Levi answers my concerns over incorporeal/corporeal objects in his new essay…. quite interesting, indeed! I’ll have more to say on this later. I’m still not convinced, being a materialist of the new school materialisms I still affirm what I want to call a two-aspect theory of entities much in the same way that some Kantian scholars support a two-aspect theory of the noumenon/phenonmenon divide (see Henry E. Allison: Transcendental Idealism). As Allison and others situate it, there is no dualism, no two different entities, one called noumenon and the other phenomenon; instead, there is only one entity with two aspects or faces. Allison in an anti-idealist reading of Kant proposes a two-aspect epistemolgical based understanding of transcendental idealism in which the transcendental distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves (phenomenon/noumenon) be understood as holding between two ways of considering things rather than as two ontologically distinct sets of entities. The only thing I would argue against Kant is instead of a normative epistemological account I would opt for a transcendental realism and an ontological account of this two-aspect theory. This paradox is at the heart of Karen Barad’s treatment of intra-action and entanglement theory as I’ll investigate below.

One of the things I see in Levi’s distinction between incorporeal/corporeal is that in doing this he is buying into a dualistic scheme to support this thesis, and for many of us this will not offer a solution within a materialist framework. Levi supports a substantive view of reality, incorporating the whole schematic relationism of a substance based approach to objects. I still am not convinced, although I admire it as an architectonic system that aligns well with putting all the pieces into place as a systemactic effort to negotiate the actualities that we know and see, yet I wonder how it would explain such disturbing truths as the wave/particle distribution effect? As a monist I see quantum theory as supporting two-aspect theory of a single energic flow of energy/matter. Relativity theory supports a two aspect theory of energy/matter as two aspects of the same underlying reality. Instead of a dualism, there is a monism with two faces…

Karen Barad recently described this wave/particle paradox as the problem of the “very nature of nature:  “light seemed to behave like a wave, but under different experimental circumstances, light seemed to behave like a particle. Given these results, what can we conclude about the nature of light-is it a particle or a wave? Remarkably, it turns out that similar results are found for matter: under one set of circumstances, electrons behave like particles, and under another they behave like waves. Hence what lies at the heart of the paradox is the very nature of nature” (KB 29).

Diffraction experiments are at the heart of the “wave versus particle” debates about the nature of light and matter. Indeed, the so-called two-slit experiment (which uses a diffraction grating with only two slits) has become emblematic of the mysteries of quantum physics. The Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once said of the two-slit experiment that it is “a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. (KB 72-73)

As she states it recent studies of diffraction (interference) phenomena have provided insights about the nature of the entanglement of quantum states, and have enabled physicists to test metaphysical ideas in the lab. So while it is true that diffraction apparatuses measure the effects of difference, even more profoundly they highlight, exhibit, and make evident the entangled structure of the changing and contingent ontology of the world, including the ontology of knowing. In fact, diffraction not only brings the reality of entanglements to light, it is itself an entangled phenomenon. (KB 73)

To deal with such phenomenon she offers a diffraction mode of analysis in which diffraction phenomena will be an object of investigation and at other times it will serve as an apparatus of investigation; it cannot serve both purposes simultaneously since they are mutually exclusive; nonetheless, as our understanding of the phenomenon is refined we can enfold these insights into further refinements and tunings of our instruments to sharpen our investigations (KB 73).

As she summarizes her thesis:

“What I am interested in doing is building diffraction apparatuses in order to study the entangled effects differences make. One of the main purposes will be to explore the nature of entanglements and also the nature of this task of exploration. What is entailed in the investigation of entanglements? How can one study them? Is there any way to study them without getting caught up in them? What can one say about them? Are there any limits to what can be said? My purpose is not to make general statements as if there were something universal to be said about all entanglements, nor to encourage analogical extrapolation from my examples to others, nor to reassert the authority of physics. On the contrary, I hope my exploration will make clear that entanglements are highly specific configurations and it is very hard work building apparatuses to study them, in part because they change with each intra-action. In fact it is not so much that they change from one moment to the next or from one place to another, but that space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements. Hence, it is possible for entangled relationalities to make connections between entities that do not appear to be proximate in space and time.  The point is that the specificity of entanglements is everything. The apparatuses must be tuned to the particularities of the entanglements at hand. The key question in each case is this: how to responsibly explore entanglements and the differences they make. My hope is that this exploration will provide some insights that will be helpful in the study of other entanglements” (KB 73-74).

I agree that the ‘specificity of entaglements is everything’. If it is true that space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements, then Her agential realism offer us one path among others toward an understanding that is both monistic and two-aspect in its promotion of the processes at the core of entaglements. I like that she is exploring the notion of difference as situated within this complex of ideas: how to responsibly explore entanglements and the differences they make. Her theory is underpinned by the notion of intra-action and change. The idea of bringing the “contingent ontology of the world, including the ontology of knowing” into close proximity in theory and praxis is long overdue. More on this later…

1. Karen Barad. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.

Larval Subjects .

In response to my talk on flat ethics, noir realism raises some interesting questionsabout my defense of the existence of incorporeal machines.  As noir realism writes:

The only question I have is in your division of incorporeal/corporeal.  I guess I have a conflict with this dualistic approach of incorporeal/corporeal… i don’t see any separation between these two types of entity. The reason I say that is simple, even as I write this sentence I’m interacting with physical material objects that then through math and logic are manipulated through physical hardware and transformed into binary code that is translated into bits that are trasnported to the servers on the web from my own machine conveying the very material thoughts that I’m now about to publish. Are these incorporeal or corporeal? Is there a difference? What makes something incorporeal or corporeal? Is it a kind of object? Why not admit…

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2 thoughts on “

  1. Not much to add Craig, other than I think you nail it by suggesting this ‘two aspect’ theory of interpreting entanglement. In my opinion New Materialism (as you frame it here) is sufficient to address Levi’s concerns via thinking about the role of human cognition plays when ‘abstracting’ (and projecting) “incorporeals” from actual material assemblages. In short, humans detect patterns and then objectify them via abstraction (reification) and then generate material/actual symbolic codes (e.g., writing). These codes are indeed material objects: they affect other objects (i.e., other imaginative-bodies), and they can be seen, copied, exchanged and decomposed. By a code is not that which it represents. But a recipe is not a cake, a grammatical rule is not a conversation, an ideology is not an act of resistance – all these “incorporeal things” are mere abstractions of the actual material configurations of which the seem be to be expressions. We cannot erase or forget the powers of embodied human subjectivity in contributing to the maintenance of the network of materialities (entanglements) which produce our artifacts and their circulation.

    In the end, however, I stand by my own maxim: entanglement does not need to be settled philosophically, but negotiated practically.

    PS- Hamlet was always been a material entity because it was written down, and copies of it are always already material copies. There is nothing incorporeal about it. A better case study of iteration for Levi would be oral folk-tales. Here we see an example where a supposed “incorporeal object” (a particular folk-tale) shows iterability but never identity. That is, the folk-tale may be told over and over again by various generations but is slightly or drastically altered through each telling based on those telling it. In this case, the story is not an object because it was never concretized or objectify (or became an object) because it was never written down.

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    • Some great thoughts there, Michael. Thanks!

      In some ways my own point is this: ideas do not become real or material until they are embodied, which as you state the idea of Hamlet being a copy of a copy, etc… this goes along with Deleuze’s notions in Repetition and Difference. Yet, even these stories are passed on through concrete memories stored in someone’s brain, and retold and affirmed to other concrete brains over generations of material and cultural communications. For me the brain and mind are one. One cannot separate the two, or know where the one begins and the other ends.

      The more I study the medical aspects of the brain and how it works I see that so many of the processes of prethought that go into making thought are connceted to the physical aspects of being. As a physicalist through and through I’m sure that Levi and others would see my position as being summed up with their Overmining/Undermining elocutions. And I’m not convinced that being pegged in this way says anything other than a way they can dismiss both materialist and idealists from their camp. My problem is that I don’t like pegs nor piegeon holes.

      And even as I read Levi over time I see his ideas and metaphors slip and slide across the spectrum. I thought at one time he was truly in the materialist camp, but it seems that he is wavering. What he sees as incorporeal is just a different aspect of the one, not two. That’s why for object-oriented approaches there will always be a dualism, or as Graham says it: “a duel”. A split object, etc.

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