Category Archives: Philosophy

Interactive turn and its metaphysics

Have I mentioned my belief that our worlds are constructed primarily of interactions? It was Bruno Latour who made this real to me about ten years ago, and this was my last really big philosophical breakthrough. I suppose I could call it my “interactive turn”.

Latour’s descriptions of the conduct of science, and of everything, in terms of networks of interacting human and nonhuman actors changed how I understood both subjectivity and objectivity, and finally broke down my ability to keep those two categories discrete.

We are constantly interacting with our environments in myriad ways — physically, socially, linguistically, reflectively — reactively, deliberately, creatively, imaginatively, prospectively, habitually, absently, selectively. What we make of what is going on, that is, how we conceive it, has everything to do with how we respond to it, and how it responds back challenges us to make sense of it.

We respond to “the same” reality as related to us by other trusted sources, as passed off to us rumors from sketchy sources, as experienced as a participant in a real-life situation, as conveyed to us by a member of our own community following methods of the community, as taught to us during decades of education, as reported to us by journalists on varying integrity and ideological agendas, and as recalled by our own memories formed from different stages of our lives — and our response assumes some common phenomenological intentional object, some metaphysical reality, some commonsensical state of affairs on the other side of our interactions. But this is constructed out of interactions with innumerable mediators — people, things, thoughts, words, intuitions — who are included within or ignored out of the situation as we conceive it.

We lose track of the specific interactions that have amounted to our most habitual conceptions — our syneses (our takings-together taken-together) — which shape our categories of things, our expected cause and effect sequences in time, of our social behaviors and how they will be embraced, tolerated or punished.

Science is one variety of these interactions, but one we tend to privilege and to habitually project behind the world as our most common metaphysics. But once I learned to see scientific activities, scientific reporting, scientific explaining and scientific believing as a social behavior useful for helping us interact with nonhuman actors with greater effectiveness, somehow the relieved by need to rely on the metaphysical image science projects. I can believe in the effectiveness of the interactions and remain loyal to the social order established by science to do its work without feeling obligated to use a scientifically explicable reality as the binding agent for all my other beliefs to keep them hanging together. I see many good reasons not to!

Everso

My friend nick sent me an image of an everting sphere.

Note how the sphere becomes a torus midway through the eversion.

Note how we human beings are such that we can view reality from an inner first-person and outer third-person and experiences at once a metaphysical behind and a metaphysical beyond.

Recall that the Chinese coin was understood to be the negative space of Tao, the inner square, yin, the outer infinity, yang — but it is obvious these two are one and the same from everywhere beyond the coin.

In the creation myth this everting sphere just spawned, human being, human existence exists everywhere that the infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and periphery is nowhere forms a torus at mid-eversion, creating a unique everything, a soul, a person.


I wonder if I could make a book on images of eversions and the torus. I would make a chapbook, a second signature, to Geometric Meditations, and it would be called Everso.

Here’s the material I have so far, starting, of course with a dedication to the gorging torus, who I am now wondering is more complicated than I thought only days ago



Ouroboros,
Gorging torus,
Rolled up like an egg
Before us.


Definition of evert:

I have needed the word “evert” many times, but had to resort to flipping, reversing, inverting, turning… inside-out.

Evert – verb [with obj.]

Turn (a structure or organ) outward or inside out.

DERIVATIVES

eversible – adjective.
eversion –  noun

ORIGIN mid 16th cent. (in the sense ‘upset, overthrow’): from Latin evertere, from e- (variant of ex-) ‘out’ + vertere ‘to turn.’

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Now I can say things like:

  • Everything in the world is the world everted.
  • A comedy is an everted tragedy. A tragedy is an everted comedy.
  • A pearl is an everted oyster shell. An oyster coats the ocean with mother-of-pearl. Outside the shell is ocean, inside the pearl is ocean. Between inner-shell and outer-pearl is slimy oyster-flesh, which ceaselessly coats everything it isn’t with mother-of-pearl. It is as if the flesh cannot stand anything that does not have a smooth, continuous and lustrous surface. We could call the flesh’s Other — that which requires coating — “father-of-pearl”.
  • Imagine Pandora’s box as a pearl everting to an all-ensconcing shell as Pandora opened it, and Eden as an all-ensconcing shell everted to a pearl upon Adam’s eviction.
  • An object is an everted subject.

 


In the end:

In the end,
the trees will grow like snakes,
splitting and sloughing bark,
bending in coils of green heartwood;
and the snakes will grow like trees,
depositing skin under skin,
and in their turgid leather casings,
they will lie about on the ground
like broken branches.


Shells and Pearls (a collection of previous pearl posts):

An oyster coats the ocean with an inner-shell made of mother-of-pearl lined. Anything from the outside that gets inside is coated, too. A pearl is an everted oyster shell, and an everted pearl is a shell’s inner lining. Outside the shell is ocean, inside the pearl is ocean. Between inner-shell and outer-pearl is delicate oyster-flesh, which ceaselessly coats everything it is not with mother-of-pearl. It is as if this flesh cannot stand anything that does not have a smooth, continuous and lustrous surface. We could call the flesh’s Other — that which requires coating — father-of-pearl.

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Irridescent Irritants

Minds secrete knowing like mother-of-pearl, coating irritant reality with lustrous likeness.

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Nacre

You are absurd. You defy comprehension.

That is, you defy my way of understanding. I cannot continue to understand my world as I understand it and understand you.

That is, you do not fit inside my soul.

I am faced with the most fundamental moral choice: Do I break open my soul? or do I bury you in mother-of-pearl?

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Father-of-Pearl

(A meditation on Levinas’s use of the term “exception” in Otherwise Than Being.)

We make category mistakes when attempting to understand metaphysics, conceiving what must be exceived.

Positive metaphysics are objectionable, in the most etymologically literal way, when they try to conceptualize what can only be exceptualized, to objectify that to which we are subject, to comprehend what comprehends — in order to achieve certainty about what is radically surprising.

In my own religious life, this category mistake is made tacitly at the practical and moral level, and then, consequentially, explicitly and consciously. Just as the retinas of our eyes see things upside-down, our mind’s eye sees things inside-out. We naturally confuse insidedness and outsidedness. By this view, human nature is less perverse than it is everse.

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Imagine, with as much topological precision as you can muster, expulsion from Eden as belonging-at-home flipped inside-out.

That galut in the pit of your gut: everted Eden?

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A garden is an everted fruit, and a fruit, an everted garden.

The nacre inner lining of a shell is an everted pearl, and a pearl, an everted nacre lining.

The exception is the everted conception, and the conception, the everted exception.

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Nacre

Pearls are inside-out oyster shells. Or are oyster shells inside-out pearls?

The oyster coats its world with layers of iridescent calcium. With the same substance it protects itself from the dangers concaving in from the outside and the irritants convexing it from the inside.

 

Anything can happen

A change in one of our comprehensive conceptions (a conception that holds together other conceptions) can change our overall all-at-once experience of the world.

Let’s be clear: this does not only change how we think about, talk about or respond to life: a comprehensive conception shift happens preconsciously and preverbally; it reshapes our perceptions; it reworks the gestalt sense of reality that invests everything with its own significance — what we sense, recognize, think about, interact with, dwell within.

We and our entire enworldment are transfigured. Every thing within everything has new significance and promise.

Scales, however, do not drop away. No pre-existent heaven is revealed. We are not made possessors of a hidden truth. Magic had absolutely nothing to do with it. No supernatural beings intervened or bestowed grace. Nothing happened that should offend an honest atheist.

But we do learn something miraculous from this experience, something that adds a new dimension to life: transfiguration is a permanent possibility. If this can happen, anything can happen.

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In my opinionated opinion, this, precisely is what the world has lost sight of.

We are trapped inside a constricted, bleak, angry but arrogant worldview that sees its only fascination and occupation in destruction of the world out there. Woody Allen’s paradoxical restaurant review applies to the whole world of todays unwitting nihilists: “The food is just awful, and the portions are too small.”

It occurs no none of them that perhaps they are not yet qualified to change the world for the better. Revolutionaries with a nihilist mindset will sometimes destroy the corrupt crust of convention expecting to find a Rousseauean Paradise beneath — but all they find  is long-denaturalized apes stripped of their second-natural humanizing artifice.

No, on the contrary: we have reconceptive work to do before we are qualified to change the world out there to make it more accommodating and human. But that work is good work, even before we roll up our sleeves to materially re-make the world.

Am I King Midas?

The story of King Midas is a parable of an unwise man given the power to change the world to make it conform to his ideal.

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Winston Churchill never sounded more Marxist than when he said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

What kind of building should be entrusted with shaping a future architect?

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The strategy of changing our lives, our life experience and our very selves by changing the world around us is somewhere in the vicinity of the heart of leftist thinking.

To the degree one is a leftist (or progressivist), one will see suffering and dissatisfaction as something which comes from without, and which is best remedied through outward action. The world is adjusted to standards set by the self.

To the degree one is a rightist (or conservative), one will see suffering and dissatisfaction as something that is part of the very essence of existence, and which is therefore remedied through inner work. The self is adjusted to standards set by the world.

Of course, the world shapes us into the selves who, in turn, want to shape the world. And the world has been shaped by selves who were, in turn, shaped by the world. So say those of us who want to take responsibility for the standards we adopt, those standards by which we reciprocally, iteratively, shape ourselves and our worlds.

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Every one of us who aspires to change the world has a terrifying question to ask, the the more we need to ask it, the less likely it is to occur to us to ask it: Given the scope, depth and density of my understanding of the world, should I be trusted — should I trust myself? —  with shaping it to my ideal?

Contemplate Wikipedia’s definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a hypothetical cognitive bias stating that people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability.”

Of course, as any good progressivist will tell you, there is no “the world”. Each person inhabits some “lived experience” largely determined by their position within society. So, which parts of the world have shaped us, our desires, our ideals, our standards? Is one of them better suited to the task of re-shaping the world?

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Years ago I went to a design event. We were all given self assessments on our own mastery of various elements of design practice. The young designers right out of school scored much higher than the experienced designers, confirming their suspicion: “Those old designers don’t know any more about design than we young designers do.”

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But, of course, the world can dominate and break us. We can betray ourselves and become  complacent and bitter. We can succumb to resentment of those who have not been broken — those who have not given up hope, who still have the will to fight. And these will look at the young and see the future: “Those young idealists think they will change the world, but reality will catch up with them, and they will end up like the rest of us.”

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Even the smartest expert, even the smartest group of like-minded experts, has knowledge of a tiny, selective speck of reality. It takes diverse minds with a diverse range of expertise to produce an adequate knowledge of human life. And the further we get from the reality we “know” –the lesson-the-ground, hands-on experience we have of what we know — the less problematic our knowledge seems.

To cultivate awareness of the limits of our knowledge, to learn to detect the mind’s own devices for forgetting its finitude by bounding itself within a tidy horizon of relevance and painting over its ignorance and blindness with the concealing paint of nothingness, to know that we do not know not only with our minds, but with our hearts and our bodies, and most of all when we vehemently disagree — these bring us to pluralism.

Pluralism is a modest term for an old honorific that has become preposterous and fallen out of use.

Ass Festival

Here is a three-note chord of Nietzsche quotes, followed by some intensely Nietzschean reflections on Rorty.

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“Every philosophy is a foreground philosophy — this is a recluse’s verdict: “There is something arbitrary in the fact that the philosopher came to a stand here, took a retrospect, and looked around; that he here laid his spade aside and did not dig any deeper — there is also something suspicious in it.” Every philosophy also conceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a lurking-place, every word is also a mask.”

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“There is a point in every philosophy when the philosopher’s “conviction” steps onto the stage — or to use the language of an ancient Mystery: ‘The ass entered / beautiful and most brave.'”

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“It was ever in the desert that the truthful have dwelt, the free spirits, as masters of the desert; but in the cities dwell the well-fed, famous wise men — the beasts of burden. For, as asses, they always pull the people’s cart. Not that I am angry with them for that: but for me they remain such as serve and work in a harness, even when they shine in harnesses of gold. And often they have been good servants, worthy of praise.”

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If, in pursuit of truth, you track it into the driest, harshest regions of the desert, you might emerge with a conviction that truth is best used for pulling little carts.

But does every car need to haul the same burdens over the same terrain from the same origin to the same destination for the same purpose?

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Rorty says: “We can, of course, stick with Kant and insist that Darwin, like Newton, is merely a story about phenomena, and that transcendental stories have precedence over empirical stories. But the hundred-odd years spent absorbing and improving on Darwin’s empirical story have, I suspect and hope, made us unable to take transcendental stories seriously. In the course of those years we have gradually substituted a making a better future — a utopian, democratic, society — for ourselves, for the attempt to see ourselves from outside of time and history. Pan-relationalism is one expression of that shift. The willingness to see philosophy as helping us to change ourselves rather than to know ourselves is another.”

My response to Rorty is that Pragmatism taken to its extreme pan-relationalist point suggests that we approach philosophy as a design discipline, concerned not only with what allows us to reconcile what seemed true and valuable in the past and what seems true and promising in the present, but with what situates us in reality and orients us toward it in a way that helps us live a life that we experience as good.

My question is this: If as pan-relationalists, we are truly, wholeheartedly, wholemindedly, wholebodiedly able to conceive of ourselves as transcendental beings — each of us entrusted with one of the myriad center-points of the infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere — where objectivity is viewed as a product of subjectivity, the brain produced by mind — and if by doing so we manage to maintain communication and communion with our fellow humans, interact with the world effectively to cope with it, predict it, shape it, but also find ourselves more able to love being alive, to love others, to love reality as a whole — what is to be gained by refusing this pleasure? Why kill God if God lives for us, and nothing — not even truth — can compel us to? And isn’t this what pan-relationalism gives us? Are we afraid, perhaps, to give up our last shred of compelled belief, and to enworld ourselves in a world that shows us our value?

Why can’t a pan-relationalist, seeing myriad possible ways to use tools and language to enworld oneself, not place pan-relationalism in the background, like a deep heaven populated by innumerable stars, and go into orbit around a sun of his own choosing? Why stay out in the vacuum of space, unless you actually like it out there? A cozy, habitable planet has as much right to call itself “space” as those colder, emptier and more common expanses that seem so strange and remote to children of Mother Earth.

So I will now trot my conviction onto stage, beautiful and most brave, and let it bray: “If your philosophy works, if it makes the world not only intelligible and practicable but also profoundly desirable, and you manage to adopt that philosophy with all your heart soul and strength, so that doubts do not trouble you, there is no philosophical reason to abandon it.”

Yea-Yuh and amen.

Spoken artifacts

This morning I was finishing up reading Rorty’s electrifyingly provocative essay on pan-relationalism while sporadically talking with Susan about how she’s feeling stuck in her current project.

As always happens when I read Rorty, I’ve been thinking about words as one kind of artifact that humans devise and use, but which, to us humans (especially to Rorty!) seems somehow more fundamental and unique to who we are than all those other non-linguistic artifacts we make and use.

I suggested to Susan that she could try prototyping her idea. Then I realized people never understand what I mean when I say prototype. They imagine something much more finished, where in design a prototype is the fastest and cheapest way to get an idea out of one’s head and into form where it can be interacted with, so designers can learn from the externalized interaction and further develop the idea. To give her an idea of exactly how crude, I showed her the classic IDEO example.

Suddenly, I understood something new.

Language is a prototyping tool.

When we propose, suggest, speculate, plan we are prototyping possibilities using spoken artifact that we and others imagine, consider, try out, or try on. They, in turn, can descriptively manipulate our prototype, and present it back to us in modified form. Conversation of this kind is collaborative language prototyping.

Of course, language is not always the best prototyping material. As an idea progresses toward concrete actualization, it becomes more and more risky relying on what we learn from our spoken artifacts (unless, of course, the ultimate artifact is itself linguistic). The lessons gleaned from the verbal artifact may not apply as expected to the material artifact that is our “final product”. But this is true of any prototype. Proper use of a prototype always relies on interpretation, analogy and imagination. Failure to see the intended analogy between the prototype and the intended final artifact is similar to missing the intended meaning of a sentence.

This is why, after talking out an idea, then drawing it or acting it out, it prototypes are developed iteratively, in increasing levels of fidelity that successively approach the final product — but the whole time designers rely on language to prototype potential variants, before committing more resources. “Talk is cheap.” And this is what makes it such a great prototyping material!

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For me, talking, imagining, drawing, crafting are all products of nonverbal intention — intuition.

Yes, these things are tough to talk about clearly, and if talking as clearly as possible is your goal, maybe you’ll want to deemphasize the role of tacit intention in your descriptions of how humans think, perceive, value and behave.

But if you are a designer, and your goal is to produce artifacts (including verbal artifacts!) that people find desirable, useful and usable and you discover that usability in particular requires a direct coupling between intention and action without intervention of language, you’ll find conflations of intention and language counterproductive, and clarity gained in confusing the two to be more of a vice than a virtue.

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I seriously want to make a linocut print of the IDEO prototype.

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I wrote something last week in an email that I want to glue to this line of thought.

…I have a redescription of panrelationalism to try out on you — one that does more justice to tacit knowledge. I’m happy to call “tacit knowledge” an ability and not a form of knowledge, as long as we distinguish ability from instinct or reflex by specifying that an ability is an intentional act situated within a pragmatic network of consequential (often unstated) beliefs. 

I see language use as a special case of ability, the ability to use a certain set of words — but that the ability to wordlessly do something with an intent — “intentional attitude” should take the place of the “sentential attitude.” A sentential attitude is one variety of intentional attitude, an intention to speak. 

We do not have to form a sentence to have an intention, but every sentence is directed by an intention, which is why we discover the ending of sentences as we utter the last word of it. We are using a tacit ability as we interact with an already-said sentence and available vocabulary for extending it, guided by a tacit intuition of what we want to say, in the very act of speaking. 

If we replace every linguistic term with an intentional one, and understand that language is a special case of intention, I’m a panrelationalist. I’ll even extend an olive branch and admit that our linguistic genius can, in principle, speak any intention. 

But the tradeoffs involved in allowing words to metonymically stand in for intentions is unacceptable for this designer, since good design is so closely bound up with wordless intentional actions. The metonymy erases a crucial distinction designers need to make. But also, there’s a fine line between metonymy and conflation, and I think philosophy is best served when we split hairs when we can show that there is a difference there that makes a difference. I think the “good design” difference is only the tip of the iceberg of reconceiving and potentially redescribing how minds use language and other tools.

Enworldment design (again!)

Enworldment is my preferred term for lifeworld. I think it’s prettier and it has some desirable overtones: enworldment sounds like something that we intentionally shape for ourselves, where one can easily imagine an amoeba inhabiting a lifeworld.

Enworldments are held together by conceptions. Conceptions manifest in a variety of ways — only one of which is language.

Language is undoubtedly one of the most important manifestations of conceptions. Language provides our best access to conceptions, our readiest way to share them and also our best means to change them — to interrogate them, weaken them, break them, and to find novel conceptions, entertain alternative ones, to evaluate them and to adopt new conceptions in place of old ones.

Because language is so closely connected with conception it is easily to reduce conceptions to language or reduce change of conceptions to a change of language. To to conflate or confuse conceptions with verbalized concepts is to commit a logocentric category mistake.

Why should anyone care about avoiding this mistake? Changes in conception have consequences that extend beyond language. For instance, changes in conception can affect perception, not only in how a perception is interpreted (such as learning to see an optical illusion) but even how it is experienced aesthetically (such as when we acquire a taste, or when our tastes change in response to changes in our lives).

This should not be surprising if you understand perception as sensory conception (sensorily taking-together). A painter’s or musician’s style manifests conceptions in visual or auditory form, and a style resonates with us when we receive it via analogous conceptions, or they intrigue or disturb us when we intuit a conception that we are on the edge of learning.

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From here I want to develop the idea that these conceptions we use to enworld ourselves and make sense of, interact with and to value some things at the expense of other things is not something we only do to enable us to change our world — though it does do that. The enworldment itself transfigures the world even before we apply it to our actions, in ways that make some better than others for different people in different contexts.

Irony

I think irony may be the ability to transpose first and third person perspectives, so we can experience our first person tragic situation as a third person comic one, or, less commonly, to enter a third person comedy and experience it as first person tragic. But it might be that irony is established on the transpositionability of perspectives, so that comedy, tragedy and irony all come into existence simultaneously as a trinity.

If this is true, irony can be seen as the cornerstone of Christian theology, the origin of the Cartesian split and the necessary condition of pluralism.

Is it 2005, again?

Somewhere around 2005 people in the habit of condemning their fellow citizens as “traitors” for questioning the Iraq invasion started sobering up, and in various ways tried to distance themselves from what they could now see was unfounded certainty about matters of moral intensity. But right up until that point, there was no question: They were on the right side of history.

From this experience I took one big, important lesson: Certainty that you are on the right side of history is the furthest thing from evidence that history will agree with you.

(It feels a little like 2005 to me right now.)

Deictic stack

I hate to borrow techie terminology for philosophical purposes, and I hate it even more when the term has already been heavily appropriated and bastardized by non-techie types, but here it works so well I’m overriding taste.

I’ve been playing with the concept of deixis as a way of accounting for differences in metaphysical conception so deeply sedimented beneath our explicit beliefs and thoughts that we don’t even know how to discuss them, think them or even to frame questions about them.

The hypothesis is a simple one: infants are implicitly inducted into a metaphysics from their earliest moments of postnatal existence. The way the parents respond to the infant, speaking and interacting, orients the new person to the world in ways that prepare the mind for conceptualization and speech by establishing a pre-verbal ontology that I propose takes the form of categories of person — I, we, you, thou, y’all, it, those, them, and so on. The sequence in which these persons (the deictic structures) occur in relation to one another — which one precedes and becomes the “experience near” reference point for the next layer in the “stack” — has profound implications for the overall character of existence as full consciousness emerges and develops.

When someone else’s basic conception of reality seems absolutely bonkers to us, I suggest this might trace back to their deictic stack. Someone whose original sense of reality is a Thou is bound to have profoundly different intuitions from one whose first sense of reality is It. or I or We — or Them.

Years ago I heard it claimed that Asian parents interact with their babies differently from European parents. Where European parents hand a ball to their child, they say “ball”, which orients the interaction to 3rd person singular, Asian parents tend to say “thank you”, which orients the interaction within 1st person plural. These parenting practices might account for the deeper differences in sensibility across cultures.

I want to keep in keep in mind, too, that the differentiation of self from not-self might come down to resistance. That is, we experience objective reality most tangibly in what is objectionable — what stands out as unexpected or unwanted . This might mean that someone with a perfect mother might experience the reality of It long before the reality of Thou, precisely because Thou is so anticipative, accommodating, comforting that Thou does not stand out as other but remains submerged in subject. In such a case, the world of It might be the first resisting reality the infant encounters. Or a sibling intruding as Them or unskillfully or obtrusively interacting as a semi-accommodating Thou or We might come first.

I’m less interested here in establishing a a factual hypothesis than a way to frame the question of why we have such different basic conceptions of reality, and why are these intuitions so painfully difficult to think about and navigate? If we recognize that just as every explicit statement has its origin in indexicality (we know what a ball is because someone handed us a red ball and said “ball” or “red” or “thank you”), I think all our actions, utterances and thoughts refer back to an enworldment, and that one way to understand the character of the enworldment is to study its genesis as a sequence of original differentiations.

Now I’m sounding like Hegel. Maybe I’m just crossing Hegel with Piaget and multiplying them with James to produce a more pluralistic dialectic rooted in early childhood development. Dunno. But my mind keeps dragging me back to this idea. Also my own philosophical conversions have all taken the form of metaphysical replatforming (ugh) on different persons. With Nietzsche I refounded my 3rd person plural universe (scientistic, objective metaphysics, in which minds were an emergent property of brains) on a 1st person singular base (phenomenological, subject-first metaphysics, where whatever its ultimate nature, our mind conceives a brain and then conceives the brain as emergently generating mind, but, importantly, without in the least changing the fact that the mind came first). I called the first view “ecliptic” and described it as I-in-world, and the second “soliptic” / “world-in-me”. It is important to recognize that with this shift in perspective the thoughts themselves everted, and stopped being objective facts I thought about, and became the subjective process from which my thoughts came. Get where I’m coming from? It was a conversion experience that mapped to everything converts say, but it all happened without any supernatural processes an atheist would rule out. And I should know, because I would have ruled it out, too. Yet it was a religious conversion, and it left me religious (albeit in a way that really, really bothers theists who look too closely). Since then Jewish thinkers, culminating in Buber with his I-Thou dialogical thinking, have shifted me to 1st person plural via 2nd person singular, then again, via Latour into a thorough blurring of I-Thou-It that has led me to root metaphysics in a predifferentiated adeictic point beyond persons of any kind, but which must, to a finite person, must manifest, or (shit!!) incarnate in person form (whether 1st, 2nd or 3rd person). And now with all this three-person incarnating God talk I sound totally Christian. I do love Christianity, too. But I love it in a Jewish way, as a Jew.

Well-tempered descriptions

Ebony and ivory
live together in imperfect harmony
Side by side on a well-tempered keyboard.

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Wikipedia says this about musical temperament:

In musical tuning, a temperament is a tuning system that slightly compromises the pure intervals of just intonation to meet other requirements. … Temperament is especially important for keyboard instruments, which typically allow a player to play only the pitches assigned to the various keys, and lack any way to alter pitch of a note in performance. Historically, the use of just intonation, Pythagorean tuning and meantone temperament meant that such instruments could sound “in tune” in one key, or some keys, but would then have more dissonance in other keys.

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Not only musical tuning but ideology can be well-tempered and made to harmonize (albeit imperfectly) with other worldviews — if it will compromise slightly.

A principled refusal to compromise on ideals means that one’s own worldview enjoys perfect self-consistency, but any other ideal will produce beliefs that clash with it and produce sour notes.

Is it a coincidence that well-tempered tuning makes just intonation less pure in order to allow different otherwise incompatible keys to coexist?

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A well-tempered social description is one that makes slight adjustments to a shared story to allow it to be compatible with multiple perspective.

To those who seek perfectly just intonation within one “correct” key, well-tempered tuning looks ungainly, ugly, arbitrary and flawed. But when you look at the problem of tuning pluralistically and ask how multiple keys can exist on a single instrument, the small compromises made for the sake of many keys appears grandly perfect and ideological perfection looks narrow and monotonous.

 

 

Metaphysical deixis

I need to look into whether metaphysicians think in terms of deixis. The idea is that even when we speak in the most explicit way about the most mundane matters, and the local deixis of the utterance is utterly fixed there is an implicit deixis beneath that pertains to the interrelations of all particular realities to ultimate reality. I’m calling this metaphysical deixis. I’ll try to sketch out what I’m trying to get at.

Most of us (at least those who belong to the professional class) adhere — often uncritically to an ontology that is metaphysically founded on the third-person singular. Let’s call this metaphysical stance “atomistic objectivity”. Atomic objects (“that”, 3rd person singular) combine into atomic systems (“those”, 3rd person plural). From this emerges consciousness (“I”, 1st person singular) who form relationships with others (“you”, 2nd person singular) to produce relationships — (“we”, 1st person plural) and society (“y’all”, 2nd person plural). 3s, 3p, 1s, 2s, 1p, 2p.

Traditional western religious people tend to root their metaphysics in a very different ultimate. The ultimate being is God (2nd person singular), who created the universe (3rd person plural) and everything in it (3rd person singular), before creating each of us (1st person singular), and all of us (1st person plural) and the people outside our faith (2nd person plural). 2s, 3p, 3s, 1s, 1p, 2p. It would be interesting to look into whether the current progressivist metaphysics is the same sequence, but reversed.

Solipsists try to build out their metaphysics on the 1st person singular, proceeding from 1s to 3s to 3p, etc.

 

Three conceptions of justice

People say the word “justice” and unconsciously conflate multiple concepts that do not necessarily belong together. I’ll list a few.

The most common concept, in every sense of the word, is ensuring that whoever has been harmed by another is given the satisfaction of revenge. Sadistic pleasure is compensated with sadistic pleasure. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, dignity for dignity. Everyone gets the same chance to enjoy inflicting suffering on others, to humiliate others, to coerce others — and nobody gets an unfairly large portion in the delight of debasing, controlling and harming others.

A second concept of justice is upholding of law. When the law is inexorably enforced, it reinforces to everyone that the law is a reality, that all must follow it, and that all can count on the fact that it will be followed by others.

A third concept of justice is pluralistic. This justice understands that every subject acts by its own logic — even when it tries to live according to the law. The third justice tries to “do justice” to this logic and to understand why another person thinks, values and acts in the way they do — to get inside their judgment to understand how and why this judgment might deviate from the public judgment.

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When we say justice, it is helpful to know 1) which justice or justices we, ourselves, are pursuing, and 2) what justice means for the others involved in the adjudication.

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This thought is not mine. I am paraphrasing.

Fathers Day message to the world

I put this on facebook. I don’t even know why I do that. Here:

I remember back when words like “inappropriate” and “not ok” were meant to ramp down moral judgment in the playroom. “Kid, you aren’t a bad person; you just shouldn’t do that action in this situation.” But it turns out that just speaking non-judgmental language is not enough. If we are secretly terrified that our children might be immoral, our choice of euphemisms does not matter one bit. “Not appropriate” ends up meaning wicked. “Not ok” means shameful.

Now the generations raised with this language have grown up, or at least reached adult age, but never updated their disciplinary jargon. Non-judgy nursery school talk has become public moral absolutist talk.

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I’m celebrating father’s day by dispensing parenting advice, so indulge me: Your kids are not evil. They’re not particularly good, either. They’re somewhere slightly north or south of neutral, depending on how much sleep they got and what you fed them today. And please stop thinking about morality. Unless you are a serious religious person, good and evil probably doesn’t play nice with the other concepts sloshing around in your head. And frankly, being good isn’t as important as you think. This obsessive compulsive need to be good is producing very little real good, and it might be freaking your kids out. Just teach your damn children to be polite so it isn’t too awful for other people to be around them. Things will probably turn out ok.

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Happy fathers day.

Understanding and being understood

Speculating from a distance, none of us really understands anyone else.

The powerful do not understand the weak; the weak do not understand the powerful.

You might ask, if it even occurs to you to ask: Who is more obligated to understand the other? Notice the unexamined belief here that the one understood is the primary beneficiary of understanding.

The weak are often the ones quicker to recognize the benefits of understanding, but anyone who understands benefits — and benefits more than the understood. But ultimately, the greatest beneficiary is the relationship among participants in understanding, which transcends individuality. — In other words, understanding, like marriage, is a form of greatness.

Daybreak

I have been trying to reread Daybreak, for probably the sixth or eighth time.

This is the book that originally, back in 2004, made me start a notebook to capture the connections I was seeing across passages and across books in Nietzsche’s corpus, which before had existed only in the margins of the books themselves. Eventually, the notebook grew so large and complex that locating an associated passage could take up a whole morning, and it began to bog down my reading. At that point I transferred the passages into memos on my Palm PDA, which I’d hacked and made into a wiki. I could text search the passages and organize them in affinity clusters. That database got so large it brought both my desktop Palm app and the Palm device to a crash-prone crawl. In early 2008, when I got an iPod Touch capable of browsing the web, I imported my Palm wiki onto a web-based wiki. Even that got too big for the original host, and text searching became maddeningly slow, so I had to move it to a faster server. Today the wiki lives at brain.anomalogue.com, and it is bigger and faster than it has ever been.

But despite the performance upgrades my reading is painfully slow because of the wiki. If I read authors other than Nietzsche, I’m mostly okay. But Nietzsche shifts my mind into an associative mode, and the wiki amplifies that mode by offering fresh associated passages I’d forgotten when I connect passages I do remember. Then the linking cascades and ignites new lines of thought, and then I end up writing instead of reading.

Today I had a really good example of this effect, and I’m going to walk through what happened.

It started with aphorism 526:

Not willing to be a symbol. — I commiserate with princes: they are not permitted to vanish into society from time to time, and so they come to know mankind only from an uncomfortable and dissimulated position; the continual compulsion to signify something in the end makes of them solemn nullities. — And so it is with all who see it their duty to be symbols.

This reminded me of a passage from Twilight of the Idols:

What? You search? You would multiply yourself by ten, by a hundred? You seek followers? — Seek zeros! –”

I’d thought about the nullification of individuals when they take on public identities. Or, more likely, such people are already nullities, adopting identities in an effort to construct some semblance of selfhood.

I’ve seen this happen with some people who never developed their own first-person perspective, and also, tragically, with a few who lost their perspective seeking — or demanding — recognition from others.

It was interesting to think that not only joiners of movements, but also leaders can be zeros.

But this passage was connected with a couple of other passages that mentioned non-individual naughts, nullities and zeros. This one stood out, because it links into my current project, and also some of Nick Gall’s recent thinking on turning versus overcoming:

I no longer know whether you, my dear fellow man and neighbour, are even capable of living in a way which is damaging to the species, i.e. ‘unreasonably’ and ‘badly’. What might have harmed the species may have become extinct many thousands of years ago and may by now belong to the things that are no longer possible even for God. Pursue your best or your worst desires, and above all, perish! In both cases you are probably still in some way a promoter and benefactor of humanity and are thus entitled to your eulogists — as well as to your mockers! But you will never find someone who could completely mock you, the individual, even in your best qualities, someone who could bring home to you as far as truth allows your boundless, fly- and frog-like wretchedness! To laugh at oneself as one would have to laugh in order to laugh from the whole truth — for that, not even the best have had enough sense of truth, and the most gifted have had far too little genius! Perhaps even laughter still has a future when the proposition ‘The species is everything, an individual is always nothing’ has become part of humanity and this ultimate liberation and irresponsibility is accessible to everyone at all times. Perhaps laughter will then have formed an alliance with wisdom; perhaps only ‘gay science’ will remain. At present, things are still quite different; at present, the comedy of existence has not yet ‘become conscious’ of itself; at present, we still live in the age of tragedy, in the age of moralities and religions. What is the meaning of the ever-new appearance of these founders of moralities and religions, of these instigators of fights about moral valuations, these teachers of pangs of conscience and religious wars? What is the meaning of these heroes on this stage? For these have been the heroes thus far; and everything else, even if at times it was all that we could see and was far too near, has always served only to set the stage for these heroes, whether as machinery and backdrop or in the role of confidant and servant. (The poets, for example, were always the servants of some kind of morality.) It is obvious that these tragedies, too, work in the interest of the species, even if they should believe that they are working in the interest of God, as God’s emissaries. They, too, promote the life of the species by promoting the faith in life. ‘Life is worth living’, each of them shouts, ‘there is something to life, there is something behind life, beneath it; beware!’ This drive, which rules the highest as well as the basest of human beings — the drive for the preservation of the species — erupts from time to time as reason and passion of mind; it is then surrounded by a resplendent retinue of reasons and tries with all its might to make us forget that fundamentally it is drive, instinct, stupidity, lack of reasons. Life ought to be loved, because –! Man ought to advance himself and his neighbour, because –! What names all these Oughts and Becauses have been given and may yet be given in the future! The ethical teacher makes his appearance as the teacher of the purpose of existence in order that what happens necessarily and always, by itself and without a purpose, shall henceforth seem to be done for a purpose and strike man as reason and an ultimate commandment; to this end he invents a second, different existence and takes by means of his new mechanics the old, ordinary existence off its old, ordinary hinges. To be sure, in no way does he want us to laugh at existence, or at ourselves — or at him; for him, an individual is always an individual, something first and last and tremendous; for him there are no species, sums, or zeroes. Foolish and fanciful as his inventions and valuations may be, badly as he may misjudge the course of nature and deny its conditions — and all ethical systems hitherto have been so foolish and contrary to nature that humanity would have perished from every one had it gained power over humanity — all the same! Every time ‘the hero’ appeared on stage, something new was attained: the gruesome counterpart of laughter, that profound shock that many individuals feel at the thought: ‘Yes, living is worth it! Yes, I am worthy of living!’ Life and I and you and all of us became interesting to ourselves once again for a while. There is no denying that in the long run each of these great teachers of a purpose was vanquished by laughter, reason and nature: the brief tragedy always changed and returned into the eternal comedy of existence, and the ‘waves of uncountable laughter’ — to cite Aeschylus — must in the end also come crashing down on the greatest of these tragedians. Despite all this corrective laughter, human nature on the whole has surely been altered by the recurring emergence of such teachers of the purpose of existence — it has acquired one additional need, the need for the repeated appearance of such teachers and such teachings of a ‘purpose’. Man has gradually become a fantastic animal that must fulfill one condition of existence more than any other animal: man must from time to time believe he knows why he exists, his race cannot thrive without a periodic trust in life — without faith in the reason in life! And ever again the human race will from time to time decree: ‘There is something one is absolutely forbidden henceforth to laugh at.’ And the most cautious friend of man will add: ‘Not only laughter and gay wisdom but also the tragic, with all its sublime unreason, belongs to the means and necessities of the preservation of the species.’ And therefore! Therefore! Therefore! Oh, do you understand me, my brothers? Do you understand this new law of ebb and flood? We, too, have our time!

“Life and I and you and all of us became interesting to ourselves once again for a while. There is no denying that in the long run each of these great teachers of a purpose was vanquished by laughter, reason and nature: the brief tragedy always changed and returned into the eternal comedy of existence, and the ‘waves of uncountable laughter’ — to cite Aeschylus — must in the end also come crashing down on the greatest of these tragedians. ” — that reminded me of something… Anaximander!

Whence things have their origin,

Thence also their destruction happens,

According to necessity;

For they give to each other justice and recompense

For their injustice

In conformity with the ordinance of Time.

He who laughs last laughs best; but everyone who laughs is laughing last. More laughers will follow, in conformity with the ordinance of time.

This brings me to my final quote, by Jack Handey:

It takes a big man to cry, but it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man.

There are so many suns yet to rise.