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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spinoza on the Infinite, the Unbound: Part I

Preliminary

Key to understanding Spinoza’s approach to the Infinite is appreciating that for him, primarily and speaking generally, The Infinite is Unbroken. And following this, modifications of the Infinite (how Spinoza defines the modes) do not break that unbroken state. For Spinoza, any treatment of Substance must follow from this understanding.

What makes this compelling, and ultimately germane to any assessment of the status of rational knowledge as it is found in logically related descriptions, and at the seeming apex of such, mathematical descriptions, is that insofar as numerical designation indicate a limitation, a bound, a break in The Infinite, this is an imaginary product and is not adequate knowledge. Perhaps, penultimately: mathematical, scientific knowledge stands at a skeptical remove from the true nature of Nature. Which is not to say that mathematical relations, and the various fields of mathematical description, do not play a significant role the human being coming into some form of absolute knowledge of God/Substance/Nature. At most, the internal coherence and powerful indications of mathematical forms act as Augustine’s finger, pointing to Substance’s moon.

One can see this in Meyer’s preface to Spinoza’s early career more geometrico treatment of Descartes’ philosophy, The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy. Meyer explicitly sets out Spinoza’s distance from Descartes’ matho-scientific treatment of Nature:

This [work] must not be regarded as expressing our Author’s own view. All such things, he holds, and many others even more sublime and subtle, can not only be conceived by use clearly and distinctly but can also be explained quite satisfactorily, provided that the human intellect can be guided to the search for truth and the knowledge of things along a path different from that which was opened up and leveled by Descartes. And so he holds that the foundations of the sciences laid by Descartes and the superstructure that he built thereon do not suffice to elucidate, and resolve all the most difficult problems that arise in metaphysics. Other foundations are required if we seek to raise our intellect to that pinnacle of knowledge.

I had to get this basic beginning out so that I can move on. Hopefully to follow soon: Spinoza’s hyper-proximity to Badiou (and Badiou’s intention misreading), Cantor’s attempt to in-concretize Spinoza’s Infinite (as transfinite), and, the Place of Mathematics within Spinoza’s theory of the Intellect and Knowledge, the weight of Letter 12  (or something of these sorts).

Spinoza and the Metaphoric Rise of the Imagination

Mind Without Metaphor?

Beginning from my last post which opened up a Vician affirmation of metaphor as a constitutive and creative force for the growth of knowledge, it seems a good idea to look closely at the Spinoza system to see if indeed there is room for such a productivity. Prima facie it certainly seems to be the case that Spinoza would hold low esteem for metaphorical use. His entire “mail and mask” more geometrico  seems in defiance of any positive role for metaphors, treating thoughts and feelings literally as if they were planes and lines (falling under the same causal laws). In philosophy there is hardly a systematic document that seems less friendly to the metaphorical than the Ethics. The vast perception is that categorically for Spinoza metaphors are bad (confused), literal truths good (clear and distinct). A wide ranging philosopher like Richard Rorty who professes much admiration for Spinoza except for the perceived antipathy for the metaphor, sums up the impression well:

Though the human body had been redeemed by Galileo’s discoveries of how matter worked, the imagination had not. The human body is redeemed only when seen under the aspect of eternity, as a feature on the face of the whole universe. But the divine mind-the counterpart, under the attribute of thought, of the face of the material universe– has no imagination. It is literal-minded. It has no occasion to speak in metaphors. So, Spinoza thought, the less we humans use metaphors, the greater our chances of blessedness….He says, for example, that when the Bible tells us that God opened the windows of the heavens, all it is really saying is that it rained very hard. (TPT, p. 44) For Spinoza, metaphor has no value. Like the imagination, metaphor is something to be overcome (“Spinoza’s Legacy”).

With respect to Rorty, there is a great difference between something that should be overcome, and something having no value; but it is easy to join Rorty in what seems to be an obviousness, metaphors are confusions and confusions are things that one should try to make clear, a clarity that leads to real, affective Joy. How is one to reconcile the predominant message in Spinoza’s writings with the possibility that metaphors are very real productive, and non-eliminatable modes of increased activity and Joy in the sense that Spinoza thinks of Joy. As to that Joy, even upon repetition the pleasures of metaphors endure, something Davidson calls it their “eternal youth” which he compares to the “surprise” in Hayden’s Symphony 94. The flash of realization moves us to see. Is there room for such revelation in Spinoza?

Perhaps one needs to start with the strict possibility that human beings cannot hold purely adequate ideas at all, but only in their finite minds may asymptotically approach increasing adequacy of ideas. The very path to adequacy it seems would be one in which the imagination has historically played an integral role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas (like the first blacksmith hammer and tongs, they had to be made from something), and given the fundamental, one might say, existential passivity of the human mind, imagination likely would play a constitutive role in the increase in the adequacy of our ideas, no matter the stage of our development.

Joy: The Increase in the Adequacy of Ideas

In Della Rocca’s new book, and confirmed in generous private exchange, is found the interpretation that human beings are unable to hold completely adequate ideas in the full spectrum of the ways that Spinoza defined them. This is something I long had felt myself. They are likely best seen as a limit upon which we gauge our own knowledge (and Joy). If we accept this the door for a productive use of the imagination in general, and metaphors specifically, is opened up. Gatens and Lloyd wrote an excellent book on Spinoza’s undervalued relationship to the imagination, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza Past, Present and Future. But I would like to dwell on metaphor itself, the unique way that it stirs us with a kind of waxing pleasure, and how this is achieved through an intentional confusion. (As I mentioned in my last post, and then more at length in an earlier article on Donald Davidson and Giambattista Vico, this “confusion” is the cause of a reader or listener to affectively equate two or more objects, that is to feel about the one as one would feel about the other, taking each to be the cause of the same affection, such that one is brought to noticed an unspecified number of similarities between the objects or classes. And this is primarily accomplished through the strict falsehood of the metaphorical statement: “That man is a wolf” is false because wolves are not men.) The effects (affects) of two or more objects are confused so as to produce a pleasurable notification of what is shared.

There can be no doubt that metaphors are pleasurable, in fact, in contemplation, are Joyous. This also is a good place to start. For given Spinoza’s definition of Joy, his parallel postulate and his explicit assertion that activities of the mind ONLY arise from adequate ideas (3p3), one is forced to say that the Joy we feel when we encounter a wonderful metaphor is a Joy that comes from an increase in the adequacy of our ideas (as all Joy). I was happy to find that Professor Della Rocca consents to this understanding of mine as well. Something about good metaphors increases the adequacy of our ideas. What is it, in Spinozist terms, that this something is? It is more than the pleasure of a song or music.

Contrary to many philosophical intuitions, Spinoza is not mute on the benefits of the imagination. In fact, besides the way in which he grounds the social field in the imaginative “imitations of the affects,”  in the fifth part of the Ethics, a part concerned with the achievement of the Intuition of God, he presents a string of propositions on the powers of the image . Whereas earlier in part III he had spoken of the third kind of knowledge, Intuition, as a kind of extension of the Second kind of knowledge, Reason, invoking the example of how merchants can calculate with great speed without walking through the steps of a calculation, here he seems to set up the ultimate intuition of God along side qualifications of the positive effects of the imagination. And while intuitions of God/Substance/Nature are not our aim, these distinctions in terms of images seem ready-made to be applied to the benefits of metaphor use.

 From Memory to Metaphor

First there is a numerical qualification which helps us determine what gives us the strength of an emotion (I use the Shirley translation, but “emotion” should be read as “affect”). An affect’s strength comes from a simultaneous condensation of causes:

5p8 – The greater the number of causes that simultaneously concur in arousing an emotion, the greater the emotion.

This indeed does seem to conceptually orient us to the power of a metaphor. When Homer compares wounds to mouths, or when we are told, “the heavens wept” there is an intensity of simultaneity that seems very much to make up the nature of the effect. The ideas of each object or process are affectively fused, and their causes confluence in a way that no single idea, or its literal expression, would have. And when this is pleasurable, we in our strengthening condition we are able to arrange our mixing affections, undistracted by a Sadness:

5p10 – As long as we are not assailed by emotions that are contrary to our nature, we have the power to arrange and associate affections of the body according to the order of the intellect.

While the effect may be a condensation or confusion of affects, because it is Joyous, our affections are open to clarification. Our very agreement with the effect leads to the possibility of an unfolding of the consequences. The propositions that follow then switch from emotions to images themselves:

5p11 – In proportion as a mental image is related [refertur] to more things, the more frequently does it occur – i.e., the more often it springs to life – and the more it engages the mind.

Proof : In proportion as an image or emotion is related to more things, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused and fostered, all of which the mind, by hypothesis, regards simultaneously as a result of the emotion. And so the emotion thereby occurs more frequently – i.e., springs to life more often – and engages the mind more (5p8).

The very relatability of two or more images as we find in the apt or even beautiful metaphor (again, I solicit a favorite, “…that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea”), bring together the genealogy of causes to a point where it is not just that the body is affected, but the mind itself. This is an important distinction, one that requires that we turn back to another section where Spinoza speaks of the powers of the imagination, in the second part where a very powerful function of the memory is discussed. Here, instead of the two or more con-fused ideas that are involved in metaphors, it is the images that are born of a contingent simultaneity when we are affected by objects at the same time…that is the trace the coincidence leaves on us:

2p18 – If the human body has once been affected by two or more bodies at the same time, and when the mind afterwards imagines one of them, it will straightaway remember the others too.

2p18, scholium – Hence we clearly understand what memory is. It is simply a linking of ideas involving the nature of things outside the human body, a linking which occurs in the mind parallel to the order and linking of the affections of the human body. I say, firstly, that it is only the linking of those ideas that involve the nature of things outside the human body, not of those that explicate the nature of the said things. For they are in fact (2p16) ideas of the affections of the human body which involve the nature both of the human body and of external bodies. Secondly, my purpose in saying that this linking occurs in accordance with the order and linking of the affections of the human body is to distinguish it from the linking of ideas in accordance with the order of the intellect whereby the mind perceives things through their first causes, and which is the same in all men.

Furthermore, from this we clearly understand why the mind, from thinking of one thing, should straightaway pass onto thinking of another thing which has no likeness to the first. For example, from thinking the word “pomum” [apple] a Roman will straightaway pass onto thinking of the fruit, which has no likeness to that articulate sound nor anything in common with it other than that the man’s body has often been affected by them both; that is, the man has often heard the word “pomum” while seeing the fruit. So everyone will pass on from one thought to another according as habit in each case has arranged the images in his body.

The way that the imaginative memory works, according to Spinoza, is that images are ordered associatively, occurring in correspondence to their coincidence in time, determined by the affections of the human body. The imaginative memory is a kind of ideational associative habit, to be distinguished from the way that the intellect orders thing through its understanding through explanation and cause. This habit contingently links even words and images, and the “linking” is the linking of the affections of the body, not the intellect. In contrast to the memory’s corporeal  “ordering and linking”, if we return to the relative properties of images found in 5p11 where the very numericity of relatedness produces an engagement with the mind, this seems to give the avenue by which metaphorical confusions specifically help to produce an increase in the adequacy of our ideas. The mind is engaged by the causal profusion that produces the strength of the metaphorical affect, aided by the fact that the affect is Joyous and in agreement with our natures, an engagement that is expressed in the very relatability of the two or more images (or ideas, one would assume) that compose the metaphor.

This mental (as 0pposed to a merely bodily) link is further delineated in the next proposition. The most relatable images are those of things which we already understand:

5p12 – Images are more readily associated with those images that are related to things which we clearly and distinctly understand than they are to others.

Proof: Things that are clearly and distinctly understood are either the common properties of things or deductions made from them (see 2p40s2, def of reason) and consequently they are more often before the mind (2p11proof). So it is more likely that we should regard other things in conjunction with these, and consequently (2p18) that they should be more readily associated with these than others.

Spinoza is building an argumentative case for the images which are relatable to our Intuitive understanding of God. Our clarity in a concept of God creates a substantial framework for the relatability of images in general. In a certain sense, far from being radically against the imagination, Reason actual works as its facilitator. Through our understanding of common properties of things, other imagined associations increase. Aside from Spinoza’s argumentative goal, in the case of metaphor production one can see how this also would be so. Metaphors are born atop our primary clarity of understanding. If I can say that the brain is the computer of a body, this metaphor trades upon knowing with some clarity what a brain is and what a computer is. And the metaphor through its illumination suddenly gives us to see certain (yet innumerable) common properties. These leap to life in an apparent increase in our adequacy of idea.

The Polyvalance of Image Relations

Lastly, it is this very associability founded upon numerical and causal connections with produces a temporal increase in the association. This may serve as a very broad framework in which to read the lateralization of metaphors, the way that mouths of rivers and bottle eventually move from unexpected, non-literal metaphor, to simply a new literal use of the word. The causal richness of the word used underwrites a pragmatic sublimation of our imaginary powers.

5p13 – The greater the number of other images which an image is associated, the more often it springs to life.

Proof: The greater the number of images which an image is associated, the more causes there are by which it can be aroused (2p18).

Given this tracing of a Spinozist space for the productive intellectual powers of metaphors, perhaps it is best to ground the favorability back upon the body, from whence it begins. The causal, associative power of metaphorical confusion, if it is to result in real-world empowerment must also be seen as a material gain, a turn toward the possible polyvalence of the body. Here the numerical duplicity of two objects affectively experienced as one is related to a generalized numerical increase in causal openness, the famous “..in more ways” definition of “advantage”:

4p38 – That which so disposes the human body that it can be affected in more ways [pluribus modis], or which renders it capable of affecting external bodies in more ways, is advantageous to man, and proportionately more advantageous as the body is thereby rendered more capable of being affected in more ways and of affecting other bodies in more ways. On the other hand, that which renders the body less capable in these respects is harmful.

Metaphors must be read, if we are to embrace them as Spinozist creations of Joy, as increases in the number of ways in which the body is capable of being affected and affecting others. This would be a groundwork assumption.
Let this post be a kind of reasoning-aloud about the conceptual space affordable for the products of the imagination, and in particular the benefits of metaphors. Under such reasoning, contra Rorty, there is indeed a value in the use of metaphor, in fact given our fundamental passivity of mind, an arguably prodigious value. Because more adequate ideas are not immediately available to us at any particular time on any particular subject or need, given the particular historical conditions we might find ourselves in, the creativity of associative thought, the affective conflations that metaphors achieve, can be seen to play a central role in illuminating new aspects of phenomenae of every kind, from objects, to ideas, to relations. It very well may be wanted for us to say, “The Heavens Weep” rather than “It is raining outside”, for the first condensationally draws together a wealth of causal relations, as Deleuze might say virtual relations, which the second would simply occlude in its distinctness. The first may bring us Joy, the second little. Metaphors cause us to notice, in the shimmering light of what is a revelation, what the Greeks thought of as an “uncovering”, what then  can be excavated by the intellect.

I have to say that despite the loose success of this picture, there is one aspect of Spinoza’s argument that troubles me, and I have found this distinction in other writings of his, (for instance his letter to Peter Balling regarding his prophetic imagination of his son). When Spinoza wants to qualify that something is linked only in the body, and not in the intellect, given his parallel postulate I can not rigorously understand the distinction of an ordo  of the body, since each linking in the body MUST be a linking in the mind of God. As events happen in they body, they are also following adequately in the mind. I can perhaps imagine that the ideational linkings of bodily affections read as coincident are perhaps too obtuse for the finite mind to immediately comprehend, and therefore as a shorthand bodily affection associations are to be distinguished from intellectual reference. But I cannot see in principle how these are divided, as the human Mind is nothing more than God thinking in a finite mode. The understandability that even allows affects to be intelligible at all confirs some mental order to them. Even the associations Spinoza regards as contingent, those between the sound of the word “apple” and the image of the apple that comes to your mind is intimately linked to the network of rationally organized beliefs about the world and language use which over and above habit provide the context for interpretability. In a sense, one sees an apple, as an apple, because one knows the word “apple” and understands its concept (how to use the word), and this was learned under causal conceptions with others in a shared world. To be sure, there is a free-flowing connection between images based on personal experiences, but these are shot through with inferential and deductive understandings of the world.

What is a metaphor if not a kind of pirouette

performed by an idea, enabling us to assemble its diverse names or images?

—Paul Valéry

Sarah Silverman’s Subversive Loyalty to the Pledge

I found comedian Sarah Silverman’s “solution” to the church/state inclusion of the phrase “one nation, under God…” in the pledge of allegiance both hilarious and penetrating. (It is located at the 3:45 minute mark in the above clip.) Someone like Zizek finds in this quotational subversion a deeper entrenchment of belief, a disquieted distancing of oneself in the ultimate power of words. He, no slouch in the realm of humor, talks about the distancing, postmodern lover who comically says to his beloved, “As the poet says, ‘I love you'”. Silverman here seems to be doing something more I think. Because her act falls within the very formalized text of an oath, she is using the quotation powers of truth to draw attention to the very act of pledging. Think of the further consequences if the word “nation” were air-quoted, or “stands”. Soon we would have evacuated the entire act of any content. It then becomes mere staging, a circulation, which carries its own substance. (What of air-quoting the entire act?) A distance is opened up between the ennunciation and the form expressed, a distance that can be then further politicized.

I think this is related to the so called “disquotational property” of truth. Famously, “The sentence ‘Snow is white’ is true” is thought to be the equivalent of simply claiming “Snow is white” (Tarski, etc.); with truth, one can simply take the quotes off. Yet when we place a phrase or sentence in quotes, we isolate it, not in terms of truth (which remains indeterminate), but in terms expression. We allow it its social autonomy, while exercizing protest, decentering its enunciation. This an the interesting thing about Sarah Silverman’s subversion. It suspends the expressional qualities of the phrase “under God” while preserving its possibility of truth. Further though, Sarah’s potest occurs in the form a joke told on television, and not simply performed in context. As such, it becomes a kind of prescrition, instead of a proscription. Of interest as well is that this suspension is accomplished bodily, yet with near-linguistic precision (she is not merely making a face while saying the phrase). She selects out the phrase with a bodily performance (now grown common) of a typographic mark. In a sense, she inscribes her body with scriptive importance. She is bodily adjunct to the meaning of here words.

Sarah Silverman and Golda Mier

If we striked the phrase, instead of Sarahized it, would this be as subversive? Or if we merely mouthed it? Does God intrude upon the speaker of the Pledge interpellating her, (as Althusser would have it), no matter what? Has Sarah succeeded in renouncing or even denouncing the Divinity of America’s origins? Or is Sarah really saying something akin to a line attributed to former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Mier, when answering the question of whether she believed in God: “I believe in the Jewish people, and they  believe in God” (paraphrased here).

Some Experiments in Re-translation, “idea” as “information”

In lead to some of the thoughts on Idea as “information”, here are a few interesting “distortions” of the Spinoza notion of idea. (These are very rough sketches, mostly a simple swapping out to be read for effect, and then later for analysis):

 

E1A6: True Information must agree with its correspondent.

E2D3: By Information I mean a reception [conceptus] of the Mind that the Mind forms because it is a thinking thing.

E2D4: By Adequate Information I understand information which, insofar as it is considered in itself, without relation to its correspondent, has all the properties, or intrinsic denomination of true information.

E2P7: The order and connection of Information is the same as the order and connection of things.

E2P8: The Information of singular things, or ways of being [modi], that do not exist must be comprehended in God’s infinite Information in the same way that the formal essences of singular things, or ways of being, are contained in God’s Atrtributes.

E2P13: The correspondent of the information constituting the human Mind is the Body, or a certain mode of Extension which actually exists, and nothing else.

E2P19: The human Mind does not know the human Body itself, nor does it know that it exists, except through the information of affections by which the Body is affected.

E2P20: There is also in God the information, or knowledge, of the human Mind, which follows in God, in the same way and is related to God in the same way as the information, or knowledge, of the human Body.

E2P26: The human mind does not percieve any external Body as actually existing, except through the information of affections of the Body.

E2P28: The information of the affections of the human Body, insofar as it is related to the human Mind, is not clear and distinct, but confused.

E2P29: The information about the information of any affection of the human Body does not involve adequate knowledge of the human Mind.

E2P32: All information, insofar as it is related to God, is true.

E2P33: There is nothing positive in information on account of which it is called false.

E2P36: Inadequate and confused information follows with the same necessity as adequate, clear and distinct information.

E3P40: Whatever information follows in the Mind from information that is adequate in the mind necessarily is also adequate.

E3DOA4: Love is a Joy [a passage from lesser to greater perfection], accompanied by the information of an external cause.

General Definition of the Affects

An affect that is called a Passion of the mind, is confused information, by which the Mind affirms of its Body, or some part of it,  a greater or lesser force of existing than before, which when given, determines the mind to think of this rather than that.

E5P1: In just the same way as thoughts or the information about things are ordered and connected in the Mind, so affections of the body, or images of things are ordered and connected in the body.

E5P14: The Mind can bring it about that all the Body’s affections, or images of things are related to the Information of God.

What becomes clearer, because of what Wittgenstein might say is the grammar of the word “information”, is that there is a conflation that Spinoza performs, particularly with the genitives. The “information of the mind, body or affections” can simultaneously mean “information about the mind, body or affections” and “information which is concordantly expressed in parallel to the mind, body or affections”. This is not understood to be a confusion on Spinoza’s part, but rather is a negotiation of what can be called the two aspects of “sign”, its actionable, dignifying power and its representational power. Information (idea) is always possibly “about” and “of”. It both expresses the state of the mind/body, yet also puts this body into a relation to other bodies (identifiable as a degree of being). This is a fundamental Spinozist point. What turning away from the English word “idea” does, as translation is strained because of distinctions in the use of “information”, is separate out any representationalist picturing from the very act of thinking, which for Spinoza is an act of doing. My idea of dogs, or my dog “Tiger” or my idea of Freedom is primarily information about my body, (but in relation to the rest of the world).

What makes this informational approach in Spinoza startling is that he couples this calculative, even propositional sense with an affective appreciation of the Body. All thoughts carry the body with them and as such are also felt states of the Body, affects, as it seeks to express itself more Joyfully and Powerfully. Bodies, at least in the human/animal sphere, are primarily joined through an imaginary and affective sharing of what is felt. Information, therefore, organizationally feels, and all calculations must be seen as calculations of the Body as Flesh, historically positioned and conjoined to other feeling bodies. (For more on the affective and still rational potentialities in a Deleuzian/Davidsonian sense, see Wasps, Orchids, Beetles and Crickets.)

  

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.