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kvond

Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?

In reading through Bousquet’s The Scientific Way of Warefare (aspects of which I have already engaged, here), there are pockets of useful summation that one runs into in his narrative that simply call for investigation. I’m going to have to pass on an elaborate presentation of the ideas of Cybernetics and Complexity, but Bousquet provides excellent, essential cartography. In particular is his emphasis that Cybernetic thinking from the 40s, 50s and 60s concerned itself with a borrowing of the concept of “entropy” from thermodynamics, organization processes of “negative feedback” in pursuit of system homeostasis, with a concentration upon system “control”. Systems were seen as hermetically closed loops which worked inwardly to organize themselves to fight off entropy, noise, confusion, and establish an unending homeostasis which required no fundamental change in their own internal structure. The most basic form of the system was one that was able to note internal deviations from system “norm” which promoted external actions which would affect either a change in the environment or within, which then directed the system back to where it was before disturbed.

For some concerned with the philosophy of Spinoza there are immediate prima facie correspondences here, enough to suggest that Spinoza seems something of a proto-cyberneticist. Spinoza’s stoic-like internal regulation of one’s own thinking processes, especially on the order of the avoidance of “confused” ideas, along with his doctrine that the conatus (essential striving) of a person or a thing was a driving force to preserve itself against outside destruction, seem to hold true to a cybernetic framing of the question of epistemology and power/control. Add to this that cybernetic models were of a distinctly linear mathematical nature (marked by the additive property of cause), and that at times Spinoza seems to treat causes in the same linear fashion (for instance the idealized assertion that two men of the same nature, when combined produce a new body twice as powerful), suggests deep conceptual ties been Spinoza’s self-regulating bodies of conatus continuation and early information theory, cybernetic concepts of the control of “noise” and pursuant homeostasis. (There is of course the signficant difference in the concept of entropy itself, as Spinoza reads all degradation as caused by external influence, and not natural to any system itself.)

To this comparison of affinities we also have to add a significant metaphysical homology, something that struck me as rather surprising. I have long emphasized that Spinoza’s onto-epistemology partakes in an unusual though very distinct way in the Neoplatonic model of Being as read in degrees. This is to say, things do not simply have Being or not, but rather have degrees of Being. And, as I also emphasized, Augustine was probably the greatest purveyor of this Neoplatonic doctrine, taken from Plotinus, through the Christian Middle Ages to post Renaissance thinking. In such a view, “evil” is under a non-Manichean, and one wants to stress, non-Dualistic definition. Evil was simply the absence of good (and not a force in its own right).

Historical Digression: Handled briefly so as to give a sketch of the historical ground we are covering, the Augustianian, Neoplatonic position is perhaps best expressed in his Enchiridion. There  the ontology of the Good is equated with Being (an argument also found in the City of God  XI, chap. 9, where the relative non-Being of evil is also briefly stated. As with Spinoza so many centuries later, the question of the Being of evil becomes one merely one of privation:

CHAPTER IV. The Problem of Evil

12. All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its “nature” cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. There is good reason, therefore, to praise an uncorrupted thing, and if it were indeed an incorruptible thing which could not be destroyed, it would doubtless be all the more worthy of praise. When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good.

One can see the correspondence between Augustine’s Ne0platonic “privation” and Spinoza’s theorizing on falsity, wherein the “Good” has been transposed into issues of truth; in the Ethics the gradated Being resolution of traditional dualisms has taken on its most systematic character. As Spinoza writes, ultimately echoing Plotinus’ radiating conception of Being (Enn. 3.2,5; 4.5,7):

E2p33 There is nothing positive in ideas whereby they can be said to be false.

Proof: If this can be denied, conceive, if possible, a positive mode of thinking which constitutes the form [forma] of error or falsity. This mode of thinking cannot be in God [E2p32], but neither can it be conceived externally to God [E1p15]. Thus there can be noting positive in ideas whereby they can be called false.

E2p35 Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge which inadequate ideas, that is, fragmentary and confused ideas, involve.

Return to Our Main Point: What is interesting is that Bousquet brings to our attention that Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, actually subscribed to an Augustinian concept of evil as well. That is to say, he regarded informational “noise” as that which a cybernetic system fought to overcome, understood as the absence, or non-recognition of order (pattern). When a cybernetic system fails it is due to a confusion resultant from an inability to read clearly the pattern of the events outside of it. And Wiener felt that cybernetic systems not only described thermostats and computer negative feedback loops, but also human beings and social systems.

The passage Bousquet evocatively cites is this:

I have already pointed out that the devil whom the scientist is fighting is the devil of confusion, not of willful malice. The view that nature reveals an entropic tendency is Augustinian, not Manichaean. Its inability to undertake an aggressive policy, deliberately to defeat the scientist, means that its evil doing is the result of a weakness in his nature rather than of a specifically evil power that it may have, equal or inferior to the principles of order in the universe which, local and temporary as they might be, still are probably not to unlike what the religious man means by God. In Augustinianism, the black of the world is negative and is the mere absence of white. (190)

The human use of human beings: cybernetics and society

One can see an immediate base similarity of project, in which the scientist looks to make clear and distinct the noise of the world, presumably by ordering his/her own ideas and internal organization as best that he/she; this, coupled with Spinoza’s own significant ontological tie of ordered and clear ideas with self-affirmations which render real changes in power in the world seems to place both Wiener and Spinoza within a world of potentiating noise and confusions, in which systems of every sort create islands of relatively more self-acting, clearer idea’d, internally coherent workings. The internal patterns of recursive coherence are those which recognize and order themselves amid a general pattern producing world. And there is ever the sense that the patterns, the coherence, the rationality is already out there. In Bateson, this is the “pattern that connects”.

But There Are Other Aspects of Spinoza

This is the way that Spinoza is often read, as the devoted, internally turned Rationalist. Neglected though is an entirely countervailing second aspect of Spinoza’s thinking. His Letter 12 skepticism towards mathematics, which he relates to products of the imagination (often overlooked), exposes a general distrust of ANY finite, localized expression of the universe, especially on the aspect of “control”. This is to say, Spinoza is ever suspect of the human mind/body’s ability to direct itself in the world, and as such, this skepticism yields to distinctly non-linear, non-equilibrium prescriptions which go far beyond Cybernetic science presumptions.

As Bousquet tells it, it is the realization that negative feedback isn’t the only primary organizing principle in systems. Indeed if a system is ever going to be able to adopt to environments which themselves are changing, it must have the ability to rewrite and change its own internal interpretative relations. And in order to do so they must be able to move from equilibrium pursuit (that ordered Good), to other equilibrium states. In fact in a certain sense the more semi-stable states a system is able to move into, the greater the chance it will have the flexibility to adapt to expected (unwritten yet) events. In short, one might want to say in a dangerously rhetorical way, a bit of “chaos” has to be introduced into the system. It is here where the conservation oriented, evil noise fighting cybernetic model gives way to Chaos theory and Complexity theory, fused into what has been called Chaoplexic thinking.

Positive feedback loops are those of a kind that do not push the system backdown to a homeostatic state, negating the effects of some outside perturbation. Instead they excite the system and work to produce more external events which, in what could be a vicious cycle, stimulate the system into further action. Positive feedback loops are those which can be self-extinguishing, as they throw the system forward into states from which it might not ever be able to return.

Now one can definitively say that just such mad chases are what Spinoza most often theorizes against. The burn-out amplifications of the imagination are just the kind that produce violence and hatred among peoples, and, as Spinoza artfully worked to show, these hatreds are logically linked to loves as well. Love and hate each can produces amplified destructions of reverberation. But if we look closer, is it not the case that negative feedback closure is also what Spinoza sees as insufficient? And, can we not agree with some systems theorists, that it takes a combination of negative-feedback groundings, and positive feedback exposures, flights, in order to produce a viable and self-preserving system? And, at the most fundamental level must we not also admit that for Spinoza behaviors and conditions of rationality are themselves positive feedback in their nature: rationality and clear understanding tends to produce more rationality and clear understanding (however contingently contextualized). What I suggest is that Spinoza’s cybernetic model of clearer self-organization amid a potentially threatening environment of noise is tempered (or one should say spiked) with an alternate Chaoplexic embrace of positive feedback amplifications, and that these amplifications help us read out some of core prescriptions in Spinoza’s advisement.

I feel a turn to an excellent diagram offered in Linda Beckerman’s informative essay “The Non-Linear Dynamics of War” will be of some help in uncovering the non-linear thinking of Spinoza. The diagram along with some of her explication hopefully will show the numerical, as well as still determinative aspects of chaoplexic organization, such that Spinoza skepticism of finite systems/expressions may dovetail with such thinking.

In explanation of the diagram Beckerman writes in a passage so clear it is worth quoting at length…

3. Bifurcation

3.1  Non-linear systems have the capacity to exhibit multiple stable states. This is illustrated in Figure 1 in what is termed a bifurcation diagram. The far left hand side of the diagram represents systems that are mono-stable and upon perturbation will eventually settle down to a single static or steady state condition. Just to the right of this region, the system “bifurcates”. This merely means that there are two states available to the system. For one range of perturbations and conditions, the system will settle down to one state and for another range of perturbations and conditions, it will settle down to another state. As we progress towards the right, each branch splits, and then each branch further splits resulting in a rapid increase the number of stable states. On the far right hand side are those that are Chaotic. Chaotic systems appear to have an infinite number of potentially stable states. But they never settle down to any of these for long and are therefore considered to be unstable…

3.3 Systems that are mono-stable or in steady state are so stable that any perturbation causes them to snap back to their stable state, leaving no opportunity for adaptation. Change requires “surgery”. An example of this would be a nation that solely uses attrition warfare to achieve its aims, regardless of the perturbation and underlying conditions (e.g. nature of adversary) causing them to go to war.

3.4 Figure 1 also shows an opportunistic region for adaptation. It is opportunistic precisely because there are so many states available. Many non-linear systems can be caused to bifurcate repeatedly merely by increasing the magnitude of the control parameters (see section 4). The most opportunistic portion is that immediately preceding the chaotic region (referred to as the “Edge of Chaos). The difficulty is the danger that a high amplitude perturbation (input) or change in system configuration (number of interconnections) could push the system into the chaotic region.

What I would like to put into immediate juxtaposition to such a Chaos-oriented framework is Spinoza’s famously suggestive numerical, and physical equation of “the Good”, where the Good is understood as “useful”…

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.

Hopefully you can see clearly how deviant this axiom of use is to the perturbation-shrinking model of negative feedback elimination. Indeed, much more suitably does Spinoza view of the enhanced body seem to reside – not in some fixed, closed off organization – but actually in the twilight region so described above in the diagram, the place between rigid stable states and pure chaos. Once in such a mathematical and determinative sweet-spot too much a deviation, either towards stability or toward turbulence, reduces the number of ways a body can effect and be affected. Only in the wave-line is this ideational maximality found, and one could say that for Spinoza it is this aesthetic line – caught between a hubris of excessive control and a reckless amplitude of destruction – that constitutes the proper, which is to say living, positive feedback loop.

It is Spinoza’s skepticism both towards finite expressions of knowledge, and also towards the human being’s capacity to become self-determined, that ever directs any individual outward, towards the surface of its interactions. But not only outward, where the border between self and world, self and other is ultimately broken down and reconfigured, but so breadthwise, across the horizontal of explanations. It is Spinoza’s pursuit of the maximization of interactive powers that undermines any primary subject/object, or subject/world concerns. Instead, it would seem, that all our interally directed, cybernetic-like orderings, all our reductions of informational “noise” must also then turn back towards the very interface that composes them, to the living line of a multiplicity of possible states.

Valuably Bousquet notes that the passage from Cybernetics to Chaoplexic thinking has been characterized as the move from concerns of “control” to those of “coordination”, what has been called the “coordination revolution”. Bousquet cites Arquilla and Ronfelt who put the case in the context of military theorization. No longer is the ultimate thought for the control of all events internal to a network or system, but rather in terms of the loosely configured relatability of elements:

In these and related writings, we see a trend among theorists to equate information with “organization,” “order,” and “structure”—to argue that embedded information is what makes an object have an orderly structure. As this trend has developed, its emphasis has shifted. At first, in the 1940s and 1950s, information theorists emphasized the concept of “entropy”—and were thus concerned with exploiting feedback to improve “control.” Now, the emphasis has shifted to the concept of “complexity”—and this has led to a new concern with the “coordination” of complex systems. Control and coordination are different, sometimes contrary processes; indeed, the exertion of excessive control in order to avoid entropy may inhibit the looser, decentralized types of coordination that often characterize advanced forms of complex systems. What James Beniger called the “control revolution” is now turning into what might be better termed a “coordination revolution.” Entropy and complexity look like opposing sides of the same coin of order. About the worst that can happen to embedded information is that it gives way to entropy, i.e., the tendency to become disorganized. The best is that it enables an object to grow in efficiency, versatility, and adaptability (148)

In Athena’s camp: preparing for conflict in the information age John Arquilla, David F. Ronfeldt

The reason for this is that, in perhaps a rediscovery of many rule-of-thumb warnings against excessively directed control, if one too strictly links internal elements within a finite system, the very improvements of the system when under stress might actually lead to the catastrophic collapse of it. Instead of tightly organized linkages, loosely based, more chaotic and therefore flexible relations are desired. Bousquet citing John Urry:

In loosely coupled systems by contrast there is plenty of slack in terms of time, resources and organizational capacity. They are much less likely to produce normal accidents since incidents can be coped with, so avoiding the interactive complexity found within tightly coupled systems. In the latter, moreover, the effects are non-linear. Up to a point, tightening the connections between elements in the system will increase efficiency when everything works smoothly. But, if one small item goes wrong, then that can have a catastrophic knock-on effect throughout the system. The system literally switches over, from smooth functioning to interactively complex disaster. And sometimes this results from a supposed improvement in the system.

Global complexity  John Urry

At the risk of having steered too far from our course, the genuine skepticism over finite, linear, rationalistic, internally directed and corrective, often hierarchical organizations, shows itself in the truism of how such linearity can switch into non-linear collapse, blindside to the episteme of the system itself. Instead a skepticism towards rational systems in general directs our attention between towards horizon creating interactions themselves, towards the notion of co0rdination and agreements, out towards an aesthetic of mutual bodies forming a crest of living, self-producing edge-of chaos complexification.

If it is so that Spinoza possesses such a non-equilibrium appeal, where is it to be found? Is it enough to invoke his defintional awareness of the usefulness of numerical interactions? Does his skepticism towards mathematics and any finite division of magnitudes establish a non-linear bent, enough to quell the dominant linearity of his age with Newton just around the corner? Is there a radical non-equilibrium pursuit that balances out the conservatism of his conatus doctrine? I think there is. And it falls to the entire directionality of the Ethics, in particular the acme psychologies of the fourth book, and at last the passing into Intuition of the fifth book.

This is the determinative passage I feel. Spinoza is an interesting writer, for as he is often times at such pains to draw out and weave concepts into an extensive web of taken-to-be luminous clarity, pages and pages of definition, proof, axiom, proposition, all interlinked. His very best stuff can be expressed gnomically, small statements whose interpretation is that upon which everything else turns:

E5p2 If we separate out aggitations (commotiones) or affects (affectus) from the cognition (cogitatione) of an external cause, and we join them to other cognitions, then Love and Hate, toward the external cause, as are the vacillations of the soul (animi fluctuationes) arising from affects, are destroyed (destruuntur).

Carefully consider this proposition in the context of the Cybernetic/Complexity dichotomy. It subsumes the whole of Spinoza’s quantifiable psychology of the preceding fourth book. It is the very cognitive temptation to give wholesale systemic valuation (“good”/”bad”) to external events that Spinoza has called into question. To put it into cybernetic terms, when the human body/mind system passes away from a state of equilibrium (moves to a condition of greater or lesser power), the credit is inordinately attributed to an external event. That external “cause” is given the valuation of good or bad given the changes in the system. When the experience is negative, that is, a breakdown of the internal coherence of the system experienced as Sadness, the system steers itself away from such events, back to equilibrium (risking a fixed, conservative stasis induced by fear). But when it is experienced as positive, that is, an increase in the internal coherence of the system experienced as happiness, then a positive feedback loop ensues, and the system steers towards the amplification of such events, promoting their increase (risking runaway dissolution).

Spinoza’s psychology is based upon moving clear from either of these determinatives, each of which are governed from an inordinate assessment of the power of an external cause. He at first directs the eye inwards, in a cybernetic-like valuation. It is not in the nature of the external event (alone) that the passage from one desired or undesired state has occurred, but rather in the very orders of our bodies and minds. We were predisposed to be affected a certain way, but it is our cognitive tendency to attribute the cause of these changes to some external thing that ultimate weakens our self-determination and freedom.

Compellingly, once this internal self-check is conducted separating out the affect from any one-to-one dichotomization of some state of our bodies/mind and some state of the world, the affect itself, the very feeling of the body in change is to be joined to other cognitions besides those of the thought of some overt external cause. I find this fascinating because Spinoza is advocating a kind of turning the body and its feelings over to the very interface with the world, wherein the world is seen as a great screen of causal effects. This is to say, our affects continue to distribute themselves across our bodies (minds), but they do so in a broad-spectrum fashion that invokes the edge chaos sweet-spot of Beckerman’s diagram. One can see this I believe in Spinoza claim that the fluctuations of the soul are “destroyed” in this process of opening up and cognitive awareness. This is not for him a passage into a conservation of the Self, so defined apart from the world, a falling back into an equilibrium of maintanence, but rather an expansion. The oscillations he has in mind are the oscillations of Love and Hate, the way in which loves generate fears and conservative retrenchments of the self against the world. And hates open up into flights that can disintegrate into turbulent chaotic flow. Instead there is an aesthetic place, between the two. It is a kind of equilibrium of perpetual growth, or the openness to a complexity of states that defies the equilibriums of the past, a literal opening up of the finite to the Infinite. A rift of becoming. Because the affect itself becomes separated out from its distinct (and false because partial) conscious interpretation, the affect exists almost as pure bodily thinking, or put another way, thinking purely through Joy (transitions towards perfection, power, freedom).

Thoughts Tending Towards Deleuze and Guattari

This is I think what Guattari and Deleuze called the Body Without Organs. And while for some it makes difficult sense to see where Guattari and Deleuze can find common ground with the sobriety of Spinoza, I believe it is here, in the intermediate, where the BwO meets Chaoplexic edge that the two/three find their home. And while Spinoza’s aesthetic setting seems closer to “stable” and D&Gs closer to chaos, they are operating in the bandwidth, in proximity, as each takes Joy as its compass heading. What Spinoza provides is a careful analytic of the powers of Cybernetic organization, at the level of epistemology and psychology. Indeed the rewriting of internal codes, the reorientation of cognitions toward each other, within the understanding that the affects of our body serve as material guide, is essential to seeing that Spinoza’s Rationalism is ever an A-Rational theory of growth, a search for the line of complexity that is ever re-inscribing anew the boundary between self and world.

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29 responses to “Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist?

  1. Eric September 3, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Excellent.

    Shouldn’t love and hate switch places here?:

    KVOND: ‘the way in which loves generate fears and conservative retrenchments of the self against the world. And hates open up into flights that can disintegrate into turbulant chaotic flow.’

    • kvond September 3, 2009 at 10:29 am

      Eric,

      The way that Spinoza composes his psychology of effects, it is our inordinate, and falsely styled loves (properly, our interpretation that specific objects in the world are solely responsible for our increases in Joy, pleasure, power, freedom), that actually in oscillation generate our reactive hates (for instance when bad things happen to the things/people we love, when people pursue the things/people we love to our exclusion, etc). And hates, the aliances against classes of things, themselves, generate then loves. In the model of interpretation I propose here, each over-entrenchment (hate) leads to an excessive flight or dip into chaos (love), and then back again.

      What is interesting is that when seen from “above” so to speak, these oscillations themselves compose the living line, the wavelength if you will, of the social expression. You just don’t want to be too far to oneside of the wave or another. And, as Spinoza sees it, you want to be right there in the middle, where the power and freedom is greatest.

      • Amarilla September 3, 2009 at 11:34 pm

        I was just talking about this sort of thing with a local Buddhist teacher in regards to the poet Milarepa, who wrote one of his “songs” about how horrible it is to have children. I was complaining about how incredibly negative and biased his view seems to me. It became clear as we spoke that the poet/ascetic had to take a hard tack (over-entrenched) position on parenting to abate his doubts about his asceticism and most likely to beat down his loneliness and desire for family. To self-motivate for his project, which you could call the pursuit of power and freedom.

        Once again I’m a little awestruck and grateful for the correspondence in thought I find here. Can’t tell you how often I’m also attracted to the word “entrenched” to describe distortions in valuation.

  2. Eric September 3, 2009 at 11:19 am

    So as an ideal, we would feel neither pleasure or pain connected with an externality effect?

    Wouldn’t, then, our capacity for empathetic relations be eliminated?

  3. kvond September 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Eric: “So as an ideal, we would feel neither pleasure or pain connected with an idea of an external cause?

    Wouldn’t, then, our capacity for empathetic relations be eliminated?

    Kvond: There are three ways I can think to answer this question, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to really sink into this with the respect that it deserves and will have to rely upon past posts for explanation (feel free to question more deeply if you would like).

    First of all, there is debate among Spinozists whether in fact affects exist at all for Spinoza. M. Della Rocca, one of my favorite writers on Spinoza thinks that they do not (while Deleuze thinks that they do). I wrote on Della Rocca’s position here:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/della-roccas-spinoza-do-affects-represent-anything/

    And here is Deleuze on What an Affect is, some of the clearest explication he ever produced on Spinoza:

    http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=14&groupe=spinoza&langue=2

    I personally feel that both Deleuze and Della Rocca have it wrong on the question of “representation”.

    Second of all, and pointed towards the question of empathy, Spinoza argues that there are two paths towards social order. The first is imaginary and based upon the empathy (and valuation) that binds, producing both affinity bonds between persons and emnities (which are also bonds). The second is a path of reason, which which does not rely explicitly on feeling the same as others, but rather in realizing the mutuality of benefits and uses that holds persons together in support.

    Balibar remains unsurpassed in explicating these two braids of social reasoning, and I provide both a brief summation and a PDF copy of the argument that Balibar puts forth here:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/balibars-spinoza-and-politics-the-braids-of-reason-and-passion/

    Lastly though, the issue of empathy does have some extra-theoretical consequences for Spinoza I believe, in particular that Spinoza prescribes a be-like-God path to freedom, wherein God is a being that has no affects of any kind.

    I have argued before that Spinoza actually provides something of a template for State Torture, in that a Totalitarian State manifests something of the same relationship to its enunciative citizenry as Substance does it its living modes (at least one can find homologies):

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/11/spinozas-logic-of-affects-and-an-ontology-of-torture/

    I find this quite interesting, as far as I know, no one has argued this point before.

    Lastly though, as I tried to express in the post on Cybernetics and Chaoplexity, affects in Spinoza are to be read as transitions in power, bodily juxtapositions between thresholds. As such, the social world (including human and non-human actors) are ever in affective communication. And if indeed Spinoza is arguing against empathy, it is the common empathy of valuation, whereby one projects essential good/evil ascriptions to objects or events based upon our empathetic investments in others.

    What Spinoza is calling for, at least in the Chaoplexic framework of the answer, is the severing of the physical affectio/feeling affectus from the additional idea of external causes (as essentialized), such that the affect itself provides a material progressive path when combined with our other breadth thinking.

    The path is not all that different than that advocated by Buddhism. There is indeed a causal chain of effects, but the mind’s inordinate ascription of the power of cause to external events such that the mind is forced to hop here and there in reactive, ping-pong ball fashion, is the very thing that causes suffering. It is just that Spinoza’s argument extends more deeply into the social fabric, into the weavings of our mutual investments.

    It seems to me that if we allow the intra-threshold pursuit as central to Spinoza’s vision, what he is prescribing is not a path of empathy (though certainly imagining others as ourselves is core to social reality), but of affective construction, of learning how to let affects speak without their simplified and attendant explanations, such that as streams between fixity and turbulance, they braid into each other.

    Please ask follow up questions if you are unsure of what I mean here.

  4. Eric September 5, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Kvond,

    Some initial comments and questions (before I get into all of those links):

    The difference between the Deluze’s definition of idea and Spinoza’s is that for the latter, ideas are conceptions while for Deleuze ideas are perceptions.

    For Spinoza, making ideas is making a difference. For Deleuze, making ideas is merely becoming cognizant of an already existing difference.

    Would you agree?

    As to the two paths to social order:

    I assume that if we go further down the path of reason, we go further away from the imaginary path of empathy and valuation (and that this is not a simplification)?

    Last, what role does imagining others to be like ourselves play in social order within the Spinozist ideal? Wouldn’t we just know, by reason, how they are alike and how they differ from ourselves?

  5. kvond September 5, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Eric: “For Spinoza, making ideas is making a difference. For Deleuze, making ideas is merely becoming cognizant of an already existing difference.”

    Kvond: Hmmm. I don’t know what “making ideas” would mean for Spinoza. From Spinoza we can have ideas about things or ideas about ideas, but ultimately any idea is an expression of Substance whose proper object is the parallel stated of extension. When we “have” an idea, this idea is making a difference.

    I’m unsure about your Deleuze summation in relation to this.

    Eric: “I assume that if we go further down the path of reason, we go further away from the imaginary path of empathy and valuation (and that this is not a simplification)?”

    Kvond: At first blush you might say that. But the idea of “further away” isn’t quite clear to me. The path of reason for Spinoza simply is more powerful, less reactive. But the two paths are not divergent. Imaginary relations are already participant in reason for Spinoza, just less clearly, in a more confusede fashion. They are not mutually exclusive, though at times he seems to talk in that way.

    I prefer to think of the two paths as aesthetic choices in oscilation. The imaginary path is simply more fluctuating, more turbulant.

    Eric: “Last, what role does imagining others to be like ourselves play in social order within the Spinozist ideal? Wouldn’t we just know, by reason, how they are alike and how they differ from ourselves?”

    Kvond: I think that Spinoza’s Ideal is not something finite beings can reach. We are primarily beings of imaginary relations, and fundamentally dependent, reactive creatures. His prescription is designed to relieve the pressures, pains and sadnesses of imaginary relations, as we approach an asymptotic limit. In this sense our empathies are fundamental grounds for making sense of the world. He just wants us to realize that they are not empty projections, but mutualities in idea and reason, and as such the valuations of good and evil that stem from them have to be seen for what they are, confused interpretations.

    His treatment of the affects as passions can be understood as releasing the powers of the body from our unclear ideas about what those powers mean.

  6. Eric September 7, 2009 at 11:52 am

    About having ideas, I was thinking that for Spinoza its an active process of formulation (with the body as it proper object) while for Deleuze is a passive process of perception. Not sure if this is important or relevant, just something I haven’t really thought about. A distinction I kind of noted to myself in passing. I might be off base, especially about Deleuze, who’s thought I am FAR from really understanding.

    Spinoza’s epistemology is becoming ever more tangible for me now after reading your response, thinking about the imaginary as inextricably intertwined with reason. It is just how it all plays out that takes some thinking about.

    First, if we cannot have clear ideas, but only more or less unclear ones, can we never really condemn an external entity with confidence?

    You say that in Spinoza’s treatment of the affects, we release the powers of our body from the unclear ideas about what those powers mean.

    Where(if anywhere) would Spinoza like us to re-attach those powers?

    If we sever the passions from the idea of any external cause, what is the “material progressive path” that is opened up?

    Does Spinoza’s treatment, in effect, result in a kind of imperative to go with the flow? Is locating the causal nexus of something within an external entity always a confused thing to do? Does a Spinozist realize that often times this blaming, even if it may be a confused thing to do, is a helpful thing to do?

    I feel like I am being dense, but it just isn’t quite clear to me what path exactly Spinoza wants us to follow.

    Thanks for posting my question and as always, nice pictures.

  7. kvond September 7, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Eric: “First, if we cannot have clear ideas, but only more or less unclear ones, can we never really condemn an external entity with confidence?”

    Kvond: Spinoza quite against fundamental or essential “good/bad” judgements.

    Eric: “Where(if anywhere) would Spinoza like us to re-attach those powers?”

    Kvond: Spinoza tell us that once an affect (the transition away from or towards perfection/power/freedom) is released from its unclear idea of a single external cause, it is to be joined to the rest of our cognitions. That is, our experiences of joy or pain are to gain their meaning from the breadth of our awarenesses (hopefully most of them more clear).

    The reason why I call this a material path is that our cognitions to which the affect is joined allow us to trace out the chaoplexic line between the frozen and the turbulent. In a very real way our own affective, material becomings are materially woven into other chaoplexic processes.

    Eric: “Does Spinoza’s treatment, in effect, result in a kind of imperative to go with the flow?”

    Kvond: There is a great deal of this in his determinism, the realization that we are fundamentally passive beings. But also there is ever the project of freeing others. If I could put it in terms of this post, we are to pursue the chaoplexic line of freedoms, and work for others to move into the the “flow” of that line as well.

    Eric: “Is locating the causal nexus of something within an external entity always a confused thing to do?”

    Kvond: I think that what Spinoza is really arguing against is any cognitive valuation that separates out one element from all others, in an essentializing way. “Hilter” is commonly seen as the “cause” of so much suffering, but really there is/was a huge matrix of causes and valuations that brings the connection between Hilter and the suffering of so many. What qualifies as a “passion” for Spinoza is the confused and inordinate projection of our own states onto a simplified causal model of the world. He does not deny that an external cause can be viewed as “a” cause, but it is not “the” cause.

    Eric: Does a Spinozist realize that often times this blaming, even if it may be a confused thing to do, is a helpful thing to do?

    Kvond: Imaginary relations indeed are often beneficient. In fact a great deal of our social reality is made of them. Loving someone in the usual sense is just this sort of “blaming” inverted. There are great uses of imaginary relations, civilization has been built upon them. But I think Spinoza prescription for the clarity of cause and valuation is due to the oscillating aspect of such “blaming”. Love swings into hate, hate into love, with great violence and in his view, passivity. His thought is that even though we are primarily imaginarily related beings, it serves us better, makes us happier, freer, WHEN we can be clearer about the causes of our happiness and sadnesses.

    Eric: “I feel like I am being dense, but it just isn’t quite clear to me what path exactly Spinoza wants us to follow.”

    Kvond: I don’t feel like you are being dense at all. I welcome your questions as they make me think things through as well.

  8. Eric September 7, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    It seems that Spinoza realized that our realities and any “entities” or “objects” therein are always only results of our certain limited perspectives of nature or “god”. The phrase “sub specie aeterni” has taken on a whole new meaning in my mind. Before, I thought that it had more to do with time, viewing concrete time in its entirety instead of cutting it into abstract stages.

    When you said that, “he does not deny that an external cause can be viewed as “a” cause, but it is not “the” cause.” i realized the actual simplicity of his argument.

    I think something that has been confusing about my reading of the Ethics is that I came to it without having ever really thought of eliminating representationalism and binarisms so completely. His thought is so much different from that of Bergson, Hegel, Heidegger, Kant, Levinas, Hobbesetc. who are often used to critique it. Spinoza is so much more interesting than they are. But of course, you already knew that!

  9. kvond September 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I’m really glad you got THERE. Once you poke through the architecture a different Spinoza comes into view. Both extremely radical, and rather simple. Once on the other side of the architecture of sentences you will begin making your own connections in some rather rich soup. And you are right, the key is eliminating representationalism and fundamental dichotomies.

    He is very different than quite a bit that followed after him.

    Its not so much that he is right, as, his thought is very, very powerful (especially in our historical contexts). I think that this is what drew Deleuze to him.

  10. Eric September 7, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Thank you for aiding my comprehension, I really understand philosophy in a whole new way because of it.

  11. kvond September 7, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Very cool. I look forward to your future comments.

  12. Pingback: Information, Spinoza’s Idea and The Structure of the Universe « Frames /sing

  13. Josh W December 10, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    I’m fighting against your categorising project (or at least title) here a little, but I hope that I can help you _use_ these ideas:

    Entropy in my understanding is always “external” in cybernetics, because of a (since undermined) assumption that all closed systems will eventually move to stability. But the externality I just mentioned is a weird sort, because unreliable components themselves can act as sources of entropy, with portions of their behaviour lying outside the descriptive framework of the system. This is the kind of thinking that leads Luhmann to say that individuals are external to the social system they generate, forming it’s environment.

    Now notice I said “outside the descriptive framework of the system”, there is the idea that a communicative system has as noise that component of reality that has not yet been absorbed and transformed into constructive action. In effect, noise or disturbance, is that which is alien to the system, but which it might come to terms with.

    Interestingly I wonder how much Ashby was listened to in early cybernetics, because he talks (in the 40s) both of normal control by negative feedback but also by ultra-stability caused by unleashing randomness. This unleashing of randomness causes the system to _break itself_ sufficiently to come to a view that is compatible with the situation, by the results of it’s reconfiguration on the situation. In other words such a system can cope with situations where it is it’self complicit in the deviations it observes from it’s objectives.

    One of Stafford Beer’s nicer insights into Ashby’s homeostat is that you can conceive of a system in which that criteria of success is it’self in motion, in response to the dynamics of self-reform, resting in the meeting point of the processes of waning revolutionary zeal and growing external change. (technically it was much cleverer than that, but you get the basic jist)

    This fundamentally cybernetic view (homeostats are in “introduction to cybernetics” I think) conceives of life as balanced between the death of total equilibrium, vs the innovations introduced to preserve compatibility with the environment, that keep it alive and full of unresolved complexities. Is this similar to the idea of the edge of chaos?

    I’m interested by that explanation of bifurcation; it suggests I fundamentally misread the last text I read on the subject: I thought that what you call the multi-stable section was the coming into existence of a periodic ticking from one state to another, even once transient changes based starting position abated, which (as you increase the constant forming the x axis of the graph) gained sub-frequencies at a faster and faster rate until it was all white noise. In other words my impression was that rather than being “choices” of a stable state these were cycles of persistent overshoot in a feedback mechanism, of varying rhythmic complexity.

    I interpreted this as a map of what was called “hunting” behaviour by the cybernetics dudes, and some kind of proof that negative feedback could indeed produce the state-space-sweeping power that people hoped it would (oh don’t think that by saying this in clear form I’m trying to show off my knowledge, I’m not, I’m trying to show off my error so that someone can tell me where it is). In a way I hope I’m not wrong, because it suggests the essence of life, the border between chaos and crystalline order, is (in poetic terms) the pulse!

    Ooh also, E4p38 is Von-Forester’s ethical imperative; “always try to act so as to increase the number of choices; yes, increase the number of choices!”

    This post is just my reaction to the first bit, up until “At the risk of having steered too far from our course,”. It’ll take me a little longer to mull the rest.

    • kvond December 10, 2009 at 10:39 pm

      Thanks alot. Really a nice ruminative riff on my offered thoughts. I’m not sure how to integrate them as yet, or what they would require that I change, but I am quite happy to have them.

      • kvond December 10, 2009 at 10:48 pm

        I suppose I should add that my “categorizing” project that you intially say that you resist comes out of the historical paradigm framework to which I responding, Bousquet’s The Scientific Way of Warfare, which positions Cybernetic negative feedback and historically anterior to Chaoplexic, positive feedback organization, something he reads through military organization. Intial thoughts here:

        http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/from-ideal-networks-to-real-ones-al-qaeda-and-chaoplexic-warfare/

        If you mean to say that there are cybenetic resolutions of Chaoplexic organization, that would be an interesting argument, but it would also have to be used to explain the historical differences as well (or I would hope it would).

  14. Josh W December 11, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Yeah I realised this the moment I started reading again; the distinction you’re applying is Bousquet’s.
    Thinking about it, I have no surprise that cybernetics didn’t manifest in that way applied to warfare: Von Neumann and some of the other members of the cybernetic movement were more technocratic, and were ready to say “ok, we now know enough to remake the world”. Well it’s more than that, as they were more liable to consider themselves the experts who through their rationality and superior insight were the only appropriate people to take over stuff.

    In contrast you have Ashby, Von Forrester and Beer, who were more multi-polar in sensibility: Ashby actually used his model of the brain to justify the use of intuition in multi-dimensional situations, and with Von Forrester talked about the dangers of “trivialisation”, where a machine (or organism) suppresses the variability of it’s internal dynamics in order to act as a reliable component of a larger system, locking off it’s power to act as a co-processor. Beer meanwhile was more political, but had marxist tendencies and believed that cybernetics justified pushing power to workers and other people “on the ground”.

    Ironically, by being more empowering, they actually were less accessible to many in the countries where they worked, because they didn’t have a flat-pack plan to be imposed from the top, and they required people to engage with their stuff rather than continuing with “deference to scientists”.

    That’s my potted history; my favourite faction didn’t match up well with the military so their stuff remained in the background, whereas the more technocratic stuff took centre stage, until it proved itself an over-simplification and they had to listen to other people, a generation later.

    On the stuff about seperation and contemplation, if I get you right the idea is that abstraction of pain or love empowers us, because it delocalises the feeling from being just over-there to something we don’t have to clutch, maybe something like this? (wait for it):

    Now I haven’t read spinoza through yet, so I’m not sure what target he suggests for that reconnection. For example I have found in my own life that sticking lack of communication (and the resulting discomfort) right in the gap between the parties, as lack of orientation that is a challenge for both parties to overcome, (rather than a parcel of blame to stick on either side) can be useful, but it also seems slightly wrong too; making something a common problem obscures those times when someone really isn’t putting in the effort a conversation may require, there is a strategy of being open to someone that is a pre-requisite and sometimes needs a bit of work, implying a different description of the problem is needed, one less prone to space-flight orbital-mechanics analogies! So to put it another way, sometimes someone is being inattentive, and another person is being obtuse, and between the two of them they are not getting anywhere.

    In other words if spinoza leaves open the point at which it works, then I might agree, and look for that point! For example, I’m not to keen on the destruction of love and hate in general, just their calibration to the point at which these natural parts of how we think are aimed streight at the places where they can be applied consistently and pro-actively, even if this means loving geometry, “the spirit of a place” or some abstract combination of the features we love in different people that we can properly nurture. And in the same way hating injustice rather than just one person we met in the past.

    But if he disagrees or blocks off such stuff, I’d love to see how you can hack his system to produce them, and to expand on that idea of “the line of complexity that is ever re-inscribing anew the boundary between self and world” and what different alternative physics that would require. Basically not pushing the efforts of interpretation, but building that background or altered stuff into it more explicitly.

  15. kvond December 11, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Damn, Minchin’s brilliant, I’ve never seen him before. Yes, that something of Spinoza.

    Josh W: “Now I haven’t read spinoza through yet, so I’m not sure what target he suggests for that reconnection.”

    Kvond: This is exactly Spinoza’s point, one disconnects from the association of the increase in pleasure (and thus for Spinoza power) to a singular external cause. The increase is real, but the interpretation imaginary and shallow. The reconnection is towards understanding both that the increase is due to a internal self-affirmation of a body’s power to be (let’s say, a certain kind of internal harmony, in which the world itself produces less “noise”), and with it a coordination with the wide array of collaborative external causes that operate around the “one” cause that is otherwise loved (or hated). In this way the love of a single thing is moved towards a love of the concrete reality of connections themselves, if I can put it that way, under the understanding that we could never know them all, or even most of them. There is something Buddhist to it.

    Josh W: “For example, I’m not to keen on the destruction of love and hate in general, just their calibration to the point at which these natural parts of how we think are aimed streight at the places where they can be applied consistently and pro-actively”

    Kvond: What Spinoza is against in the love/hate dyad, is the way that our loves can generate hates, and hates loves such that they echo out in a destructive way. If we love improperly, for instance, we will hate those things that weaken or hurt the thing we love, or the connection we have. Love itself becomes the seed of hate. Minchin’s love obvious works against this trend.

    Josh W: “And in the same way hating injustice rather than just one person we met in the past.”

    Kvond: Spinoza ideally would not allow a hatred of injustice. Famously of course he had his most unSpinozist moment when the noble Dewitt brothers were savaged by a mob (and by some report canibalized). Spinoza had to be restrained by his landlord from running out into the streets. But Spinoza sees EVERYTHING as natural, and claims that it is absurd to hate Nature. This does not mean that we don’t work to change events, structures, relations for the betterment of ourselves and others, but hating them does not help, and by his thinking, is absurd.

  16. Josh W December 12, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I think I probably disagree with Spinoza then, but not in any way I can fully express yet; it seems to me it is possible to create a conception of both love _and_ hate that don’t do that annoying tao dance, and that there are some practical distinctions between that and the sort of attachments he refers to. Course, I don’t know what those will be yet, (and probably I’ve misrepresented his position with this preliminary picture) so I’m going to go off and read some stuff. Who knows, maybe he’ll convince me!

    Great talking with you.

    • kvond December 12, 2009 at 1:05 pm

      Good talking to you too. I’m not sure quite what you mean by the annoying Tao dance (though I can find such this turns into that turns into this, annoying). Spinoza’s view isn’t one of love turning into hate, in the abstract, but rather love of thing particular thing (in what for him is in a wrong, imaginary way) can lead easily into the hate of the hate of that particular thing, which affects the loved thing, etc.

      This echo chamber isn’t really Taoist though. Its a diagnostic of human compassion and identification through what is called the “imitations of affects”. He claims such a thing here:

      E3, Proposition 27: If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect…

      I hardly ever recommend reading Spinoza directly since his geometical form is sometimes, well, boring to the average reader (and boring to me at times). But you might find his description of how emotions work of some interest, perhaps as a cybeneticist. What Spinoza is most concerned with is the way that our imaginary identifications with other things and persons either make us more passive to the world, or more active in it. So its not really a Yin/Yang kinda thing. A more, let’s figure out how the mind works and associates so that we can have more positive and more active associations. Just putting it out there.

      If you do come to some thoughts on this, I’d be interested to hear. I do not agree whole-heartedly with Spinoza’s diagnosis of mind, for instance I think that there are defininite paths towards activioty which involve passive emotions which need to echo out in the way that he suggests, tranportations of imaginary construction. But I also think that his framework in general is a useful backdrop for understanding how cathexis drives society into directions it may be hard to recover from.

  17. Josh W December 21, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    I suspect his form might be boring because it’s backwards; I wonder if people would rather start with the big bang, the dramatic conclusion, and then work back to see where it is rooted in the reasonable and obvious. Possibly your work/play here might provide enough stimulus to get people through it, just like (a few) people read through euclid after seeing amazing geometric patterns. I know I’d probably prefer something with some worked examples though!

    I find that proposition interesting; it implies to me that our imagination needs a place for us to sit, and in the absence of relational context that makes that thing something to be-with, something outside of us to interact with, we instead treat it as something to be.

    In short, the picture always needs someone to empathise with, and if we can’t put ourself in the picture (even distantly) we put ourselves into the shoes of the recipient of a condition.

    Interesting. It seems to me though that I can try to imagine myself from the outside, so couldn’t we do that with someone else? An abstract birds eye view? Or does his definition of affect include the full feeling of experiencing something?

    Equally, when reading some novels, isn’t that exactly what we do? Try to get into the shoes of another person, that we have never met because they do not exist? We can then simulate a portion of their experience. The problem there is that I don’t know I empathise better with them than with someone I have met, it seems to me to be the other way round, depending on how honest and detailed the person is at recounting the experience.

    Is there something specific in his definition of affect that makes this work?

  18. Karl Richard January 3, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    [Karl posted a brimming comment which he updated, edited and reposted below. I insert this here, at the original spot, and direct this to the repost.]

    • kvond January 3, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      Beautiful “mind dump”. I don’t have the time to engage it just yet, but thanks for the thorough contribution. Hopefully I’ll be able to say more soon.

  19. Karl Richard January 4, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Kevin.

    Here’s the updated and final installation… Do excuse the palaver:

    Brilliant post!

    While I will read these comments soon (and possibly join in with the debate), I wanted to do a bit of “mind dump” here and voice some related references that I feel might add a dimension of understanding for anyone wanting to know more about how Spinoza and science have shown similar things about the human condition…

    Are we mortal human beings with immortal souls in the Judeo-Christian sense (read the bible, or Descartes’ “Meditations”), OR are we really just highly complex, interdependent biochemical, non-linear dynamical systems with grand “delusions of self” (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6958873142520847424&ei=_s1BS9LgMpWz-AaGvqjOBw&q=susan+blackmore&hl=en&client=safari#), etc… ?

    No doubt chaos is a great, if somewhat still misunderstood, science, which, when ‘correctly’ implemented into mankind’s understanding of universal flow, will begin to yield a healthy and more ‘stable’ world view of our position in the cosmos (quite ironic, really), so that we might better exercise a more wholesome moral code of self-regulation within the planetary confines in which we currently find ourselves i.e. this Garden of Eden… It is my guess that this new world view will show us the true nature of the highly sensitive and unstable ecosystem in which we reside here on Planet Earth (a sensitivity that also resides within the human brain/mind continuum too), thus demonstrating that patterns, rather than “logical” arguments centered on various augmented perceptive stances (none of which are ultimately “right” or “correct”), are a better way for us to understand and develop our societies’ common moral codes.

    When we reach this level of understanding, I think that things might get a little better for us all…

    On with the dumping then…

    *

    Regarding “…this is to say, Spinoza is ever suspect of the human mind/body’s ability to direct itself in the world, and as such, this skepticism yields to distinctly non-linear, non-equilibrium prescriptions which go far beyond Cybernetic science presumptions…”

    I recently watched this documentary regarding the aspect of self i.e. who/what is this notion of “I” or “self…” And I was somewhat shocked and intersted to learn that our every day decisions are actually determined before “we” ourselves become consciously aware of them…

    [video src="http://cdn.videos.wordpress.com/5w0fKZjq/the-secret-you_fmt1.ogv" /]

    Thus… Is our consciousness nothing more than a matting of subconscious desires, rising through the brains structure, and thus is defined by the neural hardwiring of the brain? A hardwiring that is nothing more than a malleable biochemical matrix that arose from Darwin’s bulldog of evolution i.e. the process of natural selection? And thus is this experience of ourselves really nothing more than a sort of delusion that “feels” like we are making decisions in real-time, when really we are not doing anything of the sort… Functionally speaking, is this decision making process simply a discourse that exists between regulatory nodes (like those viewed by Rebecca Saxxe here: http://www.ted.com/talks/rebecca_saxe_how_brains_make_moral_judgments.html) within the brain’s structure, which is governed by a type of fractal neurodynamics, derived from a sophisticated probability algorithm that tends to “naturally select” for those behavioral traits that allow optimal survival of the biological entity???

    http://www.math.auckland.ac.nz/~king/Preprints/pdf/BrainCon.pdf

    Survival is centered around looking at the environment around us, and interpreting it correctly, and thus using these “temporally aligned” interpretations to select relevant courses of action that will allow the organisms to sustain themselves within currently occurring temporal situations e.g. an example of which would be altruistic behavior patterns (see the 6 part YouTube video about the difference between apes and humans: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uz6IxZsLwlo)?

    In mankind’s current world, could our current moral and ethical codes be derived from feedback loops within the mind/brain continuum (a type of Spinozan monism, as opposed to the Cartesian dualistic understanding of the world), whereby survival instincts, current memetic drives and chaotic probabilistic determinism (which is derived from each individual’s over all life experience) inherent in the brain’s fractal structure? Because if this is the case, then we REALLY are nothing more than a biological machine that performs statistical analysis of actions and their future potential implications – much like those studied in ergodic theory.

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/2245990?cookieSet=1

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergodic_theory

    Personally I think this is the case i.e. we are nothing more than biological systems with a complex, creative feedback type of perception (as you have so rightly stated here)… I will add, though, that gives us the delusion of consciousness! No doubt we are all determined by the experiences we’ve had, the food we eat, the thoughts we’ve thought – especially during our formative years i.e. between 0 and 21 years of age, when our bodies and brains are growing.

    And thus I see ourselves as nothing more than a mass of complex molecular cycles that regulate the notion of ourselves in a highly complex, bioinformatic way, that uses chaotic dynamics for regulation of internal system balances, much like those described by Dr Bruce Lipton in his lecture “The Biology Of Perception.”

    And as Spinoza debated in his arguments about whether we might know “God, or Nature”… These complex systems can never be known exactly… What they will do at any specific given moment is highly unpredictable and unstable, especially when so many factors come into play (see my blog: http://polynomial.me.uk/2009/12/30/bills-musings-on-daisyworld/)… BUT if these outcomes are studied for long enough, they can yield patterns that can show what the system will do over a long period of time in a generalized sense i.e. we can sometimes note attractor patterns within phase space plots, like Lorenz’s weather simulations demonstrated, that show the boundaries of a system’s “wildness”.

    Perhaps this generalization of the human mind/brain can yield some interesting aspects of what regulates us as human beings? In fact chaos theory is current being used in this way to determine whether people are more prone to psychotic episodes or depression (while I don’t agree with these labels in their mild sense, I have seen paranoid schizophrenia first hand and know that it can serious debilitating state of mind for any person who has it) – see Chris Kings article above.

    To further that… In my humble opinion, anyone who would think more of themselves than we actually are i.e. something like “we actually have souls,” OR “we are better than animals” (something which Spinoza wrote quite a bit on), OR whether “we are divine beings from another planet,” is residing in some form of egocentric delusion… ;)

    But that’s just my humble opinion…

    *

    “As Bousquet tells it, it is the realization that negative feedback isn’t the only primary organizing principle in systems. Indeed if a system is ever going to be able to adopt to environments which themselves are changing, it must have the ability to rewrite and change its own internal interpretative relations. And in order to do so they must be able to move from equilibrium pursuit (that ordered Good), to other equilibrium states. In fact in a certain sense the more semi-stable states a system is able to move into, the greater the chance it will have the flexibility to adapt to expected (unwritten yet) events. In short, one might want to say in a dangerously rhetorical way, a bit of “chaos” has to be introduced into the system. It is here where the conservation oriented, evil noise fighting cybernetic model gives way to Chaos theory and Complexity theory, fused into what has been called Chaoplexic thinking.”

    Exactly… “Chaos tends to breed life, while order only breeds habit.” For a system to be truly flexible and adaptive, then it needs to be sporadic at times, otherwise it would become too predictable and never reach outside standardized modes of being to allow new behavioural and reactionary modes of existence that might provide a greater chance of survival during times of high stress in the face of random catastrophes (such as flooding, or meteorites crashing into earth) OR even the need to simply adapt to minor stresses i.e. that of geographical change caused by the displacement of ourselves during travelling. If our mental states remained unchanged i.e. existed within the limited parameters of linear dynamical systems, then there would be little hope for our thoughts and actions to ever change or adapt to our changing environment… And Buddhism, a strong advocate of changing the mind’s current state of unrest to one of emptiness and enligthenment, thus might never have been discovered by prince Siddhatta. After all, the world is a never ending sea of change… The mindful Eastern philosophies i.e. Buddhism, Taoism and Zen, have beautifully demonstrated this over thousands of years.

    Would you believe, having read Mac Cormac and Stamenov’s book entitled “Fractals of Brain, Fractals of Mind,” I had a similar idea pop into my head regarding this very idea which you have posited here, and subsequently wrote a somewhat speculative essay on the essence of a similar related theme:

    http://polynomial.me.uk/2009/09/20/fractals-of-brain-fractals-of-mind/

    And, in many ways I feel that the non-linear dynamics of the brain gives rise to what Pavlov noticed in his four character types within dogs. In my understanding, when a dog (regardless of character type) reaches “Transmaginal Inhibition,” major changes take place in the mind of the animal i.e. they suddenly start to do highly unusual things like begin to bark at a lab assistant that they used to like, etc. Humans, as William Sargant also found out during the second world war when treating ‘shell shocked’ casualties, also fit this Pavlovian mode of being. For me, this type of “transmarginal inhibition” that comes from stress, allows the brain to move out of its steady states of being (much like the steady states within a non-linear dynamical system) and attain a radical, if somewhat chaotic and unpredictable, new view of the world… From this new world view, we can begin to adapt to the high stresses that caused this change.

    However… I would like to study this further… Which is something I aim to do under laboratory conditions soon.

    Non-linear dynamical systems exude fractal patterns within “strange attractor” loops. So… Is it any wonder that we see fractal systems everywhere in nature? AND within our bodies, which is literally riddled with them i.e. Brice j. West’s book entitled “Fractal Physiology And Chaos In Medicine” more than adequately shows the science of chaos coming into play to understand the regulatory systems of the heart, and beautifully shows how fractal lungs, veins, and branching networks within kidney nephron cell structures all provide a highly efficient system with which the distribution and dispersal of fuilds and gases is maximized efficiently.

    Bearing all this mind… I feel mankind has probably been in tune with this chaotic, non-linear dynamic state of being for longer than he cares to admit. The similarities between religious doctrines i.e. a “Perennial Philosophy,” cannot be refuted easily. Look at Huxley’s book by the same title. Perhaps this knowledge of God has only been at a subconscious level till now… Science has posited a somewhat “clearer” view of this type of system. A type of fractal nature within our bodily systems (see Benoit Mandelbrot’s definition of Strange Attractors being fractal), and thus we always seem to choose a type of graphic, flowing symbology to illustrate these complex flows of the unknowable divine nature of “God, or Nature”?

    I’m sure you’ve seen this interesting documentary entitled “The Colors Of Infinity” by the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

    Certainly we seem to live in a world that is best describe by iterative, self-referential systems… And this is something I feel that Spinoza would have become at ease with i.e. that we can’t predict what will happen ultimately… Which is a humbling thought, one that would have suited a very humbled philosopher such as Spinoza.

    *

    It will be interesting to see what Henry Markam’s supercomputer simulation of the human brain will find i.e. are there actually chaotic basins of attraction (located at the specific regulatory nodes within the brain’s structure, like that one studied by Rebecca Saxe) that occur and run as regulatory systems within the brain, centered on a fractal like hierarchy which uses survival as its main impetus (http://polynomial.me.uk/2009/03/30/romanesque-networks/)!?

    I enjoyed what Marcus Du Sautoy discovered in “The Secret You” i.e. a difference between a brain’s operational functioning while ‘awake’ and when ‘asleep’ – that while awake certain nodes, when stimulated, provided feedback/cross-talk with other areas of the brain on the opposite sides of the brain… But when asleep, this feedback/cross-talk mechanism was disengaged. Is this what consciousness is i.e. nothing more than a non-linear dynamical type of chaotic cross-talk between specific regulatory aspects/nodes of the brain?

    My ‘guess’ is it is.

    *

    “And, can we not agree with some systems theorists, that it takes a combination of negative-feedback groundings, and positive feedback exposures, flights, in order to produce a viable and self-preserving system?”

    Susan Blackmore beautifully illustrates this idea in a very layman sort of way in her book entitled “The Meme Machine” (which I do not have to hand, alas, as it’s out doing the rounds) how natural selection would select for alturistic behaviour.

    *

    “And, at the most fundamental level must we not also admit that for Spinoza behaviours and conditions of rationality are themselves positive feedback in their nature: rationality and clear understanding tends to produce more rationality and clear understanding (however contingently contextualized).”

    Yes… I would certainly like to agree with this (again, see Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine” on Oxford Press)… Positive psychology has had a good effect for mankind on the whole. NLP is indicative of this mode of feedback.

    However… I would like to see “rationality” properly defined… In my humble opinion rationality is agreeable to reason. But reason, on the whole, is still a vagary that is centered around egocentric biases at best. However, if it is reason that comes from a deeper understanding of the whole – see the Buddhist theory of Interdependent Origination…

    http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2003/summer/dharma_dict_summer03.htm

    Then I feel we can begin to posit a better understanding about what “positive” and “negative” truly are.

    For “rationality” by itself can still be as ambiguous and as varied as human perceptive stances are (see Kurt Gödel’s “Incompleteness Theorems”). We all know about optical illusions and how we are prone to seeing things that might not actually be the case.

    Thus I would ask ultimately, would Spinoza have included these psychological discrepancies into his philosophy, demonstrating that what man might see to be truth on the one hand, is nothing more than another perspective at best on the other? So certain truths and types of reasoning might be based on nothing more than illusion? (Illusion is not bad, it’s just we should be aware of illusion or we will walk towards the oasis in the desert that our eyes clearly see, but which is not really there).

    Positive for one species might well be negative for another…

    I would personally like for mankind to try to posit a novel type of “rationality” that resides within patterns and empirical deduction… Patterns, that if seen to occur, then are true – but only somewhat so – as complexity can subtly distort/evolve these patterns into new forms that “seemingly” bear no resemblance to what they were in earlier temporal incarnations. Thus a mindfulness of the present is always needed (see Zen and Buddhist type mindfulness – even Eckhart Tolle is worth considering here IMHO).

    For me patterns are abstract enough for man to not attach unnecessary assumptions/rationalizations to them (assumptions that sometimes cause disagreements – while disagreements aren’t really that bad overall, mainly as they sort the rubbish from the facts, they do waste a lot of our time)… AND yet, despite their abstract qualities, they contain their own logical continuum.

    IMHO, we should use a new type of “rationality” in this way… And embrace it as much as the “emotionality” in our daily lives, for there is still a deeply instinctual drive within our animal like natures, and sometimes “rationality” might not marry reason with these instinctual drives (see Carl Jung’s “Man And His Symbols”). No doubt some of these drives are nothing more than “blood thirsty” brutish underhand thrusts that our ancestors used to allow them to survive at base levels. These can no doubt placed to one side for the moment in the sunny and plentiful climes of current “abundant” society. But we should, first and foremost, be aware of the grip these drives still have upon our global outlook (i.e. look at “over population| here on earth i.e. we still are driven by our strongest urge – that sexual drive for reproduction). And we should develop a world view that embraces the whole of Life, holistically, emotionally and empirically. Then we can join trusts like The Optimum Population Trust (http://www.optimumpopulation.org/) and curb our base drives via a system of wholesome “rationality” that takes into account a deep understanding of “our” states of being here on earth, and our longtime survival. For me, without this emotional state of understanding (which many would say is not very rational), we might all too readily forget our humble beginnings and then become nothing more than “Mentat” (see Frank Herbert’s “Dune”) like machines, who exist with little compassion for an ecological totality of the Whole.

    Could a “Gom Jabbar” (again see Frank Herbert’s “Dune”) like test be a useful tool for separating those of us who cannot control their biological urges sufficiently enough, from those who can, in order to allow a better society to develop? In some regards, I would like to say that this might have a “positive” feedback effect into our Earth’s ecosystem (populations would lower, and our egocentric consumerist desires would lower to a “take what we only need” mode). But others might see this as nothing more than “negative” feedback into our current society as it would be a type of discrimination…

    Thus we begin to see how rationalization can provide many aspects that are seemingly contradictory to one another.

    Just like we cannot stop seeing a certain color because we dislike it, thus I would say we should not stop feeling certain “seemingly” negative feelings and/or performing “seemingly” negative thoughts, along with their resulting actions, until we can truly understand what “negative” notions really are. I would personally say that we, as human beings, should develop a system of “emptiness” (much like those found in Buddhist and Zen states of mind) and, once there, from this vantage point we might then become more mindful of our reactions to “seemingly” negative feelings (whether invoked through war, hate, theft, distrust, etc…), and free ourselves of “negative” and “positive” afflictions – moving into more wholesome, compassionate and sustainable patterns of Being. Thus we might center ourselves into an “enlightened” state of mind embracing the Whole of existence. Once there, then we can use an empirical world view to understand ourselves and the universe around us with a better and more open minded stance… And so deduce what is conducive to a healthier balanced existence within “God, or Nature’s” realm, rather than solely relating to our own egocentric needs.

    This balance between “mindfulness/emptiness” and “knowledge” is, IMHO, all important. Perhaps Spinoza might ridicule me for this being a bit too egocentric. But something tells me he might have seen similar aspects of the whole, had he had a chance to live in today’s world.

    *

    “I feel a turn to an excellent diagram offered in Linda Beckerman’s informative essay “The Non-Linear Dynamics of War” will be of some help in uncovering the non-linear thinking of Spinoza.”

    Awesome essay… Hadn’t read this before. I reckon this type of thinking can be ported over to other aspects of evolutionary dynamics.

    *

    “Hopefully you can see clearly how deviant this axiom of use is to the perturbation-shrinking model of negative feedback elimination. Indeed, much more suitably does Spinoza view of the enhanced body seem to reside – not in some fixed, closed off organization – but actually in the twilight region so described above in the diagram, the place between rigid stable states and pure chaos. Once in such a mathematical and determinative sweet-spot too much a deviation, either towards stability or toward turbulance, reduces the number of ways a body can effect and be affected. Only in the wave-line is this ideational maximality found, and one could say that for Spinoza it is this asethetic line – caught between a hubris of excessive control and a reckless amplitude of destruction – that constutes the proper, which is to say living, positive feedback loop.”

    I see what you’re getting at, and would suggest that Pavlov was tuning into this with his studies on personality types within dogs (see earlier).

    Very much enjoying your use of words here i.e. “ideational maximality”. :)

    *

    “Does his skepticism towards mathematics and any finite division of magnitudes establish a non-linear bent, enough to quell the dominant linearity of his age with Newton just around the corner?”

    To this I say… One would certainly hope so. But then what about Gregor Cantor?

    Cantor, who was looking into infinities, was riduculed to the point that he began to suffer nervous breakdowns. So… While Spinoza’s doubt was a healthy doubt, it did not dispell the romantic notions of human understanding i.e. like the perfectly flat plane of Eucluid, thus presuming the flatness of the Earth. These new ideas always get such harsh reviews initially, as the BBC’s “Dangerous Knowledge” pertinently shows.

    I think now-a-days we certainly have more affinity for Spinoza as most of his views seamlessly tie into the overall picture We, as a scientific community, are positing.

    *

    “Spinoza’s psychology is based upon moving clear from either of these determinatives, each of which are governed from an inordinate assessment of the power of an external cause. He at first directs the eye inwards, in a cybernetic-like valuation. It is not in the nature of the external event (alone) that the passage from one desired or undesired state has occurred, but rather in the very orders of our bodies and minds. We were predisposed to be affected a certain way, but it is our cognitive tendency to attribute the cause of these changes to some external thing that ultimate weakens our self-determination and freedom.”

    Again, Susan Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine” delves beautifully into this…

    *

    On a final genralized note:

    Chaos and ergodic theories are areas of inquiry in mathematics, physics, and philosophy studying the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions.

    I think understanding these systems is an important part to understanding what ‘true’ altruism is all about… Spinoza, for me, was onto this hunch in a big way… And from this understanding I feel Spinoza wanted to develop a deeper and healthier ecology of mind, body and planet, that might then posit an understanding of life in terms of unpredictable chaotic eddies that affords life the flexibility and dynamical unpredictability to live in harmony with the ever changing nature of Earth, and “God, or Nature.” He felt “God, or Nature” was really unknowable in an ultimate sense… Which is what we see chaos theory i.e. the choas inherent in any system is a friend that holds the aspect of “God, or Nature” which all man-made religions have so long sought to describe, but which was only a rough ideal of “God, or Nature”.

    For me, Spinoza was hung up on the fact that man was so egocentric i.e. man presumed that he knew the will of god… And, having been deeply affected by his conflicts with the Jewish community, he eventually saw religion as nothing more than a tool for controlling mankind. In fact he had to witness some of his friends fight great internal battles of guilt over either being outcasts and thus free thinkers OR to forget their nobel curious natures and simply accept the word of god.

    Regarding his distrust of Math… Having been once fooled by Cartesian modes of logic (as we know, Descartes was a ‘great’ mathematician, who can hardly be said to be a humble man, while in contract Spinoza was a modest minimalist who kept in mind his roots without any of his intellectual persuits going to his head) when he disagreed with the dualistic view of the world i.e. body and soul, and saw the interconnected nature of body and mind, be must have distrusted the strict “right and wrong” that existed within mathematical understanding…

    At sometime I feel he had an epiphany, and observed the chaos inherent in his garden at Rijnsburg, where he became aware that the simplistic rigidity of “right and wrong” math used for solving problems, and saw that it was not all it was cracked up to be i.e. it didn’t take into account the grey areas. And as predicate logic is built up in a mathematical type of way i.e. it uses mathematical like arguments in “short-hand” to describe the complex systems like algebra does, he saw that this too must/might be “too” clear cut. In maths we can see this today… Linear dynamical systems have definable answers that can be discovered in a “right and wrong” sense… But when non-linear dynamical came into the focus (thanks Lorenz) Math saw systems that were riddled with never ending flows of complexity i.e. there is no definite answer to a non-linear dynamical system… Spinoza would have loved this.

    Spinoza would have enjoyed James Gleick’s “Chaos: The Making Of A New Science” immensely, and might have become more trustful of math once he grasped the theories of chaos and non-linear dynamics… And, having seen what these non-linear sciences held, he might understand that the key to his notions of “God, or Nature” resided there. BUT… Being the humble man that he was, he would have equally been slightly distrustful of even these modes of understanding… As they are nothing more than a fraction of the ultimate complexity of the whole… Spinoza would have understood, like any realist scientific mind does, that the shear complexity of the overall Universal system could never, ever truly be known. For to know it like “God, or Nature” knows it, we would have to become it. And that is a might step for a little biological system of consciousness like a man.

    (Personally like to give some time to developing non-linear types of predicate logical arguments so as to demonstrate how varied perceptions might disprove egocentric certainties, if that’s at all possible – http://shop.toporek.com/blogs/toporek-blog/1085512-in-praise-of-uncertainty. Somewhere within the walls of non-linear dynamical system is the answer to developing Artificial Intelligence – well, it’s a hunch of mine that you aptly discuss in this blog).

  20. Karl Richard January 15, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    A pertinent documentary to discussing feedback loops within complex systems:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pv1c3/The_Secret_Life_of_Chaos/

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