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The Necessary Intersections of the Human Body: Spinoza

Radical Experiments With Spinoza’s Metaphysics of Body

There has always tugged at me a kind of vast and unexplored consequence of Spinoza’s defintion of a single “body” or “individual,” especially when seen in context with his general expressionist ontology. It is that Spinoza defines a body so simply, given in a matrix of the world understood to be one great co-relational thing (modes transitively determined by each other, modes immanently determined by God/Substance). I want to draw out some of the implications of Spinoza’s defintions of a body (none of which have I ever seen talked of), implications that in part lead me to the notion of Conjoined Semiosis which I have forwarded in my last two posts.

Spinoza defines a body most clearly in the Ethics at 2p13a2d

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.

 It is nearly an elegant defition and the second portion of it has really three operative parts. Bodies are moving “so as to preserve unvarying relation of movement among themselves”. In the Latin edition the phrase is ut motus suos invicem certa quadam ratione communicent, and is translated by Curley as “that they communicate their motion to each other in a fixed manner” which is quite a bit better. There is,

1). a communication of motion

2). a recursive, or at least horizoned, reflexive closure (communicating to themselves)

3). a fixed ratio

In his earlier Short Treatise  he says it even more succinctly:

Every particular corporeal thing [lichaamelijk ding] is nothing other than a certain ratio [zeekere proportie] of motion and rest.

[I discussed some of the other implications of this defintion here: The “Corporeal Equation” of 1:3: What Makes A Body for Spinoza? ] Now though I would like to draw out a particualr thread of thought. What immediately comes to mind is perhaps what Spinoza envisioned, so many billiard balls moving in motion in the world, bouncing all about, and when any number of them seem to fall into a fixed ratio of movement such that their communications upon each other seem to perpetuate this ratio of movement, this becomes an “individual”, a “body” proper. We can see it, and perhaps it is not far from how we roughly think about bodies that perserve themselves over time, a certain kind of continuity and closure of movement.

When Ratios Transpierce

But there are several aspects to this definition which expand it beyond what we might regularly take to be its described. Firstly so, the entire Extensional expression of Substance, in all of its modes at any one selection of time already seems to meet the definition. That is, the entirety of modal expressions in some transitive way communicate their motions to each other in a fixed manner…the ratio of motion and rest does not change on the whole. From the point of view of the entirety, any one “fixed ratio” is only an expression of the greater ratio of expression. Further, any parts which do not seem to be communicating their ratios to each other, is only a matter of perspective, thus, there is ever a perspective from which any combination of bodies, however disparate, are in communication with each other, if only from the point of view of the whole. In a rather Taoist-like sense, all things are connected to all other things.

When thinking about the human body there is a natural tendency to give it priority, though in Spinoza’s ontology this is not granted in any strict sense. So we must apply this notion of “individual” to our body as well. Part of this tendency of priority is to read the human body in the context of the whole expressive body of Spinoza in a kind of nesting, Russian Doll sort of way. The ratio of motion and rest which is preserved recursively in the human organism is simply an expression of the higher order whole, which has a subsuming ratio. The fixed ratio of our bodies is real, but attached to, or part of an entirety. It is not so much that that this is an alien concept to us, for instance any equlibrium of energy that our bodies maintain, swimming against entropy, might be said to reflect a general law of a conservation of energy in the universe.

But in theme of Conjoined Semiosis this is what I want to point out. The notion bodies defined as a communication of ratio preservation does not only function in a lower to higher order wherein our human body maintains its ratio in the shadow of the great, over-arching ratio of physical expression. And it is not only that our ratios of physical preservation then causally bump, skin to skin, into other ratios in preservation, whether they be bowling balls or puppies. It is that the ratios of preservation, as identified, are perspective dependent (under the idea that what separates out my ratio from yours is a delination which can be changed). More importantly, the border of my body (which is a real, modally expressed border for Spinoza) holds no priority over reading where a ratio begins and ends. And lastly, this “dissolve” of boundary does not simply function from part to whole, but also must exist in intersections across the borders of our bodies. It is not the case that our bodies only participate as wholes in larger groups of bodies, but also that the bodies of which our own bodies are composed, must participate in communications across our own boundaries. Again, the illustration from the last two posts:

There are two conceptual allowances for this in Spinoza’s philosophy. The first is that the human body ratio has no priorty over the communications of its parts. That is, parts of the human body can logically of course participate, while still maintaining their role in the human body fixed ratio, in still other ratios which intersect it (a subset of its parts can also be part of a set of another ratio in communication). The behaviors of a benign parasite for instance can participate in the ratio of my own body parts, have its motions and rest be subsumed in that ratio, and still participate in the fixed ratio of motions of the parasite gene population in the County I live in. This would make them in my view Semiotically Conjoined. The second of these is, due to the non-priority of the boundary of the human body, determinative effects upon the body cannot be reduced to surface to surface contacts. Because the human body is immaent to the field which expresses it, all parts that lie adjacent to it’s surface, are also produced by that field, and there is no reason why the events that occur within the human body are expressed only in the vector of its ratio. It is much more likely that because the identification of the ratio itself is contingent to perspectively, events within the human body can be equally measured by another trans-piercesive boundary (a benign parasite might turn destructive, the other parts of the human body being merely part of the environment of the population of parasite genetic expression).

I would say as well that something in Spinoza’s treatment of essence, in particular human essence, might demand just such a Conjoined Semiosis as per normal, for instance his thought,

For if, for example, two individualsof entirely the same nature are joined are joined to one another, they compose an individual twice as powerful as each one. To man then, there is nothing more useful than man E4p18siii

It is not at all clear how two men could share exactly the same nature, or whether this sameness 0f nature acts as an asymptotic limit (suggesting that their connection is somehow a Conjoined Semiosis, or that the new individual that they compose is possibly an overlap of their two natures). When two men agree and work together (heaven forbid they be a man and a woman), no matter how powerful their agreement, there is the sense that merely the divergences of their histories provide a separation of their natures (essences). One could see that the two men could form one new body or individual, for whatever length of time, if their motions remain in co-relative communication across their boundaries, but insofar as each man experienced himself separately (perhaps only flittingly as they joined together to row a boat), their two bodies would mostly be more of overlapping natures.

And then there is Spinoza’s letter to Peter Balling, wherein he comforts his friend, a father who had had a premontion halucination of his child’s death. There he explictly speaks of the soul as merely participating in the essence of another human being:

And since (like that which I demonstrated on another occasion) there must necessarily exist in thought the idea of the essence of the child’s states and their results, and since the father, through his union with his child, is a part of the said child, the soul of the father must necessarily participate in the ideal essence of the child and his states, and in their results, as I have shown at greater length elsewhere.

A father and son are not it would seem of exactly the same nature, but the deep entrenchment of their attachment has lead in Spinoza’s mind to a kind of intermingling of essences, such that through the power of the father’s love something of the son’s future might be involuntarily imagined. I would say that each of these descriptions provide that Spinoza may have held the thought of Conjoined participation between two material bodies, at least as an aspect of what it means for two bodies to combine together.

The Endurance and yet Vectorization of “Body”

But I want to draw this out even further. If any bodies in a fixed ratio of a communication of parts is an individual, why would not the select neurons of our brains, when we are in a discussion, (perhaps in combination with our other transmitive body parts and the air molecules that carry our words) constitute a single body? (What of all the extensional manifestions of classes of race or gender, which form assemblages with parts human and parts non-human alike?) It is not for Spinoza that the bodies themseleves must be perserved, but only the ratio [in concordance with a theory like Autopoiesis]:

If from a body, or an individual thing composed of a number of bodies, certain bodies are separated, and at the same time a like number of other bodies of the same nature take their place, the individual thing will retain its nature as before, without any change in its form [forma]. (E2p13, Lemma 4, axiom 3)


The human Body, to be preserved, requires a great many other bodies, by which it is, as it were, continually regenerated (E2p13, post4)

Necessarily it seems that out of the plethora of possibly found “fixed ratios” of communication that can be found, no matter how brief in existences, (or disparately spread) our bodies must be shot through across our otherwise considered to be natural boundaries. In fact, on the question of temporal endurance, the “fixed ratio” [certa ratione] can also mean “a certain” or “a particular” ratio, making an occasionalist dream-world of any number of vectorial objects, cutting through the boundaries of other objects. One need only find a ratio of commuications and no otherwise assumed boundary would preside. Such an approach of course would only be of a limited perspective, but Spinoza’s metaphysics makes of any modal expression a fully concrete determination of effects, and this would include the determinations which flow from any discovered trans-piercing corporeal ratio. Any inside/outside delineation must I would think be cut across by other inside/outside delineations. 

The second important conceptual opening in Spinoza’s treatment of bodies, in particular the human body, is that what a body knows is only a product of its interior, recursive movements.

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

This flows from,

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

One presumes that what holds for the human Mind and Body, holds for all bodies, since all bodies are an expression in parallel with ideas, the object of these ideas being the states of extension. What follows from this is that any body which preserves a ratio in a communication in parts, to some degree has Mind (an ideational ratio coherence), and that this Mind, following 2p19 above, only “knows” of its Body through the ideational expressions of the affections of its parts. Which is to say, the Mind of any corporeal ratio (however primative) only knows of the world outside of it through the affections of its material expression, and only knows of its own material state through the ideas of that expression. There is a fundamental cognitive closure to any hypostated ratio’ed communication.

The consequences of this are that if some of the semiotic elements that make up the human body are themselves elements in other cogntive bodies, the states of these elements (in Spinoza’s terms, affections) are read in at least two different cogntive orderings. That is to say, the other elements which make up the rest of a semiotic relation of parts in the human body, serve as part of the environment for the transpiercing body. This perhaps goes some way to explain the illusionary status of the affections from the perspective of God or Substance (somthing that vexes many interpreters of Spinoza). Though certainly Spinoza did not imagine his metaphysics put to this bent, what Conjoined Semiosis shows is that the meaning of an affection of semiotic elements in one body, the very same events, will have a different meaning in the transpiering body, given a different compositional whole. It is not just a change in the adequacy of ideas in a particular human mind that changes the ontological status of the affections of its body, but the affections themselves are likely, perhaps necessarily, according to the structures that Spinoza offers, already invested in Conjoined fashion to other bodies which run across its form.


There can be no doubt that Spinoza did not picture his metaphysics of objects in this way, for instance his proposition seems to rule out any conceptual invariance of inside and outside. There are many examples of this, but perhaps this is the most precise and consequential:

No thing can be destroyed except through an external cause, E3p4

But I can find no logical preclusion of a pervasive and rather animate Coinjoined Semiosis by which any body, including our own, is semiotical invested in the closed networks of other sense-making cognitive wholes, some of them quite vast and enduring, some of them quite local and ephemeral. In any case, this additional, vectorial analysis the otherwise assumed Natural borders of our bodies, speaks to the richness of what it means to be affected. It might as well add to the existential restriction upon the adequacy of human ideas, for it would not just the case that we cannot hold adequate ideas because we are restricted to a small experiential speck of the Universe, forever in our nature dependent upon things we do not fully understand, or even that what does causally affect us is somehow ultimately hidden from us by a kind of outside, external shadow, but also that many of our internal experiences of disturbed cohension come neither from “outside” or “inside”, but across the two, as what appear beyond us has tidal effects on our sense making parts, pulling us as if from within (both to greater epiphanic openness and conjunction, and toward paranoid self-purgings and external projections of hatred).

And would it be too far to go to say that this Conjoined Semiosis is what is logically behind the otherwise troubling, seemingly Parallel-postulate-defying distinction that Spinoza makes, that there are effects of the imagination that come from the Body, and those that come from the Mind, one of which can be prophetic [all events that occur in the body necessarily must also occur somehow in the mind, should they not]?

Effects of imagination either from the constitution of a body or of a mind, originate (translation own).

Effectus imaginationis ex constitutione vel coporis vel mentis oriuntur (letter to Peter Balling).

Are effects of the imagination which come from the constitution of the body to be explained as the disturbance of the body’s own semiotic elements under the mind (the cognitive whole) of another, which we experience as tearing, a lessoning of powers and coherence (Sadness); and imaginative effects that come from the mind, are come from the mind of a greater participation, or at least are formed in a cybernetic union of parts and bodies, bringing together what is so conjoined?


A related line of thinking: Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets: A Menagerie of Change in Transgender Identification

Conjoined Semiosis: A “Nerve Language” of Bodies

The Polyvalent and Cross-tongued

Chang and Eng Bunker

Chang and Eng Bunker

At times with an idea it is best to come up to a phenomena and embrace it as exemplary, a way of showing to others the heart of what you mean, and something of this comes through in the example of Conjoined Twins. I was discussing with my wife the nature of what I have been trying to put forth, which at the time had come down to the search for a term. A term was needed to crystallize just what sort of ontological distinction I was attempting to make when speaking of the polyvalence of semiotic elements that help form a body. As I explained to her, the very helpful notion of polyvalence lacked something. Yes, semiotic elements indeed could turn in every direction, but this poly-directionality was not fully what I meant. There was a constitutive sharing, a priority of investment and incarnation, a fleshed interweave that was not captured in the idea of a “polyvalent semiotics”. It is much more like Siamese Twins what share an organ, or body parts, aspects of the physical coherence of one body are already functioning as aspects of coherence for another (or really multiple, or illimitable) body/ies. There is a semiotic tugging, or in many cases tearing of bodies. In terms of history, they are not just layered upon each other like cells that lay with cells, composing organs, and with organs, composing bodies. Rather, bodies are already cross-semiotic to each other, their cognitive bodies woven into. We tried words like “inter-phenomenal” or “contra-phenomenal” (in answer to the ever popular “epiphenomenal”), but somehow the image of a shared body kept returning. It was that the semiotic order of a single body was enfleshed with other bodies. Finally my wife offered, expertly as always, How about just “‘conjoined”? So the term was born, Conjoined Semiosis. There is the difficulty that the example of Siamese Twins would override the concept, for what really is meant here is a great abstraction, albeit as concrete as possible, from the condition of such Twins. The questions of personal identity, autonomy, emotional coherence (for instance those so powerfully displayed in the story of Chang and Eng Bunker) are more peripheral to the term Conjoined Semiosis. I say peripheral here, though Conjoined Semiosis has profound effects on descriptions of normativity upon consciousness and questions of personal coherence. It is mostly the way that functioning differences in compositional elements necessarily are shared between bodies, across the cognitive boundary that they would from one coherent perspective form. This is analogous to (though perhaps still exemplified by) conjoined twins.

Autopoietic Closure

In explaining the idea to my wife I realized that if I am to make this clear I am going to have to begin at base concept, that is how semiotic differences can be seen to found the composition of an object. To get my point across we may have to begin in the middle, not with rocks or even chairs, but with the simplest of living structures, the single celled organism. It is biologists Maturana and Varela’s theory of Autopoiesis (much appreciated by latter Guattari we might say), that gives us a firm conceptual foothold here. Principle to their theory that living things can be described as Autopoietic Machines is the notion of Organizational Closure. That is, a living thing can be defined as an organizationally closed system of parts whose process it is to make the parts of which it is composed. It’s a machine that makes itself. Events at its boundary work as perturbations of a recursively defined set of relations within its boundary, such that no recourse to external facts are needed to explain the processes of differences that define its behavior. So, an autopoietic machine possess a kind of semiotic autonomy, the differences that make up the order of its internal actions are organizationally closed. The presence of a predator or a food source beyond the boundary of the organism is only a perturbation of its surface. The cascade of effects within need not be definable with reference to either “predator” or “food source”, but rather are in reference to a kind of homeostatic but living recursion. Maturana and Varela illustrate their idea of Organizational Closure with a know well-known example of the submarine pilot. We as observers may watch a submarine carefully navigate a series of reefs and dangers, and thrilled with the display would radio the pilot. “Congratulations on doing such a good job avoiding those reefs and powerful currents!” He is to reply something like, “I have no idea what you mean by ‘reefs’ or ‘currents’. I only moved some levers this way and that, put this factor in balance of that factor” utterly cut-off from the external meaning of his actions. Autopoietic theory is quite detailed, and I present only a bare aspect of it here, enough to point out what semiotic closure would mean. Simply, the differences that make a difference to the coherence of a body, are cognitively closed to the boundary of that body such that the boundary makes a domain. This is the “Recursive View”.

Maturana and Varela get out of this solipsism of organizational closure in several ways. For one, not to be gone into depth here, every autopoiestic systems, although it is organizationally closed, is structurally open. That is external parts of the world enter into boundary and can replace parts within that boundary, without changing its organizational closure, much as like nearly ever human cell you have today in your body is not one you had 10 years ago. This can lead to subtle shifts in organizational closure, as replacement parts can have slightly different properties. But the more systematic way that recursively closed autopoietic systems link up with the world is through what they call “structural coupling”. That is, if each cell is a kind of black box to an observer, experiencing “inputs,” and behavorially expressing “outputs” the internal organizations of one cell can be adapted to the regularities of those outputs (their relations to its own perturbations) such that the two organizationally closed systems become structurally linked. Hence, cells link with cells, cells produce organs, organs produce organisms, etc.  In this way, the regularities of surrounding cells are regularities of environment.

This becomes rather neat hand and glove, boundary to boundary nestling, wherein the semiotic closures of one system produce expressions which in their regularity and coherence serve to stabilize and inform the semiotic closures of another system. The two systems co-depend in this way, or one might say assemble, the differences in the one producing linked differences in the other, despite their own organizational closure. There is much that can be made profound in this kind of nesting, the kind of which which reflects what we see in the biological world, the remarkable way that organisms co-operate in parts, and it is for this reason that the biological body has been effectively used as a metaphor for, and an example of, coherence in both the history of Philosophy and Theology. The powers of communication amid apparent closure, and despite constant change, is a powerful testament. [If we were to make a premature theoretical leap] we could say that the closed organizations with which we combine are “black boxes” of the Latourian or Graham Harman sort, but boxes which are not so much “black” as transparent to the world, and not so much boxes, but spheres. That is, the regularities of expression of other semiotic closures by which we more powerfully act in the world, are the very same regularities that allow us to inhabit, and live through, in a kind of mutual organism of expression, making the world appear clear to us, mutually so.

Conjoined Semiosis

But I would like to go in another direction, a direction in particular counter to the hand and glove, boundary to boundary matching up. The necessity of “conjoined semiosis”. If we return to the base picture of the semiotically closed boundary, we must see that each of the differences which make up this boundary function as specific semiotic units. The ability of the closure to cognitively read the world depends upon the internal coherence of its closed relations.

The horizon of this “thing” is determined by the coherence of its differences, that is, the role of the differences help constitute its being. If any one portion of these constitutive elements cease to perform coherently, in a simplistic sense the system seeks to repair itself of its error, or dies. This is the meaning of the illustration I provided in my last post.

Now I suggest that it is not only the case that the regularities of structural coupling are enough to describe how boundaries relate to each other. Rather – and we leave here merely the examples of living, autopoietic bodies, moving onto the the greater category of any recursively organized cognitive boundary where in the differences that make up its interior serve to produce its horizon of inside and outside – these component differences that make a difference are already serving their purpose within other cognitive bodies. That is to say, the boundary of inside/outside which interprets the differences that make up the whole is insufficient to explain the coherence of behaviors within it. Events in the world that happen outside of it, necessarily happen across it, intersecting its boundary. Hence my second diagram:

The importance of this distinction of cross- or conjoined  semiosis is this. Parts within a cognitive body do not simply malfunction, or even out of their plenitude escape the regime of coherence established by the organism (top down), all this can be admitted. More, they possess what is experienced as a zombie-like property, and eruptive autonomy that cannot simply be chalked up to error. This autonomy of report can be both pernicious, leading to paranoiac self-purging, the attempt to cut out the semiotic “cancer” that is no longer “you”, or can be experienced ecstatically, with the sense that one is taken up into a power greater than oneself (itself a coin of paranoia).

The Worker Part

How to envision this. Taking up from a point made by Levi at Larval Subjects, it is important to see that the body of a factory (what he calls an Objec-tile), is made up of other bodies, for instance the persons that work the factory. In a certain sense, the allopoietic automobile factory (making things other than itself) is itself autopoietic, in that it has a recursivity of parts which make the parts that compose it (hire workers, make managerial rules, purchase materials, exact quotas, etc.). It seeks a homeostasis, or even a growth. Now, it is not enough to say that the body of the factory contains within it the bodies of persons. One has to also understand that the behaviors of those persons, as semiotic differences, not only inform the internal coherence of the factory, but also participate in the organization of other bodies, such as a Worker’s Union (or working class masculinity). So, when worker output slows during contract negotiations, the coherence of the factory, as far as it organizes itself upon its cognitive boundary: events outside in the world (like product demand, the social standing of the brand name, the price of oil, logical problems with delivery, the election of a new president) vs. inside the factory (like quota expectations, the means of expressing managerial authority, hiring practice profiles, worker hours), the cognitive answer may not reside in either an external cause or an internal one, but perhaps in a Conjoined Semiosis. That is, workers who are expressing the fitness of internal relations in the factory’s self-critique, and reflecting outside events, are also participating as semiotic units (differences that make differences) in the Worker’s Union. The behaviors of the factory workers – their slowing of productivity – is caused by something other than external factors, or internal coherence, but rather by a cross-semiotic relationship to another body. The “sense” of those behaviors is found in the coherence of a body whose semiotic parts intersect the factory. And the factory will have a sense that it is being pulled apart from within, that there is an autonomy of semiotic parts which is no longer coherently informing an inside/outside cognitive horizon, a zombie-like mutiny of parts. The Worker’s Union pervades within, and threatens from without. The same might be said if a woman is hired, and the behaviors of the male workers begins to exhibit the coherence of working-class masculinity.

So it is not enough just to say that the aggregate possesses a dynamic possibility of forming other bodies or objects. Rather, one has to understand that the aggregate is already cross-sectioned by semiotic polyvalence, its constituent parts are already communicating coherences to bodies other than itself. These are not objects rising up out of the aggregate, but rather pre-existing semiotic investments which interweave any coherent body or object. Even, or one might want to say especially, in instances where the factory is working quite well wherein the factory is transparent to its own internal coherence, only making minor corrections here and there (lobbying for new city council labor statutes, firing the unproductive worker), these cross-semiotic coherences are already operating. They simply are not making differences that make a direct – or threshold-passing – difference on the factory. This operation, the meshing of semiotic coherences across boundaries actually works to stabilize and produce resiliency within the cognitive horizon of the factory. The semiotic roles of objects within the factory are entrenched, become tied down across any number of vectors which inhabit it, all helping produce the transparency of operations. In this sense, the cross-boundary Conjoined Semiosis operates as a kind of field, yet a field always capable of cognitively tearing in any one direction (or multiple directions), upon perturbation, as itself is over-woven at its boundaries (the difference between field and body may be arbitrary to description, a question of focus, fields themselves constituting bodies). The question is one of report and horizon. The differences which make up a boundary are themselves already differences among other external differences, which make up other boundaries. It is the tugging from within towards events which seem external which often signals this trans-Subjectivity condition being simulated. It is not just that any person (or thing) possesses sub-elements within it that cannot be forced into line, that won’t restrict themselves to the overarching coherence, as if in some primordial anarchy of parts, a multitude ever in surpass of its expression. More, it is that “parts” are already parts of something else, not in hierarchical layers, from simple to complex wherein the complex just has to master and dominate the simple, but that the simple (the simple difference that makes a difference) is conjoined to other complexities which do not reflect the cognitive horizon of inside and outside itself. And it is only by being able to read these conjoined semiotic relations (which are so plenary and largely invisible as not to be read in great detail in advance), that a body can make sense of itself.

To put it one way, when one is experiencing an eruptive, counter insurgence of autonomous effects in an otherwise coherent experience (be they psychoanalytic drives, population protests, a resistance to project), it is best to look not only within, but also across to the points of intersection, the way in which elements which formerly read as coherent, producing transparency of the world, are involved in other coherences, other transparencies, other horizons, in which you already have a concrete, body-sharing investment. One is Siamese to other parts of the world such that your boundaries do not match up. Perhaps this works for the social world, as long as we are talking about persons (subjectivities) or factories, classes of human beings, all the way down to the biotic. But what of the inanimate. Are these bodies, objects, shot through with Conjoined semiosis?

Nail in the Coffin of Objects

Let us take up an intermediary inanimate, a hammer. It has no obvious cognition of its own, and has a socially constructed role in expectant future actions. Yet we can grant to the hammer the abstract informational distinction that it, like a living cell, is composed of differences that make a difference. If wood did not have the resilient (but still vibrational) quality that it does, it would not be what it is, a hammer. At least it would not be that hammer. So there is a certain internal coherence to its differences that make a difference. These differences are in my view semiotic to the object, that is, they indicate to each other parts of an organization which allow the object to be so constituted (whether we take it’s objecthood as a hammer to be a product of the mind or not, we grant that there is just such an organization of real differences, and that these differences indicate to each other). Now, the question is, do these differences also compose differences cojoined semiotically to other bodies. We have to say, yes. To list a few, the metal head participates in the organizational body of the Earth’s magnetic field, its differences informing the coherence of that body. The wood handle participates in the combustibility of objects in the workshed such that for instance if a fire was started there would be differences that make a difference that could impinge upon whether a fire would go out, or further inflame. The split in its handle may be said to participate in the informing body of broken things in the shed, such that the shed itself becomes a symbol of lost craftsmanship to a poet who writes a prodigious poem on the matter, eventually to land the hammer in a museum.

None of these communitarian differences which cross-hatch the hammer to the rest of the world have a constitutive effect on the hammer itself, that is, it is not tidally tugged in a direction which confuses it, for it lacks an overt self-regularity, in some auto-critique of its own semiology. Though I am not sure how categorical one can get about this, for the composite of differences does cohere, and in a sense read itself. The disintegration of its handle in a shed-fire is a kind of tugging away from its horizon. But there is no agent to the hammer, other than its persistence. (To these differences we need only add the differences that make up the hammer that allow it to participate in the assemblages which make of it a tool and allow it to persist:  its rigidity, its center of gravity, the vibrational quality of its wood, its mass; all of these and an infinite variety of others allow it to participate in the mutuality of its use such that a human being can compose with it a new body, human body-hammer-nail perhaps, a body which contains its own recursive structure of communicated differences.) In this way, insofar as differences that make differences can be seen as semiotic, that is, as informing wholes, it is requisite not only that such horizoned wholes match up with the boundaries of other horizoned wholes, in a kind of dovetailing workmanship, but also, the informing differences of any object are necessarily conjoined semiotically to wholes that intersect it. In this way, the most ancient of Western Philosophical problems, the relation of the One to the Many, on the grandest of scales, mislead our eyes to an essential binary logic, one that obscures how the Many already historically, and determinatively are invested across any particular One, cross-linking it with another One, whose coherence can tidally rule it, experienced as both outside and inside its horizon. It is not a question merely of matching up two externalized “Ones”. Thus, the Self, and the Other serves as an oversimplification, as does the Self and the World, for it is not only a matter of creating a space where the Self and the Other can fruitfully live as seemingly opposed externalities to each other, but more a question of identifying the hidden, invisible semiotic cross-threads in the fabric of each, the way that trans-boundary bodies tidally pull on the objecthood of each, not into a subsuming whole (although this too can be possible), but into a cognitive direction. If there is anything I would want to emphasize it is the semiotic, and thus material, bodily, Siamese codependence that any coherences is built out of, the way that one’s own constituent parts necessarily act creating differences which inform not only of outside or inside, but of a bit of each. It is that the very groundwork of our own coherence, the substance of which it is composed, and the reserve upon which we draw, is disturbingly conjoined [with no inherent value judgment as to whether this is for the better or the worse]. The signals that we (and others, objects) receive within are necessarily cross-tongued, polyvalent, and tidally pulled. And our most rich transparencies are the products of Siamese, often inseparable boundaries.

This is the sense in which Daniel Schreber’s paranoic “Nerve-Language,” written about his sadly and beautifully powerful Memoirs of My Mental Illness, describes insightfully the subcutaneous semiotic ordering that occurs at a distance. A bit of it:

Apart from normal human language there is also a kind of nerve-language of which, as a rule, the healthy human being is not aware. In my opinion this is best understood when one thinks of the processes by which a person tries to imprint certain words in his memory in a definite order, for instance a child learning a poem by heart which is going to recite at school, or a priest a sermon he is going to deliver in Church. The words are repeated silently [as if in a silent prayer to which the congregation is called from the pulpit], that is to say a human being causes his nerves to vibrate in the way which corresponds to the use of the words concerned, but the real organs of speech (lips, tongue, teeth, etc.) are either not set in motion at all or only coincidentally. Naturally under normal (in consonance with the Order of the World) conditions, use of this nerve-language depends only on the will of the person whose nerves are concerned; no human being as such can force another to use this nerve-language. In my case, however, since my nervous illness took the above mentioned critical turn, my nerves have been set in motion from without incessantly and without any respite.

Apart from the power structure of control which reads as a fantasy product of the invasion of coherence, it is precisely this conjoined semiotic quality and determination which inhabits each body, maintaining and testing its coherence. This conjoined semiosis is something long missed when the primary dyads of subject/object, or object/object, ever attempted to be resolved in growing hierarchies of control and abstraction, predominate philosophical questions. Indeed there is room for subsuming abstractions, negotiations of agreement, the calling together of more coherent wholes, but these projects of affective communication, joining the edges of boundaries to the edges of other boundaries, are advised to be made with as close a view as possible to the fabric of conjoined cross-weave which both supports and tears across every object-body. It is not enough to attribute these capacities merely to the dynamics of aggregates, or even of assemblages.  It is in the nature of the materially coherent to be materially conjoined at a valence of coherence which pulls at the differences that make differences.

A touch more on “L’aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci”

Now that I have a bit more time. (A touch more on…)

It is the succinct way that it expresses the consequences of finitude, the internal thrashing within the limits, in a brevity that itself makes almost a moral judgment upon the kinds of finitudes are best, those brief but open condensations. The line itself is but a patch, a spot, a space, but it opens up and under.

Here is the Princeton Dante Page, if you want to see its context.

There is of course the translational heritage that reads “aiuola” as the “threshing floor”, a small round floor where the wheat and the chaff are separated (a meaning which Davidson makes elegant use of in an argument about language). Despite the arguments cited in the last post, it is possible that Dante has the threshing floor in mind as he looks down upon the disc of the earth, and it contributes to the intensity of the image.

(How the dynamics of a hydraulic image is sometimes linked to the topographical…but perhaps misleadingly so.)

What really what holds the power of the line is the sense that the aiuola, the very smallness of the topos, makes us fierce. There is a germanial intensity within the finite. This does not lead to platitudes about the Infinite, but rather to an attention to connectivity, the way that bounds that hold us, work to constitute us, also can beleaguer through excessive recursivity and self-reference.

The small space that makes us all so fierce, which threshes us out, which gives us amplitude. It is interesting that such a thought can be put in to so few words…

Keller’s “Water” and Anarchic Hand Syndrome

The Mystery of Language

Above is the pump at which Helen Keller learned her first word, “water” (signed). The account of which is here:

Helen had until now not yet fully understood the meaning of words. When Anne led her to the water pump on 5 April 1887, all that was about to change.

As Anne pumped the water over Helen’s hand , Anne spelled out the word water in the girl’s free hand. Something about this explained the meaning of words within Helen, and Anne could immediately see in her face that she finally understood.

Helen later recounted the incident:

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.”

 Anarchic Hand Syndrome

There has been some debate over at Methods of Projection which followed after my recent response which I posted here as: What the Right Hand Giveth… . Much of the discussion was been over whether Anarchic Hand Syndrome constitutes a counterfactual example for the absurdity Wittgenstein proposed when imagining whether my right hand can give my left hand money.

This is the Wittgenstein illustration:

Why can’t my right hand give my left hand money? — My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt — But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift. When the left had has taken the money from the right, etc., we shall ask: “Well, and what of it? ” And the same could be asked if a person had given himself a private defintion of a word: I mean, if he has said the word to himself and at the same time has directed himself to a sensation

PI section 268

And this is an article detailing some of the aspects of the syndrome, in which a woman is described as combating the rude behavior of her own hand: “The Anarchic Hand” by Sergio Della Sala. The conversation has gone back and forth, and I believe that at minimum we have established conditions under which it is not inconsequential to say that one’s own hand is acting with intentions of its own, and thus that Wittgenstein appeal to absurdity is at least in some sense constrained.

But really, aside from being able to detect the possibility of coherence where Wittgenstein can only see absurdity – that is, the ability to see an answer to “Well, and what of it?” – the closer question is, even if there are circumstances which MAY arise which indeed would support the meaningfulness of my right hand giving my left hand a gift of money, does this rarity have anything to do with Wittgenstein’s larger point, that the apparent absurdity of the former supports the apparent absurdity, or really, inconsequentialness of the latter (a person who gives himself a private definition of a word, and directs himself to a sensation). It amounts to nothing. It is mere gears turning emptily.

The first that is to be done in regards to the larger point is that if indeed there is a logical connection between Wittgenstein’s illustration and his private language argument, then it would seem that even his iron-clad PL argument is condition-dependent. There may indeed arise (or even may have already arisen) occasions where in it could make sense to say that one has given oneself a private definition of a word (directed to a sensation). (If there is no logical connection between the illustration and the argument, then perhaps we can say that his illustration was poorly chosen, or non-substantive, something with rhetorical flair.)

But let us think about it. What would make substantive the attribution of agency to one’s own body part, as in the case of AHS, is a certain kind of differential. The explanatory behavior of one’s current experiences do not map up with those required for a body part. What I am experiencing and doing is not what that hand, MY hand, is doing. Is there such a differential possible with the self-definition of words, in particular how they might refer to sensations? One can imagine that there might be. There can be a valence to conscious description (and one need not be a Malebranchean for it to be so).

If I have a sensation at time T1, and thus name it at T2, is this an entirely circular, empty operation? Are there not two maps, one experienced (the ground) and one reflective (mapping) which are placed in reference to each other? If at time T3 I have a sensation which I deem to be the same as T1, and recall the name of T2, summoning it again at T4, why is this an empty relation (like checking multiple copies of the same edition of a newpaper Wittgenstein wants to say)? Surely it is recursive, but its very recursivity helps define its coherence. That is, my reflective coordination of repetitions of experiences with a causal understanding of the world, helps me, privately, as a organism, to orient myself in the world. One can say that one is “naming” sensations (if one wants to fantasize about languages in a thought experiment), or one can simply say that one is recognizing them. The point would be that there is a fundamental coherence established through the recognition of past states and understanding them to be caused by events in the world. Such internal checking of experienced regularities (patterns) against regularities in the world (patterns) which may cause them, makes up a great deal of our mental life. Of course, whether these differential mental events amount to language, private or otherwise, all depends on how you want to define language (and many would like to restrict the definition of language a great deal so as to make “mental content” something that one can philosophize about).

The “Returning” Thought

Did Helen Keller have a “word” for water before she learned her first word, the word “water”? It seems she experienced that she had the “thought”, as she says that when she learned the word, as water was rushing over her one hand and her teacher signing into her other hand, she had the experience of a RETURNING thought, something she had forgotten:

“Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me”

Was it returning from where it could not have been? What it a trick of her mind, prepositing the illusion of a past presence. Or did Helen Keller not know that thought is impossible for those without language, according to some rather rigorous philosphers? What is the status of Helen Keller’s returning thought?

Was this differential between the past thought and the new thought, coalesed around the living experience of water on her hand, and grafted onto a word, a differential any way related to the differential a woman with anarchic hand syndrome experiences when her hand acts without her intention, only then subsumed in a larger, wider circle, in which her her body is uniquely divided? Is private a fluxuating state or ascrption, something that describes a relative recursivity that is also open to the world, something akin to the autopoietic distinction between organizational closure and operational openness? Can consciousness itself assume an organizational  closure of reflection (mapping) upon events, mental events, to which it is open? Would the woman who experiences anarchic hand syndrome be organizationally and kinesthetically closed as to her experiences of her arm, but in terms of her conscious judments of intentions have a map (judgments) of her body’s actions which does not exactly overlay it? For some intents and purposes, that is my arm and hand. For others it certainly is not. A vector divides the organizational loop.

I suspect that something of this rift also runs through Wittgenstein’s prohibition of a private language (though it is an argument that I take as significant for what it says about justification and public discourse through criteria sharing). Much as his illustration of the privacy of hand shows itself to be quite a bit more context dependent, and historically contingent, than the impression of a logical absurdity he tried to suggest, so too, privacy and self-mapping involve differentials of self and selves which are not simply reducible to grammar.


The “Corporeal Equation” of 1:3: What Makes A Body for Spinoza?

If a Body Catch a Body Comin’ Through the Rye

I have always been fascinated by Spinoza’s defintion of a body as found in the Second Part of the Ethics. Not because it reflected some proto-physics, but because it allowed a radical revisioning of what defined boundaries between persons, and between persons and things. What seems implicit in such a definition is that something of a cybernetic recusivity surrounds and defines any isolated “part” of the Universe, yet, a recursivity that only comes clear by taking a perspective. One understands that really for Spinoza the entire Universe composes a single such body.

Here is Spinoza’s famous Ethics  defintion, and an even more elementary and bold one from his much earlier Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being (KV)

Ethics: 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)

KV: Every particular corporeal thing [lichaamelijk ding] is nothing other than a certain ratio [zeekere proportie] of motion and rest.

Yet, such a vision for Spinoza is more than an instructive imaginary relation, it indeed is a proto-physics, a concrete real which must be accepted as such. There is a certain sense in which Spinoza’s conception of a body must be reconciled with the “facts” of contempory physics if we are to geta stronger impression of the truth of his metaphysics and psychology. As Spinoza wrote to Blyenbergh, “Ethics, … as everyone knows, ought to be based on metaphysics and physics” (Ep 38). At a general level, in Spinoza’s own terms, if his physics is radically wrong this may pose serious doubts as to his Ethics (an entirely rationalist reading of his philosophy notwithstanding). And concordantly, one might assume, new information in physics could have a rippling effect across his philosophy and Ethics.

It is not my aim here to explore these wider meta-questions, but rather to for a moment pause upon a change in my own thinking. I had always taken Spinoza’s above defintions just as I explained, fantastic frameworks for revisioning the world as it common-sensically and historically has come down to us, intellectual opportunities for instance to see the connections between bodies in a Batesonian or an Autopoietic sense. This still remains. But I came to realize that when Spinoza is thinking about a “certain ratio” (as Shirley translates) or a “fixed manner” (Curley), he is thinking of something quite quantifiable, something numeric. I had of course loosely thought that this was the case, but until recently I had never strictly thought about it.

Spinoza’s Objection

There is an interesting, rather provocative point in Spinoza’s letters to Oldenburg, as he is reporting back to this Secretary of the Royal Society on the progress of his brilliant neighbor Christiaan Huygens. It seems apparent from what Spinoza reports that he has had intermittent, but somewhat substantive discussions on not only optics and lens-grinding, but also on physics. Huygens, by what history tells, had corrected Descartes’ rules of motion, and done so through experiment. Huygens was quite interested in the rules of motion for he had invented the pendulum clock way back in 1656 (the same year he had discovered the rings and a moon of Saturn), and for a decade was focused on improving it. Spinoza reports back to Oldenburg Huygens’ disagreement with Descartes, but tantalizingly also speaks of his own disagreement, in particular, with the sixth rule of motion:

Spinoza: “It is quite a long time since he [Huygens] began to boast that his calculations had shown that the rules of motion and the laws of nature are very different from those given by Descartes, and that those of Descartes are almost all wrong…I know that about a year ago he told me that all his discoveries made by calculation regarding motion he had since found verified by experiment in England. This I can hardly believe, and I think that regarding the sixth rule of Motion in Descartes, both he and Descartes are quite in error.” (Letter 30A)

Oldenburg: “When you speak of Huygens’ Treatise on Motion, you imply that Descartes’ Rules of motion are nearly all wrong. I do not have to hand the little book which you published some time ago on ‘Descartes’ Principia demonstrated in geometrical fashion’. I cannot remember whether you there point out that error, or whether you followed Descartes closely to gratify others.” (Letter 31)

Spinoza: “As to what you say about my hinting that the Cartesian Rules of motion are nearly all wrong, if I remember correctly I said that Mr. Huygens thinks so, and I did not assert that any of the Rules were wrong accept the sixth, regarding which I said I thought that Mr. Huygens too was in error.” (Letter 32)

Many commentators have not been able to make much headway when interpreting Spinoza’s objection to Descartes sixth rule of motion, for at the very least, it seems woven to his other rules, and the objection should have spread far wider than this, as in the case with Huygens. Alan Gabbey (The Cambridge Companion ) for instance simply finds it nonsensical. And Lachterman in “The Physics of Spinoza’s Ethics”, really almost avoids the issue altogether. (Wim Klever has taken the question directly on in “Spinoza and Huyges: A Diversified Relationship Between Two Physicists”, tying it to a Cartesian difficulty in explaining cohension, while Rivaud finds what seems to be an untenable conceptual connection between speed and essence in his “La physique de Spinoza”.)

I certainly am not one here to solve the question, but it did get me thinking about how Spinoza conceived of a body, and what a “certain ratio” meant to him.

Descartes’ Sixth Rule of Motion and Spinoza’s Defintion of a Body in the Short Treatise

Below is the sixth rule of motion to which Spinoza found objection. It essentially describes what would ideally happen if two bodies of the same size, one in motion and one at rest, struck. Descartes suggests that if the moving body had four (4) degrees of speed before impact, after impact the ratio would be 1:3, with the body at rest taking on one (1) degree of speed, the bodies rebounding:

Descartes:51. Sixth rule.
Sixthly, if body C at rest were most accurately equal to body B moved toward it, it would be partly impelled by B and would partly repel it in the contrary direction. That is, if B were to approach C with four degrees of speed, it would communicate to C one degree and with the three remaining would be reflected in the opposite direction.

Huygens reportedly showed through experiments at the Royal Society that instead all the degrees of speed would be imparted to the body at rest, and the intially moving body would then be stopped, and it was to this, as well as to Descartes’ rule that Spinoza expressed an unspecified objection. But this is not the ultimate point here for me. I was rather struck by an early note on Spinoza’s defintion of a body found in the Short Treatise , which proposes the same ratio of 1:3 that Descartes used to illustrate his sixth rule, here below stated as the ratio of motion to rest, and not as “degrees of speed”:

Spinoza: Short Treatise, notes to the Preface to Part II:

12. As soon, then, as a body has and retains this proportion [a proportion of rest and motion which our body has], say e.g., of 1 to 3, then that soul and that body will be like ours now are, being indeed constantly subject to change, but none so great that it will exceed the limits of 1 to 3; though as much as it changes, so much does the soul always change….

…14. But when other bodies act so violently upon ours that the proportion of motion [to rest] cannot remain 1 to 3, that means death, and the annihilation of the Soul, since this is only an Idea, Knowledge, etc., of this body having this proportion of motion and rest.

What is striking to me is that such an elementary numerical value for the definition of a body would occur to Spinoza in this context. Alan Gabbey wants us to point out that this ratio of 1:3 is found in editorial notes, and my not even be of Spinoza’s hand, though I am unsure if Spinoza would have allowed such a strong example to slip through if it was alien to his thinking. Provocative is that the context for this proposed illustration of a “corporeal equation” (as Matheron has named it), of 1 to 3, is that it is the human body that is being discussed and not abstract solids such as those Descartes discusses in his physics. Even if Spinoza does not imagine that the human body might actually retain such an elementary 1:3 ratio of motion to rest, somewhere in his conception of the human body there is an affinity to such an simple math. One for instance would not be describing a super computer whose mark would be its complexity, and turn to such a number. It would appear that at least figuratively Spinoza at the time of the Short Treatise  thought of the human body as elementarily composed such that its conatus expressed a homeostasis that was comprehesible and simple. The numerical value of 1 to 3 held perhaps a rhetorical attraction.

By the time of Spinoza’s geometrical treatment of Descartes’ philosophy, the proposed illustrative values that Descartes included in his rules for motion are no longer there. Spinoza generalizes them apart from any particular equation. One could see in this perhaps already a distancing from some of Descartes’ assertions, and Oldenburg tells Spinoza that he looked over Spinoza’s exposition of Descartes to see signs of his disagreement, finding none.

What the sixth rule Meant for Spinoza

For my part, if we take Descartes’ sixth rule at face value, and imagine the interaction between two bodies of the same size, one at rest, one in motion, we get a glimpse into the kind of change Spinoza thinks makes a body. For once the supposed transfer of a degree of speed occurs, the two bodies are now in communication. As long as they are not interacted with by other bodies their ratio will remain 1:3, and they would be considered an “individual”. And if one of those bodies interacted with another body so as to change its speed, immediately one realizes that if the idea of a single body is to be preserved the definition of parts needs to be expanded so that the ratio is to be expanded across a host of interactions. One sees how the definition of a body as a body is entirely contingent upon how you calculate.

Wim Klever finds in Spinoza’s 1665 objection to Descartes’ sixth rule (made almost 4 years after the writing of the Short Treatise ) a testament to Spinoza’s thorough-going commitment to a physics of immanence. This could be. But one could also imagine the case that Spinoza had been caught up in a conversation with Huygens at the Hofwijck estate and was entirely caught off guard by Huygens’ sweeping dismissal of Cartesian physics, which up to that point had been a touchstone for most scientific thinking in Europe. Spinoza’s objection to the sixth rule may have only been a reaction, one that prudently and instinctively placed himself between Descartes and Huygens, on a single point, a point he could not elaborate on.

But what was it about Huygens’ correction to Descartes which may have also given Spinoza pause, especially if Descartes’ rule for the transfer of motion between two equal bodies, one moving, one at rest helped frame Spinoza’s general notion of what makes a body? Would it not be that there was a complete tranfer of motion from one to the other, that one stopped and the other started? Because Spinoza envisioned bodies moving together in community, and integrated communication of impinging interactions that could be analyzed either in terms of their recursive cohensions (for instance how the human body can be studied solely in terms of its own internal events, as one might say, immanent to their essence), or in terms of extrinsic interactions which “through the pressure of other bodies” cause these internal events, the intuitional notion that a body in motion would deliver all of its motion to another body at rest, and not be rebounded simply defied the over all picture of what Spinoza imagined was happening.

I suggest that somewhere in the genealogy of Spinoza’s thought about what defines a body he found Descartes sixth rule quite suggestive. The idea that two bodies which do not seem to be in communication, one moving, one unmoving, (an essential perceptual differential which allows us to distinguish one thing from another in the world), suddenly can appear in communication from the change they bring about in each other in collision, now departing at a ratio of speeds, helped Spinoza psychologically and causally define the concrete yet contingent composition of an individual. The corporeal equation of 1 to 3 standing in for the possibility of mathematical determination which could conceptually unite any two parts in a single body, given the right analysis.

But when Spinoza encountered Huygens’ thorough dispatch of Cartesian mechanics we can suspect that Spinoza came in contact with his own theoretical disatisfactions with Descartes. As we know, Spinoza was part of a small cadre of mathematicians and thinkers which found dissatisfaction with Descartes idealized optics, something that no doubt formed part of his discussions with fellow-lense grinding and instrument maker Christiaan Huygens. And too, Spinoza likely felt that though Descartes’ mechanics provided an excellent causal framework for rational explanations of the world, his determinations lacked experimental ground. It would seem to me that Spinoza’s objection to the sixth rule of motion poses something of a revelation into the indeterminancy of Spinoza’s physics. The sixth rule may have played a constructive role in his imagination of what a body must be, but in particular in view of Huygens’ confirmed rejection of the rule, it became simply insufficient. Spinoza’s physical conception of a body stands poised between a Cartesian rational framework of causal interaction and mechanism, which proves lacking in specifics, and the coming Newtonian mechanics of force. However, in such a fissure, one does have to place Spinoza’s notion of immanence.

Autopoiesis Comes?

Signficantly, and something which should not be missed, is that the definition from axiom 2 of proposition 13 of Part 2 above is not the only conclusive one that Spinoza provides in the Ethics. Lemma 4 under axiom 3 actually provides a view of the body which does not require that the parts themselves remain in a fixed ratio to each other. Rather, it is only the ratio itself that must be preserved:

If from a body, or an individual thing composed of a number of bodies, certain bodies are separated, and at the same time a like number of other bodies of the same nature take their place, the individual thing will retain its nature as before, without any change in its form [forma].

This allows us to see that by the time of his writing of the Ethics, Spinoza’s notion of ratio, the aim of his mechanics, is far from what Newton would develop. The causal histories traceable through interactions between bodies certainly were signficantly important for Spinoza, but it was the preservation of a mode of interaction which really concerned Spinoza’s focus. That all the bodies that compose and individual could conceivably be replaced, without that individual being considered as changed (as for instance we know of nearly every cell of the human body), is something that Newtonian physics would not enumerate. It is within this conception of preservation that I think Spinoza’s mechanical conceptions have to be framed, in the entirety of an effect between bodies, the cohesiveness of the modal expression.

One need only turn to something like Autopoietic theory (both those of life by Maturana and Varela, and suggestively of social forms by Luhmann) to see a lineage given from Spinoza’s Lemma 4 description:

The defintion of a living thing understood to be a self-producing machine:  “An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.” (Maturana, Varela, 1980, p. 78)

On the difference between “organization” and “structure”:  “…[I]n a toilet the organization of the system of water-level regulation consists in the relations between an apparatus capable of detecting the water level and another apparatus capable of stopping the inflow of water. The toilet unit embodies a mixed system of plastic and metal comprising a float and a bypass valve. This specific structure, however, could be modified by replacing the plastic with wood, without changing the fact that there would still be a toilet organization.”
(Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 47)

Where Lies Spinoza’s Physics?

Spinoza’s immanent connection between physics and metaphysics in a turn toward a decisive ethics, is one in which any outright mechanics must be understood beyond simply A causes B, and the appropriately precise mathematical calculation of what results. If Spinoza’s physics (and even its relationship to Descartes who preceded him, and Newton who followed him) is to be understood, it is this recursive relationship between parts that has to be grasped, the way in which parts in communication can be analyzed in two ways, along a differential of events internal to a horizon, and events external to that horizon, interior and exterior, even with a view to the conceived totality. It seems that it is this replaceable nature of body-parts in composite that qualifies Spinoza’s physics as interpretively distinct, and what allows it to place within the domain of cause not only questions of material interaction, but also psychology and belief, and ultimately social values of good and bad. 

What it seems that Spinoza was most concerned with in his assessment of a physics is the kinds of concrete reactions which ground our selective ability to usefully distinguish one thing from another, a usefulness that ever trades on the community of rational explanations with share with others. The result of this physics is an ultimate ground upon which we can and do build our own mutual body of social wholes, our own physics of decisions and distinctions. Physics both ground and distinguish us for Spinoza, always suggesting an anatomy of joined, contiguous parts; it is an anatomy that guides the effortless butcher’s knife that ideally, knowingly, seldom would need sharpening.

Spinoza’s Circle and the Interior

Some Ruminations on Spinoza’s “Simplest” Thought

A single figure keeps returning to me as I contemplate Spinoza’s optical concepts and metaphysics, in view of the prevailing Cartesian science of the age, that elementary figure that Spinoza provides to help explain how he conceives of the reality of the modes, even the modes of ideas for non-existent things, in relationship to the ultimate reality of Substance, God or Nature. As Spinoza explains, the figure stands for something that has not parallel, not example, because it is a fundamental relationship which is unique and totalizing.

Ethics part 2, prop 8 schol. — The nature of a circle is such that if any number of straight lines intersect within it, the rectangles formed by their segments will be equal to one another; thus, infinite equal rectangles are contained in a circle. Yet none of these rectangles can be said to exist, except in so far as the circle exists; nor can the idea of any of these rectangles be said to exist, except in so far as they are comprehended in the idea of the circle. Let us grant that, from this infinite number of rectangles, two only exist. The ideas of these two not only exist, in so far as they are contained in the idea of the circle, but also as they involve the existence of those rectangles; wherefore they are distinguished from the remaining ideas of the remaining rectangles. (Elwes trans)

This has always been a convenient image for the explanation how the modes dependently are an expression of the totality which is all of what there is. One practically sees how the modes, while causally interacting with each other to produce current states of being, immanently rely upon a larger comprehesivity. And if one wants to even leave off from the narrowness of Spinoza’s explicit thought, the chords D and E could be read as vectors which produce an intersecting point (unlabeled), the modal expression of two lines of force, a point of focus, this seems at least arguable when considering much of the rest of Spinoza’s view.

But two other realizations come to me as well. The first is that the rectilinearitythat Spinoza presents within the borders of the circle very well may for Spinoza have represented the linear analyses of motion provided by Descartes. Part of the challenge presented to Spinoza, as he tried to heal a perceived breech between Body and Soul, Thought and Extension, was how to bridge mathematical descriptions with affective realities. In a certain sense the rectilinearity with the circle of Substance for Spinoza represents the ideational crispness of mathematical description understood as a partial, yet sufficient expression of substance. The mathematics is to some degree subsumed. Just as Huygens and others struggled to assume the advantages of the Perspectiva  tradition in optics, yet still fully explain the properties of light’s propagation (which Huygens would show to be that of a wave or a pulse), Spinoza too sought to preserve the mechanized sureties of Descartes mathematizations, yet with a view that could account for the affective propagations living bodies (as early as Kepler’s Paralipomena light is described as an “affectus”).

Secondly though is the realization that the circle does not only represent Substance as a whole, but also any conatus expression of Body (defined by Spinoza as a preservation of a ratio of motion and rest over time). The circle above can also be read as the recursive coherence of a body, and the internal causal relationships of which it is composed, immanent to its essence. 

In other words, a body, in the ordinary as well as in the Cartesian sense, preserves its physical integrity in just the same way the whole universe preserves it: they differ only with regard to the degree of probability that each can ‘survive’ externally caused modifications. Only the unique individual of level-ω can be modified in infinite ways without giving up its identity.

The Physics of Spinoza’s Ethics, David Lachterman

What level-ω is in Lachterman’s nicely conceived reduction is the last border of an entire body. Level-2 is the most elementary kind of body for Spinoza, a hypothetical composition of what one supposes is at least two of the most simple bodies “corpora simplicissima”. The human body, and all such bodies we regularly recognize as such are what Lachterman regards as level-k bodies (2 < k < ω). Following these descriptions, the circle above from the Ethics could be read not only as the schema of the level-ω Body, but also of any typical level-k Body. It is only the degree of power, freedom and being that preserves such a circle (ratio) that distinguishes it from the ultimate whole. Spinoza world can be seen as one of circles within such circles. The modal causal interactions are immanent expressions not only the totality of Substance or Nature, but also are expressions of the ratio of motion and rest of which a said body (level-k) is composed. The existential modality of ideas and extensions which is interior to the circle (level-k) can be read as contingent to the essence of that Body taken as a whole, as it is determined to exist.

While it is fair and best to understand the diagram exactly in the way that Spinoza meant it, I think it is important to realize that in a figure such as this, representing something for which Spinoza says there is no parallel, the image is likely overdetermined by several other Spinoza concerns and conceptions. The circle and its interior floats through Spinoza’s thinking process (additionally). The diagram can be read across at least these two layers: the affective subsumption of Cartesian mathematicization of Nature in terms of propogating, interacting bodies; and, the immanence of constituent modes of bodies under gradations of Being and power. And I would end that the suggestive recursivity of this body (level-k) opens itself perhaps to Autopoietic descriptions, at least for those bodies considered to be alive, and Autopoiesis itself to Spinozist re-description.

Davidson’s Triangulation and the Swarm

Quorum Sensing

wiki; microbiology bites

These bacteria certainly are not “triangulating” in any conscious sense (that is, as Davidson sees it: not conceptually reading states of the world through an assumed causal relationship of the beliefs of others to the same world); but they are affectively reponding to a shared environment, and their communally shared excited states probably cause them to react to that environment in specific, categorical ways, i.e. the responses of others to the environment are informing a bacteria about that environment. At least that is what it seems to be, however mechanically we want to describe the molecular causes and effects that produce the phenomena. What is interesting to me is that the assumed cognitive isolation of a single bacteria as an “individual”, that conceptual, really philosophical notion that a simple bodied thing forms an essential cognitive binary of a “world” and an “individual” is what probably long delayed the discovery of the phenomena of “quorum sensing”. The most elemental cognitions that occur in a bacteria (however slight) simply could not part of a communal organization of perceptions, and certainly could not be triangulating in any sense of the word. Now there certainly are attempts to still explain the phenomena just in this way, along the binary of self/world, or bacteria/environment, usually along the lines of collapsing any consciousness into its explanatory mechanism, but it is interesting that the behaviour of these quorum’d bacteria expresses dynamics to those that higher animals do, such as ants and bees; and these social animals in many ways are of a kind that we as humans identify with them meaningfully, seeing in them something essential to our sociability. The comparisons to bees and ants are quite numerous, but it sufficies to give a most ancient example, as Homer echously tells us of the movements of the Hellenic soldiers peacably gathering themselves to leave the shore of Troy, like:

“bees that sally from some hollow cave and flit in countless throng among the spring flowers, bunched in knots and clusters…” – Iliad, Book ii

Marc Nguis Illustration from a thousand plateaus

Marc Ngui's Illustration from a thousand plateaus

Putting aside the sheer epistemic issue of the power of this brief description thousands of years old (how does it “work”), when conceiving the nature of bodied and cognitive social organization across species, how categorically far is, let us say, a mob panic from a quorum sensing bacteria? And relatedly, as a scientific question, how much of social sharing, across bodies, in humans, is lost by the assumptions of an unbreakable and overriding individualism? This is what I find interesting here, the notion that our very traditioned conceptions of identity and binary relations occlude us to very real alternate factors of organization. And, flipping the question back onto signficance of philosophy, how deep down into the root of our affects does Davidson’s conceptual triangulation go? It would seem to me that Spinoza’s principle of shared affects, the “affectuum imitatio” (E3p27s), provides the reasonable ground upon which to measure these observations, (those of science and philosophy alike), a knotting place where biological mutual expression causally foregrounds our rational capacities for coherent reasoning and action.

The point of course is not to say in one grand thought that we are just like bees, or ants or any other social animal for that matter, in a general sense of connectedness, though admittedly such a thought works to cohere many of the individual arguments along this line (arguments for which a more Spinozist, or Autopoietic account may give strong analytical framework). No, the point is to realize within the necessary conditions for shared affect as a principle of epistemological structures that by tracing the transmission of affect we might identify the paricular conditions that mould our capacity to think, feel and organize ourselves meaningfully. If in some sense we are like bacteria, or ants or wildebeest, the specfic historical and mechanistic vectors of our sharing (as expressed in our knowing), should be made delineatable, against the grain from any preconceived notions essential self/world orientations

Spinoza’s Idea as Information


E2p13 The correspondent of the information contituting the human Mind is the Body, or a certain mode of Extension which actually exists, and nothing else.

A brief thought, which I constantly have imagined that needs to be said, but I have yet to say it fully to myself, and not to others. Is there not something in Spinoza’s notion of Idea (Adequate or Inadequate) which is readily implied by the concept “Information”? In many of the standard views of information we can more clearly see the implication of the thought that all things come in expressions of Extension and Information (Idea). Information would simply be the relations between material expressions. There are perhaps many potential pitfalls in translating Spinoza’s Idea as “information”, the greatest of these is perhaps reducing knowledge to an input/output model (but I sense that it is exactly this model that Spinoza’s theory of knowledge resists). What is most beneficial though, is that phrases like “Inadequate Idea” become “Inadequate information”, quickly making more clear at a glance why falsity is only a privation (of power), that there is no such thing as a completely false idea, (because information, even the most mis-directed, is still doingsomething; it just isn’t doing what you think it is). Talking of Idea as information does much to dispell the thought that Idea is a “representation” as in a picturing, which for Spinoza I don’t think it really is.

I cannot help but feel that there are several avenues to this understanding.

1. Chalmers panprotopsychism lays heavy on this possibility.

2. Bateson’s definition of Information, as “the difference that makes a difference” putting information (Ideas) in a matrix of vectored questions about what difference, how and where?

3. Understanding the non-representational, “direct realism” character of Descartes’ notion of Idea (Behan, Yolton, Nadler, etc.), from this heritage we get even a deeper sense of the non-representational character of Spinoza’s correction to Descartes. “Sign” as signification and representation. Idea as an action.

4. Related to 3, seeing the Scholastic heritage of Spinoza’s thinking, the way that he synthesizes a Scotist notion of the formal distinction, for instance, and a Plotinian concept of degrees of being, understood to be degrees of power. (The two alternate proofs, concepts of contingent existence and power, from Ethics Ip11)

5. An autopoietic idea of recursive organization, from Mantura and Varela’s biology, to possibly Luhmann’s social modeling, both being friendly to an informational conception of organization. (Importantly, see Gould’s use of the term exaptation)

These are but a few of the potential theories which may dovetail into a translation of Spinoza’s Idea into the concept of Information. If you are familiar with Spinoza, do a bit of an experiment. Each time you read a proposition of his which uses the term Idea, simply re-translate it as “information”. At first it is a bit jarring, like hearing the King James Version of the Bible in another diction. It ruins it. But then, let it sit. I cannot say that it is necessarily a better word because “information” is a heavily laden word in our culture (much as perhaps “idea” was in his), filled with numerous philosophical underpinnings, but it does free up Spinoza’s thought to new understanding.


Wittgenstein, The Structuring of the Ego, and Autopoiesis

[the below was written to an anonymous professor of Wittgenstein, who recommended the reading of A. H. Almaas, a self-styled spiritual teacher, on the nature of the Ego and its relationship to Autopoietic theory (which I hold interest in). What develops is a brief address of Almaas’ appropriation of Autpoiesis to examine the nature of the Ego, when contrasted with the soul, and a critique of Wittgenstein, in view of these same egoic expectations (this professor took a particularly sprirtualized approach to Wittgensteinian “truths”). Where I use the word “soul,” read “the full affective capacities of a person”.] 


Almaas says of the Ego,

We see that the egoic life basically does not respect the autopoietic nature of the soul; it tends to make the open, living system that is the soul in a closed and isolated one, more like a machine. The difference between the egoic and the essential life is not absolute, for the soul cannot become completely a machine. She is inherently an open and dynamic system, and hence rigid ego structuring only limits this openness and constrains her dynamism; it cannot completely eliminate them (559)

This is a little off from the biological Autopoietic theory, but it is very useful. Autopoiesis is not only “open” but it is also “closed”. The theory speaks of autopoietic systems as being “organizationally closed”, but “structurally open”. As long as the changes do not (radically) change the organization of the system it remains autopoietic and in that way “closed”. What Almaas is describing is the structural closure of the system, in a way, that which could starve it. The calcifications of the ego would close off it’s dynamic of exchange. It would begin to suffer entropy at a rapid rate.

Now the structural openness of autopoietic systems, it seems to me, occurs in three ways.

1). It is able to take in energy/forms from the outside, for instance the way that food is able to permeate the cell membrane of amoeba. The organizational closure is preserved, but the structure is open.

2). A system can be called “open” from the perspective of an observer, who sees that the recursivity of the system is “linked” or “coupled” to regularities of another system. In this way, one cell and another cell can fall into a co-dependent pattern. They can form a composite whole even. Matuana and Varela call this “structural coupling”.

3). Here, a system can be open to the structural replacement of one of its parts. The example they use is that in “toilet system”, a wooden float in the tank can be replaced by a plastic one, and the system would remain organizationally closed, that is the same.

So when one imagines that the egoic identity, a major component of intersubjective, conceptual discourse, is a tendency to becomes structurally closed, this means that, a). it might cut itself off from energy input, and starve itself (such as a hurricane would die out if it could not include new material), that, b). that it would loose the ability to structurally couple with other living systems, and become isolated, and, c). it would loose the ability to change out structural components that would alter its capacity to grow (because structural differences in components that fulfill the same function, let us say the shift from a wooden to plastic floatation device in a toilet, are central to the capacity of the organization itself to grow, adapt in history). The calcifications of the ego, cut of an organization from its possibilities and its growth.

So one has to ask, when considering the normative language of Wittgenstein’s descriptions (sense vs. nonsense), how much of this conceptual normativity is part of the ego-complex that makes up social discourse, that is intersubjectivity. Now certainly being able to correspond to grammatical forms of “the way we speak” is a necessary part of the structural coupling between individuals, just as egoic structures aid in such coupling. The way we speak is a part of our composite relations, and only in the extreme of egoic structures, let us say those that through a paranoid fear of the loss of organizational integrity, does truly structural closure set in. (That is to the degree that structural coupling cannot be performed). Examples of psychosis, psychotic language, (perhaps, though interestingly, autism), are of this variety. So we can see how egoic structures might aid structural openness.

One can also make the same judgment about the first aspect of openness, as paranoia and fears might create a recurisivity that does not allow the openness that allows the entrance of other energies, creating a rigidity that starves itself by atrophy and entropy. (Such radical loops of course might also perform leaps to other kinds of openness, jumping the local system: the played out (in)efficacy of Schreber’s “nerve-language” with God.)

But when considering the third kind of structural openness, the replacement of parts, this is where Wittgenstein’s normative language becomes problematic, and a bit too conceptual (egoic). When approaching “the way of doing things” in language, called “grammatical”, one is approaching a structure that contains in its interpretation a logic of sense, imposing a kind of direction upon actions: this is sense, that is nonsense. But because this grammatical form is simply a series of paths already taken by others, entrenched into constraints, it is part of the ego-form of societal intersubjectivity. That one cannot regularly say “she is in pain, but is showing it”, only reflects the series of uses that has compiled that form, and these are historically contingent. But one, as a soul, is certainly capable of using that phrase, in a new way, in a way that recontextualizes it to sense and use.

The soul, in use, is not bound by grammar, as though grammar is an ahistorical arbiter of use. Instead, the soul, uses grammar (in Wittgenstein’s sense of it), or does not. It can invent connections, by context, that transcend the accretions of grammar. That one cannot say “God spoke to me and you over heard it”, grammatically, does not mean that such a sentence cannot be used, and be used powerfully to communicate a truth. What the violation of grammatical forms is, such as those made in metaphysical investigations, is the structural openness of the third kind, the possible replacement of part(s) by another part(s), such that a function is maintained, but a new capacity is enacted. This is exactly what poets do, (and what metaphors do…and there are no strict rules for how to make a metaphor). Wittgenstein said that nothing new is discovered in philosophy, and imagined that he was putting those philosophers who thought they were “discovering something” in their place. Well, I would ask, is anything new ever “discovered” in poetry? Yes. All the time.

The confusion of sense that Wittgenstein marks out, when he tries to let us know that there is no “object” (mental or physical) which corresponds to “understanding”, does not mean that the pursuit of such an object does not have “use”. Indeed it has, for it lead to all kinds of science, seeking out the “process” of understanding, a process referent that Wittgenstein suggests is something of a conceptual error. Rather, such non-grammatical object searching is exactly that which is the openness of the autopoiesis of the soul, in common intersubjective historical circumstances. Not only do the sciences benefit from the conceptual mistake, as they search for process referents, but also does man’s self-conception benefit, as she/he projects her/his center, her/his soul, in relations of increasing complexity to the world.

The soul, as part of the matrix of relations, many of them confined by grammatical groupings of “the way we do things”, insofar as it violates those constraints, allows for the swapping out of parts, the parts of which compose its structure, opening it to growth. It is exactly the clarity of Wittgenstein’s conceptual parsing of the grammatical that is the most egoic, since it takes “sense” to be a product of “what has been” (grammar), and not a product of the creative actions of use alone. The “rough ground” is generally the ground the ego knows. Language “not on holiday” can be seen as the language-work of the ego. These are the things which confirm the structures that the ego, as an intersubjective isolation, has built.