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Monthly Archives: September 2009

The 129 Enemies of Spinoza: The “dead dog” of Philosophy

[click on text for larger image]

Reading up on the so-called “Pantheism Controversy,” perhaps in terms of study the most neglected philosophical event in European history bearing ramifications from Kant (his writing of the Third Critique) to the rest of German Idealism flowering, I came across this little tidbit that Spinoza was the proving ground for the orthodoxy of newly christened doctors. From The fate of reason: German philosophy from Kant to Fichte by Frederick C. Beiser.

But Beiser does not let us rest with this stereotype of universal rebuke. In fact among the Left-wing radicalism of its time, Spinoza remained a kind of (closet) hero:

I would like one day to post on this Controversy, as  it had tremendous echo throughout Western Philosophy, echo I suspect has not abated. In order to understand much of what followed one has to grasp the “fear” of Spinozism (both in the philosophical sense, but also in the social/political sense). In particular, Beiser’s reading of Spinoza as 18th century radical Lutheranism without the Bible has something significant to say about the political aspects of Spinoza application for our day, and ultimately one must ask if we are still living in the aftermath of the 18th century fear that Spinozism would erase both God (separate from Creation) and Man.

Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe

Ideas as Information

This is a difficult post to write, particularly because the ideas it addresses are just plain large. And these large ideas have such permeating ramifications, both towards Spinoza philosophy and contemporary Science it is indeed very difficult to do any justice to them. Instead it must be taken as a kind of rough draft, a sketch, of what may be conceptually possible when bringing the philosophical concepts Spinoza employed into contact with the Information. The thoughts here must be taken as provisional conjecture, but this is not to say that I do not find the comparisons offered here to be valid. Rather, I suspect strongly that what Spinoza was talking about, the relationships in the world that he was attempting to systematize, are very much the same ones that Science today talks about when thinking in terms of information.

All this comes into view with Tom Stonier’s radical Scientific proposal that Information is an essential component of the Universe, found in his speculative book Information and the internal structure of the universe: an exploration (1990). I’ll cite at length from his work below to present the core of his ideas about information, but first I need to make a conceptual leap which will make future thoughts of my application of Stonier’s ideas more clear.

Stonier’s abstraction on the left, Spinoza’s on the right:

Matter = Extension

Energy = Conatus (striving)

Information = Idea

I don’t want to justify these equalizations, but rather just let them remain as starting points, at least until Stonier’s vision of information is made more clear. I will say that the first of these seems obvious. What we mean usually by matter is precisely what Spinoza is attempting to describe through the Attribute of Extension. The second of these is both instinctively appealing but also has some difficulties in translation, mostly due to the much debated theoretical role conatus plays in Spinoza’s philosophy. Perhaps though in reading conatus as energy in the specific context of information theory important aspects of Spinoza’s conatus thinking may come into relief. And lastly, most importantly, the third of these, the equation of 21st century information with 17th century Spinozist idea, is the keystone of the entire comparison, and hopefully will reveal as much about what Spinoza was thinking, as about what he was trying to describe.

But now let us present Stonier’s idea that “information” comprises the universe just as much as matter and energy does.

Information is Real

Stonier spends much of his time hewing out a concept of elemental information from the concept of “energy”, leaving “matter” to remain relatively self-evident. It is in particular the way that we are able to see energy as existing in different forms yet to remain an objective measure of how things are composed, that provides the footing for how information is to be conceived. Much of what Stonier argues is that some of our energy descriptions are better handled as information transformations:

Just as there exist different forms of energy – mechanical, chemical, electrical, heat, sound, light, nuclear, etc – so do there exist different forms of information. Human information represents only one form of information..human information itself, maybe stored and communicated in a wide variety of ways and represent many different forms (9)

Right of the bat we have a very important idea, and one that communicates itself quite well with Spinoza’s notion on the limits of human thinking and epistemology. What we commonly refer to as “meaning” which is ever context bound, is only a form of information, just as mechanical energy is just a form of energy. The ideas we have as human beings are not reducible to the meaning of their expression in language. Rather, as Spinoza sees it, the ideas we have are rather best seen as dispositional relations to really only one thing, the whole of the Universe. The ideas we have are informational or organizational states, what Stonier will call “structure”. Let me quote at length what Stonier describes as the “heart of the concept”. I quote at length both because Stonier’s book is not accessible on-line, and also because he does a pretty good job of expressing himself on what he means:

Information and organization are intimately interrelated.

From this axiom we derive the following theorems;

  1. All organized structures contain information, and as a corollary: No organized structure can exist without containing some form of information.
  2. The addition of information to a system manifests itself by causing a system to become more organized, or reorganized.
  3. An organized system has the capacity to release or convey information.

Let us examine the above theorems, beginning with the first. Any physical system which exhibits organization contains information. Information organizes space and time. The definition of the term “information” becomes analogous to the physical definition of the term “energy”: Energy is defined as the capacity to perform work. Information is defined as the capacity to organize a system – or to maintain it in an organized state. As we shall discuss later, it becomes impossible to perform “useful” work without an input of both energy and information. Conversely, all work brings about a change in organization, hence information.

Organization is a reflection of order. A structure or system may be said to be organized if it exhibits order. Order is a non-random arrangement of the parts of the structure or system. Randomness is the opposite of order, keeping in mind that certain forms of apparent randomness exhibit significant order, eg, a perfectly uniform distribution. For this reason, the terms chaos and disorder are preferable. Any quantitative analysis of information must be based, at least in part, on measuring either the order, or the chaos of the system.

Analyzing the information content of a chaotic system is made more problematical by the fact that a system may only appear to be chaotic: That is, such a system actually is responding to a simple algorithm – the apparent unpredictability reflects the fact that trivial variations in initial conditions may have a major impact on the system’s final behavior.

Organization and information are, by definition, closely interlinked. However, they are different: One cannot have a shadow without light, but a shadow and light are not the same thing. A shadow is the manifestation of light interacting with an opaque object. Likewise, organization is the manifestation of information interacting with matter and energy.

It is important to emphasize the conceptual necessity for an abstract term such as “information”. Information is a quantity which may be altered from one form to another. Information is a quantity which may be transferred from one system to another. This is not true, at least to the same degree, for the more concrete terms “order”, “organization”, “pattern”, or “structure”. The matter parallels the difference between the terms “energy” and “heat”. Energy is being capable of being transformed from one form to another, as well as being transferred from one system to another. In contrast, the limitations of the less abstract concept “heat” (a quantity directly perceptible to our physical senses), cannot explain how heating a boiler causes a locomotive to move, or a light bulb to light up in response to the electricity generated by a steam turbine.

Likewise, “information” maybe transformed from one form to another, as for example, when dictating a manuscript: Patterns of sound waves end up transcribed as words on a printed page. It’s easy to understand that the information was transformed via the stenographer and printer, from the spoken to the written word. It is not clear how the oscillating molecules of air comprising the sound pattern end up as apparently unrelated patterns of dye molecules on a printed page. The matter becomes even more mysterious when one eliminates the human intermediaries and speaks into a voice-to-print device. The structure of the phonemes making up a word is not the same as the structure of the printed syllables making up the same word. The information content, however, may be considered the same for both.

Information, like energy, is an abstract quantity. Communications engineers have recognized since Hartley’s time, over half a century ago, that information may be treated as an abstract quantity. What the present work proposes is more than that, viz, that information, like energy is a physical reality.

To be more precise, heat (involving uncorrelated photons in a crystal or randomly moving molecules in a gas) is the product of the interaction between matter and energy. Structure is the product of the interaction between matter and pure information. Energy, in pre-relativity physics, was considered as the more abstract quantity which, when added to matter, manifests itself as structure (organization).

As will be discussed in a later chapter, such a conceptualization of information leads to a different quantitative definition from that of the communications engineers. Such a definition also differs from the standard dictionary definition which defines information as, for example: knowledge, news, or what is told. Dictionaries go on to define knowledge as all that is, or maybe known. Knowing is defined as: recognizing, perceiving with certainty, being aware (of), being acquainted with. There are other, more specialized meanings provided by dictionaries, but the gist is that information is either a form of knowledge, or equivalent to it. Dictionaries define knowledge and information purely in implicitly human terms. This is in marked contrast to the principle that information is a property of the universe – that it comprises the “internal” structure of the universe.

Human information may involve the perception of that “internal” structure. Every time scientists define a constant such as the gas constant, Avogadro’s number, Boltzmann’s or Planck’s constant, etc, they have discovered another aspect of the organization of the universe. Each such discovery represents the human perception of the information contained within physical systems.

Aspects of human information systems, including the terms knowledge, meaning, significance, intelligence, etc will be explored in a future work, Beyond Chaos. The present work is concerned with the physics of information systems – systems whose reality is independent of human perception and which therefore transcends it.

To sum up: All regular patterns contain information. The mathematics of chaos had demonstrated that even apparently highly irregular patterns, may be the product of some rather simple algorithm which underlies the chaos. To the argument that what we are really talking about is “patterns” and “organization”, the answer is that “information” is a more abstract generalization which, in the long run, one needs in order to measure it by some universal measure such as “bits”. It becomes as difficult to measure quantitatively a pattern or a structure in terms of bits without the aid of the abstract concept “information”, as it is to measure in joules the output of light by a lamp without the more abstract concept of “energy”.

Information is an implicit component in virtually every single equation governing the laws of physics. (25-28)

The first thing that needs to be addressed if we are to make a successful comparison between Stoniers concept of information and Spinoza’s notion of Idea is the thought that information can be “transferred”. I think that this is related to the way in which we view energy as some form of primal substance that can be poured into (or drained out of) various containers. I’m not sure how helpful this image is in either the case of energy or information. The addition of energy to a system is a transformative one. The system itself is changed. And I think Stonier is onto this with his idea that information itself, when added, changes the structure of what it is added to. There is, therefore, something of competing images here, images that have to do with how we view the boundaries of things. From a Spinozist point of view, therefore, when Stonier says:

  • The addition of information to a system manifests itself by causing a system to become more organized, or reorganized.
  • An organized system has the capacity to release or convey information.
  • I think it is better said that an organized system has the capacity to improve the organization of (the adequacy of the ideas of) systems outside of it. Information does not pour out of a system, into another, but rather communicates itself, interactively, through the improvement of the organization of things beyond it. In this way the physical object of a book does not “release or convey” but rather through interaction, re-organizes the materiality of the reader. Key to changing the metaphor we use to describe informational relations is to see that when there are such interactions nothing is being passed back and forth, but rather what is involved is the substantive change in the relational capacities of each distinct thing, in the context of something larger than each (be it a larger system, or the Universe itself).

    Stonier in his re-imagining of information uses the concept to address itself to the problem of entropy. He works to show that entropy is not strictly equivalent to “heat” (which is one of its manifestations), a difference that actually marks out the need for an information science as structural changes in matter do not exclusively follow heat changes. As such he places organization and heat at odds to each other (heat, the move towards randomness, works against the move towards organization), but energy and information are actually part of a triangle of universal elements:

    The application of energy expresses itself as heat which causes particles (molecules, photons, plasmons, etc) to vibrate and to move at random. In contrast, the application of information causes particles to be bound into fixed patterns and ordered motion. In that sense, heat may be considered as the antithesis of organization.

    If heat is the antithesis of organization is heat, and by implication, energy the antithesis of information, that does not preclude the possibility that energy and information may interact to provide a mix which might be viewed as “energized information”, or alternatively as “structured energy”. INFORMATION and ENERGY must not be viewed as the opposites of a bipolar system, rather, they must be considered as the two angles of a triangle, with MATTER comprising the third (74-75)

    This is problematic to a Spinoza/Stonier comparison, and I think Spinoza actually helps out here. Stonier wants to see something like a crystal at very low temperature as possessing an ideal of information, a structural coherence with very little entropy (heat). I think that this is a mistake in his visualization. Because I view the conatus as equivalent to energy, actually all things that exist possess both informational structure (what I want to call informational or ideational lean towards the Universe), and also the energy (tendency) to maintain that lean (entropy will be handled at another time). In fact the informational and energy dispositions are mutual expressions of each other. The introduction of heat (randomness) is actually an informational transformation from the outside. Instead of thinking of information as merely the internal structure of a thing, it is both the internal and relationship organization of a thing.

    We can see this on the most fundamental level in examples of “energy” transfer, reconfigured to reflect exchanges of information. Stonier uses the classic of billiard balls: 

    …consider two billiard balls, one red, one white, rolling along on a billiard table at equal speed. The red one is moving in a north-easterly direction, while the white one is moving in a south-easterly direction. Let them meet in such a way, that the collision results in a reversal of direction: The red one now traveling south-east, while the white one travels north-east.

    The question that one may ask is whether the two balls exchanged energy, or whether they exchanged information. Certainly the collision, involving a glancing blow, seemed not to affect appreciably the energy content of the system as a whole. Nor did the energy content of the individual balls appear to be affected appreciably since they continued moving at virtually undiminished speed. What was altered however, was the direction…To restate the question: Is the conservation of momentum a reflection of the fact that the two bodies merely exchanged information? (81)

    Instead of seeing energy as conserved and “transferred” between objects, one can also describe such an interaction as an exchange of information. In fact, I suggest it is not the exchange of information so much as the informational re-orientation of each. The ideas of each ball, its informational properties, has changed through interaction. We can see the foundations of Spinoza’s panpsychism wherein each thing “thinks” (is made of ideas that make a difference in its capacities in the world).

    Stonier himself provides an interesting example of the primary dichotomy he would like to set up between heat and organization, with an implicit tension between energy and information, that if warm-blooded mammalian brains. This is more than a mere exception I would suggest, but rather points to the problem of Stonier absolute contrast between energy and information itself. As he writes of the mammal and heat (randomness):

    Present-day biological systems, with minor exceptions (eg, certain chemosynthetic bacteria), obtain their energy from the sun. Light, as we shall discuss later, is a form of energy with a high information component. In general, biological systems eschew heat – either as an energy input, or as a product. When heat is generated, it is the by-product of metabolic reactions and usually reflects an inefficiency in the system. The one clear exception is the production of heat to maintain efficiency of advanced metabolic systems operating in highly organized environments. To maintain the very high levels of structural information in the system, the changes in entropy associated with changes in temperature must be kept to a minimum. The most advanced information processing system known is the mammalian brain. When the temperature rises only slightly above a critical threshold (as with a high fever), the system begins to fail as the individual hallucinates. A relatively slight drop in temperature, on the other hand, leads to narcosis. Thus even relatively minor (heat-inducing) changes in entropy, change the delicate organization of the system so as to interfere with effective information processing.

    Therefore, in the one exception where biological systems do produce heat and utilize heat, the function of the added heat is not to provide energy, but to maintain a stable temperature so as to minimize externally induced entropy changes. In other words, heat is used to help stabiliize organization – it is the one instance where the controlled application of heat constitutes an input of information. (66-67)

    As I have argued elsewhere when considering Spinoza as a Chaoplexicist, Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?informational increases cannot be seen solely in terms of an internally defined relation, for instance the structure of crystal. Instead they have to be read as edge-riding properties at the border of chaotic distributions. For instance there cannot be any such heat/organization polarity. If the Universe achieve a degree zero state it would not have reached a state of maximum information. Instead, the heat (randomness) use by mammalian lifeforms is not an exception, but an expression of the informational transformations that make up the structure of the Universe. Organization is best not seen in contest with Energy, but rather Energy expressions are necessarily informational ones. Even a purely random, equilibrium distribution is informational. And information increases (what for Spinoza would be increases in the adequacy of ideas) are not expressed sheerly as “structure” but rather the ability to bestride structure and chaos. This is precisely what lifeforms do with “heat”, not eschewing it, but surfing it.

    The locus of this reasoning I believe is found between the two, conflicting theories of Information and its relationship to entropy. Shannon, famously, linked the information content of a message to the surprise factor of its distribution. So if you received absolutely random message (taken to be utterly entropic), its information would be at maximum. Stonier, because he is not dealing with messages, but states, but an absolutely random distribution as the minimum of information structure. Truth be told, the answer lies between these two. A distribution, when seen as a message and measured for information, carries with it its relational capacities found in the reader of that distribution. In keeping with Shannon, the work that must be done in application of informational decoding of a random message is very high, so the message contain maximum information. If one is surprised very little by a message, it is composed of very few differences that make a difference to the reader. Its information is low. With Stonier, a random distribution of gas molecules composes very few differences that make a difference to the observer, so the information is low, but the reader/observer and the system/message have to be taken as a whole. The antithesis between these two perspectives is in their framing. If for instance we were to play a game where the exact distribution of gas molecules in a box near equilibrium state provides clue the game’s aim, suddenly the box is brimming with information, differences that make a difference. In fact, real world information differences, organizational relations that make a maximum of differences in the world, are those that oscilate or rather surf between both Stonier concept of fixed, structural, very low energy information, and Shannon’s very high entropy notion of message information. Maximal information, as lived, rides between this balance between structure and chaos. It is as Spinoza says,  

    E4p38Whatever so disposes the human Body that it can be affected in a great many ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great number of ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the Body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or of affecting other bodies, the more useful it is: on the other hand, what renders the Body less capable of these things is harmful.

    To use a Stonier example, for a crystal at low temperature to be in a maximum state of information its constellations of elements would have to be in state in which they can effect or be affected in the greatest number of ways, and one is not sure that this is the case. Such a state is not just useful, I would say that it demarks the greatest adequacy of ideas , or informational orientation, as is historically possible. Part of this is because for Spinoza there is such thing as a state that has no information or organization.

    There are additional difficulties to be handled in the equation between Spinoza’s “Idea” and Stonier’s “Information”, for instance the reality of entropy and the ultimately question of whether, or to what degree a “closed system” actually exists, has to be worked through. And there are several other aspects of Stonier’s theory that lend themselves to an elucidation of Spinoza’s thinking, for instance the way in which he re-reads changes in “potential energy” as changes in “information”, the moving of a system into a less probable state. These are things I cannot take up right here, hopefully in the future. It is more that Stonier’s view that information comprises an essential, transformational component of the Universe, just as energy and matter does provides a highly effective backdrop for understanding just what Spinoza means by Idea. What he means by Idea is Information. And it is precisely the distinction between human information and information as an abstraction that best brings out the differences Spinoza meant in both his epistemology and his ontology, the way in which there are distinct limits to what we know, but also that in knowing anything we are changing our informational relationship to both it and the world. Improving the Adequacy of our Ideas is perhaps best seen as improving our Informational organization of ourselves, thinking is position altering. And all things must be regarded as, in some sense, thinking.

    I hope that this presentation has not be unfair to Stonier whose theory and book deserves much better treatment. I am not one who enjoys the detailed summaries of positions, and have used Stonier only as a peering into the possibilities of Spinoza’s thinking, both in terms of what he really meant, and how it might help us understand how things are. But Stonier’s theory is beautiful in its own right worth serious study for what he claims. My Spinozist adaptation is at best provisional.

    Spinoza “Following the Traces of the Intellect”: Powers of Imagining

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    How Far Can We Imagine the Sun to Be?

    My discussions with Eric Schliesser on the issue of a skepticism towards mathematical (and empirical observation) knowledge have continued (my recent post). Between us has raised the subject of just what Imaginary Knowledge is for Spinoza. I think that this is an important point for anyone studying Spinoza’s epistemology, and it occurs to me that the fascinating letter to Peter Balling contains some very important distinctions on this front, at least some worth posting. As I expressed to Eric in private correspondence, I take as exemplary of Imaginaray knowledge Spinoza’s thought that we imagine the Sun to be much closer to us than it actually is:

    Similarly, when we look at the sun, we imagine it about 200 ft. away from us, an error that does not consist simply in this imagining, but in the fact that while imagine it in this way, we are ignorant of its true distance and the cause of this imagining- E2p35sch

    For Spinoza I think, imaginary knowledge is really phenomenological experience, that is something akin to what he calls “thinking in pictures”. It is the way that we “picture” the world. And when we picture the sun as being only about 200 ft away (I’m not sure who does picture it that way), we are in a state of confusion. Spinoza actually is borrowing this example from Descartes’ La Dioptrique, Sixth Discourse, where Descartes explains the phenomena as a product of the brightness of the Sun and the shrinking of the pupil. No doubt Spinoza has Descartes’ explanation in mind when he qualifies this imaginary knowledge via the combination of the sun’s essence and our own body’s essence, a causal relationship of which we can remain ignorant:

    …For we imagine the sun so near, not because we do not know its true distance, but because an affection of our body involves the essence of the sun insofar as our body is affected by the sun (ibid.)

    While I agree with Eric’s claim that Scientific/Mathematical knowledge cannot give us access to the essences of external things, I do think it a mistake to not see that such knowledge in fact works to increase our awareness of the causes of things, and thereby increase our agency in the world (a primary Spinoza aim). In fact in Spinoza’s example he relates what he takes to be a fact about the size of the Sun, giving it a diameter of 600 times that of the Earth. Clearly Spinoza regards the latter figure as more correct than the former (and the even more correct answer, apparently, is that the Sun is 109 earth diameters). Spinoza is contrasting these two knowledges of the sun. It makes little sense at all say that both knowledges of the sun are merely “imaginary”.

    What we can say is that if we picture the sun 200 ft away, and we picture  the sun to be 600 earth diameters, both are forms of imaginary knowledge (as Spinoza’s incorrect diameter figure may attest). Imagining the world to be a certain way, phenomenologically, is key to our ability to find our way around in it. Imagining is a good thing.  But what must be accounted for is the difference between the powers of imagining it one way (200 ft away) and another (109 earth diameters). This is not just a difference in “usefulness” (which itself must be qualified and explained), but an increase in our ability to act in the world – knowing the size and distance of the sun actually allows us to do such things as send probes into space. In my view, any of these increases in the capacity to act, however they manifest themselves in imaginary or phenomenological experiences, must be understood as Ideational increases in adequacy (admitting with both Eric Schliesser and Micheal Della Rocca that we can never have completely adequate ideas about the external world).

    Clues from Balling’s Prophetic Imagination

    So, of what does this difference of pictures consist? An important clue to what Spinoza means by “imaginary” and its relationship to the intellect can be found in his letter to Peter Balling in 1664, a copy of the full text is included at the end of this past post: How Long was Peter Balling’s Son Dead?. I will address the usual reading of the letter in which Spinoza responds to his friend Peter Balling’s account of a premonition he hauntingly received of his very recent son’s death. A certain “rasping” he imagined, a difficulty in breathing apparently long before his son took mortally ill. This is really a striking letter for Spinoza theorizes about the different sources of imaginary experiences, retelling his own account of a waking dream; but also for our purposes how he in this letter reasons that the imaginary follows the intellect exposes why picturing the Sun one way is better than picturing it another way.

    Spinoza suggests to Balling that there are two sources for imaginary experiences. There are dispositions of the body, for instance how a fever might compel a hallucination, and then there is the constitution of the soul [ab animae constitutione] which may produce imaginary experiences of a different power; a power even perhaps capable of foresaging the future. I think that there are some significant problems with such a dichotomy of sources as the parallel postulate and also the definition of the soul as the idea of the body pretty much make such split extremely difficult imagine or justify (a problem perhaps to be resolved with an appeal to levels of conscious awareness or to shared ideas); but we may by-pass that for the moment. What is key is that Spinoza tells Peter Balling that indeed, because his soul partook in the very essence of his son’s soul by virtue of his very powerful love, making them literally and ontologically One, he was able to imagine his son’s future, however confusedly. In short, the father’s confused premonition of his son’s breathing actually is born out of an ideal, for Spinoza, intellectual relationship. And as such his imaginary experience held or expressed a certain power.

    However skeptical one might be of such an extreme example, in his explanation Spinoza provides the very framework by which we can consider what imaginary knowledge is. To put it briefly, the phenomenological picturing of the world, how we experience it to be, bears a dependent relationship to our ideational states and thus our relationships to others. Spinoza says that the imagination follows the traces of the Intellect:

    We also see that the imagination is to a certain extent determined by the constitution of the soul [ab animae constitutione]; for, as we know by experience, in all things it follows the traces of the Intellect [vestigia in omnibus sequitur], and its images and words out of an order, just as the demonstrations of the Intellect, it organizes, so one after another it connects; so that I submit that there is hardly nothing to discern [intelligere] by which the imagination will not, from a trace [vestiglia], form some image.

    Aside from the Balling issue, here we have a key connective between the images of the imagination and the ideas of the soul. The way that we phenomenologically experience (or even in fantasy dream up) the world follows the traces of the Intellect.  We can also read a certain parallel between the physiological sources of the illusion that the Sun is 200 ft away (as explained by Descartes) and the physiological sources of a fevered hallucination in the letter to Balling. In each there is an illusion which involves a certain ignorance of the causes of its production. In the case rather of the picturing of the Sun’s accurate size and the father’s premonition of a death, Spinoza reads the imaginary event as following the traces of the Intellect, the connections of our ideas. When we ideationally understand something about the world, there is almost nothing which we understand which will not produce a produced image.

    Again I think Spinoza is a little inconsistent in his theory of two sources, but we have here the groundwork for understanding why one image of the sun is superior to another. The scientific calculation and observation of the sun and other celestial bodies, using the entia rationis which are maths, help composes a sequence of related and dependent ideas, upon the traces of which the imagination will form images. The real, rational processes of intellectual progression which composes scientific explanation of the sun and much else allow a more productive imagination of how the world is.

    The Actions of Calculation

    But in keeping with Eric Schliesser’s thesis that scientific observation or mathematical calculation can never produce the very essences of external things, and that Nature cannot be adequately rendered in, or reduced to, a mathematical language, Spinoza tells us that an ens rationis should not be confused with ens reale. That is to say in another way, the semiotic impact of a difference in thought which constitutes its ontological force, is not to be confused with whatever it is supposed to be describing or referring to. When I am rationally calculating as a mathematician or a Scientist I am changing my ontological lean towards the World (Substance, Nature), gaining or losing degrees of Being with the coherence of my thought which connects me to others and the world, providing traces for imaginings, but I am necessarily not describing the World precisely or absolutely adequately as it is. My actions as a finite being are always connective and collaborating, but not subsuming.

    Put far less opaquely, the rational work that we do as we link our more clearly conceived thoughts to each other (in whatever field), is to construct an armature upon which we are better able to imagine or phenomenologically experience the world. The web of our more adequate ideas composes the traces upon which our more powerful imaginings are built. This can be said to be the case whether in terms of ideology or physical fact. It is not that we are to dismiss the imaginary or phenomenological, but rather to build the most far-reaching and connective imaginations/experiences possible. And it is here that we receive our explanation for what Spinoza likely meant in Letter 12 when he called Number an “aid [auxilia] to the imagination” all the while identifying it as an ens rationis. What is an aid to the imagination (which strives to imagine that which increases the body’s power of acting – E3p12), is that which allows its images to be related to the greatest number of causes. Because the imagination follows the traces of the intellect, the more adequate our ideas, the more powerful our imaginings. And in a very real sense, the imagination of the sun being 200 ft away is related to a greater number of, one might say, constituent causes than the image of the sun being 109 earth diameters.

    More thoughts on the powers of Imagination in Spinoza’s framework: Spinoza and the Caliban Question and Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination

    “By mathematical attestation”: Spinoza’s Epiphantic Calculation

    Just How Mathematical Was He?

    I have been having an interesting conversation over time with Eric Schliesser at Leiden University who holds a minority position on the role mathematics plays in Spinoza’s position on what can be known. He strongly interprets Letter 12 towards a skepticism for just what mathematical calculation (and its attendant applied empirical observation) reveals. As Letter 12 attests, Spinoza regarded mathematics as a “product” of the imagination, come from our imaginary classifications of objects as wholly bound things – cut out from the cloth of Substance, if you will. I wrote on my agreement with this here Spinoza and Mechanical Infinities, but Eric really would like to push the interpretation so far as to restrict all of mathematical endeavours to the realm of the imaginary (the lowest forms of knowledge for Spinoza, the other two being the “rational” and the “intuitional”). This of course comes up against Spinoza’s rather obvious and profound use of mathematics as a model for philosophical investigation and even the higher forms of knowledge as both his method more geometico and his illustrations of higher knowledge both make use of mathematical forms as exemplary.

    In large part I really am in agreement with Eric, in the most common Spinoza interpretations the mathematical has somehow risen far above the frame in which Spinoza intended it, but it makes very little sense for me to regard the “products” of imagination as imaginary itself – in the Emendation Spinoza speaks of the production of tools of intellection out of imaginary relations as a positive progression. Clearly mathematical description provides distinct causal understanding of the relations between things, and it is exactly in this vein that the empirical science observations of several centuries does provide a substantive remove from mere superstition, something that Spinoza firmly places himself against. It would seem that Spinoza’s true position lies somewhere in-between, not accepting Galileo’s thought that Nature is written in the language of mathematics, but also grasping that in mathematics (and observation, experiment) there are genuine increases in understanding, freedom, power, joy,  and ultimately for Spinoza, Being.

    In this way mathematics is seen as:

    1. Both a product of the imagination, and an aid to the imagination [Auxilia imaginationis] (Letter 12).

    2. As such they are qualifiable as ens rationis which is what Spinoza calls them in letter 12 [eius modi Entibus rationis], something he is elsewise careful not to be blurred with ens imaginationis (E1App). 

    3. It should be admitted that Spinoza does not help things by just prior to distinguishing “number” as a  “things of this reasoning” in letter 12 to Meyer he refers to it as  “nothing more than thinking’s, or better imagining’s, modes” [nihil esse praeter cogitandi, seu potius imaginandi, modos] – he wants to straddle the line here and a little confusedly so.  

    4. But reading numbers as ens rationis (distinct from ens imaginationis), these, as Spinoza notes in the all important E2p49 asserting the collapse of volition into the concept of “idea”, are not ens reale (Cor. dem. [III. B (iii)], accept when the latter is understood as an operant, an affirmation and an action. 

    5. The real and the rational abstraction that describes it are not to be confused. It is this final distinction that provides the skeptical element towards an ultimate mathematical reduction of Nature.

    6. One has to live with the exegetical problem that while Spinoza in the Appendix of Ethics part I makes a strong distinction between things of the imagination, and things of reason, in letter 12 he oscillates, even within sentences, between things of (this) reason and something he undefinedly calls aids (auxilia) of the/to the imagination, never sure how he wants to describe Number.

    Are Maths Only Imaginary? What Would that Mean?

    By my understanding Eric places increases of power in mathematical description solely within the a “usefulness” category, all the while restricting them to the “imaginary realm”. While I really enjoy this outlier position, the very substantive nature of these increases in usefulness simply remains unexplained. And though this in part may be due to some inconsistency in how Spinoza treats the imagination (and the concept of order itself), I do think that Spinoza saw in mathematics (and scientific testing) genuine increases in the understanding of things, without acceding to the thought that mathematics genuinely reveals the eternal essences of things. For Spinoza we are, even the most scientific among us, like a “worm in blood”, not comprehending entirely the body and indeed the Universe we live in.

    In this discussion there is an interesting, and indeed I think problematic sentence that at least provisionally I would like to retranslate. It is found in the Appendix of the first part of the Ethics, and in it Spinoza appeals to the very mathematical attestation by which we perceive or understand things of the world. He has just finished rebuffing two stages in thinking: addressed are those that feel that astronomically it is the motions of the heavenly bodies themselves that somehow compose [componere] a  harmony, a harmony that God delights in; and then those that from this notion of celestial harmony then find that it is the disposition of the brain alone from which human judgment comes, something which results in a skepticism of knowing in general. One is left with either a physiognomic theory of differences of perceptions (there are as many different kinds of brains as there are palates), or presumably on the other end the “veil of ideas” of proto-idealism.

    In contrast to this physiognomic skepticism, Spinoza turns to the very discernment of things [res]:

    Res enim si intellexissent, illae omnes teste mathesi, si non allicerent, ad minimum convincerent.

    I translate this literally because there is some disagreement in the major English translators on the meaning of Spinoza’s sentence (and I think that both of them are somewhat wrong):

    For if things they would have been able to discern, those all by mathematical attestation, if they were not allured, at minimum they would have been convinced.

    The two counter translations I provide here. Curley in some rather convoluted restructuring, attempts to emphasize the “all” as an accusative. All these persons would be convinced if they merely discerned things correctly. The things themselves would convince everyone. While Shirley, I think more correctly, places emphasis upon both Spinoza’s mode of argumentation, and mathematical attestation. Here they are:

    “For if men had understood them, the things would at least convinced them all, even if they did not attract them all, as the example of mathematics shows.” (Curley)

    “For if men understood things, all that I have put forward would be found, if not attractive, at any rate convincing, as Mathematics attests.” (Shirley)

    There really is no support for Curley’s inventive transformation of “omnes” into a universal emphasis of agreements, though that may be implied. Really what Spinoza is saying is that indeed contrary to merely the physionomic understanding of judgments (and also a celestial orderliness model), distinct discernments of things has come via the testament of mathematical treatments. While Shirley’s translation grasps the general thought of this, Curley captures the very epiphantic nature of such intellection, it through mathematical treatments that the very nature of “things” appears.

    And the little caveat on the nature of how such men will be affected by such discernment is telling. Such fellows will be convinced, though they may be “attracted” to such an interpretation. Here Spinoza seems to be putting his thumb in the eye of those that disagree. There are it would seem libidinal investments in seeing the world other than the way in which it is most arguably so. There is also perhaps a commercial connotative association of liceo, “to buy, to put a price on, to value” which may not be far from Spinoza’s intention.

    Teste Mathesi

    So what are we to make of this “by mathematical attestation” [teste mathesi]. Clearly, it is by reason of mathematics that philosophers (and scientists) arrived at the notion of a harmony composed of celestial bodies in motion, a sense of harmony that for Spinoza ultimately lead to viewing the brain as the source of all human judgment; so it cannot be by mathematics alone that we come to discern things properly. And Spinoza has in turn used the geometic method in such a way that he seems to feel that he has, via such a mathematical attestation, produced a discernment of things. As Spinoza in Letter 12 strongly calls into question the ultimate knowledge available by mathematical measurement and calculation, there would seem to be only one more meaning remaining. Mathematical attestation is for Spinoza a revelatory one, one in which the coherence itself (what is calls elsewhere a different “standard of truth”) provides the conviction of discerment, but also one in which any mathematical description always remains merely an approximation, a rounding off of the edges. And these are edged through which the epiphany of perception itself shows through. This is in keeping with my general sense that in that all the propositions found in the Ethics are linguistic expressions, none of them actually are adequate ideas. It is rather that the interaction with the Ethics itself, its real, material and ideational body, is to provoke, is to cause, a real material and ideational change in the reader, one which cannot be reduced to the arguments themselves.

    In a certain sense, Spinoza’s very intellectual and physical experiences as a craftsman, the precise use of calculation when applied to physical substances in the service of gaining the desired effects is the very thing that would preclude any minimization of mathematics or the testing of experimentation. Craftsmanship is after all where abstracted calculation and experiential rule of thumb come most closely together. And by all testament, Spinoza was a superb and devoted craftsman.

    In a modern sense, we might want to say that for Spinoza the Universe is not a linear mathematical thing, but that the coherences of cognitions and communications between things is at best brought out by linear mathematical treatments (those only known of the day), treatments that in the end must also then be compared with man’s own finitude as a creature. As a craftsman perhaps he not only understood the way in which calculation and figure could be used to control and shape material, but also understood the often unexpected, unique and eruptive form of material itself, the way in which the glass, bubbled and fogged as it is, defies the curve of optical imprint of the lens grinding form. For Spinoza there are always non-linear magnitudes within magnitudes, beyond any one boundary-making, linear abstraction. But this does not prevent mathematics itself to produce reductive epiphanies unto the relationship between things.

    Some follow-up thoughts: Spinoza “Following the Traces of the Intellect”: Powers of Imagining

    The Prague Esprit de Spinoza and Einstein’s Inception of General Relativity

    Einstein, the Violin and Kafka

    I had read before of Einstein’s appeal for Spinoza, but had only taken this to be a wide berth affection for the powers of intellectual description and the whole orderliness of the Universe. I had not considered that Einstein might have causally been affected by Spinoza’s concept of Substance as modally expressive of objects (and ideas). But I came across this reference which seem to strongly suggest that while Einstein was busy playing violin and discussing philosophy in the Prague Circle – and working on his General Theory of Relativity – he indeed may have come under signficant conceptual influence of Spinoza’s idea of modally interdependent expressions of Substance.

    Firstly, this was the brief Einsteinization of Spinoza’s Substance as expressed by Zimmerman:

    Einstein’s idea was to actually include electromagnetic fields in his gravitational field equations by introducing them (by means of their potentials) into the metric components of space-time, in first place. As Wolfram Voelcker, Can Yurtoeven, and myself have shown at another place, this can be interpreted in terms of visualizing substance as space-time geometry in the sense of general relativity, representing gravitation, at the same time (16)

    Loops and Knots as Topoi of Substance Rainer E. Zimmermann

    But it was his reference to Lewis Feuer that got my attention (not to mention that I had never pictured that Kafka and Einstein could have ever been in the same room):

    Einstein used to say that the special theory of relativity was in the air when he discovered it, that Paul Langevin, for instance, might have done so as well. The general theory, on the other hand, was, he thought, a unique achievement that would not have found an alternative discoverer. The discovery of the general theory of relativity was not, in Einstein’s view, part of an inevitable logic in the evolution of science; it did not arise from any discussion that was taking place in scientific circles, and Max Planck, among others, regarded Einstein as making a mistake in devoting his energies to this path of research. Evidently unusual circumstances may well have helped lead Einstein into what we might call his cosmological stage. Indeed, even as his circle of Marxian-Machian friends in Zurich and Berne was a cultural mainstay in his formation of the special theory of relativity, so likewise Einstein’s association with the Prague Circle of Jewish mystics and  intellectuals may have assisted his transition to a cosmological stage, a shift from Hume to Spinoza, and the formation of the general theory of relativity (xiii)…

    The German University at Prague became, as the historian Hans Kohn wrote, the center from which a new German and Jewish intellectual movement began. Einstein attended the Tuesday meetings of this circle regularly at the home of a highly cultured woman, Mr. Bertha Fanta. Led by a young philosopher, Hugo Bergmann, later to become the first rector of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, the group also included among its members (and intermittent visitors) the young novelist Max Brod; his close friend, the later celebrated Franz Kafka, depictor of human bewilderment in a bureaucratic society; the writers Arnold Zweig and Jakob Wasserman; the student of Spinoza, Margarete Susmann; the philosophers and scholars, Erich Kahler, Felix Weltsch, and Hans Kohn; and the Berlin mystical anarchist, Gustav Landauer. Not a single Marxist could be found among them; furthermore, all were or were becoming Zionists and were to varying degrees touched with mysticism. Even Kafka under their influence found himself drawn toward their enthusiasm. Until after midnight they would read Kant’s Prolegomena to a Future Metaphysics or the Critique of Pure Reason. Einstein brought his violin, and when they were surfeited with metaphysics that would play chamber music with Hugo Bergmann conducting (xiv)…

    In the Prague Circle Einstein also heard more of Spinoza’s blend of science with mysticism. When in 1913 their society Bar Kochba published a collective volume of essays, Von Judentum, with such contributors as Bergmann, Buber, Erich Kahler and Gustav Landauer, they also included an essay on Spinoza, “Spinoza und das jüdische Weltgefühl” (Spinoza and the Jewish Cosmic Emotion). Einstein in later years, describing himself as sharing Spinoza’s conception of God, also used the expression “cosmic religious feeling” as the favorite description for his philosophy (xv)

    read the whole thing here: Einstein and the Generations of Science, Lewis Samuel Feuer

    The Fabric of Relative Relations

    It bothers some the way that Spinoza’s sometimes crude, mechanistic 17th century physics are extended centuries into the unexpected brilliance of the 21st century, making of Spinoza something of a long ignored prophet.  And perhaps it is fair to be bother by this. But really, in reading philosophers of the past and harvesting their potential for sense-making now, what is most important is to identify the ways in which they disagreed with others, and how those disagreement positions were lost or ignored by history. It is harvesting from the contingency of historical losers the powers of their genetic thought. And in a certain sense Spinoza is ripe for this, as he was active at a time when modern European society (and Philosophy) took distinctive turns away from him and his arguments. And at least in this case, the case of Einstein, if it were not so that Spinoza anticipated Einstein’s General Relativity with a kind of “field” being conception of Substance and the modes, it does seem the case that he conceptually did influence or inspired a signficant paradigm shift in conception in the Sciences, giving foothold to his claim that is concept that rules observation. And distinctly separating out “presaging” from “influence” may be a conceptually impossible task.

    For example, as memorably Bennett (re)imagines Spinoza’s position in relativistic terms: “If there is (…) a pebble in region R, what makes this true is the fact that R is pebbly (which) stands for a certain monadic property that a spatial region can have. If the pebble moves (…), what makes this true is the fact that there is a continuous change in which regions are pebbly: The so-called movement of a pebble through space is like the so-called movement of a panic through a crowd.”    “Spinoza’s Metaphysics”

    Returning to the original citation, interestingly, prospectively, it is not with General Relativity that Zimmermann finds the greatest resonance of Spinoza’s Substance/modal philosophy and physics, but with one type of attempt to resolve both Einstein’s GR with Quantum Physics, looking “outside” the world for their union. As he puts it…

    During the last three decades, a basically different approach to unification has been put forward going back to an old idea of John Wheeler’s: If it is not possible to unify the competitors within the world, it might be possible to unify them outside the world, the basic idea being to introduce an abstract mathematical structure from which space and time (and matter) as fundamental categories of the world could be eventually derived. It is quite straightforward in fact, to notice the connotation of substance here: If we define our world in terms of fundamental categories such as space and time (and matter), then everything outside the world from which we might be able to derive these fundamental categories is the foundation of the world and as such it is non-being. Hence, the idea is to visualize the world as a variety which has become out of a primordial (actually pre-worldly) unity. If so, then the next step, namely to formulate this the other way round: that the world is in fact this primordial unity as being observed as a becoming variety by its members who have restricted means of perception, is relatively small. Contrary to what Einstein thought, space-time-matter would not be substance itself but only the latter’s worldly attribute. And what is “before” (and external to) the world, pre-geometry, would gain the connotation of a substance.

    [link to PDF above]

    The Centers of Sensuous Gravity, and Their Relations: Shaviro and Harman

    Turtlism and Other Quaint Difficulties

    A few thoughts on Shaviro’s response to Harman’s appreciation for Turtles (and the problem of infinite regress). He mentions my thoughts on the matter, and seems to ponder such an answer, appealing to Schelling I think rightly so, rather than Hegel. There is a non-entity end of the backwards or beneath/between tracings of entity chains:

    It may well be that an ungrounded infinite regress is not such a bad thing (as Harman says, for instance, here). There are, however, other ways to nuance the question of infinite regress. Kvond suggests as much here, raising the point that what stops the regress from being infinite might be of another nature than the entities among which the regress takes place. (This could be seen in a number of ways; I am inclined to think of it in terms of Schelling’s notion of a ground, as opposed to Hegel’s totalizing closure). But I need to think about this some more, so I will postpone further discussion until another time.

    From my perspective though, it is Schelling’s Idealism that draws him down, and it is his Spinozism that makes such a concept of “ground” compelling. There is nothing that Schelling actually adds to the Spinozist solution to object-oriented Turtlism. There should be no ontological priority of mind (or subject/object binarism) in the analysis of either objects or their relations (I hope to post on this soon, under the concept of information). What is compelling about the Spinozist answer of Substance (against an Aristotelian concept of substances), is that each and every assemblage indeed retains its own inside/outside boundary, an epistemic concrescence we might want to say, but continually and ever this is an open relation, the interiors of recursivity being insufficient to define or “reduce” the object to any pure objecthood.

    A Diversity and Richness of Relations

    Shaviro goes onto praise the diversity of objects which Harman’s position brings into view, but decries the paucity of an appreciation of relations. He looks for a Realism (speculative or otherwise) which grants nobility to relations, as much as it does for said “objects”:

    I am looking for a “speculative realism” that does justice to the multifariousness of relations, as well as to the multifariousness of things or substances.

    As I have emphasized in the past, Harman’s love of objects isn’t I suspect really for objects at all, but rather the object is to serve as mere and empty anchor for the sensuous qualities, turning his philosophy into a QOP: The “sensuous vicar” of Causation.  Indeed, I think what distinguishes the framework that Harman provides is that, as Shaviro notes, it is a speculative mode of perception that leaves out the very connective material, the relations between such objects. The reality of those relations. One can see this symptomatically of course in his rather poor or insubstantive reading of causation. But it is more than this. Harman sees the world as fulled with objects because I think he wants to see it as filled with centers of activity. A center of activity here, a center of activity there, and the activities are sensuously confined behind the closed doors of the object’s surface. Harman’s is really a social theory of privatized interiors, in my mind anthropomorphically projected onto the rest of the Universe, a projection attempting to erase its social positioning of privatized sensuous inner realms.

    But it goes beyond this, and Shaviro’s complaint is revealing. It comes to a question of openness vs. closeness. What a reality of relations (and not just closed centers of activity) gives us is a grammar of analysis for social relations themselves, the connective parts and forces that exist between located centers of activity. One might say the very fabric of what is real. In such a fabric, I suggest, is the very possibilities we have for self-direction and social increase, the very openness of our path-steering and trans-personal capacities of experience itself. Much is at stake when we are considering whether we should see the world as solely filled with centers of activity, or composed of activities, processes, etc., which sometimes cohere into centers better seen as boundaried.

    The reason I suspect that objects must yield in turn to proceses or relations, in part is because this shapes the way that we encounter, change and participate in what we find, the way in which we blurr boundaries, cross over into objects, conjoinedly enflesh ourselves with pieces of the world, a view in which a primary sense of objects-under-retreat simply makes little sense.

     

    Note

    As a sidenote – and the reference may be non sequitur to some who have not been following my other posts – recent examination of the history of military strategy in the theories of John Boyd (on whom I also hope to post soon), I believe reveals the importance of reading the world as composed of solely centers of activity. When facing issues of an opponent (or a potential communicator)  the game of defeat or communication is won or lost in the very connectivity between centers (best not seen as centers themselves); while the evolutionary, preditor-oriented eye might readily travel to the centers of activity (the head, the heart, etc.), the warp and weft between the concrescences of pattern – those the seeming locuses of power, experience and mind – is where advantage is most played out.

    Its “objects” All the Way Down

    Turtle Oriented Philosophy (TOP)

    Harman has a brief note voicing his complaint that people take the “Its turtles all the way down” as some kind of knock-down argument presumably against his own claims about objects:

    Why is the phrase “turtles all the way down” always taken as a game-ending slam dunk, even when the alternative adopted is “the final turtle at the bottom of the world”?

    If you don’t want an infinite regress of entities, the choices are:

    (a) a finite regress to some ultimate constituent of the cosmos

    (b) no regress at all, with everything remaining on the surface of human access and nothing hiding beneath

    Neither is a very good choice.

    The way that he sets up his dichotomy is perhaps somewhat revealing for the position he holds. There is something called an “entity” (presumably an “object”) taken from Medieval philosophy, the combination of which makes up the constituency of the universe. What has to be explained is the causal regress of these “entities”. When we take this “entity” notion and translate it to “turtles” we begin to see something of the problem. The way we think of “objects” as objects (with boundaries, insides and outsides, etc) is a product of our visual, everyday sense of the world, just as an American Indian might feel that the whole world rests on the back of a turtle (something he is very familiar with).

    So, when we take up Harman’s cruel alternative “a”: (a) a finite regress to some ultimate constituent of the cosmos, the reason why this is a “good” choice is that the so called “ultimate constituent of the universe” isn’t best seen as an “entity” (or an object, or a turtle). It is of a nature that is not like the kinds of things our visual cortex gives to us. It is probably best seen as a kind of process, one would have to say.

    The problem with Harman’s approach is that all he can see is turtles, this kind of turtle and that kind of turtle, and really for this reason his science of causation, how turtles relate to turtles is quite devoid of real explanations for the real world. When looking for causal explanations or the relationship between things he can only ask the question: But what kind of turtle is it?, not a very helpful question at times. Though one has to admit that imagining the world full of turtles and nothing else is a wonderful and entertaining thing to do.

    What Alice Has to Say

    There is a curious, melancholy character in Alice in Wonderland, the “Mock Turtle“, whose name and identity is made up of the very recursive nature of a faux turtle soup:

    Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”

    “No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

    “It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,” said the Queen.

    (Alice in Wonderland, chapter 9)

    What we want to say is that like the mock turtle there is something of a confusion over what we “are” and the process and naming of soupmaking.

    [Shaviro gives good context to the discussion here]

    The Attraction of “Phase Space”, Levi’s Missing Objects

    In his usual grasp at the sciences for metaphors Levi has touched on something of interest I think, as I have been reading Stonier’s extremely compelling book Information and the Internal Structure of the universe  (1990), upon which I hope to post soon. In his still vestige symptomatic Lacanianism, Levi uses the “matheme” (the desire to “talk” in the analogy of an algebra) of the crossed out “O” to indicate the “object” that is ever in retreat. In a very nice passage we get a sense of the sense he is trying to make of the idea that objects retreat from their interactions:

    At any rate, some differences between Harman’s ontography and my onticology are readily evident in the second paragraph quoted above. With Harman I argue that objects withdraw from other objects, however I arrive at this position for a very different set of reasons. In my view, the withdrawal of objects is the result of the difference between dimensions of objects or Ø and O1. Within the framework of onticology Ø or the matheme for the split or barred object refers to the endo-relational structure of the object. This endo-relational structure consists of a system of attractors defining the phase space of an object or all possible ways in which an object can actualize itself. Attractors are states towards which a system tends, whereas a phase space consists of all possible states a system can occupy. Thus, for example, if you roll a marble down the side of a bowl, the final point at which the marble comes to rest is a fixed point attractor of this system. By contrast, the phase space of this system is all the points the marble can occupy as it rolls up and down the sides of the bowl. I argue that objects are split or divided– or in Harman’s parlance, that they “withdraw” –because no object actualizes all possible points within its phase space. In this connection, O1 refers to an actualized point within a phase space that the object currently occupies.

    I think that this is an excellent place to start, but there are a few problems with the borrowing of these analogies from statistical mechanics. The first is these descriptors are used to describe very specific things, “closed systems”. In order for Levi to apply such a thought to his idea that everything is an object, EVERYTHING would have to be a closed system. My passing thought of my grandmother and a combustion engine would BOTH have to be a closed system, each with its own phase space and attractors. Under current understanding such a position would be more than pure invention, it would be, I think, wild analogy. Does the monetary policy of Brazil, and my dog scratching at a tick each have a “phase space”? Does “the flying spaghetti monster“? I suspect that Levi is conflating two things: one, the Idealist oriented notion of whether something is the “same” because we perceive it to be the same, giving it an idenity (something implicitly imported into Harmanism from Husserl), and the very specific energy and informational designations that cause us to regard something as a “system”.

    But I do not think that this conflation is unimportant or unhelpful. There does seem to be something interesting about putting these two things into one box “identity” and “phase space”. From my perspective what is compelling comes from Spinoza’s view that a thing is a thing, and remains a certain thing due to a certain ration of motion and rest that persists over time. I think that some rough, but perhaps still very substantive comparisons can be made between this notion and the informational and energy requirements to regard something as having a “phase space”. The notion of “closure” is somewhat missing (a part of which that imports from his Idealist, Lacanian heritage). What makes things “closed”? Is it our perception of them as closed, the subjective boundary that we drawn around them, seeing them as we do, or is it some essential “phase space” and “attractor” that forces them to have a ghost-life beneath our view? This notion of closure is an important one, and the way that Levi plays with both the psychological/perceptual sense of the word and the scientific sense is problematic.

    Because this is problematic ground I have been and would like to tread, this analogy to phase space is something worth paying attention to. And while I find difficult (or unhelpful) the notion that “the twinkle in her eye” is a closed system, and would like to treat closed systems as very specific things that can be considered “closed” because such an analysis yields valuable information about them (and not because they solve our philosophical question of identity), Spinoza’s definitional idea of what a body is makes the comparison between individuals and such spaces appealing. I have argued elsewhere that the closure of objects is best seen as “Semiotic” that is, making differences that make “the” difference rather than simply “a” difference: The “ens reale” and the “ens rationalis”: Spelling Out Differences, The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza and Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies. In each I take up the consequences of Spinoza’s definition of a body that I have referred to here:

    Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies. E2p13a2d

    What is key in our consideration is, I believe, the notion of communication, that the parts communicate their motions to each other (this can be found in the Latin phrase ut motus suos invicem certa quadam ratione communicent, translated by Curley as “that they communicate their motion to each other in a fixed manner”). This idea of communication is an important one because it opens up the “informational” dimension of what makes up a closure. What makes up a thing so as to be an “individual” is not only its material existence, but also its energy (motion/rest) AND its information (!), its communications. And yes, I do think that there are reasons to speak of the differences that make “a” difference in the world, and differences that make “the” difference (internal to a system or a taken to be recursive relationship).

    But this is the thing that I think that Levi is missing, and missing rather dramatically, in his question to make objects retreat from all their relations (and gain some sort of affinity to Harman’s Idealism). Although it pays to treat objects as separate from others, because their “phase space” is informational phase space (if we even grant the more wild aspects of the analogy from Science), and as such there is no reason to suppose that such a space of relations is closed off from the rest of the universe, or composes a difference that makes NO difference to other things, other systems, other phase spaces (Levi Uses Greek Fonts Nicely, but…). In fact, such a phase space, I would suggest, is necessarily understood to be permeated (and interactive) at several levels. I think I would deny that there is ANY system that is completely closed (that although it pays to treat them as closed, they never are entirely closed at all). This is the case in terms of scale (smaller component events can have consequences both on larger component scales, and thus across boundaries that would otherwise define the system), and also in term of the boundary itself. A political population of citizens can and will intersect with a population of disease, metallic elements in a machine will be effected by magnetic fields, etc., etc, etc. IF there is going to be a “phase space” analogy of the possible distribution of material elements in any “object” it is going to be a phase space that is so complex and interwoven with others (amenable to other vectored descriptions) that the ultimate solution of the “identity” problem in philosophy will never be found. Someone like Levi would like to simply deposit the identity of objects over time in such a system space, really for almost aesthetic reasons (the desire to cross out the “O” in objects), without significantly considering what a “phase space” is and what such a reality of objects would mean for identity itself. It seems that far from making objects have a “ghost” existence outside their manifestations, an existence which would make no difference to other objects, it seems to be much the opposite. Indeed objects may be described as specific manifestations of matter, energy and information that express the possibilities of their distribution, but such a phase space actually connects them to all other objects and all other phase spaces, and has a determined effect upon them.

    (A sidenote: There is the additional problem from Levi whose objects are forever in retreat that if indeed each object has a phase space, a mathematical description of such a space – using the statistical mechanics from which the analogy is derived – itself becomes an “effect” of the space itself. That is, far from being in retreat, such a space is not only expressing itself in the “object” that it underwrites, but also it is expressing itself in the mathematics, and the mathematician, that is describing it. It does not compose a difference that makes no difference, as itself has expressive properties. And one has to ask, does a “phase space” constitute an “object” as well, and have its own phase space and attractors – this is an interestng question?)

    Much as in Spinoza view in which essences are expressed modally, but also remain somehow latently immanent to any one manifestation, the information space within expressions is actually that which connects things to all other things, and to take it to be in continual retreat is, I believe, a fundamental mischaracterization. If anything such a space is what, in Deleuzian fashion can be called a “distaff” space, an information space out of which all things can be and are woven. It is ultimately a space intersected with all other spaces, undermining just what the Idealist notion of “objecthood” is (a notion founded upon Brentano’s Intentionality Thesis and Descartes opticality of consciousness). At the very least, and in the most obvious fashion, because entropy is defined in statistical mechanics as the tendency of a system to pass through all the phrase space that constitutes it, an “object”, what Levi wants to call O1, by virtue of its supposed Ø phase space status, could pass into a state of extreme element distribution, all of the atoms that might constitute it floating in an entropy soup O2, and still be regarded as the same object Ø (beyond any common sense of identity). A tornado passed into mere breezes. This is somthing that might only be meaningful to say of one thing, Spinoza’s Substance. I hope to post on information, Stonier and Spinoza soon.

    Levi Uses Greek Fonts Nicely, but…

    Chasing Down the Same

    In his recent post in support of the difference that makes no difference Levi does a nice job of bringing Greek words into play, gaming with “to be” and “to become” but he runs upon the reef of the Same, something he attempts bridge with the notion of internal consistency…

    “In order for an object to be an object, it is clear that it must attain a degree of closure or endo-consistency. It must maintain some sort of identity through time [….] Now, it is clear that “closure” cannot signify sameness.”

    So the objecthood of a thing is an “internal consistency” (translating Levi out from his penchant for making up jargon) that persists over time, but yet this is also not “sameness” or something that is the same. One cannot help but feel that we have fallen down the Idealist well here, all the while scraping at the slimy sides of the Same, staring up at the white circle of clarity above. What is an “internal consistency” “identity” over time if not something remaining “the same”? And why in the world would this “sameness” (which cannot be called “sameness” but only “internal consistency over time”) not make a difference to other things? Is it not the case, as Sloterdijk analogizes, that insides determine outsides, and outsides insides just as when soap bubbles adhere in balanced tension?

    The interesting thing is that something of these problems also plague Spinoza, or would plague him, if he found “objecthood” (that particular ghost of what he calls “thinking in pictures”) to be one of the primary aims of philosophical understanding. Because one is not looking for a difference that makes NO difference, and is not playing games with the for-itself and the for-others (another anthropocentric projection), this difficulty is parsed out in the idea of a ratio of motion and rest that persists over time. The answer being melodic, rather than ghosting (no lines are drawn through objects). The question of inside and outside is ultimately a question of how things organize, not whether they are or not.

    Levi is responding to the provoking thoughts of Immanence

    The “Quiet Sun” and the not so Quiet

    Eric has started blogging, and it is good to have one more voice in the sphere. I’m very happy when someone starts publically writing when before they hadn’t. Already his thoughts on Spinoza and Tarkovsky have provoked more thoughts. And looking forward to what else comes forward.

    The Quiet Sun

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