February 22, 2009

Kroker’s and Thacker’s willingness to reconsider life and technology in ontological terms

On Cultivating the Gene for Transcending Your Genes from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
As mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm in the midst of reading a relatively new and state-of-the-art book on human origins entitled Before the Dawn.

Fitting science into a religious metaphysic should pose no difficulty whatsoever, or it's not much of a religion, is it? If science can't fit comfortably into a modest mansion or even double-wide trailer home of the Creator, what kind of God is that? Two of my favorite pneumanauts were at bloggerheads on this issue. Frithjof Schuon had no use for evolution and rejected it outright. But Sri Aurobindo had no problem at all with it, perhaps even going too far in the opposite direction (as was true of Hegel). In his case, he had a very different personal history than Schuon, which no doubt accounts for their divergent outlooks. In the case of Schuon, he was a deeply alienated European who could not find spiritual sustenance in the decadent environment of 1920's Europe, and therefore looked to the East (including Eastern Christianity, Vedanta and Sufism).

In the case of Aurobindo, he was from exactly the sort of traditional culture that Schuon idealized (India), but received a marvelous education in the West, at Cambridge. This put Aurobindo in the rather unique position (at that time, anyway) of seeing how the decadence of India actually obscured the perennial message at the heart of the Vedanta. He knew that India needed to move forward, not backward, in order to actualize its spiritual destiny and manifest its inner potential. You might say that he saw how India needed to become more Westernized -- i.e., more focused on the material plane -- while the West needed to become more "interior" to balance its relentless exteriorizing dynamic. This is exactly how I see it. I believe our conquest of the the external frontier must be followed by an exploration and colonization of the interior horizon. It is truly the "final frontier": vertical globalization.

And as a matter of fact, this is exactly what has been going on in the West -- albeit in fits and starts and with a lot of wrong turns -- since the time of the closing of the American frontier in the late 19th century. Just at that point, there was an "interior turn" throughout the West. We see this in art, literature, music, psychoanalysis, and the sudden interest in mysticism, theosophy and the occult (recall that Toots Mondello founded the Bensonhurst Raccoons around this time). Afterwards, the evolution of this inward turn was disrupted by cataclysmic world-historical events, including World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and Toots' incarceration. Thus, it is no coincidence that we began to see this interiorizing impulse reappear as if from nowhere in the late '50s and '60s, but people such as Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley were just a continuation of what had really gotten underway with the American transcendentalists such as Emerson. Obviously, Emerson can still be read with great profit today, as many of his observations were quite prophetic and remain entirely fresh and contemporary, to say the least. Indeed, viewed from a cosmic-historical standpoint, Emerson is hardly "in the past." He is just yesterday. Or perhaps just up ahead.

The whole new age movement, which emerged out of 1960s style pagan spirituality, represents a false and intrinsically wrong turn in our evolution. It takes certain truths and distorts them, dabbling in things that are not necessarily harmful "from above" but "from below." In other words, most of the new age blathering that goes by the name of "integralism" is nothing more than a co-opting of half-understood spiritual ideas for the purposes of narcissistic inflation (i.e., the lower seizing the higher instead of being transformed by it). These various approaches are spiritually vacuous to the Raccoon because they are generally detached from any timeless revelation and any true source of grace, without which one can only turn around in circles and exalt the self in compensation. "Followers" are required in order to create a space in which infantile omnipotence is projected onto the master, which then creates a belowback of pseudo-grace. This is the trick of the new age careerists. A normal person would be nauseated by such adulation.

Re: Biophilosophy for the 21st Century by Eugene Thacker (C Theory) Tony Clifton Sat 21 Feb 2009 10:19 AM PST Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

I am posting a very interesting conversation between Arthur Kroker and Eugene Thacker most of which concerns this essay on biophilosophy. With biophilosophy Thacker reintroduces the idea of ontology into the study of life, and this move contrasts it to the "philosophy of biology" that concerns itself with epistemology.

The difference between regarding biology as ontology rather than epistemology is subtle but is a decisive turn that I believe is also relevant for introducing the more esoteric ideas (especially regards cellular life) found in SA/M into scholarly consideration. (the interview can be linked to here) And can be found on the C Theory web site.

It is heartening to see both Kroker’s and Thacker’s -two leading theorist of technology and culture- willingness to reconsider life and technology in ontological terms while remaining totally cognizant of the legitimate metaphysical critique that has been fashioned over the course of the past century. In Thacker’s instance he talks about reintroducing ontology into the study of life in a way that resist the metaphysical critique. (also relevant to contemporary studies of Sri Aurobindo, and unfortunately one reason the more reactionary elements of the Ashram are burning PH in effigy) Thacker concludes the conversation by suggesting that scholars rather than avoid the mystical need rather to finally confront it.

In much the same way that I believe the proper way to introduce Sri Aurobindo into contemporary scholarly discourse is not uncritically but by remaining aware of the metaphysical critique, (a.k.a those things that are not empirically obvious) and cognizant of what can and can not be mutually shared in a conversation, yet not avoiding what is essential in his work, Thacker reintroduces Henri Bergson’s concept of vitalism (Elan vital) into the discussion and relates it his ontology of life by referring to a new area of scholarship “new vitalism” . Here is a partial abstract I found, it begins: "This introduction addresses how and why vitalism - the idea originating in the 18th and 19th centuries, that life cannot be explained by the principles of mechanism matters now." [...]

The conversation also considers Marx’s idea of species being and Foucault's bio-politics both of which relate to an ontological understanding of life, as well as, new modes of genetic and cellular production, dead labor, zombie movies, the origins of science fiction (in Homer, Mary Shelly, or HG Wells?) bio-art.

Responses to “Brassier’s Meets an Ethnographer jerry the anthropologist Says: February 21, 2009 at 9:57 pm

First, I’m a good deal less convinced that string theory is a well formed scientific theory than apparently you are. Einstein’s work has been experiementally vindicated, so too has much of quantum mechanics. Huxley was able to make powerful arguments in favor of Darwin’s theories within 4 years (more or less) of the publication of On the Origin of Species, see his Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature published in 1863, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone; nor should we forget the fabulous intuitions (reimaginings) of Alfred Russel-Wallace. But as I understand matters, its been twenty years more or less for string theory and nada. So I do not have to accept the if-then nature of the argument; I really should leave aside the ethnographic fact that not all forms of human reason and human language allow if-then statements as grammatically well formed or linguistically fluent, but I can’t resist. So maybe you are right and I’ve over read an argument.

Nonetheless on this basis I do not have to accept the premises of what follows from Bhaskar’s invocation of string theory (perhaps better the string hypothesis). Nor do I am right about mathematics, do I have to accept the reading of moving beyond the image of the world. I take mathematical objects to be extant in thought and not in the proportions of (especially) living things. Indeed mathematical objects seem to me an extremely good example of myth, understood in anthropological sense and not a colloquial one; I said as much in an earlier comment.

I simply do not agree with you about Copernicus or Darwin. We ask questions for reasons at particular times, but we ask them given oddities in what we perceive; this is not ethnographically insignificant as can be understood if we think about why mayans did not use wheels on carts or the classical Mediterrean folks did not use steam engines to power looms. This is why I think your dismissal of the question of the calculation of Easter is a bit premature. It is also why I think we need to come back to the movement of the planets. These motions has been known of for a very long time and by a variety of sciences not all of which are western. The point however for Copernicus is not just that the planets move forward against the apparent background of stars, they also move backwards, and in the case of Venus move from evening to morning and back to evening with periods of being unobservable between. If we do not attend to these sorts of movements, so be it, why should we. Hence the sense many have of the moving of the sun, moon and the so-called fixed stars, which if I understand you you equate with some sort of common sense (forgive me, but as you know any idea of common sense just gets anthropologists’ juices going–what is common about this or that sense?). But the backwards movements are still there in the heavens and in the image of the world (I suppose this is an example of what you mean by correlationism??). These movements are precisely the sort of detail which leads to a reimagining of the image of the world in the sense I’ve spoken of, and not the other way round as some sort of suspension. Indeed, if I’m right about mathematetics (and yes in English of our era if-then statements are grammatically well formed) then then mathematics is not such a suspension but rather a way or means of reimagining the world.

What disturbs me about the cultural constructionists in anthropology (I won’t speak of other disciplines) is that they often seem to forget that there is a world out there being thought by someone, individually and collectively. What I find disturbing in the sort of materialism Bhaksar puts forth in those few pages is what I take to be a forgetting of the conditions of and for thought or maybe even a contempt for those who seek to explore these matters, of certain types of psychology and anthropology; he says of those forms of knowing that they are repugnant, and in that sense misunderstands how Darwin’s thought has entered into neurology, psychology and anthropology in ways that makes these three disciplines potentially unitary. What I’m also saying here is that he is ethnographically mistaken or put another way that his choice between Darwin and Husserl (or at least phenomenology as it has come to influence certain strands of psychology and anthropology) is a false choice. Its because I see this as a false choice (my notes refer to the top of his page 18 but without going back and rereading I can’t reconstruct this further) that I see Bhaskar as dreaming of a transparent language, shall we say mathematics??, without seeing this, apparently, as a reimagining of the image of the world.

I’ll grant that we can describe that we can describe human beings as “a carbon based information processing sytem” but that description also applies to marmosets, earthworms, my cats and the trees outside in that all of these living entities respond to events around them; this is what I mean, at least in part, when I speak about form the way that I do. The difference that makes a difference would be, I think, that we tell stories about the world as a part of thinking the world whereas my cats tell less complicated stories, if you will; I take mathematics to be a profound example of such a story, and in Husserl’s version as articulated in the quote, Nature is also a profound example.

Analogies Elucidating Correlationism from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects

Suppose you were to look through the bottom of a stemless wine glass while looking at the world. Because of the properties of the glass, when you look through it everything takes on a radial pattern of bending or distortion. Now, suppose we take this experiment one step further and hypothesize that we only see the world through such a wine glass and never see it in any other way. In this analogy, what appears through the bottom of the glass is the “given”, while the glass itself is “givenness” or the mechanism by which the given is given or bestowed.

At this point questions of ontology and epistemology merge. The correlationist or transcendental philosopher, recognizing that it is not the world itself that displays this radial pattern but our own cognition or perception of the world that contains contributes this radial curving pattern. The correlationist or transcendental philosopher will then make three claims:

  • First, the correlationist will argue that while we are limited by this formal structure of perception, we can nonetheless analyze this structure of our perception, e.g., we can precisely discuss the structure of the radial curvature, etc.
  • Second, the correlationist will claim that any object we perceive will be structured in and through this radial curvature. For example, when I look through the bottom of my glass the door to my living room closet is bowed along the outside, with a bit of a blind circular spot in the middle. The mode or mechanisms of givenness systematically structures what appears as given.
  • Finally, third (and most importantly), the correlationist will claim that we can know nothing of objects as they are independent of these mechanisms of givenness because we have no access to objects beyond this field of presentation.

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