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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Reverse Causation, Changes from the Future

Why the CERN accelerator won’t work

I’m unsure just why this made the New York Times just now (the original article is almost 2 years old, but perhaps the idea is picking up steam/heat), but Complete Lies brought this to my attention. It is the sci-fi idea that the CERN particle accelerator that has been plagued by curious difficulties, as well as other pursuits to produce the Higgs particles, are being interfered with from the Future, supposedly to ward off a potentially universal catastrophe that would be triggered by a successful uncloaking of Higgs particles.

New York Times article “The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate”, a bloggist ridiculing the original thought “Respectable physicists gone crackpotty” and the original article “Search for Effect of Influence from Future in Large Hadron Collider”.

What is now getting attention seems to be the idea that CERN should avoid future unexpected costs and delays through an experiment involving a very large deck of cards. Only a very small percentage of cards would tell CERN to affect the operations of the huge device, and only one to be marked “close the LCH”. From the original article:

The experiment proposed in the present article is to give “foresight”, a chance of avoiding forced closure of LHC due to lack of funding or other form of bad luck, as happened to SSC.

We imagine a big stack of cards on which are written various restrictions concerning the operation of LHC, for example “allow the production of only 10 Higgs particles”. On most of the cards there should just be written “use LHC freely” so that they cause no restrictions. However, on a very small fraction of cards, there should be restrictions on luminosity or beam energy or some combination of them. One card may even have “close (shut down) LHC”. The crucial idea of this proposal is that if our model were true, then the most likely development sol with the P(sol) ≃ e−2SI (sol) factor included would be a development involving one of the cards which strongly restricts on the Higgs particle production at LHC.

The image is brilliant, a huge multi-billion dollar effort forestalled, yet again, but this time with everyone gathered around an enormous deck of cards, waiting to see if the future would reach back and influence the picking of a card in a kind of “anti-miracle”. One commenter on the blog cited suggested that the card need only read “close the LCH for 24 hours” with the proviso that another card is picked ever 24 hours thereafter. There is something just suitable about this image of science trying to avoid destroying the entire universe, or some other bit of “bad luck”, through such seemingly unscientific means.

Backwards Prone Causation

But I would like to consider some of the concepts involved here, apart from the science or even the science fiction. The ridiculing blog spent even more time criticizing the grammar of the article (which I do not believe was published), than its ideas, clearly with the sense that something more normative than even the direction of causation was at stake.

The general sense of repressed ideas, thoughts, desires, is that something occurrant now, if it was allowed to take effect would have disastrous consequences on the whole of coherence. Freud was of course big on this, and much of the critique of a philosophy of Presence comes out of the notion that the present coherence comes out of repressing something that lies in the margins. And, as we are told, the “repressed” always returns.

But what if we were allowed to think fantastically, that it is not an active, present day stranglehold that coherence exerts upon the margin (tarrying with its own genetic history), but that, in fine Philip K. Dick fashion, something from the future can exert itself back upon the past (our present), such as to avoid catastrophe. Now, surely the psychosis of such a regular interpretation of events is not to be recommended – the theory of the Higgs particle backwards causation is one in which boundary conditions themselves might be effected (if I understand the thinking here), and no average event can figure backwardsly – but the logic of the fantasy engages me.

At the psychological or even ideological level of our organizations of ourselves are there deck of card tests that we perform which are meant to allow the trace of a future, backwards activation (whether they be true tests or not)? Are there not small ways in which our future selves (if only in real fantasy projections) act backwards upon our current states? Spinoza theorized, or at least strongly mused, that events of the future can reach us if we share an essence with those conditions (as wild as that sounds for such a sobering philosopher). If we can think in terms of a “field” of organic relations that organize the meaning of events (not the universe, but here, socially, locally), and that this field is grounded in real participatory closure wherein actions at different times in the sequence actually work to bolster each other, recursively, could it not be that a real (possible) event late in the sequence if it thoroughly enough casts a shadow over the whole field can echo back and determine present conditions, if it is of a nature profound enough to effect the very fabric of our interactions? This is not to say that this is what is happening, but rather to imagine out the possibilities of this retaining some theoretical coherence.

The advantage to the thought is that the war over change is not just occurring presently, as if there were some vast system of effects that is ever pressing against a tide of eruptive multiplicities, but it is occurring retroactively, the way that we overcode our pasts, sewing them back up to the present (and future). This is not to evoke final causes, which are specific ends, but rather to suggest that the coherence of the field our behaviors and interactions with the world may be so anchored unto a ballasted field of being that the very fabric holds together aspects of our present moment due to the atemporal nature of world continuity, a kind of effect sub specie aeternitatis.  When we say to ourselves intuitionally, “We better not do that or we risk disaster” how does this differ logically from an effect from the future, or from the very domain of our possilities? Can deep, structural catastrophe tend to echo backwards and avoid itself? Or is it worth thinking/imagining how it can? Is there something to social organization that promotes this kind of thinking or effect?

I would like to think more on this, as absurd as it rings, but that would likely take a novel. No doubt a science fiction novel of a kind. Perhaps.

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Spinoza Transfigured and reExplained: “Idea” as Information

In two posts I began opening up the notion that Spinoza’s treatment of “Idea” has strong sympathetic correspondences to modern conceptions of information and organization. First in Is Spinoza a Cyberneticist, or a Chaocomplexicist? I raised the idea that Spinoza offered something of a Chaoplexic view of organizational development and ontological power, and then in Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe I adopted the general replacement of Spinoza’s “Idea” with an version of Stonier’s “Information” as the basic structuring element of the Universe.

To help with the thought-imagination of some of this it seemed interesting to offer some retranslations of Spinoza’s propositions dealing with “idea”. I had done this before, come out of some discusssions I had with David Chalmers, but I can seem to find them. The grammar does not always work fluently for such a replacement, and perhaps this will confuse the issue for some, but hopefully you’ll get the gist and the new propositions can bring about a change in the staid way “idea” has been conceieved:

Informational Propositions

E2D3: By informational structure [idea] I mean a mind’s concept that the mind forms because it is a thinking, informational thing.

E2D4: By adequate informational structure I mean information which, insofar as it is considered in itself without relation to its object,  has all the properties or intrinsic denominations of real information (a true idea) [verae ideae].

E2p7: The order and connection of informational structure is the same as the order and connection of material expression (things).

E2p11: The first thing that constitutes the actual being of the human mind [mentis] is nothing but the informational structure of a singular thing that actually exists.

E2p13: The object [obiectum] of the informational structure constituting the human mind is the body, or a certain mode of extension which actually exists, and nothing else.

E2p15: The informational structure that constitutes the formal being [formale esse] of the human mind is not simple [simplex] but is, through a multitude of informational structures, a composite.

E2p16: The information of any mode in which the human body is affected by external bodies must involve the nature of the human body and at the same time the nature of the external body. (The ability to to be changed informationally, to be reorganized by work.)

E2p4: The informational structure [idea] of Nature (God), from which infinite things follow in infinite ways, it is capable of only being singular [unica].

E2p23: The mind [mens] does not know itself except insofar as it percieves the information of the changes (affections) of the body.

E2p25: The information of any change (affection) of the human body does not involve an adequate cognition of an external body.

E2p26: The human mind [mens] does not perceive any external body as actually existing except through the information of the changes (affections) of its own body.

E2p27: The information of any affection of the human body does not involve an adequate cognition [cognitionem] of the human body.

E2p32: All information (ideas), insofar as it is related to Nature (God), is wholly real (true).

E2p33: There is nothing in an informational structure that is productive (positive) on accout of which it is called false (confused, untrue).

E2p35: Falsity consists in a privation of cognition, which involves partial (inadequate) or confused information.

E2p36: Partial and confused informational structure follows with the same necessity as adequate (whole) or clear and distinct informational structure.

E2p38: Those things which are common in all things, and which are equally in the part and the whole, can only be conceived adequately.

E2p40: Whatever informational structure that follows in the mind from informational structure that is adequate in the mind is also adequate.

E3p10: An informational structure which excludes the existence of the body cannot be in our mind, but is contrary to it.

E3p11: The information of any thing that increases or diminishes, aids or restrains or body’s power of acting, increase or diminishes, aids or restrains our mind’s power of thinking.

Def of Affects IV: Love is a joy (an increase in the power to act) coupled with an informational structure orientation towards an external thing, taken to be its cause.

E4p1: Nothing positive (productive) about false (partial) information is removed by the presence of real (true) information, insofar as it is real (true).

E5p18: No one can hate Nature (God). Dem: The informational structure of Nature (God) which is in us is adequate and perfect. Insofar as we contemplate Nature (God), we act. Consequently, there can be no sadness accompanied by an informational structure orientation toward Nature (God), that is, no one can hate Nature (God). 

E5p35: God loves itself with an infinite intellectual love. Dem: God is absolutely infnite, the nature of God enjoys infinite perfection, coupled with the informational structure of itself, the informational structure of its cause. And this is what we said intellectual love is.

General Defintion of the Affects E3: An affect (emotion) which is called a passive experience [animi pathema] (a pathema of the soul) is confused information whereby the mind informationally affirms a greater or less force-of-existing of its body, or part of its body, than was previously was the case, and by the occurance of which the mind [mens] is determined to think this rather than that.

Anodyne More Light: The Material Heaviness of Depression

It seems this Dysphoria thing has stimulated all kinds of reaction. One of the more interesting is Anodyne Lite’s firm bio-genetic rejection that depressive feelings can be a “good thing” or harvested in a powerful way, here. The image I have is of a black hole whose time/space properties, if you get too close, will drag you into certain event horizon. And in a sense, material limits, the gravity of the chain of being is just like that, a great density that eventually (and Spinoza would tell you, always) collapses your will into a definite trajectory. In the comments section it seems that we are talking passed each other, but the point I want to bring about here is that while our brain chemistry and material grounds definitely ARE us, we all have to learn how to surf what we are (and surf what others are), and the primary way that we do this is through the reading of intentional behavior. And intentional behavior (including our own) is read through an appeal to our beliefs, desires and wants, our reasons for action. One only reduces these mental predicates to causes at the risk of losing a valuable resource for telling us about the world. And yes, depression, like schizophrenia, can be a deep, debilitating disease, a strong distortive mirroring of the world such that it seems that the mirror is not quite a mirror any more, but this does not mean that the wealth of what is felt passes away into mute material. It rather represents, perhaps, the outer edge of our societal chaoplexic folding. For those though that see the state of the world as fundamentally dysphoric, be they political agendists, or medical depressives, one senses that there are more important things to do with that state than preach revolution. As Deleuze tells us, we start in the middle, not at the beginning.

The Initial “Brilliant” Exaggeration: The Mongering of Brilliance

Counting the Coins of One’s Own Brilliance

Tom at Grundlegung has a very nice post on the weakness of reading the job of philosophers, or the act of philosophy itself as creating one bold concept: Bad Habits: The Philosopher as Concept Monger. There he talks about the sometimes unsophisticated cribnote understanding of philosophers by the imagined hook they hang their hat on:

The main ill-effect of the idea of philosophy as concept-creation which I want to point to here has been its reinforcement of one way of approaching philosophers. So, we get the philosopher-as-conceptual-toolsmith model. At its worst, we end up with synecdoche run amok, where one prominent idea comes to dominate everything else about a philosopher’s work — Wittgenstein = language games, Foucault = power-knowledge, Levinas = the Other, Badiou = the Event, etc. For example, Simon Critchley describes the post-Kantian landscape thus:

you get the Subject in Fichte, Spirit in Hegel, art in the early Schelling, and then in later nineteenth and early twentieth century German philosophy, Will to Power in Nietzsche, Praxis in Marx and Being in Heidegger. (New British philosophy: 187)

Similarly, Graham Harman claims that Heidegger only really had one idea which he endlessly repeats, namely the tool-analysis. But even without this extreme hermeneutic reductionism, there is a real coarsening which can go on when we chisel down a philosopher to a handful of headline concepts.

All of this is not to say that philosophers do not produce new concepts. Nor is a plea for endless textual analysis and scholarly ensconcement such that we never put a philosopher’s ideas to work in a new context. And neither does it display a blindness to the realities of communicating philosophical ideas in circumstances where people do not have the time or inclination to master more than the headline ideas of many thinkers. Instead, all I want to do is make the observation that emphasising the concept-creation model of philosophy too much can promote some dubious tendencies in both historiography and contemporary critical debate.

It is interesting that he brings Harman up, for perhaps he has in mind the same post I read with a notable combination of humor and horror, where Harman characterizes the project of the philosopher as coming up with an “intial brilliant exaggeration” (no doubt defending his own exaggerated but somewhat absurd notion that objects are vaccum-packed):

The problem, of course, is that just as any important philosophy makes a brilliant initial exaggeration, it also wants to claim to be describing the world as it is, and to that end the exaggeration never works. And so there is always a rush, by both author and fans, to imply that the author doesn’t really mean the exaggeration. The author is perfectly capable of balancing both sides of the problem, and so forth. But in fact, any important philosopher tends to place the emphasis on one of the two sides of the problem, and it is this initial exaggeration that is where the philosophical force lies. The other half is just a supplement added by the thinker or the thinker’s followers in order not to look crazy.

Some examples:

*Husserl does, in fact vaporize real objects in his philosophy. They aren’t there. But since this sounds solipsistic, and no one wants to defend solipsism, you can find a few minor pirouettes where Husserl tries to show that he does in fact account adequately for them.

*Every page of Badiou is as subject-oriented as possible. He has nothing at all to do with realism. Yet you can find one or two minor throwaway remarks where Badiou says “a world without a subject is possible,” and somehow Badiouians are satisfied to use these remarks as evidence that Badiou is not an idealist, even after hundreds of pages to the contrary.

*Ontological multiplicity in Spinoza is really quite feeble. Yet everyone seems to delight in claiming that Spinoza leaves as much room for individuals as Leibniz (he doesn’t).

In other words, there is a recurring counter-critical strategy in philosophy that consists in saying “only a fool would take that part literally,” when in fact the literal, initial exaggeration in any philosophy is always its greatest strength, and it must be required to pay the price for that strength.

[sorry I don’t have the citation, but I don’t visit his site much I and copied this some time ago as it just seemed bizarre. It was written in the context of what he perceived to be Shaviro’s lightening of Whitehead’s “intial exaggeration”]

The Confusions of Exaggeration

Harman surely feels that his own exaggeration, stemming from an exaggerated interpretation of Heidegger puts him in pleasant company. The importance of Harman’s separation of his own brilliance from Heidegger, and the motivations of philosophical shock value was commented on some here: Heidegger “Never says…” and Harman says…. But Grundlegung tells us the obvious, if indeed we just think of philosophy the process of trading literal and simple-minded “intial brilliant exaggerations” we end up with strawmen and caricatures of some very considered thought, not to mention the possibility that philosophy can work to clarify otherwise assumed confusions:

Firstly, unsurprisingly, it often leads to trading in caricatures and straw men. Second, it tends to drive a mechanical style of philosophy, whereby the aim is to ‘apply’ the concepts of the master-philosopher to a given material rather than approach it afresh — ‘I will now give a Foucauldian/Wittgensteinian/SR analysis of x’. Third, it tends to occlude the historical dimension of much philosophy (responding to a certain set of material circumstances; intervening in a historically evolving tradition). Fourth, it can also shroud what is valuable in philosophical work, which sometimes is the purchase which a new concept provides, but is often dissolving a bogus problem, reframing a question to allow it to be answered, effecting a more diffuse change of perspective on an issue, instilling a sense of Entfremdung with respect to something we’ve taken for granted, and so on. All these dangers make me wary of overplaying the image of the philosopher as a forge for concepts.

What is significant and I think telling is that what Grundlegung groups with the dangers of this kind of Brilliance hoarding is the very thing that leads to the kind of “master” discourse thinking which people like Harman and Levi decry, the endless trains of commentary and the application of master analysis. What has been bothersome, at least in Harman’s case, and perhaps Levi’s as well, is the sense that it is not that he objects to a philosophy of masters, but rather, he would like to become a master himself. He would like to be seen as original and dictating, as he has often advised, imagine that your philosophy will be taught centuries from now. In a way, Harman sees his own philosophy as exactly the kind of Brilliant Exaggeration that composes philosophy itself – never mind that philosophical brilliance comes from problem solving, not the urge for exaggeration – and it could be that he awaits his loyal acolytes to come in his wake and discover how such a brilliant exaggeration really works. This is really non-philosophy, or philosophy as charade, playing the part of the philosopher, in my view. People who TRY to be original, are often the least efficacious in whatever it is that they come up with. And people who try to exaggerate for its own sake, are often…well, exaggerated.

I do think that concept-making is what philosophy is all about, but philosophers, at least the good ones, design their concepts in the context of seemingly entrenched conceptual difficulties, with a view of making the world more coherent and more meaningful. If they are original in their creations it is because they are expressing the needs for their age, the demand for frameworks in which to view new phenomena, new ways of relating most often brought on by technologies and sciences, or deep political change.

“Capitalism’s Agents”: Seeing the World Straight

K-punk in his review of Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies has an interesting sentence that perhaps characterizes the way that people of a certain project think about the happenings and organizational properties of the world. He wants us to realize ourselves as “agents” of something, some kind of resistant mission, and that as such agents we should draw our lessons from the agents of other missions, like those of the dread neoliberalism, and those of Capitalism itself:

Capitalism’s agents were a revolutionary class which had to dismantle feudalism, undermine the authority of the Church, and challenge practically every vested interest before they could succeed.

Perhaps it is just this kind of “agents” think – could it be, drawn out from James Bond films where covert, organized action occurs beneath appearances – that gives oppositional thinkers such an essentializing view of others. Are you an agent for the other side? Are you a double-agent? Who are you working for?

But really, I would like to know just who “Capitalism’s agents” were? Having not read the reviewed book I just have to let the phrase stand at large, for it surely is operating as a generalized category. Thinking of 17th century Dutch Republic, was Descartes one of Capitalism’s agents? Were the merchant Jews in the Amsterdam Ghetto in which Spinoza lived? Was Spinoza “Capitalism’s Agent”? Was Johannes Hudde (a father of actuarial mathematics, reactionary against the Koerbaghs, burgomaster of Amsterdam)? Was Newton? Was Van den Enden? Was Grotius? Just who made up this “revolutionary class”? There was a flowering of both Capitalism and Republican ideas during this century, a redistribution of wealth and social power in great contest with the Church and Royalty, but to project back onto this time and speak of a “revolutionary class” seems almost mindless of the interwoven allegiances and cross-investments that seldom if ever broke into a polarity wherein one class of persons found themselves united in anything at all. When the mob/multitude tore the forward thinking Dewitt brothers to pieces, were they Captialism’s agents even though they were ushering stadtholder William III of Orange back into power? By what order is one qualified as an “agent” of Capitalism?

True Revolutionary Spirit and “the System”

Thinking on Anodyne Lite’s post on Radical Break revolution (and its attendant hatred for the dread neoliberalism), materialism, privilege and revolution, the following occurs.

For those who hadn’t seen it, Samberg’s satirical take on white positioning against “the System” is absolutely hilarious. But more than this it really captures for me some of the self-contradiction found in even the most academic anti-Capitalist pleas for a “radical break” from the perceived wholeness of Capitalist closure. As I’ve mentioned many times, these fairly wealthy (on world standard), usually older white professors/authors are essentially text machines producing books for largely white, affluent youths, all of which are “part of the system”. Zizek and Badiou of course prime examples.

Pristine is when Samberg choruses “I’m an adult!” We glimpse the kind of Dysphoric pleasures involved in standing up against the “System”. This is not to mention the complex ironies involved in white person’s rapping with ghetto force, and the grammatical games involved in whether or not one’s Dad is a phone. Important humor.

Heine on Spinoza: Undulating Forest of Thought

I never really fully grasped the source of Negri’s political enthusiasm for Spinoza until I started looking at Heine, Heine who was inspired by the revolutionary potential Spinoza unleashed in terms of the Pantheism Controversy. Heine saw in Spinoza’s reclamation of matter as divine just what was lacking in Hegel’s turn to Idea and Spirit. And in this as well, an invocation of the proto, pantheistic, pre-Christian Teutonic religions of the earth.

This quote captures some of that pristine and material beauty, the way-point between both Plato and Aristotle. For those who find Spinoza utterly dry, they perhaps suggest an eruptive potential not always easily glimpsed. And one can see as well the “top” and “bottom” tension that Negri argues for as well.

“[With Spinoza] we become conscious of a feeling such as pervades us at the sight of great Nature in her most life‐like state of repose; we behold a forest of heaven-reaching thoughts whose blossoming topmost boughs are tossing like waves of the sea, whilst their immovable stems are rooted in the eternal earth. There is a peculiar, indescribable fragrance about the writings of Spinoza. We seem to breathe in them the air of the future.”

“Religion and Philosophy in Germany: A Fragment”

He says important, interesting things about the ownership of ideas as well and the possibilities of transforming Spinoza’s thinking beyond its argumentative form. Not to mention, here is the earliest comparison of his philosophy to a lens, and his lens-grinding that I have run across.

“Nothing is more absurd than ownership claimed for ideas. Hegel did, to be sure, use many of Schelling’s ideas for his philosophy, but Mr. Schelling would never have known what to do with these ideas anyway. He always just philosophized, but was never able to produce a philosophy. And besides, one could certainly maintain that Mr. Schelling borrowed more from Spinoza than Hegel borrowed from Schelling. If Spinoza is some day liberated from his rigid, antiquated Cartesian, mathematical form and made accessible to a large public, we shall perhaps see that he, more than any other, might complain about the theft of ideas. All our present‑day philosophers, possibly without knowing it, look through glasses that Baruch Spinoza ground.”

What Thinking God Means to Spinoza

Thinking God and other Things

“Spinoza did not prove the existence of God; existence is God” – Goethe

Over at Deontologistics we’ve had a nice discussion of his claim that Spinoza committed a philosophical error called “onto-theology” which apparently is the taking of God or Nature or in Spinoza’s case Substance to be a kind of being. This is to say a dog is a being, and a cloud is a being, but Spinoza is arguing that Substance is a special kind of being, it is merely “a” being with unique qualities (one being that it is self-caused, rather than being caused by things other than itself, for instance). I don’t want to cover the discussion there as you can read it if you like, hereBut as a point of interest much of his point rests with the idea that God/Substance for Spinoza must be “a” being because God has both an “essence” and an “idea”, and anything that has one of these must be “a” being (to some minimum degree).

What this gives me to think about, and this is the subject of the post, is that the reason why Spinoza gives God/Substance both an essence and an idea is not to claim that God/Substance is “a” being, but rather to simply say that God is thinkable. And, to great significance, individual beings are not the only thing thinkable. In fact, the way in which Spinoza argues the nature of God and Substance undermines the very notion that thinking is confined to “beings” per se.

So what is it to “think God” for Spinoza? What does it mean for instance that God has an “idea”, that there is an “Idea of God”? And what connection does this have to us “having an idea of God”? It is here, right away, that we come right up against the non-representationalist view of “idea” for Spinoza. Quite apart from much of Cartesianism, and certainly far from the Idealist followings after Kant, to have an idea of something is not to represent it. In fact, as Spinoza tells us, when we are thinking about things in the world we are merely thinking ourselves. So if God has an Idea, and we can have an Idea of God, what does this mean? First off, we know that the Idea of God is not a representation of God. It is rather an expression of God, we might say. And when we have an idea of God this does not mean that we form a representation of what God is like. The last thing that Spinoza has in mind is the notion that we form an image of God, and perhaps it is not even correct to say that we have a “concept” of God (for our concepts of God change, but the adequacy of our Idea of God does not).

The Infinity Within The Boundaries of Our Thought

Part of a clue to this is that Spinoza claims that we can only have an adequate idea of God. Despite all the images and anthropomorphisms, or even atheistic beliefs, we automatically, by virtue of our capacity to think and be, have an adequate idea of God (as – it can be argued – do all things).  Understanding this may be helped by the holism both Goethe and Herder found in Spinoza, that each thing possessed a kind of “intrinsic infinity”. This is to say that while we regard individual things as bound, finite things, indeed within any bounded thing lies an infinity. As his letter 12 claims, this is an infinity of internal magnitudes, but it is also the nature of the infinity of God, that is to say, the Idea of God. In a certain sense, internal to a finite, determined being such as ourselves, lies the very infinitude of God, and the reason for this is because we literally are God, in action (as are all things). So when someone wants to compare God to our finitude and try to imply that God must be “a” being just as we are “a” being, they are looking through the wrong end of the lens. If one really had to choose, it goes the other way: instead, it is much more that we are an infinitude, because God is an infinitude (Hegel knew this well because he claimed that Spinoza actually produced an acosmism). 

So, when it is said that we have an idea of God this simply means that God  is thinking through us by virtue of his/its own ideational expression. In fact the combination of God having an essence and an idea is simply the groundwork for this kind of claim. Our thinking God is the case of our coherent powers of agency, and we cannot help but do so. And in such a case calling God “a” being really goes strongly against Spinoza’s very conception, the point he is trying to get across. 

Perhaps the meaning of this would be made more clear if I use my recent readjustment of Spinoza’s notion of Idea to correspond to the modern concept of “information”. We might say that Nature (all of it) has a kind of totality of Information which we could call the Idea of Nature. And we as natural informational beings, composed of and expressing information in a determined way, as we think about things in the world do so by virtue both of the specific information we are composed of, but also because in certain sense the totality of information is “thinking through us”; our informational structure connects us to the world due to the very informational order of everything. The whole moves through a part (in very complex ways). This is something akin to what Spinoza means when he says that we all necessarily adequate idea of God. We think the Idea of God/Nature/Substance by simply the virtue of being an expression of it.

Spinoza’s argument though makes all of this an expression of Substance, and as such the kinds of things we want to say about finite beings, are not the kinds of things we can say of the Immanent ground. While the cat is “a” being, and the lamp is “a” being, it makes no Spinozist sense to say that Substance is “a” being. God is not a super-quality version of us or other things. It is precisely this usual attempt to think God as a super version of regular things that Spinoza tries as best he can to upend. The reasoning goes the other way. It is the Infinite which opens up what the finite is. As Lessing put it to Jacobi, Spinoza will not prejudice human ideas.

Cybernetic Admixtures Toward Freedom

There is a very good reason why this tension between “beings” and their immanent cause is not resolvable by thinking of that cause as a special kind of “being”.  A good deal of this reason lies with Spinoza’s undermining of just what “a” being is, and in a way what we – as finite beings – are to think about ourselves and the world. What Spinoza ideational epistemology is organized to tell us is that the less that we think in isolated terms, the less that we think of things as separated from us, the less of “a” being that we become. That is, in what perhaps is best called a cybernetic view of human powers, the more that we combine with other things, and do so through our increasingly adequate ideas of their causes, the less that we can say that we are merely “a” being. Rather, “we” are exposed to be a combination of beings, the boundaries of which transpierce what we are. The mutualities which condition our very powers are the things that defy the actual Heideggerian Idealist (optical) notion of “a” being in the first place. I discuss these important differences between Spinoza and Heidegger here: Checking Heidegger’s Hammer: The Pleasure and Direction of the Whirr. Heidegger’s notion of beings is necessarily a story of alienation and occlusion, Spinoza’s is combinative and liberating at every turn.

This brings us to one more aspect of the argument that Spinoza is arguing that Substance is a special kind of being, and that is the idea that while each thing in the world is caused by things other than itself, but only one thing is its own cause. It is supposed that Spinoza is putting forth that Substance is just a different sort of “thing”. But because “thingness” itself is what is under revisement in Spinoza, the beingness of Substance is not the point at all. Rather, the emphasis is on the nature of freedom itself.  The principle of sufficient reason for Spinoza, the idea that the explanation of something is key to the nature of its power to act and be, is that which grounds the very ethics of Spinoza’s Ethics. This is to say, as we come to understand the causes of things this is not just an accumulation of knowledge, but rather is a real change in ontological power. This is something that is profoundly missing in so-called “flat ontologies” and is vital to understanding the nature of power and freedom itself.  As we understand the causes of things we come to be in combination with them, forming a mutuality. It is not simply the (optical) Heideggerian question of whether the thing we describe “hides” from us or not, but rather the change in the degree of being, our very power to act and exist, that occurs when we have more adequate ideas in the world. This is the true meaning behind Spinoza’s self-caused idea of Substance. As we approach towards Substance’s own self-determined nature, becoming more like Substance as we go, our very “a” beingness is under transformation. It is this freedom through combination that literally operates our distinctions making valleys and mountains out of what otherwise would be taken to be flat.

Lastly: The Barking Dog and the Dog in the Heavens

“Further (to say a word here concerning the intellect and the will which we attribute to God), if intellect and will appertain to the eternal essence of God, we must take these words in some significations quite different from those they usually bear. For intellect and will, which should constitute the essence of God, would perforce be as far apart as the poles from the human intellect and will, in fact, would have nothing in common with them but the name; there would be about as much correspondence between the two as there is between the Dog, the heavenly constellation, and a dog, an animal that barks.”(E1p17cor, sch)

 

Kant’s Criticism of the Purpose of Spinoza’s God

John Zammito’s The genesis of Kant’s critique of judgment is a compelling book, in particular for those interest in the after effects of the “Pantheism Controversy”. Zammito provides a convincing explanation on how much of Kant’s third Critique flowed from his difficulties with Jacobi, and the need to clarify his own rational position against Jacobi’s attempt to collapse all bravely followed rationality (rationality taken to its rational ends, no matter where they go), results in “Spinozism” something roughly posited as atheistic, fatalistic and nihilistic. Not to address these mischaracterizations of Spinoza here, or even Kant’s position towards them, there is this very nice little bit on Kant’s attack on Spinoza which has interest.

Here Zammito takes up Kant’s somewhat misdirected critique of Spinoza’s “God” along the lines of God’s purpose, a denial of God’s causality through Idea. Kant attempts to apply a truly anthropomorphic projection of purpose, based upon Representation, upon Spinoza’s ultimate ground, Substance, and finds it lacking. In a certain sense Kant rejects Spinoza’s God’s causal force because this God simply is not anthropomorphic enough:

What is interesting about this projection of the human discursive reality, leaving aside its place in the general context of his critique of Spinoza, is the way it seems to reveal in sympathy just what I have always felt is just so anthropomorphic about Graham Harman’s own (misnamed) Object Oriented Philosophy. One can see this most plainly in Harman’s so-called theory of causation, which is whole-heartedly representationalist, even as it tries to describe the events of causation between dustballs, interest rates and summer’s breeze. For Harman each of these must possess within their molten cores representations which link them to the rest of the world. (If unfamiliar with his thinking, here is my summation of the thought, and some of my criticism: How Do the Molten Centers of Objects Touch?; Harman approved of my summation.) The point comes back to me that the general mistake that Kant makes in the above in criticism, applying human discursive reality to the Spinoza non-human, is by Harman multiplied to a true infinity. It is taking an anthropomorphic, representational conception of not only “idea” as actualized by praxis but broadcasting it into each and every object kind imaginable. Harman treats these representations – what he calls vicars – as mysteriously the means of causation, leaving the issue of freedom and action behind.

Spinoza of course denies the kind of human freedom that Kant so theoretically valued, granting freedom solely to God (and his modes in degrees), and he did so by virtue of treating Ideas NOT as representations, but actional, ontological expressions of power and freedom. It is rather from the non-human that Spinoza brings his attack upon the human realm itself, all the while arguing a vigorous ethics of action and an ecology of cares, ultimately effacing the categorical “I” (and the not-I) that would inspire much of Idealism after Kant. In Spinoza an Idea is distinctly trans-human, not as a representation, but as I argue elsewhere, an informational interconnection of expression itself. It seems that if there is to be true object orientation, or appreciation, it can only be arrived at by not grasping at the kinds of representational conceptions that historically have marked out human reality as privileged and unique (for obvious theological reasons). These Kantian notions of representation go deep, as they can even be found in the notion of the internal Umwelt in biosemiosis, talked about here. Even these far flung boundaries defined by internal representational realms need to be opened up and inter-connected.

This is just a passing reflection in my reading, not a whole argument, but I do suggest reading the chapter linked above on Kant’s critique of Spinoza, and the previous one focusing on the “pantheism controversy” influence upon Kant. The link between subject/object representational insistence and the political-theological fears raised in the controversy is no small thing.

The Fall of Larval Subjects: Bloom and Rose

 

It seems it has been a long time coming. People have found Levi Bryant’s voluminous and often creative postings as inspiration for what is possible in the blog-form of thoughtful, internet expression, but it seems one-by-one the petals have fallen- off the rose, within to find a philosophical subject who has pressed himself as close as possible to what is less than appealing about blogged, quick-fire thinking processes. Others still maintain a favorable view, but for me his unadmitted self-contradictions, pronounced declarations, penchant for inventing term after term, principles upon fallacies, and lastly his brittle treatment of those that disagree with him, left me with the feeling of someone who wanted to “play” the philosopher, or at least the philosophy professor.

Beyond the recent Grey Vampire jaunt into hatreds, now it seems that in his largess Levi has taken on in a rather but perhaps typically absurd way Reid over at Planomenology, who made the mistake of actually questioning the political worth of a non-normative ontological world, sheerly conceived of as equally real objects. The sad thing seems to be that Reid once took his inspiration from Levi, only to find himself (and his ideas) wildly characterized in typical Levi Bryant over-stretch and obfuscation. As Reid writes opening up in response Projective Indignity, where he point by point takes apart each of Bryant’s strategies of evasion and general intimidation:

Larval Subjects was one of my favorite blogs, and one of the major reasons I started doing this in the first place. He had significant influence on my development in philosophy, leading me to the controversial, but I still think fundamentally sound belief that Deleuze and Guattari can be understood as continuing the work of Lacan, not breaking with it. It was through him that I first heard about Badiou, speculative realism, non-philosophy, and so on. His impact has been very important to me.

Now Levi has decided to publish a post whose tone and tenor would be easily at home on the Fox News Channel. I’m tempted to ignore this nonsense altogether…but I am really quite uncomfortable with having myself so dramatically misrepresented on such a popular blog. So I suppose I’ll have to point out, one by one, the inaccuracies littering his post – Media Matters style. I doubt this will have any effect on his end, and will likely serve only to escalate the tide of bullshit, but I’ll come to that road when I cross it

I don’t always agree with Reid, but even when in debate he seemed like the very best of blogged thought: local, thoughtful, inspired, playing none of the professorial games of bluffery and bullying that Levi (and Graham) seem to like to employ. Mikhail was first on this recent display of philosophical spearing, here, but the reason I find it worth posting about is that aside from those that consider themselves citadeled against ignorant Internet masses, I do think philosophical thinking via internet discussion a “community” process and when general community standards are violated, it is a responsibility of community to at least raise the events to a level of notice.

Of course there are all kinds of discourse on the Internet, but when folks which to express themselves in something of a high-brow standard, aiming at being taken philosophically (and I am not even sure that I am one of those, I just post what is interesting to me), its best to keep them to the standards that they claim to raise.

Levi has, at least in my view busied himself alienating his questioners over time such that it probably makes the most sense for him to do away with the comments section of his blog altogether (something I have suggested for a long time), as his recent allies K-punk and Harman have done.  This is difficult for Levi because he ever wants to give the impression that his ideas come out of dialogue, as rational, necessary conclusions which any reasonable person could not help but embrace. He is ever mystified when others don’t agree with him (they must be either dull witted or unread). Personally I do not find megaphone broadcasts very interesting, and I only turn to Levi’s posts when some other person references them (and even less so for Harman and K-punk). It just seems that just as commerce seems to creep into internet networks (with real books being written in these contexts), the selfish, scrabbling identities that commodification seems to at its worst brings out, expresses itself with REAL objectifying power.

Addendum: Here Levi responds to Reid apologizing for his tone, but then somewhat in self-excuse claims that though in the wrong because he was “provoked” by Reid. Somehow it is was Reid’s fault:

While my rhetoric was way out of line and over the top, I do not think it was unprovoked given that associating someone with neoliberalism is much like calling them a fascist or a Nazi.

Levi feels that he has been called the equivalent of a “Nazi” by being associated with neoliberalism though Reid’s assessement that the equalization of objects serves only as a weak and facile democraticization. (I thought philosophers were supposed to specialize in distinctions, but he cannot tell the difference between being associated with neoliberalism, and being CALLED a Nazi.) No doubt this imagined “Nazi” smear conducted by Reid’s rather reasoned arguments (in which I detect not much smearing) touches off the feeling that Levi has been subject to something of this kind of language:

[I hate ] second, the creatures of ressentiment who seem to delight in tearing others down, in finding ways to torture them, who have orgies of hate together when they get ignored seeing themselves as victims rather than being the assholes that they are. Racists, jilted white men, insecure nationalists, misogynists and homophobes, trolls, Christianists and religious zealots of all sorts that are convinced they’re victims, gossips, etc., etc., etc.

Of course this is a quote from Levi, and not Reid. This  really isn’t the way that Reid expresses himself. Its Levi, talking as usual to himself

But it’s not just that Levi was provoked, or as he put it, feeling that he had been “kicked in the stomach”. It’s also the case for Levi that his bullying of Reid (as a professor of philosophy unto a graduate student, and a popular bloggist to a wee bloggist), bullying he confesses, is also the case of him merely not treating him “like a puppy”. Levi, despite the apology was simply being all man about it with Reid. He was just giving Reid a friendly hockey check back on the ice.

I think it is strange to suggest that somehow because of his age or station as a graduate student he is supposed to be treated with kid gloves or patted on the head like a puppy when, to use a hockey metaphor, he himself “checks” hard in public.

For anyone who read Reid’s analysis of Levi’s exchange, we know that this was not the case at all. Its good of course to hear Levi apologize but those who know him know that this is pretty much par for the course: I was completely wrong, I’m very sorry, except for the fact that I was provoked and I out of respect to him refused to treat Reid as a puppy, again I repeat I was completely wrong.