Saturday, June 06, 2015

Universe already existed prior to any possibility of being observed, interpreted, or evaluated

Speculative Realism – a primer - by Steven Shaviro

Kant denounced speculation because it overstepped the bounds of all possible knowledge. For today’s new speculative thinkers, in contrast, speculation is necessary precisely because of the limits of knowledge. There is so much that is real, but that we cannot ever possibly know. Twenty-first-century speculation begins where our solid knowledge ends. Far from making dogmatic claims, this new form of speculation paradoxically explores the space of the ungraspable, and the time of the unpredictable.
Speculative Realism insists upon the independence of the world, and of things in the world, from our own conceptualizations of them. It rejects the Kantian thesis that the order of the world depends upon the way that our minds (or our languages, or our cultures) work to structure it. And it also rejects the phenomenological assumption of a primordial reciprocity or correspondence between self and world, or subject and object, or knower and known. Reality is far weirder than we are able to imagine. Things never conform to the ideas that we have about them; there is always something more to them than what we are able to grasp. The world does not fit into our own cognitive paradigms and narrative modes of explanation. “Man” is not the measure of all things. This is why speculation is necessary. We must speculate, to escape from our inveterate anthropocentrism and take seriously the existence of a fundamentally alien, nonhuman world.
There is not one predetermined form of speculation. It’s a voyage into the unknown, without any assurance of a proper ending. In this regard, one can contrast philosophical speculation, which is open-ended, with financial speculation, which is always done with the aim of ultimately turning a profit.
Financial speculation is thus a way to manage and control the future. It rests on the unquestioned assumption that the future will be commensurate with the present. In contrast, metaphysical speculation confronts, not risk, but irreducible uncertainty. This distinction was first made by the great economist John Maynard Keynes.

Whatever the case may be in economics, however, philosophical speculation is entirely a matter of basic uncertainty, rather than manageable risk. There is no formula to guide the process of such speculation. Each of the speculative realist thinkers proposes a different way to speculate about the world, as it exists unknowably apart from us.

Rationality is terrifyingly inhuman. Physical science allows us to conceptualize a world that is not in any sense made to our measure. But the scientific project can never be complete or final, as the world is ultimately non-conceptual and unconceptualizable. Our ideas of things can never match up to the things themselves. For Kant, this meant that we were relegated to – but also safely grounded within – the realm of phenomena, or mere appearances.

In other words, the correlation between mind and world established by Kant is itself contingent, rather than necessary. And from this insight, Meillassoux further deduces that radical contingency is the one and only universal necessity. It is absolutely necessary, he says, that the world has the capacity to be other than it currently is. Things can happen for no reason whatsoever. Even socalled “laws of nature” may arbitrarily change or disappear. 

We cannot grasp objects cognitively; but we can allude to objects through metaphor and other aesthetic practices. In this way we can cherish things, even though we do not fully understand them. And such is the route of speculation: “the real is something that cannot be known, only loved.”

Speculation is necessary, for all these thinkers, because it is the only way in which we can seek to trace the forces, powers, and events that generate our bodies and minds, but that remain forever beyond our minds’ and bodies’ grasp.
In sum, the speculative realists all find ways to circumvent Kant’s prohibition of metaphysical speculation. They work to resist the anthropocentrism that results from Kant’s privileging of epistemology over ontology. For Meillassoux and for Brassier, the way to overcome the constraints of Kantian epistemology is to realize that the limitations upon possible knowledge discovered by Kant are not inscribed within our own cognitive faculties, so much as they are already features of things in themselves, which are irreducibly contingent (Meillassoux) or non-conceptual (Brassier). For Harman and for Grant, meanwhile, the privilege accorded to human cognition must itself be put into question. Human perception and understanding are less special than we generally believe; for they belong to a much broader spectrum of processes of relation and causal influence. 
Epistemology cannot be given priority, because understanding and knowing are themselves caught up within larger movements for which they cannot themselves account. All these thinkers take up speculation, not as a way to discover higher “dogmatic” truths, but rather as a way to explore what Meillassoux calls the “Great Outdoors” of existence, a realm far too vast and weird, and radically uncertain, to be subsumed by our own values and norms.
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.

I don’t think that Whitehead is being anthropomorphic at all: rather, he is inverting the direction of anthropomorphic projections. For Whitehead, human feelings are in fact the exemplification, within our own experience, of a broader kind of process that is far more widely distributed among entities in the world. I cannot remember who first said this, but Whitehead’s actual procedure is – far from attributing human qualities to other organisms –to try to find more general processes, of which the human version that we are familiar with is just one, not necessarily privileged, example. Whitehead’s procedure is actually what Charles Sanders Peirce calls abduction.

Nonetheless, even with all these explanations, Whitehead’s use of feeling as a mere techincal term remains a bit counter-intuitive. He shores up his position by appealing to a number of philosophical precedents . He says that "this use of the term ‘feeling’ has a close analogy to Alexander’s use of the term ‘enjoyment'; and has also some kinship with Bergson’s use of the term ‘intuition.’ (Just as an aside, I wonder whether it might be a good idea to go back and look at Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time, and Deity: I have never read it, but Whitehead clearly thinks highly of it, and Deleuze mentions it in passing as a great book).

In any case, Whitehead also – and more surprisingly than with his citations of Alexander and Bergson – closely associates his use of the word feeling with Descartes’ use of the equivalent Latin term sentire. Didier Debaise discusses this connection in his new book L’appât des possibles.  posted on Monday, June 8th, 2015

Feelings as Experiences There is no law that a feeling cannot be an experience; experiences are of all kinds and take all forms […] The post Feelings as Experiences appeared fir...

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