Ktismatics

5 August 2009

Memes as Abstract Artifacts

Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:02 pm

While I was enjoying a cup of tea at Larval Subjects recently, our host gracefully steered the conversation from emergence to memes. Recapping the basic premise, a typical meme is an idea or song or joke floating around in the environment. It can make innumerable copies of itself, but it’s essentially parasitic: each copy of the meme must infect a host organism in order to survive. This new meme “wants” to survive and to reproduce itself, which it does by lodging itself inside human brains. The meme manifests a certain property — cleverness or catchiness, say —  that the brain finds attractive or that lowers the brain’s resistance to infection, making memic reproduction more likely, just as sexual attraction makes biological reproduction more likely. The human “host” functions as a vector who, by telling someone the idea or singing the song, transmits the infectious meme to other brains.

Here’s my limited understanding of Levi’s position on memes. First, he regards the meme as an object. It’s essentially a material thing, consisting of a particular set of sounds or markings decoupled from their meaning. This conceptualization hasn’t quite stabilized though, and Levi vacillates between categorizing memes as material objects and as Aristotelian ideal objects that must be embodied in material form. The meme’s idea-ness or song-ness is an emergent property spawned by the raw meme’s physical properties but not reducible to them. Though idea-ness and song-ness were spawned by the meme, these emergent properties exist not in the raw physical meme itself but in the brains of people who see or hear them; i.e., the meme’s “hosts.” Similarly, the meme’s infectious properties — cleverness for the idea, catchiness for the song — emerge from the idea/song and likewise manifest themselves in the hosts, assuring that the idea/song takes up long-term residency. When the host states the idea or sings the song, the meme lodges itself in the hearer’s brain and the reproductive cycle repeats itself.

Rather than critiquing Levi’s scheme, I’m trying to work through the way I think about memes. It makes sense to me to regard a meme as an object. A song is a distinct thing separate from its singer; an idea exists independently of those who think it. I don’t, though, believe that the essence of a song or an idea is its materiality. But a meme isn’t ideal either, in the traditional sense of being perfect and eternal form or of existing only in minds. A meme is an abstract object. (I got this idea from Amie Thomasson’s Fiction and Metaphysics, about which I previously posted.) An abstract object is a structured pattern of information that isn’t restricted to any particular space-time coordinates and that can manifest itself materially in a variety of ways: in a voice or a musical instrument, on a piece of paper, or in someone’s brain. Though, as Levi observes, the abstract pattern has to manifest itself materially somehow, the pattern is real in its own right.

[A visual illustration of an abstract object: The top photo looks like a random assortment of junk, but when you line yourself up with it at the proper angle you realize that the junk is organized according to an abstract pattern that conveys meaning to brains familiar with the rules of arithmetic and the content of selected works of 20th century fiction. The abstract information embedded in the junk emerges in our awareness when get ourselves lined up with it, but the information was designed into the junk assembly. This junk pile is an artifact.]

junk3

In essence the meme is its abstract structured pattern; its particular material manifestation is of secondary importance. But the pattern has to be received as information in order for it to be perceived as a song or an idea, rather than just raw physical sounds or markings. My cat can be exposed to the textual or vocal embodiment of an idea and miss the point entirely, focusing solely on the materiality of the piece of paper or the sound. My cat as it sits on the table can see me pointing my finger at the floor and it will look at my finger: the abstract information embedded in the pointing gesture is completely lost on the cat. I could write a memo outlining my expectation that the cat not get up on the table and the cat would likely sit on the piece of paper for awhile until it got bored, then jump back onto the table.

junkThe meme’s abstract pattern isn’t an emergent property of the sounds or words or images in which it’s made manifest. That’s because the pattern is designed into the meme from the beginning. Almost all memes are artifacts. Composing a song or thinking up an idea isn’t all that different from weaving a basket or manufacturing a lamp. The main difference is that song-ness and idea-ness are more clearly abstract. A basket can’t duplicate itself in people’s brains; it has to be copied materially. Still, the idea of basket-ness and lamp-ness is abstract, and the idea can be made manifest in a whole host of different materials and shapes. The information that identifies something as a basket or a lamp is an abstract pattern that’s designed in to the material stuff of which it’s constructed.

A song isn’t inextricably connected to its composer, nor is an idea inseparable from the person who first thought it. It’s reasonable to count these sorts of abstract patterns of information as objects in their own right, decoupled from any particular material manifestation. But what happens when the song is materialized, say in its being played on a harmonica? Has the abstract song been transformed into a concrete song? Has it merged with the sounds produced by the harmonica to become a merged object with its own distinct properties? Surely it has: play the same song on a harmonica and on a bassoon: while the abstract pattern of songness is identical, the song sounds different on different instruments. Certainly the song is transformed in different ways by harmonicas and symphony orchestras and copies of sheet music, while still retaining the same abstract songness. I’m not sure what to think about it, but I suspect Latour’s ideas about translation will prove helpful here.

What about the idea of memes reproducing themselves by parasitically colonizing brains? I suppose you could look at it that way. What I think, though, is that consciousness is overemphasized in the way we pick up things like songs and ideas. Much of what we learn we acquire unintentionally, unconsciously. With practice I learned to hit a moving tennis ball back over the net. The information I need to accomplish this feat is abstract and calculable, but I don’t perform the calculations consciously — it’s an unconscious calculation. Did the hand-eye coordination meme reproduce itself by colonizing my brain? No: I learned it because I wanted to and because I practiced, even though the learning took place unconsciously. I learned to speak English as a child without consciously studying the grammar and syntax and vocabulary: I picked it up unconsciously. Did the language reproduce itself in my brain? No: I wanted to understand other humans and to communicate with them, and I learned to do so unconsciously. Even when I purposely read a book, I pick up bits of knowledge that I didn’t consciously commit to memory.

Knowing your way around the neighborhood, recognizing people’s faces, riding a bike, picking up tunes: most human learning takes place unconsciously. Consciousness is functions mostly as the attentional interface: the unconscious takes care of storing and organizing. I can call up the answer to 7 x 8 from memory without constantly rehearsing the multiplication tables in my head. It’s part of Freud’s legacy to regard the unconscious as a repository for things that were once conscious but that we’ve subsequently repressed. That happens, but it’s a relatively small aspect of unconscious thought. “All thought is unconscious,” Donnel Stern asserts; a thought becomes conscious only when we need to call it into awareness for some reason. If memes are self-reproducing parasites on our brains, then so is practically everything that we’ve learned in our lifetimes. I think it’s more plausible to say that we unconsciously pick up all sorts of brain content that amuses us or is useful to us because those are the sorts of abstract patterns that humans attend to in their environment.

Besides, memes are artifacts. Songs are written by people who want them to be heard and played and sung. Ideas are formulated by people who want them to be known and understood and accepted. The memes aren’t out there reproducing themselves on their own; they’re being actively disseminated by their originators and their “hosts.”

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42 Comments »

  1. Nice post John.

    This is the thing, and I have yet to have a thorough, or even engaged response from the SRish people. You suitably note:

    “This conceptualization hasn’t quite stabilized though, and Levi vacillates between categorizing memes as material objects and as Aristotelian ideal objects that must be embodied in material form.”

    And the rest of your post does an excellent job of outlining the dynamics and consequences of taking a meme as a thing or an object. But isn’t the entire “problem” (if it is a problem) solved by taking up a Spinozist position of Parallel Attributions (and Attributions)? The answer isn’t materialist, nor idealist. Its extensional/ideational…

    Comment by kvond — 6 August 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  2. Please tell us more, Kvond. What is an idea or a song in Spinoza’s scheme?

    Comment by john doyle — 6 August 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  3. John, the way that Spinoza sees it is that Aristotle’s idea that each thing is a “substance” makes no sense. Only one thing is a Substance, and that is “everything”, totality, Nature. Substance expresses itself in an infinity of distinct expressions, all of them describable either extensionally (materially you might say) or ideationally (which are two attributes of the same thing, ultimately Substance.

    So an “idea” in Spinoza is the ideational expression of Substance. A song exists as humanly describable in either extension (materially) or or idea (one might say “information”). An idea in your brain is in parallel to a state of your body (brain). A song in your head is parallel to a state of your body. A song on a CD is parallel to a state of the CD’s material.

    Comment by kvond — 6 August 2009 @ 12:58 pm

  4. Kvond I think the narcissistic cat is a little bit more META than you suggest in your infinite desire for the cat’s disapproval, you horny masochist,
    and she’s saying that the Aristotelian explanation may exist PARALLEL to the Spinozian without there necessarily being a conflict. She’s been regurgitating
    this same thought so much that I’m bored already thinking about it. This bricoleurship or whatever is her main point.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 6 August 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    • Aside from your pornographia, I really have no idea what Levi’s take on Spinoza is because every time I bring up Spinoza to him he affirms a great deal of Spinoza, but then becomes very incoherent beyond this affirmation. In other words, I don’t think Levi has a clue about how to incorporate Spinoza in his Harmanism. And Harman is even less articulate on Spinoza, probably because he hasn’t read him much.

      Comment by kvond — 6 August 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  5. Kvond,

    Okay, so extension (or materiality) and ideation (or information) are both attributes of Substance, which is the totality of everything. Every thing is made out of stuff that already exists in the universe: fair enough; this is immanence. And something like a song can be both extension and ideation: again, that seems right. So what’s the matter with Aristotle’s position, where ideation manifests itself extensionally? Is it his insistence that ideation MUST so manifest itself, rather than saying that ideation can exist autonomously from matter?

    If every thing is an attribute, does that mean that all extensions and ideations, including all songs and ideas and individual people and highways, aren’t just composed of Substance but already exist within substance as attributes?

    On this idea of parallelism: are you saying that extension and ideation have comparable structures, “on earth as it is in heaven” so to speak? So that the informational structure of an idea or song has a parallel material structure? Why parallel? Let’s say that the informational pattern of a song can manifest itself as a pattern of neural nodes and connections in the brain, or as a string of notes on a musical staff, or a sequence of finger position on a piano? How do I distinguish whether this is Aristotelian embodiment of the ideal or Spinozan parallelism of extension and ideation? I have a sense that either description is better than saying that a song is a series of markings or fingerings and that the abstract pattern emerges therefrom. The pattern is what persists; it’s what makes the song a song.

    Comment by john doyle — 6 August 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    • When I have more time I’ll reply to this. Cheers.

      Comment by kvond — 6 August 2009 @ 7:48 pm

  6. […] Abstract Objects Posted by larvalsubjects under Memes Leave a Comment  Doyle has a nice post up on memes as abstract objects. Zeroing in on my thesis that the concept of memes is thoroughly […]

    Pingback by Memes as Abstract Objects « Larval Subjects . — 6 August 2009 @ 8:08 pm

  7. I found myself thinking about this stuff when I woke up this morning — not sure if that’s a good sign or a bad one. We’ve been saying that a song is an abstract pattern that can manifest itself in a variety of ways: on a clarinet, in a voice, on sheet music. But now I’m thinking that the sheet music is a different sort of manifestation — a set of instructions for producing a song. If a piece of sheet music is a song, then is a recipe for bernaise sauce a manifestation of the sauce, is a computer program for calculating pi to a zillion places a manifestation of pi? I think they’re instructions for producing the thing rather than manifestations of the thing. If you’re a good sightreader you can “hear” the song in your head just by reading the music; if you’re a good cook you can imagine what the sauce is going to taste like just by reading the recipe. You’ve implemented the instructions by running a simulation in your head. These things describe the process by which the thing is produced: the song isn’t made manifest until someone executes the instructions, runs the production process through their fingers or vocal chords or imagination.

    Comment by john doyle — 7 August 2009 @ 5:58 am

  8. John: “So what’s the matter with Aristotle’s position, where ideation manifests itself extensionally? Is it his insistence that ideation MUST so manifest itself, rather than saying that ideation can exist autonomously from matter?”

    Kvond: For Spinoza the problem with what an explantion through cause gives you. Even though Spinoza insists that extension and idea run in parallel, it makes no sense to say that idea causes extension, (or alternately, that extension causes idea). There is no fruit in understanding the one THROUGH the other, so to speak.

    John: “On this idea of parallelism: are you saying that extension and ideation have comparable structures, “on earth as it is in heaven” so to speak? So that the informational structure of an idea or song has a parallel material structure? Why parallel? ”

    Kvond: It has been given the nickname “The Parallel Postulate”. It runs like this: “The order and connection of things is the same as the order and connection of ideas”. The reason why it is parallel is that the causation of one by the other is barred in terms of an explanation. One must turn to the immanence of Substance itself to see the cause of both. So I think it would be accurate to say that they have “the same structure” so to speak, but there is much debate about this. Some want to take Spinoza as saying that as human beings we are “conceptual dualists” that is we can only coherently describing things in the universe in one of the two ways, as “things” or as “ideas”. Donald Davidson actually was a (closet) Spinozist of this sort, given in his theory of Mind called Anomalous Monism (a google will tell you more).

    John: “Let’s say that the informational pattern of a song can manifest itself as a pattern of neural nodes and connections in the brain, or as a string of notes on a musical staff, or a sequence of finger position on a piano? How do I distinguish whether this is Aristotelian embodiment of the ideal or Spinozan parallelism of extension and ideation?”

    Kvond: When Spinoza denied Aristotle’s localized notion of Substances it was because for him a Substance was only something that could be “conceived through itself” which meant that because we understand something through its causes, ultimately, there was only ONE substance. In a sense, Aristotle’s Substances explan nothing, and simply are crossed out, just as Harman’s vaccum packed objects explain nothing (other than justifying an Idealist, Husserlian assumption).

    A similiar thing occurs with Descartes’ and then Spinoza’s treatment of the philosophical Prime Matter, which I wrote rather extensively on in answer to discussion with Levi who was, at the time, trying to express his problem with Spinoza. Here:
    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/spinozas-substance-stripped-bare/

    Spinoza’s answer to whether it is the same “thing” (this song as it expresss itself across contexts) is found in the real manifestation of “it”. Not only this song, but anything, is the “same thing” if it has a fixed ratio of motion and rest, a kind of persistance of inter-communication of parts that can be identified. But it is NOT some individual Substance that is behind all these phenomena that make it “the same”.

    In fact, in the example raised of neurons, sheet music, CDs, each of these configurations WOULD NOT be the same song, though one could certainly see how the use of them, along with the human beings that experience and employ them, WOULD BE the same thing. That is, the song on the CD is a different thing than the song on sheet music, but each of them can be plugged into one assemblage interaction (what Latour might call a Network) which would produce a consistant ratio communication of parts.

    Comment by kvond — 7 August 2009 @ 2:21 pm

  9. I’m more familiar with memes as used by Dawkins. What he failed to emphasize was that apart from being actively disseminated by their originators and their ‘hosts.’ they also do seem to mutate. Now, are the ‘mutants’ new objects or part of their parents?

    A lot of stuff is floating out there that I know nothing about. It doesn’t get objectified by me until I actually am exposed to it, consciously or not, and something inside me ‘receives’ the idea.

    Looked at from the perspective of the meme, it may seem to be an object that is moving, evolving etc. but I think this is more a byproduct of our trying to meta-analyze stuff, rather than being a phenomenon of any sort. in other words, I’m not sure that the idea of a meme is not actually a figment of my imagination…

    I like the song example. Every performance, every remembrance, is unique. It is no more the same than the language that I employ to communicate being always the same. Each and every time I read a good book or poem, or look at a work of art, or hear music, it is new, unique, conveying different a meaning and if it’s really good stuff, even different levels of meanings.

    Comment by sam carr — 7 August 2009 @ 7:52 pm

  10. “it makes no sense to say that idea causes extension, (or alternately, that extension causes idea”

    I don’t know enough about Aristotle to defend or refute him. The issue at hand is whether a song or idea can exist without being embodied, whether the pure songness exists in some ideal realm and gets matched up with matter. I think that the song is always embodied, even if the pattern of notes and rhythms and rests identifying a particular song can be abstracted from any particular performance of that song. Even writing the abstract pattern down on sheet music is a material implementation of that pattern. Does Spinoza agree? He doesn’t think that the abstract song exists in some ideal state or realm separate from the material world, does he?

    Say someone plays Yankee Doodle on the harmonica. The harmonica, the song, and the player already existed; somehow they got connected up to each other for a specific performance. In meme theory the discussion of cause is whether player plays the song or the song plays the player. Folk psychology says that the player, who knows the song and knows how to play harmonica, causes the performance. Dawkins says that the song causes the player to pick up the instrument and play, allowing the song to reproduce itself. So I suppose Dawkins is closer to asserting that the idea — the song as abstract pattern — causes the extension — the specific performance on the harmonica. In folk psychology, human agency is the cause that brings idea and extension together. Neither, though, is talking generally about how idea and extension merge in the abstract. Dawkins regards this particular song, this specific idea, as the agent, not idea-ness in general.

    “One must turn to the immanence of Substance itself to see the cause of both.”

    Somebody composed Yankee Doodle, somebody else invented the harmonica, a group of people and machines working for a corporation manufactured this particular instrument, somebody else picked it up and played the song. These seem like four separate causal agents leading up to the specific performance: is Spinoza proposing that they’re all actually agents of Substance, which is the real Agent for everything?

    “the song on the CD is a different thing than the song on sheet music, but each of them can be plugged into one assemblage interaction (what Latour might call a Network) which would produce a consistant ratio communication of parts.”

    I’d think it can be identified as the same song because each medium in which it occurs — sheet music, brain, piano, CD — is configured into the same abstract pattern, the same ratio of tone and motion and rest.

    I’ll read your post to which you linked, Kvond, for further elaboration of the ideas your exposing me to.

    Comment by john doyle — 8 August 2009 @ 6:20 am

  11. There is only one true agent, or at least ultimately agentizing Substance, the only self-caused thing, Substance itself, so all things “act” because of it. But it acts and exists only through the individual modes. There are two “directions” of causation as well, a vertical one which makes of everything an expression of Substance, but also a horizontal one, whereby other infinite modes cause other finite modes. In this sense agency is everywhere and in everything. Also, each thing, in so far as it is more active, it is more Real.

    If you want a good rundown you can take a look at my comparison of Latour and Spinoza, point by point, using Graham’s Prince of Network reductions:
    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2009/03/04/is-latour-an-under-expressed-spinozist/

    Because you are familiar with Harman and Harman is close to Latour, it might be the best way. Latour and Spinoza match up pretty strongly with Spinoza simply giving more weight to causal explanations as determinations of increases of power.

    Comment by kvond — 8 August 2009 @ 8:03 am

  12. Thanks, kvond, I’ll track down that link as well. Substance itself is the one true agent — I guess I need to understand how this “plays out” in the specific illustration about the song. Does Spinoza say whether the song is playing the harmonica player or vice versa? Or does he say that Substance is playing them both?

    Comment by john doyle — 8 August 2009 @ 8:18 am

  13. Back to Sam:

    “It doesn’t get objectified by me until I actually am exposed to it, consciously or not, and something inside me ‘receives’ the idea.”

    This is one of the core distinctions between realists and antirealists: does human consciousness objectify amorphous stuff, or is it already formed into objects independent of human awareness? Or a more nuanced position shared by some realists (like Harman): there are real objects out there, but all I know of them is my awareness of them and not their true essence.

    “Every performance, every remembrance, is unique.”

    Agreed, but surely there can be different performances and remembrances of the same song?

    “they also do seem to mutate. Now, are the ‘mutants’ new objects or part of their parents?”

    This is a whole ‘nother issue. I agree that culture as a whole evolves, as do individual cultural artifacts, even if the process isn’t the same as genetic evolution. So, e.g., the English language evolved incrementally but dramatically over the generations. Was there some defining point when it “really” became English? In biology the rule of thumb is: if two specimens can breed and produce offspring, they’re the same species. Maybe similarly in language: if two speakers can converse and produce conversation that’s understandable to both, then they’re speaking the same language. (Don’t hold me to that definition.) Even without talking about evolution over time, how much “mutation” can a jazz ensemble insert into an old standard before it becomes a new tune altogether?

    Comment by john doyle — 8 August 2009 @ 8:31 am

  14. John: Does Spinoza say whether the song is playing the harmonica player or vice versa? Or does he say that Substance is playing them both?

    Kvond: There is an extensional assemblage between the song as it exists in the materiality of the brain, in the rhythms of the breath, and the extensional features of the harmonica. But in parallel the “ideas” of these are also in causal relation to each other. The ideas of the harmonica and of the various expressions of what we think of as the song, are part of a causal chain. To say which is effecting which is co-determinative. But all of their interactions are themselves expressions of Substance as well, the concretization of Substance, if you will.

    Comment by kvond — 8 August 2009 @ 8:39 am

  15. All right, kvond, I’ve read your “Substances Laid Bare” post and about a third of your Spinoza-Latour comparison, and frankly I can’t make heads or tails of it. It’s not your writing, because I find your quotes from Della Rocca equally impenetrable. A lot of terms are bandied about and compared, but I have no feel for what most of these terms mean generally or how they could be applied to any concrete example. I got a third of the way through the Latour-Spinoza piece, and I could tell that I was glazing over: I can’t get even enough traction to ask questions. I read your answer to my question in comment 14 and I’m sure it means something to you, but not to me. I’m still asking the same question: so is A causing B or B causing A or C causing both? I think: are only those people who understand this stuff competent to engage in blog discussions like the one we’ve been having about memes, abstract objects, and so on?

    I also wonder: whatever happened to my harmonica? Probably got thrown away somewhere along the way. I bought a nice Hohner long ago, with a flats/sharps button on the side, but I never learned to bend notes very effectively.

    What I think is the case for me is that I’m coming to these topics not from philosophy but from science. I think not in terms of attributes and modalities and so on but of variables. That all objects are on equal footing I take as a matter of course: some people study atoms, others study galaxies, both are worthy objects of study. So I read Harman and Bryant and kvond and try to translate concepts and language systems from philosophy to science, or even to common sense — a good Latourian endeavor as I understand it without having read him. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For me it seems to work best when applied to concrete examples.

    Comment by john doyle — 8 August 2009 @ 3:13 pm

  16. Hmmm. I directed you to the Latour/Spinoza piece because all of the Latour descriptions were written by Graham himself, taken straight from his book, and you seemed comfortable with him.

    But, track back to WHY I introduced Spinoza in this post, it was in answer to your objection to Levi:

    “This conceptualization hasn’t quite stabilized though, and Levi vacillates between categorizing memes as material objects and as Aristotelian ideal objects that must be embodied in material form.”

    This “vacillation” simply does not exist in Spinoza.

    As to your other question on Spinoza and song/harmonica,

    “I’m still asking the same question: so is A causing B or B causing A or C causing both?”

    All three. The song is effecting the harmonica, the harmonica is effecting the song, and Substance is effecting each, through the other and itself. Is the problem that you want the answer to be exclusive?

    I see no difficulty with approaching Spinoza’s view with Science, since science largely deals with material effects, and when it doesn’t it deals with informational one. These are Spinoza’s two categories so to speak.

    Comment by kvond — 8 August 2009 @ 3:29 pm

  17. John, perhaps if you look at the first diagram in this post, the combination of horizontal and vertical causation will make more sense (no need to read any of the text):

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/the-dynamics-of-a-spinoza-spring-pole-lathe-hegel-and-the-modes/

    Comment by kvond — 8 August 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  18. I pulled up my copy of Harman’s Prince of Networks, which I believe is the same version you have, kvond, lacking the final chapter. (Is it really the same book we both have? Did I pull the book up, or did it pull me in, or did you match the two of us up, or all three?) I read on p. 12 that for Latour a thing can’t be separated from its features. So here is a thing comprised of a guy playing Yankee Doodle on the harmonica. The thing is a particular performance; three of its main features are the guy, the song, and the harmonica. You can talk about the features separately from the performance, but you can’t take any of those three away and call it the same thing. Fine, I agree, no problem. Harman says that Latour is more concrete than Aristotle on this point. In what way? I think, per Harman, that Latour is saying that the features aren’t even separable in principle from the performance, that the song and the guy and the harmonica are so integrally fused that you can only talk about the specific thing as a whole. I.e., the performance consists ONLY of the emergent properties resulting from the particular fusion of guy, harmonica, and song at this place and time.

    I agree that the performance is unique. Even if, instead of a harmonica in real time, the guy played a CD of a previously-recorded performance of himself playing the song on the harmonica, this particular replay of the CD is a different event from the one immediately preceding it. If I were to compare the two replays of the CD to identify how they were different from each other, I’d have to exclude the song and the harmonica and the harmonica player and the specific performance, focusing on the circumstances in which the two replays took place. Had the CD player been moved in the room? Was someone else listening this time? Had the CD copy deteriorated incrementally in the meantime? These are possible causes for a difference. Again, the difference itself has to be some emergent properties of all these components or elements melded together, which includes the contributions of each of the components/elements separately.

    But if you heard a particular replay of this CD, and you’d never before heard Yankee Doodle or a harmonica being played or this particular guy playing it, wouldn’t you distinguish song from instrument from player? If so, is this just an abstract analysis imposed by the listener trying to decompose what is “really” an irreducibly holistic event?

    These are the issues at stake then, I take it, for how Latour and Spinoza differ from Aristotle. This I can understand. (Is it Harman’s words, or my looking again after having read your and Della Rocca’s words, or my being more focused this time, that gives me a clearer understanding? Is my understanding the same as yours?) Now I’m prone to jumping to evaluation: do I think that Latour is right? If I say “I just listened to a CD of this guy playing this song on the harmonica,” would Aristotle agree with me while Latour says that I am mistaken? If so, then I guess I’d lean toward Aristotle: there are the CD AND the guy AND the song AND the harmonica AND the specific recorded performance AND my listening to it, but then there is the je-ne-sais-quoi qualitative difference ADDED by putting all these elements together.

    Is there a way of deciding which view is correct? Maybe not. Is it possible to identify the components separately from their particular convergence, or are they always severally melded together with other components, other times and places, other complex events, such that it’s never possible to say “this is a harmonica” or “this is the guy who played on that CD” or “this is the song called Yankee Doodle”? Is considering the components apart from their specific situations always a mistake, an abstraction imposed on an irreducibly concrete and complex and ever-changing flow of everything into everything else? And at that point do we say that even isolating the particular playing-listening to the particular CD is itself in principle inseparable from the ongoing flux in which it was embedded?

    Am I on the right track here, kvond?

    Comment by john doyle — 9 August 2009 @ 1:16 am

  19. I enjoyed your post about Spinoza’s working the lathe, kvond. Help me with the diagram. The x axis is the ebb and flow of matter through time and space? On the y axis are the “individual modes” — are examples of modes the lathe, the glass, Spinoza? Why a “perfection”? Are the two axes abstractions pulled apart from the continuous interactions, or are they as tangible in their own right as the space-time flux in which they’re embedded?

    Comment by john doyle — 9 August 2009 @ 1:36 am

  20. Thanks for the comments on the lathe, but I did not want to impinge another article theme upon you. It is only that the diagram there may help you picture how Spinoza handles causation. But one cannot too literally take the x and y axes here. I use the diagram to bring out a pictorial relationship for certain descriptive terminology.

    In crticizing Hegel’s crticism of Spinoza, it is argued that Hegel only concerned himself with the “vertical” causation, that is, the way in which Substance, The One, distinguished itself into infinitely separate parts, The Many. Hegel argued that because Spinoza granted no ontological status to the “negation”, The Many simply was something of an illusion. He accused Spinoza of presenting an acomism, that there was really “no world”. Part of this is because Hegel’s main contribution to philosophy is the power of the negation, something would never allow. Hegel had to see Spinoza as deficient in this area. But, the point for us is vertical causation is very loosely expressed by the y-axis. It is the general picture of immanence, not too far from the Plotinian Neo-platonic theory of emanation. It is the way that out of The One, the many seem to proliferate, with the great question remaining, How?, or, Why? (Spinoza has some answer for this, but I don’t want to get sidetracked.)

    But “horizontal” causation is causation that is not viewed in vertical terms of power. That is, questions of relative freedom and agency are not the determinative values. Instead of an ascending scale of who is doing what to whom or which, there is instead the lateral examination of interdependent causes (this is the flat ontology that Harman rejects, but that Latour loves). Here, it is best to see the world as something that is like one great interconnected weave of causations. If you move one bead/thread, they all move, so to speak. There is no way to precisely determine where a causation chain ends.

    The way that Spinoza sees it is that causation works simultaneously is BOTH ways, expressively, on an immanent registry of power and freedom (whereby any local object or idea has a degree of power), but also interconnectively and co-determinatively, on the horizontal register. The horizontal is completely concrete (this is the part that Hegel missed). In fact Spinoza sees this concrete horizontality to be the very power of God/Substance to “exist and act”.

    If you wanted to try to literalize the diagrame (and it was not meant in this way), I suppose you could take any body/object/idea and locate it somewhere there, both as a degree of power (y-axis), and within its assemblage of horizontal co-determinations (x-axis).

    There is some debate as to whether space/time is an imaginary construction in Spinoza, or not. He argues that the more we see things from under and aspect of Eternity the freer we are, but also seems fully committed to the concrete and determined nature of modal expression. I suspect that insofar as space/time characterizations separate out one thing from another, this for Spinoza are imaginary products, but also suspect that in the very determined nature of expression, space/time constitutes the very structure of Substance expression, only not in the way that we picture it.

    Comment by kvond — 9 August 2009 @ 4:13 am

  21. John: “If so, then I guess I’d lean toward Aristotle: there are the CD AND the guy AND the song AND the harmonica AND the specific recorded performance AND my listening to it, but then there is the je-ne-sais-quoi qualitative difference ADDED by putting all these elements together.

    Is there a way of deciding which view is correct?”

    Kvond: To me it comes down to the pragmatic answer. If you are theorizing a difference that doesn’t make a difference (that is, if whether your theory is true or not makes not a whit of difference in the world), then your difference is without substance. This is the case for me with Harman’s vaccum packed objects and floating sensuous qualities. The difference is that he simply wants to think like an Idealist, and has to make up all kinds of categories to do so.

    As to your additional “quality” that puts it all together, I see no basis for this at all. Though this does not mean that each of the parts is what it is as a value and you can add them together or substract them as you wish. WHEN they are combined and form an assemblage (I’m sorry, I just can’t get excited as you do about a song), there is a diference in power and being. There is a change in their binding power. You have all the ingredients in a cake recipe, and then you have a cake, they are different things. One is in an assemblage of force and experience, the other is not so directed. But one doesn’t need to add the secret ingredient of “cakeness” to the assemblage to make it work.

    John: “Is considering the components apart from their specific situations always a mistake, an abstraction imposed on an irreducibly concrete and complex and ever-changing flow of everything into everything else?”

    Kvond: I wouldn’t say a mistake, but perhaps a dilution. But separating out one element from the rest is also a productive dilution. It allows one to pick out the particular features that produce an advantage, a vector of change and power. A lion picks out this one set of features of the savannah, and finds meat. This doesn’t mean that the “meat” isn’t a product or expression of so much of the savannah that is repressed in this picking out. But, for instance, a human being when confronted with ecological crisis might need to see through this simple “picking out”, to understand why the antelope population is dwindling, etc., etc. In the same way, when you say, “But if you heard a particular replay of this CD, and you’d never before heard Yankee Doodle or a harmonica being played or this particular guy playing it, wouldn’t you distinguish song from instrument from player?”, of course you would pick out the song from the player, just as the lion picks out the prey, but a greater understanding of what the song is comes out of re-establishing the material, co-determinative relationships that make it (and your picking it out) what it is. Giving it a “songness” or a hollow object knighthood does nothing for the understanding other than bring in a distinctly human-centered and Idealist projection of experience.

    Comment by kvond — 9 August 2009 @ 4:32 am

  22. “the many seem to proliferate”

    The focal word for me here is “seem.” Does the harmonica really exist for Spinoza, or does it seem to exist? Later you say that Spinoza “seems fully committed to the concrete and determined nature of modal expression — presumably you mean that Spinoza seems to assert that the harmonica really exists.

    “Instead of an ascending scale of who is doing what to whom or which, there is instead the lateral examination of interdependent causes (this is the flat ontology…”

    Is Spinoza willing to say that, for any particular event, some causes are stronger than others? In the case of a boulder rolling down a Colorado mountainside, would he propose that gravity had more to do with it than a butterfly’s wing fluttering in a Chilean meadow?

    “Spinoza sees this concrete horizontality to be the very power of God/Substance to “exist and act”.”

    So there’s a prime Agency that works through subagents. Does Spinoza’s God/Substance act with intentionality, such that one could say that gravity expresses the prime agency in a particular way?

    “To me it comes down to the pragmatic answer.”

    In empirical psychology, the work focuses on identifying general variables and forces that cut across individual people. Statistical analyses focus at aggregate population level of analysis — mean, standard deviation, etc. Individual differences, which in most psych studies actually dominate the aggregate measures, are set aside. The long-term project is to whittle away continually at the unexplained individual differences. If, on the other hand, one focuses on the individual as the unit of analysis, e.g. in writing someone’s biography, then the subject’s individual uniquenesses are more interesting than the commonalities.

    I suspect that preference for a particular speculative ontology is also a matter of aesthetics: which version appeals to you more? This is what I meant about Harman’s Guerrilla book being like a work of fiction: I liked the speculative reality he created in the same way I enjoy steampunk reality in that particular fictional genre.

    “WHEN they are combined and form an assemblage (I’m sorry, I just can’t get excited as you do about a song)”

    So I guess this means you can’t/won’t answer my remaining questions about songs, and I must struggle on alone. On further reflection I do think that the sheet music version of a song is more than just a recipe, because the musical notation actually conforms to the abstract structure that is the song. I have no disagreement whatever about the cakeness: this is a set of properties that emerge from assembling the ingredients together, just as waterness is a property emerging from the chemical assembly of oxygen and hydrogen.

    Gotta go, will be back to finish working through your most recent responses.

    Comment by john doyle — 9 August 2009 @ 9:39 am

  23. John: “The focal word for me here is “seem.” Does the harmonica really exist for Spinoza, or does it seem to exist? Later you say that Spinoza “seems fully committed to the concrete and determined nature of modal expression — presumably you mean that Spinoza seems to assert that the harmonica really exists.”

    Kvond: The first “seems” I believe is in the context of the traditional One/many problem, under which often “the many” is taken as a kind of illusion, the second “seems” is due to the fact that there are a variety of interpretations of Spinoza, some of which, including that of Hegel, which would deny this. Under my reading there is no question at all that the harmonica exists, fully concretely for Spinoza.

    John: “Is Spinoza willing to say that, for any particular event, some causes are stronger than others? In the case of a boulder rolling down a Colorado mountainside, would he propose that gravity had more to do with it than a butterfly’s wing fluttering in a Chilean meadow?”

    Kvond: Of course. The greater number of ways that a thing effects other things, the more powerful it is, is the way that he qualifies it.

    John: On further reflection I do think that the sheet music version of a song is more than just a recipe, because the musical notation actually conforms to the abstract structure that is the song.

    Kvond: It not that I won’t answer your question, its that you want me to answering it with a particular answer. But you don’t think that the recipe to a cake represents/duplicates the structure of a cake.

    And do you think that an automobile is then “present” in all the parts of the factory that produces it? In some sense you can say that it is, but it doesn’t get you very far.

    As to the CD and the song, the CD is composed of differences that make a difference that when combined with the differences that make a difference in a CD player, and the differences that make a difference in atomsphere, and the differences that make a difference in your anatomy, etc., etc., produce a song. But there is no one-to-one correspondence between some code on the CD and some code in yuor brain, such that you can match them up and say, definitively: “Hey, here is the abstract song, floating in the world”, at least in my opinion. And the reason for this is because things are expressed BOTH analogically and digitally, and you cannot have the digital without the analogical, just as in Spinoza you cannot have the ideational without the extensional.

    Contrary to this denial of abstraction, there is room in Spinoza though for something of your need for an abstract song which instantiates itself everywhere. Each thing has an “essence” which is then expressed modally. This essence, because Spinoza defines a “body” as a specific ratio of a communication of parts, could be conceived of as having “a structure” which then is exhibited by this thing (neurons, CD’s, Air vibrations) and then that thing. But because Spinoza is skeptical about mathematical denumeration of things as an adequate knowledge, I am unsure how you would identify this structure APART from its assemblages, or what you get from being allowed to say (as you very much want to), that the song is the “same song” in each of it very many instances. In fact, you can’t even really say, rigorously, that it is the same song when it is radio today or tomorrow. If you are going to say that the song is the same in every instance, you are lead into saying that “white” is the same in all of its instances, or that “funny” is the same in all its instances, nowhere being able to draw the line.

    It really comes down to the need of some to think of EVERYTHING as a thing, and not a process. This comes, as Wittgenstein suggested, from the very good way that ostensive defition works in the teaching of language, deeply embedded in our earliest experiences of language aquisition. But the pointing language game of naming is not the only use of language, and is not the foundation of thought, or of ontological categories. The mistake comes from wanting to apply some sort of ostention to things that are not. You, in a certain sense, really want to be able to (mentally) “point” to the song, instead of letting the song be a process of relations. This desire to point is a strong one (its there in the brain, its there in the CD, its there in the air), not easily dissuaded.

    What I think Spinoza would say is that in that you hear a song as separated out from all other things, this is an imaginary relation, an erasure of important differences. That you want to see the same song in multiple places, this too is a confusion of images, melding them into one large picture. But that you want to look to the very structure of a thing and identify it by its causes, this is rational looking. What are the causes of hearing a song as the same in one instance and then another? What are the causes of the song? What are its origins? What are the modes of its production? When you ask these kinds of questions, yes, you can pass towards some structural affinities between instantiations, but ultimately it is the web of productive protheses that undermines the sense that at any time the thing exists abstractly, apart from its conditions of manifestation. It is for this very same reason that the self-dome of a person, when you examine all its conditions of manifestation, all its border conditions, starts to become undermined, and for the very same reason that Spinoza argues that the more selfish you are (the more true you are to your essence), the more you realize that your “self” creates no permenately distinct boundary, no apartness, no determinative separation that by virtue of its very gap, qualifies the self as autonomous: we have an ethical duty to those that lie outside of us, buried at the heart of our very selfishness.

    This, for me, ultimately is what is weak in the imagination of memes (and genes as well). There very imaginary foundation, the lense through which we conceive of them as significant and attractive things, is a projection of a fundamental imagination of agency. Genes work to perpetuate themselves, memes work to purpetuate themselves, with a kind of autonomy of invading will, like weeds. They work with a kind of blind selfishness we assume is something like a drive beneath all human behavior as well. Molecularly, and in the alternate sphere of culture, ideological selfishness is running rampant. But really the ideological assumption is the thing to be questioned here. Just what is the nature of selfishness? And just what is the nature of self? This pair of questions are what lies at the heart of the meme imagination. And I think that it is here, at the ideological/ontological root, that Spinoza undoes many of the assumptions that drives the picture of the world as such. Agency, yes, is conferred to all things (including any organization that you would qualify as “a song”), this Spinoza calls the conatus, or striving; but the very conditions of such is definitional inter-dependence, to so great a degree that any of our attempts to ultimately abstract a thing from its ground (and our observation of it), is futile and distortive. The boundaries of things, as things, are provisional, experimental and participatory. It is to the causal connective tissue that any understanding gaze must turn. If a song sounds the same, it is not SIMPLY that the structure of the song is the same throughout, but rather that the very material assemblage between our bodies and its bodies has maintained itself in some very constitutive way. And our bodies are themselves already under a great variety of co-determinative constructions which undercut just where we begin, and we end. Something has maintained itself, under an aspect of eternity, but just what that is is not readily attainable, or denumerable.

    Comment by kvond — 9 August 2009 @ 11:43 am

  24. Or, I am thinking, Wittgenstein’s notion of “family resemblance” may be of interest here:

    67. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and cries-cross in the same way.-And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family. And for instance the kinds of number form a family in the same way. Why do we call something a “number”? Well, perhaps because it has a direct-relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this can be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things we call the same name. And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some on e fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.

    Philosophical Investigations

    Comment by kvond — 9 August 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    • this reminds me of Bergson’s aim in TIME AND FREE WILL; we are continuously changing but our past seems to be made up of discontinuous states of which we try to tack on change to later, we do it this way because of the belief in our own unchanging, ideal selves. This ideal self being the imaginary “thread” on which the imaginary “beads” (states) are strung. the similarity to the above comment being that we posit an agency (our unchanging egos in this case, memes in that case) were indeed there is none.

      “And I think that it is here, at the ideological/ontological root, that Spinoza undoes many of the assumptions that drives the picture of the world as such. Agency, yes, is conferred to all things (including any organization that you would qualify as “a song”), this Spinoza calls the conatus, or striving; but the very conditions of such is definitional inter-dependence, to so great a degree that any of our attempts to ultimately abstract a thing from its ground (and our observation of it), is futile and distortive. The boundaries of things, as things, are provisional, experimental and participatory. It is to the causal connective tissue that any understanding gaze must turn.”

      Hear, Hear.

      Comment by Eric — 12 August 2009 @ 4:35 pm

      • Thanks for the comment, Eric. The boundaries of things are indeed provisional, experimental and participatory (is that a quote from kvond earlier in the thread?). I’m not sure why looking at causes would make the effected boundaries either more or less decisive and final. Perhaps kvond will return and engage with you on these matters. I’m with you, though, that the human tendency is to solidify and reify boundaries, to idealize them as you say of the ideal self.

        Comment by john doyle — 13 August 2009 @ 10:08 am

      • “I’m not sure why looking at causes would make the effected boundaries either more or less decisive and final.”

        Think this is (if i follow you here) where i’ve come up againt You are thinking of Spinoza’s saying that we more free, more powerful, the more we understand the (determined) causes of things. I wonder whether Deleuze, who is a supposed Spinozist and was also profoundly influenced by Bergson (from what I gather) is in agreement with the doctrine that determinism negates novelty? And yes, i wonder what kvond thinks… The thing about Spinoza is that he makes you feel as if you need to accept all of his propositions to get anything at all out of his ontology/epistemology. It still seems to me that Spinoza wants all of reality to follow from a rigid conceptual model while Bergson (and later, complexity theorists) write(s) about what exceeds the conceptual model, life itself. But then why does a writer like Deleuze find so definitive and absoulte a fit with Spinoza? Or is it that I simply haven’t read closely enough, that Spinoza’s system somehow transcends an ordinary Laplacean determinist one. Perhaps there simply is no fundamental opposition betweeen Spinoza and Bergson’s ontology? Kvond?
        oh and excuse me, this is my own frustration and it probably doesn’t interest you but hopefully someone who knows Deleuze (perhaps you do) would be interested in helping me feel this out.

        Comment by Eric — 13 August 2009 @ 7:01 pm

      • I guess my question (for kvond) is, does the Spionzist big picture (with immanence, the parallel postulate, power as knowledge of necessity), his entire ontological and epistemological canvas, fall off the easel if you erase his determinism and replace it with Bergsonian non-determinism? Or is Spinoza’s determinism somehow superior to the contingency of Bergson and modern complexity theory?

        Where does Deleuze stand?

        Comment by Eric — 13 August 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  25. “Giving it a “songness” or a hollow object knighthood does nothing for the understanding other than bring in a distinctly human-centered and Idealist projection of experience.”

    I can’t see why that would be the case, but I’ll move on.

    “Under my reading there is no question at all that the harmonica exists, fully concretely for Spinoza.”

    Got it. And it’s presumably the same harmonica when the guy takes it out again tomorrow to play some other tune on it. But it’s not the same as somebody else’s harmonica. Still, both of those things are called harmonicas…

    “And do you think that an automobile is then “present” in all the parts of the factory that produces it?”

    No.

    “If you are going to say that the song is the same in every instance, you are lead into saying that “white” is the same in all of its instances, or that “funny” is the same in all its instances,”

    It’s a good point. How would you characterize the difference between a noun (the movie) and an adjective (was funny)? The adjective is a property of the noun, no? And now we’re back to things and their properties. The song is catchy, traditional, American, well-known…

    “But there is no one-to-one correspondence between some code on the CD and some code in yuor brain”

    It’s an empirical question that cannot yet be answered. It’s likely that I have in my brain some set of synaptic connections that produces Yankee Doodle when I start singing it, and that you have some set of synaptic connections in your brain that would recognize the tune as Yankee Doodle when I start singing it. Whether your brain and mine are wired up the same way, I’d surmise that a common abstract pattern could be derived from these two different material synaptic connections that converge. And I’d further surmise that the pattern could be translated into the abstract pattern embedded in the CD that corresponds to the recorded tune Yankee Doodle. Similarly, the abstract pattern of a computer program for performing multiplication can probably be translated into some abstract pattern in my brain for performing the same sets of calculations. This is especially likely since humans programmed the computer to do the operation in the first place. The song and the calculations aren’t floating around in the world; they’re abtract patterns encoded in different kinds of material media. Similarly, when I speak the sentence, “I just played Yankee Doodle on my harmonica,” your brain’s language parser comes up with a meaning for what I said that’s pretty close to what I intended, in part because our brains’ synaptic connections for processing language are wired up similarly. But tangible evidence at this level of detail is lacking, so again we move on.

    “You, in a certain sense, really want to be able to (mentally) “point” to the song,”

    I wanted to point to the harmonica too, but you/Spinoza let me do that…

    I suspect I’m reaching my limits on this thread, kvond, and probably you are too. Feel free to offer another round if you like, but if not I thank you for some further insights into Spinoza. It’s been stimulating for my thinking, even if for you it’s covering well-trod ground.

    Comment by john doyle — 9 August 2009 @ 5:08 pm

  26. Though I desire to stop thinking about this topic, though I intend to stop, I find further thoughts intruding on me, seemingly FORCING me to think them…

    To avoid idealism, or perhaps to reveal it more clearly: what about the automobile assembly process you alluded to previously? Two cars come off the assembly line of the same make and model. Clearly they’re not the same car: they’re different physical objects, made out of different hunks of metal and glass. But they’re also identical (or nearly so), not just in adjectival features but in the whole. They’re identical copies, but of what? There is no original car from which the rest are derived: they’re all copies. They all share an organizational structure, an abstract pattern. This pattern hasn’t been copied directly from predecessors that came off the assembly line first. Rather, the pattern is distributed across a variety of drawings and models and templates and computer programs that together produce copies of which there is no original. Baudrillard would regard these copies without an original some sort of illusion, a loss of the real. But if the abstract pattern itself is just as real as the physical copies that embody or implement the pattern, then both the identity and the differences between the two cars are equally real. The abstract pattern isn’t non-material; it’s the structured arrangement and interrelationships of the material that’s important.

    Comment by john doyle — 9 August 2009 @ 5:53 pm

  27. Thanks for your thoughts. Maxed out on this thread.

    Cheers.

    Comment by kvond — 9 August 2009 @ 7:05 pm

  28. But if the abstract pattern itself is just as real as the physical copies that embody or implement the pattern, then both the identity and the differences between the two cars are equally real.

    Yes Eloise because now we’re operating on the plane of Immanence instead of in some Dualistic universe and derivate thereof, so of course everything is flat and as real as anything else. The Fashion statement of today is a kind of a techno version of deadpan that you used to have in artists like Bjork and/or Kraftwerk. Hence Dominique’s ”frigid world”, in which there are no feelings only digitally remastered Romanticism. That world is a bit perversely bourgeois-decadent because it’s so down glum and exasperating.

    What is the point of the stress on this being materialistic if matter can change form? Isn’t this what kablabla is all about.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 10 August 2009 @ 6:05 am

  29. You, VOPC, are more prepared for immanence to be spiritual or mystical. This disagreement over whether people can sing the same song or not gets confounded with the dualism, as if the song or the auto template exist in some ethereal disembodied state floating around in the world. I’m thinking that materialism can be defined both by the materials and by the patterns assumed by the material. That the algorithm for solving “818 + 13,396” can be implemented in brains, on sheets of paper, on an abacus, etc. implies not the idealism of the algorithm but a stable and repeatable pattern of brain connections, of markings on the paper, of movements of the abacus, etc. The form that matter takes is just as material as the chunks of matter being so formed.

    Your idea of flat affect corresponding to flat ontology is an interesting one. If everything that makes a difference is on equal footing, then isn’t it a sort of in-difference that’s produced? Dominic’s “cold world,” by the way, is about confronting the indifference of a universe composed of separate and hermetically withdrawn objects — the Harmaniac universe, if you will. Techno is haunted by the copies-without-originals mysticism of a real that isn’t a thing but a pattern. This is also what the marketplace churns out, generating as an emergent property the hauntological fetish-value of having lost an original that can never be found because it never existed in the first place.

    Comment by john doyle — 10 August 2009 @ 8:29 am

  30. VOPC, are more prepared for immanence to be spiritual or mystical.

    Yes but I don’t wanna get into that,it’s enough to say that since matter can change form, then ghosts in the so-called spectral dimension can be just as real as people and be talking to us right now. I think the Temptress’s arcane science blurs the distinction between scientific and supernatural, and this is part of her marketing Allure, as she confessed recently in her hommage to the Speculative Realism brand.

    I just noticed that all these Spinozian films like the opus of Cronenberg or Svankmajer operate on some sort of deadpan affectivity, while that techno music is a hypnotic drone. Anycase it has lots of machinery and engineering in it. The problem is it sort of doesn’t seem to be aware of its own status as a brand, with limited liability, and in this sense I think your paragraph above strongly suggest it, too, is commodified.

    I have a new parody correspondent Lafayette Sanchez who will be taking over some of Jonquille’s duties. Jonquille is in treatment at the moment but I don’t want to share details with the public until she recovers a bit.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 10 August 2009 @ 9:35 am

  31. Eric,

    Spinoza’s determinism is really the power of the Principle of Sufficient reason, which means that we gain power through the understanding of the sufficient reason of things. While Spinoza would buck at hearing the notion that somethings are simply not determined, I don’t think that this (Bergsonianisnism, or Quantum Uncertainty, etc) fundamentally undermines the coherence of his vision. Really, it just would create an under-barrier to explanation. Einstein believed that God did not play dice, and was a huge Spinoza devotee. Einstein may have been wrong (it has not ultimately been determined -ha-). But I personally don’t feel that some limit to explanation ends Spinoza’s view.

    Comment by kvond — 13 August 2009 @ 7:55 pm

    • But the problem is more than just some limit to explanation isn’t it?

      The problem is that if we (or even god) understand a thing under eternity, sub specie aeternitatis(if i understand this correctly, meaning not just as an abstract point in time but under the whole of concrete time) the course of things still cannot be said to be determined because there is always novelty and the creative impetus. Isn’t Spinoza’s conatus fixed while Bergson’s original impetus is conditioned, but not ultimately constrained? Are we still more powerful, if we ultimately act contingently, by trying to understand the sufficient reason of things? Also, since we can never really know the sufficient reason for anything (can never have a completely adequate idea), is it just that we are more powerful when we think that we know the cause of things, even if it isn’t really the case that we know what caused them? Is it just than only when the cause of something is agreed upon (even if it is not the true cause) can we act coherently?

      By the way, I am very new to Spinoza, thank you for your challenging, highly thought provoking blog, which is not the best introduction but is certainly the good stuff. I don’t know enough about Einstein, so you’ve sparked my interest there…

      Comment by Eric — 14 August 2009 @ 7:15 am

  32. “There is some evidence to suggest that strictly so, even though the propositions of the Ethica are certainly more adequate than others, marked by their very inter-dependent, logical relations, none of them are wholly adequate ideas due to their finite, linguistic expression. But this does not make them metaphorical either. Instead they participate in and are an expression of the very power of rational, material and imaginary combination that makes up both our factual and ethical world, meant as devices of provoked Intuitional knowledge, the knowledge by which all of us know things. The criteria of their goodness is the very capacity for power, joy and coherence in the first place. Which is to say that they are properly metaphysical. Because the Humean severance between idea and fact is refused at the ontological level, so is the ultimate barring of the Is and the Ought.” (FROM KVOND’S post on the book that explodes all worlds-Ethica)

    I believe this answers my question(s)! Thank you.

    Comment by Eric — 14 August 2009 @ 8:31 am

  33. Eric: “The problem is that if we (or even god) understand a thing under eternity, sub specie aeternitatis(if i understand this correctly, meaning not just as an abstract point in time but under the whole of concrete time) the course of things still cannot be said to be determined because there is always novelty and the creative impetus”

    Kvond: I agree, I don’t find Bergson and Spinoza ultimately compatible in the sense that “newness” or “novelty” is to be emphasized. I am not a huge fan of Berson for this very reason, as I find “novelty” to be almost an ideological valuation, the projection of “creativity” (which is a feature of the Capitalist subject) into the whole of the universe. Same with Whitehead. But I think that Deleuze solved this problem (a devotee of both thinkers), by limiting the scope of rational explanation powers Spinoza claimed (the PSR is minimized a bit it seems), but also reading Spinoza’s Substance as something of a Virtual, Totalizing Body Without Organs (you get this in his and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus). This is not a direction I have worked on much because Begson’s philosophy is not that interesting to me (and I may be corrected by others more familiar with the development Deleuze went through in attempting his synthesis). It really was for this reason why I incorporated Quantum Uncertainty, so that if the question solely is: What happens to Spinoza if the world is not utterly determined? The answer in just those terms for me would: He survives pretty much intact.

    p.s. Thanks for the citation from my blogged post, glad it helped clear up some questions. You should know that this interpretation of Spinoza’s propositions as inadequate that I offer is far from the standard, orthodox interpretation.

    Comment by kvond — 14 August 2009 @ 11:22 am

  34. Yes, i suspected all along that when Bergson insisted that there be creativity in his system, and that this novelty is the fundamental difference between “vital” individuals and “inert” ones that he and Spinoza were completely incompatible in that, well, Bergson is a vitalist. Something that Deleuze is guilty of as well, apparently. In Spinoza’s perfect immanence, there is no vital principle, no distinction between the life force of you and I and the life of a rock, except in degrees of power. Thank you, it is clear to me now that I was working to hard to make these thinkers compatible, and to fault Spinoza’s system. The real problem (a good problem though) is that I am just dumbfounded at how perfectly Spinoza’s philosophy is turning out to be. Reading the Ethics, at every step, I want to critique, to say, “well now, he was definitely wrong here” but then it starts to makes perfect sense. The problem arises when you try to minimize what he is saying in that book, when really every proposition is staggeringly immence. It is tough to have your self, and all of your philosophical artillery, outdone at every turn of the page.

    Comment by Eric — 14 August 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  35. Eric: “Reading the Ethics, at every step, I want to critique, to say, “well now, he was definitely wrong here” but then it starts to makes perfect sense.”

    Kvond: This is precisely as it goes. Its a very odd readerly feeling. Objection, objection, objection…oh (hmmm).

    Comment by kvond — 14 August 2009 @ 1:22 pm


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