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“Indifference” – Thinking Through Cold


Prologue to Cold

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

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

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

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

From Magnetism to Cold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Issue of Cold

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

To be continued…The Cold of the Body Without Organs

Graham Harman’s “Evil Twin”, The Quality-Loving Positor

Shadow Jumping

Graham Harman’s embrace of what he takes to be a coin-flip reading of his project begins,

No one can jump over their own shadow, but it’s a feasible reading of me as my own “evil twin” (without the value judgment, of course).

I say, this impossibilty of jumping over one’s shadow notion may point the way forward, for one really can jump over one’s shadow if one simply moves in relation to a new light source (vocabulary set). One may then have a differently oriented shadow, but then understands the solution to such shadow-staring is keeping an eye upon a multiplicity of light sources, and the nature of their varying strengths.

I’m glad that Graham sees the possibilities of this redescription of his work, and love the notion of a philosophy Federation of “Evil Kirks and Spocks.” I say that we embrace somthing of this, but in fine Nietzschean fashion retain the value judgment, the BGE evil of it (if I recall, Evil Spock was able to think himself out of his evil universe, finding common ground with Good Kirk). What I hope is that if indeed Graham is only attempting to save Qualities, and is merely presenting an OOP as a means for a QOP intention, something more is being achieved than flipping a coin around by pointing out this fact. What Nietzsche wants us to know is that the thing that is evil, that seems like the dark side of something, is really its potentiality masked. Without Hegelian pretension, if indeed Graham is seeking to save qualities, and not objects, we can stop asking questions about the exact metaphysical nature of objects, and start asking questions about what is the best way to save, or as I say, ennoble, qualities. It may well be that positing empty, regressing objects IS the best way, that it does more for the stature of qualities than molten postmodern/post-structuralist fantasy, or even another approach, but until we get to the program itself, we can never properly frame the question.

In this way, I am saying more than the common place that makes of everything a coin. Rather, it is if we get to the real, or at least determinative motivation of a philosophical project, its “evil-twin” underside, we can then open up the project to possibilities that a blindness to that underside undershadows. In Graham’s philosophy this limit, as he admits, comes down the occasionalism-like collaspe of objects which fails to account for the nature of their change. What I would say is that it is of the very nature of the armature that Graham has passionately and insightfully constructed, so as to save qualities, that limits the force of their salvation. If he, I and others come to agree, if we make a value judgment that what we are really after is the esteem of qualities, then we can discuss more precisely the failures of esteem in others’ approaches, and invent better strategies for that esteem, rather than simply looking to shore-up and solve what we thought was the central focus of our attention.

Instead of making a nice pair of things, a doppleganger of inseperable concepts, such as those seen in Graham’s wonderfully titled Count Magnus Effect, one proposes a means for satisfying discourse, for finding agreement. There may be some fun in pointing out to others that they are accomplishing one thing when then thought they were accomplishing something else; Nietzsche had tremendous pleasure in this, and modern day Zizek just loves this game. Such a reversal is not really all that valuable unless one returns it to the question of valuation itself. Do we value the same things and just have different projects on how to achieve it? This is not to say that agreement is guaranteed, but at least the nature of disagreement changes.

Campanella: Knowing is Being

The essentializing dyads that Graham expresses himself in, come from a strong Heideggerian genus, retain a certain human-centric heritage which Graham is pushing against. But I suspect that it is the nobility of the quality that keeps Graham on this  side the panpsychist Gate. As I dig like a Latourian engineer attempting to meet up with the tunnel that Graham has dug in the same Ontological mountain, and trace out each of my excavation, and to the best that I can, his own, it is on the question of the salvation of the quality that I think we can find a common ground. What I will propose that instead of instantiating the rights of qualities upon the nothingness of a retreating and empty object, a consideration of Tommaso Campanella’s proto-Cartesian “Cognoscere est esse,” to know is to be. This a core, quality-directed principle which undercuts in history and object some of the founding theoretical dyads which inform a human-centered picture of consciousness. Much akin to the objects of Graham’s fascination with Late Scholasticism, and Late Renaissance theory (Bruno, Suarez), Campanella’s rationalization of Natural Magic, which is the attempt to synthesize the lived (Quality) emphasis of Telesio’s empiricism to the metaphysics of immanent and unified Being (Augustine), provides the substance of the rescue of Quality without the collapse into molten origins. Campanella’s metaphysics are rough-hewn, though voluminously written, and appear to modern commentators often as a hodgepodge of irreconsilable positions and influences. Campanella comes off as a pre-modern fantasticist, as confused by astrology as he was by the Political situation of which he was a victim. But rather, it is Campanella’s love for the world, its embodied, animal-like quality, its magic of effect, which produced the theoretical possibility for a contemporary salvation of qualites, of the sort that I think that Graham pursues. It is not so much that qualities are granted their rightful power because they are in a tension with Substance Objects which invariably retreat from all investigation, a mark of characterized experiences of human consciousness. It is rather, in surpass of any categorical reduction of human consciousness, that qualities has their own nobility and powers. Campanella wanted us to know that when I come to know something (an entity), I literally am transformed into it (an interesting pre-sage of Latour’s Principle of Translation). When I know a cold thing, I literally become cold. Or, if we want to postmodernize it, when I know Capitalism, I literally become Capitalism, I am transformed into that entity. How exactly to read this transformation I think comes from the notion of assemblage, of bodily (and therefore following Spinoza, ideational) combination, under a figure of power.

What I suggest is that once we identify the hidden, as Graham says, evil valuation behind his project, it is towards a panpsychism that qualitative embrace leads. That is, one needs not rent out high-priced object Real Estate on which Qualities are then permitted to live. Instead, qualities become the very mechanism for embodied agreement and power-assemblage, no more warring in tension with the landlord.


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