Complexity, Time and the Pandemic

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My internet is not working well so I am binge reading Identities journal, which I opened in 10 tabs in my browser.  Right now I am reading The Curve of the Clock by Ben Woodard.  The discussion begins with biology. That changes over time are often morphological changes. Like a foetus becomes a human child, grows a heart, lungs, thumbs, hair.  This unfolding over time has a different aesthetic dimension than unfolding over space.  Unfolding in space would be the beauty of a picture For unfolding in space, Ben invokes the term phase-beauty.

So what! You may say.  Music unfolds overtime. Ahh but maybe I misspoke, perhaps this is the aesthetic of unfolding over worlds.  The world of the foetus is a different world than the world of the human child. The world of the seed is a different world than the world of the towering oak tree. 

This sort of unfolding over worlds, is something I would perhaps assign to the field of computation in the form of a state machine. Bergson raises the idea that this sort of phase shift, or what I am calling a world shift, is unquantifiable. But perhaps this is the wrong way to look at it. It belongs to the realm of set theory and not countability . The clock is a metaphor for the musical score written once and performed forever (although idiosyncratically).  But the computer is the metaphor for phase transitions. 

Woodard suggest that pandemic, not the virus, is an example of phase-horror perhaps.  Horror would be a reaction to the unknowable, the (un)sensible.  Horror is how we interact with phenomena we can only apprehend through mediation. 

But is the pandemic an example of a phase transition. I would say no. The progression of covid19 within an individual does exist in a world of phase transition, in a world of states: Health, asymptomatic, symptomatic, cough, fever. Together it is a picture of covid19. 

Looking at the scale of a population, a different world, we have different stages, outbreak, epidemic, pandemic, and so forth. The pandemic is a phase within the larger set. What we call this larger set I am not sure, disease perhaps, but I think there is something more accurate.

Knowing a disease with different phase transitions, apprehending it, acting with it, ie epistemology, aesthetics, ethics is different than  knowing a thing that extends only over time and space.  The pandemic itself may have qualitatively different phases within it, just as increased or decrease rate of growth. As the scale changes from linear to exponential, the world changes. 

 

What is invisibility?

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I was reading this article,Contagion and Visibility: Notes on the Phenomenology of a Pandemic by J.P. Caron. It is about ways of knowing and covid19. It is really excellent and I recommend reading it. 

It is from a phenomenological perspective, which can mean one of a million things. But mainly that we start our investigation from sense perception in some way. With something like covid19 what does this mean? 

Well it could mean starting with symptoms, if you have them. It can mean starting with the protective measures we take and the feeling of that, the locus of attention on the hands, on the mouth.  What is the sensation of washing hands, of dry hands, of mask marks (as I am sure many of you have seen on social media).   It can start with our visual experience of charts (of different scales) showing infection, unemployment claims, or the stock market.  

However, all of this is an oblique, or mediated, ways at getting at what we believe is the cause of these sensations – an invisible virus. Sure if we put the virus under a microscope then we have a sense perception of this virus through the eye. Our experience of this is even different than our feelings of illness/symptom, or of protection.

This article mentions invisibility and scale. Invisibility is a problem of scale. It starts from the notion of world building and how we create meaning within worlds – this is a notion that is very close to my heart, as my investigation of system poetics is in many ways about world building.  The virus exists in a different world than the world we live in where we can feel a masks but not virus. We cannot directly ‘sense’ it – that is sense it unmediated.  The phenomenology of the covid19 is the phenomenology of the aspects in which our world of sensation intersects with covid19. 

J.P. connects this with ethics and the cognitive load that is associated with interacting with a something that exists in so many worlds (such as fear).  His perspective is informed by Kant and perhaps Hans Vaihinger, through the notion of as-if.  We have to act as-if these worlds or that these worlds represent something we do not directly sense.  

Ethics is essentially the study of how to act. I offer a different perspective.  This is not a matter of as-if, but a matter of system poetics, or world poetics.  As I see it, the ethical issue with covid19, from a phenomenological perspective, is that it presents itself in so many conflicting phenomenological experiences (or worlds). Which worlds we choose is based on our phenomenological experience of those worlds, the places where they overlap and where they rhyme.

System Poetics: Genres, Autofiction, Theory fiction

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Years ago when I was a filmmaker I would say to my partner that if we wanted to make narrative/fiction films (as opposed to documentaries) we should make genre films. In some ways I thought it would be easier to make a film within these constraints and that it would be easier to find an audience.

By genre I mean something like a western, a rom com, a horror movie. It is a hylomorphic story, where there is a clear distinction between the structure and content. Even “high concept” hollywood films – like searching for bobby fisher meets best in show, is hylomorphic. I am describing the bones of the film with out fleshing out the content. Genre films make it particularly easy to do this.

This is what Quentin Tarantino – he transforms genre films. You think you are watching a western, but the form and content are interdependent and the the form definitely does not follow the logic of the genre you thought you were watching.

My collaborator and I ended up not doing a genre film, but something super weird – probably because we did not think in genre formats and our desires and interests are to porous (read the previous post on boundaries).

But is a genre a system? Is narrative a system – like Aristotelean drama? I was telling my shrink a dream last week, and he said to me that Jung said dreams follow a 3 or 4 point story arc – similar to the idea of Aristotlean drama. That is a particular system.

Operas and plays that end in a marriage are comedies in death a tragedy. What about Beckett and Waiting for Godot. Is this a new genre? Is this transgenre? What is the system that this play is part of?

When I read Hanzi Freinacht The Listening Society, I was aware I was reading a hybrid work. This is not a traditional philosophical text or even social science text. Other hybrid works include autofiction like Crudo – which I love. Auto fiction is autobiographical fiction. I don’t believe this is a genre, unlike say magical realism which I do believe is a genre. There are tools to auto fiction, tropes and tactics. But it is like each author is playing a different chess game, using the same moves in different patterns.

Autofiction is about expressing the ineffable subjective inner life or experience of the author. This is not as a metaphor (which would be a story), or entertainment (also a story). It is meant as a cultural object in so far as a particular experience if it has enough resonance with enough individuals represents a universal experience, not through the creation of a universal experience that everyone can find expression within.

The question is what systems, or rather what system poetics do I use to express a subjective inner life that another person can understand and connect with?

This brings me to theory fiction. This is another genre or is it. The highpoint of theory fiction for me is Simon Sellars’ Applied Ballardianism. The most famous is probably Reza’s Cyclonopedia.
The most recent one I have read is Spinal Catastrophism, which I had on my last trip to Atlanta and thus it has accompanied me into quarantine.

So if autofiction is cross system attempt to express a story as a subjective experience, theory fiction is to express an idea (or ideas) as a narrative experience or in some cases subjective experience. How do we communicate thoughts? Where do thoughts come from? How do thoughts grow? Why do I want to hear your thoughts? Stories should not have philosophical bones to pick, when they do they are theory fiction.

Is this space between genres or hybrid genres the space of system poetics?
If we think about Hanzi again, and use his language of system, meta-system (maybe), paradigm, meta-paradigm, what do these fall?
The system would be the genre, either philosophical or narrative. It has a set of set rules, values, and aims.

Meta-systems would be auto fiction, or theory fiction. The goals and rules are myriad depending on the reader or the part of the text. The structure is combined from different systems.

On the paradigm level the rules across all modes of storytelling, argument, communication, exposition, creation, dissemination are teased out. I want to stick the realm of writing instead of devolving in to the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner, or some sort of narrative singularity where all creation is the same. But perhaps it would be something like Dale Pendell’s 3 volume set on plants that mixes science, biology, programming, history, poetry, lists, memories.

A meta-paradigmatic writing. What would it be like cross over multiple Dale Pendell-like books. Each would be different, and paradigmatic in their own way. Maybe writing that proceeds like a mind virus – writing that is performative – writing that while not transcending its format causes the reader to transcend. But this is just one option for a meta-paradigmatic. And then I might have gotten all these previous Hanzi analyasis incorrect.

But back to theory fiction – I see it now. I have xray vision in to a story. Like hearing the first bar of a song and knowing the name, I can watch a film or read a story and understand where it is going and what the plot it. It no longer unfolds in time but in one moment of illumination. And this is what it feels like to watch a genre film or story, to read a well made play (ibsen), and now theory fiction.

Theory fiction is way more fun than reading traditional theory like The Critique of Pure Reason, although I do find my mind clearer after puzzling for 2 hours over Hegel. But maybe this is a way to improve theory fiction, or maybe theory fiction is trying to do something different.

But as the apprehension of a work happens in an instance, rather than over time, we will search for higher and higher levels of system poetics where we too can experience the unfolding of the work in time.

Capitalism’s Problem with Boundaries

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These days it is common to talk about boundaries, not just national boundaries, but personal boundaries.  Our traditional categories are changing: public/private, family, work/play, gender.  Some of these are aided by technology, such as social media creating a more porous boundary between the public and private sphere, or even hormone treatment for gender. But some are emergent from our cultural and economic milieu, such as the changing nature of the family which is related to increasing wage earning capacities and legal recognition of different types of unions. 

Our categories are changing, and this was where our traditional boundaries stood. We did not have to think about them. Now that our categories are changing we are constantly talking about boundaries.  We ask, am I crossing the line? What sorts of stories and details can I share with my friends, with my family, with my colleagues?

John Bellamy Foster, in his excellent Capitalism and Robbery article, paraphrases Marx when he says that in capitalism all boundaries become barriers to overcome. This is another way to think about boundaries and where our anxiety around boundaries come from. It is not only that our categories change, but for capitalism, categories are only there to be transformed by the engine of capital into the Money-Commodity-Circuit.

One of the reasons we have an issue with boundaries in the public and private sphere is because of social media. Social media, as powered by capital, reduces all social connections such as family connections and work connections to a commodity. When all relations are commoditized, they no longer exist in the category public/private but only in the category commodity.  The boundary is between what is inside the machine of capital and what is outside the machine.

John Bellamy Foster is not talking about people creating personal boundaries, however. He is talking about physical boundaries and the encroachment of capital across physical boundaries. It is about the boundaries of the earth. The traditional story that Marx tells is that capital did not arise because people just saved a lot of money and invested it well. Instead there was a process of primitive accumulation, such as taking communal lands, plundering gold from the americas.  This is where the original capital for capitalism comes from. 

What are the boundary conditions of the earth? How were they breached? Foster distinguishes 3 moments: industrialization of agriculture, empire, and the anthropocene.  Although there are many ways to read these moments I see them as distinguished the relationship between different human beings (bios) to capital. 

Industrialization of agriculture excludes people from the ability to sustain themselves. It excludes those from outside capital or marginal within capital, such as indigenous populations and workers. In empire, those marginalized our externalized people essentially become slaves. In the anthropocene, those slaves become statical populations excluded no longer necessary in the global supply chain and excluded from the network of capital. 

We can also interpret these three moments as three moments of violence.  The first moment as the destruction of indigenous cultures and replaced with a commodified capitalist culture – epitomized by the death of many indigenous peoples. The second moment as a destruction of geographies when methods of cultivation in one ecosystem are exported to another – epitomized by the dust bowl. The third moment, as the destruction of biomes, where mechanized production feed one population by depleting a biome – epitomized by the overfishing.

There are a few movements to notice. One is the movement from the individual to the population, which is the statisticalization of human beings. The other is the change of scale from property, to geography, to biome. Another is the method of accumulation, via theft or plunder, via access and networks, and via mechanization. The gun that allowed nations to steal gold from the americas, is different from the train that allowed farmer to export unsustainable farming practices to Oklahoma, are different again from the trawler that digs the ocean floor grabbing both fish and destroying the ecosystem at the same time.

But, at its core, this discussion is about boundaries. It is about the boundaries between us and the land and between different conceptions of land itself. Is land a place where my family lives?  Is land a place that is accessible, land only exists if I can get there? Does land not exist, it is only what I extract from it? Who has extracted oil from the ground seen the land where this oil comes from, the deep earth. Is there a difference between the land I live on and the land the deer lives on? What is that boundary?

Also what should I do to the land? To the land I see, to the land I dont see, to the land I use, and to the land that others use but I also do not see?

I am not even sure if we should talk about boundaries. Boundaries are perhaps an antiquated notion and maybe let’s get rid of all boundaries.  The boundaries between land and ourselves are already porous – this is not an accident of capital but of nature. Rather in this instance it is capital that has constructed the boundaries. 

What does meditation do for us?

consciousness

Someone recently told me to think about what I am a tool for?

I have not answered the question. But it has made me think about what people do for one another and what things or practices we do for ourselves. Everything does something for us, and we have a reason for everything we do (even it is a bad reason, like habit).

I was participating in a vipassana meditation with a group of thinkers. Afterward we talked about what we felt etc, and one of the thinkers said that he could not help but have ideas during the meditation….

This made me think about the purpose of meditation – what does meditation do?

People in my group were talking about thinking more clearly ore removing cognitive bias. These are all great and I agree with them.

But is knowledge, is thinking, the that the only way to understand something?

An example I hear again and again is that of plants and plant lore. Ancient peoples did not engage in the scientific method in order to decide which plants cured which diseases.  So, how did they discover these properties?

I have no idea. Some people say the plants themselves spoke. What is important here is that there are ways to understanding beyond our normal cognitive mode of apprehension. How do we get there?  

My feeling is through meditation. Meditation lets us access other methods of understanding, methods that are subjective and private not public like science. These modes of understanding perhaps cannot be codified as knowledge in our society, or at least scientific knowledge. Since they are subjective they cannot be falsified. But if these subjective experiences provide other ways towards rich human experience why should they be denied.

I recently finished the listening society by hanzi freinacht, which outlines many different ways that inner life matters, how meditation contributes to the cultivation of inner life, and how this interacts with what we would call scientific knowledge. This is multilayered and I could talk about it in another post. 

But for now – is thinking the only path towards knowing? And if there are many paths what are they?

Kickstarter Launch!

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Jesse and I had a creative residency at kickstarter last spring. Mainly so I could hang out on the roof deck, drink kombucha, and eat avocados.

We made a mental health card game based around Jesse’s phd work in psychology and DBT. My personal interest is in depth psychology particularly the work of Carl Jung and James Hillman. And I do love love Wilhelm Reich – he is sort of a behavioralist. But in these times I just say – whatever works.

We did not think this would be launching in the midst of a world wide pandemic – and we are offering the first reward for free (download the cards & perhaps print them & play ) You can check it out here.

 

Cognitive Load

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These days I am sleeping more than normal, moving slower than normal, I need more down time, more inner space time. I am not sick with covid (I hope) – but there is an additional cognitive load of living in the midst of this. I am sure the cognitive load would be much much higher if I were sick, or if a family member were sick. I do have two school age kids running around wrestling on the floor, but it could be worse, I could have 5 kids or infant triplets.  But that is the deal, we all have more of a cognitive load so this is going to reflect in how we work, how we spend our time, what sort of energy we have and what we do.

But it taking all this down time I have notices more things. I have had more conversations (maybe too many zooms). I have had more vivid dreams. I have meditated more and practiced stillness – mainly because I lack the energy to be more active (and we really cannot be more active during this period of social distancing).

I’ve noticed often when I commit to a project and then there is an inner chorus of voices playing out various scenarios of success or failure in my head. I spend more time weaving narratives about my work than actually working.

When I commit to a relationship, for example, or even a course of study, I do NOT experience this same inner dialogue. I commit to what ever it is I desire or plan and I move on. My goal is to experience this with projects I work on too. Often the narrative that I spin about projects are a) that I will not finish the project in time or b) I lack some sort of resource to finish the project (in time). These things may or may not be the case, but often it is impossible predict these before hand, to reason them out in my mind before letting the work work itself out.

OOF - Behar

Object Oriented Feminism – Objects and Subjects

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About 10 years ago Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism exploded on to the philosophy scene. At a high level this thought machine is about removing the anthropocentric bias in post kantian philosophy (perhaps all philosophy) and treating all things as objects. Then there are a bunch of questions like how do objects relate to one another, how do objects learn about other objects and so forth.

Behar responded to this with Object Oriented Feminism, a queering of this mode of thought. When I think about subjects and objects and feminism I think of Simone de Beauvoir, and the idea that historically woman is defined in relation to man. Man is normative and everything not man, including woman is not normative. Man is the subject and woman is the object.

Men are, and have always been subjects in the kantian/post-kantian (and prior) thought. Women are objects. Perhaps it is radical for a man to say that he is an object like everyone else, but that is not the same for a woman. To be an object is a degradation in this context let’s all be subjects! A subject oriented ontology, or subject oriented feminism. Perhaps it is not catchy enough.

There is a portion of Behar’s introduction of OOF that responds to the stylistic quality of OOF.   This is the picture at the top of the blog post. And indeed SR and OOO has a style -theory fiction, the blog-o-sphere, and urbanomic.  There is a marketing or designed aspect to OOO and OOF.  Aesthetics matter – they are a consideration of how to connect with a possible audience.

Is Behar making fun of the white maleness behind OOO, she says no, but perhaps the design says yes. Would it be so bad to do? OOF is a reaction to OOO. Like oof- I cant believe you did that. The presentation problem of OOO is from one perspective the homogeneity of its proponents. But from another perspective it is about the rejection of the political dimension. 

OOO is the philosophy of people who have the luxury of metaphysical speculation. Objects do not have that luxury. They first need to become subjects, or as OOF wold say everything should be considered as an object. The F in OOF is a political dimension. It notices that there is a power displacement or reorganization in making all things equal (objects or subjects). We could call it OOP (object oriented politics) or perhaps OOE (object oriented ethics).

But OOF is not just political, it is also gendered and embodied. Perhaps we could call this aesthetic, that objects have bodies and that bodies have genders. Behar references Sarah Ahmed and Queer Phenomenology.  Objects have orientations,  that is the embodied part – we can only call something left or right if we are isomorphic.  Is ontology primary to bodies? Does beings come before bodies?  OOF puts action and physicality at the center of orientation rather than pure beings. Objects just dont exist – they exist as political objects in reaching for power to become other than objects – perhaps subjects. 

Reading and Writing Experiment

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A few weeks ago I was talking about how impressed I was when people would take a book or reading and then quickly summarize it and use it as a jumping off point for their own thoughts and imaginations.  This is beyond interpretation, or what I would call hermeneutics.  It is about a jumping off point for new ideas. 

We all have a more time to read these days with physical distancing and what not.  I have 

Thomas from a creative community I participate  finally can participate again in my art theory reading group – because it is remote! We are tackling Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit – in part to then read Brandom’s critique of PoS. I am going to do an experiment now where I attempt to summarize a text and use it as a jumping off point for my own thoughts. I am going to talk about the Preface, the intro and the first section – on Consciousness!

 

Method Or How to do philosophy

The preface discusses philosophical methodology. What does it mean to successfully prove a philosophical position or a philosophical system?  This is different than say proving the validity of a possible law of physics. Does it have to exist in context or dialogue with other philosophical systems (No)? Hegel talks about the difficulty of talking about a moment when you want to capture the entire process. I imagine a mathematical function and trying to describe the function rather than a point rendered by the function.

The discussion about how to write about this reminded me of theory fiction, and contemporary experiments in writing about ideas. How do you talk about something new? How do you talk about a complex process? How do you ignite interest in the reader so they undergo a transformation? All of this necessitates a change in style. In presentation. There is no binary form/content.  It is not that the medium is the message but the medium is the interface and I can only understand to the extend that the medium structures a story in a particular way. 

Truth 

But what if you want is truth? If you want philosophy to become a science (since in modern times science has become the domain of truth)? For me this is a false aim and a false distinction. There are all sorts of movements these days to reject binary in terms of what people call the spectral, or differential. This is not to sink into relativism, but it is to A) remove t/f as the standard for the highest form of discourse b)acknowledge that the world exists on a multiplicity of levels and perspectives. We should take a note from Aristotelean ethics, where what is right depends acting as the situation (and individual) calls for. the proper action depending on the circumstances and the individual.

I asked in my group – is it important that we even talk about Truth. Yes! Hunter Replied! This the most important thing. But everything is Truth. Truth is where everything converges. Here again we go through the interface of language, or words, where we all have different interpretations of the same word.  I am not sure I share this definition of Truth.  But what ever that () is the convergence of all in the highest possible expression of all things in all dimensions (whatever highest is, or dimensions are) – I support. 

 

Time and Duration

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The future is not going to be like the last.

I had my weekly poetry group tonight. Now we are meeting remote – on google groups not discord (my favorite).

One of the books I have with me in physical isolation is The Penguin Book of the Sonnet. It is amazing. I highly recommend it. There are different forms of a sonnet – if you get the book (or google) you can learn more.

I have been working with a shakespearean sonnet which has 4 4line stanzas (of particular rhythm and rhyme) ie quatrains and then two lines ie a heroic couplet.

The shakespearean sonnet according to meredith:

This happens
Then this happens
But then something changes
And this is what it is now

I wrote a sonnet – like all my poetry it is channelling my inner sixteen year old.
My sonnet sucked. I read all the sonnets in the beautiful penguin book of poetry with amazing imagery and great depth and I felt so shallow and observational.

But hey. -I am going to write more sonnets -they are bound to get better.
A friend read a poem by C.D. Wright. It was about pee. I loved the repetition, the
use of simple words. It was a poem that could only be written after Gertrude Stein.

One of the things that I am reflecting on during this pandemic is time (and Bergson).
I always felt like I knew what the future held, in some vague way. I mean you never know, but in the clock ticks, and the schedules, and the calendars the past and the future seemed similar.

The last weekend before the pandemic I sat with a friend at an emptyish restaurant in Brooklyn. I spoke how I could not imagine what the next week would look like, but that we would not probably be eating in a restaurant in Brooklyn (I was right about that).

The future has no measurement for me now