November 29, 2015

David Frawley, François Gautier, and P Raja

Sujantra: You discovered the Vedas through the writings of Sri Aurobindo. My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, studied at the Sri Aurobindo ashram from 1944-1964.

Vamadeva: Sri Aurobindo was a spiritual and intellectual giant of the highest order. It will take decades for the world to properly appreciate his work. He could understand the most ancient Vedic teachings and at the same time had an unparalleled vision of the future evolution of humanity at the level of consciousness, which modern science still has only the most vague intimation of. If you try to read his books, his sentences are longer than most paragraphs, his paragraphs go on for pages, and he discusses all sides of a topic before coming to a comprehensive understanding and way forward. You need a strong dharana or power of concentration to connect with him, which is rare today in the era of quick information bites.

Aurobindo pioneered the whole concept of Integral Yoga, brought out the importance of life as Yoga, and created a Yoga for the modern world that we can incorporate into our work and daily lives. Simultaneously his Yoga has deep dimensions linking us beyond time and space to the very fountains of creation. It is hard to put this many-side vision into words.

Aurobindo also wrote directly in the English language, explaining the higher teachings in concepts we can grasp today, so no translation is required. In addition he wrote on philosophy, psychology, poetry, art, politics and all aspects of life and culture, so each one of us can find some angle of access to his work.

Sri Aurobindo wrote that there are three major Asuras controlling the Falsehood in the world : one that he called Lord of the Money, the other which dwells in ...

SOAS University of London
The Sri Aurobindo Trust will make three travel awards available to undergraduate students with a strong interest in Modern Indian Philosophy and the ...

P Raja - Posted at: Nov 29 2015
After moving from British India to French India, Bharati felt he was no more in shackles and his pen flowed freely. Every piece he wrote in his weekly was satirical to the core and the British, spineless moderates in politics, and self-centered Indians who still kept away from the freedom struggle, were his targets. The weekly favoured nationalism, welfare of women and mass education.

In every issue, what actually took the cake was the cartoon on the cover page. In the history of Tamil journalism, India, brought out every Saturday, was the first to enjoy cartoons and it is said that every one of these was drawn under the able guidance of Bharati. They spoke in fitting terms of the policy of the journal and Bharati’s deep involvement in Indian politics gave him the power and strength to voice his opinions boldly. India began to enjoy a tremendous popularity and its readers loved the cartoons so much that they cut the page, pasted it on cardboard and displayed it in front of their houses.

The British took several measures to stop the printing of the journal and all such efforts served to publicise the journal all the more. The French government in Pondicherry said “no” to the British ban request and the latter took the extreme step of closing the gates of Tamil Nadu for India. Circulation dwindled but with the issue dated 12 March 1910, it gave a clarion call to all devoted Indians to join hands in driving the British away and brought down its shutters.

Sri Aurobindo, “the most dangerous man”, as the British put it, seeking political asylum, arrived in Pondicherry on 4 April1910 and on 15 August 1914 he celebrated his 42nd birthday by giving lovers of spiritual philosophy the first monthly issue of his Arya. Edited by him in collaboration with Paul and Mira Richard, and printed at Modern Press, Pondicherry, Arya set before itself a twofold objective – “A systematic study of the highest problems of existence; and the formation of a vast synthesis of knowledge, harmonising the diverse religious traditions of humanity, Occidental as well as Oriental. Its method will be that of realism, at once rational and transcendental — a realism consisting in the unification of intellectual disciplines with those of intuitive experience.”

Philosophy, literature, yoga, religion, national and international politics, history and sociology, art and literary criticism, ethics and culture are the several realms of knowledge on which Sri Aurobindo gave thought to. When everyone wondered how the yogi could manage to write on several subjects at one and the same time, Aurobindo declared that if he had gone on writing seven issues of the Arya every month for a full seven years he could hardly have exhausted all the knowledge that had come to him from above. The journal enjoyed six-and-a-half-years of uninterrupted publication on the 15th of every month, with one exception of a combined issue of November and December 1920.

Other revolutionaries like VVS Aiyar and Va Ra. soon followed suit to join the band of “Swadeshis” in Pondicherry. The band had a tremendous effect on the local population pertaining to matters political and social.

Sri Swami Tatwananda Ashram: Upanishad classes by Swami Samanandar, P and T ... Sri Aurobindo Study Forum: Sathsang by Dr. Subramany, Aurolab, 

November 19, 2015

A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems

So I used to wonder how come such great and good works went unmentioned or just mentioned as a passing reference. Then I realized that what matters in most matters is the combination of certain factors which contextually had a predominant impact and formed part of human evolution as social beings with national boundaries and limited resources to that extent. Two among them are predominantly attracting out attention, namely,

a] authority and power which makes the world to sit up and listen to you 
b] the extent to which you provide utility value for them at least through well documented accounts of knowledge you have had in a language and idiom that they can understand.

This is obvious in any sphere that is why technological innovations get funded more than pure science research. Similarly the best form of authority and power that was respected and that has ruled the world in the past few centuries, when human knowledge dissemination, information sharing etc progressed enormously, has been due largely to economic prosperity and all its concomitant manifestations which has had such enormous impact, in many cases, rightly so because it has enabled human progress much quicker in many spheres, made life more comfortable and pleasant in many activities etc but also had it own share of negative influences in terms of penetration into all spheres of human life.

Our greatest failure has been paying lack of attention to economic development and material prosperity both at individual level and as a social phenomenon. We assumed that it was not part of or sometimes even deluded ourselves into believing that it was not one of the sacred aspects of life so why bother about it. Regarding documentation, since we relied so much on oral tradition and imparting everything only to those interested in knowing we were pathetically short on much scientific documented evidence for many of the excellence that we had or at least claim to have had.

Even a Swami Vivekanda, Sri Aurobindo, Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi were known to the world because of two factors 
one their willingness to come out of insulations of hermitic life, 
ability to communicate in a Westerner’s language and also some Westerners who found and felt the need to spread their invaluable wisdom to the whole world. 
In mathematics Ramanujam was unearthed and announced to the world by a Westerner; Bose too had to face a similar fact.

So as the adage goes better late than never, we must now put everything else behind us or keep them in abeyance as a part of hidden agenda and ulterior motive. Please note that hidden agenda has to remain hidden and ensconced in diplomatic terms and delicate hypocritical posturing as most noble cause peddling NGOs do in most parts of the world to ensure that they do not end up hindering the main agenda through adverse publicity by the lunatics who have suppressed our great history and divert the attention. Truth must preferably better not to be presented through any brutal or blunt manner.

So, we need to prioritize two things now, in the present context of human evolution. 
One emphasize and ensure economic development in all spheres which will empower many Indians and establish the authority and position of India as a powerful nation or at least allow the present government of BJP to do that; 
two establish institutions of governance with transparency and simplicity which can deliver the benefits of economic development to percolate to as many Indians as possible so India as a nation and Indians as individuals are respected and looked up to... The following link carries an article reproduced 

The Hindu November 18, 2015
Many of the signatories of the above two statements by Indian and “overseas” historians have been part of a politico-ideological apparatus which, from the 1970s onward, has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country, including the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and imposed its blinkered view of Indian historiography on the whole academic discipline.

Anchored mainly in Marxist historiography and leftist ideology, with a few borrowings from postmodernism, the Annales School, Subaltern and other studies, this new School, which may be called “Leftist” for want of a better term, has become synonymous with a number of abusive and unscholarly practises; among them:

1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago.

2. A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems in every field —philosophical, linguistic, literary, scientific, medical, technological or artistic — and a general underemphasis of India’s important contributions to other cultures and civilizations . In this, the Leftist School has been a faithful inheritor of colonial historiography, except that it no longer has the excuse of ignorance. Yet it claims to provide an accurate and “scientific” portrayal of India!

3. A denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture , ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists. Hindu identity, especially, has been a pet aversion of this School, which has variously portrayed it as being disconnected from Vedic antecedents, irrational, superstitious, regressive, barbaric — ultimately “imagined” and, by implication, illegitimate.

4. A refusal to acknowledge the well-documented darker chapters of Indian history , in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim victims (ironically, some of these tyrants are glorified today); the brutal intolerance of the Church in Goa, Kerala and Puducherry; and the state-engineered economic and cultural impoverishment of India under the British rule. While history worldwide has wisely called for millions of nameless victims to be remembered, Indian victims have had to suffer a second death, that of oblivion, and often even derision.

5. A neglect of tribal histories : For all its claims to give a voice to “marginalized” or “oppressed” sections of Indian society, the Leftist School has hardly allowed a space to India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief systems and heritage. When it has condescended to take notice, it has generally been to project Hindu culture and faith traditions as inimical to tribal cultures and beliefs, whereas in reality the latter have much more in common with the former than with the religions imposed on them through militant conversions.

6. A biased and defective use of sources : Texts as well as archaeological or epigraphic evidence have been misread or selectively used to fit preconceived theories. Advances of Indological researches in the last few decades have been ignored, as have been Indian or Western historians, archaeologists, anthropologists who have differed from the Leftist School. Archaeologists who developed alternative perspectives after considerable research have been sidelined or negatively branded. Scientific inputs from many disciplines, from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies have been neglected.

7. A disquieting absence of professional ethics : The Leftist School has not academically critiqued dissenting Indian historians, preferring to dismiss them as “Nationalist” or “communal”. Many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line, enforced through political support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The Indian History Congress and the ICHR, among other institutions, became arenas of power play and political as well as financial manipulation. In effect, the Leftist School succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarizing the academic community.

While we reject attempts to portray India’s past as a glorious and perfect golden age, we condemn the far more pernicious imposition by the Leftist School of a “legislated history”, which has presented an alienating and debilitating self-image to generations of Indian students, and promoted contempt for their civilizational heritage. The “values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past” are precisely those this School has never practised. We call for an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India. 8:39 AM

November 18, 2015

How to overcome polarization or moral injury

Military Times - ‎Nov 15, 2015‎ 
Moral injury is a kind of psychological anguish that can be mild or intense and isn't specific to war but does often come as part of the aftermath of war. It has to do with the reaction to doing wrong, being wronged or witnessing wrongs. For the thinking soldier, war delivers up spades of moral conundrums: Is the fight just? Is calling in this airstrike the right thing to do? Did I protect my troops enough? Did I harm civilians? But it's not just questioning. It's anguish, sometimes crippling shame or guilt. This is not new, it's ancient. Moral rage and anguish goes far back. We see it in Homer, when Achilles, angry over the death of his friend, drags Hector's body around from the back of his chariot. In clinical medicine, moral injury often gets ignored in favor of the slimmer notion of psychological trauma, which primarily is fear-based. This goes beyond the medical model; it's the spiritual and mental anguish some experience when they go to war. -Georgetown University philosophy professor Nancy Sherman

Science Daily‎ - "We were trying to figure out ways to overcome the polarization," says Prof. Feinberg, who teaches organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. Dr. Willer is a sociologist at Stanford University.

The pair ran a series of experiments that had participants come up with arguments of their own for someone of the opposite political viewpoint. A theoretical framework of values was used to define what qualified as a liberal or conservative argument.

The results showed that both groups were extremely poor at developing arguments that would appeal to their political opposite, even when specifically asked to do so. Worse, some participants in both camps actually attacked the morality of those they'd been asked to convince.

"Most people are not very good at appealing to other people's values," says Prof. Feinberg.‎ - The study's findings are timely as Canadian political operatives analyze results of their recent federal election and party organizers in the U.S. consider how to build bridges with voters for that country's election in 2016.

"Instead of alienating the other side and just repeating your own sense of morality, start thinking about how your political opposition thinks and see if you can frame messages that fit with that thought process," suggests Prof. Feinberg.‎ - 2 days ago

The Indian Express - ‎“Initially, we thought we had observed a difference in participants in terms of personality, sense of control, and self-esteem based on their self-help reading habits,” said first author Catherine Raymond, a doctoral student at the Institut universitaire en sante mentale de Montreal. “In reality, there seems to be no difference between those who read and those who do not read these types of books,” said Raymond. “However, our results show that while consumers of certain types of self-help books secrete higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when confronted with stressful situations, consumers of another type of self-help books show higher depressive symptomatology compared to non-consumers,” she said. [...]

“Logically, if such books were truly effective, reading just one would be enough to solve our problems,” she said. The study was published in the journal Neural Plasticity. 

November 16, 2015

How pluralist do we need to be about method?

  • Scientific Method (Hanne Andersen and Brian Hepburn) [NEW: November 13, 2015] SEP
Scientific Method
First published Fri Nov 13, 2015
Science is an enormously successful human enterprise. The study of scientific method is the attempt to discern the activities by which that success is achieved. Among the activities often identified as characteristic of science are systematic observation and experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the formation and testing of hypotheses and theories. How these are carried out in detail can vary greatly, but characteristics like these have been looked to as a way of demarcating scientific activity from non-science, where only enterprises which employ some canonical form of scientific method or methods should be considered science (see also the entry on science and pseudo-science). On the other hand, more recent debate has questioned whether there is anything like a fixed toolkit of methods which is common across science and only science.
Scientific method should be distinguished from the aims and products of science, such as knowledge, predictions, or control. Methods are the means by which those goals are achieved. Scientific method should also be distinguished from meta-methodology, which includes the values and justifications behind a particular characterization of scientific method (i.e., a methodology) — values such as objectivity, reproducibility, simplicity, or past successes. Methodological rules are proposed to govern method and it is a meta-methodological question whether methods obeying those rules satisfy given values. Finally, method is distinct, to some degree, from the detailed and contextual practices through which methods are implemented. The latter might range over: specific laboratory techniques; mathematical formalisms or other specialized languages used in descriptions and reasoning; technological or other material means; ways of communicating and sharing results, whether with other scientists or with the public at large; or the conventions, habits, enforced customs, and institutional controls over how and what science is carried out.
While it is important to recognize these distinctions, their boundaries are fuzzy. Hence, accounts of method cannot be entirely divorced from their methodological and meta-methodological motivations or justifications, Moreover, each aspect plays a crucial role in identifying methods. Disputes about method have therefore played out at the detail, rule, and meta-rule levels. Changes in beliefs about the certainty or fallibility of scientific knowledge, for instance (which is a meta-methodological consideration of what we can hope for methods to deliver), have meant different emphases on deductive and inductive reasoning, or on the relative importance attached to reasoning over observation (i.e., differences over particular methods.) Beliefs about the role of science in society will affect the place one gives to values in scientific method.
The issue which has shaped debates over scientific method the most in the last half century is the question of how pluralist do we need to be about method? Unificationists continue to hold out for one method essential to science; nihilism is a form of radical pluralism, which considers the effectiveness of any methodological prescription to be so context sensitive as to render it not explanatory on its own. Some middle degree of pluralism regarding the methods embodied in scientific practice seems appropriate. But the details of scientific practice vary with time and place, from institution to institution, across scientists and their subjects of investigation. How significant are the variations for understanding science and its success? How much can method be abstracted from practice? This entry describes some of the attempts to characterize scientific method or methods, as well as arguments for a more context-sensitive approach to methods embedded in actual scientific practices. [...]
The Old Deferentialist position is that science progressed inductively by accumulating true theories confirmed by empirical evidence or deductively by testing conjectures against basic statements; while the New Cynics position is that science has no epistemic authority and no uniquely rational method and is merely just politics. Haack insists that contrary to the views of the New Cynics, there are objective epistemic standards, and there is something epistemologically special about science, even though the Old Deferentialists pictured this in a wrong way. Instead, she offers a new Critical Commonsensist account on which standards of good, strong, supportive evidence and well-conducted, honest, thorough and imaginative inquiry are not exclusive to the sciences, but the standards by which we judge all inquirers. In this sense, science does not differ in kind from other kinds of inquiry, but it may differ in the degree to which it requires broad and detailed background knowledge and a familiarity with a technical vocabulary that only specialists may possess.

  List of UHU Events
Welcome to our Forum on Integral Paradigm of KnowledgeNov 12, 2015, 8:07 pmFeb 29, 2016, 8:07 pm
Welcome to our Forum on Integral Paradigm of Knowledge
Start: November 12, 2015, 8:07 pm
End: February 29, 2016, 8:07 pm
Welcome to the Forum on 

Integral Paradigm of Knowledge!

Dear Friends,
You are welcome to our Forum on Integral Paradigm of Knowledge, where we can discuss different ideas, theories, visions related to the studies of Consciousness. These discussions may help us in organising the IPK Seminar in Auroville in February 2016. 

November 13, 2015

Prophesy points to Foucault's new age of curiosity

Why I Stopped Reading Arts and Letters Daily | Ph.D. Octopus › 2011/01/04 › why-i-st...
Dutton despised the turgid prose that he believed dominated academic writing and frequently linked to articles that lamented its dominance. As editor of the journal Philosophy and Literature, he even launched a “Bad Writing Contest” in which correspondents submitted the most egregious examples of such prose that they had found in an academic text. Since Dutton also hated critical theory’s influence on scholarship—which he considered little more than an academic fad—it was not surprising that theorists such as Homi K. Bhabha, Frederick Jameson, and Judith Butler were all awarded the bad writing prize (the difficulty of their prose, however, certainly didn’t help). Dutton rejected many of his academic colleagues focus on discourse, power, and difference, and instead used his perch at Arts and Letters to champion the human universalism implied by much work in evolutionary psychology—an entire field treated with skepticism by most scholars in the social science and the humanities. (His recent book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Evolution, applies insights from evolutionary psychology to aesthetic theory.)
The apparent contrarianism conveyed in the articles on Arts and Letters helped make it a formative influence on my own intellectual development.  I started reading the site at the age of 18 and it introduced me to the world of public intellectuals. I devoured essays by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, and Martha Nussbaum. Arts and Letters convinced me that serious public discourse required style, sophistication, and skepticism. I began reading the site as a fairly dogmatic liberal, but its frequent links to conservative intellectuals and unclassifiable political heretics helped me to constantly reassess my own positions. Perhaps most importantly, Arts and Letters introduced me to an expansive and evolving intellectual community. In fact, my exposure to the site probably played an important role in my decision to pursue American intellectual history as a graduate student.
Since it has exerted such a strong affect on my intellectual development, it’s been sad for me to gradually give up on reading the site, and it seems as though I’m not the only one. Some of this has to do with the proliferation of new sites competing for intellectually-engaged readers, but I believe there are broader reasons for its relative decline. 
Over the years, however, I came to understand my professor’s position. Once I started to actually read writers such as Foucault, Derrida, and Butler, I realized that many of the denunciations launched against them—frequently promoted on Arts and Letters Daily—were unfair, to say the least. I still refuse to genuflect toward any intellectual authority, but such theorists have triggered debate because their ideas are often profound, complex, and troubling—they need to be treated with intellectual seriousness.  Of course, all of these figures are worthy of critique, but this is very difficult to do well in an op-ed format often better suited for polemical takedowns.
This brings me back to my original question about academics navigating the world of public discussion. Many scholars already cringe when they are forced to trim their research down to fit a 10-page conference papers; an op-ed generally cuts that material down to 2 pages.  Translating specialized academic training into the often intimate, humorous, and generalist medium of blogging represents a serious challenge, but in the past few years, many have risen to meet it. These sites generally succeed because they refuse to dumb down expert knowledge even as they make it more accessible, avoid fruitless polemics, treat claims to infallibility with skepticism, and make valuable contributions to public debate. Even though I stopped reading it, these are all points that, at its best, Arts and Letters Daily continues to encourage.
Schelling's Practice of the Wild: Time, Art, Imagination: 2015.11.11 : View this Review Online ... #philosophynws
Creativity is not some subjective factor but is the mysterious life of nature expressing itself as life, the animating force of which is time. Across all six chapters, Wirth argues that the wonderful strangeness of nature calls for the practice of the profoundest love, calls for the practice of the wild.

The wild is described as imagination, and it is at the heart of all images. Citing John Sallis, Wirth claims that the wild is 'monstrous,' not as an aberration but as that which trespasses the limits of mere explication (26). And here Wirth announces the purpose of his work: to liberate the imagination, die Einbildungskraft, from the fantasy that it is a faculty of representation (153) and, consequently, to take up the perplexing question of what is an image or Bild. Contrary to the Platonic tradition still embedded in modern discourse, he will argue that the imagination is the font of all thinking and the principle of creativity that is formative of the very opening upon things. He will present the image as a 'revelation' without representation. Wirth sees the problem of the image and imagination as a contemporary problem and, rather than merely reporting what Schelling says, purports to think through this problem with Schelling in a mutual practice of the wild, thereby rendering Schelling our contemporary, a project that, in my judgment, is utterly prodigious. He interfaces the thought of Schelling with some of the major figures of contemporary continental philosophy, principally Deleuze but also Heidegger, Derrida, Nancy, Sallis and others, as well as recent Schelling scholars such as Bruce Matthews and Lore Hühn. Writers of literature are also present and decisive, especially Melville but also Flaubert, Musil, Kundera, Coleridge, Hölderlin, and others. Clearly master of more than one book or tradition, Wirth thinks through this problem also with the Eastern traditions, principally that of Mahāyāna Buddism and Taoism. Much like that of Schelling, Wirth's thinking in this book is expansive, original, rich, and daring enough that it renders quite difficult a limited review.

Following the later Schelling, Wirth divides Schelling's philosophical itinerary into two periods, that of negative philosophy (the Naturphilosophie and earlier) and that of positive philosophywhose themes were foreshadowed in the Ages of the World (1815) and the Freedom essay (1809) and developed in the later works on revelation and mythology (the Berlin lectures, 1842-43). He sees the task of negative philosophy as overcoming the alienation of nature found in modern philosophy by intuiting "the infinite within the finite and . . . the ungrounded ground from which thinking arises" (118) while pointing out that it cannot account for the sovereign life of imagination, natura naturans. Positive philosophy displaces pure reason in favor of the cognition of actual experience and denies that the ungrounded ground is simply an abstraction (223). It provides a careful genealogy of past experience and a vigorous discernment of the present, and affirms the coming into the finite of the infinite as something found in the creativity of inspired living art.

Granting that philosophy always has an analytical task, Wirth nonetheless argues that, more importantly, it must cultivate the largesse and creativity that the imagination unleashes in the form of revelation and its poetic expression in mythology. In fact, in his second chapter on the "Solitude of God," he makes claims that may be taken as audacious and scandalous, namely that revelation is the ground for the possibility of philosophy, that it belongs first to philosophy more than it does to religion and is, in fact, first philosophy, "naming the very revelatory force of revelation itself" (32), a force that Wirth will call the monstrous solitude of God. Following Schelling, he announces a prophetic philosophical and ecologically responsive religion. He goes on to make what many traditional theologians and Schelling scholars would think is an outrageous claim, namely that prophesy points to Foucault's new age of curiosity. (39) Reviewed by Patrick Burke, Gonzaga in Florence › inte...
Please tell us a little about how you go about writing a book such as how much pre-planning you do, how much time you spend per day writing?

Between books I spend as much time away from the keyboard work as I can. I do other things, sailing, fishing, traveling, playing music. But while I'm doing other things I'm getting some mental notes down, some ideas of who's going to do what, and why, for my next book. I'm always watching people, listening to what they're saying, and more importantly, why they're saying it. At the same time I'm searching old historical accounts, bank robberies, train robberies, hangings, shootings, weather conditions and whatnot. I try to keep a foot in the 1800s Victorian era social mores and customs, so I keep my story sounding authentic. Once I settle in to write, I have the story pretty much done, I just need to write it down. That's about six to eight hours a day or more until I get the satisfactory ending. Of course the story throws me some surprises in the actually writing. A character I had all set to die will become so good or so bad that I decide to keep them around for a book or two, or in some cases a whole new series. Sometimes, at the end I realize that the story took on a whole different focus or slant or meaning than I had in mind. Generally that's when I recognize that I've done my best job. 
The Swiss-British philosopher Alain de Botton has made a career of bringing high-minded philosophical concepts to the masses with best-selling books like 1997's "How Proust Can Change Your Life" and 2006's "The Architecture of Happiness."

November 11, 2015

Shake people out of their ordinary assumptions

Posted by: Bert Olivier Posted on: November 9, 2015
Setting the scene for his subtle and penetrating discussion of the state of the world, Derrida uses the eponymous Hamlet’s famous words from Shakespeare’s tragedy as metonymic summary of his considered assessment: “The time is out of joint”. This is done advisedly, because one soon realises that the character of time itself is at stake: “What is coming, in which the untimely appears, is happening to time but it does not happen in time” (p. 77). (Clearly, he has something similar in mind to what Manuel Castells thinks of as the transformation of “sequential time” into “timeless time” via the global technological revolution.)

This fundamental change in the meaning of temporality is further apparent in the absurd claim (by Francis Fukuyama, and his teacher, Allan Bloom, for instance), that we are witnessing the “end of history” today, now that the former USSR has supposedly at long last realised that liberal-democratic capitalism is the “telos” that history has finally actualised. Significantly (intermittently quoting Bloom), Derrida remarks (1994: p. 78):

“ … what is one to think today of the imperturbable thoughtlessness that consists in singing the triumph of capitalism or of economic and political liberalism, ‘the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the endpoint of human government,’ the ‘end of the problem of social classes’? What cynicism of good conscience, what manic disavowal could cause someone to write, if not believe, that ‘everything that stood in the way of the reciprocal recognition of human dignity, always and everywhere, has been refuted and buried by history’?”

What interests me particularly here are Bloom’s words quoted, no doubt with heavy irony, by Derrida: the “end of the problem of social classes”. This is a double irony, because not only did Fukuyama and Bloom celebrate the fall, in the late 1980s, of the very system that attempted to remove different social classes in favour of equality, namely socialism/communism (the USSR), but particularly because, as Derrida then goes on to remind one, they could not possibly be unaware of the social and economic disparities that persist across the globe, despite their premature triumphalism.

This could be approached by way of listing the “mass of undeniable facts” (1994, p. 80) corroborating such a claim (which have themselves massively multiplied since 1994), or one could offer a kind of “multiple rubric” which readers can themselves use to trace such evidence, which is what Derrida proceeds to do under the heading of “plagues” accompanying the “new world order” (p. 81-84). Note that they are all (but particularly numbers 1 to 5, below) connected with the massive, and growing, social inequality that the apologists of liberal democratic capitalism seem to be blind to, and furthermore, they function simultaneously.

There is too little space here to elaborate on the full implications of these ten “world plagues”, so it will have to suffice to quote Derrida by way of conclusion (1994, p. 85): “For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelise in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realised itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity … let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact … ”

The distinction between system and environment is self-referential in the sense that it is an activity (this distinction is an ongoing process that has to reproduce itself from moment to moment in the order of time in a temporality constituted by the system) that only occurs on one side of the system. It is the system that distinguishes itself from its environment, producing an outside and an inside. For the environment, by contrast, this distinction does not exist. Here it’s necessary to note that Luhmann uses the term “environment” equivocally. There is, on the one hand, the environment that exists as such. This environment is what Deleuze and Guattari, in “Of the Refrain”, referred to as chaos or the “milieu of all milieus”. It would be there regardless of whether or not there were any systems to observe it. And that’s just what systems do, according to Luhmann. They observe events that take place or unfold in their environment (other-reference) and within themselves (self-reference). On the other hand, there are the environments constituted by systems. These are the flows or phenomena in other-reference to which a system is open. We can call these two environments Ei and Ec to refer to the “independent environment” and “constituted environment” respectively.

The environment (Ei) is always more complex than the system. Put differently, there is never a one-to-one correspondence between system and the independent environment (Ei). Here I think Luhmann makes a real advance over semiotic and linguistic idealisms because, where these idealisms tend towards a sort of imperialism of the sign and signifier that recognizes no outside, Luhmann’s thought is premised on the existence of a hyper-chaotic outside that can never fully be mastered. If there can never be a one-to-one correspondence between system and Ei, then this is because the environment is hyper-complex and systems need to be capable of engaging in operations and observations in real time (or, at any rate, the time of the system). The system must selectand establish selective relations to its environment. Systems are only ever selectively open to their environment. For this reason, systems are necessarily exposed to risk, for it’s always possible that the channel of openness that a system established did not anticipate or retend something of deep importance. It is this risk, the aleatory, the unexpected (the openness of systems is temporalized complexity), that both plays a key role in how the system evolves, but also opens the system to the possibility of destruction.
read on! (more…)

We could thus say, in a manner similar to the artist Malevich, that every discipline is framed. There is a frame that precedes that which appears in the frame and that is the condition for the possibility of what appears in the frame (here Derrida’s essay “Parergon”– which could be subtitled “Of Distinctions” or “Of the Frame” –shows itself to be of tremendous value even outside of aesthetics).

Every discipline can thus be said to be territorial and geographical. A territory, after all, is premised on a distinction, the drawing of a boundary. Here the drawing of a distinction should be thought in a very active sense, as a sort of repulsion or pushing away of an outside. The territory of a discipline is its founding distinctions. By contrast, the geography of a discipline is the “texturally” of its object. The object of a discipline, its geography, is that which appears in the marked space of its distinction. All geographies have their texture, their singularities, their features. For example, Literary Studies has the literary object as its geography, and is premised on a set of distinctions (that are fuzzy as in the case of all disciplines) that distinguish the literary object from other objects such as the ethnographic, biological, rhetorical, economic, chemical, philosophical, etc., objects. The texture of the literary object consists in all those features or singularities that are unique to literature as an object of discourse.

There are a variety of ways in which the boundaries of disciplines are maintained. There is, on the one hand, the subject of a system or a discipline. Within every discipline there is the formation of a subject, an agent, that develops the competence to observe according to the territoriality or distinctions of the discipline. There is, in short, a process of subjectivation that creates the subject of the discipline. This process takes place through graduate training. Graduate training is, above all, the formation of a transcendental aesthetic, a field of sensibility or receptivity, to inhabit the territory and geography of the discipline. Then there are the journals, presses, and conferences of the discipline. These are boundary maintaining regimes that link subject of the system to subject of the system and that create and maintain an interiority of distinctions distinct from other disciplinary territories. One talks with or communicates with ones colleagues in the discipline across the globe. Of course, it’s also the case that each discipline creates sub-systems that are themselves territories and geographies defined by sub-disciplines, specializations, and schools of thought. Each of these sub-systems is premised on its own system/environment distinctions and founding distinctions.

A curious feature of distinctions is that they are blind to themselves. On the one hand, every distinction has its unmarked space, the space of that which has been set aside to found the territory and geography, which thereby becomes invisible to the system. 

The Pinocchio Theory - Freedman on Mieville - I just finished reading Carl Freedman’s excellent book on China Mieville, which I can heartily recommend to anybody who’s interested in Mieville. The book ...
Though Deleuze uses “potentiality” positively, to mean something like what Mieville and Carl mean by crisis, his critique of mere logical possibility is pretty much the same as Mieville’s and Carl’s critique of what Mieville calls potentiality. In both cases, it is a question of actuality merely being added to a pregiven possibility; as opposed to the way that transformation requires a much deeper process of dialectical contradiction (Mieville) or actualization of the virtual (Deleuze). [I used to get all worked up about the differences between dialectical realization in the Hegelian tradition adopted by most Marxists, and the nondialectical account of differentiation as actualization of the virtual in Deleuze; but my present view is that these are actually quite minor differences, the basic point is pretty much the same in both traditions).

In any case, the Marx/Mieville theory of crisis, and the Deleuze theory of virtuality, both point to the way that there are untapped prospects for transformation or radical change even within the seemingly most static and repressive actual situation. Carl’s own treatment of this issue made it more clear to me than ever before; which is why I wish he had brought it back in the conclusion of the volume, and brought it to bear on the question of science fiction and its relation to other genres such as, especially, weird fiction. I think that, on both Carl’s view and mine, science fiction and other “arealistic” genres (as Carl calls them), have a lot to do with the rendering fictively present of these often neglected alternatives that may underlie and undermine even the most stable and repressive actualities.

The Pinocchio Theory - Accelerationism Without Accelerationism - Here is my review of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ INVENTING THE FUTURE. Cross-posted from The Disorder of Things. Steven Shaviro
The greatest strength of Inventing the Future, to my mind, is that it does indeed turn our attention towards the future, instead of the past. A big problem for the left today is that we have too long been stuck in the backward-looking, defensive project of trying to rescue whatever might be left of the mid-twentieth-century welfare state. While it is perfectly reasonable to lament our loss of the safety net that was provided by mid-twentieth-century social democracy, the restoration of those benefits is not enough to fuel a radical economic and political program. Looking nostalgically towards the past is far too deeply ingrained in our habits of thought. We need to reclaim our sense of the future from Silicon Valley and Hollywood. 

January 29, 2014 Interview with Paul W. Kahn, Author of Finding Ourselves at the Movies - Hope Leman (@hleman)
Philosophy, I believe, is dialogue. There is, however, no reason to think that the philosophical dialogue cannot be with oneself. I don’t think that one can start out this way. One needs teachers and companions to challenge the self and with whom to argue. But a dialogue begun with others can certainly continue with the self. A habit of thinking that starts in actual conversations can become an internal conversation.

I spend many hours every day essentially talking to myself, as I write about an idea, read what I have written, reject it as not quite right, and then try again. These forms of being alone – as well as many other private experiences – are not pathological, but to be without friends or people to talk with as a general condition is a problem for most people. Not many of us cultivate that sort of loneliness.

As for films that are so personal that one does not want to talk with others about them, I have no doubt that people have that experience. Not everything has to be talked about with everyone. The point here is no different than with a good book or a painting. The work offers an opportunity for a conversation, but it does not require it.

Philosophy is not a means to some other end. I cannot prove the usefulness of philosophy by showing you that it will improve your job prospects, find you a partner, or make your life easier. We engage in philosophy because we are drawn to self-reflection. We not only act, we think about what we are doing. At times, we think about our entire lives, what we are committed to and why. Everyone, in some way or another, is drawn to these reflections. That is part of what it means to be a person. Philosophy is only a more sustained effort to engage in this sort of self-reflection. The importance of that experience in one’s own life is the only ground upon which philosophy can be defended.

Most philosophers think of their activity as one of explaining. I don’t disagree with the urge to explain, but I think we need to get people enthusiastic about looking for explanations. That is the role of disruption: to shake people out of their ordinary assumptions about themselves and their world and to get them thinking.

One of the disruptive points I pursue in the book is to explore the relationship between family and politics. Political theory today generally assumes the perspective of the individual entering a social contract on her own in order to advance her interests. In popular films, we almost never find a film about politics that is not also about family. I explore that connection to disrupt political theory, but also to disrupt ordinary assumptions about the nature of political commitments.

Every movie imagines the possible through the construction of a narrative. An account of natural development does not include the possible. We don’t say that an earthquake was one of several possible events. We say it happened and it had to happen because of shifts in the tectonic plates that preceded it. A narrative does not work that way. A narrative always sets the actual against the possible. We are interested in human stories because of the choices made, but choice requires a belief that other possibilities were present – the choice could have been different.

Films interest us because they are both a result of and a reflection on free action. We don’t interpret a natural event; we analyze its causes. A free act is one that occurs for reasons. The meaning of a free act is a function of the reasons we assign to it. We might disagree about the reasons; we may be uncertain. Reasons, accordingly, call for interpretation.

Since the thesis of the book is that more is at stake in movies than entertainment alone, I don’t think the statement demeans the church – just the opposite. We go to church to reflect upon the nature of the self and the range of moral responsibilities we face.

Watching movies invites the same sorts of reflection. Movies involve us in a problem, a site of tension, and they ask, “What would you do?” Of course, they often represent this in fantastical ways, but so does religion speak of miracles and fables. The movies are always “preaching” to us not because they are trying to be didactic, but because we are eager for narrative. We come out of a movie with a sense that something has happened. We want to think about it. Thinking about the meaning of parables is, of course, one of our oldest experiences of religion.

My ideal reader is the student in college or graduate school, but I hope the book will appeal to anyone interested in the traditional questions of philosophy. I do not engage the professional scholarship of film studies. Rather, the book addresses the questions that have always motivated philosophy: for example, freedom, faith, love, death, and justice. I hope readers will engage these questions and learn that they are still very relevant to our modern experience.

Big Data: What it Can and Cannot Do – M.S. Srinivasan - At present, the corporate world is enamoured of “Big Data” or Analytics, which is regarded as the new “Management Revolution” Harvard Business Review has c...

However when the decisions involve a deeper or wider understanding of human factors like motivation or well-being or a holistic comprehension of the totality of life, then data becomes less important and human insight acquires a much greater significance.

Right decisions depend on right understanding which can be at many levels. At the first level, there is the understanding of life as it is, made of the known, visible, manifest, and predictable and the mobile actualities of life. At a deeper level is the unknown, invisible unmanifest, dormant, unpredictable and the flux of future possibilities. At a wider level is the understanding of the ecological dimension, which means connectedness, interdependence, unity and wholeness of life, which is necessary for knowing the long-term consequences of our decisions. At another level is the realm of values, the ethical, aesthetic and spiritual dimension, and the factors which lead to human well-being and fulfilment, individual and collective, inner and outer, which may involve reconciling many dualities, dilemmas and conflicts thrown by life.

Big data, analytics, and whatever future development in IT which enhances the capacity to process information can only help in better understanding at the first level of visible facts and when combined with Artificial Intelligence provide a certain level of insight into the second level of the invisible like for example hidden patterns behind facts. But at all other deeper, wider or higher levels, analytics may not be of much help and we need a deeper and higher intuition. In the future, as we grow as a race in our inner consciousness, more and more of these higher non-material dimension will begin to manifest and get incorporated into human life. This is already happening. For example, factors like ethics, values, long term vision, social responsibility, sustainability, holistic perspective and human well-being are now increasingly recognised as key to success in the future world. All these factors and many more which may come in the future will throw up problems, situations and decision-contexts which cannot be solved entirely by analytics but requires a higher intuitive understanding.

Even in the first level, right decisions require a certain subjective freedom from excessive self-interest. Without this freedom, big data will be used to support personal decisions driven consciously or subconsciously by self-seeking motives. Secondly, quite often right questions are the spark which ignites creativity and innovation and analytics can’t ask questions. As McAfee and Brynjoffson quote Pablo Picasso as telling “Computers are useless they can only give you answers.”

November 10, 2015

Luhmann, MacIntyre, and Bataille

Larval Subjects . - Poland: Speculative Realism and Cultural Studies - Above all, I took great care to underline the fact that neither speculative realism, nor object-oriented ontology, are unified terms and to draw attention to the work of the new materialist feminists that have worked on a very similar set of issues and who have gone very far in developing the political and ethical implications of materialist thought. I’ve noticed a disturbing tendency to equate speculative realism with object-oriented ontology as if they’re synonyms, and to treat object-oriented ontology as if it were synonymous with Graham Harman’s object-oriented phenomenology. However, these are genus, not species terms. Speculative realism is a term like “mammal”, not like “bengal tiger”. The same is true of object-oriented ontology. These are positions in dialogue with one another, arguing with one another, and both terms contain a variety of different positions in dispute with one another. For this reason it is perhaps best to abandon these labels altogether, instead always referring to the proper name of the thinker you have in mind with these positions. Equating speculative realism with object-oriented ontology does a great disservice to the thought of Meillassoux, Brassier, and Grant, none of whom are object-oriented ontologists and some of whom even reject the existence of objects. Likewise, my positions are not those of Harman’s, so treating object-oriented ontology as a synonym with his object-oriented philosophy risks attributing claims to others that are not their own. This is always the danger of signifiers. They take on a life of their own and treat as the same that which is different.

I hasten to add, that I share Harman’s critique of “undermining“, but believe this is already the new materialist positions. If the new materialists have taught us anything, it’s that 1) matter has agency (which isn’t equivalent, I think, to defending vitalism), and 2) that under requisite conditions, new forms of pattern or organization emerge within matter that supervene on their parts and are not possible without them, but new powers emerge as a result of these assemblages. Oxygen alone and hydrogen alone are both very combustable and certainly do not have the power to wet, together they generate new powers. Everywhere the new materialists teach us of the liveliness of matter, of its creativity; but they also do this while taking into account situated epistemological conditions of knowledge production (Haraway, Barad), and the role that normative values and political context play in our investigations in the world. Above all, they show how we are always sheathed in the earth, in a world that exceeds us. As Bennett remarks, you can’t truly throw anything away.
I find that in these reflections I’ve lost my original train of thought. These days I find myself thinking of a return to that project on Deleuze. I have a number of projects in the works. One on Foucault as a forerunner to assemblage theory and the new materialists. Another on Luhmann, who I see as an under-appreciated thinker in the Anglo-American world of Continental theory. Yet another on the ontology of the fold and vortices I’ve been developing. Yet I feel the lure of that book on Deleuze: The Speculative Realism of Deleuze and Guattari. I wonder what such a book would look like. It would certainly not be a mere study. It would, above all, begin with univocity and immanence, and a critique of hylomorphism.

Here it’s necessary to note that Luhmann uses the term “environment” equivocally. There is, on the one hand, the environment that exists as such. This environment is what Deleuze and Guattari, in “Of the Refrain”, referred to as chaos or the “milieu of all milieus”. It would be there regardless of whether or not there were any systems to observe it. And that’s just what systems do, according to Luhmann. They observe events that take place or unfold in their environment (other-reference) and within themselves (self-reference). On the other hand, there are the environments constituted by systems. These are the flows or phenomena in other-reference to which a system is open. We can call these two environments Ei and Ec to refer to the “independent environment” and “constituted environment” respectively.
The environment (Ei) is always more complex than the system. Put differently, there is never a one-to-one correspondence between system and the independent environment (Ei). Here I think Luhmann makes a real advance over semiotic and linguistic idealisms because, where these idealisms tend towards a sort of imperialism of the sign and signifier that recognizes no outside, Luhmann’s thought is premised on the existence of a hyper-chaotic outside that can never fully be mastered. If there can never be a one-to-one correspondence between system and Ei, then this is because the environment is hyper-complex and systems need to be capable of engaging in operations and observations in real time (or, at any rate, the time of the system). The system must selectand establish selective relations to its environment. Systems are only ever selectively open to their environment. For this reason, systems are necessarily exposed to risk, for it’s always possible that the channel of openness that a system established did not anticipate or retend something of deep importance. It is this risk, the aleatory, the unexpected (the openness of systems is temporalized complexity), that both plays a key role in how the system evolves, but also opens the system to the possibility of destruction.

Love of All Wisdom - My first encounters with Alasdair MacIntyre - In philosophy as in any other field, one sees further by standing on the shoulders of giants. I have tried to engage in detail with contemporary thinkers whose work seems like it might be helpful in advancing the inquiries that most interest me. The first such was Ken Wilber. I’ve said before that I think he asks the right questions but gets the wrong answers, and I think a key reason for that is that he has an unsustainable method, a perennialist method that refuses to acknowledge genuine diversity. I have learned a lot from my engagement with him, but I cannot take up his approach.
More recently I have turned in detail to the works of Alasdair MacIntyre, whose thought I’ve already juxtaposed against Wilber’s a number of times (often in MacIntyre’s favour). I had expected that I would engage MacIntyre much as I had engaged Wilber: seeing him as a source of important and productive ideas, but ultimately wrong. Now I am not so sure. I don’t agree with the Christian MacIntyre on substantive answers, but I am finding him ever more convincing about the method we should take to reach those substantive answers.
Like Wilber, MacIntyre has been an influence on me for most of my philosophical life. He is in many ways a conservative, known for polemical attacks on liberalism and modernity, which I’ve examined at most length in my series of posts on his provocative critiques of the idea of rights. It is through these attacks that people most often tend to discover his work.
I was one of them, even though at the time I would have recoiled from the mention of anything conservative. For MacIntyre’s critiques of liberal modernity also serve as critiques of analytic philosophy, and it was in that respect that they gave a voice to incoherent ideas I had not yet expressed. While struggling as an undergraduate with a utilitarianism I was still in the process of rejecting, I took a course in ethics with Susan Dwyer, a brilliant professor whom I’m told was a student of John Rawls. Dwyer’s course repelled me from analytic philosophy – ironically, not because Dwyer was bad, but because she was so good. She had solid answers to every question I asked, really helped me understand Mill and especially Kant at a deep level.
Every question, that is, but one. And that question was this: We keep talking about what morality consists of, what the moral thing to do might be in various hard cases (of the trolley problem variety).

by Matthew David Segall. Bookmark the permalink.
I have noticed my own tendency to waver between a less extreme version of the cosmic pessimism Hickman describes and a more tempered cosmic optimism akin to that of philosophers like Whitehead or the cosmologist Brian Swimme. My wavering largely corresponds to my mood (prediction: I will swing violently to the pessimistic side after watching the GOP debate tonight). In general, I agree with Hickman that nihilism is not something we can undo or escape from. I’ve argued it is a necessary stage in the development of our species (whether developing past this stage will leave us recognizably “human” or not, I don’t know). It is not a destination, it is an existential trial we must confront head on. The old ontologies and traditional theologies no longer capture our imaginations. We are in between stories at the moment. No doubt the very nature of story-telling and myth-making will itself require transformation if we recover. But that we might live without myth all together? I just don’t see that being possible. That said, there is a real chance that we will not make it through this nihilistic cultural phase to tell new stories. Myth is non-negotiable. It is an intrinsic part of the very biology of our social species. Life on the other hand…

I posted the following on Hickman’s blog in response to his reading of the metaphysical implications of neuroscience:
I’ve no doubt neuroscience will continue to increase our medical and military power over consciousness, its pathologies and its potentials. The military power it affords will be doled out rather widely, while the medical power will be reserved for the few who can afford it. As for our *understanding* of consciousness, I’m not sure how much neuroscience can help. The dominant paradigm at the moment has already decided in advance that consciousness is produced inside the skull through some sort of molecular magic to be determined later, so of course it will continue to find evidence supporting that theory. There is always the possibility that the 4EA paradigm will win more converts, but so far these related approaches don’t seem as appealing to DARPA, so they will probably remain underfunded in the hands of mere philosophers and neurophenomenologists. Power is more appealing to the powerful than understanding, as I’m sure you’d agree. That said, I don’t believe philosophy should ever try to outdo the sciences; rather, I see its task as that of the critic of the abstractions of the specialized sciences (Whitehead). It’s not that neuroscience should drop everything and consult philosophy. I just think neuroscience would be better served not making thinly veiled metaphysical claims about the nature of consciousness when all it can actually provide are ever-more ingenious (and, in DARPA’s hands, ever-more insidious) instrumental interventions upon consciousness.

I want to respond in more depth today to say exactly why I agree with the point Jesse is raising. I find it problematic to say that nihilism is a necessary developmental stage for all of humanity when in reality it may be a uniquely European affliction. Wouldn’t it be neat and tidy if all human beings followed the same sort of Hegelian developmental pathway to Absolute Knowledge of their own nothingness? In a post-colonial context, it is clear that this pathway is not universal, that for the most part (outside the Euro-American context, and indeed, even within this context among the less educated) human beings are still entirely mythical and magical in general outlook. Nietzsche’s announcement of God’s death is hardly relevant to those for whom no such monotheistic notion of value existed in the first place. 

Whitehead spends more time deconstructing received notions of representational “knowledge about nature” that perhaps any other inherited mode of thought. His reconstructed account of perception in terms of causal efficacy allows him to argue that the values of non-human creatures are directly felt and form the massive basis of our flitting conscious experiences. In short, our human values depend on non-human values as the condition of their actuality. Part of the tragedy of modernity has been the complete divorce of human value from the values of the earth community and wider cosmos. Not that medieval Europe’s worldview was rooted in the earth and synced up with the sky, but if we go back further to pre-axial archaic society and even further back to primal societies, the contrast is stark. And I’m not suggesting that modernity has been entirely tragic; there are many reasons I would definitely not want to turn back the clock.
More recently, even more tragic has been the reduction of all human value to economic exchange value. This divorce and reduction has had catastrophic consequences for the ability of the rest of the life-forms on this planet to continue to (re)produce their values, and indeed, though our human population has benefited from the petroleum interval over the past century, my sense is that the next century will prove just how catastrophic the modern bifurcation is for our species, as well.
And I think “we” should be careful not to universalize the “we” that must move beyond nihilism.