Frames /sing

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Tag Archives: Form of Life

Big Dog: Our Selves

Witness (and I do mean witness…behold) the latest robotic lifeform, Big Dog.

What I am most interested in are my (and others) instictive ethics responses to this display. Watch the quadruped climb with jutting rhythm up the hill, making almost a prance of it, watch it recover elegantly from a sidelong kick, and wince as it stumbles upon the ice. It is large like a mammal we would identify with (it struggles within the same range of physics that we do). It headlessly searches. (Be aware of how the camera also constructs our response, as it rises from the lowground into our now accustomed docu-camera view of the Real.)

I am interested in how our bodily foundations of ethics and rationality come from how we view other things to be as ourselves (a primary Spinozian thesis…the imitations of the affects: E3p27, If we imagine a thing like us, toward which we have had no affect, to be affected with some affect, we are thereby affected with a like affect.). I recall Wittgenstein’s gnomic advisement about the difference between the capacities for pain between that of a fly and that of a stone:

Look at a stone and imagine it having sensations.-One says to oneself: How could one so much as get the idea of ascribing a sensation to a thing?…And now look at a wriggling fly and at once these difficulties vanish and pain seems to get a foothold here…(PI 284)

Now, the composite of behaviors from a thing we are most predisposed to think of as being closer to a stone than a fly suddenly, ephiphanically (and my wince is epiphanic), “get a foothold here”. We can conceptually separate out ourselves from the imitations of our actions, but then we get to an interesting ethical divide. Our predecessors are admonished by history for not being able to perceive how the Black, the Jew, the Muslim, the Indian, the poor, the woman, the animal, the child was “just like us”, bled and winced as we did. Some elements of the soul (aspects of mentality) were denied certain classes. The operated like “us”, but internally their experiences were at variance, only dimly similiar.

I want to ask, what are the ethics of our witness ?

I want to ask, what are the ethics of our dismissal of mechanism as mechanism?

Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the Abstract Machine in the confluence of this witness I think takes “foothold” as well. When concrete machines sympathize, the abstract machine seems to show through:

We define the abstract machine as the aspect or moment at which nothing but functions and matters remain. A diagram has neither substance nor form, neither content nor expression. Substance is a formed matter, and matter is a substance that is unformed either physically or semiotically. Whereas expression and content have distinct forms, are really distinct from each other, function has only ‘traits’ of content and expression between which it establishes a connection: it is no longer even possible to tell whether it is a particle or a sign. A matter-content having only degrees of intensity, resistance, conductivity, heating, stretching, speed or tardiness; and a function expression having only ‘tensors,’ as in a system of mathematical, or musical, writing. Writing now functions on the same level as the real, and the real materially writes.

a thousand plateaus

[quote courtesy of Fractal Ontology, whose recent post reminded me of the text]

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Sharing a Form of Life? Section 241

241. “So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?”- It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.”

And Davidson would tell us that they do not even agree in the “language” they use, but only that they each can be said to use language, and have beliefs.

You might jump up and yell in Quinianese “Gavagai!” And I might say, “Ah, Momentary Rabbit-part!” If this is sharing a form of life, I am unsure. Perhaps…but what makes it a form? There is no appeal to such a form which makes agreement justified. There is something about the word “form” that is so satisfying. And when one is satisfied, perhaps one should look closer.

Forms are seen (sometimes felt). Forms are per-formed. This is what captures the imagination here. But also, forms transcend, they some how stickout from the accidental, and the contentful. Forms are patterns: speaking this way invites us to imagine a huge larger pattern (for when does the sharing stop). My dog and I get along when in the woods, is this because we share a form of life? Does this mean that my dog, I AND the woods are sharing a form of life?

When does one stop sharing a form of life? When disagreement comes, are not we still sharing a form of life? What role does the phrase “sharing a form of life” play in explanation? If not-sharing-a-form-of-life fails as a meaningful description/explanation, what value does its contradiction hold? (I do not recall Wittgenstein ever writing “they failed to share a form of life”.)

How would the explanation change if the spade-turning phrase changed to “sharing a world”? What would be lost, and what gained.

I think, perhaps, the Behaviorist, bodily-action emphasis would be shifted, to more an experiential and causal understanding of the conditions of behavior.