November 17, 2005

The scientific method: Freud and Marx

Freud was the first to acknowledge the fact that it is not possible to understand the complexities of the psyche, without resorting to multiplicity of structure. He proposed his trinity of the Id, the Ego, and the Super-Ego. When speaking of Eros, Thanatos or Oedipus, he was also resorting to personifying, which did in fact contribute to the success of his theory. Everybody began to "believe" in Oedipus' complex, in Eros and Thanatos , almost unaware that this is a metaphoric device that gives some vitality to a concept. Yet we should not take these personified concepts more literally than the Ancient Greeks took their divinities.
But Freud, although convinced of the multiplicity of the psyche, and although he occasionally personified his concepts, never admitted that, he was speaking metaphorically and not scientifically. By his exclusive valuing of Science, Freud and today freudians, are heading right back to the same monotheistic ideal that Freud himself had criticised as oppressive. First, he wrote a remarkable analysis of the alienation that comes from rigid religious beliefs, but then he professed an absolute faith in Science. In the name of scientific truth , he transformed his theories into dogmas. Moreover, by his refusal to acknowledge his own subjectivity in the formation of his theories, he was at fault with the scientific method itself. Ginette Paris
It is helpful to look at Marx’s notion of scientific methodology. Marx, in this sense an heir to Plato, regards as a minimum necessary condition of any science, that it uncovers the reality behind the veil of appearance that conceals it. He claims that without this basic criterion science would be stripped of its legitimacy, because it would be useless to want to get to know something which is already obvious and known pre-scientifically. If scientists did not lift any veils to show what is concealed behind them, they would do something absolutely different than what science requires. They might engage in what Marx calls with reference to some forms of economics: vulgar science. If we follow Marx in taking astrology as a typical representative of such a "science" this idea becomes more feasible.
The basic criterion of separating appearance from reality is fulfilled with regard to most of the noteworthy scientific discoveries made in this field. Our senses perceive the sun as moving around the earth, our brain is just able to imagine the universe as being three dimensional and yet it is widely regarded as reasonable to think of the earth as in reality rotating around the sun and the universe as in reality being four dimensional. A central part of the scientificity of these discoveries seems to be- besides the way in which the investigations were carried out- that they present knowledge which goes beyond everyday appearance. The connection between scientific discoveries and resulting changes in belief systems, which is implied in the previous statements, namely that we accept a scientific theory as showing how things really are and thus attribute an objectivity to it which many of our everyday perceptions seem to lack, is important to keep in mind although it is obviously oversimplified for the present purpose.
One might object to the above mentioned analogy of astrology, that it is impertinent to abstractly attribute a methodological requirement to a diverse field of enterprises, which we for reasons of convenience put under the category of “sciences”, but which in reality do not share one fixed set of methodological rules. This is exactly what Marx is doing with regard to political economy in order to fill this abstract procedural rule with some content and show why the comparison to astrology is fitting. (2) The whole architecture of Capital mirrors this principle. Marx introduces a hypothetical thesis after being faced by a huge number of apparent economic data and later on shows how the postulated hypothesis is able to account for the data. by Mario Wenning

Polymorphously Perverse Nature Posted by larvalsubjects August 17, 2013
there is only nature, that nature looks far more like culture than the old theological concept of nature, and that nature is radically immanent, without teleology, norms, nor species or archetypes that govern what things ought to be.  Nature is auto-constructing without a constructor, not designed.
In short, we must build a concept of nature as polymorphously perverse and differential.  The polymorphous, of course, refers to that which is capable of taking on a variety of different forms.  Far from being characterized by ineluctability and necessity, life testifies to the essential plasticity and creativity of nature.  In a Freudian framework, the “perverse” refers to that which deviates from its aim.  For example, the oral drive is “perverse” in that it aims not at sustenance, but at the pleasure of orality.  The oral drive, as it were, subverts the teleology of the mouth and tongue.  In this regard, Freud gave us a non-teleological account of sexuality.  Despite all of is problems, the novelty of Freud’s account of sexuality lies in having decoupled the sexual and reproductive.  Within a Freudian framework, we reproduce because of sexuality– as an accidental by-product of sexuality –we do not have sexuality for the sake of reproduction.  Sexuality, in a Freudian framework, is inherently queer; even in heterosexual contexts.
Surprisingly, it was Darwin that taught us to think of life as inherently perverse and queer (although this message is often missed).  Despite the abuses to which evolutionary thought is endlessly subjected by things such as Spencer’s social darwinism and evolutionary biology, Darwin’s first step lay in erasing teleology.  Within a Darwinian framework, form does not follow function, but rather function follows form.  The eagle does not have keen sight for the sake of catching its prey, but rather because eagles have keen eyesight they are better able to catch their prey.  First, the function is the result of a particular form, of a particular feature of the organisms morphology.  The form is firstthere and then a use is found.  There is not first a pre-existent problem such as “the need to see prey” and then the production of a particular organ or feature of the body.  Moreover, more than one function can be found for one and the same form.  For example, it is said that lungs initially began as air sacs that ocean going organisms used to float.  They did not originally have a respiratory function.
Darwin’s second step consisted in erasing the category of species altogether.  This might come as a surprise given that the title of one of his books is The Origin of Species.  However, when we look at the details of Darwin’s thought we find that he is a radical ontological nominalist.  For Darwin, there are only individual organisms and no two of these organisms is exactly alike.  There are indeed resemblances between organisms, but there is no shared essence.  What we call a “species”, argues Darwin, is just a statistical generalization of resemblances between different individuals.  There is no additional thing– an essence or form –that exists over and above these individuals.  In this way, Darwin undermines one of the central foundations of the teleological premise at the heart of the premodern concept of nature.  Under the premodern concept of nature, individuals are copies of species.  Species are ideal forms, and individual differences that deviate from those ideal forms are treated as betrayals of the essence of the species.  In this way, the concept of species functions as a description, and norm, and a teleological draw or attractor of individuals.  In the Darwinian framework, everything is reversed.  Here the species is a statistical effect of individuals and has no causal power of its own.  Species are something that are constructed.  They are constructed both “culturally” through our classifications, but also “naturally” through processes like natural selection.
It is with Darwin’s third gesture that we encounter the perverse and differential dimension of Darwin’s evolutionary theory:  random mutation.  Individuals indeed produce copies of themselves through reproduction.  However, no copy is the same as the original or that from which it is copied.  ”Random”, of course, does not mean uncaused.  Random mutation is caused by all sorts of things ranging from chemicals in the environment to highly charged cosmic particles.  It’s as if, with respect to life, nature functioned like Husserl’s practice of “free variation”, exploring the possibilities of formfor their own sake.  This is the perversity of nature.  The mutation of form, its polymorphousness, is not explored for the sake of solving sort of problem such as seeing prey, but simply because.  There is no goal to it, save the endless exploration of form.  In this regard, random mutation resembles some features of modernist art, where features of style and form are foregrounded, while theme, message, purpose, and meaning are pushed into the background.  Nature itself is modernist.  Where the premodern concept of nature saw mutation as a deviant departure from the norm of the species, Darwin instead proposes that random mutation is itself the motor of “speciation”.  Individual difference is thus unshackled from a nomos that measures the degree to which it approximates the essential differences of the species, but instead becomes the generative principle of species.  It is in this regard that the modern concept of nature is differential and creative.  Every species is doomed to be erased because in the replication of individuals new differences, new vectors of speciation, are perpetually being produced.  In this regard, arguments such as Chan’s are immediately annulled, as individuals aren’t supposed to be anything, there is no “natural” norm they’re supposed to embody or exemplify, there is no “ought” of individual organisms.  Nature is queer.
The claim that culture and society are phenomena of nature is often met with raised eyebrows and even outrage.  This is because too many of us in the humanities continue to assume the premodern concept of nature.  When we hear such a thesis, we immediately think that it’s being suggested that we explain culture by reference to biology and evolutionary sociology and psychology.  However, nothing of the sort is being suggested.  First, the claim is that there is only nature, that everything is embedded in nature, and that there is no transcendent outside to nature such as that proposed by Platonic forms and dualistic theories of mind.  The social world is embedded in the natural world and is of the natural world. 

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