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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Empiricism and the philosophy of thought

Deleuze finds in empiricism a mysticism of the concept (in the opening of Difference et Répétition). Empiricism claims to be able to see concepts in things – it is as if something else provides thought content for the thinker, the heterological in us, as Derrida says in Violence et Métaphysique. Empiricism holds that experience enjoys some degree of independence from the spontaneity of thought by escaping its spinning. In order to do that, experience needs to be experience as in the sense that its contents have to be available to thought. The long lasting suspicion against empiricism is that the whatever content experience provides is somehow not earnestly earned (it cannot be used in justification, it cannot be self-standing or it smuggles in elements of spontaneity – or our own sovereignty). The content of experience is some sort of (unacceptable) given. The kernel of this kind of criticism is the assumption that there is such thing as a content of the perceptual experience. McDowell's attempt to rehabilitate (minimal) empiricism is in the right direction because it makes content relative to the conceptual capacities of the thinker. In fact, response-dependence theories of secondary qualities favor a defense of empiricism that is not a defense of a fixed content for experience. The merit of empiricism is that it allows for experience to see "something else". So, instead of saying that experience gives us (crystalized) physical objects, empiricism holds that we capture some sort of sense data that can be explored in different ways. Now, empiricism doesn't need to commit to sense data as the content of perceptual experience - experience can always provide a different content.

Experience can be thought as a rough capture. It can be entrained to be in different rhythms, catching different signals, repeating different patterns. This is the thrust of Sellars' message: the plasticity of experience. Paul Churchland's Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind explores the point in interesting directions. There is a fine line between saying experience can provide any content and saying it makes no difference (no epistemological or transcendental difference). The difference experience makes is not in providing a given content but rather in eroding thought from within. Our senses are fully integrated in thought, but empiricism has that they are not always docile and subservient. It is about the rebellion of the senses.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Rhythms, rules, regularities (and Anerkennung)

I feel a tiny bit more confident to go back to the hairy issue of normativity and recognition. I used to favor the idea that an act of recognition was no more than a special case of what Latour, for example, calls alliances. But alliances still sounded as if they involved themselves a degree of recognition - of the alliance being made. I thought maybe we can do better if we think in terms of rhythms, modulations, transmission and reception. In terms of capture, to use the vocabulary of a recent post here. We can start considering our thinking about induction and the quasi-inductive nature of the considerations on rule-following that Wittgenstein inaugurated.

Induction is a form of entrainement. It is about creation of expectations that depend on the entrained insertion in a cycle as cycles have built-in expectations. So, we can only think about the whereabouts of the sun tomorrow if we have a sense of rhythm - enough of a sense of rhythm to be sure when tomorrow is. If all our cycles are at the same time put into question, we can no longer figure out what is put into question. Doubts about the future makes sense only if there is a clock, a cycle or an expected rhythm we're tied to. Induction is about habits - habit-making is entrainement and therefore production of further cycles. Analogously, to learn to follow a rule (say, +2) is to follow a rhythm that is being shown. It cannot be done if we cannot associate the rhythm to be learned to others that are already available to us (i clocks or cycles we're tied to). I believe this is the grain of truth in naturalist approaches like Millikan's. There should be something in the pupil that prepares him to the learning - and I guess this has to do with the cycles the pupil already harbors. The 996-998-1000-1004 pupil of section 185 (of the PU) captures the wrong rhythm, nothing to do but to repeat the entrainement having in mind that the pupil's receptors could be such that they cannot mimic this rhythm as what is captured is something (slightly, as Brandom says) different. Concept-acquisition, and rule-following, is a way to explore important features of the rhythm of the world (of the many real patterns to be explored by different matrixes of difference and indifference). It makes recognition possible. But this story can be told in terms of capture.

The struggle for recognition is the struggle to be captured. The state is a giant antenna (and a giant entrainer) and politics is about making things received - turning them visible. But there are rhythms that skirt around the giant antenna and entrain around anyways. Concepts are things we exploit if we can grasp them - and it is an issue of being prepared to grasp, like having them in the deliverances of our senses. Additionally, somethings need to be recognized to affect others - their signal has to be captured, otherwise they don't entrain. There are things, however, like the malaria mosquito that defends the Amazon (as I mentioned in my recent paper on the register and the registrar), that broadcast signals that are modulated and transmitted without any act of recognition.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Seeing qualitons as qualia

Another paper of my collaboration with Eros is out. It is in this interesting Open Journal System. They republished papers from the Kirchberg Wittgenstein Symposium.
Seeing qualitons as qualia

The paper is a dialogue between Wittgenstein texts and the idea that mental tropes can be seen as qualia and somehow explored in concept-acquisition.

See our first paper on tropes and qualia here.


Deleuze's remark towards the end of Le Pli that Whitehead inaugurated a move from clausure to capture is very interesting. Ontologies of clausure have to do with closed individuals - substantialism as in the postulation of closed monads that subsist in time and substatism according to which individuated units are independent of their actual properties. (To be sure, Leibniz held obviously the first but not the second.) Ontologies of capture postulate signals, broadcasts, transmission, modulators, antennas, satellites, connections and all those things that can contaminate each other and display vulnerability to the way they receive and to how they are received. Tarde prefigured this move towards capture in his analysis of societies: social populations are tied together in a way that they are modulated by other individuals of the same kind - like cellular automata. Molecules are highly social, birds are very social, humans are less social because they capture signals from bacteria, the elements, their inner ecology etc - and these signals affect their rhythms. Planets are social to planets and large masses because few things outside the society of planets and large masses can affect them.

Capture is about rhythms - about entrainement and heterochrony. The more social a population is, less entrained by other, extra-social elements. Repetition gives rise to regularity and if what is repeated is tuned to the same signals, a regularity is maintained. I remember our house in Hove street, Brighton, where lived 4 women and only Mar was taking the pill. Mar entrained the menstrual cycle of all the others while she was entrained by extra-social elements. All this entrainement happen simultaneously. Simultaneity is the nature of chronos, the time of present: things happen at the same time in chronos, the hormonal processes, the digestive processes, the emotional processes, the social processes all at the same and this means all synchronizing each other. Entrainement is the mark of chronos - the mark of the density of the present. Now, events are entrained by the co-existing rhythms but also by the capacities of matter that can be thought in terms of its folds, the folding capacity of each thing. Entrainement is enabled by the capacity of something to fold in a way that the rhythm can be somehow acquired and modulation is possible. Folds and beats. Differences both in folds and in beats can always configure an overall difference - the folding capacities of my body enable my rhythmic entrainement and the folds I'm capable of doing. You could dance like me but have different folds responding to different beats.

Heterochrony, on the other hand, is the introduction of a different rhythm that will change this ontological jam session. This is where I find urges. But difference is tied to repetition - heterochrony comes from entrainement. I tried to explain the constitutive drift of repetition in my introductory class to Deleuze's D&R through Chinese Whisper. We do no more than repeat - and the drift is there. There are too many extra-social elements in the reception and in the transmission. These extra-social elements can be seen as micro-urges to which we are tuned. In fact, it is not about urges that (passive voice!) get recognized but rather about who capture them as such. All receptors are modulated in a matrix of differences and indifferences - a tick can be oblivious to a quake etc. The urge that is effective is the urge that is captured. Shocks and catastrophes are urges that everyone (in a population) captures. Something that intervened in the repetition and that comes from a synchronic process that is happening at the same time. Less sociality (in Tarde's sense) means greater vulnerability to urges. In a rigid society, nothing is taken as a disturbance because receptors are oblivious to where the disturbance could come (Tough Guys Don't Dance). To dance is to expose your antennas - to show what tunes you.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Anarcheology and the virtual

Been launching our book on anarcheology of Heraclitus` polemos. Our notion of anarcheology is associated to thought without archés - it is connected with freeing philosophy from the facts of its history. Zouzi Chebbi once connected anarcheology to his remark that to the south of the Maghreb there is no distinction between fact and version. The jounalist who interviewed us about the book defined it as a mix between anarchy and archeology. We meant to make a gesture concerning the original Heraclitus in the book: philosophy is not a slave of the genuine, authentic Heraclitus. Aharon Link recently pointed out to me that anarcheology is also understood as the militant study of the absence of archy, of government. In fact, this multiplicity of meanings is welcome, it has to do with the intimate connection between ontology and politics, for instance, in the term arché.

But I thought anarcheology, in our sense, can be linked to an understanding of virtual history. Or rather, virtual bibliography. A history of philosophy that could have happened but didn't. An attractor that didn't become a trajectory, something like this. Because thinking deals in the virtual - in what could have happened but didn't. There
are thoughts that could have put forward and could have had consequences of all kinds but didn't become actual. Virtuality has a resemblance to what is at stake in the principle of sufficient reason. Thinking is virtual in the sense that it is there but it depends on everything else - its actualization is not un-hinged, it is not unconditional. Anarcheology is an archeology of the virtual - we extract from what can be thought about the polemos, for example, text. Deleuze, thinking about the several ways to formulate problems, comes up with the idea of an empiricism of the virtual. If such idea makes sense, we can take anarcheology to be the realm of discovery within the vritual.

Aharon Link on me (version ALPHA)

So Aharon writes about me... This is a first version of his abstract for the Performance Philosophy conference in Guilford, next April.


In this paper, I will use the question of doing philosophy through
performative acts for investigating how, through crossing of seemingly
un-related elements, new entities of questioning and practices are
Diogenes was a human that was metaphorically crossed species with canine
to become “Diogenes the Dog”. I will argue that such a crossing helped
delineate who he is and how the practice of his philosophy is done, and
that the way in which Diogenes did philosophy resembles contemporary
Performance Art.
Instead of being concerned with the performance of language, speech and
speaking, we have in Diogenes a performer of actions and activities. It is
plausible to imagine a performance artist living inside a bath, wanking in
parliament (though perhaps will be arrested), or plucking a chicken and
declaring it human. Indeed the choice of performative acts in themselves
is a constant crossing between that which is “Life” and that which is
“Performance”. That very crossing - life reflecting upon a performance
reflecting upon life etc - is what I think to be a constant energiser for
using performative elements in questioning what we know, don’t know and
have no idea about..

Dressed as a bride, the philosopher Hilan Bensusan used his crossdressing
practice to bring a murdered performer Pippa Bacca, back to life and roam
the streets of Istanbul. While a performative act, such as “Brides for
Peace”, which Bacca, performed with tragic outcomes was questioning the
lines and links between life and performance questioning what we imagine
possible - Hilan’s activity was was of a more philosophical nature,
questioning the knowledge we think we have.

Another Performance Art/Act link of Bensusan’s philosophical lexicon is
The interest in Heracletian frgments as an ongoing anarchological
performative practice. Like Beuys, Bensusan makes use of
archeological-like fragments to invent time. Acts of performative nature
are practiced to cross, at will, between invented and shared realities of
the past. Through fragments which invoke an injection of cross questions
about what might question about, what they know not, and would have liked
to know of the object/fragment.
This way, both Beuys & Bensusan use fragments to create effects of
possible information crossings that tease desire within audiences.

Like any cross, there is a point-time of contact/collision of two
different inquiry trajectories. That point-time, I will argue, helps to
light up the different trajectories. Whereas the philosophical
performative inquiry is focused on How of thinking is questioned, the
artistic sensitivity is of how the sensations of imagination are
questioned. Hence, in my view, we have different, yet constantly crossable
trajectories which feed one another.

Through the examination of Bensusan’s extensive work on cross dressing,
cross speaking, cross translation, and indeed cross speciasation - which
takes us back to the post human origins of cynicism and the unknowns such
practices question - I will illustrate how performative, embodiment acts
that do cross practices, both generate new possible lives/information and
simultaneously remain at the prison cells of their propagator’s minds.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Correlations, response-dependence and the metaphysics of subjectivity

The idea of response-dependence was introduced (by Philip Pettit and Mark Johnston back in the 1990s) as an account of secondary qualities. It is a McDowellian idea: we, and our circumstances, have to be apt and ready in order for something to be grasped by us. One way of presenting the idea of response-dependent secondary qualities is to say that those qualities are in such a way that they are fashioned for some beings and for some conditions. They are somehow tuned in some frequency and cannot be captured otherwise. I need to be prepared to grasp smoothness, my environment has to help me so that I meet what it takes to get the signal. It is an issue of transmission - how good the signal is broadcasted and how it is received. A quality - or a bunch of qualities with or without substrata - is a transmission, a message that is sent towards the appropriate antennas. We can think of a correlation between the signal - the object - and its receiver so that it is a matter of fact that both are coupled. The signal is sent, whoever captures it exploits it. It helps to think of the Gibson's vocabulary of affordances. Objects put forward several different affordances and some devices are, as a matter of fact, tuned to exploit them. Secondary qualities abound like attributes of a Spinozan substance but we cannot acknowledge more than a handful of them. Primary qualities, on the other hand, are more universally captured - and it is, perhaps, a matter of degree how spread is the reception of a quality.

Response-dependence accounts are tailored to answer to skeptical challenges such as Aenesidemus' modes. First mode: the appearances of things differ according to the animal that perceives them - well, fix a thing (an affordance) for each animal or somehow establish that some animals are good at capturing some things and others not. Second mode: the appearances of things differ depending on which human subject receives them - well, either say that different people perceive different things or establish that only some humans can perceive some things (the conceptually apt ones, the virtuous ones etc). Third: different sense perceive different things - well, redness is best perceived by the eyes etc. Four: different circumstances convey different appearances - well, some circumstances can be established to be better than others. Etc. For each skeptical variation we add either a respective plurality or rather a condition of transmission associated to each thing. We end up either with an abundant ontology - a rain forest one - or with an ontology of transmitters where to be is to be a frequency broadcasted. To be is to afford. The modes of the Pirrhonist give the impression that such an ontology is made fit to answer skeptical challenges. (Whether it can answer the spirit of these challenges is something else.)

To what extent such an account is under the spell of the correlation - and to what extent it is a variety of metaphysics of subjectivity in Meillassoux's terms? It does accept that what we perceive depends on us - that what we can manage to know is relative to our correlation to what there is, to affordances. It also takes seriously the idea that it is factual that we perceive somethings and not others. The effect of the correlation is contingent - nothing prefigures which receivers will be tuned to which messages (to each affordances). Signals (or affordances) are absoutes and some of them we can grasp. (To be sure, we can do that with the aid of some favors form the world, we grasp them by epistemic luck - but here again we can sweep this skeptical tome aside.) Maybe it is a form of realism that takes correlation seriously (in the two features that Meillassoux insits: that correlation are primary and that they are factual). On the other hand, however, affordances are such that they make correlations necessary - even if they leave it up for grabs which subject would match each object.