Frames /sing


“Indifference” – Thinking Through Cold


Prologue to Cold

Time has been spent lately thinking about Schelling’s Idealist appropriations and improvements on Spinoza’s notion of Substance and self, the way that he bent Nature’s history forward towards a development involving a supposedly higher unity, or at least self-conscious, expression, through an attempt to (re)unify the subject and the object. Unfortunately, because he held quite strong Idealist strains which conceived of the subject and the object under a fundamental binary involving the freedom of the self, itself representationalist and based upon a metaphor of a mirror’s reflection, I believe he missed one of the most radical notions contain in Spinoza’s thesis: that freedom consists not in binaries, but in infinities, and that what is “cold” provides in any case, the moment of eruption.

Spinoza’s project might be considered as a contructivist, immanent search for the leverage of Absolute Zero.

For those that don’t know, Absolute Zero, like the much more acclaimed speed of light, stands at a physical limit of the Universe, a temperature state no thing can be put into. So cold that all movement between related parts stops, so frozen that one has only pure structure, or we might say information, with no loss of entropy. Scientists have been attempting to cool things to the lowest point since the mid 19th century, then concentrating on trying to liquefying the eternal gases like oxygen and hydrogen. Now they have gotten within a few hundred billionths of a degree and produced the fantastic Einstein-Bose Condensate, bringing matter into such curious states that the wave functions of quantum particles begin to overlap and quantum effects start to manifest themselves on the macroscopic scale. At the very least the human quest for Absolute Zero, and the remarkable counter-intuitive behaviors of matter there make of the stuff of striking scientific analogy and fact.

I want to draw on the concept of Absolute Zero, −459.67° F or 0 Kelvin, to expose the raw potentiality involved in Spinoza’s criticism of most concepts of the world and our place in it, and in doing so show how Spinoza’s metaphysics signficantly involves prescriptions and diagnoses for how to go about finding real points in a lived life, in real situations, for radical, radix, change (liberation). When I say that I want to draw on the concept, there is a fine line being walked here, for generally I resist loose philosophical appropriations of scientific principles meant to describe very specific physical phenomena (so much messiness with what is done with Quantum Mechanics). There is ever a danger that what is being described in science becomes the event for only a merely fantastical imagination only stimulated by the idea found in a discipline. And perhaps this is the case here. The coldest of the cold has remarkable consonances with the conceptual (and even psychological) armature of Spinoza’s prescription, and in many senses there risks a vast and even confused conflation. But there is more than this to the transfer of Scientific Cold to Spinoza’s Metaphysical Cold, and this is found in translated attempts to connect Spinoza’s thinking on the concept of Idea to a universal notion of Information as a constituent element of the Universe (discussed some here: Information, Spinoza’s “Idea” and The Structure of the Universe ), joining matter and energy. If indeed there is a productive collaboration between Spinozist Idea and Stonier’s notion of Information, the real states of non-entropy, absolute cold, the zero-point edge of all reality, provide a real nexus between what is being described and our prescriptions. In a certain literal sense, Absolute Zero would be a place or state of pure Idea (or at least its approach). I want to investigate then, what it means for us to pursue states of Absolute Zero within our very temperate realm of the human, as a kind of liberating attractor, in the richness of an imaginary and prospective unveiling of the powers of Spinozist metaphysics, without losing the possible literal correspondence between Spinoza’s thinking and the informational properties of the Universe.

From Magnetism to Cold

In the 18th century there was another philosophical appropriation from science, which at least in my view gave birth to one of the more confused ideologies of philosophical thinking…the “dialectic”. Schelling invented the modern dialectic which Hegel perfected into pure abstractions, in part through the influence of Brugmans’ research into magnetism. Schelling, in his quest to reconsile the subject and the object as they are problematically posed in Kant’s and then Ficte’s Idealism, and in result synthesize ethics and subjectivity to objective natural philosophy, found inspiration in the points of “indifference” that Brugmans discovered in magetized metal. Between the metal’s polarities of +/- there were to be found points which were seemingly a kind of null-source of the polarity itself, or rather more technically, there were spatial threshold limits in a metal piece set to be magnetized by another which when fallen short of or transgressed in the process of being stroked produced the said polarity, and when ended upon, did not.

“I shall therefore take the opportunity of calling them the points of indifference. This seems to me to be a not entirely unsuitable, for the ends of the rod which has been stroked up to these points have an indifferent effect upon the poles of the magnetic needle” (Brugmans, Magnitismus seu de affinitatibus magneticis observationes academicae 1778)

These points of “indifference”  inspired in Schelling the notion that there are to be found points or a state of indifference (or really nondifference) to which the Idealist opposites of subject and object are immanent. Ultimately this state of Indifference, apart from Schelling’s early theories on magnetism and the construction of the Universe, would come to be interpreted as the Dark God, Ungrund, or blind Nature within God that gives birth to the otherwise oppositional Identity and difference and other oppositions.

What I want to think on is the Idealist notion of opposition itself, the idea of Absolute Opposition, which drives Schellings entire system (or systems). I would like to take on the very notion of opposed things, and redefine the power of Schelling’s original appeal to magnetism and Indifference to unlock just how Spinoza’s treatment of Idea and Object (and inside and outside) radically dispels all the hierarchies that Idealism attempts to set up to resolve what is for me a false problem, an cast image on which Man is set as precipice.

The difficulty follows from the host of philosophies of Representation and of Reflection that flow from Kant, and Schelling is certainly not immune, despite his Spinozist vertex (in a triangle of Idealism, Spinozism and Romanticism). It will be upon Spinoza’s non-representationalist conception of knowledge, his minimalization of the importance of self-reflection and thus human centricity, that I will try to rebuild the notion of Indifference with an intended radical effect. To see how Schelling conceives of necessary, conceptual opposition, and its Ur-source in optical metaphor one need only look at his comparisons of oppositions found in Bruno, where we find that a mirror image is irreconcilable to its object, unlike combinative chemicals. We are to read all “necessary” oppositions in just this sort of spectral way:

Bruno: I say that things are relatively opposed if they can cease being opposites and can be united in some third thing. Such an identification is unthinkable for absolute opposites, though. You will have an example of relative opposition if you think of two chemical substances with opposite properties, for they can be combined and so produce a third substance. You will have an example of the other sort of opposition if you think of an object and the mirror image of that object. For you can conceive of any third thing that would allow mirror image to pass over into object or permit the object to be transformed into an image? Aren’t they precisely so related that one is object, and the other image, absolutely, necessarily, and eternally distinct from one another?

Bruno, or, On the natural and the divine principle of things

Buried in the heart of Schelling’s attempt to reconcile these supposed opposites is the plague-born philosophy of reflection rich in its imaginary confabulations, leveraged upon the metaphysical consequences that must be earned due to the essentiality of human beings in the hierarchy of creatures. A philosophy of object, reflection and judgment encrusts itself with concerns for the ontological priority of human freedom (necessary for Christian theology and soul-orientation), knotting at its core this representationalist dream: the idea is a reflection of some sort. What is needed is a radix reformulation of what distinguishes idea from object, and a deepened sense of what the Indifference of imagined opposites can provide, in particular when “reflection” is not seen as an occasion of ontological apex.

Instead of thinking how God could ever reflect upon himself and create some sort of unity (as an idealized projection of what human beings optimally do), instead Spinoza provides a kind of maximalization of thought such that human actions (including thoughts) occupy no more priority in the Universe than anything else: human thoughts are about as similar to God’s as the barking dog is to a heavenly constellation, Spinoza tells us. Because ideas are not reflections of their objects (nor objects of their ideas), but rather are parallel expressions of extended things, there is a kind of “indifference” that is already found at the level of any idea (or thing) at all. Each and everything idea/thing is co-incident of Substance, expressively.  The indifference of the distinction between idea and thing resides in their singular essence. 

While Schelling will find the ultimate Indifference between opposites to be posited in a Dark, Unconscious God Ungrund which out of pure yearning give birth to the subsuming Ground of God as a collective of Identity into which all of difference is joined, as due to the quite reflective preoccupation of his philosophy, in Spinoza the Indifference (if we can borrow the term) falls to Substance itself which contains all things as a Unity come out of its unbound nature, a pure affirmation without lack; thus for him the differentiation of essences expressed in an infinite number of Attributes flows from its sheerly immanent, determined and infinite nature. The supposedly necessary “opposites” such as those that occur in fantasmic mirrors do not seem to find anywhere to take hold. Instead, idea and thing are already made mutual and co-incident, born of their essence in a dependent net of horizontal causes. As such in a certain fashion, each and every essence as it expresses itself as an idea and a thing, it itself an Indifference wherein ideas ARE things (despite Spinoza’s restriction against ideas and things cross-causing events in one or the other). Our causal explanations indeed trace out their chains in one or the other, but these two infinities are locked in a singular core of each essence, an essence which makes of any thing-idea existence a bright and gravitious star. Substance is already Indifferent as is each essence, which is its indifferent expression.

There is a sort of rhetorical game going on in my argument because Spinoza does not solve the problem that Schelling attempts to solve with the notion of Indifference because his formulations prevent it in the first place. So when I say that for Spinoza Substance is Indifferent or an essence is indifferent, there is a near non-homology. I say only near non-homology though because I would like to keep to the original science borrowing that inspired Schelling in the first place: there are points within a metal extension that are null to the process of being magnetized into poles. Because the split between thing and idea does not occur, the “point” between them is simply their immanent origin (and not a mirror’s tain), and not a null ground or subsumption of any sort. If indeed poles of magnetism are taken to indicate an imaginary split between idea and thing, image and object, subject and object, as such things are in Spinoza’s vision, the null point of their mutuality actual falls to the conditions of their expression, and within that, to what I would say is their Cold Point.

The Issue of Cold

Upon this framework for a general notion of non-representationalist, non-reflexive Indifference I want to open the path forward from the other end, that of a prescriptive diagnosis for radical change and freedom of action, within history and the condition of human thought. Under the onus of such a path Spinoza’s answer is: look for the Cold, pursue Absolute Zero, find Indifference. 

To be continued…The Cold of the Body Without Organs

10 responses to ““Indifference” – Thinking Through Cold

  1. Amarilla November 7, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Kvond “…in Spinoza the Indifference (if we can borrow the term) falls to Substance itself which contains all things as a Unity come out of its unbound nature, a pure affirmation without lack; thus for him the differentiation of essences expressed in an infinite number of Attributes flows from its sheerly immanent, determined and infinite nature.” I always appreciate that message about affirmation.

    Looking forward to The Cold of the Body Without Organs.

  2. Mark Crosby November 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Schelling’s concept of indifference has always intrigued me (in an indifferent sort of way 😉 and it’s fascinating to learn that it’s related to magnetism..

    On the other hand, while I now see what you meant by “Absolute Zero”, and of course I’ve heard of zero degrees Kelvin, I would not have connected that with anything philosophical, since it’s such a nearly non-existent state and matter must be tortured in order to reach it. If it’s something like a metaphor for a cloud world where there are no distinct objects, I’m not sure I can follow you over that cliff.

    I’ve had some psychedelic experiences of going beyond ‘cell boundaries’, but these have always appeared to me as something ‘warm and fuzzy’, more like being fried and dissolved into a hot soup, than anything cold and/or frozen. I’ve read Deleuze’s COLDNESS AND CRUELTY: but, like Nina said of dysphoria, “I guess I’m just not wired that way”..

    Coldness and the Bose condensate just reminded me of something: I was trying to read one of Graham’s favorite philosophers again, yesterday. I’m referring to Leibniz’s MONADOLOGY (Rescher’s edition for students with all the nice references for each cryptic ‘axiom’) and I just can’t get past square one because the concept of a “simple substance” is no more meaningful to me than a Bose-Einstein condensate that can only exist under some tortured, illogical conditions. I can’t see anything that is partless, as Leibniz wants to claim, and I don’t, uh, see the point of turning objects into metaphysical points – unless all you’re interested in is constructing some abstract string theory..

    Anyway, what (re)occurred to me that’s possibly relevant to your Coldness theme, was Leibniz’s example of a frozen pond that is not a simple substance because, locked within the ice, there are various frozen fish and, adding my own elaboration now, in the mud beneath the ice there are turtles hibernating, waiting for the thaw. Now, if The Cold of the Body Without Organs, as Amarilla puts it, is something like hibernation, I can relate to that, whereas Absolute Zero still seems like an abstract ideal..

    • kvond November 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm

      Mark I am certainly glad that at the very least the juxtaposition of ideas has gotten your wheels turning, and equally glad you share your associations here. Hopefully my next post – this was something more of a prologue to the idea, its genesis in me – will show more of the kernel of thought. It is a very strong intuition, and I am struggling with how to present it.

      But it comes with these vectors or directions:

      1. Absolute Zero is related to the principles discussed in the Stonier piece on Idea as Information. I am less inspired by the overlap of wave functions, the hyperglobuale Einstein-Bose, than I am with the thought that 0 K is a state of 0 Entropy, and rather than being a great glob is a highly structured, completely information dense state. This has strong correspondence to Spinoza’s sub specie aeterintatis.

      2. There may be correspondence to Deleuze’s Coldness and Cruelty and a rhetorical appeal to the other meaning of “indifference” (which Schelling did not mean), but I have not thought that threw. In a certain sense the machinic nature of pure production or pure potentia is highly impersonal, but I have not gotten that far.

      3. How one goes about constructing a BwO for D and G is of great importance here. I read Absolute Zero conceptually to be related to the BwO of a Thousand Plateaus (a much neglected and little theorized concept of theirs).

      4. What is key for me is that Spinoza offers two prescriptions for health and radical change. The first is internal and starts with ANY idea that one has. In a sense he seeks to cool that idea down to zero, to find the point of indifference between it and its object, to seek its coincident or indiffence point. This is not globular, but rather, because it is linked to an infinite series of distinct determinations it “opens-out” any mental state. The second prescription is that Spinoza advises (or rather, implies) that there are Zero Points for any external states as we relate to them. These too he cools down, seeking an Indifference, inducing an intuition that is also quite radical to any theoretical picture we have of whatever state we think we are participating in (and we are materially and ideally participating in all of them). So Absolute Zero is sought intra- and inter- Being, in a sense.

      5. This is definitely connected to psychological or political “cold”, most important though is, pace Schelling and all that followed, cold is not a negation, not defined as the absence of something, a hole in the world. This is why Spinoza’s Indifference is at great divergence from Schelling’s. Perhaps though it does come about by “torturing matter” as you suggest. Or at least dissecting the joining points that see most natural to us, I’ll have to play that out and see. At the very least, Spinoza see this Zero as one that is not a middle point of a numbers line that goes into negative and positive numbers, but rather as a beginning point for a wholly positive and full affirmation and series.

      6. I suspect or am hopeful as well that an aesthetic process can be solidly linked to this, a way in which to aesthetically approach objects that are taken as objects of representation. Because Cold Point thinking is non-represenational, representational endeavors would be radically rethought, much as perhaps Deleuze and Guattari rethought the representations of the orchid and the wasp, but even more so.

      Anyways, thanks for your thoughts. Hopefully this will provoke me to getting my ideas out in the next few days.

  3. Amarilla November 8, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    A few questions… In what text do G & D speak of orchids and wasps? Who is this Bruno you speak of in the post?

    For some reason I’m glad the phrase “tortured matter” has shown up, in my experience it takes a lot of torture to find the 0 point of renunciation of attraction and aversion, both of which states seem to require an excess of energy and the warping twists of self-deception to sustain themselves. I’m wondering if the tortured matter brings us back to the territory of what you’ve called, I think, the chaocomplex.

    • kvond November 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

      Amarilla, the wasp/orchid phenomena is found in A Thousand Plateaus. In the past I have written on it in the analysis of transgender, here: .

      I think I follow your thoughts on tortured matter and self. The way that I read it is that seeking the Cold Point, the absolute neutrality of idea and object, sets the path straight, opens up the possibilities of what has been previously recorded through illusionary habituations. From there, the chaoplex arises, partly out of our determinations, partly out of the borders of our ignorances…

  4. Amarilla November 10, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Oh, I see which Bruno now. I came across a motto of his, “In tristitia hilaris, in hilaritate tristis” (In sadness happy, in happiness sad.) Perhaps his way of saying there is not negative.

    • kvond November 10, 2009 at 1:21 pm

      Hey, the Bruno loosely referenced is likely Bruno from the Renaissance, but it specifically is a character is a Schelling dialogue which was meant show Schelling’s problems with Fichte’s thinking. Cool Bruno quote. The “real” Bruno is wonderful. His burning at the stake in I think 1600 is thought by some to mark the beginning of modernity.

  5. Amarilla November 10, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    The quote’s a lot better in Latin, no? Tristitia and hilaritate lift off, but happiness and sadness, not so much. Or maybe it’s just the novelty effect.

  6. fallingsilvers December 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I don’t know if this similar to your concept of absolute zero in ideas, but I’ve found in time spent remembering things in my past, eventually you develop this cooling, cold, empty and clear relationship w/r/t a memory, even if it is a sad or painful one. Admittedly, I like the way it feels once you can get there. It’s like this space that isn’t one, almost bordering the junkie’s cold within you, like the early morning hours when the city is still asleep and the streetlights are shimmering on the pavement and perhaps intervals within the gleam of sparse traffic. And an autumn’s gentle rain drizzling and almost inaudible and damp, and the high or sedation, or whichever of your chosen pill/substance, has set in inside of you, slowly dissolving, indifferent and vacuous. I definitely do not think it is dysphoric, though. And for me lately, unlike the junkies absolute cold, it doesn’t feel edge-laced frenetic or anything…there’s no real panic to quickly figure out a way to get the numb back in you before you ‘return’ to whatever state/degree you were trying to escape to/from, if that’s what you desired. It just feels like a gradual melting enclosing you and slowly moving along you, and the world feels a bit dulled or subdued and muted, and yet is familiar, but not nostalgic or sentimental. And you feel a calming surge and you are still and unspoken, and you are present and stark real.

    Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed your work on this wordpress. I am especially having a particularly good time wrapping my brain through the “Information, Spinoza’s Idea and The Structure of The Universe” and cyberneticists/chaocomplexicists related posts. Looking forward to the “Cold of the BwO”.

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