force; and that Capital, with its normalizing appropriations of this boundless productivity, is only secondary,reactive, and parasitic.

Hardt and Negri’s logic is in full accord with Marx’s analysis of surplus value.Marx describes the way that “capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks” (1992, 342).Alternatively, in the Spinozian terms the Hardt and Negri share with Deleuze, capitalism operates by separating the living flesh from what it can do, and by accumulating and reinvesting the fruits of this separation. This process corresponds to the workings of what Deleuze and Guattari call the Body without Organs: “an enchanted recording or inscribing surface that arrogates to itself all the productive forces and all the organs of production (1983, 11-12). The Body without Organs is “a full body that functions as a socius. . . It falls back on (il se rabat sur) all production, constituting a surface over which the forces and agents of production are distributed, thereby appropriating for itself all surplus production and arrogating to itself both the whole and the parts of the process, which now seem to emanate from it as a quasi cause” (10). The socius is the monstrous body of capital, an entirely reactive force of “antiproduction” and repulsion (8), that nonetheless appropriates all production to itself by organizing and distributing it, according to a logic of “points of disjunction, between which an entire network of new syntheses is now woven, marking the surface off into co-ordinates, like a grid” (12). Thus the appropriation of surplus value is also its circulation and distribution, leading to the organization of what we know today as the “network society.”

In terms of how they describe social production, Hardt and Negri – like Deleuze and Guattari – are entirely in accord with Marxist capital logic. Against the mythology of mainstream economics, with its self-congratulatory tales of risky investments and heroic entrepreneurs, they recognize that capital is not in itself creative, and in fact originates nothing. Rather, capital privatizes the results of what is actually a common, and public, process. Through its ownership of the “means of production” (that is, of the fruits of past production that it has already appropriated), it is able to control and appropriate all new production, and to appear as if it were the source of that new production. But every patent, every copyright, every act of creativity, is only possible because we already stand on the shoulders of giants. And every private investment, every organized venture of art or science or technology, is rooted in the prior products of common labor and general intellect.

However, even as Hardt and Negri follow Marx’s logic, they invert his metaphors. Where Marx describes capitalist appropriation as monstrous and vampiric, Hardt and Negri reclaim the image of the vampire (2004, 193), and the term of monstrosity, for the primary producers themselves, the multitude. And where Deleuze and Guattari present the Body without Organs as a monstrous body of appropriation,which “produces surplus value” even as it “reproduces itself, puts forth shoots, and branches out to the farthest corners of the universe” (Deleuze and Guattari 1983,10), Hardt and Negri regard the multitude itself as a monstrous flesh that metastasizes indefinitely. They celebrate the multitude’s tireless productivity, “producing in excess of every traditional political-economic theory of value” (192), and its drive to push beyond all limits and violate all norms. “The concept of the multitude forces us to enter a new world in which we can only understand ourselves as monsters. . . Today we need new giants and new monsters to put together nature and history, labor and politics, art and invention in order to demonstrate the new power that is being born in the multitude” (194).

To a certain extent, Hardt and Negri’s motivation for this metaphorical reversal is a good one. They seek to undo the traditional hatred of democracy, and disdain for the “mob,” that is endemic to so much Western political theory, from Plato through Hobbes and on into the twentieth century. They hope to reverse capitalism’s reduction of everything to the status of private property by affirming the radical impropriety, and therefore the monstrosity, of the common within a capitalist framework. And they wish to demonstrate that the “productive flesh,”with its carnivalesque frenzies and excesses, “does not create chaos and disorder,”but rather produces new forms of communication and connection (196-197). That is why they insist upon celebrating, rather than execrating, what has long been described as monstrous and dangerous. They urge us to greet the unpredictable transformations of life that are going on all around us today with wonder instead of dread (195-196). Above all, they cultivate hope for a future filled with potential,instead of resigning themselves to the grim prospects of accelerating exploitation and ecological collapse. In all these ways, monstrosity is a figure of hope.

Nonetheless, Hardt and Negri’s reversal is not entirely convincing. It seems too much of a forcible imposition. The vision of a monstrous multitude, with its joyous excess of uncontrollable flesh, is an inspiring fiction; but it is one that we can only bring ourselves to believe through a sheer act of will. For this vision fails to give sufficient weight to the harsh conditions of actually-existing capitalism. You wouldn’t know, from reading Hardt and Negri’s paeans to the creativity of the multitude, about the extreme degree to which our “habits and performances”(197ff.), and our “ability to adapt constantly to new contexts,” and to “solve problems, create relationships, generate ideas, and so forth” (201), are continually being incited, channeled, micromanaged, and packaged into saleable products – not just during the working day, but increasingly 24/7. Hardt and Negri write as if the creativity of the multitude came first, as if it were only at the last moment that capital stepped in, to appropriate this creativity and sell it in commodified form. But in fact, capital is always already there, always already monitoring and regulating everything that we do, even before the creative process begins.

It is true that the old Taylorist, hierarchical style of business management has largely been abandoned – at least in the developed world. But the new management style that has replaced it, with its emphasis on local autonomy and responsibility, and on horizontal networks rather than vertical, hierarchical chains of command, is not in any sense more open and liberating. What the creativity of the multitude comes down to, in postmodern globalized capitalism, is this. Today capitalism demands of its workers not just physical exertion, but mental exertion as well. In order to survive, we are forced to sell, not just our “labor power” (as Marx called it), but also our affective and cognitive powers, our abilities to think and feel and create, our aesthetic sensibility and our capacity for enjoyment. Capitalism does not just steal the fruits of these powers from us. It also organizes our very expression of these powers in the first place.

This is why we must finally regard capital – rather than the multitude – as monstrous. Indeed, the monstrous qualities that Hardt and Negri attribute to the multitude – its impropriety, its ceaseless productivity, and its continual breaking of taboos and transgression of all limits – are themselves really qualities of capitalism itself, which Marx and Engels long ago described as having “burst asunder” all that stood in its way (1968, 40), and as possessing a “voracious appetite” not for any particular “useful products,” but for “the production of surplus value itself” (Marx 1992, 344-345). Only capitalism values productivity for its own sake,without regard to the nature of what is produced. And only capitalism exhibits a radical impropriety, because this is simply the other side of its own property fetish.By reclaiming monstrosity for the multitude, Hardt and Negri inadvertently erase the monstrosity of capital itself.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Western thought is much subtler when it comes to the dualistic world

Levinas and AQAL Integral from Indistinct Union by cjsmith

What I’d like to do though is compare Levinas with AQAL integral thought. The Lower Left Quadrant, the intersubjective in Wilber’s philosophy owees its existence most profoundly to two thinkers: Heidegger and Habermas.

The intersubjective in Heidegger was the clearing within which beings arose and communicated. It was a historical turn to phenomenology (away from the mentalist idealism of Husserl). It was a great and enduring insight but flawed in numerous ways. Not the least Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism.
Habermas retains Heidegger’s intersubjective but sees it rather as the domain of communicative intersubjective reason and therefore a new grounding for the modern project taking into account (and yet not being limited by) the critiques of postmodernity concerning monological early modern philosophy (as in Adam Smith, Locke, Hume, Descartes).
Now I don’t want to diminish any of those accomplishments, particularly Habermas’ (and Wilber’s), especially in an American context which struggles to understand the phenomenological and the intersubjective both, over relying on the individualist anglo-american strain (along with pragmatism) as well as scientistic thought and religious fundamentalism and euphoric individualist experiential lines.
That said Levinas stands in deep criticism of both Heidegger and Habermas from the intersubjective but as a phenomenon of affect and relationship rather than communication (Habermas) or practices (Heidegger). For Levinas this intersubjective, what he calls the philosophy of the neuter, still reduces distinctly unique individuals into a large whole. The return of Totality in other words. With Heidegger especially we see the results of the reduction of the many to the one in politics (Fascism). Levinas as a Jew was particularly disturbed by his own reliance (in his earlier philosophy especially) on Heidegger.
Levinas also stands in anti-mystical strain of Judaism, promoting the distinction, dualism, and relationship of philosophy to the oneness of mysticism, whether classical (e.g. Neoplatonism) or more recent (i.e. Hegelianism). Totality includes Spirit or History or the classless society redeeming all of history through an end to history. Infinity stands opposed to all these machinations.

In that sense Levinas has a valid criticism of integral thought and AQAL in particular. It is part of Totality to the degree it focuses particularly on maps, theories, convergences, etc. Even the intersubjective of AQAL is still for Levinas insufficient in the regard of the encounter with the Other.
Levinas book is a great work of philosophy. It’s a contemplation of being of life. I see life differently, feel differently, am differently molded and aware (not unlike the experience of reading Being and Time by Heidegger). This is phenomenology at its best. Existentialism at its best. It is totally impractical as a philosophy which is its greatest gift to leave the world of practical, to leave it unredeemed, unintegrated for a time, to rot elsewheres. To not enter into some special absorptive mystical state (though that has its place no doubt) or continually focus on consciousness to the neglect of affect and bodily perception.
When Levinas has to be push through the grinder of Totality (which of course he must eventually) he turns out in AQAL terms green. The cover of the book is helpfully that color. His emphasis on radical pluralism, fear of integration as tyranny, nonviolence, the Other, all this is green pluralism. Better politically at pointing out what is currently missing and wrong then offering any solution.
But the work isn’t imo best understood in that light. It is better seen as a movement, as I said before, to drop from all that totality and enter a different sphere and way of life for a time. Most primally in relation with the Other. Without all the distinctions, necessary though they are, without too much drama, subplots, and the like. Without having to fix or be fixed.
It confirms my general sense that Western thought is much subtler when it comes to the dualistic world.

On the other hand, my long held feeling concerning Wilber’s work is that the primary most fundamental most profound element in all of it is true but partial. That everyone is true, everyone is partial. As a way of life, a kind of MO. That being said my excursions into the un-integral (mercifully) of Levinas is in this spirit. Perspectives in Wilber-5 are the reason behind true/partial and the AQAL system is simply a certain configuration of data streams and mapping of the arising of worlds.
A both/and on this one is not to use this work to only criticize Wilber as overly Hegelian, totalistic, hegemonic, doing violence to the Other, overly mental. That’s too easy and not particularly helpful and has already been done. Rather it would to retain an integral sense and yet a non-integral sense simultaneously. Each with their own spheres, own times and places. A remembrance of the Other, the Many, the plural, the different even in the midst of our (necessary) work of Totality.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Politics tends to be an afterthought to be a pre-set philosophical outlook

For the last couple of years I have invested heavily in the study of foreign policy. I’m finding a new need, by coming across unfamiliar names in blogs, unfamiliar terrain, the need to shift more and more to political economy and political philosophy. Along with some domestic policy (the next book to read is Grand New Party).

Like the last post on Levinas my general philosophical trend is phenomenological, is contemplation of being. And where necessary systems (Habermas, Wilber, process cosmology). Generally these thinkers are not great political thinkers. Habermas is an exception, Plato, Aristotle, even Kant in some regards. But not too much overall. Politics tends to be an afterthought to be a pre-set philosophical outlook (Hegelian, post/structuralist, or evolutionary psychological).

I want to start more with political philosophers themselves. There are the obvious Rawls, Nozicks of the world. But I always like to go by strange meanderings paths, borderlands intellectually, and less taken roads. I’m amassing a reading list and any recommendations are welcomed in the comments. As a prelude, consider the following from Will Wilkinson which opened some mental doors for me... Political Philosophy from Indistinct Union by cjsmith

What leads me to Wittgenstein or Derrida rather than phenomenology or Marx or Freud or Lacan or Gadamer or Levi-Strauss or Bourdieu?

Correlationism and the Fate of Philosophy
from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

The inauguration of correlationism begins, of course, with Kant (though arguably already with Protagoras) who argued that objects conform to the mind rather than the mind to objects. For Kant the transcendental subject takes the matter of intuition (sensations) and gives them form and structure by organizing them in terms of the a priori categories of the understanding and the forms of intuition. As everyone knows, Kant is compelled to make this move in order to respond to Hume’s scepticism which had shown that we cannot establish that causal relations are necessary relations if all of our knowledge arises from sensation. However, if, as Kant argues,

  • 1) it is not mind that conforms to objects via the agency of sensations or impressions, and
  • 2) the structures of transcendental subjective (the categories and forms of intuition) are universal and invariant for all rational subjects such as ourselves,

then science can be saved for the structure of appearances will thereby be invariant. Kant is able to save necessity, and therefore the sciences, at the price of the conclusion that we only ever know objects as they appear to us and not as they are in themselves. With the inauguration of correlationism we get a battle of the correlationists. Which relation, the correlationist asks, is the genuine correlation? Which relation is the genuine relation that governs the production of the given for the subject?

  • Thus Kant locates the genuine correlation in the relation between transcendental subjectivity and the matter of intuition conditioned by the categories of the understanding and the pure forms of intuition imposed by mind.
  • The phenomenologist locates the correlation in the sense-bestowing activity of transcendental subjectivity in lived experience.
  • Wittgenstein finds the correlation in language games constituting the world. Habermas in the universals of communicative action.
  • For Foucault the correlation is to be found in the dynamics of power and discourse.
  • The cultural Marxist discerns the correlation in the socio-economic structures of history.
  • The hermeneut argues that the correlative structures are to be found in historically informed linguistic consciousness.
  • The sociologist and anthropologist locate the correlational relation in social, communicativve, and cultural categories belonging to a particular group.

And so on. All of these orientations agree in the basic claim that the object is only an object for a subject and the subject is only a subject for the object, and that we never know an object as it is in-itself independent of the structures that condition appearances. Philosophical debate thus becomes a debate as to whether there are universal correlative structures shared by all of humanity (Kant, Husserl, Habermas, etc), or whether we have a generalized relative wherein there are many incommensurate correlative structure that are irreducible to one another (late Wittgenstein, Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, perhaps Marx, etc).

Although Meillassoux does not point this out, insofar as each of these frameworks is self-referential or auto-performative (we are unable to appeal to the in-itself, but only the immanent criteria of the framework of givenness belonging to mind, the subject, society, language, or history), we are left without the means of deciding among these alternatives. At best we choose among these alternatives through a sovereign gesture that cannot itself be grounded or justified. What, for example, leads me to articulate the framework of givenness in terms of Wittgenstein or Derrida rather than phenomenology or Marx or Freud or Lacan or Gadamer or Levi-Strauss or Bourdieu?

Like a fly trapped in a bottle, I shuttle back and forth between these alternatives, finding all equally plausible as ways of accounting for givenness while simultaneously finding none plausible. I make the argument that lived intentional consciousness is the ground of givenness, only to then recognize that I can only articulate this lived experience through the framework of language, only to then recognize that I only ever encounter lived experience through the framework of the social characterized by power relations and discursive relations, only to then discover that every thought and practice I engage in is conditioned by a history not of my own making. Each of these frameworks appears equally compelling and equally contingent. We are presented with critique after critique, each one calling for a hyper-self-reflexive analysis of the conditions for our relation to the object; this critique Kantian, that Husserlian, this one Heideggerian, that one Merleau-Pontyian, this one linguistic, that one Foucaulto-Bourdieauian analyzing power, practice, and discourse, this one Marxist analyzing our historical and socio-economic conditioning, that one Freudo-Lacanian analyzing the unconscious and desire...

As Badiou has observed, accompanying all of this is a general disappearance of philosophy. Admittedly, this might be progress if, in fact, philosophy is akin to alchemy. As correlationism becomes more refined and developed, philosophy comes to be replaced by linguistics, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, cognitive science, and so on. In the language of cybernetics, each of these discourses are second-order cybernetic discourses that observe how observers observe the world while remaining agnostic about the truth-values of these first-order cybernetic discourses. From the perspective of the correlationism in the social sciences, the world of the Pentacostal fundamentalist is every bit as legitimate as that of the quantum physicist. Both are correlative structures that posit their own objects and produce their own givenness. How could we decide between either? There is thus a general “textualization” of the world, where the correlationist does not speak directly of the world– to do so would be to fall into naive realism –but where one talks about talk about the world. This, perhaps, is the reason that philosophy as practiced in philosophy departments consists in commentary over texts.

One of the central ambitions of Kant’s correlationist project, of course, was to overcome dogmatic metaphysics characterized by the belief that we can directly talk about things as they are in themselves (sans the Protagorean dictum) and, for example, demonstrate the existence of God. This is one of the central reasons that all the heirs of correlationism has proven so attractive. [Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency]

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Following Chalmers, Rosenberg, Stoljar and Nietzsche (via Hales and Wilber)

Experience, Information, Panpsychism from Zaadz: Anands blog

At the recently concluded Toward a Science of Consciousness conference, I presented a poster on a new physicalism that can accommodate experience. The reception was fast and furious from some and wacky and weird from others. I'll summarize after explaining what the poster was about.

Following Chalmers, Rosenberg, Stoljar and Nietzsche (via Hales and Wilber), I've been wondering for a while regarding a non-reductive physicalism that can accommodate experience. Since physicalism is still up for grabs (so to speak), the plan of action is simple: Expand physicalism so that experience is a natural by product. In particular, avoid assuming that experience is fundamental as the panpsychist, neutral monist or dual-aspect theorist typically does. if the result is panpsychism, at least it is a posteriori and not a priori.

You would think that this essentially simple idea would find plenty of supporters. Instead, it simply raised controversy among the attendees who came by the posters and others to whom I explained the basic idea. Below, I'll do a caricature and response to the questions:

1. Physicalism is really materialism and experience is a result of neural firings in the brain.

Response: There's an explanatory gap between neural firings and experience. Also, the brain is not a fundamental physical object. Furthermore, you're being Cartesian in correlating one subject to one brain.

2. Strawson has shown that physicalism entails panpsychism and if I had time I would destroy your position.

Response: This is an almost exact quote. It is extremely disturbing that some people are already driven to panpsychism as the one and only way out. In any case, the whole problem with panpsychism is that it posits intrinsic properties like experience as basic and doesn't tell us where the boundary came from to demarcate intrinsic from extrinsic. In other words, panpsychism takes objects in the world as unproblematic and this is precisely the problem in basic physics where there are currently no such boundaries. Unfortunately, Strawson's clout is such that it is quite likely that we'll start seeing panpsychism bigots and it's not a bad idea to start watching out for them from the start.

3. The universe is really quantum information processing and there are no such things as selves (subjects).

Response: Not sure what you're really trying to say. If the universe is really information, then information is physical (by my definition of physicalism). There will then be an explanatory gap between information and experience. In addition, information can be parsed as in-formation (as opposed to out-formation) and this implies a boundary of some sort with in-formation being contextualized relative to the boundary. In that case experience is information in-formation :-) [Sorry, but that's actually pretty cute. Perhaps, I'll make that the title of my next paper.]

4. The universe is really One without a second - a perfect unity in diversity with Love holding it all together.

Response: Mysticism is not a scientific option for me (despite its many benefits including love and compassion). If that statement is unpacked as idealist, then the burden of proof is on you to show why this particular opening in awareness with experiential content that exists right here and right now is actually Oneness of some kind.

5. Your approach of focusing on a momentary physical boundary that separates one "portion" of the universe from the rest can explain why experiences are private. It doesn't explain why experiences are qualitative.

Response: Kudos to the best question so far. It is quite likely that there are overlapping boundaries like the traditional Venn diagrams. Imagine that the overlapping aspect creates a shared language and this explains our verbalized thoughts which are usually expressed in some language. When there is no overlap, then there is no language of any kind and from this you can get the qualitative aspect of experience. This has to be carefully worked out obviously.

Overall, I was both elated and crushed. Elated that there were many people who saw the value in what was being presented, crushed that there weren't more in depth questions except from a small minority.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

No world can exist without a body that has its moving, roaming perspective upon and within it

Countermemory or joyous inquiry: philosophy, literature, art, and other things i'm up to and working on, in cambridge, california, new york city, princeton, and wherever else i may be. Saturday, June 7, 2008

Derrida, Merleau-Ponty, depth, and the body, continued from last time:

With this perspective on perception comprehended, can now finally turn to “the visible:” for what does Merleau-Ponty mean when he says that this unity of perspective, achieved through motility or movement, is precisely a movement “through the visible?” This is where Merleau-Ponty’s thinking in the fifteen or so years between the Phenomenology of Perception and The Visible and the Invisible comes into play, though the ideas of the latter work—as Derrida remarks throughout On Touching (OT, 210 and passim)—are very much present in the former. As Merleau-Ponty himself remarks in his working notes to the unfinished later work, the Phenomenology of Perception focuses more on how the body interacts with the world, and not how it is also, as he says in the above quote, “a part of it.” This is obviously because the Phenomenology of Perception must show how the empiricist and intellectualist perspectives on the body are inadequate. Nevertheless, the crucial question remains and did remain the following within those fifteen or so years, as it was touched on and reformulated in other writings: how is it possible that the body is not only the materialization (as it were) of motility or movement but also, as he says soon after the already quoted paragraphs of “Eye and Mind,” “a thing among things” (“EM,” 163)—that is, precisely while still remaining this materialization of movement?

Now, Merleau-Ponty’s first step to try and answer this question is to change his terminology as he extends his perspective beyond Phenomenology of Perception. The “visible,” therefore, becomes precisely what has gone under the name of “the world” in our discussion of the body so far. However—and here is where the extension is operative—this new term is used with a crucial difference: the body is also of the visible. Merleau-Ponty thus effects a shift that refines the way we talk about the world and the body within it, because we now can refer to the world precisely as what is sensed or perceived by the body, or as precisely that which the body, in its movement, “makes a difference in,” as he says above. Thus the world’s character loses its last remnants of “objectivity”—as something standing over against the body, not already mapped somehow upon the senses—and gets thought with the body always as co-present, as it were, with any perception. In other words, one crucial result of the analysis in Phenomenology of Perception that we have not stressed in our reconstitution of its logic gets brought immediately to the fore: no world can exist, qua world, without a body that has its moving, roaming perspective upon and within it. No perception, no world. Calling this world “the visible,” then, brings this out nicely. We can see this logic in the shift take place (as well as recognized some elements of it that we have already traversed in different terms, like the “seeming obviousness” of the body) in the first paragraph of The Visible and the Invisible:

We see the things themselves, the world is what we see: formulae of this kind express a faith common to the natural man and the philosopher—the moment he opens his eyes; they refer to a deep-seated set of mute “opinions” implicated in our lives. But what is strange about this faith is that if we seek to articulate it into theses or statements, if we ask ourselves what is this we, what seeing is, and what the thing or world is, we enter into a labyrinth of difficulties and contradictions… (The Visible and the Invisible, 3).

Merleau-Ponty’s approach thus aims at what we see as it is implicated in what seeing is. Insofar as we are specifying what we see, implicated thus, we are (obviously, but again not so obviously) talking about the visible. Furthermore, we can now also say that insofar as we are talking about that side from which we are seeing what is visible, Merleau-Ponty talks about vision. This vision takes place in that unity still called the body. Thus, we now can somewhat understand the sentence of Merleau-Ponty from “Eye and Mind” above: “that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement.”

But, it might be said, the most crucial question has just been broached: neither the visible nor vision amount wholly to “what seeing is,” as Merleau-Ponty says. And at the same time, we have just extended the concept of the body further—by making it something that, along with the world or the visible, is also visible—but have not developed this point. We shall see that it is precisely by combining these two points that we arrive at an understanding of that still-enigmatic word “intertwining,” which defines the body and brings the visible out for us more richly as something that is crucial for painting. In other words, it will be precisely through understanding how the body, in its vision, itself is visible that we will understand that total act of seeing which is the fuller, richer concept of the body as it operates in Merleau-Ponty’s later work... (To be continued...) Posted by Mike Johnduff What is written about: , ,

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The world is always-already apt for conceptualisation and thus essentially reason-giving for us

The Authority of Reasons from Grundlegung by Tom

In Mind and World, McDowell seeks to exorcise an anxiety relating to the possibility of empirical content that would threaten to close down the option of giving an account of rational constraint by the world that proceeds in the foregoing way. McDowell’s strategy is repeatedly mischaracterised, so it is important to accurately state his aims: to hold onto a minimal empiricism and the idea that the logical space of law is different in kind than the logical space of reasons.

The first desideratum is a version of Quine’s idea that experience must constitute a tribunal that rationally constrains our thoughts. This thought is that, without the sort of constraint that through experience allows the world to reveal to us what we should think, then the very idea that thought is about the world at all must be relinquished. This is because for a belief to possess empirical content is for it to purport to be about the world in some way, and this means that it is essentially something that can be appropriately or inappropriately held to be the case. Given our natures as embodied spatio-temporal agents, it is through experience that the world can exercise a rational constraint upon us. If we are forced to give up this sort of rational constraint then the idea that thought can bear upon the world at all is also threatened.

The second desideratum builds upon but importantly modifies Sellars’ thoughts about the logical space of reasons. For Sellars, when we talk about reasons (for example, discussing claims to knowledge or justification) then we invoke a characteristic mode of intelligibility that can be contrasted with the sort of intelligibility invoked when we explain one thing by showing how it is a causal consequence of another. The logical space of reasons supports normative relations such as implication, entitlement, probabilification and so on which can be contrasted with these causal notions.[10] ...

McDowell thinks we will get into trouble if we identify the logical space of laws with the logical space of nature. For those, such as Brandom, Rorty and Davidson, who appreciate Sellars’ insight that the logical space of reasons constitutes an important mode of explanation that is irreducible to the logical space of laws, the problem is that if these two logical spaces are dichotomous, and nature is the logical space of laws, then it seems that normative relations between nature and our reason-governed practice are impossible. This threatens minimal empiricism, which depends upon rational constraint from the world, and this in turn threatens to make empirical content unintelligible, as we have seen.

However, McDowell thinks that we can deny that the logical space of nature is identical to the logical space of laws. He admits that the huge success of the hard natural sciences is undeniable and that these sciences rely on a nomothetic model of explanation in which phenomena are elucidated by subsuming them under the strict causal laws. However, he thinks that only a misplaced scientism would force us to say that this is all there is to nature. If this separation of the logical spaces of nature and law is possible then we ought to be able to hold onto both the Quinean and Sellarsian insights, and so thereby retain the conception of a reason that is authoritative independently of our treating it as such...

Although McDowell believes that socialisation is essential to the process of “having one’s eyes opened to reasons at large by acquiring a second nature,”[12] he does not think that this should lead us down an anti-realist path. In fact, he goes as far to characterise his position as a ‘naturalised platonism.’ The sense in which McDowell’s attitude towards reasons is platonistic is that what counts as a reason for something is not specifiable by reference to facts about us that are specifiable prior to characterising us in terms of the space of reasons. This represents McDowell’s anti-reductionist tendencies, emphasising the autonomy of the space of reasons from the sort of explanation offered by the natural sciences.

However, from the other direction, this platonism is essentially naturalised because reasons are the sort of things that can be grasped by mature humans.[13] Nor is this merely a lucky coincidence but something pivotal to the idea that mature humans are agents who have the world in view at all. The key to understanding this thought is to recall that McDowell’s response to Kant involves championing the idea that the world is always-already apt for conceptualisation and thus essentially reason-giving for us.