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Tag Archives: panpsychism

Peaks and Troughs of Intensity: From Digital to Analog Embodiment

The above two illustrations, from Shores’ Deleuze’s Analog and Digital Communication; Isomorphism; and Aesthetic Analogy,  which show the translation/transmuation of an analog signal (continuous) into a digital one (discrete), give me room for some (very) lose musings. The first is that we tend to polarize these two kinds of forms. For instance emulsion photography is thought to be analog (as opposed to pixelated digitalization), yet the presence of film grains in an emulsion image tells us that the suspended silver halides indeed do pixelate to some degree.

In such cases the structure of the recording material simply falls away composing differences that make no difference. On the other hand, the pitting in a cd’s material, the consitutent thresholds that make up the recording material, also fall away as differences that make no (additional) difference.

What I want to say is that the discrete elements which are thought to make up digital copying, elements that under some defitions are linked through syntactical (not temporal) powers, are themselves materialized events subject to analogical relations which hold them together. A brain’s neurons which may exhibit something of a binary on/off digitalization, or a computer’s circuit which also expresses on/off threshold states, is part of a structural matrix of other temporal thresholds. Parameters of felt limits contain these peak/valley alternations, conditioning them and orienting them.

Additionally, if we are to ask, Is there a digital-like relationship between discrete elements and syntactical joinings which marks out the behaviors/capacities in abiotic world? Are not the features, lets say in a protein, that mark out differences that make a difference in its production (as a kind if peak or valley), also as discrete joined by the syntax of its structure, giving a protein molecule a digital status, of a kind? And are not the temporal unfoldings of this molecule (or any molecule), when in interaction with its environment, of a continuous and therefore analogical nature? This rock I hold in my hand is exerting discrete differences (joined in a structural/syntactical array) upon the threshold centers that make up the perception field of the hand, (these thresholds also linked through a structural/syntactical array), such that to ultimately separate out the digital and the analogical is to lose their essential interaction and really parallel development. The rock analogically “feels” and records the discrete differences that make a difference of my hand, just as the hand does the rock.

When we construct codified, syntactical wholes (linguistic, conceptual for instance), we are not just abstracting. We are creating new feeling bodies, analogical bodies which reveal their on diachronic expression and recording upon results.

The Finishing of the Web with Text

The Space Left Behind

I provide (in two translations) this wonderful image of the bold spider who in defilement fills in the unfinished portions of Persephone’s weaving loom, with a “text” of its own. Demeter has rushed in to find this Natural World, dark completion of her daughter’s lost life. It is a spectacular inversion of divinity, humanity, text, nature.

Challenge to Panpsychism

Any panpsychist who denies a firm, categorical divide between nature and culture must find a way to embrace the way in which text and web cross to fill each other’s spaces.

1. When she saw the gate-keepers fled, the house unguarded, the rusted hinges, the overthrown doorposts, and the miserable state of the silent halls, pausing not to look again at the disaster, she rent her garment and tore away the shattered corn-ears along with her hair. She could not weep nor speak nor breathe and a trembling shook the very marrow of her bones; her faltering steps tottered. She flung open the doors and wandering through the empty rooms and deserted halls, recognized the half-ruined warp with its disordered threads and the work of the loom broken off. The goddess’ labours had come to naught, and what remained to be done, that the bold spider was finishing with her sacrilegious web.

2. …the web [telas] half-destroyed with confused threads, she recognized, the art of the loom interrupted. That divine work had been lost; a bold spider was filling in the space left behind with a blasphemous weave [textu].

Claudian, De raptu Proserpinae (3.146-158)

Ut domus excubiis incustodita remotis

et resupinati neglecto cardine postes,

flebilis et tacitae species apparuit aulae,

non exspectato respectu cladis amictus

conscidit et fractas cum crine avellit aristas.

Haeserunt lacrimae, nec vox aut spiritus oris

redditur, atque imis vibrat timor ossa medullis.

Succidui titubant gressus; foribusque reclusis,

dum vacuas sedes et desolata pererrat

atria, semirutas confuso stamine telas

atque interruptas agnoscit pectinis artes.

Divinus perit ille labor spatiumque relictum

audax sacrilego supplebat aranea textu.

Bioethics, Defining the Moral Subject and Spinoza

An Ecology of Persons

I would like to take this opportunity to delve into Morten Tønnessen‘s essay,  “Umwelt ethics,” [download here] (Sign Systems Studies 31.1, 2003), which I could only afford to mention in passing in my post Umwelt, Umwelten and The Animal Defined By Its Relations. I suggested then that Tønnessen had not provided a rigorous connection between Uxeküll’s notion of Umwelt and Næss’s Deep Ecology ethics, but rather gave us a fine juxtaposition. It could be said that Tønnessen gives us a topographical study of the ethical landscape confronting those that want to argue for a moral authority when treating environments and other species. I also suggested that such a landscape could be well-aided by the kinds of ethical arguments provided by Spinoza’s ontology/epistemology (explicitly), and the normative epistemology of Davidson. Here I would like to pursue more of the former rather than the latter, but I do believe that they are well connected, conceptually.

Key to understanding Spinoza’s gift to this question I believe comes from the way that he treats human relations. Much of environmental ethical argument is bent toward shaping moral framing out toward a much broader sphere, thinking about how the reasons why we treat other women/men/children well also apply to ecological questions. Spinoza has an advantage here, for largely we do not have the problem of how to get out of the human-realm (moral reasoning), and into the natural realm (brute forces) – humans do not form a kingdom within a kingdom, as he says. In fact, Spinoza’s treatment of ethical questions (and we do need to watch how we move lexically from ethical to moral and back) among human beings is at core an ecological question. Human beings are for Spinoza resources. One does not waste  the possibilities of combining with other persons, and the freedom of other persons is necessarily a contribution towards our own freedom. Because the human realm is shot through with utility reasoning the bridging towards a utility of environments forms a much more natural aptitude for analysis and moral positioning.

But let me step through Spinoza here as an entry point into Tønnessen’s article, for he does a very good job of laying out the priority of questions to be answered. What really is at stake is the ultimate question of how to resolve the islanding tendencies buried in the phenomenological heart of J. von Uexküll’s notion of Umwelt.

This difficulty – and I am only now coming to grips with the literature – has largely been attempted to be answered either on the functional, or semiotic level. Some combination of a network of functions (for instance various “functional cycles” between the organism and the environment), and then more, their semiotically distilled expression, serve as a sometimes loosely proposed nexus between what von Uexküll apparently conceived of in much more isolating, organism-bound, apparitional terms. Umwelten  are supposed to give rise to a kind of shared Umwelt, or an interface called a Semiosphere, which is seen to connect up all these treatening-to-be  solipsistic bubbles of informational life. (Previously, here and here, I have proposed an alternate resolution which involved disbanding the phenomenological core of the idea altogether, and redefining the organism in terms of an Exowelt, composed of the very differences that make a difference. These following arguments dovetail with this notion.) Tønnessen feels well the difficulty of von Uexküll’s phenomenology and seeks to give us a platform from which to view these bubbles of experiential outer world, not only their epistemological connections, but also their moral footing. And to do so he turns to the work of Hoffmeyer.

Now I have not read Hoffmeyer’s discussion of bioethics, and rely mainly upon the aspects brought up by Tønnessen himself. So this critique has to be taken as internal to this particular essay, and runs the risk of repeating points that Hoffmeyer may have prodigiously made or rigorously countered. Nonetheless, I want to trace out the ground that is raised in “Umwelt Ethics,” for I sense that Tønnessen turns to Hoffmeyer to alleviate something of the pressure put on by the difficulties of a phenomenological world view.

“Code-duality” and Dual Attributes: Where is the seam?

Tønnessen discusses Hoffmeyer just about at the vital point of clarifying what a moral subject is, via the influence of Jon Wetlesen, himself oriented strongly towards a Spinozist implicit definition of a subject:

Hoffmeyer’s justification of the attribution of moral status is inspired by the Norwegian philosopher Jon Wetlesen, for whom Spinoza’s definition of subjecthood acts as a point of departure. According to Spinoza (1951: Pt. III, Prop. IV), “everything, in so far as it is in itself, endavours to persist in its own being”. Wetlesen (1993) argues that all non-human individual organisms and supra-individual wholes that resembles moral agents by showing self-determination, or striving, can be regarded as subjects with a moral standing. Hoffmeyer’s equivalent of the Spinozean perseverance is his own concept code duality (Hoffmeyer 1993: 165). Organic code-duality, a property common to all living beings, can be understood as the semiotic interplay between the analog (cell) and digital (DNA) versions of a living being (cf. Hoffmeyer 1996: 44).

I’d like to discuss this link to Spinoza with a bit more richness, confronting as directly as possible Hoffmeyer’s guiding principle of code duality in terms of Spinoza’s position. I think we can get something very productive out of this. First of all, as is obvious but perhaps needing to be said, all things, that is, every single body in composition expresses itself with a conatus for Spinoza. If we are to use Spinoza’s notion of the conatus  as an ethical signpost we are going to have to be rather explicit in the justification our claims that distinguish strongly between the animate and the inanimate, or the organic and the inorganic. For Spinoza, in somewhat fine panpsychist fashion resembling Augustine’s best panpsychic moments, conatus  pervades the entirety of Being. Anything that exists exists because it is striving. (Perhaps Wetlesen takes this whole-hog, but it is good to make this point quite explicit.)

More interesting is Hoffmeyer’s notion of  “double coding” which he specifies with reference to analog and digital cell ontologies. We must ask, if we are to make a Spinozist critique, is there an homology in Spinoza to “double coding”? The most obvious connection of course is Spinoza’s assertion of two Attributes, thought and extension, wherein digital coding is taken as Ideational expression, and analogical coding as Extensional. I’ve tried to trace down the fundamental thought in Hoffmeyer’s idea of dual codes, and it seems that he is most interested in the differential between the two, using the DNA code of an organism as placed in relation to the supervenient meta-code of analogical spatiality:

Every single crocodile embodies both the essence of being a crocodile, “crocodileness” (the message handed down to it through the genetic material), and the elements that make it one particular crododile. The second message is a kind of meta-message supervenient to the bloodline’s digital message. The crocodile is an analogue code in the sense that it enters, among other things, into a mating semiosis which, in principle, involves a good many crocodiles (through competition, etc.). Ostensibly, the message is transmitted by the fertilized egg cell the crocodile once was, but it also involves the egg cell’s spatial interpretation of another message, the digitally coded message that, at one time, lay tucked away inside the crocodile egg’s own genome. And, as the mating semiosis runs its course, this message is received – and interpreted – by other members of the same species. Generally speaking an organism convey’s a message about its evolutionary experience (45)

Signs of meaning in the Universe, Hoffmeyer and Haveland

Spinoza distinctly would refuse both supervenience and meta-status for the Attribute of extension, for he argues that Idea and Thing are in strict parallel, each expressing themselves with “the same order and connection”. So, one must question from a Spinozist point of view: by what measure is the spatial said to supervene upon the digital? In fact, I suspect that here Hoffmeyer is constructing a differential between separate layers or registers, for the spatiality of the crocodile (in Spinozist terms, its extensional expression) is not expressive just of its DNA, but rather of the digital state of all its cell structure. And the DNA molecular “code” is not expressed by the crocodile as res, but rather in the very spatial configuration of its very molecules. If I am understanding Hoffmeyer and Haveland correctly, it seems that, in Spinozist terms, they are selecting out the Ideational expression of DNA, and the Extensional expression of a Crocodile, across domains, and putting them in hierarchical relation to each other. One might as well take the molecular spatiality and the digital state of the crocodile and cross-weave them back. In any case, while the double coding that Hoffmeyer suggest is quite revealing, and an interesting take upon the Mind/Body, Meaning/Form dualities, it is but a cross-section of interpretation. A Spinozist would want to see a fuller picture, embracing both Attributes at any particular register.

It is enough to say though that such Double Coding would not select out only organic processes from all other expressions of Nature, for under Spinozist lights, all things are of dual codes, expressed in Thought and Extension.

The “Positioning” of an Imitation of the Affects

Tønnessen continues on with the benefits of a Hoffmeyer approach, careful to note how the ethics being built from dual-coded theorizing differs from Umwelt thinking in that it incorporates species specific, genomic Umwelten of a kind:

In conclusion (Hoffmeyer 1993: 173), “all living systems deserve to be considered as moral subjects, but some of them more so than others”. As a parameter that might eventually be used for grading among moral subjects, he suggests semiotic freedom, i.e., the level of richness or depth of meaning that a being is able to communicate. Hoffmeyer (1993: 172; cf. 1996: 139) attributes true subjectivity, and, consequently, moral status, at the individual level to all animals possessing a complex nervous system. Primitive organisms, on the other hand, such as amoebas or mealworms, are moral subjects only at species level. A premise for this judgment is that human beings are “perfectly capable of identifying with any entity that might occupy positions similar to those we occupy ourselves in the bio-logics of nature” (Hoffmeyer 1993: 172). In Hoffmeyer’s interpretation, this means that we are capable of identifying with “umwelt-builders in the broadest sense of this term, i.e. even species of lower level organisms lacking neural systems but which, qua species, nevertheless create a kind of (genomic) umwelt through their evolutionary incorporation of ecological niche conditions into the future” (Hoffmeyer 1993: 172) [Footnote: As this passage exemplifies, Hoffmeyer departs from Uexküll’s understanding of the Umwelt concept. In an Uexküllian setting, it makes no sense to talk about “genomic Umwelten”, since each and every Umwelt is in fact the privilege of the subject in question. Consequently, although evidently founded on biosemiotics, Hoffmeyer’s ethics cannot be regarded an Umwelt ethics.]….

This is where it gets very interesting for we enter the realm of Spinozist ethical theorizing that departs from mere conatus claims of moral standing. All animals with complex nervous systems are afforded such a standing due to their ability to “[identify] with any entity that might occupy positions similar to those we occupy ourselves in the bio-logics  of nature” (bolding the important concepts). Here we come right up to the braiding of Spinoza’s principle of the imitation of affects and my own thinking of Exowelten. To repeat the vital Spinozist proposition that we are imaginatively, and affectively connected to all human others through our projection of “sameness”:

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.


 [If one wants an in-depth reading of the sociological and political consequences of this proposition, see Balibar's treatment of the reasoning behind sociability: Here] But let us remain at the bio-logical level. It is important that the seemingly implicit experiential/ideational sameness within human beings that Spinoza posits, in Hoffmeyer becomes a positional one (with these two positions not being mutually exclusive to each other). What distinguishes the moral subject here, is the ability for the organism to read another organism as positioned as it might be in. I would go further, and more explicitly say: the ability for the read organism to be affected by the same differences in the world, that is, in terms of my thoughts on Exowelten, to share differential nodes, the same points as organs of perception. This capacity is, at the highest levels of human rationality, expressed as Triangulation: the ability to read through the assumed coherence of another’s beliefs and those causal relations, the coherence of states of the world. But this capacity is primarily an affective  capacity, to which the depths of one’s organic coherence read the states of other things, objects, beings in the world, such that the causal powers of the world itself come into greater clarity.

Importantly, by stretching his criteria beyond the mere nervous-system-endowed animal, out to genomic expressions of organisms, the breadth of reflective capacities can be contributed to a far greater number of phenomena, something that Tønnessen notes. But with significance he raises the question of just what importance code-duality plays in this “same position in the bio-logic” definition of moral standing, in particular, why should our identifications be restricted by Hoffmeyer’s description:

…To Hoffmeyer’s credit, his criterion for deciding which entities we are capable of identifying with is so vague that it allows for a certain flexibility. This vagueness, or flexibility, however, is not mirrored in his conclusion. If we are capable of identifying with any entity that might occupy positions similar to those we occupy ourselves in the bio-logics of nature, then why not a mountain, or an individual mealworm? And, more generally: if interpretative processes are to form the basis of attribution of moral status, why should code-duality be considered the relevant property? In what way is organic code duality related to the actual well-being of a creature or a living system, in the same sense as self-determination or perseverance is?

This raises a very important question of just what are the evolutionary and epistemic benefits of reading in two terms, Thought and Extension? This is to say, if we agree with Spinoza and all things express themselves in Thought and Extension, in what manner is the gain of focusing our attention upon one or the other?

Triangulation and the Internal of Cause

Donald Davidson has an elementary answer to this question, but we have to translate out of, and down from, his attempts to parse out the explanatory power of mental causation, (that is, or attribution of causal properties to beliefs and reasons), from physical causation.

[Mental concepts] appeal to causality because they are designed, like the concept of causality itself, to single out from the totality of circumstances which conspire to cause a given event just those factors that satisfy some particular explanatory interest. When we want to explain an action, for example, we want to know the agent’s reasons, so we can see for ourselves what it was about the action that appealed to the agent…The causal element in mental concepts helps make up for the precision they lack; it is part of the concept of an intentional action that it is caused and explained by beliefs and desires…

- “Three Varieties of Knowledge”, (216-217)

When reading the behaviours of other persons as behaviours,we necessarily attribute to them all sort of mental predicates such as “he desires, she wants, she fears, he hopes, they think…” which help us isolate the important internal states which allow us to sensibly make use of those behaviors as significant. In fact, as we make these projective attributions, it is not just that the agent we are reading who becomes clear (under a normative framework), but also and more importantly, the world itself. By making mental-causal attributions “within” the agent, events in the world “outside” the agent are also selected out as significant  because the agent and I are regarded as somewhat the “same”. This sameness can be understood as a kind of internal, affective/ideational sameness: I would feel/think the same things if I were like that; or, and more importantly, I would feel/think the same things if I were in the same “position” (Hoffmeyer’s denotative standard for moral subject).

But one must not stop at the rational belief level of attribution to fully understand the pervasiveness of Triangulation, the way in which the internal states of others reveal for us the character of external states of the world. In fact, I would go further and say that the “double code” that Hoffmeyer presents is primarily the heuristic difference that an reader makes upon another organism (or even a field of consistent boundary conditions):

Are the most important events going on Inside the organism/field, or Outside in the world that we share?

Those events when read as internal  are understood as mental, while those read as external are understood as physical, with the understanding that a relevant interal events are signficant in how they confirm or deny pre-existing internal/external orientations the reader has already established with aspects of the world. Ultimately, this is how differences in the world become Organs of Perception.

Why not a Mountain?

So Tønnessen is dead-on when he asks, “why not a mountain, or an individual mealworm”? It is precisely so that a blade of grass might present some significant inside (mental) interpretant, as may an entire field of grass. And yes, a sudden splitting of a mountain face, or the soft curve of its erosion wear might prospectively direct us to its internal coherences to isolate what is causally significant. “Was it a faultline crack, or a meteor that struck?”, just as we might ask, “Was he mentally unstable, or was he coerced?”. These are homologous questions. Mountains too have a semiosis  of internal consistency, and only the acclaimed need for a subject-center Interpretant prevents this from becoming obvious.

The statement will be made: Well, you can project your anthropomorphisms onto mountains and ponds all you like, but they themselves are not Triangulating, not reading states of the world off of the internal states of other things/beings!

To this I would want to assert that these projections are not just anthropomorphic but come from the affective organization of our body plans down to a fair ancestral level. The animism is not just a retarded vestige to be thrown off, but rather makes up some of the most powerful capacities to organize ourselves in the world and to communicate with it. In a sense, it forms the contrapuntal base rhythm of our perceptions and rationalized descriptions, something whose slow, essential musicality must be harmonized with, or quietly, somatically altered, if we are to experience coherence in our views. Secondly though, I am unsure how one would decide upon which external factors a mountain or a pond is responding to when we epistemically project onto its semiotic states of coherence. Sun’s light might be warming a rockface, but just so is the atmospheric condition allowing it. Are bacteria “triangulating” when they quorum sense: some thoughts here: Davidson’s Triangulation and the Swarm. I would say that the internal coherence of any one organism or field registers significant differences out beyond it in the sense that its Exowelt meets with ours, sharing nodes. And which of those nodal features, whether they be primary difference that make a seemingly direct difference between the internal states of the organism/field, and ourselves, or secondary ones, which may be inferred from the former, is something that plays itself out in pragmatic terms. This is to say, the very coherence that is maintained in an organism/field is not composed of one-to-one mappings of internal-event-aspect/external-event-aspect, and that the very causal constellation of external events can be said to be expressed in the internal response coherence.

In this way, human beings are very good at telling us what they are responding to in most circumstances, and in reasoned discourse this results in them telling us what they “know”. But knowing goes very deep into the organism/field, far below what we can say, and “what” we know in our very coherence has no delineated correlate.

The “Ontological Niche”

Tønnessen then, upon returning to a less than satisfying and phenomenologically informed concept of Umwelten, raises the concept of the ontological niche, something approaching my Exowelt correction to the same. By virtue of Uexküll’s criterion of the “function cycle” a division is made between animal and plant, those that have an Umwelt and those that have merely a Wohnhüllen

Phrased in modern terminology, Umwelten can be attributed to protists, bacteria and animals (including the animal that does not want to be an animal, i.e., man), but not to plants and fungi (Uexküll, Kriszat 1956 [1940]: 111). Instead, they have Wohnhüllen, which the objects of Umwelten are replaced by meaning-factors. These must, along with Umwelten, be understood as a category of individual phenomenal worlds.9 While only Umwelt-carriers take part in functional cycles, plants and fungi, as well, partake in contrapuntal relations, i.e., subject-object-relations characterized by a mutual correspondence between the two entities. There are at least two kinds of contrapuntal relations: Relations between two meaning-utilizers (e.g. a flower and a bee, or a predator and its prey), and, more generally, relations between a meaning-utilizer and a meaning-carrier or meaning-factor in its phenomenal world (e.g., an eye and the sun). Functional cycles can be regarded as special cases of contrapuntal relations. The known phenomenal world, therefore, consists of Umwelten and Wohnhüllen that, through the interconnectedness that the various contrapuntal relations result in, comprise what we call nature. In this intricate web — of life, of semiosis, of world — we occupy an ontological niche.

The ontological niche of a being can be defined as the set of contrapuntal relations that it takes part in at a given point of natural history. [Hoffmeyer (1996: 140): “The character of the animal’s defines the spectrum of positions that an animal can occupy in the bio-logical sphere, its semiotic niche”.] The ontological niche of a being delimits the “area” that this being occupies in the phenomenal world. Simultaneously, through its ontological niche, the phenomenal world of a being is intertwined with other phenomenal worlds, thus integrating this being into the society of phenomenal subjects…

As I have argued, there is no way in which to make a categorical distinction between the two contrapuntal “meaning utilizers” and “meaning-carriers,” though we can assume a differential. At times it is best to focus on the binary rhythm between the eye and the sun, but then at other times to see that this binary is expressive of other coherence-field relations (the sun “carriers” its participation in a “utilization”). In any case though, as the contrapuntal rhythm weaves a primary mat of life (including its inorganic forms), it is the Ontological Niche (for me Exowelten) determinations which give life to the very substance of our coherent thoughts and communications, the way in which regularly read and affectively inhabit a diversity of forms whose internal (field) states reflect and express states of the world. And it is our mutually enfleshed  sharing of nodes in the world which privileges any organic or inorganic state, as important. It is because of this that the very musicality of connection between the internal parts of the world to other external parts of the world, is what is at stake in the very maintenance of the coherence of our thought and capacity to speak to each other. The resource is in the very affective and dexterous capacity of others (other things, other beings) to feel and report back upon what condition the world is in.

Total Umwelt and Biosphere Split

In his essay Morten Tønnessen steers somewhat clear from Hoffmeyer’s wider embrace in order to return to the rich heritage of Umwelt-thinking, and he tries to heal any solipsistic phenomenological drag from the concept by postulating various zones of “total Umwelt” expression. These are still phenomenological states, but simply totalized by some measure. Personally, I don’t see the advantage of returning to Idealism’s internal preoccupation and anchoring, something which ever must return to the notion of a subject. Yet, Tønnessen also extracts from von Uexküll the important idea that the animal and its Umwelt are inseparable. While this still leaves us on the wrong side of the ledger, Tønnessen transfers from a terminology of “Tier-Umwelt-monade” to a more comprehensive “bioontological monad,” which he reads as couterpart to the biosphere:

A different type of abstract phenomenal entities can be termed total Umwelten. By a total Umwelt, I understand the sum total of the manifold phenomena appearing in the Umwelten of a particular group of subjects. An example that is mentioned by Uexküll (1928: 181) is the total Umwelt of a species…Noteworthy, according to Uexküll, the subject and its phenomenal world are not separate entities, but, as illustrated by the functional cycle, together make up one unit. One could call this belief ontological holism. To signify this unified entity, Friedrich Brock (1934) introduced the term “Tier-Umwelt-monade”. However, Uexküll’s ontological holism is not restricted to Umwelt-carriers, and I therefore suggest to replace Brock’s term with the more general expression bioontological monad…The phenomenal counterpart to the biosphere, i.e., the sum total of all living beings of Earth, is the known phenomenal world. Taken as a bio-ontological entity, it represents the inseparable whole of life and world. In lack of a better designation, it might be called the bio-phenomenal sphere.

By my thinking the very concept of monad existence must entail the nexus points of differences that make a difference in the world, as those terminus differences become organs of perception for the animal/plant/being/field. It is not enough to simply posit whole internal worlds which grow in size supposedly connected to whole bio-physical states outside of them. Rather, the very connections between organism and world must count as part of that recursive boundary. The bioontological monad is constituted by, and inconceivable as operative without, the differences that make a difference it its terminus limit (and which it shares as terminus limit with other things).

Morten Tønnessen ends his essay with a careful consideration of Deep Ecologist Arne Næss’s eight bio-ethical principles. Only the with first of which will I concern myself:

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes…

His response to this first point is worth quoting at some length because it has many of the factors we have discussed:

According to Næss (1993: 198), the first point in the deep ecology platform “refers to the biosphere, [...] individuals, species, populations, habitat, as well as human and non-human cultures”. Næss also mentions landscapes and ecosystems. Given an Uexküllian framework, all of these must be understood as bio-ontological entities. A culture, for example, can be defined as a certain common-Umwelt that allows for a certain total Umwelt. The fact that the flourishing of human life rests on the flourishing of concepts should result in political and cultural tolerance. As for ecosystems and inhabited landscapes,one could probably reach a bio-ontological definition by way of the concepts of contrapuntal relations and total Umwelt. A habitat might be regarded as the subjective space, or perhaps Heimat (home), of an individual or population.

The reason why it makes sense to regard all semiotic agents, i.e., bio-ontological monads, as moral subjects, is that in respect to these entities, our actions make a difference. Only for semiotic agents can our actions ultimately appear as signs that influence their well-being. In capacity of meaning-utilizers, all semiotic agents, be it the simplest creature, are able to distinguish between what they need and what is irrelevant or harmful to them. As Kull (2001: 361) says: “Everything alive has needs per se, not so the lifeless nor the dead”. Wherever there is semiosis, there are needs, and even though actual moral treatment is also a question of practicability, attribution of moral status is a principal one.

But why regard higher-level bio-ontological entities as moral subjects? Because a living being is not an isolated incident. In a profound sense, a subject is what it relates to. The contrapuntal relations that it takes part in do, largely, define what being this subject is all about. The individual self branch off into the society of phenomenal subjects and into the phenomenal world, it is already social, already worldly, already more-than-individual. You cannot really value a subject without at the same time valuing the web of contrapuntal relations that it takes part in.

One can guess where my quarrel with this reasoning lies since I read as “semiotic” much further down then the author grants, and this is due to the substance of the last of his three paragraphs: “The contrapuntal relations that it takes part in do, largely, define what being this subject is all about.” If we follow Spinoza’s notion of conatus with which we began our discussion, Kull’s point at to “needs” evaporates or is at least severely challenged. Sedimentation preserves itself against what is irrelevant or harmful through its very coherence until over come. This is not a mere theoretical side-step. It is the very stabilized contour of avoidance and perseverence that turns a meaning-carrier into a meaning-utilizer. If we accept that even rock sedimentation layers strive to persist, then they too have “needs” (however qualified, however dim), and if rock sedimentation layers form part of the contrapuntal music of our own reading capacities of the world, by what measure do our own defining contrapuntal relations which take part with such rhythm, exclude them from some place of importance? Change the music and change the person. This is not to say that one should not cut into rock formations in order to build train tunnels, but one should do so knowing that one is making a cognitive, resonant, musical change.

Last to end, Næss’s claim in point one, that the values of non-human things are independent from human purposes defies Spinoza’s utility approach to an ecology of persons (and world). In fact, it is the very usefulness of non-human things, not just as appropriations, but as participations, which should drive us towards their care. Only a rich concept of purposes and utility can nurture the epistemic responsibilities and capacities of the human species.

[See Morten Biosemiotic Weblog: Utopian Realism]

Having a Beer with Philosophy

Sometimes I regret that philosophy is not done this way, in conversation (was this not the meaning of the Socrates method before it was formalized and staged in dialogues). Tim Thornton tells of a fond memory he had, when he had the fortune of sitting with Davidson in a pub, passing from intermittent dialogue to Dionysus.

Interestingly, this was a conference when Davidson finally came out and said IT, animals don’t have minds:

It was at a conference in Reading in 1996, a last chance to see Quine in this world, an opportunity to watch Dennett get the better of Searle and to hear Davidson say he was tired of being subtle about the matter and that animals really didn’t have minds.

Its interesting because I find in Davidson’s thinking the roots for a pan-psychic presupposition, founded upon a Spinozist grammar of affects. For me such a momentary lack of subtlety is perhaps less of note, for philosophy at times requires subtlety (here, how “mind” is restrictively defined). In this case Davidson seems merely to have claimed something of the order: beliefs cannot be categorically ascribed to animals, an issue he skirts in “The Three Varieties of Knowledge”. As I have argued elsewhere, such ascription must be context dependent, and as such only is a rational linguistic framework upon an already working triangulation that readily occurs in animals, and in us (as we are animals as well). I do though find it significant how we read philosophers when they just come right out and say something that otherwise in theory they were quite careful to step around, it is something like, “Enough with philosophy, this is what I think!” It says something about the authority we grant to thinkers, perhaps like how we do to painters. You have been there, you have looked at it, what do you think (not, what would you argue)? I think that this is the charm and substance of Tim Thornton’s recollection. We can see ourselves there. 

I often think how nice it would be to sit with philosophers of influence, how disappointing perhaps, the knight without his chainmail and shield, but also, so much more understandable.

A River Runs Through it: Scotus, Spinoza and then Davidson



In recent conversation the connection between contemporary philosopher Donald Davidson and Spinoza has come up, a connection which I have felt runs in several directions. Previously the only thing I had strictly read on this is Davidson and Spinoza: Mind, Matter and Morality by Floris van der Burg, which in my view aside from its conclusions on morality, is very instructive to the matter. Yet today I stumbled upon another source, this one more accessible (only 13 pages): From Duns Scotus to Davidson: Anomalous Monism, Supervenience and the Formal Distinction  Pascal Engel, Conférence, Universita di Verona, 1998, Inédit [or here]

(I am coming to think that in order to fully understand the heritage of Spinoza’s treatment of the attributes they will have to be related not only to Scotus’s formal distinction, but also to the Scotus/Aquinas debate, along with its Neoplatonic influences (both Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius). Here is a thread of Medieval panpsychism which constitutes another story. Spinoza’s treatment of epistemology has strong Augustinian or Pseudo Dionysius principles, in synthesis with Duns Scotus’s univocality of Being, formal treatment of the “names of God”. A synthesis whose ultimate informing sources I have yet to track down.)

In any case, I was looking into the Duns Scotus-Spinoza connection, one written about intriguingly by Deleuze in ’68; I posted some relevant and extensive quotations from Deleuze here:  Spinoza as a Scotist: Formally Distinct and Univocal, for there is very little internet presence of this idea, and not everyone relishes wading through Deleuze.

So it was nice to run into this essay which draws the thread straight through from Duns Scotus to Spinoza’s treatment of the Attributes to Davidson’s distinction between causal relation and a causal explanation. I feel that there are even more important and productive connections between Davidson and Spinoza, mostly found in the homologous order of the Triangulation of Knowledge in Davidson and Spinoza’s grounding of the social within the Imiations of the Affects, but this essay is an excellent source of the armature of Spinoza’s treatment of the same, identity and causation such that it can be effectively read in contemporary terms.

Key to the interpretion is Scotus’s notion of the Formal Distinction, which is something found neither in the intellect, nor even fully in real things, but one could say, in the real of their expression (something that bothered Occam to no end). It is a formal individuating difference, as it is presented here by Engel:

To summarize Scotus claims about distinctions. Entities which are separable by divine power, in the sense that one can exist while the other does not, are “absolutely really” distinct, and those which cannot be so separate are “absolutely really” the same. But within the class of entities which are “absolutely really” the same, we can find pairs of entities which are “qualifiedly” distinct. For example where a and b are absolutely really the same but each is definable independently of the the other, a and b are “formally” distinct. The formal distinction is, as Duns Scotus says, “on the side of things”; it is not a mere conceptual or rational distinction. Thus formal distinction is compatible with real sameness. This is the doctrine which is important for my purposes here: certain things which are true of an entity can be distinct although they belong to the common nature of this entity. The individuating difference is in the individual in question really the same as the common nature that it determines, but nevertheless formally distinct from it (4)

It was just this formal distinction within an identity of Same which allowed Spinoza to make his Attribute distinctions of parallel expressions. For those interested even in one aspect of this trinity of thinkers, Engel does a succinct job of expressing each thinker’s position, and then clearly relates each as a heritage of the next.

How Do the Molten Centers of Objects Touch?

Graham Harman’s Vicarious Causation

Here is a proposed solution, a critique in sympathy, to Graham Harman’s attempt to connect the cut-off but dynamic inner-cores of objects to one another.

I have just read Graham’s “On Vicarious Causation” a marvelous, twisting essay found at his weblog, loaded with original terminology and imaginative construction; not easy to read for its painted universe in which assumption after assumption follow upon each other in a fantastically stacked argument, one in which every page a reader wants to cry out, “But wait, what about…” and yet finally has to relent and just let it carry its somewhat unsatisfying course. And finally, I see what he is trying to say/construct about causation. Enchanting but perhaps absurd.

Despite my many reservations the composite of it comes into view exposing a topography not at all very foreign to my own, so as I pull back I feel that I can glimpse something of an answer to the “unicorn” that Graham seeks, and additionally how his deeply thought distinctions help guide my own attempted synthesis of Campanella toward Spinoza and then post-post-modernity.

If I were to be general about it, Graham, because he is deeply influenced and carries over along with the terms much of Husserl’s Cartesian Idealism, is concerned with the traditional problem of how the inside of our minds connects with real objects out there (just what Descartes thought on); but because he wants a de-centered, non-human ontology of effects, he is at pains to find terms which graft the poetically powerful descriptions of our internal experiences onto a concrete and real, outer-object consubstantiality. (There is also the traditional Idealist question of “other minds” haunting his project.) He wants to drive down into the vivid distinctions we can make about our internal sensuous worlds, and somehow come up on the other side in such a way that what he is saying about human beings can be said, objectively, about all things, down to the merest speck of dust.

The problem of this, the hard current he swims against as far as I can see it, is Representation (the Idol of Idealism). One gets the feeling that if he can work himself free, off from this coat-hook, he might really find a way down through the worm-hole to the inside of objects, making a poetically rich and rigorously dynamic philosophy for the world.

This difficulty of Representation, which I will return to below, is further encased by Graham in a wonderful binary which not only preserves the difficulty, but also gives it its greatest facility. Pictured above we have the two halves of an affinity, or really a complementarity between the kinds of objects that Heidegger played with (on the left) and the kinds of objects Husserl enjoyed (on the right). Deep down in the Ur-Spring of his study Graham realized that these two, Heidegger’s tool-object and Husserl’s Intentional object in a way mirrored each other (something I argued in critique of an essentialized optical centrality metaphor that they shared). What Graham faces in his prospective theory is how to reconcilethesetwo primary and incompatible world objects such that the every day sense of the causal world that we experience remains intact, but even more richly described (such that the underbelly of its relations becomes exposed, as metaphysics). What Graham realizes is that if indeed we are trapped with the still Cartesian sphere of the mental (intention), yet insideour bodies, how is it that we come in contact with the outside “real” world.

Instead of taking an approach that undercuts the very problem itself, as many lines of philosophy have arisen to deal with what has been perceived as the Cartesian problematic, we should do as Graham does, and burrow in, to the heart of the difficulty, attempting to take on as many of the assumptions and terms as possible, and see if we can come out on the other side. If we assume a Husserlian-like zebra (on the right), and a retreating Heideggerian zebra (on the left), how is it that we can drive deeply enough into the one so as to reach the other – and, to do so in a way that our description fits neatly with what non-human zoas, and inanimate objects alike all do the same thing?

I think though, the place to begin is Representation. I have written a few times recently on the question of Representation vs. Signification ( Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?; The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism; The “ens reale” and the “ens rationalis”: Spelling Out Differences), and much of my reading will come out of the fullness of this distinction. But I think it can be granted that fundamentally Graham’s take of causation is on based on a Representationalist conception of mental activity. This no doubt comes from his Husserlian heritage. Consciousness is defined by its capacity to form a mental “object”  (its intentionality), and this object in some sense is taken to be a representation, a Re-Presentation as some emphasize, of the external, real world. Graham is not far from this at all, and in fact seems to be at least from the start, right in the mainstream of this scheme of mind. And this representation for Graham is called a “vicar” or a “deputy” (with satisfying poetic license that nicely undercuts any pretension to a psuedo-scientific language), someone of course represents someone or something else. The mental object, what is called here also the “sensuous object” comes to be used as something of a representative in the political sense, and one cannot help but think of him as some kind of bejeweled intercessor, some decadent of the Church (or at least I cannot help it). Graham allows us to think that the external object is in some sense projected into, crossing the external boundary of the object that is “you” (or a rabbit or a tree), and enters into this rich inner realm in a specular way. The language he uses is inordinately suggestive, and I think that this is a strength of his philosophy on causation, and key to what he is driving after. He does not want simply to explain, but evoke.

So when I see a zebra (we must begin with the ideal human exemplars of consciousness, he tells us), the zebra somehow enters into our private, richly embued world, as a vicar-zebra, a representative. As such it/he is a fantastical kind of creature under Graham’s description. It shares the same “perceptual space” as the effects that seem to cover it, a shimmering “encrustation” of “accidents”, all of which could change and yet the vicar who has come to interact with us would remain the same (he gives the Husserilian example of the angles of a chair). These accidents frost over this representation, swirling in a delightful way, but due to their sharing of a “space” they do not retreat from the essence, but rather are almost magnetically attracted to it, clusting about its unique essential gravity (at least that is how I read the evocations Graham provides). These faceted accidents are to be distinguished from the vicar’s “qualities,” things that if they did change might threated the coherence of vicaras this vicar, so really we have a stabilized essential representation that has come to us, in our private inner universe, and there is a halo of effects which circulate about it at varying degrees of essentialization, until we get down to a bare sensuous core object which is composed of this interaction of satellites and encrustations.

Something should be said about the meeting of this vicar within us. It is not clear to me whether we met the vicar through the proxy of our own inner vicar (let us say, Freud’s Ego), face to face in some kind of virtual pow wow, or if it is simply a question of the vicar of the zebra interfacing with the totality of my real object. It seems to be the case of the latter for Graham, for he calls this relation an “assymetrical confrontation,” a kind of hybrid object consisting of the real object that is me, and the deputized zebra within me, but then again, he insists that there is something particular about how the zebra-duputy object and “me” remain distinct, segmented, which connotes a sensuous separation:

“For in a first sense, I clearly do not fuse with the tree in a single massive lump; it remains distinct from me in the perception. This give the strange result that in my intention of the tree, we both inhabit the interior of the total intentional relation.” 

 As far as I can tell, there is a strange conflation of the “real object” me and the “sensuous object” me in the relation that Graham proposes, or at least he does not fully discuss status of the mechanism of this interaction. In a kind of inside-outing of the glove the vicarious object and the real me are folded into a composite third object, “the intention as whole,” a whole that itself forms a real object:

“The pine tree and I are separate objects are residing on the interior of a third: the intention as a whole…we have a real intention whose core is inhabited by a real me and a sensuous pine tree.”

In this inversion there are several potential problems here, especially for a philosophy that is looking to decenter human importance. Graham seems to privilege (or at least not problemize at all) the human Subject (“me”) as an unified whole object (qualifed as”real”), residing on the inside of an asymmetrical object, also real. Why this “me” is qualified as “real” and not sensuous in its own right, I cannot tell, other than it allows Graham to construct a meeting ground of two realms he would otherwise like to think of as wholly distinct (thus this “real” status of the “me” plays something of the role that Descartes’ hallowed pineal gland, where the two symmetries of Idealism’s twin realms “touch”, albeit still locked within a third object, “the intention as a whole”). At the very least this unproblemized “me” as unified object, and then this status of “me” as real object create openings for strong critical currents for this model of the world. (A further and perhaps quite compelling consequence of this looping is that if the intention-as-a-whole is itself a real object, and every real object also can have an intentionality, what would it mean for an “intention-as-a-whole” object to itself have an intention? Perhaps I missed it, but I do not see this obvious consequence of the terms addressed.)

But if we grant Graham this apparatus of an “asymmetrical confrontation” with the real object of the intention we can go further to explore. The difficulty Graham has with his own account is the explain just how, even given the touching of two different kinds of objects (the proxy zebra and the real “me”), how is it that the real zebra actually effects the real me (a traditional problem of Idealism). That is, even if the intention is indeed an asymmetrical combination of a real “me” and a vicar zebra, how ever does the real me interact effectively with the real zebra? What is the mechanism, the means? In the political world when I interact with various deputies of power there are real channels which connect me to those that the deputies that represent real authorities. And there seems to be something of this that Graham has in mind. He does not say it but there is the sense that because I am a citizen and thus can act vicariously in that legal world of rights and procedures, my “me” can connect to things that are not of my nature, for instance, as a citizen I can vote and thus register effects on the political process. Or, I can, represented by an attorney in court sue the legal aspect another person or corporate entity. This connectivity through what-you-are-not, representatively, is what seems to be beneath how Graham is imagining  the way that “real objects” connect. And one cannot help but feel that as such he beautifully sees them as burrowing under, wormholing to the insides of each other, leaving their real object exteriors untouching. I sue you in court, legal entity to legal entity, but our real objects never come in contact, or so it goes.

I think the poetics of this are fructifying, but there are some substantial conceptual barriers. So let us go further. In order to understand this worm-holing causation, a reaching into the inside of another object, one has to see the complementary notion of real and sensuous objects that Graham assumes. Sensuous objects are rich in connections which multiply across each other on the interior, though they do not fuse into a huge blob of phenomenal effects, they are “buffered” even in their interaction we are told. Real objects though, taken from a Heideggerian notion that Graham has excavated from the German Existentialist, are marked by a failure to interact with other objects. Unlike the senuous vicars within us, clustered about with accidents and qualities, the real objects that we engage with in the world retreat ever from their qualities and accidents, tumbling away from us. As we reach for a thing, a marble, an ice cube, a woman’s hand, it falls away from whatever surface interactions we bring about with it, a blackhole of a sort. Thus, the only way that we do actually engage with it is in a subterranean fashion, from within our border. In his descriptions he is much not all that concerned with the other sideof the relationship, if indeed we do bubble up on the other “inside” of the object or not, for he is much more concerned with the problem of how our insideconnects to the outside itself, the real object, thus a question of causation and not communication (two issues I take to be inter-dependent), although he uses metaphors of communication (signals) to describe what happens in “contact”. Graham seems to have an investment in an essentially “cut off” existentialism which creates real islands of objects, each a poetic micro universe, something he would not even come out of if he didn’t have to explain something as pressingly elemental as “causation”.

For this reason he speaks of the problem of causation mostly in terms of how real objects pierce the veil of our sensous inner worlds, as he beautifully puts it:

“We must discover how real objects poke through into the phenomenal realm, the only place where one relates to another. The various eruptions of real objects into sensuality lie buffered from immediate interaction. Something must happen on the sensuous plane to allow them to make contact, just as corrosive chemicals lie side by side in a bomb – separated by a thin film eaten away over time, or ruptured by distant signals.” 

Or, drawing on the burrowing metaphor, but neglecting just what happens on the other (in)side, in the hermetic quarantine:

“There is a constant meeting of assymetrical partners on the interior of some unified object: a real one meeting the senuousvicaror deputy of another. Causation occurs when these obstacles are some how broken or suspended. In seventeenth century terms, the side-by-sideproximityof real and sensual objects is merely the occasion for a connection between a real object inside the intensionandanother real object lying outside it. In this way shaves or freight tunnels are constructed between objects that otherwise remained quarantined in private vacuums.”

One can see this one-way vision of the problem in Graham’s notion that causation can occur in simply one direction. For instance in his recent lecture on DeLanda he talks of what he imagines happens when a semi truck slams into a mosquito at high speed. Presumably the truck sends a rather powerful vicar into the internal universe of the insect, but the insect sends noneat all into the sensuous realm of the truck, for Graham. It is a one way communication. The problem as it is set forth in Vicarious Causation really seems to be: How do we get outsideofour locked in realm of richly endowed vicars and deputies, how do we get outside of the videogame of our inner worlds?

Vital to this path is the realization that there must be a bond between my inner sensuous experiences and some outer really, i.e., I am not just existing in a solipism of phenomenal affects, the swirling of frosted objects and their accidents. There must be a “connection” (one of the five kinds of relations proposed: containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and none), and it is this “connection” that Graham is having difficulty explaining:

4. CONNECTION. The intention as a whole must arise from a real connection of real objects, albeit an indirect connection. After all, the other possible combinations yield entirely different results. Two sensual objects merely sit side by  side. And my sincere absorption with trees or windmills is merely the interior of the intention, not the unified intention itself. Hence, a real object itself is born from the connection of other real objects, through unknown vicarious means.

At this point I’m going to try to work myself free from the imposed restrictions in order to solve this fundamental barrier, while at the same time trying to preserve as much as possible the poetics of Graham Harman’s worm-holed connections between objects. The first thing to say is that part of how we constitute mental objects is that we not only perceive them as essences under this apparition or that, but we also perceive that a real object is actively causing our “vicar” to take on one aspect or other. That is, the zebra in our mind takes on a substantive coherence due to the implicitly causal relation it has to us, in a shared world. Events that happen to the real zebra could also happen to us, the real us. If a lion leaps out at the zebra who is on the grass plain that we share, we cringe and duck not only because there is a sympathy between us, but because we also could be attacked, and we understand that. This organizational triangulation between the real object out there, and our real object out there is consubstial the core of what sensemaking is. In other words, the “connection” that Graham is trying to find in the “jigsaw puzzle” of his terms and realms is woven into the essential animal natures of nearly all living things, the understanding that “that thing out there” is reporting in an informing way about the world because it is in some vitally important way “like us” (if only capable of being attacked by a lion). This at least goes for human beings to rodents, and should form a cornerstone of any conceptual attempt to bridge the connections between inside and outside, not to mention human to lower forms of life as mutual actors in the world.

In answer to this a fundamental and imaginary perception of causation is put forth by Spinoza in his principle of the “imitations of the affects,” upon which the social realm is founded. This principle may go a ways to enrich just what causation means to us and other things:

“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” (EIIIp27) 

To this effect and additionally, this same triangulation of report, the way that we confer importance and coherence upon objects in the world (and one would say in the Harmanian sense, their vicars in our molten, cavernous worlds), is also put forth in terms of human beliefs and the translatabilty of others in Donald Davidson’s Principle of Charity and Triangulation of Three Knowledges, something I will return to below. Objects means something to us largely because they report or reflect back significant forces in the world which pertain to us. We might allow that such objects might retreat from us ultimately in the Heideggerian sense (tool-analysis) in a vaccuum packed vertigo of essence as absence, but our attraction to them, the particular way in which they do “allure” us, is not simply that they sparkle, but that they sparkle and shine with determinations which point us to other significant aspects of the world (there is a lion in the grass with us).

This voluminous factor of just what does “matter” about an object or a situation is utterly absent from Graham Harman’s hunt for the connection between our inner worlds and real objects, the very thing that helps constitute us as real objects in the first place. I sense that this is largely due to the Idealist, binary assumptions of his starting point, one which imprisoningly conceives of knowledge as some form of representation or reflection of the world, and thus, the epistemic problematic as how to connect these two world, spirit/matter, mind/body, and now for Graham, sensuous-object/real-object. What is needed is to break out of these splitting binaries, give up the imaginative algebras that wish to balance out both sides of the equation so that we can cancel out enough of the variables and end up with what “x” is. And the first step of this is to realize that other objects appeal to us, matter to us, due to a primary assumption of connection through veritable report, as cause: events in the world (lion’s leap) co-ordinate between that object over there (zebra) and this object over here (my body). The connection is implicit and necessary (though ever under revisement and interpretation)

But this is not to say that Graham’s architecture of metaphysics does not have profound possibilities for development in my view. For one, I find his fusion of the sensuous object and real “me” into a new real object “the intention as a whole” an instructive one. While I have been perplexed why, under the categories imposed, within the intention as a whole the “me” is a “real object” and not a vicarious representation of me, creating the asynmetry that Graham wants, I believe that asserting the real object status of this “me” interaction is the right step (leaving behind any notion of the Subect though). The reason for this is that by virtue of our internal relations, the “sensuous” realm, we make real-object changes in ourselves which alter our dynamic relations with the world. The things we think are actually real material changes in our bodies, and then consubstantially change our connections to other objects (it is this connection of the connection that Graham is after).

Here I would like to bring in another Spinoza concept that is well-fitted to the question so to use it as a launch point for a possible Harmanian solution. Spinoza too asserts an entirely privatized world of inner experience and affect, one in which we do not really know objects in the world directly, but only know events within ourself, what he calls the ideas of the affections of our bodies. If I know the gentleman Peter, it is really only that I know my body as it is in various states, under certain affections, one might say, only the vicar of Peter (but not a picture of Peter). What guides us from this hermetic realm of vicar Peter to powerful action in the world? There are two things that form Spinoza’s answer. The first is Joy or Pleasure. That is, we imagine things, we form the vicar of things driven by a guideline of what feels best. The real pleasure we are feeling, as even the simplest of organisms, is that which pushes us towards the real connections with world, and in fact for Spinoza constitutes a change in these connections. There is very little of this discussed in Graham’s treatment, but there is one way in which he touches on this aspect of guiding pleasure in the vital concept of “allure”. Allure is the thing, the aspect, that erupts out on the vicar so encrusted with accidents which separates out an otherwise inseparatable “quality” from the essence of the object.

“The separation between a sensual object and its quality can be termed ‘allure.’ This term pinpoints the bewitching emotional effect that often accompanies this event for humans, and also suggests the related term ‘allusion,’ since allure merely alludes to the object without making its inner life directly present. In the sensual realm, we encounter objects encrusted with noisy accidents and relations. We may also be explicitly aware of some of their essential qualities, though any such list merely transforms the qualities into something accident-like, and fails to give us the unified bond that makes the sensual thing a single thing. Instead, we need an experience in which the sensual object is severed from its joint unified quality, since this will point for the first time to a real object lying beneath the single quality on the surface.”

Here Graham is playing with the two aspects of allure: to seduce, and to allude. We are asethetically seduced, thrown forward in pleasure toward the “real object” (we realize a disjunction, and we do so through a connection). But for Spinoza, it is not just that Pleasure and Joy push us towards the connection, but also that such experiences also form real changes in our bodies. We are given to think this thought after that thought, this rather than that because we are actively affirming aspects of our own bodies (General Defitions of the Affects), affirmations which directly confer alterations in our degrees of power, Latourian changes in degrees of Being. I have great affinity for the linking of our ability to act in the world and be constituted as objects through the power of metaphor, being allured and alluding to something beyond; but something more than this has to be at play (and the very tenousness of Graham’s solution testifies to this). For a thinker like Spinoza there are two kinds of improvements in the capacity to act. There are the moment to moment fluctuations of pleasure and pain, random increases and decreases in connection (which may fall to the feet of good and bad metaphors or jokes for Graham), a happenstance fortune, but then there are the comprehensive increases in the capacity to act which come from possessing more adequate ideas about oneself and other things in the world – connecting and building on our knowledge of those connections. The speculative imaginations and interplay between vicars and deputies all frosted over with gems or patinas of an inner world, a comes-and-goessea of rich affections, is also supplimented by a fabric of operative cohesion, the way in which we can systematically and bodily combine with other objects forming more powerful living wholes.

Containment: The Closed Loop of Mental Acts

In this way the principle of containment that Graham puts forth is an embodiment of Spinoza’s parallel postulate, that all our material constructions are also mental ones:

1. CONTAINMENT. The intention as a whole contains both the real me and the sensual tree.

As I pass from thought to thought, affirming one aspect of my body or another, giving me more or less reality than before, the “containment” of the sensuous vicar within me is simply the vectorization of the real ontological change that occurs by virtue of my intentional shiftings. And these, though enriched by metaphorical allusions to object states beyond my inadequate pictures of them, are re-anchored, are given traction by the very mutuality of world, and the power of causal explanation in the first place. The vicars of my world are vivified through their expression of the matrix of my real interactions with the world (they stand not only in the place of the real object they supposedly represent, like a local priest does the Pope, but also stand for the constitutional relations which make up that object, beyond that object). In this sense, it is not just the allure of the separation of the quality of the whole, destabilizing the vicar, that leads us forward, but also the powerful signification of accidents themselves. For as Graham states of the accidents of a sensuous object, they have a “dual status”:

“Accidents alone have the dual status of belonging and not belonging to an object, like streamers on a maypole, or jewels on a houka. Accidents are tempting hooks protruding from the sensual object, allowing it the chance to connect with others and thereby fuse two into one.”

But accidents do not simply happen, they point, they indicate. Their dual status directs us to connections and allows us to see that they are not accidents at all. The look of fear and tension that ripples across the body of the zebra is the vibrant, electric line which connects the lion mid-air to our own own selves, not to mention the vivacity of the grass plain. It is through the accident that we realize that we are already composed as a multi-object in which the accident was no accident at all, but an indication. So when Graham lays down the very reach of what his conclusion can provide, the suggestive depths of the object exposed by allure:

“The key to vicarious causation is that two objects must somehow touch without touching. In the case of the sensuous realm, this happens when I the intentional agent serve as vicarious cause for the fusion of multiple sensual objects: a fusion that remains only partial, encrusted with residue accidents. But in the case of real objects, the only way to touch a real one without touching it is through allure. Only here do we escape the deadlock of merely rolling in the perfumes of sensual things, and encounter qualities belonging to a distant signaling thing rather than a carnally present one. The only way to bring real objects into the sensuous sphere is to reconfigure sensual objects in such a way that they no longer fuse into a new one, as parts into a whole, but rather become animated by allusion to a deeper power lying beyond: a real object.”

what is not grasped hold of firlmly enough is the positive bodily assemblage of our bodies with other bodies that is continously going on through an essential perception of causation and reflectional report. If it is true that other real objects indeed retreat ever away from their qualities, and that allure and accidents to the essence of internal vicars constantly destablize our mental objects, this only provides a base ground of a much more conscienable construction of our bodies as affectively in combination. The retreat of other object/bodies provides the occasion for our mutual co-construction.

Campanella: To Know is to Be

It is here that I would like to introduce Campanella’s golden contribution to modern epistemology, a principle that has been long excluded from having influence. To know something, Campanella tells us, is to become it…literally  to become it. What is happy about Graham Harman’s reclamation of the word “essence,” rescued from its various deconstructions, is that it puts us back in touch which Late Renaissance and Late Scholastic thought which worked imaginatively and constructively with the concept. And although I have complained that Graham’s operation from pure Idealist and Representationalist assumptions, it is his embrace of the concept of “essence” that reanimates the possible importance of Campanella’s thought. In fact, his wonderfully designed “asymmetrical confrontation” between the sensuous object and the real me in a new “whole intentionality” comes very close to Campanella’s notion that we indeed, when we come to know something actually are transformed into it. In Graham’s version we are transformed into a hyper-object which is constituted of a real “me” and the sensuous vicar of another object. 

Let me present a few select quotations which include the presentation of the idea so as to give some occasion for a comparison:

“cognoscere est esse” – “Everything knows itself to be, is contrary to non-being, and loves itself. Therefore, everything knows itself through itself, and it knows other things not through itself, but inasmuch as it becomes similar to them. This similarity is so great that one thing perceives other things by perceiving itself changed into, and made, the other things, which are not what it is itself.”

- Del Senso pp. 83-4

So then with sensation [sensatio] would be assimilation, and all knowledge [cognition] is possible because of the fact that the knowing essence of a thing becomes [facio] the object to be known. Having become the object itself, it knows it perfectly, for it already is the object, therefore to know is to be; therefore anything that is multiple, the multiple knows, and what is few, few.

- Met., II, 6, 8, 1, p. 59a

“I admit that in all created things such a reflexive knowledge [of the soul], as well as the knowledge [that the soul has] of other beings, is only an accident. It comes from the outside, and the intellect understands them [i.e. other beings] insofaras it knows itself changed into, and made, them. But as far as the essential and original knowledge of one’s self is concerned, I firmly hold with Augustine that the intellect, in its act of understanding, does not differ in any way from the object of its understanding.”

- Met. II, 6, 6, 9, p. 36b

There are a few immediate challenges of vision to Graham Harman’s two-kinds-of-objectsworld, at least in terms of the direction of thought. The first is that Campanella’s process of assimilation seems to run at cross current to the Heideggerian idea of objects forever in retreat from their qualities. Instead of a world where real things tumble back into an infinite depth, human beings (and for Campanella all things) instead actively combine with and literally become the things that they come to know. Their entity is transformed into the entity of other things, thus in some sense their essence into those essences. But while this process of ontological transformation seems quite alien to Graham’s Heideggerian absences, there does seem some affinity to Graham’s inner-world sensuous/real object combinations through whole intention. At the very least we combine with and become in composite the vicars of other things, and thus to some degree with other things. In fact, I think that Graham and Campanella are saying very similar things when they talk about the creation of a change, a new intentional object. Like Graham, Campanella asserts a distinctness between oneself and what one has come to be (called by Campanella the difference between “innate” knowledge of one’s essence and “illate” knowledge of other things, including oneself reflexively), but this does not foreclose genuine transformation, the way that I combine through self-tranformation. But contrary to the difficulty of an unbridgable chasm between one’s own object and other object (how does the real touch the real), this new composite transformation, the assimilation, has genuine powers of awareness of its own, a new essence if you will. One has already become the object under contemplation and is already perceiving the world through its horizon. The separation between real objects thus in Campanella is lapped over.

Commentators have been confused by the seeming contradictions in Campanella’s metaphysics of assimulative becoming. How can one remain oneself, an essence with innate knowledge, and yet be transformed into a new thing, accidentally, forming illate knowledge, a transformation which itself has perfect knowledge. The answer to this contradiction I believe in part lies within just Graham’s own composite object he calls “the intention as a whole”. But also in part in the Spinoza advisement that such an intention-as-a-wholeis itself a real change in reality in relation to all other things. Its very affectures vectorize in real connections to other real things, and this vectorization expresseses itself in both the organisms experiences of Joy and Sadness, and in real world capacities to act. The reason why this is so is that the human boundary (or the human Subject) provides no priority of boundary in the world. It is always cross-cut and in combination with other bodies/objects with which it is in assimilation. Campanella’s view is one of expansive corporation, given the ground that each thing is already part of one great animal existence, the animal of the world.

An illustration may suffice. Instead of Heidegger’s hammer, let us speak of the surfer and his wave (the same dynamics occasion themselves). When surfing a wave to talk of the essence of the wave which is forever in retreat from its qualities is superfluous of the act. In the act, even to speak of the absolute separation of the surfer and the wave does not realy help, for, in a certain regard the surfer and the wave have become one thing, expressing mutually a series of dynamic forces. To put it in Harmanian terms, the real object of the surfer has combined through its intention with the vicar of the wave which is clustered with various accidents and qualities such that these deputized effects produce a new object real surfer/sensuous wave. I sugggest that the example shows what disservice the model does to actual human interfaces with the world. It is much more that the surfer has entered into and become the wave, been transformed into its entity to the degree that it is now reading the world beyond their combination through what Graham would otherwise call its accidents. In fact though the surfer does not likely have the object of the wave at all in his/her mind, but rather is concentrated solely on the patternings of these accidents, their readable, expressive rhythms and force which do not really constitute an object of their own. These “accidents” instead express the dynamic relations within the mutual object wave/surfer/board such that a relative stability and forward progressing vector is sought. They are internal to that kind of object, where the boundary of where one is, and through what one is reading (a limit of the board, one’s toes, one’s hamstring strength, a counter current tugging of the wave form, whitewater upsurge) is ever under negotiation, passing in and out.

This readability through other objects as also actively engaged in the world, and our ability to combine with them in telling, epistemic assemblages (harkening back to Spinoza’s notion of the imaginative imitation of the affects which grounds the social) points not only to the revelatory capacity of objects as they necessarily express their own interiors (making pale the significance of a Heideggerian retreat), but also points to the very insufficiency of the notion of “sensuous object” itself. Last night I was laying in the dark and listening to my cat purr in the dark. My mental activity was not composed of “listening to an accident of my cat’s essence” and the purr itself did not constitute own object (for it had no accidents or qualities that I held in juxtaposition), I simply was traveling along with the sound, riding out on its cadence. This turns our eye back to a criticism with which I opened this post, the idea of Representation as the exemplar of mental activity. As I have criticized elsewhere, this object-orientation of Graham’s grows from an Idealist rooting, Husserl’s outright Cartesianism, a philosophical assumption I call Central Clarity Consciousness [ Downunder: Central Clarity Consciousness (CCC) ]. Out of the presumption that intentionality is essentially the creation of a representing object comes Graham’s thinking of the vicar of some external, real thing. The true difficulty though comes in Graham’s ambition to work his metaphysical priniciples down out of the human world and end up with a world in which human actors, or even biotic actors are not the only things which have standing. If Graham would have stayed simply in the human realm he would perhaps be satisfied with something like Kant’s Idealism. But he does not:

Whereas Kant’s distinction is something endured by humans alone, I hold that one billiard ball hides from another no less than the ball-in-itself hides from humans. When a hailstorm smashes vineyards or sends waves through a pond, these relations are just as worthy of philosophy as the unceasing dispute over the chasm or non-chasm between being and thought.

The mental activity that cuts human beings off from all other objects is not to be something which only human beings are burdened with. All objects suffer from this original sin of “hiding essences”. The entire universe is alienated from all of its other parts, and the only problem is the problem of “caustion” (wherein clearly we see that the entire Universe is actually in some sense connected to the rest of itself). In this way has simply taken the chasm between human beings and all things and distributed it down through the layers of animation. And has set up for himself not only the difficulty of describing the connection between human beings and other objects (a connection which he can only allude to), but then takes this difficulty of connection down into the depths of all objects, inanimate or otherwise. How can we be generous enough notto say that Graham has begun with a simple problem, an essential conception of knowledge as representation, and then multiplied it to near infinity. Well, the answer seems lies in the obverse of Graham’s chasm, that things (and human beings) are already connected, and that the nature of this connection is key to understanding just what mental activity is. If we are to have a post-human, de-centered philosophy which does not privilege human “access” to the world, we really must let go of the notion that mental activity itself, even human mental activity, is not essentially a question of representation, and thus not certainly a question of “object”. What this does to Graham’s project I cannot tell, but if one does not make this move, one is forced to answer such questions as, “What does it mean for a oak desk to hold the ‘vicar’ of the fountain pen that lies upon it?” or, “How does a tree ‘represent’ the breeze to itself?” or “What composes the ‘accidents’ of the ‘deputy’ of my person in the rag doll I am holding?” As long as we confine ourselves to a primary notion of inner, senuous objects which either do or do not match up with external real objects we are forced to an incredible projection into depths of all kinds of inanimate materials in which there seems to be no means of giving them conceptual anchorage. Unless one pulls back into the Idealist human-centered world of Kant or Husserl or Hegel, it seems one has to give up the notion of object as representation altogether.

The Sincerity of Objects

Graham is not numb to this problem, and in his essay on vicarious causation seeks to overcome it. And he does so in an admirable way in the notion of “Sincerity”. Sincerity is the Harmanian word for Intentionality, and it is through sincerity that Graham hopes to sink the human experience of objects down into the animal world, and hopefully down into the abiotic world of material inanimate things. He defines sincerity variously, but generally as a kind of directed absorbtion, at the categorical minimum of the contact between a real object and a sensuous one (instantiating his own terms in a near defintional circle):

“For our purposes, intentionality means sincerity. My life is absorbed at any moment with a limited range of thoughts and perceptions. While it is tempting to confuse such absorption with ‘conscious
awareness,’ we need to focus on the most rudimentary meaning of sincerity: contact between a real object and a sensual one.”

I am not clear at all how “sincerity,” as it is defined as asymmetrical touching differs from “conscious awareness” for Graham, but perhaps this attempted distinction is an artifact of Graham’s resistance to panpsychism. Generally though, sincerity is a projection of human experience, marked by the expense of energy in some kind of directed attention:


3. SINCERITY. At this very moment I am absorbed or fascinated by the sensual tree, even if my attitude toward it is utterly cynical and manipulative. I do not contain the sensual tree, because this is the role of the unified intention that provides the theater of my sincerity without being identical to it. And I am not merely contiguous with the tree, because it does in fact touch me in such a way as to fill up my life. I expend my energy in taking the tree seriously, whereas the sensual tree cannot return the favor, since it is nothing real.


The question is, just how far down can the concept of sincerity go on the biotic and inanimate ladder. Is it robust and facile enough a concept to travel far enough so as to grant full nobility to (and thus also explain) the mechanism of causation of even the simplest actors in the world. In my “The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism” I speak of the difficulties of reading the prospectively panpsychic actions within the most inert objects, and there seek to define these internal events semiotically, that is, as horizon-defined indications. So when there is a causal effect upon a body, events within that body perform a kind of double duty. They mutually signify actions within the horizon of the body, but also these events can be read as directed to (or the result of) external events. Do we have the barefaced minimum of Graham’s asymmetry of contact at the simplest level? Would a body defined by its horizon of closure (by Spinoza imagined to be either a ratio of motion and rest, or a pressed together layer of parts) constitute both a real object, and events within it also possess a “sincerity” of directed re-action, what Graham calls the sensuous object? There seems to be some traction here, but still the concept of internal object tugs against the grain.

This traction is not without consequence for when Graham considers the ultimate question of where or how the connection occurs, he idntifies it as sincerity, the directed expenditure of energy, that  must be the site of the answer:

This must be the site of change in the world. A real object resides in the core of an intention, pressed up
against numerous sensual ones. Somehow, it pierces their colored mists and connects with a real object already in the vicinity but buffered from direct contact. If light can be shed on this mechanism, the nature of the other four types of relation may be clarified as well.

But right here at the cusp of the inanimate Graham draws back from the potential sufficiency of this dynamic, for he finds in the human realm the allure of the aforementioned “allure,” turning to how metaphor breaks down the whole of senuous objects in a liberating sense, allowing the real object of the human being to “poke through” its senuous veil and reach the distant signals of other real things. This is a tremendously poetic and beautiful description and full of potential analysis of the relationship between metaphor, image and thought (reminding us of Nietzsche’s essay“On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”) But while we may make epistemic inroads to internal events of tennis balls, goldfish bowls and airport tarmacs using the widest notion of “sincerity” one finds it quite conceptually unlikely that the same could be said of some concept of “metaphor”.

The reason for this is obvious, and already mentioned. Mental activity, especially the breadth of which that Graham would like to populate the world, simply cannot be characterized by “objecthood,” certainly not sensuous objects of the kind that their “quality of being a whole” which metaphorical allure works to disrupt is an essential character. Here lies the poisoned pawn of Central Clarity Conciousness (CCC), an assumption which will drive Graham’s actor-theory ever back toward the realm of linguistically endowed human beings. Further complicating the issue is that Graham would like to link the disruptions of our essential objects via “allure” to the very mechanism of causation itself. As he describes them, such disruptions almost waken us from our dream of swirling, wind-blown, Lucy-In-The-Sky-of-Diamonds, accidents and strangely buffered objects, to the jutting through of the signals from afar which produce real causation. Just how does Graham see this happening? How do the metaphorical increases of connection between our own internal sensuous objects bring contact with other external objects?:

“….just as two sensual objects are vicariously linked by a real one, two real objects must be vicariously linked by a sensual one. I make contact with another  object, not through impossible contact with its interior life, but only by brushing its surface in such a manner as to bring its inner life into play. Just as only the opposite poles of magnets make contact, and just as the opposite sexes alone are fertile, it is also the case that two objects of the same type do not directly touch one another.”

By bringing about the linking of sensuous objects in our own mental life, we so to speak stir the inside of other objects so as to inspire (I can think of no better word) internal connections of other objects which would result in causation…real contact. How a bullet seduces  our bodies unto death only brushing our surface.

But what a fantastic theory. If we are to augment it to allow it to cover something more than even only a portion of human articulation we are going to have to unchain it from its object-hood bonds. When I chop at a piece of wood with my axe, I am not “brushing its surface” so as to nudge it into a metaphorizing  allurement action which then opens it up to the possibility to being cleaved in two. Even as lovely a conception this might be, there simply is not enough argumentative ligature to make it remotely hold as an explanation. If indeed we want to maintain the worm-hole conception of causation of inside of object to object, as suggestive as a metaphorical theory of causation is, we are going to have to turn to a much more polyvalent conception of internal senuous event.

First of all, in a bit of digression, we have to admit that aside from the mental object orientedness that drives Graham’s philosophical position, we are really  subject to an infinity of causations continuously. We are being radiated by solar activity, drawn to the earth in gravitous fields, struck by photons that allow us to see, soundwaves allowing us to hear, just to name a bare few of millions upon millions of forces and effects. Even in the confines of a strictly human realm, to view causation as a kind of eruption in the veil of sensuous closure, a special event of allurement, one would have to admit that this is a regular and continous process. Further so, all objects would be undergoing such sincerity driven allurements at such an enormous rate that our bodies (and all bodies) would be semiotically ripping open at the seams. Such a picture would do much to destablize any real “me” object that Graham imagines founds my causal connections to the world. The sites of “sincerity” are everywhere.

But I would like to take up another aspect of Graham’s use of Sincerity and its rather obvious psychological and ethical freight. To call a directionality of an object “sincere” is not just to distinguish it from insincerity, for how can a rose garden be “insincere,” or a dog, as Wittgenstein would like to tell us. It is also to allude to the way in which the directionality of others, and not just human others, allows us to make powerful sense of the world. Because we can see the directionality of the zebra as it reacts to the leap of a lion, the surface evidence of the expenditure of energy in orientation, we too can make ourselves directional towards an important external event. The sincerity of one object links our sincerity to the world, so that the lion, the zebra and I all are sincerely focused and in a certain kind of agreement. Interestingly the same kind of psychological/ethical frieght is carried by another philosopher’s analytical term, Charity. Donald Davidson in his theory of the radical interpreation of others (human beings), argues that we can only make sense of their behaviors if we charitably grant that they are making the most sense possible (and that they are in some way sincere). We must assume the coherence of their thought in order to be able to interpret it. [Here is a fantastically performed ten minute video explanation of the Principle of Charity, entertainingly argued if you have not seen it: Skeptism refuted in Under Ten Minutes]. I would argue that Graham has chosen just the right type of word when he is looking for what it is that reveals the mechanism of connection between sensuous and real objects. The coherent directedness of attention which marks sincerity is intimately related to the coherence of explanation which marks our charitable capacity to interpret others (even if others are lying, we locate their “lie” within a sincerely directed behavior of some kind, even if it be unconscious).

This leads us back to Campanella I believe, the way in which we literally become the things that we know. Our directed intentionality which for our purposes is not composed of objects, but merely of vectors of distinctions, directs us from within to the internal contact with other objects in such a way that we can literally feel because we are one new entity, their internal directedness. We have epistemically subsumed them, changing our own borders. In lived contact, as they are so directed, sincerely, by the order of their own internal coherence toward extra-horizon events, through our mutality of bodies we perceive through their sincerity with the world. In this way causation shoots through the entire assemblage and transformation, through the prosthetic becomings which extend our real bodies out to the furthest reaches of their terminus.

Descartes of all people (who may have been vastly misread as a Representationalist by the Idealist tradition that followed) gives us a very good example of such this kind of mutality of seeing in the figure of the blind man and his cane:

It sometimes doubtless happened to you, while walking in the night without a light through places which are a little difficult, that it became necessary to use a stick in order to guide yourself; and you have then been able to notice that you felt, through the medium of the stick, the diverse objects around you, and that you were even able to tell whether they were trees, or stones, or sand…(Treatise on Diotrics, first discourse)

…just as when the blind man of whom we have spoken above touches some object with his cane, it is certain that the objects do not transmit anything to him except that, by making his cane move in different ways according to their different inherent qualities, they likewise and in some way move the nerves of his hand, and then the places in his brain where the nerves originate. Thus his mind is caused to perceive as many different qualities in these bodies, as there are varieties in the movements that they cause in his brain…(fourth discourse)

Objects Without Sincerity

If we are to grant a sensuous relationship between a stick and its enviroment, then we must be able to say that the sincerity of a blind man’s directional attention is linked to, and signficantly knows the sincerity of the stick. In a very real sense the blind man has become his cane in knowing it. (Descartes uses this analogy to actually explain how vision works, as the rays of light which enter our eyes operate as a kind of prosthetic extension of the human body out into the world, something close in theory to a Semiotic Realism.) In this way, speaking of the cavernous retreat of the stick is a bit obscurant. Yes, the stick can break or fail and much of its reportability disabled, but because our perceptions are not object dominated, this can simply be read as a change of essence. In the end Graham’s essences of objects that fall back into vaccuums never reachable, hiding from every kind of eye, are simply objects without sincerity. And what are objects without sincerity? They are either the spectral creations of philosophers preoccupied with a CCC optical metaphor of what consciousness is, the sense that because what we think is primarily a visualization “parts” must hide, or it is merely the capacity of think of things as fundamentally distinct, made of difference, a groudwork for our own ability to make and distinguish differences.

What I propose, and I do realize that Graham could never accept this because the core inspiration of his philosophy is the matching inversion of objects accomplished by Husserl and Heidegger, one must keep sincerity by discarding the essentialization of mental activity into objects. Seeing them both as two kinds of objects, two sides of a coin, each locked away from each other simply exposes the fundamental problem of Idealism, a problem that Graham himself is locked within his philosophy when begining, rather creatively, with these ingredients. As mentioned above, if Graham were to remain within Idealism and its human-centric philosophy of access, there would be no problem with this at all. In fact he would have on his hands a beautiful, poetic ontology of animate metaphorization which would productively enrich human discriptions of themselves. The problem is that as we leave the capacities of human beings the very picture of mental activity as object representation with confined borders and bejeweling accidents breaks down (if it ever was sufficient in the first place, which I contend it was not). If we want to reach down into the authenticity of non-human and even abiotic actors and regard their own sincerities as actorly and also maintain a vigorous, vivid sense of what causation is, the illusive white shadow of un-sincere object essences as products of Representationalism must leave the stage. We can retain a strong sense of essence in the manner that Campanella and Spinoza discuss it, but this is under a process of self-transformation and assimilation (in terms of real contact, the assimilation goes both  ways!). We regularly and emphatically read the world through our embodiment of others, our prosthetic/cybernetic combination with others, divining the world, so to speak, through our sincere reading of their sincerities.

There is certainly more than enough room for Graham’s concept of Allure, the way that seeming accidents which are part of our patterned coherences and also not, the sparkle of something that catches our eye, the dark stain spreading inordinately. In fact I argue that our consciousness is not at all directed towards objects marked by their quality of wholeness, but rather is composed of the attention to allure itself. The pure center of attentive direction, of sincerity, is not an object, but a living line continually breaking open bringing the forces of coherence into play. Such allurement is not the condition for causation (for phsycial interactions is not mind-dependent), but rather the operation of dynamic coherence itself, that which makes a body a body, the way that it endures, seeking a homeostasis amid change. Thus I can embrace Graham’s praise for metaphor as means for productive connection; it is just not the only means for building the connection between objects or bodies [I discuss the possible place for metaphor in the otherwise taken to be unfriendly philosophy of Spinoza in these two posts: Spinoza’s Confusion of Ideas, and then, Metaphor ; Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination ].  Metaphor, or detaching allurement, is simply not the only path to connection, and certainly not its precondition in the abiotic world. In this way we have to disagree with Graham’s ultimate conclusion that all causal events are founded upon an occasion of allurement, an allure that opens the door to causation:

The separation of a thing from its quality is no longer a local phenomenon of human experience, but instead is the root of all relations between real objects, including causal relations. In other words, allure belongs to ontology as a whole, not to the special metaphysics of animal perception. Relations between all real objects, including mindless chunks of dirt, occur only by means of some form of allusion.

We leave this conclusion as insufficient not because it is too poetic, but because it is not poetic enough, it does not touch at the heart and power of what poieõ, what “making”,  is. It does not go deep enough into the object nor the object’s composition, or the full embrace of sincerity driven down into the abiotic, non-representational levels.

Do I believe that in-animate objects can and do “read” the sincerity of other objects, and thus in some sense “become” them. I do. Air molecules that reverberate and carry a sound in some sense sincerely express their own directionality such that they read the sincerity of molecules near them. I do not include Graham’s notion that the outsides of these objects do not touch because really under these circumstances the borders of things is ever under dispute or change, and so the notion of “touching” or “contact” also is under revision. I do think though that his concept of asymmetry of intentionality, taken as a whole (I would simply prefer a horizoned direction) gives strong light to just what perplexing thing Campanella meant when he said “To know is to be” and that our entity is turned into the entity of another thing. What I would amend is that this assimilation is best seen as cybernetic/prosthetic, a communication of sincerities across bounds within new epistemic and still ontological horizons. It is not just that I am able to hear the distant signals of real objects through the veil of sensous ideas, poked through. Real power is simply not that isolative, not so pale. It is rather that my body is directly composed of such connections, the transferal of sense-making coherences, cause on cause, composed of in part my capacity to read the causal links and sincerities of others. And as a human being this consists of the very real ontological difference that causal explanation makes in my own person. If I know how something works, know it through its causes, my own capacity to act in the world  is also increased.

Related to this is something that Graham only slightly touches on in his essay, that there must be a real object on the other side of the connection otherwise it is not a connection at all. This is the important vector which distinguishes mere mental pro-fascinations from real changes in the capacity to act. If I were a racist I could be trapped in the various fantasies I generate about a particular person of color. What is it that disguishes these “sincerities” from genuine contact? This is vital distinction, one that cuts to the bone of real power in the world, but as far as I can tell it is not one that Graham wants to link to causation itself. This missing discernment is I believe related to Graham’s almost poetic notion that the real object of us is somehow always cut off from the effects of others, or that real connections are somehow mind-dependent. There is no sense from him that we are already causally bound to not only our environment and to others in such a way that our identification of the nature of these bounds is paramount in any path to greater activity or power. It is rather a philosophical picture, perhaps the picture of an artist, of how it is that I can get my isolated, cavernous, retreating self connected to the distant signals of other things. For this reason I suspect that the mechanisms for distingushing real contact from simple sincerity of attention is quite undeveloped in Graham’s theory of causation. Causation which in many normative descriptions of the world assumes a cornerstone placement if only as a barrier or limit one runs up against, in Graham’s approach becomes one of the very last things explained (and as yet remains so at least in terms of the inanimate). But this is important because we want to be able to distinguish between our mere fantasies about the world and others, and concrete possibilities of change. As such, in need  of such, we cannot simply turn to the allurement of accidents of essences, or a metaphorization of sensuous objects, for such imaginative creations on their own no more lead to an assured connection with the real objects we think we have before our Cartesian eyes.

If we are going to talk effectively about changes of power and activity in the world it is principally to the difference between a non-connective sincerity and a connective one, a difference which can only be thought of in terms of degree, for all sincerities  are connective to something I would contend (there are no brains in vats). I will leave the development of this aside, only to suggest that when we turn to what causation is, our approach to sincerity necessarily involves a charity which makes the sincerity of others readable, and if readable to any degree, inhabitable and transforming in the very real Campanella sense. Interpretation of others and the world is bodily assemblage in which what is internal to other things in some sense becomes internal to use, thus indeed, the molten centers of objects do touch.

[I want to say thank you to Graham Harman for providing one more latch-point for the thinking of Tommaso Campanella whose philosophy I seek to renew.]

The Problem with Spinoza’s Panpsychism

Stones that Think, Imagine and Have Ideas?

Any serious confrontation of Spinoza’s supposed Panpsychism runs right up against some very hard ground, in particular how his ontological descriptions - meant not only for human beings, but for all of existence - are to be taken on down the scale, all the way down to the smallest, micro-existential level. By virtue of how Spinoza defines modal expressions of Substance it seems that from the widest of views anything that does exist would in some sense “think” ; that is, due to Spinoza’s parallelism, even the most minute speck of dust, every tumbling molecule or atom, is an expression of Idea which seeks to preserve itself and stays in existence out of this striving. Yet, when we apply the very terms and analysis which Spinoza applies to the weakness of human cognition, the descriptions which reveal the aspects of man that push him further down the chain so to speak, making a human being more passive, more in-animate, these are very difficult things to apply to animal, then plant, then mineral, and then even lower forms of modal expression. For what would it mean for a Table to possess inadequate Ideas? Or a fishpond? And while we might be tempted to see that higher animals like wolves and giraffes could be dominated by Spinoza’s first form of knowledge, confused, Imaginary Knowledge, condemned merely to a world of images and association traces, is this how we imagine earthworms to be, or bacteria, or even more incomprehensibly, viruses? The categories that Spinoza gainfully employs to criticize the human condition, when brought over to all of existence, simply seem to break down. And the difficulty arises when this disintegration of terms comes to grip with the genuine decentralization of human beings that is meant to guide his ontology in the first place. What we are looking for are descriptions of the variability of human capacities which can also be applied to all things in existence, and these Spinoza does not seem immediately to give. In part this is because he is in particular concerned with the nature of Human Bondage, and so his conceptualizations are in some sense decidedly human (are we to talk about the Passions of the Animus 0f the cactus, the love, jealousy and hatred of the sedimentary rock?) And partly this could be because although Spinoza certainly had a vitalist-like conception of the world as one huge animate expression of Substance/God, in which every part vied with every other part, becoming free only through rational cohesion, how this played out beneath the human level really was not of much importance to him. Man was to use the environment for his benefit, just as man uses man.

So how are we to conceive of the mental actions of the sub-human, and sub-animal in Spinoza’s own terms if we cannot readily apply concepts such as the Inadequate Idea or Imaginary Knowledge to a piece of slate? The answer to this I think comes back down to Spinoza’s definition of the body which I have been dwelling on here for some days. I’ll reprint it.

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.

or, as Curley translates the important middle phrase: “that they communicate their motion to each other in a fixed manner”.

If we begin with this notion of Body as any continuing and communicative ratio of parts (or even the sedimentary-like vision of parts pressed close to each other, as Spinoza opens the description); understanding that for Spinoza this activity, this persistence must be mental activity as well as extensional activity we are forced to ask, What is it about these relations themselves that give us to see them as somehow “thinking”? What does it mean for a bowling ball to think?

Not Representation

I think we go a long way towards our answer if we give up the notion that for Spinoza an Idea Represents  ssomething, for we really are at a loss if we want to say that the internal relations in my pencil are in some way representing (that is, re-presenting) some aspect of the world to the pencil. (I think a great disservice was done to philosophy when it made its turn toward seeing the Scholastic notion of Idea as a Representation, ssomething that I think even comes to a wrongful interpretation of what Descartes meant by Idea.) So let us explore a bit what kinds of things that can be happening inside a taken to be inanimate object which might in some sense give a clue for how Spinoza conceived of Idea. What is a viable connection between the inside of things, and the outside of things that presents some kind of traction to the mental?

Well, let us take a deeply over simplified model, one that will emphasize the notion of border that seems implicit in Spinoza definition. Take an object to be something like a water-balloon. If we strike the balloon with our finger there is a certain reverberation of internal effects which we might say “reflect” the external or at least boundary-bound event. That is, as the balloon wobbles back into relative stability of form, there are a transfer of balances between parts within the balloon which are at least roughly coherent unto each other. Any one event within the baloon, or even subset of them does not so much represent the finger strike at it surface, as somehow express it unto the very nature of its internal relations. This is, in my thinking, a semiotic relation, an indication (I use the term semiotic not in its strict Peircian nor Saussaurian Idealist sense, but in a pre-modern Augustinian fashion). This semiosis indicates to the internal relations a consequences of changes (differences), but also is somehow oriented towards the boundary of the balloon. I think something of this is required to give sense to the cognitional capacities of the bodies so defined by Spinoza. It is not that the ideational changes (that is to say, recursively organized semiotic differences) represent  the world to the Body, so much as they indicate to the internal relations themselves how to react, a chain of reactions which in turn can be seen as a reaction to events external to the body. For Spinoza it key to see that the horizon-defined semiotic differences are determined, internally referential actions (ratios which preserve)…thus, Ideas are best seen as mental actions  of the physical, not representations per se.

This internalization of ideational changes, the way that a body can only “perceive” the outside world with reference to awareness of its internal states is precisely what Spinoza has in mind when he says of human beings:

The human Mind does not know [cognosit] the human Body itself, nor does it know that it exists, accept through Ideas of affections by which the Body is affected, E2p19

The object of the idea constituting the human Mind is the Body, or a certain mode [certus modus] of Extension which actually exists, and nothing else, E2p13

It seems that this essential notion of mental closure, in parallel to physical closure is something that Spinoza would take to be all the way down the ladder in the order of things, for Spinoza, which work from the most active to the least. In keeping with this “affections” [affectio] are the material changes within a body, and their Ideas are their semiotic relations to each other (and relation to all materiality in general). Necessarily, though the semiotic relations which help constitute the body as a closed body may be adequate to that purpose, that mind, they are inadequate to the preservation of that body in all conditions it may and will find itself in (thus, there is an answer to the disputable question  whether human beings, or any finite being, can hold completely adequate Ideas: in a certain sense complete adequacy simply does not make sense as a semiotic, finite relation).

So what is the difference at the level of the take to be inanimate between an Inadequate Idea (semiotic relation) and a slightly more Adequate Idea? For Spinoza the question is of the nature of preservation. I think it safe to say that for Spinoza the internal relations of stones and fingernail clippings are essentially Inadequate, the inadequacy a reflection of their fundamental passivity to the world. Yet, these things are also things that in some sense press their existence forward. They do not act in any intentional way (showing beliefs, or fears, or even needs), but they to persist in time, both against countervailing forces, and with forces sympathetic to their cause. This calls to mind one of the more overt panpsychic passages of Medieval Philosophy, Augustine’s notion that each thing is cognizant in that it finds ways to preserve itself:

For if we were cattle, we should love the carnal and sensual life, and this would be our sufficient good; and when it was well with us in respect of it we should seek nothing else. Again, if we were trees, we could not, of course, be moved by the senses to love anything; but we would seem to desire, as it were, that by which we might become more abundantly and bountifully fruitful. If we were stones or waves or wind or flames or anything of that kind, we should indeed be without both sensation and life, but we should still not lack a kind of desire for our own proper place. For the weight of bodies is, as it were, their love, whether they are carried downwards by gravity or upwards by their lightness. For the body is carried by its weight wherever it is carried, just as the soul is carried by its love. - The City of God, Book 11 chapter 28

Adequacy to Landscape

Upon this gradation of capacity to act Spinoza has grafted a more precise internally semiotic notion of degrees of freedom. It is not just that things find their place in the world, and thus persist, but that the internal relations within a thing express a degree of freedom possible for that thing (whatever its boundary), and thus that bodies as their in an increase in the adequacy of their semiotic relations become more powerful, more active entities. (As a sidenote, we can see something of this notion expressed in Stuart Kauffman’s Complexity Theorist take on the self-organizing systems of closure that gave rise to life, not a connection I wish to pursue here though.)

But the question remains, just how are we to conceive of changes in adequacy in internal semiotic relations at the inanimate and then near inanimate level? If we take clue from how Spinoza has divided up imaginary knowledge from rational knowledge, perhaps we can get a sense of this. Despite Spinoza all out and categorical denial of contingency, it is very much the case that a particular body can and does have completely random experiences of increases of power (and hence Ideational adequacy, and thus Joy). This can happen in two ways. One is that a body may find itself in local circumstances which favor it. Suddenly the finite internal relations which have thus far been preserving it suddenly are even more adequate to their local environment (one has a strong sense that Spinoza has presaged a logic of Darwinism here, several hundred years early). The second, in the same vein, is a change in the nature of the internal relations themselves which makes them more adequate to local environments. In either case there is no necessity that the advantage be preserved…it can be pure happenstance…a dust ball might fall into a whole corner of dust balls in an abandoned house. But the way that Spinoza understand it, there are ways to pursue this advantage, either through improvements of the internal semiotic relations (an increase in the adequacy of ideas), a change that would lead to an orientation toward more favorable environments (including the shaping of one’s current environment). In this regard, rivers that shape riverbeds, gene populations which carve out ecosystems, seem to possess systematic increases in an adequacy of internal relations to their environments. There is a strong sense that their determinations of what is outside of them are expressive of determinations which are inside of them. How far down the ladder we can push this, I am unsure, but someone like Kauffman would tell you that the autocatalytic processes which formed the simplest of organic compounds exhibit both organizational closure, and also shaping effects upon their environments, something which seems to suggest a very elemental kernel of an increase in semiotic relations at the heart of even the most random of our material processes (at least in our material history).

Adequacy to Totality?

But Spinoza wants to go beyond questions of adequacy toward local environments (fitness landscapes), but adequacy as per the Total (which for human beings or any other finite body serves as a kind of aysmptotic limit which principally can never even come close to being reached). For this he provides a material/numerical vector by which we might be able to judge  the relative sufficiency of internal semiotic relation of any particular body:

Whatever predisposes to the human Body that it is affected in a great number of ways, or renders it capable of affecting external Bodies in a great many ways, is useful to man; the more it renders the Body capable of being affected in a great many ways, or affecting other bodies, the more useful it is; on the other hand, what renders the Body less capable of these things is harmful. E4p38

Now interestingly there is nothing in this proposition which guards against the contingent local manifestation of destructive forces. One could conceivably increase the number of ways your body can be affected (or affect) at a moment in time it would be advisable not to be susceptible to those influences, at the ludicrous level, taking a Joyful walk outside just when a piano was falling. And there is some question on just how to read this numericity. Does a monk in seclusion mediating increase the number of ways he/she can be affected…perhaps? But in terms of the inanimate/animate nexus, it is a general call toward the real consequences of complexity (a multiplicity of folds, if we literalize it). The cockroach might not be a very complex creature as far as animals go, but its grouped expression nested into all the worlds environments might be quite so; a water molecule may only be able to be affected or affect other things in a few ways, but rich is the number of ways that water itself interacts and manifests shaping the world to give two open questions of the application of this definition.

You can recognize in this Spinoza offering a development of Plato’s own definition of Being as offered in the Sophist (the dunamis/capacity to affect or be affected), and Bateson’s own modern cybernetic “difference that makes the difference” definition of information or Latour’s idea of gradated and Networked Being.

In terms of Spinoza, it seems to be that deeply inadequate semiotic relations are those which hardly register events beyond them so as to be fundamentally passive to those events, subject to any random occurrence whatsoever, yet still adequate enough to have preserved the body, the thing (res) to that point. The expressive conditions of its internal relations are in enough harmony with the relations around it so as to maintain its existence in harmony (opening up the question which Spinoza is always turning to, by virtue of what do we isolate a body from the forces and patterns of others). Under these descriptions it seems possible to stake that all things do think, that is there is some internal relation of which we find things composed that preserves itself in sympathy to events outside of it under a variety of circumstances of increasing complexity and self-reference, much of it involving the mutuality of coherences between bodies which become more and more communicated. This is something of what I believe Spinoza means when he thinks about the whole world being a vital and coherent expression of Nature, God, Substance.

It is not really for Spinoza that we are all One, with an emphasis on the meld of Great Oneness (if that were so he would have written mystical treatises), and this Hegel got wrong. It is rather the incredible distinctiveness, the concrete contours of our separations, under the logic that anything that separates must also necessarily join. His determinative reading of causation and immanation is an attempt to locate the joints of Being that when recognized lead to real shifts in power, in a real world (not imagined to be later or beyond rewards). A change in power is immediately its own reward and consequence. If the world is panpsychic for Spinoza, and I do believe that it is, it is because each and every little thing, each speck of Being is something with which we have the potential to combine (and not just instrumentally observe or detachedly use). The reason why things think for Spinoza is linked to his emphasis that for a person to think is to materially change yourself. When you think a thought you are changing your brain, your body (we don’t often think like this). And when we enjoin a material thing, place it our hand, press its button, flip its pages, we are necessarily joining to its mentality. Things think because we in thinking are akin to them, such that we cannot be kept apart.

Spinoza’s Notion of Inside and Outside: What is a Passion?

There is a primacy of inside and outside in the philosophy of Spinoza that provokes powerful lines of thought that reach far into the future of systems theory and autopoietic conceptions of Life, not to mention a general pragmatism of how to define an individual in the world, whether it be as a political or biological entity. Here I want to dig into one of the most suggestive of Spinoza’s definitions, one that cuts across his entire ontology of an ethics of power and epistemological increase.

Spinoza conceives of an Affect simply [an affectus which is a passio of the animus], a simplicity that is captured in his definition of Love:

Love is a Joy accompanied by [concomitante] the idea of an external cause. Ethics 3, Definitions of the Affects VI

We already know what Joy is:

Joy is a man’s passage [transitio] from a lesser degree of perfection to a greater one. E3DoA, II

This simplicity is something I have often returned to, something of it always slipping out beyond its immediate and apparent clarity. It seems to capture a dynamic of our experience (and Being) that is more than what it says, and thus there is something about it that in rather un-Spinozist fashion seems to resist explanation. I have to say though that my recent theoretically stretchings have given me a different understanding, one that opens up the definition and concept to a new clarity.

Notably, and this has bearing on any consummate notion of object, the delineation of inside and outside is explicit and fundamental to the definition. There are two parts to it. The first is a change within the object/body which has no explanation, an ontological shift in the real being of it. Spinoza calls this shift a shift in perfection, but increases in perfection in Spinoza are nothing more increases in the capacity to act…the body has become more active, less reactive.

So stage/part one is:

1. An increase in the capacity for activity of the body/object.

As to this, because it lacks causal explanation it could happen because of something internal to the object (some event), or due to something external to it (some event). And the effect is one of a definite change. Understanding Spinoza, this change is read as an increase in the coherence of the parts of the object. They, for whatever reason, harmonize with each other better, and in human beings and perhaps all biotic objects, this is experienced in some way as a Joy [Laetitia].

The second part – and it is important I think to see that this is not second in time, but constitutive of the first part – is specific to the inside/outside divide.

2. A change that occurs within the object which refers to, reflects, represents or signifies what in terms of the object/body is an external state.

Something happens within the object/body which orients it towards something considered by the internal relations of the object/body to be outside of them. Several questions arise regarding the nature of this “idea of an external cause”, some of them opening up paths that philosophy has taken since the coming of Descartes. There has been a tendency to view this “Idea of an external cause” as a Representation of something in the world. I think that this is to the debilitation to the point that Spinoza is making, forgetting the nature of the Scholastic debates that he is at work resolving. (In fact, it is not even clear that Ideas in Descartes himself should be read exclusively, or even specifically as representations.) What Spinoza has in mind here is much better understood in terms of Signification, and not Representation, that is, semiotically. This is to say that internal to the object/body, concordant with a change in its harmony of parts, is a semiotic change, a change which is “a difference that makes the difference” which not only recursively indicates consequences to be followed within, but indicates, or in some sense is taken to be the effect of,  states outside the horizon of its boundary. Thus, internally, the change in a harmony of parts becomes a semiotic change which confirms the boundary of inside and outside, linking that effect to its boundary and some event beyond it.

So really, in a passion, we have three parts or aspects.

1. An internal change of the harmony or coherence of parts.

2. A semiotic change internal to the object/body.

3. The two aspects together produce a reinforcement of the inside/outside boundary along the horizon of its nexus.

Now Spinoza’s beginning point is that all of modal expression, the whole of concrete Being is fundamentally conjoined. Which is to say that any particular inside/outside delineation, although concrete and real, is also only partial in understanding. What he wants us to see is that even in the Passion of Love when there is a real increase in the harmony and coherence of our parts, and in that increase a semiotic change which appears to connect that inside to some outside event or state, this very inside/outside delineation, while the vehicle of our increases in power is also the condition of our limitation, a necessarily passive isolation of perspective, an Ultimate Negative theology of the specific ways of Being. We can only make internal semiotic changes to a particular limit of our capacity to act.

There is something in Spinoza’s definition of Love (and Sadness) which directs our attention away from the external state which is signified to have caused the internal change. Thus,  in the fashion of Chrysippus’s cylinder (Cic. De fat. 43), (which can change its reactive propensity to roll down hills by changing its internal relationship of parts: i.e., if it were rectangular it would cease to roll when hills were encountered), a contrary turn of our attention to external causes for Spinoza presents us with a fundamentally passive understanding wherein the power of our condition seems reliant upon the presence or absence of an external state. In cases of our concrete dependencies this cuts two ways: 1) the absence of oxygen will make us quite sad (as we cannot reconfigure our internal relations such that we do not need oxygen), 2) the absence of our new Ferrari might very well be something that we can internally overcome (our sadness is not necessary).

But I would like to move toward the first part of Spinoza’s definition, the change in the harmony of our internal parts, for it is here that question of dependency opens up something other than this dichotomy of relative freedoms (not free from oxygen, free from Ferraris). In Spinoza’s ontology of effects it is important to keep an eye on the fact that even in concrete inside/outside delineations which constitute an object/body, the external event is already connected to the internal event (regardless of the internal signification of what lies beyond it). When a pin pricks my skin and my body undergoes a great number of physical changes which indicate to itself that something external to it has caused a change in the harmony of its parts, this could not occur unless the pin and my body were not already in conjunction in some manner (for Spinoza  this ultimately comes down to both being expression of Substance). The event of the puncture is merely one that makes us aware of this connection, and what Spinoza wants us to see is that the more adequate (harmonious) our internal semiotic changes, they more they work in ways that embrace this mutual connection. Which is to say, the more that the inside/outside boundary is enforced through internal relations, and the more powerful and active these relations, the more this inside/outside boundary is surpassed.

So for Spinoza the more harmonious the intra-relations in an object or body, the more harmonious the inter-relations between objects/bodies, and this is because at least in some sense any two object/bodies already form something an object/body themselves. In combination, their parts are in communication, and this communication forms its own essential harmony.

It is for this reason that I find that the very best way of reading Spinoza’s approach to the nature of object/bodies is something of a cybernetic one. Whatever concrete inside/outside delineations which seem to constitute a body are ever redrawable to more powerful subsumptions. This does not mean that all the objects collapse into one great soup of effects, for this expression is highly structured and historically specific. The pathways of determined and mutual connection, the specific closures of inside and outside, are not illusions, but only partial perspectives, in the way that a worm in the blood is ignorant of the body that it is in, and the nature of the dependencies of its condition (as Spinoza says to Oldenburg, letter 15/32).

What Spinoza’s combinative ontology of bodies suggests is a view wherein any powerful connections we make with other objects in the world, whether they be “natural” objects such as rocks and trees, or technological objects such as automobiles, or scientific instruments, or cultural objects such as holy texts, or voter ballots, or animal objects such as pets, or endangered species, our senator, our child, these combinations are to be seen and experienced as real, physical combinations of whole cognitive bodies. Our body and the bodies that we combine with assemble a new body (for us new), a mutuality of effects. I discuss elsewhere, and I will expand on the point in time to come that these mutuality of effects are necessarily those of epistemic closure, the way that we inhabit other things and they us, in order to discover connections in the world.

Greatly though, as per my recent thinking on Coinjoined Semiosis, this very inside/outside cognitive barrier itself is problematized in a way that Spinoza did not thoroughly appreciate, if at all conceive of (although his metaphysics lays the groundwork for its analysis). This is to say, yes, in following Spinoza there is a fundamental inside/outside horizon of objects which is cognitively determinative. Yes, the semiotic ordering of our internal parts as it pursues harmonic cohesion is ever reinforcing the boundary between itself and the world, perhaps in terms which link as best as possible the connection between the inside changes to events outside. And lastly yes, understanding the nature of our dependency paves the way for a cybernetic understanding of how our bodies cognitively and affectively combine with other bodies in fluctuating epistemic horizons of their own. But the inside/outside cognitive barrier is even further problematized.

The reason for this is Conjoined Semiosis. There are events, perhaps even a plethora of events which are internal to the cognitive whole of a body, swathes of semiotic differences which make THE difference, which are already participating in other cognitive boundaries which intersect the inside/outside horizon. So, semiotic parts within our body are operating with a relative incoherence to ourselves, while still maintaining a relative harmony to themselves only discoverable by viewing the other cognitive wholes in which they participate and inform. In this way, the causes of these semiotic disruptions are both internal and external to the assembled body, running across its fabric like so much cross-weft, ready to be tugged from both within and without.

In this manner such disturbances point to the very insufficiency of the inside/outside horizon, the incompleteness of its view. When resolute, the inside/outside boundary will be destroyed, given enough invading variance. When flexible and transformative, the semiotic tugging will actually reveal the already constituted mutuality of shared material the enfleshed conjoinment of investments, leading to an expanse of what it means to be a Self.

In a sense, the binary of Subject/Object which plagues so many of the Idealist informed philosophies which followed from Descartes is cross-cut. It is not merely that the Subject and the Object combine like two oscillating bodies around a single center of gravity between them, but rather and also that laterally, obliquely, loxogonispherically - to use my favorite word in the history of words, by the grace of Sir Thomas Urquart – a fabric of interweave is already under assemblage. Much of this cross-weave is invisible, and necessarily will remain invisible, but insofar as contingently the tides of other bodies in interaction with the same world as our own work at vectored variance with our experiences, these semiotic pulls will be experienced as both outside of us and within us. Forcing us to expand or collapse.

What Spinoza’s definition of a Passion, in particularly the Passion of Love (or Sadness) does is direct our attention not only toward within, and the very generative matrix of the conditions of our freedom, or without at the apparent locus of our engagement, but towards the horizon itself. The result is not just that in our internal workings, our self-reflections, we think of how to overcome this horizon in a vertical way searching for a hierarchical understanding of what subsumes both of us (my body, and that body), like a body contains its cells, a society its citizens; or even that we turn toward the productive cybernetics of finding more and more bodies to become cognitively cybernetic to (both of these are informative). It is also to our understanding to look at the investments oblique to the very border concept we have which gives us a sense of the priority of the object above all else, a priority which casts it shadow across metaphysics in the illusionary binary of Being and Non-Being. It is the partiality of very specific, concrete, semiotic investments across bodies, the way that we incompletely invade and are invaded by others, which serves as a groundwork for a real mutuality of action.

Where there is a strict and strong experience of Inside and Outside, that is when the oblique investment is most obscured, and has its greatest, unconscious effect.

The “ens reale” and the “ens rationis”: Spelling Out Differences

The Pleroma and Creatura: Bateson

Gregory Bateson, a father of modern cybernetic has some very important things to say about the nature of differences, and has been fruitfully appropriated in any number of ways, primarily due to his very powerful defintion of Information as “a difference that makes a difference”. But it should be noted that Bateson’s approach to differences is one that drives a very firm, dualistic line between Mind and Matter, one that follows Carl Jung’s categories of the Pleroma and Creatura:

The significance of all this formalization was made more evident in the 1960s by a reading of Carl Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead, of which the Jungian therapist Jane Wheelwright gave me a copy. I was at the time writing a draft of what was to be my Korzybski Memorial Lecture and began to think about the relation between “map” and “territory.” Jung’s book insisted upon the contrast between Pleroma, the crudely physical domain governed only by forces and impacts, and Creatura, the domain governed by distinctions and differences. It became abundantly clear that the two sets of concepts match and that there could be no maps in Pleroma, but only in Creatura. That which gets from territory to map is news of difference, and at that point I recognized that news of difference was a synonym for information. (Angels Fear, Introduction)

For Bateson, the separation is one of processes, and not one of Substance like it is for Descartes, but all the same, it imposes a strict heirarchy which privileges the mental over the physical. A stone simply is restricted to the domain of the Pleroma, while any differential making process, even the simplest of biotic discrimination is given over to the realm of Creatura:

It is, of course, true that our explanations, our textbooks dealing with nonliving matter, are full of information. But this information is all ours; it is part of our life processes. The world of nonliving matter, the Pleroma, which is described by the laws of physics and chemistry, itself contains no description. A stone does not respond to information and does not use injunctions or information or trial and error in its internal organization. To respond in a behavioral sense, the stone would have to use energy contained within itself, as organisms do. It would cease to be a stone. The stone is affected by “forces” and “impacts,” but not by differences. (Mind and Nature, Chapter II)

To most of us this is a perfectly acceptable, perhaps even obvious designation. There seems a powerful instinct that tells us that a stone simply is not in any sense like an amoeba, which is to say, what a stone does (if it does anything at all) is somehow categorically different than what an amoeba does (though both can kill you). The difficulty arises for anyone who wants to theorize in a way that does not privlege the Mind over Matter. This begins perhaps as a desire to not privlege human realities over animal realities, and then ultimately to give over to even the animate some kind of “right”, some play in the game in determining what is “real” and thus “what matters”. When Mind (in some form of Idealism) becomes the heirarchial source point of what matters, somehow this all slips back into a remote solipsism of the merely human world (and then even, the Western world, or the American world, or white upper middle class academic world). If one instanitates a fundamental primacy between the Pleroma and Creatura, wherein the Ceatura determine the status of the Pleroma in heirarchial, a priori fashion, something of the Mind/Bodd, Spirit/Matter dichotomies that have long haunted philosophy are dragged forward (often with explicit political consequences of such binarism).

The Difference that makes a/the Difference

For this reason one must keep in mind the essential metaphysical base from which Bateson is employing his work (Marx makes just such fateful Nature/Culture distinction from the start as well).  If one is going to grant equal footing to the non-human (and non-biotic) actor in the world, this essential binary must be categorically undone. As long as one has divided up the entire world into realms, one realm becomes paramount, and the line merely shifts.

What Bateson has in mind when he speaks of “a difference that makes a difference” is the way that information connects what is “out there” in the world to the “in here” of a cybernetically organized system. To put it most simply, the internal relations within a system form a boundary which is sensitive to only particular kinds of disturbances (a blind person does not turn his head to see someone waving to him from across the street, a tick does not drop from its leaf when a breeze blows). The difference out there in the world that makes a difference in here, is for Bateson the difference that makes a difference, it connects inside to outside.

But out of a completely unintended difference in the way that Bateson has framed his defintion of Information, I would like to use his notion of difference differently. Because I am not interested in giving priority of mind over matter, I am less concerned with the way that mental systems exercise dominance over physical structures (picking out what matters so as to eventually predict and control it), I am not going to follow the breadcrumbs of difference from outside to inside. This is far too Idealist for me. Rather, I want to see if we can talk about differences in such a way that the things a stone is doing, and the things that an amoeba are doing, are in someway signficantly related (and such that the actions of each are given footing).

Bateston states his defintion of Information in at least two ways in separate works.

1. A difference that makes a difference.

2. The difference that makes the difference.

It might sound trivial, but in the spirit of acknowledging even the smallest of differentiations, of this variation between the definite and indefinite article, I would like to spin out a profound distinction which maps onto a fundamental ontological distinction of Medieval Scholasticism. Much of Scholasticism spent its time trying to iron out the remarkable, but underdeveloped semiotic point that Augustine made, that signs transcend the Culture/Nature dichotomy. There are natural signs, and their are signs of convention. And (natural and cultural) signs are defined as:

“a sign is something which, offering itself to the senses, conveys something other to the intellect,” (Signum … est res praeter speciem quam ingerit sensibus, aliud aliquid ex se faciens in cogitationem venire) (Augustine De doctr. chr. II 1, 1963, 33)

Attempting to work out the full consequences of an ontology of the semiotic which transcended the Nature/Culture barrior, Scholastic philosophy realized that there must not only be material signs “out there”, but also mental signs “in here,” and much ado was made on how to connect the two (until in modern times gradually questions of signification became a questions of representation…many like to put this at the foot of Descartes, or even the Locke, but it is not altogether clear that this is the case).

A product of this debate was the two classifications Ens Reale and Ens Rationis. A real thing, and a rational thing. These are treated in various ways, often as the difference between “physical being” and “logical being”, but I want to speak much more broadly, without precision. An ens reale is a thing in the world, and an ens rationalis is a thing in the mind. Is here that I want to propose a loose though hopefully enlightening homology.

1. A difference that makes merely a difference  is an ens reale.

2. The difference that makes the difference is an ens rationis.

Leaving behind Bateson’s use of information as the thing that connects inside to outside, as an ontologist I want to speak of differences in their variety of states. Following Plato’s initial definition of being as the capacity for anything to affect or be affected, as found in the Sophist, the general sense of the reality of differences is that anything that makes a difference in general, “a difference” has being, and is ens reale. But any difference that is strictly internal  to a closed horizon relation of parts, is an ens rationis, that is which is to say, it is a difference that makes the difference, recursively. In this way, and event out there in the world, perhaps lightning strike, is an ens reale difference insofar as it is not taken with in an overarching internal circuit of relations, and its effect upon the human organism, that actual internal differences which are within the horizon of person, are each ens rationis. It is important to keep track though, that every ens rationis is an ens reale. The question is: Is every ens reale also an ens rationis. I think they are.

Spinoza’s Bodies as Certain or Fixed Ratios

As I mentioned previously, Spinoza’s defintion of Body is far more rich that it is often taken to be. More than simply a billiard ball image of circulating motions (which is how it appears at first glance), his panpsychic metaphysics grants some degree of mind (Idea) to any extensional expression, such that even the simplest of bodies in composite have a foothold in the mental. Here is the definition in bodily terms:

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

It is quite interesting that Spinoza finds what separates out one body or individual from another is a certain or fixed ratio, certa ratione. It seems safe to say that not only living things preserve for Spinoza through a certa ratione, but also taken to be inanimate things. We have here the potential for categorical description that crosses through the Pleroma/Creatura divide that Bateson privleges. The ultimate question is: Do abiotic wholes which do preserve through a certa ratione, also achieve within that horizon of “individual” an order of differences that allows us to say that they are each ens rationis.

It is hard to know exactly what Spinoza has in mind: when he describes this perpetuation of communicated motion, for instance, is it a different sense of body than that brought about by external causes in the earlier part, 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 it is simply the internal specification of those external forces? What we can do is use the definition as tellingly as possible. What I suggest is that differences that are internal to an object or body as Spinoza sees it, are differences that are indicative of a mutuality of effects. A change in this part of the body effects a change in another part of the body, and then another, and so forth, such that the whole is still maintained. And there need not be the cybernetic closure that Bateson enjoys with Creatura. The entire world would seem vectored with communicated balances between bodies that however briefly or enduringly remain in ratio with each other. These mutuality of communications I hold is the threshold for an ens reale to be an ens rationalis. The cybernetic closures which map a territory are certainly different kinds of internal organizations of horizons, but rocks, breeze patterns, neuron rhythms, photon pathways, planetary equalibriums, dust corners, electron loops, all possess an internal coherence of differences which is preserved, and in which a single difference (I would say) semiotically indicates consequences of internal coherence. Stones “think”.

Stone Cognitum

There is a perspective of stones, one that is not reducible to the way in which differences in stones make differences upon us. In this sense, as Graham Harman says in Latourian fashion, stones translate other stones when they encounter each other. (I do not see how such a claim can be separated out from panpsychism.) The internal relations that make up a stone (semiotic, of each an ens rationalis), are also each an ens reale (a difference that makes a difference) which can make a difference that makes the difference to us (or some other internal set of relations), is itself also a difference as ens realis.

There are several interesting ways to procede from this, but the one that I would like to take up follows through from my last post on Spinoza, and that is that any ens realis (a difference that makes a difference), is not only already a difference that makes the difference in the internal expression of Substance as a modal whole, and thus an ens rationalis. But it is already caught up in any number, perhaps an infinite number, of ens rationalis horizoned closures. In this way, differences which are semiotic to an internal whole of differences, are also because real, differences that are internal to a plethora of bodies that cross cut that body. That “fixed ratio” is tugged at from any number of other “fixed ratio” directions, as parts of its coherence respond not only to an external horizon of differences, but also to their participant share in a cross-sectioning fixed ratio, communication whole. Any ens rationalis is Semiotically Conjoined to a variety of mentalizations.

For this reason, it is not just that the totality of coherent differences that make up a body are occluded from us, selected out by our cybernetic, ratioed closure, but also that the semiotic investment of those differences is occluded from that body itself, the coherence of its inside/outside closure. And the same is said of our own body (bodies, really).

There is another aspect which should be grasped so that we don’t fall too deeply into any Subject/Object binary. And this is something I will develop later. Because ultimately an entia rationales closure is itself a perspective, when one or many entia rationales closures come into supportive relationships to each other they can be read as forming new bodies. This is to say, when we come to know something else and intimately relate to it in a bodily, the boundary between us and it at least is semiotically problemized (if we seek to keep them completely distinct). Thus, it is not merely the case that the “kernel” of relations of an object we engage is kept from us, like a forever retreating shadow, but also the case that as we engage an object (an aspect of our environment), we at a very real, semiotic level (that is, at the level of entia rationales), become it.

Thus, as the carpenter uses his hammer, or the lens grinder his grinding lathe, there is a communication of motions which exceed the boundary of bodies, forming one of two (to some degree). The world is felt, mutually, through the performance union of both bodies. It is for this reason that Tommaso Campanella tells us: To know is to be, cognoscere est esse. This is not a metaphorical transformation of the subject into the object, but rather a real, substantial in-form-ation, binding the two bodies both epistemologically and ontologically, through the ordering of their mutual coherences. If the object of the hammer remains somewhat blind to the carpenter (some of its variety of aspects still hidden), these aspects must be accorded their place within the causal, and hence semiotic, internal relations of the body (body + body). Ultimately, these differences can only be the differences of Conjoined, and thus often silent, Semotic inherence at the bottom of any entia rationales closure, the way that an ens rationalis is necessarily polyvalent to a variety of cognitioning, and therefore persisting, bodies.

The Harmanic Impassibilty of Monism…Spinoza Sails Through

Late last night Graham Harman posted his objections to monism, a Spectre that haunts his sleep. When I saw the post I was greatly relieved because I thought that finally I was to understand why Graham Harman’s Cartesian-constructed project of  post-humanism would not be better served by a turn to pre-Kantian Spinoza. It has seemed to me that this is really where Graham is heading, dragged by the specific current of his philosophical ambitions. But he has told us that he has great distain for the popularity of Spinoza who seemed to be hidden behind all kinds of postmodern metaphysical imaginations, he resists that robust, salty sea. Further, he has come down the Rhine River’s Idealist tributaries, he likes the beer-houses in local town ports where objects duck and hide, and thus has worked toward wending Intentional object-defined conceptions of consciousness, once solidly in the service of human-centric ontologies (Descartes, Husserl, and even Heidegger), out towards a post-human future. Can it be that all of the nobility of the object will be lost in a philosophical absorbtion into Deleuze and DeLandian “molten slag”? I mean where will the rights  of the object (formerly postulated as the rights of man), stand, if we cannot make objects themselves (and their consciousness partner) the ontological center of philosophy? I was excited because I felt I was really going to have an answer to the question, Why should the “hiddenness” of the object stop there, at the object, and not be read more fully in the hidden Immanence of Spinoza’s Substance, especially if we are going to propose a post-human philosophy that does not privilege the specific conceptual phenomenological reductions of human experience. Is it true that the Rhine only flows into the sea (and if in the sea, does that mean that all is lost, or are there some very good things one can do at sea, as any good maritime adventure knows)?

Here I’d like to take up in more detail the objections I raised in response. My comments there were quick-fire and I believe that restating them with greater context them will bring their argumentative force into even greater relief. Mostly at the time I simply was responding to the disappointment I felt that when Graham took on “monism” he seemed to be taking on everything but Spinoza. He somehow steered either right into the Scylla of undarable Parmenides (the only “real” monism he would grant), or the Charybdis of Spinoza influenced  post-structuralist thinking like Deleuze and DeLanda (D & G’s Thousand Plateaus is actually quite far from Spinoza, though he does get mentioned in interesting ways there, while his monographs on Spinoza are fairly close to text). Straight through, between these rocks, he never goes.

This may be because he is most familiar with both the pre-Socratic and the “molten slag” versions, and less with Spinoza himself, but I suggest, in that as Spinoza offered the most incisive correction of Descartes right at the root of Descartes human-centric theorizations, it is really to Spinoza, to Spinoza’s Monism, he should go. Here I’d like to present his points against monism, piece by piece, and put them in juxtaposition to Spinoza himself, and see how they stand.

1. There are two ancient monisms, that of Parmenides and that of Plotinus.

Graham counts between these only Parmenides’s “being is, non-being is not” the only real monism of the two. The Hen (One) of Plontinus is not a true monism in Graham’s mind because the Hen is only  the source of things. I’m not sure that I follow his thinking here. The way that Plontinus argues his point, the Hen radiates out like a light source, ebbing as it goes, the closer to the source (the greater the Nous union of things as one thing), the greater reality one has, but in many ways there is no Being other than this light, radiation. The relatively isolated parts of the world that appear to not be part of the One, indeed are part of the one, as its emanation. Their isolation from the One is really a kind of illusion of perspective (despite Graham’s insistence that they are not). That is, their existence is that of entirely being an emanation of the One, and as distinctly separate things, this separation is an expression of their non-Being. Thus, insofar as there is One thing, only one thing has being. Separations from the One are simply compositions of Being and Non-Being, a kind of relative, non-Noetic illusion. It is a real noetic difference, expresses as the nature of the radiation of the One, but in terms of Being itself, the separation is an illusion. Now is this a “monism”? Well it depends how you define monism. There is only one thing that has Being, and non-Being has no Being (it works like the outer reaches of the ebbing of the One). But Plotinus puts the One even above the Being/Non-Being distinction (this would already involve Nous), and he is inconsistent as to how he treats matter, either as a kind of substrate of absolute (metaphorical) darkness, or as an illusion of non-Noetic perception, for there is only the One. So let us say, a kind of monism, depending on how you qualify Being.

I go into the nature of Plotinus’s monism because it will be within the concept of a Degree of Being ontology that Spinoza will operate. I don’t know if he picked up the fundamental idea from Augustine who made strong use of it to defend against essential, heretical Dualisms, or from other Neo-Platonic sources, but Spinoza leverages his entire metaphysics upon a degree of Being (expressed as the power to act, the adequacy of idea, a degree of perfection) conception of modal expression. But he does this through an inclusion of the old-fashioned Parmenidean claim, “Being is, non-Being is not,” which in Spinoza reads as the illusion of privation and all determination is negation (letter 21), or “There is nothing positive in ideas on account of which they are called false” (E2p33), “falsity consists in the privation of knowledge…” (E2p35). It was Hegel who was struck by the power of the phrase “all determination is negation” as found in Spinoza’s letter 21, and it was he who took up the reality of the negation into a progressive, and human-centric concept of Consciousness, leaving behind the other half of Spinoza’s Plontinian proviso, that all privation is illusion. As I will mention later, Hegel feared that without a progressive march toward the powers of negation human beings simply would not be significant in their conscious powers when placed before the universe. The small compliment Spinoza pays to Man, that he is relevantly more active (and real) than tables and rocks and mice, was simply not enough. Man must be the center of the entire march of history’s progress. Failing this centricity and direction, it was for Hegel that all of Spinoza collapsed into an acosmism, all of creation being merely an illusion.

2. Levinas proposes a qualitiless “there is” (a version of monism perhaps).

“1940′s. Emmanuel Levinas. Insomnia (from which I now suffer) reveals that the world itself is an inescapable, rumbling il y a (“there is”) without any specific qualities.”

Well in terms of Spinoza, this is simply not the case. Right away Graham has passed from ancient monisms to postmodern vagaries of Being, steered from Parmenides into the whirling Abyss. While Spinoza’s Substance does not have “qualities” per se, it expresses itself in Attributes (of an infinite number), and through those Attributes, in an infinity of real modes. And all of these modes are fully actualized, concrete things (though like with Plotinus, their conceptual isolation from Substance which “exists and acts” through them, can bring on a perspective of relative non-Being). Even the remotest speck of particle in the furthest reaches of the universe has complete Being, but when considered apart from Substance and other modal compositions of cause, its Being is to a very small degree.

Graham’s objection to Levinas’s indeterminate “lump”: “For if the il y a is a single lump, how is it meaningful to say that the mind can break it into parts?”  is answered by Spinoza by saying that we can break the world into parts because it is expressed in the two Attributes of Thought and Extension, and the mind as a determined, thinking thing, following from that order, through the affects of its body/ideas, its imagination and rational thought can distinguish the determinations of Being.

3. Jean-Luc Nancy, “Corpus¨:  Reality itself is an indeterminate “whatever”…

Clearly these two matching points are Graham’s personal engagement with the outer-reaches of what really is not much of a monism at all. They are quite far from Spinoza, and even quite far from Deleuze’s imaginative refashioning of Spinoza. The incredible unexplainable, one might say non-Noetic, character of this thinking perhaps explains the great trepidation Graham holds for monism (and its swarthy postmodern cohorts).

4. There is an intellectual momentum against “objects”.

This may be in the circles that Graham has come from, clearly the moiling Continental waters of the Rhine dumping into the sea, but if we understand “intellectual” to include scientific pursuits, and even Analytical philosophy, the war against the “object” does not have quite the same character. As far as Spinoza goes, indeed there are objects, what he calls bodies, as Substance is expressed into two discernable Attributes, Thought and Extension. Every body has its parallel idea (and may have ideas which are expressions of its power to act). In a certain sense, because it is not clear at all that any human being can have a completely adequate idea, the adequate idea of any object whatsoever, even the idea of one’s own “object” (body) is actually to some degree hidden from the mind of human beings, one might say that the idea of the object retreats (this proposes a heretofore unmentioned close parallel perhaps to Graham’s hidden object, in a different systematic context).

5. The world is either homogeneous or it is heterogeneous, you can’t have both.

Because this is the most substantial of Graham’s claims against monism, at least insofar as they can be directed against Spinoza, his point is worth quoting in full:

*If the world is a whole, then either it is utterly homogenous, or it is not. If yes, then particular things will tend to be viewed as delusions.

*If the world is *not* viewed as homogeneous, then it must consist of various zones that differ from each other in some way. These can either be called individual objects, or something pre-individual. If they are objects, then my point has been conceded and monism has been rejected.

There are two ways that Spinoza counters this emphatic either/or. The first is that there is both a homogeneity and a heterogeneity built into the expression of Substance. (Remember, Substance does not float out there beyond actuality for Spinoza, but “exists and acts” modally.) Spinoza argues that Substance is expressed in only two Attributes that the human Mind can comprehend, as mentioned, Thought and Extension. In the hands of the modern Analytic philosopher Donald Davidson, who professes a monism of Concept Dualism (Anomalous Monism) these are simply the two concepts of the physical and the mental. They are not reducible to each other, and there is no causation between the one and the other. Spinoza tells us that there is a fundamental homogeneity between Attributes (understanding the actual number of these to be infinite), and that is “the order and connection” of their expression (E2p7). In the case of the two Attributes we can perceive, things and ideas are expressed in parallel. This is a fundamental homogenity in the expression of Substance, it is the same across  Attributes. But, this Attributive expression is distinct in the very differences of the Attributes themselves, that is, the conceptual order of the mental, descriptions of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, is different from the descriptions of objects, things, bodies. And even greater than this, Substance expresses itself in the real determinations of an infinity of modes, granting full reality to any aspect of existence, no matter who flimsy you want to make it. 

6. There is a tendency these days to find some comtemporary philosopher who tries to have it both ways.

This is an odd sounding point. I assume that he is referring to the dissatisfactory “molten slag,” ‘intensity” versions he has already dismissed. But one wonders if merely by trying to solve Graham’s proposed dilemma disqualifies the solution? It seems to me that it is not some contemporary philosopher who solved this cake and eat-it-too  difficulty of monism, but Spinoza himself, who closed the Idealist, human-centered breach right after Descartes opened it. There are of course many contemporary, creative things being done with Spinoza, and I can see why some of them collapse in a dissatisfying way for Graham, but these are not properly Spinoza’s thought. (I should add as well, that the monist Analytic philosopher Davidson, who has some largely unstated metaphysical differences with Spinoza, also seem to evade both horns of Graham’s impossibility: there is one kind of thing: matter; and two different fundamentally conceptual kinds of ways of describing it, concepts that are a product of our evolution). 

7. The status of pre-individuals needs to be explained.

Another point worth quoting in full:

*But the status of these pre-individuals needs to be further explained. Either they are fully deployed in their mutual relations, or they hold something in reserve that is non-relational. If the latter, then they are objects and you’re simply trying to avoid using the name; my point has been conceded.

As Spinoza answers this question of the pre-individual, if I read him correctly, the essence of any modal expression already is in Substance (the Mind of God), but has not necessarily come into existence through the mutuality of (horizontal, transitive) modal causes (causes that will be extrinsic to it). To qualify this existence in the Mind of God sub specie aeternitas  as a kind of “reserve,” I’m not sure what this means, other than to say as Spinoza does, that God is the efficient cause of the essence of things and not just their existence. In a sense, the “reserve” is the immanent, causal power of Substance itself.

But if they are fully exhausted by their mutual relations, then there are really no firewalls of any sort between the various zones of this “pre-individual” kingdom, and you end up with monism. You can’t have an intermediate position.

Spinoza’s ends up with monism. Individuals, objects, thoughts, ideas, relations, each thing, is explained by (which means understood through) both a reference to horizontal transitive causation and Substance’s immanent causation.

8. Latour holds something that might appear to be an intermediate position.

As Graham explains, this appearance is undone by the fact that any change produces a change in object:

Even though Latour is a relationist, his actors are always trapped in a specific set of relations, here and now. A thing cannot change even the least important of its relations even one iota and still remain the same thing.

Now the first aspect is the very same thing for Spinoza’s monism. Each modal expression is (well, not trapped), but determined, expressed, in a very specific set of relations. This determination is both a delineation and an expression of its power. There is not any vagary to this in the least. The question as to whether something remains the same thing or not in Spinoza is an open one. There is the theoretical framework though to argue that Latour’s position is tenable. Spinoza defines a body as a ratio of moving parts that stay in communication with each other, expressing an essence (conatus). The sameness of an object is a factor of both this ratio and the communication (not very Latourian at face value, though one could call this communication a network). The status of this ratio is indeterminate in Spinoza, for ultimately there is only one thing that persists and that is Substance (so any ratio of parts in communication is part of a far greater ratio 0f parts in communication). The ratio of “same” is both real (that is determined and reference-able), but ultimately is it explainable in term of other parts. In this way perhaps (and others) Spinoza is able to achieve something Latour’s occasionalism cannot.

9. Graham’s Model involves an intolerable retreat of every object  into darkness.

The problem with my model, of course, is that with so many different entities withdrawing from each other into an apparently non-relational darkness, one wonders why anything happens at all. But I spend lots of time trying to solve this problem- the problem seems to me inevitable.

I appreciate Graham’s candidness here. But to my ear this is a huge problem for a model that wants to explain the nature of reality. If you can’t explain why anything happens at all, the entire explanatory apparatus of your model is paralyzed. Instead one is left with something perhaps more poetic and epiphanic, than explanatory. In confessing that it is inevitable, one assumes he means of his philosophical position, and perhaps this why he is haunted by monism, the instinctive appeal that if he is ever going to get his cut-off, darkness imploding objects to go anywhere, and do anything, for any reason, he has to fundamentally connect them.

For Spinoza, as I wrote in my response to Graham, “This is not a problem at all…for the change between concrete states is a function of the conatus of each essence striving to persist, the contingency of modal transitive causes, and the degree of power which is expressive of its adequacy of ideas. Nothing is in isolation of anything else, events, objects, bodies, thoughts, emotions are understood through the knowledge through their causes, so the path towards more powerful change is always open, ready to be caused.” What it comes down to is the power and real freedom of a good, rational explanation of events, understood as a linking action, or the consideration of explanation as some kind of contingency, some bubbling up of events.

10. Monism is the cheap way out.

This is how Graham expresses the dodging the snatch-and-run  of monims, (something to be contrasted with his very expensive inability to explain why anything happens at all):

Monism, in short, is a cheap way of trying to avoid the communication problem that may be the central paradox of philosophy: ” a thing is itself, yet it is also another insofar as it affects others and becomes something other.” Monism is a way of saying “it’s a false problem; everything’s already interconnected anyway, so why do you artificially divide it?”

I still can’t tell if when Graham mentions “monism” he is thinking of the most vague of all Being declarations, like “there is something there” or of a particularly rigorous monism. But if we take up his objection, I would tell him that Spinoza’s philosophy would suggest that the path forward is not just that a thing becomes “something other” when it effects others, but that in understanding how it combines with others, that it cybernetically becomes something more, when it effects others (or they affect it), the thing becomes more powerful and free. This change is a real, ontological change, and it is achieved through explanation. Spinoza’s monism is a far cry from some kind of loving, “Hey man, we are all one big piece of Somethin’,” rather it provides the conceptual framework for a cartography of Being, inviting the very particular study of the exact ways in which determinatively we are connected (and determinatively not connected). Only by understanding your causes do you leverage yourself into combination with more things, actively. It is learning to cut so as to not dull your knife, at the joints of Being, so to speak (as the Daoist said, and then Lacan). 

I appreciate Graham’s thoughts on monism, and he has expressed in the past fundamental resistance to Spinoza’s thinking. There may be grounds for his disfavor, but none of them fall on his so-far-expressed  objections to monism. In fact, by my lights, Spinoza slips right through the two fearsome dangers that he poses on each side of the monist tendency, and he does so with Plontinian aplumb, that swashbuckler! Oh, Spinoza, the Odysseus of Being, polútropos ! Perhaps he has never been better described. Now only if I write the Achilles of Being, that is really what I will someday do.

[I thought I would return to the vital question of Hegel's accusation of Spinoza's acosmism, but the post did not lead that way, as I have put forward before, following Gatens and Lloyd, Hegel's accusation stems from his only thinking of Spinoza vertically, and failing to understand the full horizontal reality of the modes for Spinoza: determinations by which God "exists and acts". I bring something of this argument to bear in my earlier post Harman Brings Central Clarity to the Issue (wink, nod), coupled with a nice diagram]


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