Tag Archives: Un PoCo PoMo

The Dogma of Survival

“We think that in this the human being extends, more or less consciously, the spontaneous effort, common to life, of fighting against that which forms the obstacle to her maintenance and development taken as norms.” Canguilhem, On the Normal and the Pathological, PUF 1966, p. 102 (in my own translation, original below)

Canguilhem marks an important split in philosophy in attacking the ‘objective’ notions of health and disease that come with the dominance the empirical/mathematical method of the exact sciences. As a teacher of Foucault he made a first but decisive step against a last push of the exact sciences to explain away the most human of experiences: that of feeling not quite right. Decisive but not final because to this day the positivistic look, on the back of our neoliberal society and value system, dominates to the point of mocking those who speak from disability studies, cultural studies and feminism. It is not, though, this debate which I’m here interested in. I take it for granted that the truth here as elsewhere mostly lies somewhere in the middle. The truth I want to try to speak here is against that which, I believe, is still a common dogma in both traditions: that of survival as an inevitable and enduring norm inherent in life.

Longevity is, I submit, a global pandemic threatening all life, and specifically human life, as it misunderstands and devalues life to something that is to be had instead of lived. The outcome of the normality of survival is pathological: more life, but less worth living. The quote has all of that so let’s turn to it.

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Short Review: Derrida’s Of Grammatology

What was first? This is the question Derrida tries to expose as one that misleads us in the West into imposing our tradition as one that is to be deemed universal. He does so in 450 pages of not always very readable prose. Maybe that is not a coincidence because it is not easy to pull of a Houdini from within a tradition to expose his tradition as just a tradition whilst not getting caught up in a new entanglement (for instance by becoming a Houdini who is caught up in constantly performing ever more tortuous escape acts). Obviously he doesn’t succeed. Succeeding would defeat his point. He winds up saying:

Said differently, it does not suffice, it is not – really – about showing the interiority of what Rousseau thought exterior; rather it is to give as food for thought the power of the external to generate the interior. p. 441 (my emphasis)

The operative word here is ‘really’ (in French: ‘au vrai’). It shows Derrida circling back to the question of what was – really, truly – first. It exposes the universality of that question – the question of firstness. In exposing dichotomies he imposes his new dichotomy: instead of matter and mind, nature and nurture we get thinking and writing, the interior and the exterior, origins and inscriptions, intuition and traces, assimilation and difference. And it is a truly inspiring dichotomy; one which summarizes 20th century philosophy as well as should inspire 21st century philosophy. Let me briefly say why this is so.

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Homeros was autistic (well, I say Derrida would say so)

“In the chain of supplements, it was difficult to separate writing from masturbation.” De la grammatologie, Derrida, p. 235.

Some people say it is ludicrous to diagnose historic figures with autism. They, consciously or not, rely on deconstruction to make their point. The word autism only exists from the 20th century and imputing it to historic figures is trying to accord a reality to it which it cannot have. This is bollocks. Instead of deconstructing (i.e. unmasking) a naïve view of things, it reconstructs some kind of innocent naïveté in which nothing goes wrong except by oppression. As if everything we supplement in this society is foreign to the true nature of it. As if words like autism are intrinsically violent and we need to put on our “original” masks of aboriginal innocence. Bollocks – nothing is further removed from the actual text Derrida has written. It is back to the ideas of Rousseau – as if Derrida had not written his supplement on that supplement. It is a reactionary idea common in progressive thought that got scared from its own conclusions and hides in a window-dressed conservatism.

Let me take one of those wild associations of Derrida – masturbation and writing – and do the right thing to show via hyperbole how autism can be literally traced to Homeros – the first (blind!) writer and how the idea of supplement is unavoidably also that of autism as a kind of mental masturbation.

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Shorter That

“What cannot be said shortly, should not be said.”, well sums up our zeitgeist.

The spirit of rudeness is by now well entrenched. A lack of mores has become a wish rather than the woe it once was. Time is of the essence. We cannot afford to beat around the bush so we spin around the bonfire of the vanities vainly hoping to catch a quantum of eternity. There is never enough time so we spend time to buy time. It’s a free market after all.

“Cut to the chase!”, I hear my subconscious shouting. 100 words and close to nothing said. 7 more wasted and less than 500 to go. Reflection takes up space-time. It is a black hole. A singular type of anomaly. I am chasing the capitalism that cuts into our subconscious. It is hopeless of course to catch up with capitalism. We can only cut it off by self-reflection.

Just cut it out, already, like this:

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Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.

twominds

Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading

The self was a good idea but its time has come to fade away

Identity is the new Holy Grail. Everybody is looking for something that does not exist, and still would somehow magically transform their mediocre existence into the golden rule. The quest for identity responds to the post-modern question of belonging. Whether they are patriotic nationalist or universal subcultural causes, we constantly contrive collectives within which to identify with other people. This is post-modern because it is a melancholy for modern times when belonging belonged to the self-evident, except for those who self-evidently did not belong – the gays, the displaced, the ill, the Western Easterners, the out-of-luck. It’s the excluded who shaped these post-modern times because they frantically started a quest for being included ‘somewhere’. This was, for them, of the essence because not-belonging was the essential problem they experienced in modernity.

The rule is that the exception always has a tendency to become the rule. The exception is entropy, and it causes energy to shift to keep it under control. This is how in modern times the excluded discovered this problem of identity, that quickly became the post-modern problem for everyone. The meaning of life was transformed into the meaning of me and here we are trying to resolve our selves in an identity with others. Continue reading

Adaptive Thinking

“(..) insight can come from outside the mind.”
G. Gigerenzer, Adaptive Thinking, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. vii (a.o.).

There’s something deeply unnerving about scientists, especially neuroscientists: it is the idea that whatever there is can be located somewhere. Localized so as to make it a candidate for treatment of some sort. In this sense, neuroscience took over the world because the world is filled with people who believe things can be pinpointed and then addressed. Forget about the butterfly effect, the butterfly is in our current world view pinned down where it can be examined.

Nothing can be farther removed from the ecological point of view (this includes most people who see themselves as the ‘advocates of ecological preservation’). It may well be that this world view of pinning down, setting apart and solving is the root cause of us not applying evident solutions to the issues we have, in a broad sense, with our environment.

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