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Monday, 26 December 2011

Knowing singularities by heart

Went to see a beautiful exhibition by Carlos Lin where he presents photos of the skies pinned with acupuncture needles. That somehow inspired my friend Luciana and me to discuss a bit about how to know singularities. Lucien Freud defends memorising or knowing by heart against learning - he says he was always interested in knowing few things but by heart. Knowing by heart is the only way to know singularities, there is nothing there (as far as the singular in them is concerned) that can be known otherwise. No general system of classification, no description, nothing but what is akin to knowing a name. Like a fold in a body known by heart and painted to explore by Lucien Freud or a fold of a cloud, the pinned singularity in the needles of Lin. That very point in the cloud's fold can be named, can be pinned, can be given a geographical location but to know it cannot mean anything other than knowing it by heart.

I remember in my book Excesses and Exceptions I consider the anomaly of singularity for thought. Things can be known by description but that doesn't capture the anomaly of something singular. Singularities, I say, can cause things and that causation could be expressed in terms of a law that relates descriptions of the singularity but it is not the singularity qua singularity that is in the law that supports the causal link. In that chapter, I take Davidson's anomalous monism and the thesis that the mental is anomalous and distort it so that I make singularity itself anomalous. This cloud causes rain but only because it can be described as a rain-causing cloud (say, a cumulonimbus). Knowing all its causal powers (and categorical properties) is not enough to know the cloud. As a singularity it cannot be known but by heart.

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