a Brain without Neurons vs. the Body without Organs

“In this general position the philosophy of organism seems to approximate more to some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought than to Western Asiatic, or European, thought. One side makes process ultimate, the other side makes fact ultimate.” A.N. Whitehead, Process & Reality (Corrected Edition), p. 7.

In a world flooded by ‘fact’ the appeal of process offers a natural line of flight. One wants, no: needs, to escape this looking into the particular in order to explain the whole. But the thing is that in a world flooded by ‘process’ appeal to fact offers the natural line of flight. One wants, no: needs, to escape this understanding of the whole in order to appreciate a particular. But what happens when the world gets flooded by lines of flight?

“This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continua of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass & escape bringing forth continuous intensities for a Body without Organs.” Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 161.

Maybe there is only so much difference one’s brain can endure before losing its capacity for repetition. The response from a brain without neurons to the body without organs is contained in this picture which it henceforth explains:

Schermafbeelding 2020-01-03 om 15.52.39

Whitehead again (p.11): “The tool required for philosophy is language.” But language is a 3-place relation: it is from somebody about something in the world and for somebody. A, W and B, respectively. Even Deleuze & Guattari talked to each other about something not identical to – and independent from – them. The result is something that talks to us and I now talk to you about. Maybe you even talk back, in which case our relation, language, is altered (and in it the three of us are altered, but more on that in a later post).

The point is that there is no fixed point, nothing on which everything hinges. Language is not a door to the ultimate truth on the world. Truth is to be told, it is not fact to be found. This is why this here response comes from Brain without Neurons. The definite article is a definite nuisance. Deleuze & Guattari don’t commit to the Body without Organs. Still, that is their limit: one wolf breaking with the pack. But if there is one fact about language it is that truth is never told in isolation. The Body without Organs leaves us too unhinged, in search of the freedom of an isolation cell we know cannot but lead to sheer madness. What is a Brain without Neurons? It is a brain A that knows it is always at least anchored in a brain B talking about a common, shared world W independent of both of them.

This is not just a consolation. It is consolation. Two wolves talking about their experience with the pack creating lines of flight without either being hinged or becoming unhinged. Philosophy that cannot make sense of consolation is nonsense and still, somehow, it’s the philosophy that is mostly talked about. There’s no truth without trust. Let that sink in: no truth without trust. Language at its most basic is trust. It is shared experience of common reality. A, B & W connected is what language is. When Whitehead says language is a tool required for philosophy he jumps over language being shared experience in a middle of which we creatively live. That is why he still is on the side of those wanting to revise it to be more precise at capturing what is within us. When Deleuze & Guattari say language at its most basic are order-words they jump over language keeping us hinged together. That is why they still are on the side of those wanting to escape from language aspiring to the solitary limit of the plane of consistency or a Body without Organs.

It is never a question of A, B ànd W or A, W ànd B or W, B ànd A. Either A merges with W (Whitehead) or W swallows A ànd B (Deleuze & Guattari). So there is always a primordial distrust of language as a home where Brains without Neurons can live together as was it in the comfort of a home. Without this home there can be no ethics. The fact of morality – not any specific system of morality but the homeliness of a possibility of consolation – is, then, not coincidentally the problem at which their insights shatter. Whitehead says:

“Morality of outlook is inseparably conjoined with generality of outlook. The antithesis between the general good and the individual interest can be abolished only when the individual is such that its interest is the general good, thus exemplifying the loss of minor intensities in order to find them again with finer composition in a wider sweep of interest.” (p. 15)

And all this is right in a way except that there is way too much generality in it. Truth lies closer to home where two individuals talk (often in silence) to create something general one step at a time. A process needs something concrete to get started and the fact is that we know the actual occasion to be a togetherness that respects individual boundaries. In the view of a Brain without Neurons the problem is that this desire for generality is what makes us blind for the specific. We want, for good reason, to be so inclusive that we don’t dare to take our own experience as exemplifying something general. This leads to a well-intentioned but ill-fated life-mind continuity principle. Deleuze & Guattari say:

“(..) one cannot draw a symbolic boundary between the human being and animal. One can only calculate and compare powers of deterritorialization.” (p. 307)

And this becomes the all-inclusive order-word which blinds us for the concrete creative magic that happens in the one A, B, W exchange we really know: that of human beings – touching as Brains without Neurons – to come together (while staying apart) on what is in front of them. This is not to say animals cannot come together or that only 2 humans can come together. It is just to say that the coming-together which we know because we have direct experience of it somehow becomes, literally, too particular for process philosophy. This brings us, as should be, back to the beginning of this message. The pendulum might indeed swing back to the West with its implied teaching of human particularity as some sort of promised species. The thing is: the pendulum should swing because that is life and it is therefore also the life of mind.

Still, if we trust our own experience where every new thing is generated by an A and a B talking about a W to create a new insight that gets stored in language, then we learn that there necessarily also is a mind-life continuity. The mind as a Brain without Neurons can only grow because there is trust in a creative dialogue (solidarity one might say); there is charity as Davidson would say; there is an open-ended playing with individual horizons as Gadamer would say. And all this is in living language (including its silences) so insofar we learn something from our everyday experience it is that life requires solidarity over survival. The problem is that we tend to think we need to choose between West and East. In so thinking we forget value is only created from the East and the West talking to each other about their world without priors, as Brains without Neurons.

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