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Monday, 20 December 2010

Lessons from a desertic ontology

A Cairo white taxi took us from Talat Harb to Gize, the last bit of boiling urban life before the three pyramids that still draw a border between the crowded town and the desert. We were then dragged into riding two camels, call them Bahr and Ocean to avoid their tourist sounding given names of Mickey Mouse and Ali Baba that they cutely didn't deserve. Fabi starting riding the Ocean while I was getting acquainted with Bahr. Bahr had a colourful woollen necklace and was the most resistant to kneel down to be burdened and unburdened. Ocean had an elegant tattoo in his back legs and had a subtle way of moving the feet to avoid stepping on the stones. They took us around the three pyramids, us eventually getting down and up again, guided by Muhammad, a boy who would crack all the language-free jokes he could, and Ali, the grown-up worried with time, money and other things that fill up the most expected quarters of a conversation. Eventually we swaped camels and I was then ridding on Ocean. Was I?

Discernibility of the camels clearly depended on attention – their singularity could have gone unnoticed. We can then consider Simondon's dicto that individuation precedes individuals. We can then feel that we could welcome recognition-centred questions like this: how did I know that I was on top of Ocean and not Bahr? Well, leaving aside my own possible mistakes, which are by no means unimportant, the coloured necklace could be removed from one camel and placed in the other, the subtle walking pace of Ocean can certainly be mimicked by Bahr as much as Ocean could start moaning whenever put to go down on his kneels. Also, given some time, tattoos could be copied from one camel to the other and even removed from one of them. Yet, I rely on some qualities to carry on an individualization. Then, the necklace is more essential than the position in space or who is riding the camel, the tattoo is more essential than the necklace and their camelhood of both camels is more essential than the tattoo (in case the tattoo now appears in a horse, say, Fox, the one who was transporting Ali).

Now, the question that bewitches some people (including, sometimes, Kripke) is: what are the essential qualities of Bahr (and Ocean)? What are their essences? I would like to simply answer none, and add that individuation is an indeterminate process, as it is unbound and indeed perspective-laden. Then, I think, some people would take my answer as not taking Bahr and Ocean seriously. Well, they are serious for me, I care to individuate them. Further, they are serious for Ali, I suppose, and they are serious to other camels (their siblings, parents, comrades) who also care very much to make sure they don't loose Bahr in the middle of the changing qualities of the camel herd. Eventually, they matter also for a bundle of bacteria that is used to share the sandy cloth where Ocean, but not Bahr, uses to sleep and who are in good terms with some of Ocean's micro biotic communities. In other words, the world itself individuates: something, while individuated by something else, individuates something else. I would avoid the issues to do with how things got started. There are essential qualities for an individuation process, not essential qualities for all individuation process. Now, of course, individuation processes can dissent. Yes, as far as the grain of sand that is squeezed by a camel is concerned, little hangs on whether Bahr or Ocean did the squeezing. There are different levels of fine-grainess in individuation – and these different levels co-exist in the world. Plus, there are different routes of individualization, if you start caring for camel heads or camel legs your individuation could end up looking very different with no room for Bahr or Ocean.

Kripke advises against thinking that possible world are like distant countries or alien planets seen by a telescope. I think they are somehow instaurated (to use a Souriau word) by the actual world: the configuration of possible worlds would change in different individuation tracks. For instance, we can bet on the holder of the name 'Bahr' since he was baptized, but this matters very little for the grain of sand where Bahr stepped. Individuation is a matter of importance and importance is not a pragmatic term, the world itself can be described in terms of a matrix of importances...

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